By David Mann
You may have glimpsed a few of them already stalking Makhanda’s bars and coffee-houses or carting their equipment around town. The musicians are here, and The National Jazz Festival is officially upon us.
The Jazz programme is a crucial component of the National Arts Festival. Expertly curated, it features some of the top musicians from across the country, many of whom treat the Festival as an opportunity for free-spirited collaboration, jumping on each other’s shows and hosting impromptu jam sessions all over town.
If you’re not sure where to begin, may the below selection of highlights serve as a way into this year’s expansive Jazz programme.
Kesivan Naidoo Big Band
30 June to 1 July
Kesivan Naidoo’s history with the National Arts Festival reaches back to 1995 when, as a young musician in the National Schools Jazz Band, he embarked on what has become a prolific career as a jazz drummer. “This is the festival that made me,” Naidoo said ahead of this year’s National Jazz Festival. This year, he’s back with the Kesivan Naidoo Big Band which features the likes of Sisonke Xonti, Kyle Shepherd, Siya Makuzeni and more.
Carlo Mombelli is a creative force. The Johannesburg-based bassist and composer is known for pushing the limits of jazz composition, and his open-hearted approach to the possibilities of sound. At the Festival, he performs new music with Mombelli’s Chamber, alongside the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal cellist Susan Mouton, saxophonist Sisonke Xonti, pianist Kyle Shepherd, and drummer Kesivan Naidoo.
28 and 29 July
Having last attended the Festival as young jazz students, the renowned Nomadic Orchestra returns to Makhanda with original compositions. The Cape Town-based five-piece is known for its ability to get crowds on their feet, and bring a unique hybrid of instrumental dance music, rooted in improvisation, to this year’s programme.
The Magic Number
Double-bassist Shane Cooper is another Festival staple. Back in 2012, he linked up with Swiss musicians Marc Stucki and Andreas Tschopp in Bern. Here, they come together as a trio with the experimental arrangement of two horns (Stucki on sax and Tschopp on trombone) and a bass.
Iladi: A Thanksgiving Meditation in Two Movements
28 and 30 June
This year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Linda Sikhakhane, brings two interlinked performances to this year’s festival. In Iladi, the saxophonist will be exploring the notion of spirituality and ancestry through sound, specifically rooted in Nguni cultural tradition.