Cape Town Jazz Fest 2016: Line up promises to dazzle fans

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Cape Town International Jazz Festival director Billy Domingo admonished, as he announced the first tranche of 20 artists for CTIJF 2016 in Johannesburg on October 13th. If he spoke true, and the second announcement (set for November 24th) features equally strong jazz names, then 2016 promises to be one of the event’s better years.

The five-stage festival – fourth-largest in the world – is never bad. There’s always enough good, diverse music on the Rosie’s and Molelekwa stages to let a jazz-oriented audience ignore the noise from elsewhere. But sometimes the organisers’ fondness for nostalgia, coupled with the commercial imperative to fill a huge venue by dangling pop names that can draw in the crowds, makes the jazz component feel like a poor relation. To some extent, that was the case this year.

The announcement for next year set a different tone from the start. First name out of the hat was South African bassist Benjamin Jeptha, whose debut album Homecoming made a quietly impressive hit with fans. Other young, original South African names followed: pianist Thandi Ntuli (The Offering) and drummer Tumi Mogorosi with Project ELO. It’s one of Domingo’s aims to fly the South African flag; names like this do so without compromising the festival’s jazz identity, and showcase the new music that overseas visitors ought to be buying.

Tumi Mogorosi. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Already known overseas through his work in Switzerland – and with the late Miriam Makeba – is pianist Afrika Mkhize, teamed with UK flautist Eddie Parker. In Britain, the two have been working on a project to remember and re-vision the music of Bheki Mseleku, and with luck that is what we’ll hear in Cape Town.

Among the South African jazz names, it was Mogorosi’s that drew the cheers from the launch audience. Those cheers were modest, however, beside those for a collection of visiting female Rn’B and soul voices: Angie Stone, Meshell Ndegeocello and SWV – all of whom can transcend their genre box and give genuinely exciting performances. Domingo knows his audience: these names will pull crowds.

US saxophonist Mark Turner merited a less low-key announcement. His 2014 album Lathe of Heaven(with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Marcus Gilmore and drummer Joe Martin) was one of the most critically-acclaimed of the year. His career has developed slowly and steadily; today Turner combines his virtuosity with a compelling, original sonic vision.

Other names to note included bassist Victor Wooten, brilliant Malian vocal duo Amadou and Mariam, Cuban pianist Roberto Solo Fonseca, and a clutch of popular South African acts, among them Mafikizolo and Khuli Chana. For fans whose annual pilgrimage to Cape Town is strictly for the jazz, however, this was a very encouraging start.

The CTIJF will be held on April 1 and April 2 2016. The full artist announcement and other festival information can be accessed at

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Gwen Ansell
Gwen Ansell is a freelance writer, writing teacher, media consultant and creative industries researcher. She is the author of various books, including the cultural history ‘Soweto Blues: Jazz, Politics and Popular Music in South Africa’ and the writers’ guide, ‘Introduction to Journalism’.

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