Africa Beats – May 2000

  May 2000

JazzUSA has teamed up with Afribeat to bring you a new monthly feature called Africa Beats. Each month the folks at Afribeat will be providing our readers with new, interesting information on the thriving jazz scene across the waters.
We begin this new series with an editorial from Afribeat’s Editor, Struan Douglas and a piece on the North Sea Jazz Festival – Ed.

From the racy and vibrant frenzy of Johannesburg’s golden urban buzz to the green dreamy communities of the Eastern Cape – there is African jazz. From the eclectic and thrilling diversity of culture, colour and romance of the harbour city – Cape Town – to the fragmented rural communities of the North and the make-shift shacks of the townships, African jazz is heard, loved and played. In a land of vast differences and partiality, a land of immense disturbances and change, jazz has become the great leveller, weaving its magical thread throughout the country, memories and inequities, through all the sensations, stories and emotions – to create a wonderful and powerful expression.

African jazz. It is all about Africa, the driving rhythm, the creative impulse, the diverse influences, the consciousness born out of frustration. A vibrant world of contrasts, spontaneity, impulsivity, compassion, fragmented heritage and sensations – that roars with anger, screams in frustration, growls in warning, moans with compassion and laughs with ebullience.

It is truly free and transcendental – music of the people – the soul of the continent and the jump in the nations stride.

Street corners, shebeens and drinking spots teem with the slow driving, beating rhythm of the blues. The growl, scat, bebop and big band sounds out all over on the wireless. The South African sound brings all these influences together – Africa, Brazil and America – with its own individuality, its own style, its own invention. One foot in the roots and the other in the fashion, the passion – creating this raw, fresh and innovative sound of African jazz.

From the hip and erratic jazzmen, the great old characters to the ebullient gig-scene, the passionate sounds and stories to the style and panache which makes Africa jazz so beautiful. – ‘Africa Beats’ will take you into the world of African Music.

– Struan Douglas


Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

North Sea Jazz Festival
youssou-n'dour Big acts, small acts, progressive, retro and introspective, world, kwaito, hip-hop, bebop, funk, and free – last months North Sea Jazz festival in Cape Town was one great jazz bash. From Youssou N’dour to Herbie Hancock, Tania Marie and Courtney Pine, an overwhelming variety of names, wonderful musicians, profound performances and thrilling showmanship came together on four stages over two nights.

What ever your style, what ever your pleasure, this festival was the bomb because there was constantly music – African Brazilian, American or European – evolving, transforming and uniting styles, genres, grooves and rhythms.

The large and vacuous Good Hope Centre (usually home to benign gatherings and sterile symposiums) was transformed into a wonderful and vibrant refuge for the simultaneous and bewildering bombardment of the greatest jazz music in the world. Like the Monty Python team dreamed up the perfect death of being chased by thousands of naked women, the perfect excess and aural indulgence for many was this festival. If jazz music was your tonic – pleasure would have been your fate.

The festival became a marvellous collective harmony as beautiful music continued to rise whimsically from each and every stage and people drifted around sharing passing chords and riffs with these acts, enjoying as many as they could juggle on the same night.

bongo-maffin Downstairs in the basement that funky break-beat big band – Dutch Big band New Cool Collective had a thousand people jiving, some loving the moment, some waiting in anticipation of local Kwaito stars Bongo Maffin’s big beats. Meanwhile the main stage at the Good Hope was thriving to the liberating afro-retrospective grooves of the old duo Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, warming themselves up for the arrival of the big act at the festival – Youssou N’Dour. The intimate stage was overflowing in focused content of local pianist Bheki Mseleku’s African spiritualism and saxophonist Zim Ngqawana’ wild afro-avant-garde. And there was still an outside stage which was concurrently enjoying the extremely jazzy, very tight and propulsive virtuosos from one of the great trumpeters – Roy Hargroves. There was also Hugh Masekela’s explosive showmanship, young pianist – Moses Molelekwa’s astounding progressive interpretations of Africa rhythms, Herbie Hancock’s dramatic and cohesive jaunts into Gershwin’s classics, bass player supreme Carlo Mombelli’s subtle and reflexive minimalism and Courtney Pine’s jazz / hip-hop. Carlo Mombelli

The vacuum that had previously plagued the South African live music scene quickly dissipated and was forgotten as an enormous variety and disparity of people came together and got their groove back, and their groove down. And what’s more – above all the fun, the exhilaration – the jazz audience got a profound and important education in jazz quality.

Having some of the most famous and skilful international acts on the stage together with a collection of South Africa’s wisest, finest and freshest was a wonderful opportunity to take note and realise that the local guys are just as hot as the international artists. BraHugh is as vivid and cohesive as any Kenny Garrett performance, traditional songstress Busi Mhlongo is as passionate as anything Tania Marie can give, Carlo Mombelli is just as subtly supreme as Herbie Hancock whilst Jimmy Dludlu gets your hips gyrating anything like Ronny Jordan.

Music is not about jazz, kwaito, hip-hop or bebop – it transcends all of that. It comes down to whether it’s good music or bad music and that is what we as audiences should demand.

No longer need we compare ourselves to the international waters. No longer need we spend years making it in New York or London to be accepted as good and no longer need we sell out our original and traditional musical flavours – for it is obvious; some of the greatest artists in the world are from South Africa. We have the stars, the talent and the ability.

Together with these superb musicians and the solid and collective audience, the North Sea Jazz festival (which is going to become an annual event in Cape Town) is a positively exciting indication that South Africa is ready to reclaim its position as leaders in the international jazz arena. And when the industry and the infrastructure joins in to support this – wow – watch out.