Kirk Whalum at the King Shaka International Airport.

INTERNATIONAL Jazz legend Kirk Whalum launched a major festival planned for later in the year in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Awesome iLembe Festival is intended to take the arts to the people, bringing some of the biggest local and international stars to entertain and help develop rural communities in the province.

The media launch at King Shaka international airport on Wednesday will be followed by an official launch of the Festival on Thursday at Sibusisiwe Community Centre in Mandeni, where Whalum is the featured guest artist.

At the media launch Thokozani Msweli, speaker of iLembe District Municipality, said the festival was geared towards empowering locals with theoretical and practical skills in the arts, and to expose them to the international community.

Festival Director, Princess Nandi Zulu, said while the Awesome Africa brand was an old brand, this was the first time they were holding a festival in iLembe, hence the Awesome iLembe Festival.

She said aside from bringing high-end entertainment to the rural areas and training locals in the arts, they also hoped to use the festival to market the area, which "is rich in cultural history", to the international community.

"(Through the festival development projects) we will also be looking for talent to take overseas... The onus is on us as the nation. The young people are our future and we have to make a positive impact (in their lives)"

The festival is expected to attract an audience of 20 000 over 8 to 10 August. It is projected to provide 400 direct and 1 000 indirect job opportunities.

Zulu's partner, Dan Chiorboli, said festival events would he held in Maphumulo, Ndwedwe, Mandini and KwaDukuza; with various artists rotating venues.

The festival will feature around 40 local and international artists in disciplines of music, theatre, dance, poetry, storytelling and arts and crafts. The event will also include a concert commemorating legends and will feature Ray Phiri.

Whalum, who is also very involved in community work in the United States, said he was honoured to be a part of the launch.

"There is only one great King in history and in the world and his name is Jesus and I decided to dedicate my life to him. The true test of all of our greatness will be the trajectory and possibilities we will afford them (young people and aspiring artists). Each of us have a role to play in what will be their future - the kids in the townships and in the United States and all over the world. It's what we will do to give them a better future".

* For more info on the Festival see