Yup, we were there. Here's what happened!
The beauty of jazz lies in its improvisations, especially in jam sessions. The best of them play to rhythms and melodies dictated by their volition, but they are attune to those around them, feeding off the energy, in order to create – often a never-to-be experienced again moment. The freedom of getting lost in each note, leading down an unknown path, some smoother than others, and suddenly hearing that sweet spot. The sweet spot which transports you to a place where only it matters, despite the sounds around it. In many ways the activities around the Cape Town International Jazz Festival was the city’s jam session, and the weekend of March 31st, its sweet spot.
Cape Town has a rich jazz history and its touristic attraction makes it an ideal host to “Africa’s Grandest Gathering.” The two-day music soiree is the most popular event of the festival, however, aware of Cape Town’s history, and attempts to be inclusive, there are several free events across the city. From development workshops hosted in places including the townships of Athlone and Khayelitsha, week-long media training across multiple platforms, with free entrances to the Jazz Fest, to a city favorite, the free jazz concert. Held the evening of March 29th in the vibrant Greenmarket Square, the crowed at the concert was an eclectic mix of old and young, much like the festival itself. South African nu jazz artists Vudu had people swaying to their set of original and cover songs, Mozambican Moreira Changuica allowed guests to soak in the beautiful elements of jazz, while energy from the veteran South African group, Mango Groove, had people dancing and chanting out their more popular hits, while the American RnB group En Vouge, had the crowd singing along to their 90s classics as well as an energetic medley of female powerhouses of old. Overall the free concert was a wonderful precursor to the Jazz Festival weekend.
The actual Jazz Festival, hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Center, had an array of artists. With over thirty performers over the two days, attendees were spoilt, sometimes overwhelmed, occasionally running from one stage to the next, by choice. The venue is divided into five stages, a few named after late legendary South African Jazz artists such as saxophonists “Kippie” Moeketsi and Basil Coetezee, as well as pianist Moses Molelekwa. With so many options it is suggested that you plan your day to catch those artists you most wish to see, but my advice is that you give yourself time to discover someone new.
Kippie’s stage hosted some heavyweights on day one, starting with Cameroon’s Manu Dibango with Mozambique’s Changuica, Lesotho’s Village Pope, Tsepo Tshola alongside Bhudaza, American Kamasi Washington with his father Frank Washington, and South African stalwart Jonas Gwangwa and friends. For the younger attendees, UK’s Tom Misch was a treat, and jazz enthusiasts were captivated by the sounds of Siya Makuzeni and Gretchen Parlato at the Bassline and Rosies stages respectively.
On the second day women dominated the stages. Highlights included an enchanting performance by Andra Day and Judith Sephuma, Syd’s voice, lead singer of the Internet, captivated the outdoor crowed, Thandiswa Mazwai’s set had scores of people try to purchase tickets to her performance at the Rosies theatre (a small additional payment is needed for all performances at the Rosies), with the Jazz Festival officially ending with what felt like an intimate performance by Laura Mvula.
Unofficially the end of the Jazz festival is the jam session hosted at the official hotel where a small group of attendees are invited. This ran way into the early hours of Sunday, and once again, in those impromptu never-to be-experienced again moments, we were reminded why we love jazz.