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Erykah, George, Ringo and Toots

Cape Town’s burgeoning reputation as the “New Orleans of Africa” takes a swagger forward this weekend with the third Cape Town North Sea Jazz Festival.

At the top of the 32-act line-up is soul diva Erykah Badu, while Spyro Gyra, Toots Thielemans, James Moody, Ahmad Jamal, and SA’s own Allen Kwela, PedXulu and Jazzworx will also get their moment under the Cape Town moonlight.

Last year over 20 000 people sluiced through the gates of Cape Town’s Good Hope Centre to see Randy Crawford, the Brand New Heavies, Zuco 103 and Moodphase5.

Organisers expect an audience of about 25 000 people from all over South Africa as well as foreigners from Europe and the United States. That’s a dizzying quota of Red Bull and bourbon sure to be retailed over the weekend.

Festival director Rashid Lombard told the Mail & Guardian that Badu’s name comes at quite a cost. “Erykah’s the most expensive act, costing us $75 000 — I saw her live last year and it’s worth every cent. She’s captivating, a brilliant scoop for the festival.”

The 29-year old Badu is no simple one-trick performer, filtering luscious jazz vocals through soul, hip-hop and R&B in an organic style since adopted with much success by other artists like Macy Gray and Jill Scott.

Her voice — reminiscent of Seventies soul — has brought frequent comparisons to Billie Holiday and her career has developed parallel to artists such as Mary J Blige and D’Angelo.

Despite being born in the US that spawned George W Bush, surely one of the least funky individuals ever to don a hairnet, Badu’s debut album Baduism shot on to the British billboard charts at number two soon after its release, driven by the massive success of the single On and On.

This will be Badu’s first trip to South Africa — the closest she’d come prior to this was co-starring with Boksburg’s finest, Charlize Theron, in the movie The Cider House Rules.

Playing before Badu on the main stage will be one of the most intriguing acts to play at the festival, PedXulu, a nine-man percussion-based band that combines the sound of the Pedi, Zulu and Xhosa tribes. With their new line-up, PedXulu haven’t played in public before but as the act mandated to fluff the crowds immediately before Ms Erykah, one couldn’t ask for a more high-profile debut.

“For me, PedXulu will be one of the most exciting acts to play. It’s a brand- new concept that’s been formulated so I think it’s going to be something special,” Lombard enthuses.

PedXulu will not be the only South African band on show. Judith Sephuma, all the rage from Melville to Observatory in Cape Town, will perform tunes from her new album A Smile, A Cry, A Dance while Ringo Madlingozi will be an eye-opener for those not yet aware of his repoitoire. Ringo has been recently picked to tour South Africa with UB40, so if you want to check him out without having to listen to synthetic reggae muzak, then you’ll find him on the main stage on Saturday.

As is true of many high-profile festivals, some of the best acts can be found on the fringe. Buried away in the steamy Good Hope Centre basement will be the Bassline stage. This venue will be devoted to “nu-jazz” where groundbreaking artists will blend jazz, hip-hop, soul, breakbeat and drum ‘n bass.

Here you’ll find Holland’s highly acclaimed Martinez Move, South Africa’s nu-metal cum hip-hop act Max Normal and French trumpeter Erik Truffaz. You’ll also probably find a hundred red-eyed beat-wannabes trying to bum Rizzlas from anyone loitering near the bar.

Two new South African outfits to watch for on that stage are Golliwog, an eight piece freeform-funk dance band, as well as soul-house exponents Jazzworx.

The intimate and unassuming Rosies stage is where you’ll find the more serious pure-jazz devotees. Here you’ll catch the man credited as giving the harmonica its distinctive bebop identity, Toots Thielemans. Watch the film Midnight Cowboy and listen for the haunting harmonica richly overladen in the soundtrack — that’s Toots!

James Moody, the man Miles Davis rated as a huge influence, plays at the Rosies stage on Sunday. Listen for his signature tune, Moody’s Mood for Love, and get a sense of what separates the hacks from the trail-blazers.

Three other outstanding performers at Rosie’s are Allan Kwela, new South African band Tribe and US pianist Ahmad Jamal.

Other international acts set to electrify audiences include George Duke and Spyro Gyra.

Duke has worked with many big names including Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Zappa.

Tower of Power, who close events on the main stage on Saturday, are apparently blowing into Cape Town, dragging with them over 16 tons of equipment.

Ticket prices might not be cheap but all kudos go to the organisers for doing South Africa’s “jazz massive” a huge favour by pegging prices at the same level as last year. And for the talent on show, it’s well worth forking out.

The North Sea Jazz Festival runs from March 30 to 31 at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town. Tickets: R235 for a one-day pass, R360 for a two-day pass. Erykah Badu will be in Jo’burg on April 1 at The Bowl at Kyalami. Call Computicket for details.

[What to do if someone asks what music it is: Rule #1, don’t panic! Most people don’t really have a clue of the definitions. Smile and describe the relevant act as “fusion”, nu-jazz, crossover or “old-skool”. Drop “funk” in every fourth word. In the event of abject failure, just say “Oh, I think Roy is playing at Rosies again” and take your leave — Rob Rose]

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