All eyes on Grahamstown for South Africa’s National Arts Fest

Some of the South Africa’s finest musicians will join innovators from around the world at this year’s Standard Bank Jazz Festival, which runs in Grahamstown as part of the National Arts Festival from Thursday 30 June to Saturday 9 July.

Caiphus Semenya and Siya Makuzeni are two of the many performers for this year's National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
Caiphus Semenya and Siya Makuzeni are two of the many performers for this year's National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Although known primarily for its theatrical content, the festival goers will be able to tune in to the soundtrack of South Africa when the country’s finest musicians (along with visiting international artists) take to stages in venues ranging from plush theatres to spruced up school halls. The Standard Bank Jazz Festival has grown in stature over the years and is now regarded as a serious international jazz festival that gives audiences a sense of the country’s jazz heritage as well as new trends emerging from both within the continent and around the globe.

Scheduled to perform  are powerhouse South African musicians such as the legendary Caiphus Semenya, Simphiwe Dana, Ringo Madlingozi, Swing City and the Afrika Mkhize Big Band. Semenya needs little introduction after building a solid reputation as a musical director and composer of scores for Roots and The Color Purple, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He later worked on the score for Disney's The Lion King.

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival has become a litmus test of South Africa’s jazz future and this year presents some of the country’s best young talent. Among them is trombonist and vocalist Siya Makuzeni, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz, who is rapidly making a name for herself with her uniquely experimental, edgy yet pure intonation. She recently opened for the legendary Jazz Epistles' long-awaited reunion in Johannesburg.

Other young talent on show in Grahamstown includes Young Guns, comprised of Sisonke Xonti, Justin Bellairs, Thandi Ntuli, Romy Brauteseth and Claude Cozens; and Cape Town electronic duo The Kiffness, whose founder member David Scott first attended the Jazz Festival as a 13-year-old trumpeter while his partner Clem Carr was in the Standard Bank National Schools Jazz Band in 2003. Another young act to watch will be Soul Housing Project, the latest project of former Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2012 Bokani Dyer and vocalist Sakhile Moleshe, one of the voices behind Goldfish.

Other artists performing at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival include Kyle Shepherd, Loyiso Bala, Lloyd Cele, Graeme Watkins and Nokukhanya Dlamini.

According to Hazel Chimhandamba from Standard Bank, “We are delighted with the 2016 line-up, which features more than 100 top musicians. We are delighted that the festival continues to draw jazz lovers from around the country as well as being a tool to grow young jazz musicians in South Africa.”

Collaborations and international guests

One of the goals of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival is to open up opportunities for networking and collaboration between international performers and their South African counterparts.

Highlights in this regard include Afrika Mkhize’s Big Band, paying tribute to the late great Bheki Mseleku, with musicians from around the country as well as foreign guests. Johannesburg-based bassist and composer Carlo Mombelli meanwhile joins forces with three young Swiss musicians, led by trombonist Andreas Tschopp.

Pianist Paul Hanmer and singer Wendy Oldfield will team up for  a unique collaboration that fuses jazz, folk, pop and African styles. Cape to Calais is another not-to-be-missed collaboration between the established French duo of accordion Daniel Mille (who recently performed in Johannesburg at this year's Fête de la Musique) and clarinetist Stéphane Chausse, who will be joined by Dutch master bassist Hein van de Geyn and South African guitarist Dave Ledbetter.

Coming to South Africa from other parts of the world will be two-time Grammy winners Trio Corrente (Brazil) and Petter Wettre (Norway), trumpeter Michaela Rabitsch and guitarist Robert Pawlick (Austria); saxophonist Toon Roos (Netherlands); the David Kontra Trio (Sweden), Dave O’Higgins (UK) and Per Thornberg (Sweden), pianist Justin Binek (USA) and Frank Paco from neighbouring Mozambique.

The Ginsburg/Mezza Convergence Band comprises Mark Ginsburg, a formidable force in the Australian jazz scene with strong influences from his South African upbringing and Italy’s Vittorio Mezza. They appear with Romy Brauteseth (bass) and Kevin Gibson (drums) as well as a group of inspiring young South African vocalists led by Australian vocal coach Judy Campbell.

