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Thato Mahlangu

Thato Mahlangu is a content writer and journalist based in Pretoria. When he’s not writing, he spends his time listening to jazz, researching history and admiring great works of arts by local artists. Thato has volunteered at various schools, reading to children in IsiZulu and SeTswana.

The power of jazz music reinforced at jazz fest

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Peter Tladi Picture by Sowetan Live

22 years, ntate Peter Tladi started what would later be known as the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, one of Africa’s biggest jazz festivals that is held annually, without fail, in September.

I guess when Tladi and the T-Music man team conceptualised the idea, which was initially held at the SA State Theatre in Tshwane, in what was a three-year-old democratic South Africa, he never thought of the festival’s success.

The festival would later attract over 20 000 people in 2013 when the event was moved to the Sandton Convention Centre.

Tladi’s contribution to the arts, especially the jazz sector, can be seen in the success of some of the artists he gave a platform to perform at the festival, these talented artists include the likes of Gloria Bosman, who was managed by the music pioneer, along with other big jazz, and gospel names.

This year, the event is able to bring internationally recognised artists like Rahsaan Patterson, Salim Washing, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Wynton Marsalis to its stages.

Tladi like most jazz appreciators and promoters is able to give us the best musicians to come and perform at the event and has never disappointed.

The festival also introduces jazz appreciators like myself to new artists who have added their own personal touch to the much-respected genre. Some have also borrowed from marabi and umbaqanga in their jazz fusions.

Zoë Modiga, Nduduzo Makhathini, Nelisiwe are some of the new faces (to the festival) who were added to the festival’s line up. These artists enjoyed the opportunity to tell their stories through song to an international audience.

The event attracts both domestic and international festival-goers who will be treated to some of South Africa’s jazz gems.

Not only did these artists perform at the festival, but their presence at the event has reinforced the idea that jazz music still lives on in modern-day free South Africa.

South Africa’s ugly past and the memory that carried us to freedom

South African jazz singers took a great risk when they carried on belting out some of their banned songs, even if it meant being banished forever to a foreign land – or worse killed.

But little, in my own opinion, is done to alleviate these heroic women and men who choose South Africa first and themselves second if not last.

Julian Bahula

Musicians like ntate Julian Bahula, ntate Hugh Masekela, mama Mirriam Makeba, ntate Abdullah Ibrahim, ntate Caiphus Semenya, mama Letta Mbulu, and ntate Ray Phiri among distinguished were made to leave the country after the apartheid government made sure their music would not be played in any South African radio or television station.

The apartheid government, which was very oppressive in its nature, made it unbearable for most artists to create work and show it to the world. It was even harder for those who used their voices to sing about the hardships of those dark days most people, black, found themselves in.

The only way to really still keep fighting was in foreign lands which some were banished to. It is important to note that some musicians and visual, fine and performing artists weren’t forced to leave but left involuntary.

But the likes of Bahula, who was a drummer in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, joined the African National Congress under the chief-representative of Reggie September who, according to a statement on the presidency’s website, introduced Bahula to the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

It is in Europe that Bahula was able to speak his truth without the fear of being oppressed or persecuted.

Together with other musicians, Bahula started what would later be an instrumental part of South Africa’s history, the release of tata Nelson Mandela and other men and women who were sent to prison.

He, together with his team (which featured bank mates) co-promoted with the late Mike Terry of the United Kingdom Anti-Apartheid Movement a festival that saw African musicians come together and perform.

Apart from Bahula’s efforts in ending apartheid, jazz singer and mama Africa (as she was affectionately known) Mirriam Makeba’s address at the UN headquarters also contributing to the fight to ending apartheid.

It could have not been easy for her to tell the world about the atrocities which happening in South Africa but she had to for the world to know.

The banning of music could have killed the spirit of many musicians, especially those who largely depended on the one they made from selling those records, but it didn’t.

Instead, it gave them more courage to fight and keep fighting.

So, it is these men and women who sacrificed their lives and lost relatives in the process whom we owe a great deal to today.

We are free, able to speak and sing whatever we like because they stood strong.

Jazz in the new South Africa

Today, the likes of Thandiswa Mazwai (or Kind Tha as she likes to be called) whose album, Belede, was co-produced by Makathini is a celebration of what I call the incarnation of jazz music.

Even though King Tha touches on new issues South Africans, especially issues that the young people are faced with, she kept it the sound as original as is – which is commendable.

Keeping up with the old sound is the likes of Nomfundo Xaluva, Bosman and Makhathini himself. I must say it takes a great artist to respect and continue where his or her predecessors left off.

Makhathini, like ntate Herbie Tsoaeli, is able to send you (the listen and appreciator of jazz music) into another world, or a different time.

And what I personally love about what the founder of the festival, ntate Tladi, was able to do over the years is keep serving us some good soulful jazz.

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