Cape Town - Not every Grammy nominee who plays at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is from outside the country.
Point in case is Mamelodi-born Don Laka who received a Grammy nomination for Best World Music CD for producing Hugh Masekela’s Jabulani in 2013.
The multi-instrumentalist/ producer will perform on Saturday 30 March at this year's jazz festival at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Laka finished at the Royal Academy of Music with a Grade 8 in classical guitar, but apartheid kept him from enrolling at the Pretoria Conservatoire. He kept on making music through and obtained his licence in high school music teaching in 1979.
Between 1980 and 1981 he played with Afro fusion group Sakhile, formed with Sipho Gumede and Khaya Mahlangu. The group paved the way for later Afro fusion bands like Bayete.
Laka started working with musicians such as Brenda Fassie, Sipho Mabuse and Sankomoto (mostly as strings and keyboard arranger) and recorded his first big hit with the band Umoya before creating his own British-rock influence band Ymage with Sello “Chico” Twala in the 1980s. They worked together for 10 years, releasing numerous album while Laka continued working on solo albums like Going Crazy (1982), I Wanna be Myself (1984) and Smile (1987) and producing artists the likes of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Ray Phiri, Mango Groove and Johnny Clegg.
In 1990 Laka began writing big orchestral arrangements for Sibongile Khumalo, who performed his works with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Also in the 1990s Laka formed independent record label Kalawa Jazmee with friend Oskido (Oscar Mdlongwa), one of the first successful black-owned record companies in South Africa which released many of the top kwaito artists as this genre took flight.
Kalawa Jazmee was the production and arranging force behind the likes of Brothers of Peace and Boom Shaka and Laka’s songs and piano playing was popular with many musicians who asked him to write, produce and perform on their works.
As a solo artist Laka soon started fusing kwaito and jazz, calling it kwai-jazz and his solo career was significantly boosted with the release of solo album Destiny (1997), which fused hip hop, traditional African rhythms, classical music and pop and saw Laka play drums, bass, guitar, piano and soprano saxophone.
Laka insists that the highlight of his producing career was working on Hugh Masekela’s Black to the Future (1998) and Sixty (2000), which saw him combine the latest rhythms into Masekela’s work without sacrificing Bra Hugh’s inimitable sound. His participation in the 2013 Jabulani also netted him a South African Music Awards (SAMA) nomination as Best Producer.
He called his 2017 album, Reflections, a celebration of 45 years in the music industry. It featured Laka mixing kwai-jazz with a more contemporary sound and featured artists such as Kelly Khumalo, Dr Malinga, Emtee, Thembe and Dr Maphorisa.
Reflections was released shortly after he received a SAMA Lifetime Achiever Award.
Laka currently runs his own recording label, Bokone Music, and is a passionate advocate for increasing local content on radio and television.
* The Cape Town International Jazz Festival celebrates 20 years of local and international jazz on 29 and 30 March 2019 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Tickets available now at Computicket .
** Click here for more on #CTIJF2019.