Between bracing the Cape winds, running between stages and having dinner with Bilal (coughcough), our two fabulous Jozi representer’s Lebogang and Akona (you’re always a Jozi girl for us) still managed to cover the Cape Town International Jazz Festival for us this year… and with such panache… What can we say besides a massive Sharpile. Watch your snailmail for your thank yous 😉 See Lebogang’s gorgeous photostory of the event here and read Akona’s review below: Represent!
This year’s 11th annual Cape Town Jazz Festival, which took place last weekend, once again got it’s stamp of approval for being one of the grandest music festivals in the country, I also think this event, previously known as North Sea Jazz Festival, is one of the better organised festivals out there save for the crazy Cape Town wind trying to get it’s time in the spotlight.
The line – up was incredible, the most exciting part for me are the number of fusion artists I had never heard of – you see, the Jazz Fest for me is the place I go to be introduced to new music without being caught out as an ignoramus by die-hard fans. T his is where the artists have to bear their souls through their craft, this is where they introduce themselves to the possibility of new fans – me being one of them of course.
42 acts, over two nights, on 5 stages = a whole lot of dancing, singing, crying, with a healthy dose of soul touching music to keep you entertained. On the first night, with a late start to the evening, I was blown away not only by the Cape Town wind at the ‘Bassline’ stage (which was setup outside of the International Convention Centre) but also by the Japanese fusion jazz group – a six man group playing what I’d call dance music, with a very jazzy root. It was impossible not to be mesmerized not only by their energy, but the way in which they got the audience involved, singing hooks, dancing, clapping along and creating a measurable heat out in the open stage (audience by now had to do just about everything not to succumb to the thrashing of the wind).
What was most important is how the band didn’t seem bothered nor allowed themselves to be distracted by the wind and sand smacking them about on stage, they never skipped a beat – at one point I saw the saxophonist cough out some dirt only after blowing his instrument to the tunes. The Soil and Pimp Sessions is a vibrant band who transcend any expectations, MC, trumpet, bass, drums, saxophone and piano, they create a scene which is a mixture of rock concert, salsa club, dance club and of course jazz lounge.
I broke my rules of only going to performances of artists whose music I had no idea about, but this was worth it! Next up, it seemed only right to give George Benson an ear and a sway and even before arriving at the “Kippies” stage I knew why they call him the greatest guitarist, the largest performance room at the festival was packed to capacity, with fans spilling out some ten meters outside the entrance, all to be enchanted by the velvet of his voice and incomparable finger work on the guitar. For the first of his two performances, George Benson did a tribute to another jazz legend – Nat King Cole – with the accompaniment of a South African 28 Piece orchestra. Only your heart knows how to describe what an angelic experience that was, even if I couldn’t see the great man, his sound was enough.
While waiting for my final show for the night, I ran into Zwai Bala and Kabelo of TKZee who said they were very excited about their show which was to be following evening. I tried to get some information on what to expect, but they kept very hush on their plan, saying that it would be explosive! On admitting that I hadn’t yet heard their new album, and my strategy of hearing it on stage first before buying it, they said that I would not be disappointed and offered nothing more …. Suspense.
Onto the final show for the night, Brooklyn Funk Essentials! By the time they went on at the “Bassline” stage, I was wickedly knackered, but had to discover what much raved about group was about! I fell in love almost instantly. Dynamic on stage, the ten-member band has a fusion of reggae jazz and funk and latino mix to their sound; easy lyrics and a lot of jumping up and down. Three vocalists, drums, bass, guitar, trumpet, horns, percussion, flute and one of the most moving saxophones I’ve ever experienced were my highlight for days to come. Three albums later (none of which I’d heard before) and I’m a newly formed die hard fan. At the end of their hour long set, the audience refused to let them, chanting the ever flattering ‘encore, encore’, encore’ to the band, who gladly answered by performing one more song! Walking back to the main halls, I was buzzing! The earlier fatigue and cold I had been feeling disappeared without a trace and life was great again! The multinational (from 5 different countries) group have a new fan
Overwhelmed by the first night of musical greatness, my system was on a mission to be more prepared for second and final night – layers of clothes for warmth, dancing shoes, a full tummy, a lot of thirst quenching and more space in my soul to be moved by the acts.
The second and final night on Saturday had me in quite a frenzy as I had to self negotiate which artists to see and which I would have to miss out on or only experience half of their show. The line up was too incredible.
