Afrika Mkhize is one of South Africa's most prominent jazz pianists, composers, producers and arrangers. He will be one of the star attractions at this year's Standard Bank Jazz Festival, which is part of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. We picked his brain and found out why initiatives like the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards are so important for developing young talent.
Why will you be honouring Bheki Mseleku at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival?
I wanted to honour Bheki when he was alive but I never got the chance to do it. When he died musicians from around the world paid tribute to him except in South Africa. We honoured him in October last year with a big band concert at the Orbit Jazz Club in Braamfontain. We did a big band tribute (17 piece and two vocalists) and arranged selected music from Bheki’s various albums. It was a big success so I decided to do it for a second time at the festival. I felt it was the right time to do it again, but I needed funding and then a Swiss friend came forward and helped. New names and talented young 'finds' will be featured in the band and the concert promises to be a musical highlight at the festival. The line-up includes saxophonist Dave O’Higgins from the UK, American trumpeter Eddie Lewis and Swiss trombonist Andreas Tschopp with wonderful South African musicians including Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2016 Siya Makuzeni on vocals.
In 2012 you won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. Did it open doors for you?
Yes, it helped open doors for me. I was invited to perform in spaces I'd never been in before. I received invites from the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. I'd never performed before on such big stages. It was incredible and I learnt so much.
What has the Standard Bank Jazz Festival done for you?
It helped me to connect with so many international artists and through them I was able to form a band, Band Oyster and the Rain Makers. I was able to network and receive invitations to perform in such glamorous locales as New York, London and even in Japan.
How does a jazz festival like Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown help musicians?
The only times a festival works is when musicians from all nine provinces come together to perform on one platform. Lots of musicians from the provinces practice hard and hope to be featured at these events but this is not always possible because many lack the required standards. We need an educational programme in place that will elevate these musicians and school them in their chosen fields, so that one day they can take their rightful places on these stages.