Flood of talent at the lake

This Sunday, once again, Zoo Lake will be hosting Jazz on the Lake. In the past decades, the venue has served the city’s residents well.

During the week it was the domain of madams and their dogs, or maids with their frail pensioner employers or gardeners. Over weekends the spot was teeming with hundreds of domestic workers and sometimes their kids. In the Fifties, record companies would park a mobile disco in the park, playing new hits by local artists. And when penny whistlers came to play, they lost their captive audience.

In its first year of Jazz on the Lake, the neighbourhood exploded with anger at the sight of so many people, mostly black. While the fight has been going on all these years, this year it seems the residents have yielded. They have formed a committee with the organisers of Arts Alive to map out a security and technical plan for the show.

Sunday’s event will be the eighth of its kind. It seems this time round every inch of grass will be covered as New York’s popular steel pan hero Andy Narell makes an appearance. Indeed the festival’s record of 40 000 jazz fans seems set to be broken as Narell, The Sheer All Stars and multi-instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney headline a fine line-up.

The Sheer All Stars are slowly becoming a regular band, adding international dates to their itinerary. They played at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown before departing to the Netherlands where they did the famous North Sea Jazz Festival.

The All Stars consist of pianist Paul Hanmer, saxophonist McCoy Mrubata, guitarist Errol Dyers and bassist Sipho Gumede. On the drums is Frank Pako of Virtual Jazz Reality, who has also done time with Jimmy Dludlu.

Delhi-born Nitin Sawhney, who grew up in the UK on a diet of Indian classics, started out sampling jazz, drum ‘n’ bass, trip hop and flamenco music, which he says “came from India originally”. Later, he led The Jazztones before joining acid king James Taylor in 1988. He also formed the Tihai Trio in collaboration with percussionist Talvin Singh. Since then the versatile Sawhney has composed music for television, film and theatre as well as cutting four albums.

South Africa’s newest jazz singer on the block, Sani, will make her first appearance at the lake. She first came to the attention of jazz fans when she sang with top dogs Iconoclast. Her next move was to go solo. Sani is one of many who once entered the Shell Road to Fame. In 1992 she left for the United Kingdom where she played and recorded gospel and jazz. After a stint in Italy she returned home to high-profile gigs – one with Sibongile Khumalo and another with Gloria Bosman.

This year’s concert looks likely to be the biggest ever, eclipsing 1997’s, which featured Sakhile, Tania Maria, Moses Molelekwa and Gloria Bosman. That year Jazz on the Lake attracted 40 000 worshippers. This year the likes of Andy Narell will have a chance to play a gig with a long tradition of excellence. Judging by his popularity, he’s bound to have a great time doing so.

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