The Market Theatre’s promotion of the dramatic arts is undisputed. However, this archetypal South African playhouse has also played a pivotal role in the development of local music
Some of the best-known artists, notably Juluka, have launched their careers at The Market.
As recently as 2015, a historic event, International Jazz Day SA, was launched there.
Jazzy July is the theatre’s latest initiative in its promotion of South African music. The concept involves offering young musicians a stage to showcase their talents in front of enthusiastic jazz audiences.
Billy Monama is the first artist in this series. He fits the bill perfectly. Monama is not only an exciting, passionate and fresh musical talent on the contemporary scene, but he is one of its leading lights.
A dynamic, virtuoso presence on the strings, he is a flexible musician who can perform various idioms in different formats - whether it’s solos, trios, quartets or orchestras.
His upbringing in Limpopo exposed him to a rich musical culture that involved the traditional ethnic sounds of the indigenous people and a number of Western forms. A serious interest in guitar began in 1997 when he started practising on one that belonged to a neighbour - an old, battered Sunny model.
After completing his schooling, he moved to Johannesburg and enrolled at a music school. Formal education introduced him to some of the critical areas of the music, notably music harmony, live performance and leading an ensemble. It was a period of self-discovery that exposed him to a mélange of voices within the jazz idiom.
These include the great Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Ella Fitzgerald. His involvement with church music during this period is evident in his debut album which showcases at least two African gospel songs.
Monama also discovered and was influenced by local sultans of the strings, notably Marks Mankwane, Jimmy Dludlu and Themba Mokoena.
He admits to being influenced by non-musical surroundings which then inform his music. Monama may have strong jazz influences but is pushing boundaries all the time, incorporating many different musical cultures.
In his brief musical journey Monama, 33, has already performed at a number of important events as a band leader, notably the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz.
He has done collaborative performances with influential artists such as saxophonist Dave Koz and Dutch jazz singer Denise Jannah, as well as Cultural Flying Carpet, a SADC/Norwegian collaboration project.
Other South African groups and projects Monama has performed and/or recorded with include Themba Mkhize, Abdullah Ibrahim, Sipho Mabuse, Victor Ntoni, Mbongeni Ngema, Sibongile Khumalo, Dorothy Masuka, Abigail Kubeka and Andile Yenana - to name a few.
In 2008, Monama was chosen as the most outstanding attendant at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz workshop series.
In 2009, he worked with internationally acclaimed musical directors Themba Mkhize and Concord Nkabinde in Crazy for Jazz: Our Journey Through Music, a musical theatre show on the history of South African jazz.
The Jazzy July series featuring Monama starts tomorrow at the John Kani Theatre from 8pm.