South African classic jazz revitalised

10 November 2015

Old and new musical worlds, jazz and hip-hop, will come together in Songs from Jazztown, a musical tribute to South Africa’s iconic jazz artists.

Directed by James Ngcobo, Songs from Jazztown will run from 17 November to 20 December 2015 at Joburg’s Market Theatre. Brand South Africa has partnered with the Market Theatre for this production to highlight the role of South African music in building the country’s nation brand, and encourage young citizens to play their part and honing their artistic skills.

According to the Market Theatre website, the production premiered in the Eastern Cape in 2014 with support from the Department of Arts and Culture Touring Venture Fund. “It received a great reception by tapping into the old sound that was such a hit in the 50s.”

The show has now been refreshed with hip-hop artists narrating the story, encouraging younger audiences to experience classic jazz music in a reinvigorated format.

Some of the legendary musicians featured in this end-of-year musical celebration will include jazz greats Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba, Gibson Kente and many more.

“We want to immerse ourselves in the beautifully haunting sounds they orchestrated and to say we remember them and their contribution to the South African songbook,” said Ngcobo. “In musical departments around the country, young people sit in lecture rooms and witness the brilliance of these composers, which is why we also want to give these young singers that we have cast a chance to sing the songs of yesteryear.

“We are making theatre in South Africa and that means we have a deep well that we drink from, which inspires us to forge new and exciting narratives.”

Performing these classic numbers will be Asanda Bam, making her debut at the Market Theatre, as well as Gugu Shezi, Tshepiso Mashego and Nomfundo Dlamini.

South African music

The story of South African music is one of dialogue with imported forms, and varying degrees of hybridisation over the years.

From the earliest colonial days until now, South African music has been created out of the mingling of local ideas and forms with those from outside the country, giving it all a special twist that gives it the unmistakable South African flavour.

In the 1950s, the old strains of marabi and kwela had begun to coalesce into what is broadly referred to as mbaqanga, a mode of African-inflected jazz that had various practitioners. Singing stars such as Makeba, Rathebe and Letta Mbulu gained fanatical followings.

It was also a time for the first meaningful cultural and social interactions between various race groups in South Africa.

See the Market Theatre website for more information on Songs from Jazztown.

Keep an eye out for a 10 double ticket giveaway on Brand South Africa’s social platforms. reporter