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Afro-Jazz toasts South African history at Jazz Fest

Published on 28 May 2013

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival, Grahamstown 2013 incorporates a variety of disciplines into its programme. Afro-Jazz is one of the genres that will be highlighted at the festival this year, though it is just one part of the formidable line-up which includes Mainstream, Blues/Funk/World Music, Modern Jazz, Youth and the Standard Bank Jazz and Blues Café.

With a significant career in South African jazz that has spanned over 40 years, it would be difficult to find a more accomplished and versatile jazz musician than trombonist Jonas Gwangwa. He first gained popularity playing with South Africa’s iconic group, The Jazz Epistles and after exile in the US he began to gain recognition, performing in venues such as Carnegie Hall alongside the likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Letta Mbulu. He composed the scores of films like Cry Freedom and appeared at the 60th Annual Academy Awards. Believing that “politics and culture cannot be separated,” Gwangwa’s total commitment to the struggle to end apartheid is intrinsic to his music. He headlines the Afro-Jazz portion of the programme with Percy Mbonani (sax), Mzamo Bhengu (trumpet), Sabelo Mtshali (keyboard), Kenny Mathaba (guitar), Bongani Ncube (bass), Godfrey Mngcina (drums), Keitu Gwangwa (vocal), Thobekile Masinga (vocal), and Nicolette Shange (vocal).

 Jonas Gwangwa

Gloria Bosman – a former Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner – is a household name in South Africa, acclaimed for her sonorous voice and authentic stage presence. After she was awarded a scholarship to study opera at Pretoria Technikon, she toured France with Jonas Gwangwa and subsequently sang for both presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. Her debut album Tranquilitywon the SAMA “Best Newcomer” award and she has sung with the cream of South African musicians for over a decade. Bosman performs in Grahamstown supported by Ezra Erasmus (keyboards), Themba Peebles Mambane (piano), Sakhile Thembalethu Nkosi (bass) and Julius Bernice Boikano (drums).


The backbone of the Jazz repertoire is a collection of standards – tunes all jazz musicians know well. So it is with the South African jazz repertoire; we share an intimate connection with a certain set of songs that have defined our musical identity. Led by Umlazi trumpeter Brian Thusi – who cut his teeth in the African Jazz Pioneers – this band brings together a drummer from the Eastern Cape (Ayanda Sikade), pianist and bass from the Western Cape (Kyle Shepherd and Wesley Rustin), and a saxophonist from Australia who grew up in 1970s Cape Town (Mark Ginsberg), to share their personal inflections on South African classics we all know and love.

As one of South Africa’s natural bebop exponents, Barney Rachabane has forged an impressive solo career after cementing his international reputation with Paul Simon’s Graceland project in the 1980s. His unique style combines bebop and blues, threaded through always with the inflections of the kwela of his Soweto youth. He brings together a sextet which is particularly special – including his daughter, Octavia, on vocals and grandson, Oscar, on tenor sax. They are joined by Mohau Kekana (piano), Solly Mokolobate (bass), and Bacco Xaba (drums).


Guitarist Menyatso Mathole’s performance credits are a history of South African jazz – collaborations with Zakes Nkosi, Dick Khoza, Winston Mankunku, Dudu Pukwana, Bheki Mseleku, Miriam Makeba, Basil Manenburg Coetzee and many others. He was a co-founder – with Sipho Gumede and Khaya Mahlangu – of the seminal Afro-Jazz band Sakhile that faced the difficulties of the apartheid years and its limited air-play for black Africans and reinforced the music of South Africa’s exiled artists. Mathole has continued this vision in his solo career, teaching in community colleges and keeping the tradition alive, especially in far-flung places like Thaba Nchu and the North West. He brings this history to life in Grahamstown, with Jimmy Mngwandi (bass) and Ayanda Sikade (drums).

This year will also see the establishment of the Standard Bank Jazz & Blues Cafe at the Lowlander, St. Andrew’s College, which will end each night with a great jazz show and a late night jazz jam session or blues gig – a place where audiences can catch musicians letting off steam and butting musical heads late into the night, featuring the likes of Nduduzo Makhathini, saxophonist Dan Shout, Lee Thomson, Imbaula, and the Rick van Heerden Quartet.

The 39th edition of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown will take place from 27 June to 7 July 2013.

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The Standard Bank Jazz Festival is presented with support funding from:

Institut Français, the French Institute of South Africa and the Alliance Française

Paul Bothner Music


Royal Netherlands Embassy

Royal Norwegian Embassy


Swedish Arts Council / Swedish Jazz Federation / Mary Lou Meese Youth Jazz Fund

Jamey Aebersold Jazz

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Eastern Cape Government, Department of Arts and Culture, National Arts Council, City Press and M Net.