/ 11 April 2024

Sundays swing in Nothemba Madumo’s church of Jazz

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Tuned in: Nothemba Madumo opens the show with Courage by Tutu Puoane at the launch of 702 and Cape Talk’s Jazz and Beyond on 7 April. Photo supplied

It has just gone 6pm in the church of jazz. It is a Sunday night, and the congregation is in session for the first time. The high priestess is dressed in an elegant black and white jumpsuit. Her pulpit is a red, blue and white hi-tech studio in upmarket Sandton; on the back of her Apple laptop is a sticker that reads “4 Ever Jazz”.

About an hour earlier I was jolted out of my Sunday afternoon post-nap sleepiness as I walked into Primedia Place and realised this is serious: the launch of the new jazz radio show on 702 and Cape Talk, Jazz and Beyond is coming with the bells, whistles, saxophones and a grand piano. 

I have been to a few media launches in my decades as a hack, and this is proper. You walk into the bustling reception area and there is a floor-to-ceiling full-colour banner saying, “Welcome to Jazz and Beyond with Nothemba Madumo”. And just to make 100% sure you feel welcome, they ply you with champagne plus a hearty spread for the thirsty and hungry among us.

The folks at Primedia take jazz seriously, that’s clear. 

They have managed to sign up respected presenter and jazz head Madumo for this three-hour weekly jazz show, after Metro FM decided they didn’t need such a show anymore — her popular show was canned by the SABC station after 16 years on air. Just like that.

Many black South Africans grew up in jazz households — it’s the soundtrack of their lives. 

At the launch, Primedia chief executive Lindile Xoko told his own jazz story. He grew up in an off-the-map village called KwaMarhazula near a small Eastern Cape town called Bizana, with no running water and no electricity in their house.

But his grandfather Phillip, who died in 1991 aged 100, had a “sound system the size of a stove. It had two turntables and was powered by two Eveready batteries”, Xoko tells us.

“He would play jazz and would tell us stories of how jazz was played. My dad on the other side, a controversial figure, he was in the tavern, sitting on a crate, also telling his stories, listening to jazz.

“My mother was in another part of the house, when she was cooking, also listening to jazz — therefore it is in my DNA, which is why we as an organisation, decided to go for jazz, with its importance and significance, in our history and our day-to-day lives.”

Xoko said they “were quite disappointed when in our research, we saw the other media houses turning jazz off. We then took it upon ourselves that we want to own the jazz space in our country and beyond, hence the name Jazz and Beyond. 

“The promise that we make is that we’ll do everything in our power to shine our light on this genre — by honouring the legends, the architects, but also the community in the jazz space.”

Madumo also grew up in a jazz home. We are sitting outside the studio complex in the autumn in Joburg chill — Madumo enjoys a puff on a cigarette after the first hour of Jazz and Beyond has flown past. In the second hour, listeners are treated to a live performance by saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu and his band, giving me an opportunity to hear where Madumo got her love for jazz.

“It was all my parents played in our house,” she tells me about growing up in eSwatini. 

“I did listen to other kinds of music as I grew up as a teenager, but that music was not allowed in the house. My first boyfriend bought me a Chaka Khan album for a birthday present. And when I tried to play it on my dad’s turntable, he’s like, ‘What the hell is that? That doesn’t get played in my house.’”

In the first hour of tonight’s show, Madumo had invited the listeners to let her know which song got them to fall in love with jazz. 

I ask her what hers was.

“Good Morning Heartache by Billie Holiday — it is the first song I learned the full lyrics to. The first album I owned was Sarah Vaughan Live in Lesotho; my parents gave it to me as a present. It was released in 1974 and I was 16.”

The first-ever Jazz and Beyond show’s first-ever song was Courage by Belgium-based South African singer Tutu Puoane. It is off her latest album, Wrapped in Rhythm Volume 1 — containing arrangements of Lebo Mashile’s poetry.

Madumo says: “I played it because it represented our worldliness as South Africans. The fact that she’s based in Belgium, but she’s doing South African music, and this album is based on Lebo’s poems.

“So, I just thought that song really represented what we are as South Africans in the jazz world. And, and both of them are women and, like, I am one. You know, I just thought we’re the shit.”

Madumo says the show is not structured yet, other than a monthly live gig during the show. 

“Just for the first few weeks, we’re going to get a sense of the listeners on 702 and Cape Talk. They’re going to help shape what the show is going to become. I’m not going to dictate.”

For tonight, she had prepared music that was going to represent a range of what jazz is. 

“Jazz is so broad, with different styles and genres. I try to see if I can play a little bit of this and a little bit of that, so that no one feels alienated and no one feels overwhelmed, and that everyone feels represented in their taste.”

Madumo is aiming that jazz will remain the soundtrack of her listeners’ lives and beyond, as per the programme’s title.

“The ‘beyond’ really talks about not just the music. It’s about everything the music represents in its lifestyle, culture, legacy and in the people,” she says. “The creators of this art form, where we not only have the musicians, but also have the people who produce, compose, take amazing photographs, paint.

“The people who design clothes and call it jazzy, the people who create the hairstyle … who like ‘this is my jazz look’, you know. It’s a whole shebang.”

Jazz and Beyond is on air every Sunday between 6pm and 9pm on 702 and Cape Talk.