Words: Maneo Mohale | Images: Neo Baepi
In the impossibly early hours of what turned into the 2nd of April, I found myself at the official after-party of this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
Swept up in an exodus of energetic musicians, enthralled fans and buzzing media, Neo Baepi (who lends her stellar images to this photo-essay) and I poured into the top floor of the Cape Sun Hotel after the festival’s last performance.
By the time we arrived, the party was already massive and blooming – with the hotel’s ballroom pulsing with dance and fizzing with festival gossip. After a short DJ set, the after-party gave way to that time-honoured jazz party tradition – the jam session.
Now, as indulgent as jazz jam sessions (and jazz musicians) tend to be, I adore them for their ability to strip the music down into the elemental. With only a few instruments and a bare-bones base, the jazz is parsed all the way down and forced to reveal two of its most important roots: improvisation and call-and-response.
The Brooklyn-born multi-instrumentalist Taylor McFerrin, son of the jazz vocal giant Bobby McFerrin, was the first to lay the foundation – framed in green light, tentatively playing lush chords while seated at the keyboard. Soon after, jazz drummer and black boy genius Marcus Gilmore effortlessly slipped into a solid beat – adding some of his gracefully playful flourishes to the music, while winking over at McFerrin every now and then.
Taylor McFerrin at the CTIJF After-Party
Local Xhosa songbird Siya Makuzeni was next on the stage, snarling her otherworldly vocals into a loop machine, instantly changing the music’s direction with her incredible voice and stage presence. It wasn’t long before Swiss trombonist Andreas Tschopp – who performed at the festival with the five-piece SA/Switzerland collaboration which includes Shane Cooper/Card On Spokes, Skyjack – added his full-throated brass to the jam. All of this combined turned the improvised performance into a living embodiment of what makes the Cape Town Jazz Festival uniquely exceptional; it’s international interconnectivity.
Dope Saint Jude Performing at the Bassline Stage
More than any other genre, jazz thrives off of musicians communicating influencing and listening to each other. At CTIJF, I saw this aspect in the way performers revealed their myriad overlapping and often surprising inspirations, while supporting each other’s music both on and off the stage.
Taking a breather during her electrifying set, Cape Town favourite Dope Saint Jude – who was supported on stage by gender-defiant R&B, disco and funk DJ K-Dollahz, Msaki and the Golden Circle jazz drummer Asher Gamedze – spoke of her excitement at performing on the same night as the heavily adored Los Angeles trip hop/soul band The Internet.
K-Dollahz and Asher Gamedze performing with Dope Saint Jude at the Bassline Stage
Earlier on, I had caught Gamedze nodding along to Syd’s solo section of The Internet’s performance, surrounded by fans who drifted to the Bassline stage to sing along to Dope Saint Jude’s ‘Brown Baas’ soon after swooning along to Syd’s ‘Body’.
Syd from The Internet at the Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee Stage
Over on the Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee stage, during her soul-expanding performance, UK electro-soul darling Laura Mvula glowingly cited the Soweto String Quartet as a formative influence on her transcendent take on jazz, soul and R&B, and praised South Africa as her favourite location, where she’s shot a number of her videos.
Laura Mvula at the Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee Stage
I caught boss bassist Benjamin Jephta (who performed at the prestigious Rosies stage with the Siya Makuzeni Sextet) bumping along to SA beat-machine wizards STTA, and spotted Mozambique saxophonist Moreira Chonguica (who made intergenerational magic on the Kippies stage alongside Cameroonian vibraphone legend Manu Dibango) caught in the 90s nostalgia while watching Brooklyn hip-hop giants Digable Planets.
Digable Planets at the Bassline Stage
Much could be (and has been) written about whether the vastly varied music offered at CTIJF can rightly be described as ‘jazz’, a term that veteran jazz journalist Sis’ Gwen Ansell admits “obscures as much as it explains.” But part of the festival’s brilliance is in its explicit acknowledgment and showcasing of jazz’s roots in most genres, including soul, R&B, hip-hop and the myriad variants of those.
Just as we saw in CTIJF’s final jam, the festival celebrated what might be the best parts of Southern African and global jazz, that is its internationality, intergenerationality, intertextuality and interconnectivity.