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Joy of Jazz 2012: It’s a kind of magic

I can honestly say that the 2012 Joy of Jazz festival was a good one, with the exception of certain unavoidable mishaps and a vision that could've perhaps been a lot grander.

To begin with, the problem of delays on the various stages persisted since the first night. I still haven't ascertained whether Manu Dibango finally made on to the Conga stage, where the virtue of my patience was uprooted whole. I think that may have been the reason for my avoiding that stage on the second and final night.

It didn't matter who the performers were – the delays did not discriminate and most of us found ourselves leaving Newtown a good hour to an hour and a half past the original end time of the shows.

But I do not regret anything because the music more than made up for the whole schlep.

Kicking off the second evening was the absolutely brilliant Afrika Mkhize. The 2012 Standard Bank Artist of the Year in the category of music commanded the stage with an equally impressive ensemble made up of Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Shane Cooper and Kesivan Naidoo.

It was amazing to watch Mkhize. His posture, alluding to relentless agitation, contrasted with the beautiful ease with which his fingers found their way around every key of the piano. One can only imagine that pride was the companion of his father Bheki Mkhize, another doyen of South African jazz piano, who sat in the front row watching his son.

Mkhize is one of the factors to my gripe regarding the vision of the festival in general. I must put forward a caveat at this point – I was only one among a number of my peers who had the particular view that the festival could liven up its offerings. The feeling was simply that there needs to be a steady increase of younger local and international jazz musicians.

Don't get me wrong, the performers that came out this year were a great mix of legends and protégés, but in the sibilant whispers of someone whose name I shall not reveal: "After bringing out Wynton Marsalis last year, they set the bar too high".

Hopefully we will get a chance to see the Roy Hargroves, Robert Glaspers and Gregory Porters of this world in the future.

But one thing was made clear: The majority of audience members at a festival such as the Joy of Jazz certainly know why they are there. There is no blindness and a pitiful hope of stumbling into something that you may enjoy. The audience possessed both knowledge and curiosity.

The oohs, ahs and fervent head-nodding that accompanied the tireless voice of Kurt Elling is proof of this. Another noteworthy voice was that of Liz Wright. Hers was my last show, and what an unforgettable one it was. Singers and voices such as those of Wright and Elling remind one that music, when produced from the soul, is a practice that requires an honesty of self and recognition of one's talents. The voice is an instrument that ought to accompany and be accompanied by other instruments; one cannot solely rely on the brand power of the person behind the music.

I was thoroughly satisfied and humbled, and had no regrets at the end of it all, even though I skipped some contemporary masters such Earl Klugh. 

I am also certain those who may not have had similar tastes to mine also found joy in their choices.

It's the kind of magic that one can only find in jazz.

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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.

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