In September, as with every Spring, the city of Joburg and all its groovy adjuncts was awash with wonder and all the ecstasy that comes with being Africa’s leading jazz locale. As the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz saw thousands of music lovers gather in the glitzy monolithic structure of the Sandton Convention Centre, one thing become clear: nothing reflects the state of our nation quite like our shared musical moments.
The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz as an annual communion of rhythm, brew and heritage comprised a world class offering of 35 acts on four stages over three days. The convergence included curious novices as well as committed connoisseurs all dressed to the nines, laughing loud and merry.
Presented right in the middle of heritage month, the festival programme could have easily been seen as a nod to the lofty local musical traditions and their international resonances.
Reflecting on some of the performances, the Pan-African Chicago based drummer Kahil el’ Zabar sat on high, glorious and spectacular on the spot lit stage. His beaming smiling face gazed up into the heavens and his hands gracefully pounded his Akan cowhide drum. The propulsive charge of the music and its ethnic pallet conjured the force of something aboriginal. The Pretorian jazz lovers recognised this as a sound akin to Malombo jazz sensibilities. Instantly, the visiting African-American was at once as global as he was familiarly local.
This spirit was redolent all over Joburg based guitarist, Billy Monama’s band, GrazRootz Project. Their catalogue is a visitation of historic South African musical classics. Though their music is governed by a desire to make important statements, it also insists on injecting life into a party.
Talking of a party, the collaborative performance of American Jazz giant Gerald Albright and South Africa’s Jonathan Butler had audiences on their feet, singing and dancing in the aisles.
For many, especially the jazz connoisseur, drummer Kendrick Scott and his band Oracle was the highlight. The music was sublime with each musician delivering a fine performance.
The Music Academy of Gauteng led by famous trumpeter and music educator Dr Johnny Mekoa, kicked off the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz programme to warm appreciation and applause. The Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band’s debut, conducted by visionary Carlo Mombelli, performed his often challenging work beautifully. These young musicians represent our jazz future and are certainly worth watching. Then the eclectic and contemporary sounds of 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz, Siya Makuzeni, had audiences captivated by her unique style and energy.
With the dust settled on this year’s festival we look forward to celebrating 20 years of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz in 2017. A notable milestone which tells the story of a visionary entrepreneur, Peter Tladi, and celebrates the many collaborations and conversations between South African musicians and artists from across the globe. Jazz has a way of getting under your skin, it is dynamic, unexpected and yet familiar in the way it is constantly re-interpreted.