Future of jazz in SA bright but lack of venues needs attention – Dunjana

Sunday marks International Jazz Day

Jazz Pianist Thembelihle "Lihle" Dunjana won two awards at the Mzansi Jazz Awards.
Jazz Pianist Thembelihle "Lihle" Dunjana won two awards at the Mzansi Jazz Awards.
Image: Gregory Franz

One of SA’s rising stars in jazz, Thembelihle Dunjana, believes that jazz music is growing – this despite the shortage of gigs and jazz clubs to perform at, she says.

Dunjana, who won two awards at Mzantsi Jazz Awards in 2021 with her debut album Intyatyambo, says SA produces a high calibre of jazz artists who are in demand locally and internationally.

Sunday marks International Jazz Day, and Dunjana argues that despite all the challenges facing the jazz scene locally, artists continue to put out great work.  

“I think it is growing but very slowly because there are not opportunities for people who work hard. Despite that, local artists are doing well outside. I know that Keenan Arendse has an international tour and artists like Nobuhle and Thandi Ntuli have just released their new albums. The issue of venues is a problem. I don’t know if lack of gigs is caused by the fact that people have not recovered fully from Covid-19. Musically speaking, the future is bright,” said the pianist. 

Artists such as Nduduzo Makhathini, Feya Faku, Mthunzi Mvubu, Steve Dyer and Bokang Dyer have made international names for themselves.

Late jazz legend Hugh Masekela was indicted in the Ertegun Hall of Fame at Lincolin Center in New York recently.

Wits University jazz music lecture and bass master Lex Futshane believes that jazz is growing, saying there are a number of artists who are active and putting out freshly composed songs.

SAMA award winner Nduduzo Makhathini.
SAMA award winner Nduduzo Makhathini.
Image: Arthur Dlamini

Futshane believes the upcoming international jazz event is significant because it shows that jazz is a global sound.

Futshane praises the talent on offer that includes Mvubu, Linda Sikhakhane, Tumi Mokgorosi, Lwando Gogwana, Mandla Mlangeni, Thandi Ntuli, Sisonke Xhonti and Siyabonga Mthembu.  

“There are so many artists who are releasing new music though the challenge is venues. These talented young artists are taking jazz music to another level but there is no support. But what also makes me happy is that our local talent has been performing internationally and that alone encourages you and gives hope that at some point things will normalise. 

“When it comes to jazz, I think it has reached a stage where we could easily call it a world music. The International Jazz Day confirms that jazz is a global phenomenon because there is jazz all over the world.” 

Futshane said SA had always produced jazz musicians of high calibre but the country did not celebrate its own.

He said for many jazz artists to be recognised locally, they had to go outside and collaborate with international stars before they could be regarded as big deals. 

“We have always produced jazz of the highest quality. Take people like Johnny Dyani, Dudu Pukwana, Makhaya Ntsoko, Chris MacGregor and Louis Moholo-Moholo, who performed internationally. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I went to UK to discover that there was a huge following for the Blue Notes [a jazz sextet that was popular in the 1970s]. I was impressed because it showed that these guys really made a mark when they performed there.” 

Dunjana echoed Futshane’s sentiment, saying SA produced the best jazz talent and international audiences enjoyed African music.

“We get quite good jazz education, and we then bring in our cultural influences into the sound. International audiences love the way we compose our music. I was in New York recently, which is the home of jazz, and people loved my music. When we really look at the history of jazz, it has an African connection.” 

Pianist and jazz lecturer at University of KwaZulu-Natal Sibusiso “Mash” Mashiloane is convinced that the future is bright after watching a jazz performance in Cape Town on Wednesday night.

Mashiloane, who will be marking the International Jazz Day in Cape Town with a few performances, said: “I watched jazz legend Hilton Schilder performing with a group of young artists. Those artists played passionately. As we celebrate International Jazz Day and Freedom Day in one month, I am looking at how jazz has transcended culture, gender and race.

“There is that freedom that when we play it colour and gender do not matter at all. I acknowledge the power of freedom that comes with jazz and how it continues to break those boundaries. As a lecturer, I have noticed that the interest of jazz among young people is big. Young people just want to play, and they want to continue the legacy.” 


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