Jazz festival brings stars to Cape Town

[Image]The Cape Town International Jazz Festival
is one of the world’s top music events.

[Image]Music lovers enjoy the free concert on
Greenmarket Square in the city centre.
(Images: espAfrika)

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Fiona McRae

Proudly, and somewhat ambitiously, billed as “Africa’s grandest gathering”, the 2011 Cape Town International Jazz Festival is set to blow up a storm of sound in the Mother City on 25 and 26 March.

Performances from a star-studded line-up of more than 40 top African and international jazz artists will set the festival’s five stages alight over the two days, and are expected to once again draw capacity crowds of nearly 35 000 domestic and visiting fans to Cape Town’s International Convention Centre.

Since its inception in 2000, when the inaugural event attracted a 14 000-strong crowd, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival has become the premier attraction of its kind in Africa, says events management company espAfrika.

According to the company, the Cape Town festival was ranked fourth in the world by music event information portal Melodytrip in its 2007 report of music festivals globally – “outshining events like Switzerland’s Montreaux Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland”.

Now in its 12th edition, the festival has also grown into a major event on Cape Town’s tourism calendar, to the extent that it was specifically mentioned by President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation address at South Africa’s opening of Parliament on 10 February this year.

In discussing the country’s tourism sector successes, Zuma said: “We have also seen the value of events such as the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which contributed more than R475-million [US$6.7-million] to the economy of Cape Town and created 2 000 jobs in 2010.”

The president was referring to research conducted by the Institute for Tourism and Leisure Studies at North West University and Tshwane University of Technology on the economic impact of last year’s event.

espAfrika chief executive and festival director Rashid Lombard has described the festival as an important event for the city and for the country’s economy and society.

In addition to the economic benefits it generates through tourism and job creation, the festival has also earned praise for its role in attracting visitors to Cape Town and promoting the city’s rich cultural heritage.

The organisers attribute much of the success of the festival to its careful programming that provides a showcase for both established artists and rising stars and ranges from traditional to more contemporary jazz sounds, with heady instrumentals and sultry vocals.

Local and international talent

As with previous festivals, the 2011 event features an almost equal split between African and overseas artists.

Leading the African contingent is Senegalese singer and percussionist Youssou N’Dour.  One of Africa’s most celebrated musicians, N’Dour describes himself as a modern griot (west African storyteller) and was instrumental in developing his country’s popular mbalax style of music.

Local Afro-soul queen Simphiwe Dana – who has been described as a young Miriam Makeba – will return to the festival stage after vowing audiences at the 2005 event.

Mozambican saxophonist and flautist Ivan Mazuze, now based in South Africa, and up-and-coming Angolan vocalist Sandra Cordeira are also among the African stars, with talented Cape Town-based musician Dave Ledbetter, who will be performing with his band The Clearing. Artists from Botswana, Niger and Mauritius are also included in the line-up, while from further afield, the US, Holland, Spain, Germany and Singapore are represented.

A coup for espAfrika this year was finally securing 77-year-old US saxophonist Wayne Shorter after a three-year wait for a gap in his busy schedule. Described in festival publicity material as being “at the centre of every innovation that has occurred in jazz in the last 50 years”, Shorter leads a quartet that includes pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

Other headline acts this year are US master saxophonist Dave Koz, who returns after an appearance at the festival two years ago, and 1970s Afro-American band Earth, Wind and Fire. The legendary group are visiting South Africa as part of their 40th anniversary world tour, and will also perform with veteran 71-year-old South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela in Johannesburg a day after the festival.

The festival is notable for its one-off collaborations which are assembled specifically for the event.

“They make the festival unique. People have the opportunity to see bands they are unlikely to see anywhere else,” says Lombard.

This year’s programme features four of these collaborations, including one which gives a rare opportunity to see bassist Victor Masondo perform live, with trumpeter Prince Lengoasa, drummer Kevin Gibson, pianist Mark Fransman and saxophonist Donvino Prins.

Studio commitments and production work over the years have taken Masondo out of the live jazz circuit, say the organisers. At the festival he will also join up with Masekela, pianist Larry Willis and drummer Lee-Roy Sauls.

Another band put together for the festival is Guitafrika, a guitar ensemble featuring South Africa’s well known Steve Newman, Eric Triton from Mauritius and Alhousseini Mohamed Anivolla from Niger. They will celebrate the role of guitars in the continent’s music traditions. The other two are a South African-Dutch collaboration in A Tribute to Oscar Peterson, and the large-scale Cape Town Tribute Band, which will celebrate the music of several jazz musicians who died in the past year.

Sustainable development of the arts

As part of the festival’s commitment to sustainably developing the local arts sector, a varied programme of free workshops is held at several venues throughout the city over an eight-day period. Led by experts in the various fields, the workshops explore different elements of the world and business of jazz, and in 2011 will cover diverse topics ranging from arts journalism, photography and the music business as a whole, to jazz master classes.

This year will see Boston’s Berklee College of Music participate in the workshop programme for the first time. A team from Berklee will conduct music workshops, clinics and panel discussions throughout the week, and will meet with local high school music students, teachers and artists.  Auditions and interviews for Berklee placements and scholarships will also be held.

New York’s famous Juilliard School will once again use internet technology to hold a live master class between Juilliard students and students in Cape Town, as it did in 2008.

Also an integral part of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is the free community concert which annually precedes the festival and provides an opportunity for members of the public unable to afford a festival entrance ticket to experience world-class music from some of the programme’s top artists. This concert will take place on the city’s Greenmarket Square on March 23.