Joy of Jazz: Keeping warm despite the challenges

It was last weekend when Johannesburg's Newtown precincts hosted the annual Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival. I wasn't there physically this time round, only otherwise.

In between surprises of the event were the regulars, reported the press. Jazzy sounds filled the air around the cultural district of the city, both on the material days, usually two, and before.

Like most other contemporary festivals, the organisers of the Joy of Jazz stepped beyond the stage runs with a number of build-up activities and workshops for aspiring jazz artistes ahead of the real thing. That way, the future talents were unwrapped in the present. It was also a way to hype it.

The line-up was also alluring. Released by the organisers, the names were some of the most celebrated jazz artistes from across the world, including Grammy Award-winning performers Clarence Carter and Eddie Palmieri, Jamaican legend Monty Alexander and France’s celebrated Manu Katche. And much more was created both for hardcore jazz followers and the not so hard ones, just like was the case last year when I attended the event.

Last April, the same country hosted another one, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. This has been playing for over a decade, gathering thousands of music fans, from the different social circles at the event venue each year. These include both international fans who bring in dollars and the locals in a rare dance of unity. And that goes beyond the festivals.

Feast for the senses

South Africa, both as a history and a political entity, has a lot of arts in her books. In the struggle against the oppressive apartheid system, musical genres that had travelled from far and wide congregated in the southern tip of Africa to create a stomping beat later dispersed to scare away the oppressors. In the beat were a medley of traditional Zulu, Xhosa and several other sounds, and steps. But that was not all.

After Nelson Mandela was freed in 1994, elections conducted and a Black government was in place, the arts continued to play a big role. President Jacob Zuma has been an embodiment of the country’s rich cultural heritage, in some way, singing and dancing at every opportunity. His ally-turned-critic, Julius Malema, is another figure whose love for music and dance goes public often.

Under the two, or say three regimes, after the fall of apartheid, South African arts have taken a life of their own. The government has also seized the opportunity to deliberately shape the arts to her advantage, especially for cultural diplomacy and other national values. In other instances, it is the artistes’ resilience and passion that has kept the arts going.

The deliberate steps by the establishment include creation of organisations that dish out grants or other support systems for arts festivals. Then there are grants to keep the country's cultural creators alive. This way, experimentation has its space as well as the development of the bigger creative economy. The creators also have some glue effect on a society highly divided along racial and economic lines, as it keeps it dancing, savouring the humour and even prodding them to laugh at their own folly as portrayed by the painters even dancers in festivals and the like. Some of these occasions include (list by southafrica.info):

Arts Alive

Where: Johannesburg

This is held every September since 1992 features a heady mix of dance, visual art, poetry and music at venues in the Jo'burg inner city. Over 600 artists perform during the four-day festival, with most shows at various venues in Newtown. The ever-popular 'Jazz on the Lake' is held on the final day.

Southern Cross Music Festival

Where: Mooi River

Every September the Southern Cross Music Festival showcases South African music in a three-day event in Hidden Valley on the banks of KwaZulu-Natal's beautiful Mooi River. In addition to music, there's fishing, swimming, white water rafting, abseiling, hikes, walks, mountain biking.

Macufe

Where: Bloemfontein

Macufe, the 10-day Mangaung African Cultural Festival, showcases the cream of African and international talent. It features jazz, gospel, 'kwaito', hip-hop, R&B, rock and classical music, as well as dance, drama, cabaret, musical theatre, poetry, fine art and traditional arts and crafts.

Email:mmicheni@ke.nationmedia.com/Twitter: wamicheni

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