/ 9 May 2024

Festival shows jazz is safe in the hands of the youth

1p9i3139 2 Min
Bright spark: Yussef Dayes from London lights up the stage at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on Saturday. Photo: Fuad Esack

As he walked into the media area on the hotel’s 27th floor on Friday morning, this strange creature looked like an American Mzekezeke — but with a lemon-coloured knitted balaclava and a pink, purple and orange checked suit — all bright neon. 

But, fool that I am, I returned to chatting with other hacks about record collecting.

I should have interviewed him but I wasn’t prepared and I refuse to ask questions such as, “Are you excited to play at the festival?”

On Saturday night at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this wonderfully outrageous bassist, who goes under the name MonoNeon (Dwayne Thomas Jr on his passport), and his band simply blew my mind. 

He was one of the last musicians to play with Prince before his death in 2016. 

He is also a Dadaist, which as he told the No Treble magazine, inspired him so much, “not only musically but my personal attire — wearing high-visibility clothing, bright colours and so on”.

MonoNeon is also “definitely influenced” by experimental composer John Cage, whose 4’33” was composed in 1952 for any instruments but, during that time, musicians do not play their instruments. 

However, on Saturday night MonoNeon and his brilliant quartet most certainly did not cover Cage. 

They were loud and exceptionally funky — Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Funkadelic, Thundercat, Jameszoo (a discovery from a previous CT jazz festival) and the aforementioned Prince all sprang to mind during their supercharged set.

On Friday night, the Cape Town seven-piece Kujenga did the mind-blasting — full-on funky and fun, yet serious. Like their youthful fans, singing back their instrumental songs’ hooks to them, the 20-something jazz-Afrobeat band brought a joyful energy to the stage.

Kujenga were so compelling I realised afterwards that I did not even take a single cellphone pic or video — I truly lived in the jazz moment.

English drummer Yussef Dayes was understated in our Friday morning interview. 

“I’m just myself — it is Yussef; I’m from Lewisham, south-east London.”

But, for many critics, his Black Classical Music was one of the albums of last year.

“The drums are my voice,” he explained. “That’s where I’ll free up … Many things make it what it is: tenacity, I’m ambidextrous. It’s like a martial art, really — just making art with the drums.”

Midnight on Saturday, Dayes and his exceptional band did the talking to a packed Moses Molelekwa hall at the festival. 

“Stand up if you want to dance!” Everyone in the mostly young audience was on their feet — except for one guy who shifted into a seat near where I was bouncing around: “My knee is fucked, I have to sit down.”

Jazz as a dance music. Jazz with a punk energy — but knowing more than one chord.

Despite the fact that Dayes’s drumsticks were a blur, the groove stayed locked, filthy and tight. 

Looking back, the afterglow continues. Jazz is in safe hands. And those hands are mostly young. This weekend in Cape Town tells me jazz’s future is brighter than ever.