Cape Town International Jazz Festival

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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.

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UNLIKE the rest of social media, I wasn’t particularly excited by the news this morning, of Lauryn Hill and Nas coming to the country next year, looking back at their last performances in the country.

Ms.Hill will perform in Johannesburg on February 2 at the Ticketpro Dome and will feature Queens rapper Nas as her special guest. The dates were added to her world tour and announced this morning.

In 2014 Nas was on tour celebrating the 20 year anniversary of his timeless Illmatic album. He came and performed at a freezing Centurion, at SuperSport Park where he got on stage after Wiz Khalifa gave the audience one the best live performances I’ve ever witnessed.

Nas, performing some of the best Hip Hop songs of all time, was mundane to say the least. Because of his great material, he didn’t need to do much on stage because he was mostly stationed in one area, staring into a sea of Hip Hop fans who were spitting each song simultaneously with him, verbatim.

I remember a part of me dying inside though, standing adjacent the stage when I saw his lyrics on a teleptompter. I was like WTF Nas, how could you forget your lyrics. It was like I had just walked into the lavatory after the beautiful Jessica Nkosi had walked out, to discover that she too, drops bombs when doing the number two.

I just expect too much from these greats. But I’m curious to see how the set will go, especially after the subpar Nasir album which came out earlier this year. But hopefully the murmurs about him releasing another project later this year, are true and it drops before he lands in SA-which we hope will be doper than Nasir.

With Ms Hill on the other hand, let’s just hope she makes it to the event, on time and doesn’t change the sound set up. She’s a phenomenal performer and all-round artist who is more self-sabotaging than Thamsanqa Ghabuza.

Ms. Hill was last in South Africa in 2012, for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, she disappointed with her performance, due to her insistence on wanting to change how the sound was set-up by the organisers. Before her performance on the Kippies stage, Hugh Masekela had killed it in his tribute to Miriam Makeba which featured ThandiswaMazwai, VusiMahlasela and Freshly Ground frontwoman ZolaniMahola.

Hill was not audible enough and resigned to walking off stage, not completing her performance.But she salvaged her time in the country, with an impromptu performance in Gugulethu at the launch of Cape Town rapper Kanyi Mavi’s album launch on the same night, together with Mavi.

The Hill and Nas announcement left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, like when I heard Kendrick Lamar is coming out with another album in the next few days. With some things in life, you feel like they shouldn’t happened now, but when they do eventually happen you’ll give it chance, because it’s all for the culture, ain’t it.

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What was a simple interview at a local radio station for Robert Glasper, has made headlines on publications all over the world because of Lauryn Hill’s response. But rightfully so, these are two black giants of modern music.

But Hill’s response to Glasper does little to address longstanding perceptions about her.

Ever since 1998 when New Ark, the group of musicians who helped Lauryn Hill put together Miseducation, sued her for not properly crediting them for the work they did on the classic album, there’s been a cloud of suspicion hanging over Hill and that album.

“The Miseducation was the first time I worked with musicians outside of the Fugees who’s report and working relationship was clear. In an effort to create the same level of comfort, I may not have established the necessary boundaries and may have been more inviting than I should have been. In hindsight, I would have handled it differently for the removal of any confusion. And I have handled it differently since, I’m clear and I make clear before someone walks in the door what I am and am not looking for. I may have been inclusive, but these are my songs,” Hill writes in her letter.

The lawsuit was settled out of court in February 2001, for a reported $5 million

Hill’s weakness in punctuality and prima donna antics are well reported. In 2012, when she was in the country for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, she disappointed with her performance, not because she’s wack a performer but it was down to her insistence on wanting to change how the sound was set-up by the organisers who know the venue very well and are experienced at catering for each artist on the line-up. Before her performance on the Kippies stage, Hugh Masekela had killed it in his tribute to Miriam Makeba which featured Thandiswa Mazwai, Vusi Mahlasela and Freshly Ground frontwoman Zolani Mahola. Hill was not audible enough and resigned to walking off stage. While just last month in Toronto, while in Canada for the 20 year anniversary of Miseducation tour, she arrived an hour late for her performance.

Hence I was baffled when she made an excuse for her late coming in the letter. “Me being late to shows isn’t because I don’t respect my fans or their time, but the contrary, It can be argued that I care too much, and insist on things being right. I like to switch my show up regularly, change arrangements, add new songs, etc. This often leads to long sound checks, which leads to doors opening late, which leads to the show getting a late start. This element of perfectionism is about wanting the audience to experience the very best and most authentic musical experience they can from what I do.”

It’s one thing to be a perfectionist and it’s just plain ill-mannered not to honour ardent fans and disrespect qualified sound technicians.

If anything, this comes-off as being unprepared. I mean people buy tickets, using their hard-earned cash to see you at a specific time-by virtue of being on the line-up for that particular performance, means an artist agrees with all the prerequisites.

I don’t remember anyone questioning her undeniable talent and palpable influence she’s had in the industry. Ever. So she’s very much correct to say “I was also a member of the Fugees, another ground-breaking, multi-platinum selling group, who bridged social and cultural gaps, and were ambassadors of hip-hop all around this planet. We laid important groundwork upon which an entire generation of artists and musicians still stand. We broke through conventions and challenged limited world views every time we played.”

To add to that, she was an integral part of the Fugees, I personally think the fellas would’ve been another bar-spitting average clique, had she not been part of the group. She’s an impeccable emcee with beautiful vocals. The original rap singer.  But it’s her attitude that’s always been questioned- even by former group members, Pras and Wyclef Jean.

What I found particularly interesting in the letter, was not really her responding to Glasper’s statement, but addressing a bigger issue: misogyny and patriarchy in the industry when she said “And yes, Ms. Hill was absolutely a requirement. I was young, Black and female. Not everyone can work for and give the appropriate respect to a person in that package and in charge. It was important, especially then, for that to be revealed early. I adore Stevie, and honor [sic] Herbie and Quincy, who are our forebears, but they’re not women. Men often can say ‘I want it done like this’ and not be challenged. The same rules don’t always apply for women who may be met with resistance. When this happens you replace that player with someone who respects you and the office you hold.”

If we wake up tomorrow and someone like Priddy Ugly says, he wants be called King Priddy from now on, reluctant as society might be at first, they’ll eventually heed that call. And it would totally be a different story if a Gigi Lamayne, associated herself with royalty. Her artistry would be questioned.

It was like reading useless Facebook posts about people who brag about being older, to those born in the new millennium, when Hill wrote “Most people are probably just hearing your name for the first time because you dropped MINE in an interview, controversially. Taking nothing away from your talent, but this is a fact.”

A cheap shot, really. Glasper is a multi-award winning genius artist that has paid his dues, she knows very well that he’s a pianist that only came to the fore in the popular music scene just over a decade ago.

But fortunately there was no malicious speech between the two artists, it was honest criticism and a simple difference in opinion, which both creatives respected.Or so it seems.


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