Jazz roots and routes

The past year has been a captivating one for those interested in the memory of South African jazz and its golden era. Literary and celluloid recollections of our musical past have blossomed, with pickings such as Hugh Masekela’s biography, the recent documentary Sophiatown, Michael Titlestad’s under-acknowledged critical study Making the Changes, and Gwen Ansell’s much awaited book Soweto Blues.

In keeping with this spirit of rediscovery, memory and heritage feature high up on the bill of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this weekend.
This orgiastic annual jazz event, previously known as the North Sea Jazz Festival, has always struck a fair balance between top-flight international acts, living legends of South African heritage and emerging artists from both near and far.

This year is no different, with artists ranging from Jozi underground dub pioneers 340ml, through legends like Miles Davis Band graduate Dave Holland, Algeria’s transfixing vocalist Dhafer Youssef, to enduring homegrown favourites such as the Mahotella Queens and the Village Pope.

Often the festival is an emotional point of re-entry for artists tentatively emerging from exile, or simply visiting home after a long hiatus. Perhaps Louis Moholo, drummer of the famous Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath, won’t mind if we put him in this category for now. Although he played the mother city as recently as last year, this will be his first performance since returning to live in the city a few months ago.

Moholo, the last surviving member of the Blue Notes, is no stranger to memory and tribute. After the death of each Blue Note, the rest of the group would record an album to commemorate his passing. The band refused to add new members. When Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana died in 1990, Moholo was on his own. Yet the tradition of tribute continued when he joined with Evan Parker to form the Dedication Orchestra, which now remembers the music of the all the other Blue Notes.

Another featured member of this generation of exiles is Lucky Ranku, a guitarist who initially worked with Philip Thabane’s Malombo Jazz and Julian Bahula’s Jabula before joining the cultural exodus to Europe. While sharing a flat in London with that other prominent joller, Thabo Mbeki, Ranku played with Dudu Pukwana’s band Zila. When Pukwana died in 1990, Ranku took the lead in Zila while dreaming of creating a big band. This dream would eventually lead to the formation of the African Jazz All Stars, which consists of class-A musicians from all over Africa, including South African trumpeter Claude Deppa and Cameroon’s mastermind of percussion Brice Wassy. The Festival hosts the All Stars playing In the Spirit of Dudu, a tribute to Pukwana that features Ranku’s own tunes as well as compositions by Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza and the other jazz exiles.

Another tribute is played by threesome The Shape of Strings to Come. The members of this group are all guitarists and stalwarts of the Cape Town jazz scene: Richard Caesar, Jimmy Dludlu and Alvin Dyers. As much as the group’s moniker proposes to look to the future, their festival set will, in fact, be a tribute to the rich heritage of another influential Capey, Winston Mankunku Ngozi.

Mankunku is, of course, not simply a legend of Cape jazz. “I once saw Mankunku Ngozi blowing his saxophone. Yakhal’inkomo. His face was inflated like a balloon, it was wet with sweat, his eyes were huge and red. He grew tall, shrank, coiled into himself, uncoiled and the cry came out of his horn,” wrote Serote in 1972, and at that moment the image of this raging bull became bigger than jazz.

The Festival will also see the homecoming of Mankunku’s former band mate Morris Goldberg, who brings his band Ojoyo, featuring South African musicians Anton Fig, Bakhiti Khumalo and Tony Cedras. Goldberg, who was born in Observatory but had left for London and New York in his early 20s, was a well-respected musician in the vibrant Cape Town jazz scene of the early 1960s. While Chris McGregor and Dollar Brand were opening ears at the legendary Ambassador in District Six, Goldberg was blowing his sax down the road at Woodstock hotspot, The Naz.

This unique energy that characterised the Cape Town jazz scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s is gradually being recovered through the research and enthusiasm of the past few years. It’s important, given this context, that the North Sea Jazz Festival has now transformed itself into the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. The juxtaposition of “Cape Town”, a supposedly parochial small town by the sea, and “International” is vital. It should be recognised not as an aimless boast, but as a faithful memory of the city’s rich musical past. The Festival already does a good job of imagining Cape Town as the confluence of many routes. Some of these are routes of homecoming and memory. And then some of them, to remember what Morris Goldberg called his classic 1983 album, are all about getting a glimpse of “jazz in transit”.

Tony Schilder, another legend featured at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, will also be releasing his new album shortly afterwards.

He has enormous ears. A handsome man at 67 years of age, these prominent appendages have been the tools of his trade since he first started playing professional gigs at the tender age of 13. Now, more than 50 years into a career as one of Cape Town’s most respected jazz musicians, he is set to release a much anticipated recording on that rock of the Cape jazz scene, Mountain Records.

Those ears, or at least their ability to pick up a tune after hearing just a few bars, are part of his genetic heritage, reckons Schilder. He fondly remembers his Dutch father riding to Somerset West on horseback, accordion strapped to his back, to play at a langarm dance for the equivalent of a princely R5. He is equally boastful of the Khoi roots on his mother’s side. With the family tree firmly rooted in musical tradition, the Schilder and Africa families have become well known in the Cape as veritable musical clans.

Tony Schilder’s album will be launched at the Nassau Centre, Cape Town, on April 10. Schilder, who is an avid cook in his spare time, will be spicing up his musical pot with some exciting ingredients: guest appearances by Ian Smith, Zayn Adam, Robbie Jansen and Schilder’s talented son, Hilton Schilder. For reservations call Tel: (021) 447 1358

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