Much, much more than a music festival
It started off as the little cousin of the North Sea Jazz Festival. But these days it has grown into a giant in its own right. ‘Africa’s Grandest Gathering’ has no equal, celebrating its 16th birthday as the nation prepares to come of age. Nowhere was the spirit of both South Africa and that of the Cape Town Jazz Festival more palpable than at this year’s photographic exhibition. This photo essay is a celebration of a dynamic music history.
Every jazz aficionado has their favourite festival elements. Last year it was the quiet reverence, almost devout moment, of letting Abdullah Ibrahim’s genius wash over me. This year it was the photographic exhibition. OK, so it competed with Bra Hugh’s Stimela but it was close.
Following my instincts I start clockwise at the Duotone Photographic Exhibition. Within seconds I can’t move. Stopped short by an image of Jonathan ‘Jontas’ Butler that tells an arresting story of an artist, his people, a time and a place. A boy on a grubby chair with a nonchalant guitar. Heart stopping.
In the mid-Seventies there was no internet. The SABC ignored black musicians and so did the mainstream newspapers. And yet wherever ‘Little’ Ronnie Joyce and Jonathan Butler went they were mobbed by hundreds of screaming fans. Warren Ludski, an arts and entertainment journalist at the time, can be credited for spreading the word about our homegrown talent in the Post and the Cape Herald. The Jonathan and Joyce teeny bopper popularity can be gauged from a series of pictures in the Duotone Exhibition taken by photographer Anthony Johnson in the Boland in 1976. It is surely something lacking in our musical fibre nowadays that this kind of adulation is reserved for foreign artists only.
There was a moment this weekend at the Jazz Festival when I was dancing to Hugh Masekela. Then I wandered outside where the regrouped Pacific Express was playing. The two audiences were very different. Mostly coloured Cape Town outside and black Joburg inside. In the Seventies and Eighties musicians like Thandi Klaasen were hugely popular at clubs on the Cape Flats. What happened to this budding racial harmony I wondered as I wandered back across the music ‘border’ between the two venues.
Looking at the photograph of Spirits Rejoice, the jazz rock fusion band, I am reminded how way ahead of their times they were. Spirits was one of the first ‘super groups’ on South Africa’s modern jazz scene. The group was made up of young musicians who shied away from mainstream jazz style of the Sixties and explored avante garde and fusion mixed with African rhythms. Back row: Thabo Mashishi, Sipho Gumede (bass) Gilbert Matthews (drums), George Tyefumani. Seated: Mervyn Africa (keyboards), Robbie Jansen (horns), Paul Petersen (guitar), Duke Makasi (horns).
We all have our Flames memories. When the flames came to town we went wild. They performed to packed houses at the Luxurama in Cape Town in the Sixties and Seventies. Their version of For Your Precious Love is one of the all-time great songs of South African music. In this photo Steve Fataar, Brother Fataar and Blondie Chaplain are on stage at the Luxurama before leaving for London. We wept.
The theme of this year’s exhibition was Reminiscing In Tempo. It featured the work of three amazing South Africans: Artist Zamani Makhanya, Photographer Rafs Mayet and Journalist Extraordinaire Warren Ludski.
Warren Ludski is a former Cape Town journalist who now lives in Canberra, Australia. He has worked in the media for almost five decades. He writes a blog Music Legends of Cape Town that is dedicated to telling the stories of entertainers. The ones who have been legends. Many of them almost forgotten.
The Duotone Reminiscing In Tempo exhibition was a delight. But it left me with a profound sense of loss. Probably just part of growing older.BACK TO TOP