A marked difference at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this year is how young the audience attendance was. The draw card was having artists including Dope Saint Jude, Tom Misch and The Internet.
This has everything to do with line-up and programming, but it was interesting, considering ticket prices for a weekend cost R1 190. While it is a success that the festival has attracted this audience, there is still some way to go in terms of making it inclusive of a broader group of people.
This year had some very powerful performances, making it difficult to choose and often sacrificing one act over another. The festival started on Friday night with Cameroonian legendary saxophonist and vibraphone player Manu Dibango, joined by Mozambican saxophonist Moreira Chonguica. The duo, backed by a full band, were at the festival to perform music from their freshly released joint album, M&M – a compilation of jazz standards fused with African rhthyms. Dibango at 83, is still an energetic force and has kindled good chemistry with Chonguica.
A surprise of the evening was Dutch artist Jameszoo and his quintet, comprising of a collective of young musicians that who perform a combination of jazz and synth-electronica. Their unassuming, captivating performance converted many new fans and stood out as a highlight for the evening.
The anticipated performance of Los Angeles-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington was no disappointment. Washington graced the stage in a long blue kaftan with rings on all fingers and, joined by his nine-piece band, performed music from his latest release, The Epic, with huge bursting energy. The only downside was that the sound at the Kippies stage could not do justice to the individual musicians in the band. This did not deter fans from enjoying it however.
Both Washington and Jameszoo’s albums were released on the Brainfeeder label, which is increasingly looking at the intersection between jazz and electronic music. The final performance for Friday featured another Brainfeeder artist, Taylor McFerrin, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. The duo performed a groove-orientated exploration of the album Early Riser, using electronic loops and samples coupled with Gilmore’s excellent drumming.
Saturday evening was by far the busiest of the festival. Starting on a high note was the performance by New York-based saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa with his band of talented musicians, who performed from the album Bird Calls, a tribute to Charlie Parker. The compositions were complex forming a hard-bop structure with avant-garde elements. Mahanthappa’s performance stands out as was one of the festival highlights, but unfortunately he was programmed so early that the attendance was poor for his set.
The main highlight of the night was a super group called Jokko, comprising members from Senegal, Morrocco, the Ivory Coast and Mozambique. They fused traditional indigenous sounds with funk and jazz and hip- hop. Not only did they amaze musically, but their stage presence brought the entire seated audience to their feet. Their performance was an unknown pleasure and stood out from everything else at the festival.
Skyjack are another supergroup who delivered a strong performance. With their members based in Switzerland, Cape Town and New York, and rare opportunities to perform together, it is incredible that they manage to connect musically so beautifully on stage.
The full heaving beast of the festival could be felt when Thandiswa Mazwai was due to perform towards the end of Saturday night. This resulted in hundreds of people making their way up to the exclusive Rosies stage – which requires audience members to purchase a ticket of R30 per gig. This caused a lot of congestion and disappointment, as the gig had sold out and many could not attend.
The final highlight of the evening was the reunion gig of hip- hop group Digable Planets, who performed at the new Bassline stage, which has been incorporated more closely into the festival. They delivered for the fans and performed known favourites with great energy.
Initial activities for the festival began on Wednesday, with a powerful debate hosted by arts journalists Gwen Ansell and Percy Mabandu about decolonising the jazz curriculum. The debate, attended by mostly students, raised pertinent questions which looked at who should be teaching jazz and how it should be taught. Following this was the annual free concert, held at Green market Square – an opportunity for those unable to attend the festival to see some of the acts of the line-up.
This arts journalism debate, the free concert and the free masterclasses and workshops preceding the festival, are the most important work that the festival achieves.