Billie Ocean


THE face of relief I had, standing in front of the urinal turned into bewilderment while in the lavatory of a pub this past weekend.

Thanks to aggressive marketing, which has advertisements in our faces even when we’re having a moment with our bodies. What had me confused was the flyer of the Tembisa Jazz festival.

From the artists on the line-up, it would’ve been better to name it an Afro-soul festival. Sjava, Zahara and Selaelo Selota are the main acts on the bill. Only the latter is a jazz artist. Sjava and Zahara are as far from being jazz artists as Joburg is to Abuja, by foot.

Understand this, this isn’t about the artists but event organisers who come up with these shows which disguise themselves as festivals. This isn’t a unique problem to the Ekurhuleni Township; there was a similar and more cringing case in Soweto during the youth month at the splendid Soweto Theatre.

Dubbed the Soweto Jazz International Festival, their line-up included the likes of rapper Nasty C, Sho Madjozi, Deborah Cox, Lady Zamar and Mi Casa.

Let that sink in.

Is this a case of the suits calling all the shots, instead of having knowledgeable individuals in these crucial positions? What puzzles me is why there’s this incessant obsession with jazz, when what you’re presenting to attendees ain’t jazz. It’s blatant misleading of patrons who actually appreciate jazz, but more than that it’s an unfathomable mind fuck on black people in the township who walk out of those events really believing that Loliwe is a jazz joint. Like how many people still think Kenny G is a jazz artist.

But in the defence of these kasi events, I also blame the inevitable growth of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. What started out strictly as a jazz festival in 2000 under the name North Sea Jazz Festival- for five years, the festival was known by that name as part of the contract between the Netherlands festival and local events management company espAfrika.

From 2005 onwards, not only did the name change to what we know today as Cape Town International Jazz Festival, so too have the artists we saw on the bill. Artists who aren’t jazz kats, but whose music has elements of jazz that satisfy the genre’s aficionados like a 340ml, crept into the line-up.

As the festival grew, it was clear that it was morphing into a music festival for pure songs lovers- the BLK JKS, HHP, Zola, Louie Vega and many more other random artists have performed at the Cape Town event, even Lauryn Hill. But with their growth, the festival somehow manages to keep ardent jazz listeners satisfied each year, with a line-up that prioritizes jazz.

The Joy of Jazz still maintains its status as purely jazz festival, but over the years they have bent the rules, in a slick manner. Vocalist Bilal is one of their headline acts for this weekend’s instalment of the festival- but Bilal’s vocal dexterity just doesn’t permit you to box him anywhere, which allows the festival to get away with having him on the line-up. I was in the audience with former President Thabo Mbeki, enjoying music by Gregory Porter in 2014- he too, Porter not Mbeki, is one you can’t box. But in the same year, they had Billie Ocean on the line-up, which is the equivalent of having R. Kelly at a jazz festival.

As a millennial I know very well that the world is no longer as black and white as many people thought. There isn’t a person who is interested in the same thing, all the time. Human beings’ personalities have become more nuanced with time, largely due to the advancement of technology which exposes people to more than what is in their little village.

So the same person from Seshego in Polokwane who enjoys listening to Phuzekhemisi, also happens to be a fan of Mcoy Mrubata and knows Pharoahe Monch’s lyrics back-to-back. Having said that, organisers shouldn’t be thoughtless when naming festivals, in the name of pulling in a certain LSM- this is derived from the stigma around jazz which suggests that, the only people who enjoy the genre are the wealthy and sophisticated. There are many people in the swankiest places in our country who are ardent listeners of Zahara and Lady Zamar.

If your event doesn’t have a slew of jazz artists, don’t name it a jazz festival because it’s not, otherwise you’ll have us peeing on ourselves thanks to the shocking line-ups you have at these gigs.


I never really knew who Billie Ocean was, but the name has always been familiar because people in taverns, taxis or anywhere else are fans of his music. I got a front seat introduction to the man, his music and his adoring fans.

Billie Le Watle, some would call him here in the township. Gogo Joyce, my late gran from Pretoria took it a tad too far, telling my older siblings when they were young , that Ocean is actually a South African from her beloved Mamelodi, who went abroad to pursuit a career in music and ended up changing his last name.

This and other anecdotes come out, as my family finds out I’ll be working at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz where Ocean is one of the headline acts. This is 2014.

Like the brisk movement at any taxi rank in the morning, the festival attendees make their way to the Mbira stage where Ocean is to perform. The audience is often a giveaway of the kinda performer that’s to get on stage.

The Host: Lupi Ngcayisa at the 2014 Standard Bank Joy Of Jazz. By Vusi Masilela

‘It has to be Billie Ocean’ I think to myself, looking at the number of elder people. My suspicions took a chill pill when host, Lupi Ngcayisa said in his introduction, the late Metro FM DJ Eddie Zondi would’ve been here on the night- this somehow eliminated worries that Ocean might perform songs I hadn’t heard before.

I’m sitting at the feet of those with the best seats, my legs crossed like a child at a crèche waiting for his meal. The crowd roared when the 64 year-old Grammy winner got on stage. Stay The Night had a lady on my far right, who must be around the same age as Ocean, beaming like a 16 year-old blonde American girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

I was only three when he was last in South Africa 20 years ago. I’m impressed by how good he sounds, seriously. Some artists get to only sound like him live, when they’re in studio, there are no glitches. Ocean is also a fine performer, he moves more than you’d expect his body would allow.

MAN WITH THE MOVES: Billie Ocean at the 2014 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. By Vusi Masilela

In his blue suit and striking grey dreads, he is a gentleman who takes his art very serious, hence his longevity. He engages with the audience, who connect with each song in a meaningful way.

One of the ladies dancing adjacent the stage, exclaimed “Yoh, where’s my mother,”when Ocean sang Colour Of Love. Sweat found its way down Ocean’s suit but still, I hadn’t yet heard a familiar song although the crowd was enjoying every minute, singing along to the legend’s tunes. Not to suggest I wasn’t.

But unexpectedly, the 1984 classic Suddenly was being belted out by Ocean. I suspected I must have heard the song on one of Zondi’s compilations and shows over the years.

IN THE MOMENT: Billie Ocean at the 2014 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. By Vusi Masilela

The other track that wasn’t novel to my ears was Loverboy which brought out the rockers at the Jazz. Even Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor was having fun, a lifetime away from the woman who has to defend the ANC in Parliament.

It felt like gate-crashing a senior citizen’s party, but I enjoyed Ocean’s set. The musicality and his performance level. I was taken by the music and the whole experience of seeing older people, genuinely having a good time.

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