Monday, 20 April 2009

Jazzing up in Cape Town

Guests soaking up in jazz. Inset, Hugh Masekela.


RIGHT from the Cape Town International Airport, the atmosphere was lively and busy with guests flooding the city for the 10th Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Event promo banners dotted the streets, with branded festival buses conveying guests to their hotels. There were radio and TV adverts at intervals, raising the hopes of tourists, who had paid their way into the city for the event; indeed, the publicity was huge.
At the Cape Town International Convention Centre, venue of the show, excitement filled the air as the technical crew worked day and night to set up five stages for Moses Molelekwa, Bassline, Rosie, Manenberg, and Kippies stage — with Kippie having the biggest site — where the legendary South African trumpeter, Hugh Masekela, was also billed to mark his birthday.
The press conference, held at the Southern Sun Hotel, Cape Town, turned out to be a show on its own; locals, who couldn’t wait for the concert, trooped into the hotel to catch a glimpse of the international acts as they go one-on-one with the world press. “Expect the best,” was on the lips of the artistes at the briefing.
However, the free concert staged on Wednesday, April 1, at the Greenmarket Square, was an insight to the main show; the turnout was massive and the artistes were at their best. The night of jig featured artistes such as The Incredibles, the Stylistics, Claire Philips & Perquisite, Nomfusi and the Lucky Charms among others. After the all night show, many who never planned attending the main show, suddenly had a change of mind; by then, the tickets were all sold out.

CAPETONIANS woke up on April 3 to discover that roads leading to the International Conference Centre had all been blocked in readiness for the gig; motorists had to use alternative routes. As at 4pm, guests had started trickling into the venue one-by-one, group-by-group; before long, the venue was full of people. While some opted for Manenberg stage, where Ndumiso Nyovane was performing, jazz enthusiasts headed for the Rosies stage to see Dr Malombo Philip Tabane, The New York Voice and others. Kyle Shepherd Quartet took the centre stage on Moses Molelekwa while South Paw opened at the Bassline stage; the atmosphere was fully jazzed up, with guests moving from one stage to the other to see their favourites.
But the Kippies stage seems to be the centre of attraction this year. By the time Jonathan Butler came on stage, the crowd had filled the space; that was the man they all wanted to see. Well, Butler is from Cape Town; so, it was like a homecoming for him. He opened with his version of Nkosi Sikelele and the crowd sang it back at him, with rapturous applause greeting his dedication of Pata Pata to one of the great spirits of Africa; Mariam Makeba. His duet with Patty Austen moved the crowd, but the high point was his gig with trumpeter, Dave Cox, who came on as a special guest.
Butler nearly broke down in tears while singing Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry to his late mum; the guitarist was away when his mother passed on recently, and has since been buried. In fact, he was coming into the country for the first time since his mother was buried. He was in a sorrowful mood with the performance and the crowd mourned with him; you could feel the calm.
South African group, Freshly Grounds, re-ignited the atmosphere after Butler on the Kippies stage with their appearance. The seven-man band got guests, especially the youths swinging to the sound of Pot Belly, a song that has won several awards. Lead vocalist, Zolani Monica Mahola, did justice to the songs, coupled with their choreographed dance steps that saw the crowd screaming in excitement. Pretty Kyla Rose Smith’s hand was very sharp on the violin, combining with vocal backup. With Neil on bass guitar, Peter on the drums, Julio on electric guitar, Seredeal on keyboard and Simon shuttling between Flute, Mbira and saxophone, the band kept the audience on its feet all through the period. The stylistics wrapped up performances that night.

DAY two of the festival came alive with Jonathan Ruban on Manenberg stage, followed by Abigail Kubeka on Kippies, while Maurice Gawronsky Quartet was featuring Feya Faku on Moses Molelekwa stage. On Baseline stage was Napalma, while Cape Town Jazz Orchestra held the audience on Rossies stage.
Mos Def, Maceo Parker, Dianne Reeves, Peter White, Loading Zone, Al Foster Quartet, Emily Bruce, and Zaki Ibrahim and others also had their own share of the stage on Day-two, but Mos Def and Hugh Masekela were the artistes to watch. However, the two were billed for almost the same time, with Mos Def starting first on Baseline Stage. So, guests opted for Mos Def first, hoping to hook up with Masekela on Kippies stage minutes later.
Unfortunately, there was sound problem on Baseline stage, thereby delaying Mos Def’s performance. Minutes after, guests especially South Africans pulled out, heading for the Kippies Stage when news filtered in that Hugh was already on stage. It took frantic effort of the security operatives to control the teeming crowd, struggling to get close to the Kippies stage. Before long, the whole place was full with people, not even standing space was left. However, some physically challenged guests forcefully wheeled their way into the already crowded hall; there was actually a reserved area for them. Others, who couldn’t make their way in, resorted to viewing from the big screen positioned outside the hall.

Hugh got a huge blues
At 70, Hugh Masekela is still energetic on stage; there was no sign of old age except for his gradually fading voice. But as for stagecraft, Hugh is still intact; blowing his trumpet with dexterity. His fascinating dance steps earned him applause from the excited crowd. “He’s still his very self,” a guest observed. Truly, he is! Brashly outspoken, the musician is far from frail after turning 70 that weekend. He’s still mixing politics with music.
Surprisingly, Hugh tuned to his version of Nigeria’s Orlando Julius’ Asiko, paying tribute to Orlando, whom he described as a true African. Orlando originally recorded Asiko, but Hugh did a remix of the song, which didn’t go down well with the composer.
From Asiko, he moved to the rendition of Fela Anikulapo Kuti with Lady, a song that exposed the Nigerians in the large crowd; you could hear them from different corners, echoing, “she go say I be lady oh!”
Though there was no Nigerian artiste on the bill, Hugh Masekela played a ‘big brother’ at the event, giving hundreds of Nigerians in the hall reason to party. And for Nigerians; listening to Fela’s song live in far away Cape Town, is enough honour for the country, and the Afrobeat legend.

THE festival director, Rashid Lombard and the production director, Billy Domingo, later presented Hugh with a beautiful birthday cake. “Happy Birthday to you,” rented the air as the trumpeter cuts his birthday cake on the Cape Town International Jazz Festival stage. Meanwhile, Mama Africa, the late Mariam Makeba, was also honoured through a photo exhibition at the festival.
For most South Africans, two things made this year’s edition of the yearly festival special; apart from marking the 10th edition, the event actually coincided with the 70th birthday anniversary of Masekela, who is presently considered as the father of South African music.
In fact, the youths prefer to call him ‘Uncle Hugh’. No matter your opinion about the trumpeter, for an average South African, he’s an idol. To them, this is an opportunity to celebrate the energetic performer, who has kept the country’s flag flying for years as far as music is concerned.

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