The 16th Cape Town International Jazz Festival which took place on Friday March 20 and Saturday March 21, lived up to its “Africa’s Grandest Gathering” tag line. It brought under one roof, white people dressed in dashikis trying to sing along to Bra Hugh’s “Khawuleza”, hippies in skinny pants and Vans hanging at the Bassline stage, dapper B.E.E beneficiaries, snobs, critics and everything in between.
Friday evening, a tale of five stages
As usual, it was tricky to catch all performances in their entirety especially when acts you wanted to see performed concurrently on the five different stages. For instance, I attempted to catch a glimpse of the nostalgia that was poised to be brought by Yvonne Chaka Chaka at Kippies (the main stage) while catching the amazing up-and-coming Cape Town singer Zoe Modiga at the Moses Molelekwa stage. At that very same time, the King of The Zulu Guitar, Madala Kunene was doing his thing at the Rosies stage, while Cape Town hip hop duo Jitsenic was warming heads at the Bassline stage. Being interested in all four acts, I tried navigating between all stages, leading to me not being able to grasp any of the performances.
Sipho “Hot Stix” Mabuse’s set at Kippies, however, clashed with no act I was interested in. His set started off slowly as he performed less-known material. The audience caught the Holy Ghost when he revisited his old classics like “Shikisha” and “Burn Out” aka “Nkulunkulu ngicel’izuka”. I thought of giving pop singer Donald, who was performing at the same time, a chance but Bra Hot Stix wouldn’t allow it.
Another saddening clash for me was The Mahotella Queens and Prophets of da City (POC). I caught a glimpse of the old ladies getting jiggy and gyrating in their trademark Zulu apparel with the energy of a teenage girl group at Kippies before running to the Bassline for POC.
The godfathers of African hip hop who were performing together for the first time in 15 years, gave a jaw-dropping performance even though the sound wasn’t as crisp as I would expect from a festival of Jazz Fest’s caliber. And, the power cuts while they were on stage were totally unacceptable! The group’s performance fused emceeing, deejaying and break dancing. And they added a VJ to their package to give visual interpretations of their classics. Seeing all the members on one stage exhibiting a natural synergy was a small hip hop utopia. The absence of Ishmael Morabe, though, was a huge disappointment for me.
Saturday evening, catching the Holy Ghost
The first performance I saw on the second day of the fest was by the wizards in leggings, The Brother Moves On. They wooed the crowd and infected it with an existential euphoria. Next time they are in your town, make it a point to go see them.
The best performance I witnessed came from the rock star that is Hugh Masekela. He took control of Kippies which was filled up to capacity when he was on. We all became victim to his spell, and the hour he was on stage felt like 10 minutes. Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi, who he was supposed to be performing with, couldn’t make the festival due to passport complications. We soon forgot about Oliver’s absence though, as Bra Hugh played with our emotions – from rendering heartfelt performances of his hits like, among others, “Chileshe”, “Stimela”, “Khawuleza”, “Ziph’iinkomo” and “Thanayi” which he performed after the crowd had screamed, “We want more,” at the end of his set.
After recovering from Bra Hugh’s spell, I dashed to the Bassline for Beatenberg’s performance. It took me time to adjust. The guys were all sorts of amazing, as expected. They even added a percussionist to their set which gave it an additional dimension you can’t download anywhere. New York rap duo Cannibal Ox was one man down as member Vordul Mega couldn’t join Vast Aire due to travel issues. The bad sound quality meant most of his lyrics were inaudible.
I chose Los Angeles bassist and singer Thundercat over headliner Ama Larrieux. After the bass skills he lent to Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar’s albums, I was curious to hear how he sounded as a solo act. Strapped with a bass guitar and an MPD and clad in a brim hat and long multi-coloured dashiki, he serenaded the crowd of hipsters and music nerds at the Bassline with utter ease. He was accompanied by a keyboardist and accomplished drummer, Justin Brown. He gave life to the whole set, rendering boom bap-esque rhythms to new school rhythms you’d hear in an A$AP Rocky album.
Apart from the power cuts during POC’s set, the festival impressed me. The trouble I had with my cab driver on my way home after the show was all worth it. All the acts I chose to see impressed me, thoroughly.
For more images from the fest, scroll through the gallery above.
Images by Niamh Walsh-Vorster and Rofhiwa Maneta.
Visit their website www.capetownjazzfest.com