A settlement along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast.
Kef Kek Break
I left the city for a breath of fresh air in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. I’m addicted to hiking on coastlines. I traveled to Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast via Nelson Mandela’s hometown, Mthatha. Coffee Bay is just one of many non-urban areas in South Africa. Still, my time there left me with a more realistic picture of how people live in South Africa, and how music lives with them.
Music is a daily dose. It’s something people share–an activity, a past time. There is no art to it. Traditional South African languages didn’t even have a word for art until European settlers arrived. So there is no concert hall or formalities to music. You play, they dance, or vice versa. It has changed with greater influx of foreigners to the Eastern Cape. With it comes a market for musical performance. A phenomenal young local percussionist (19 I was told) rocked a backpacker spot in Coffee Bay. This young man will soon face a dilemma: to stay put or seek more in a city.
Amandla! A march on Parliament in Cape Town.
The city is cooking. Music is as ingrained in social and daily life as it is in the countryside, only in different mediums. I encountered a march on Parliament in Cape Town. Different factions of the mob sang, some even with harmony, while dancing up Plein Street. I’ve marched in Seattle before. This would not happen there, or perhaps anywhere I’ve traveled to so far. It warmed me to experience music outside venue walls. But I couldn’t help to notice an irony in this protesting. The African National Congress (ANC) supporters proclaim their grievances to the government. The Western Cape is controlled by the Democratic Alliance (DA), but in my understanding, the issues at hand are national. The national ruling party is the ANC. Good ol’ politics.
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From the Eastern Cape I continued to Johannesburg, or Jo Burg, or Jozi. The financial and (I’d say) cultural capital of South Africa has a fast tempo, and more energy than a chilled-out Cape Town. Historically, Jo Burg is where jazz really began blossoming in South Africa. Time passed. Few clubs and venues remain. But musicians carry on. Jo Burg’s scene reminds me of Bombay’s. I caught two gigs during my stay, the second of which I sat in with a great local trumpeter Marcus Wyatt. Check out his Language 12 project:
Marcus’ gig later transformed into a high-energy jam. The crowd was bubbling. The local musicians were boiling… Mthunzi Mvubu on sax; Nduduzo Makhathini on keys and Ayanda Sikade on drums—both of these cats are releasing fresh albums very soon. And of course many more… so many more. I had little time to see much (even eat). It was all music all the time—lekker. I left Jo Burg only wishing I had more time. Shit, I wish that for every place I’ve been to. I arrived back in Cape Town for the beginning of the SAJE Conference.
The meeting room at a past SAJE Conference.
The South African Association of Jazz Education (SAJE) hosted their 11th International Conference this week: Jazz as a metaphor for change, collaboration and innovation. Musicians and scholars from the UK, Brazil, Italy, USA, Estonia, and of course, South Africa, congregated at the University of Cape Town (UCT) College of Music. Busy myself—with gigs, jams, and preparations for Brazil—I was only able to catch a few presentations. Ups to Diane and Mike Rossi for organizing and running the whole thing!
A highlight for me was two documentaries. The first, “Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way” was produced by Clint Eastwood and presented by Brubeck’s three sons: Darius, Dan and Chris. A Dave Brubeck documentary is long overdue, but then again, Brubeck is still kicking at 91. The film is a bit dry. Clint Eastwood got a bit too much face time as well. But, Brubeck’s story is an incredible one. (Darius joked that the only reason a biopic wasn’t made is because Dave did none of the bad stuff… no drug addiction, no conflicts, no movie). It isn’t difficult to understand why his story inspires me personally. Dave Brubeck’s global tour in 1958 heavily influenced his infamous album Time Out.
Dave and Clint at the bench.
After an insightful lecture on the great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, UK scholar Jonathan Eato presented the second documentary, “Legacy,” an edited (and by edited, I mean very artistic, improvisational editing at work here by Aryan Kaganof) interview with three South African jazz legends—Tete Mbambisa (piano), Louis Moholo (drums), and Zim Ngqawana (sax). Simply put, the film is enlightening. I only wish I had a clip to share. One quote I do remember well, imparted by the late Zim Ngqawana. Paraphrased (waiting for a transcription): “I’m not so interested in my traditions or traditional music. I’m interested in the conscience.” Zim is truly a South African musician. His words cut deep. Conscience is the core of music, not the instruments, the style, the rhythm, the feel, the tradition… it’s the conscience. All else is secondary. Dig on Zim!
I played my own part in the SAJE Conference, performing with Mac McKenzie’s Goema Ensemble to cap a presentation on the history and development of goema, or “the sound of the city” (of Cape Town). I’ve written on goema already. For a refresher, read my post “The Goema Heartbeat.” US scholar John Edwin Mason gave a historical outlook as well as his vivid photography from a previous Cape Town Carnival. Check his blog! Paul Sedres, French musician and the director of SAJE, then spoke with Mac about the development of goema by tracing Mac’s own musical career.
The Cape Town Carnival. Photo by John Edwin Mason.
The 11th SAJE Conference is also a great and timely lead up to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which takes place this weekend. I can’t wait to share what I hear with you all.
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I grabbed a drink at Tagore’s on my way home. A couple muso friends are there. We’re having what Afrikaaners call a jol when Tony Cedras emerges from the back of the small venue. Tony is a local Cape Town music legend, a pianist and trumpeter. He’s been living in NYC. Tonight, he’s in Cape Town, jamming in the backyard of Tagore’s with another great local cat Hilton Schilder. As Tony exits, a hilarious breakout of song ensues. We all start rambunctiously singing his hit song “Ngena,” a Cape Town jazz standard (the recording of which featured a young Chris Botti). I liken this to singing “Message in a Bottle” if you ever encountered Sting. Good times at Tagore’s.