Forget regret - it's jazz, baby

Performers offered audience a feast of jazz standards. (Michael Glenister)

Performers offered audience a feast of jazz standards. (Michael Glenister)

The worst thing about being at festival like that of Standard Bank Joy of Jazz is that you will unavoidably have to make difficult decisions – which show to see, which one to miss – especially since they are going on around the same time as each other.

On one side, Marcus Wyatt was at his natural cool, with the audience listening attentively, visibly nodding heads and tapping feet in agreement.

On the other side, Thandiswa Mazwai had the crowd in unbridled ecstasy. Hers was a factor of traditional but contemporary cool as she belted out her instantly recognisable numbers, swaying the crowd with boisterous ululating and praise-singing on the Mbira stage.

But of course you cannot be at a South African jazz festival without the visible presence of grown men in berets.

You'd swear it is the standard look to be had at such events, the omission of which seemingly betrays a lack of appropriate appreciation of the art form on display. In my temporary obsession to identify as many berets as I could, I managed to spot a few amaberete, that special unit of the police force that randomly beats people up and pours their own beer on them (thanks Deborah Patta).  

There was even the solitary beret of a clearly proud ANC Youth League affiliate – the political as the personal in all its grandeur.

Noticeably, a number of the venues were not filled to capacity, something that does not seem to have changed since last year's event.

No matter, though: the crowds were enjoying themselves and they will do the same on the final evening; the bar areas were busy – indeed,  a few people here and there had already gone over the alcohol limit, staggering in staccato rhythms while trying to get from one venue to the next. But such are the wonders of jazz music, that not even the inebriated connoisseur could spoil the mood of the evening.

Upon a stage named Dinaledi, the Tribute to Miles Davis followed in the wake of Wycliffe Gordon. A glorious dedication to King Cool if ever there was, with drums keeping everyone in the groove and the acoustic bass filling it in, the delicate sound of the trumpet setting the tone.

We were offered a feast of standards, though arguably not all of those matched up to  everyone's expectations. Solemnly, I tucked away my hopes of hearing a performance of concierto de aranjuez or flamenco sketches (alt. take) at the very least. But it's easy to forget regret on such a night.

You would think that with everything happening on the night every space would be permeated by the sound of jazz. Not so. One venue stood audibly out of place in some form of quiet defiance.

Despite its natural allusion to being a place for the cool cats, Ko'spotong was blasting all kinds of rubbish club music as if a island of philistines had erupted up out of the sea of cultured jazz pilgrims.

Not far from it, the Conga stage presented its penultimate performance for the evening. That this was Caiphus Semenya ensured that the venue was packed. The performance itself however, proved to be more of a let down, at least at first.

He himself was not at fault: we were subjected to terrible sound engineering, as Semenya tried to brave the feedback, only to bring everything to a halt in frustration.

Eventually, Semenya brought the house down, every single voice in the crowd straining to add their two cents worth of a rendition.

The final performance by Manu Dibango was by now eagerly anticipated – but as we waited, already with a schedule running behind, the closing time of 1.30am soon became 2am, and still no Dibango.

Not a single announcement or expression of apology for the late delay was forthcoming, yet still we waited. Eventually, patience gave way to resignation.

I cannot say whether Dibango eventually took to the stage, but all I remember is that I stood and waited in the midst of an evidently depleted crowd helplessly hoping for a little more jazz.

 But like I said a little earlier, one easily forgets regret on such a night. 

Mpho Moshe Matheolane

Mpho Moshe Matheolane

Mpho Moshe Matheolane is a Motswana from the little town of Mahikeng. He is a budding academic, researcher and writer with interests in art, history, semiotics and law. He sits on the Constitutional Court Artworks Committee – a clear case of serendipity – and is a firm believer in the power of an informed and active citizenry. Read more from Mpho Moshe Matheolane

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