REVIEW: 19th Cape Town International Jazz Festival (2018) – Day One

Liberation Project Acoustic Band's Tebogo Sedumedi and Sipho Hotstix Mabuse
Photo: Peter Jones
19th Cape Town International Jazz Festival, 23-24 March, 2018 – Day One.
(Cape Town International Convention Centre. Report by Peter Jones)

Three stories have dominated South African headlines over recent weeks: the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as President, the death of Hugh Masekela, and the drought. The latter has actually been going on for three years, and is now at the point where the personal daily water allowance is down to 50 litres and Day Zero approaches – the day when the taps are turned off and people will have to collect water from standpipes.

So those attending the Jazz Festival needed no prompting to stick to beer and wine as they enjoyed music from 41 acts on five different stages. Taking its cue from Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival, CTIJF takes place in one colossal building – the city’s convention centre, whose largest arena would comfortably accommodate three jumbo jets. There’s a strong sense of national renewal in the air following Ramaphosa’s election victory. At every gig the messages were patriotic and optimistic for the future. The crowd built up gradually over the weekend.

Singer Nicky Schrire (photo below) pulled the short straw of playing early on the Friday in a conference venue seating at least a thousand. As she and her band hit the stage there were perhaps 20 people in the audience. Undaunted, she put in a thoroughly professional performance in a set that mixed original compositions with jazzed-up pop material such as Massive Attack’s Teardrop and Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machine. By the end the audience had grown to a couple of hundred and she had them singing along in spontaneous harmony to one of her own tunes, aided by strong, passionate contributions from saxophonist Chris Engel.


Nicky Schrire
Photo: Peter Jones

An African version of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, the Liberation Project Acoustic Band is an octet featuring musicians from various ethnic groups within South Africa and beyond, including reedsman Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Congolese guitarist Bienvenue N’Seka and Hindu multi-instrumentalist Keeran Eshwarlall. As their name suggests, the band’s theme was the worldwide struggle for freedom that continues everywhere: one of the band’s tunes was about fighting Islamic State – reminding us that oppression takes many forms. This gig was a taster for a hugely ambitious international project – the release of a triple CD with contributions from 69 players from 13 countries, some of whom will appear live later this year in an amped-up version of this band. Despite a sometimes slightly ragged festival set, there was much to enjoy, particularly the singing and electric bass playing of Tebogo Sedumedi – a star in the making, who brought the crowd to their feet every time she sang.

The largest arena played host on Friday to trumpeter, keyboardist and singer Nicholas Payton, who has been touring the world with his Afro-Caribbean Mixtape band over the last year. Payton himself is the only consistent member of the set-up: since playing the Cork Jazz Festival last October, bassist Eric Wheeler has been replaced by Vicente Archer, Joe Dyson has surrendered the drum stool to Marcus Gilmore, and this time the group was augmented by percussionist Daniel Sadownick and DJ Lady Fingaz. It’s a project that goes from strength to strength. The sound is huge and stately, the cool, inscrutable Payton switching with no apparent effort between Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ and trumpet. The additional personnel gave the music extra space to breathe: Sadownick was outstanding, and as well as adding those all-important Donald Duck sounds from her turntables, Fingaz riffed electronically on the voice samples that are an important element of the Mixtape sound. For me, this was the best gig of the Festival.

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