Alan Webster, director of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, said: “We are gathering a mesmerising collection of musicians from around the world who will spend a week generating jazz that has a unique Grahamstown energy, creativity and thrill. We look forward to hosting audiences who are keen on sharing this vibrant art form with us!”

Youth festival

The jazz festival incorporates the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival (SBNYJF), which has become one of the most significant jazz development programmes in South Africa, bringing together over 300 students and 40 teachers annually from diverse backgrounds all over South Africa, with nearly 90 professional jazz musicians and educators.

The youth festival lasts nearly a week, running from 29 June to 5 July, and incorporates innovative jazz performance, rehearsals, workshops, lectures, networking and an opportunity for South Africa’s future jazz stars to interact personally and musically with their peers and the country’s top performers. The philosophy of the SBNYJF is to promote the development of jazz in South Africa by providing vibrant, excellent educational opportunities for young players; by encouraging artistic integrity and creativity on the world-class Main Jazz Stage; by acknowledging the country’s jazz heritage; by creating a forum for South African musicians to network with peers from around the country and the world; and by providing audiences with unique, quality jazz.

More contemporary and classical sounds

Festival goers can also look forward to sizzling after-hours collaborations between visiting jazz musicians at the late night Standard Bank Jazz Café at Saints Bistro in High Street. Sessions will be hosted by a different musician every night, including pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner.

Beyond this year’s jazz festival, a host of South Africa’s leading contemporary and classical acts will perform in Grahamstown. Big names set to perform include rockers Prime Circle (6 July), recently returned from their latest European tour; hip-hop heavyweight AKA (8 July) and Afro-soul band The Muffinz (9 July).

On the classical front, violinist Avigail Bushakevitz, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Music, will be accompanied by her brother Ammiel for performances on 1 and 4 July. Avigail will also perform as the soloist at this year’s Festival Gala Concert with the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and the Odeion String Quartet under the baton of conductor Richard Cock (3 July).

Samson Diamond, the leader of the Odeion String Quartet, will join pianist Grethe Nöthling to present a flamboyant selection of some of the most breath-taking film scores of the last century in Cinema Extravaganza (5 and 7 July).

You can expect something extraordinary when guitar virtuoso Guy Buttery intertwines with the Odeion String Quartet in daring new arrangements, with strings and guitar operating as musical equals in a contemporary African symphonic setting (4 and 5 July).

Reimagining the classical is also at the heart of Breath and Hammer, which furthers  the quest of Grammy-nominated American clarinetist David Krakauer and pianist Kathleen Tagg to redefine the sounds and roles of their instruments (7 and 9 July). Tagg, a South African pianist now living in New York, will also present a solo programme, African Piano, which promises to take audiences through works by African classical composers and those deeply influenced by the music of central Africa to arrangements that include Zimbabwean mbira music, Malian kora songs and original compositions (6 and 8 July).

Traditional music, indigenous to the area, will be showcased by the Eastern Cape Dance and Music Ensemble’s We Salute Madiba (Part 2), which builds on the group’s success at last year’s festival. The programme aims to honour Nelson Mandela’s royal upbringing in the Transkei region to tell the story of the man behind the legend (30 June and 1 July).

Other international artists due to perform are Afro-Latin percussion and brass duo Ladies of Midnight Blue from the UK (30 June and 2 July), Colombian accordion player Álvaro Meza (8 and 10 July) and Uruguayan multi-instrumentalist Mateo Mera (4 and 6 July).

“From honouring the work of legendary composers to celebrating the successes of new composers as well as introducing new sounds from beyond the Limpopo and from across our oceans, this year’s Main Music programme continues to reflect our enthusiasm to present a richly textured, diverse and enjoyable platform for both artists and audiences,” says the festival’s Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed.

And in case that’s not enough, there are over 60 acts on the festival’s Fringe circuit, ranging from cabaret and musical theatre (A Great American Songbook, Ityala la Maul) to choral performances (Let There Be Music: A Choral Celebration, Seshego Gospel Choir) and contemporary artists in Ovation Award winners Hatchetman, Acatears, Acoustiq Assassins, Tshepo Fela and Chris Chameleon).

For more information and the full programme of events, check out the National Arts Festival website or the Jazz Festival website.


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