Started off with Lira, who had sorely disappointed me at 2006 Cape Town Jazz Festival, was given a second chance. Lira has grown as an artist, a woman, and a performer – seemingly more comfortable with her craft and herself. She began with songs from the latest album, for which she walked away with an abundance of SAMA’s in 2009. Her voice is stronger and am so glad she moved away from the early kwaito bubblegum sound she had back when she first hit the scene into this graceful and passionate RnB infused jazz which she captivated us with on Sunday night. I did feel that singing a beautiful song about being a believer in love, and being free with love, then gyrating like Beyonce was a little disjointed, but I’ll let it slide because she really is as amazing as her fans say she is. For the first time at the festival, I felt a little out of place as more than half of the hall sang along almost before she started singing the songs.
Having learnt my lesson at previous Jazz festivals, I was prepared – if there is an artist you really want to see, you need to get your food and drink supplies and camp in front of the stage before the show, and this is exactly what I did for vocalist and piano player Rachelle Ferrell. This woman doesn’t just use her voice to sing, she uses it as an instrument and to imitate other instruments and sounds (even does a thing where she sounds exactly like littele birds singing). The first 15 minutes of her set she was doing soundcheck, which would usually annoy me, but this time it was most entertaining. She sang spoke, rhymed her instructions and within those few minutes had just about cemented her place in my artists hall of fame. The range of her voice, her energy on stage, the truth in her music, Rachelle is easy to take in and most of all entertaining. She is music. About half way through her show she called on Bilal (another headline act due to perform later in the evening) and she absolutely annihilated him vocally!
Him showing up wasn’t as much of a surprise as he had tweeted that Rachelle had invited him to join her on stage – the result of which was one hell of a beating. (Not that it was a competition of course) I don’t think the duet session was intended to bring him into disrepute, however, any non-believers in the greatness of Rachelle were very quickly hushed. The highlight of the set that night was when this songstress, almost perfectly, belted Miriam Makeba’s “Click Song” (Iqgirha lendlela) – my jaw was on the floor.
Selaelo Selota, South Africa’s King of Afro – Jazz is nothing short of astounding. He, with a band consisting of vocalist, bass guitarist, percussions and keyboard, made me feel at home again after all the international artists swimming in my head. Selaelo makes it almost impossible not to cry as he tugs at both his guitar strings and my heartstrings. Soothing and almost ancestral voice, he makes music for the soul. I’m glad I experienced him.
Due to the uncomfortable wind and pre winter chill in the air, there were changes to schedule. Bilal and TKZee would no longer perform at the outdoor “Bassline” stage but instead would go after George Benson and Ronny Jordan respectively at adjacent stage areas. This was a welcome move, but meant that they would each begin their sets well after midnight – only the strong survive was my motto for the evening. This change also meant that I would have to run between performance stages to catch both shows, an exercise I absolutely didn’t mind.
Bilal, together with a band of drums, bass, guitar, trumpet, trombome and keyboard was a feature worth waiting for. Having met him and the gang at a dinner hosted by our mutual friends held at Royale Eatery on Long Street, I was pleasantly surprised at what a down to earth guy he was. Educated and humble, funny and interesting, with a voice and stage presence to boot, he’s an all round amazing person. Side note: at the dinner, Craig Native told him and we agreed he looked very Khoi San – which he does. He was so interested in South Africa and it’s people it was flattering. Talking was less about him and more about what he could learn. The performance was great, singing songs from all three of his albums and then a grand finale with the most amazing version of his ever-popular “Soul Sister”, Bilal performed his heart out and thanked South Africa for their time.
The unfortunate part of the change in schedule, as I mentioned, was that Bilal and TKZee were on almost at the same time and one group would lose crowd to the other. Bilal was the loser in this camp – which made me sad and proud!
Since I’d been running between the shows, I was able to catch to the beginning and the end of TKZee – they started with songs from their new album, which is a slightly different but palatable sound. A tweak to the show was also the inclusion for the first time, a live band. They also had an electric guitarist who, in the middle of one of their new songs, added an international flair by playing “Drop it like it’s hot” – which was fun but somewhat unnecessary. One of South Africa’s favourite kwaito groups had their fans jumping up and down and swaying their arms in the air towards the last minutes of their hour to some of the old skool tracks! There we were, singing at the top of our lungs “TKZee in the area” as if it wasn’t 3am and we hadn’t been dancing all night long.
All in all, I had an incredible time and vow from now on never to miss the annual Cape Town Jazz Festival – It is and always will be the best place to hear great music, learn new music, catch up with old friends, meet new ones and dance to the rhythm of your soul!