Category: Jazz

Lionel Loueke performs in the DSG Hall in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015 at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Loueke is originally from Benin in West Africa but is currently living in New York. (Photo: CUEPIX/Kate Janse van Rensburg)

As I look back on this year’s Standard Bank Jazz Festival, I realise how much music I missed. But I had some great highs: Lionel Loueke’s exciting collaboration with four SA artists, whom he praised effusively on stage, was the stand-out gig for me. Vocalist Siya Makuzeni, flugelhorn/trumpet player Marcus Wyatt, bassist Shane Cooper, and drummer Ayande Sikade clearly loved working with this magical Benin-born guitarist.

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Ray Phiri performs at the Guy Butler Theatre in Grahamstown on 10 June 2015 at the 2015 National Arts Festival.  Phiri has received many awards
in recognition for his contribution in the music industry, including, in 2011, the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, South
Africa’s highest civilian honour for excellence and contribution to the arts, and, in 2012, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Music Awards (SAMA). (Photo: CUEPIX/Kate Janse van Rensburg)

Three days ago, while reaching for a suitcase to pack for his Grahamstown trip, Ray Phiri, the grand old man of mbaqanga music, falls off a chair and breaks three ribs.

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Don Laka performs at the DSG Hall in Grahamstown on 10 July 2015 at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Laka has been a performer, composer and producer for nearly four decades. (Photo: CUEPIX/Kate Janse van Rensburg)

I arrive ten minutes late for Don Laka’s show, at the tail-end of his first song. Worried I wouldn’t get a seat, my fears are abated when I see a few empty seats sprinkled around the venue. It’s amazing to me that one of the most important living pianists in South Africa is just barely filling up a show. Nonetheless, the sonic adventure he provides makes up for this slightly-above-lukewarm reception of Laka by Festival audiences.

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Lulama Gawulana performs with South African Jazz Classics at the Standard bank jazz café venue in Grahamstown on 9 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Gawulana was joined on stage by Sakhile Simani on trumpet and Donné Dowlman on bass guitar. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

I was highly critical last year of the Standard Bank Jazz and Blues Café venue. It was an acoustic disaster, and had zero atmosphere. Reassured that this year’s venue (Saints Bistro in High St) was a very different story, I ventured forth on Thursday night to hear a quartet of Eastern Cape musicians pay tribute to our South African jazz heritage. I was, I must confess, familiar with only one of the musicians: trumpeter/ flugelhorn player, Sikhele Simani, and that only recently, when he impressed with his beautiful sound and good taste in Siya Makuzeni’s band at DSG Hall. (Drummer Lloyd Martin was not originally billed in the NAF printed programme).

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Photo: CuePix/Sithasolwazi Kentane

If we trust our young people, and give them the tools they need, then surely our heritage is in safe hands,” says Concord Nkabinde, director of the Standard Bank National Youth Band 2015, after they’d played his first three arrangements on Monday night at the DSG Hall.

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This piano duo featuring Andre Petersen, a classically trained jazz pianist, and Kathleen Tagg, a classical pianist with an interest in African pianism and unconventional treatment of the piano, is an interesting partnership in a programme that mainly celebrates the sonic essence of Africa.

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Nduduzo Makathini performing in the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz show, at the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Accompanies by other musicians, they performed songs that paid homage to musical ancestors.
(Photo: CuePix/ Sithasolwazi Kentane)

On Friday at 5pm a packed DSG Hall buzzed in anticipation of the first performance by pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz. In that audience seated side by side were two previous winners, both pianists, Bokani Dyer and Kyle Shepherd.

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Kesivan Naidoo performs in Kesivan and the Lights on 5 July 2015 in Grahamstown at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Kesivan and the Lights performed at Carnegie Hall last year. (Photo: CUEPIX/Kate Janse van Rensburg)

Kesivan Naidoo is larger than life. If he were an actor, a casting agent might recommend him for a zany guru, a rebellious teddybear, or a demented Svengali. But he’s a musician, and, seated centre stage – like a rock drummer – Kesivan is more like a noisy musical chef as he cooks away, throwing ingredients into the mix – a bluesy solo from pianist Kyle Shepherd, some rock guitar from Reza Khota, a show-stopping double bass solo from Shane Cooper, with three saxophonists and one legendary trumpeter (Feya Faku) standing by to be added to taste.

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Nils Jason plays the trumpet with the world–renowned Stockholm Jazz Orchestra at DSG Hall venue. Photo: CuePix/Niamh Walsh-Vorste

It all starts off great! The opening composition Fire lives up to its name, as the SJO provides punchy brass, delicate flutes, with a rocksolid rhythm section, and Martin Sjöstedt swapping his customary double bass for an electric instrument. But for the next number composer, arranger and conductor Ann- Sofi Söderqvist introduces vocalist Lena Swanberg, who stays throughout.

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Before the Cape Town International Jazz Festival there was the North Sea Jazz Festival – Cape Town (don’t ask!). There I attended many of the workshops organised by the late Hotep Idris Galeta. The extraordinary contribution from a little-known Benin guitarist at one of these gatherings made us all sit up, and get up!

Since then Lionel (pronounced Leeon- ell) Loueke has made a considerable impact on the US jazz scene, being mentored by veteran jazz masters Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, who recognised both his talent and his uniqueness.

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