The Cape Town International Jazz Festival took over the Mother City this weekend and the annual event had the sweet sounds of jazz filling the streets. The festival has grown phenomenally since its inception in 2003. WARREN LUDSKI spoke to the founder of the Cape Town International Jazz festival, Rashid Lombard.

Rashid Lombard is a name that has a bit of clout in Cape Town’s music circles. Not as a musician though. He probably couldn’t play an instrument to save his life. Yet, his name is as well-known as any of our best-known musicians.

Lombard is the man who put our jazz scene on the world map. He was the driving force in setting up the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) that kicked off last weekend.

The festival was ranked behind the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and above the North Sea Jazz Festival. That’s not bad company to be in.

For more than a decade Lombard signed up top international jazz stars and the best of local talent – established and up-and-coming – to grace the stages of the CTIJF. Four years ago, Lombard pulled the plug and left it to his long-time partner, Billy Domingo, to continue running it. In a sense he turned his back on the jazz festival, but he did not turn his back on jazz.

Check out any jazz gig of note, and you’ll find Lombard there, surrounded by other jazz aficionados extolling the virtues of their favourite art form.

It has been 50 years since I first met the man I know affectionately as “Pusher”. That’s what all his long-standing friends call him, and no, it’s not for what you might think it is.

We were fellow travellers in a very hip Athlone area in 1968, hanging around nightclubs like Jay Jay’s Soul Workshop, Columbia ’68 and the Beverley Lounge. Things were cool. It was all about peace, love and getting high on the music of The Four Sounds, Respect and some other things.

Given the road he has travelled since – ace photographer, festival organiser and jazz A-Lister – I thought maybe I’d indulge myself with “Twenty Questions With . . . Rashid Lombard”. Maybe it’ll help you get an insight into the man.

Let’s cut to the chase here, it’s been four years since you walked away from organising the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Do you miss it?
I honestly thought I would miss the rush, but then I discovered cooking and lounging in my garden and, man, I missed out on just chilling!

What did you consider your greatest achievement in establishing CTIJF?
Well, firstly the fact that I actually pulled off the festival with a dream and empty pockets. Secondly, establishing a festival that was all-inclusive, creating a platform for the young cats, the stalwarts both South African and international. And this became a successful formula.

What sparked your interest in music? As a schoolkid in the late Sixties you hung around nightclubs which was a far cry from the jazz aficionado that you are today.
I grew up in Port Elizabeth in the ’50s and only moved to Cape Town when I was 12. My earliest memory of music was when I was seven years old and performed Elvis Presley’s Teddy Bear at a school concert. I was quite the Little Elvis impersonator in my youth. My two uncles loved music and I was exposed to the sounds of John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis and the Danny Williams song Moon River – he is originally from PE. And I remember that feeling of “this is what I wanted to do”. I never learnt to play an instrument, but the music resonated deep in my soul – I didn’t know how or what, but I knew there was that strong connection.

What do you remember about those days in the Sixties? It was all about free love and getting “stoned” wasn’t it?
The ’60s was about “make love and not war”, this was the call during the time of the Vietnam war. There were house parties every night, we would play records, dance, get stoned, debate politics and from this we became part of the Liberation Movement.

When did you get interested in serious music before your transition into a jazz enthusiast? Was it linked to the likes of Oswietie, Skyf, Estudio?
I’ve always been exposed to serious music from a young age. As a photojournalist, moving among the exiles, the older musicians who stayed home and the new generation of young artists was one of the most beautiful periods of my life. The bands Oswietie, Skyf, Estudio – we spent so many hours honing our skills and teaching each other the politics of the Arts. These musicians became my lifelong friends and family. Some even ended up living with me.

Who are your favourite musicians from that era?
International: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Chicago, The Eagles, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Santana. I really could go on forever. African/local acts: Pacific Express, Zayn Adams, Oswietie, Skyf, Estudio, The Four Sounds, Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim, Mankunku, Miriam Makeba, The Blue Notes, Jijah Jungle, Robbie Jansen, Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee, Errol Dyers, Bheki Mseleku, Barney Rachabane, Stompie Manana, Chris Schilder, Duke Makasi, Ezra Ngcukana…

As far as pure jazz goes, who are the musicians you prefer to listen locally and internationally?
Locally, I just love the young cats. With my newly freed schedule, I make sure that I am on music event circuit. I love guys like Kesivan Naidoo, Shane Cooper, Bokani Dyer, Nduduzo Makhatini, Siya Makhuzeni, Kyle Shepperd. Of the international artists, I love listening to Miles Davis’s (Kind of Blue) and anything that’s new and fresh on the circuit.

When did the “politicisation” of Rashid Lombard begin?
It started back in the 1950s in North End, Port Elizabeth – with the Group Areas Act. We were all living harmoniously together – white, black, Indian, coloured, Chinese. I remember the day when my friends were forcibly removed from their homes, never to be seen or heard of again.

What have you been doing in the four years since you walked away from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival?
Besides being home and spending time with my family, I am focusing on my photographic archives setting up an Archival and Digitising Centre.

What do want Rashid Lombard’s legacy to be?
That no matter who you are – religion, race, male, female – you can achieve your dreams. I’m a true testament to that!

This is an edited version of a Q&A done on 10 March 2017. Read the full version on Warren Ludski’s blog.

Cover image courtesy of Mary-Ann Daniels.