With both local and international acts, the 20th rendition of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival was the best one yet. With five stages there were a variety of acts for festival goers to watch. The Kippies Stage provided a platform for larger audiences for acts such as Steve Kekana and The Soweto Gospel Choir while the more exclusive and intimate Rosie Stage had performers such as the Bickram Ghosh Quartet from India and Eliane Elias from Brazil. The diverse range of performers over the two-day festival gave audiences an ethereal experience.
South Africa’s very own, Steve Kekana did the Kippies Stage justice as the opening act at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2019. Kekana’s performance, backed by his lively band, including the likes of Blackie Sibisi, filled the largest stage at the CTICC with a colourful and vibrant energy. Performing in both English and IsiXhosa, Kekana serenaded the crowd with his romantic melodies and an impeccable vocal performance. Kekana elicited raving applause and did a bang-up job of setting the tone for the rest of the Festival.
The first performance on the Rosies Stage at this year’s festival was the Bickram Ghosh Quartet. Going into the auditorium, many people wouldn’t have known what to expect from the Indian group. What they saw and heard could be classed as one of the best performances of the whole festival, and, arguably, the most unique. The hour was filled with beautiful melodies coming out of the sitar, and extraordinary percussive duets between Ghosh and his drummer, all of which were improvised. For many, this would have been the first show they saw at this year’s festival, and some of them would have wondered if they would see anything better all weekend.
Shekhinah drew an exceptionally large and excited crowd to the Bassline Stage. Reciprocating that energy, she expressed how happy she was to be performing at the CTIJF for the first time. This came across in her passionate performance, which included remarkable fan favourites, as well as some lesser known, but equally great, music. Her clean and crisp vocal performance was nothing short of amazing. The authenticity in her stage presence, for which the songstress has become known for, was nothing short of enthralling.
Any festival-goer familiar with the recent jazz resurgence in London would have been very excited about three big names on this year’s line-up: Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd and Alfa Mist.
The first of the three to perform was Nubya Garcia, accompanied by a band of long-term collaborators including Joe Armon-Jones, Daniel Casimir and Femi Koeloso. They were joined by vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu, co-founder of South African group, The Brother Moves On. The combination of Mthembu’s vocals and storytelling, and distinct UK jazz sound from the band provided a rich, fulfilling experience for those lucky enough to be at the Moses Molelekwa Stage. Garcia was evidently emotional when she spoke about how grateful she was to be able to play in Cape Town, and many of those in the crowd would have had the same feeling about being able to experience her genius and energy live.
Moses Boyd’s appearance followed later in the evening on the Bassline stage. He formed part of RE:Percussions, a group that fused jazz and many traditionally non-jazz rhythms, both local and international. Other members included local gqom producer, DJ Lag; multi-instrumentalist, Tiago Correia-Paulo; trumpet player, Mandla Mlangeni; and vocalist, Nonku Phiri. This proved to be an interesting combination, led sonically by Lag’s strong gqom tracks. There was some variation, with members taking turns in leaving the stage, letting others have the spotlight. However, many who expected a completely new, brewed sound were left disappointed, as the performance seemed to be a rotation of the sounds brought forward by each of the artists. Although, it must be said that seeing DJ Lag in his element will always be a sight to behold, and the crowd were certainly given that.
On Saturday, Alfa Mist graced the Moses Molelekwa Stage with his band. The crowd, many of whom were standing on the edges of the seated area, were treated to a journey through Alfa Mist’s released and unreleased catalogue that left fans emotional and those previously unfamiliar with his music, wanting more. Bass player, Kaya Thomas-Dyke, blew attendees away with her stunning voice during the performance of ‘Breathe’, a track off Alfa Mist’s 2017 EP, Antiphon. This highly-anticipated performance was one those that gave you everything you hoped for and more.
The Soweto Gospel Choir could not have been more stunning. Clearly performers at heart, they took up the length and breadth of the Kippies Stage with their various animated and carefully choreographed numbers. The choir captivated their audience in the packed-to-capacity venue. They showcased their absolute unique range, performing local and international music, all the while not missing a single beat. The entire showcase was an electrifying, unforgettable cherry on top of the CTIJF. The Festival could not have been better served.
French Kiwi Juice, otherwise commonly known as FKJ, was one of the most highly anticipated acts at the Festival. Very popular amongst the youth, the one-man, multi-instrumentalist set on the Manenberg Stage was hardly disappointing. Although the stage presence and engagement were lacking, FKJ made up for it with a lovely, soulful mixture of electronic and jazz music, for which the artist is well known. What it didn’t make up for was the unfortunate cultural appropriation on his head.
The performance by Eliane Elias on the Rosies Stage on Saturday was of a standard that many people might never be able to witness again. Accompanied by her high-pedigree band, which included Marc Johnson on double bass, Rafael Mendes Barata on drums and Rubens De La Corte on guitar, Elias treated the crowd to an hour of Brazilian classics, including compositions by the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim, and some of her own tracks. In-between tracks, she was either telling stories - including one about Antonio Carlos Jobim seeing her play at a jazz club when she was 17 years old and subsequently taking her on tour with him – or she was telling the crowd to put their phones away, which caused a consistent source of laughs for the other attendees. The swagger of Barata on drums was something to behold, especially when he abandoned his sticks during a drum solo and started playing rhythms with only his fingers on the drums. Marc Johnson’s presence on stage was understated until he completely blew everyone away with a beautifully dextrous solo. After which, there was little surprise in the crowd when Elias mentioned that Johnson had been part of the Bill Evans Trio. The hour-long performance left everyone in disbelief over the sheer quality of Elias and her band. Credit must go to festival director, Billy Domingo, and his team for booking such a wonderful artist.
It was such an amazing experience to be in the Craig Lucas audience at the CTIJF this year. Lucas reminisced about his days before he was a performer, how he would run away from work to attend the free CTIJF concert. He added that he was honoured to be performing on the CTIJF stage. As much as the audience was having fun singing and dancing, it seemed like Lucas was having just as much fun performing. It always makes things more entertaining when singers are truly having a good time on stage. Lucas was joined by The Pedestrians. The chemistry with his backup singers, brass band, as well as The Pedestrians was impeccable. The season two winner of The Voice sang some of his latest songs, as well as some older ones. He even did an impromptu cover of John Legend’s Greenlight.
Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles definitely brought the Funk. They took their audience from the Manenberg Stage all the way to church and back. Sharay Reed came through on the bass guitar, while Brenton Lockett killed it on the drums. Henry’s own organ and vocal performance, backed by Nicholas Semrad on the keyboard, and Denise Stoudmire and Tiffany Stevenson on vocals added a heaped serving of soul. The set was clean and had every single person in the crowd moving to their rhythm. Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles did not hesitate to deliver with the vigour and vivacity the crowd demanded.
The CTIJF has been a space for South Africans as well as internationals to share their love for music. Over the past 20 years it has grown progressively, we look forward to see how it will prosper over the years to come. It has also given local performers a platform to be recognised internationally.
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