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Thandi Ntuli: the disciple of cool

Published on 20 June 2018


‘A world without music would be like walking in a grey world, difficult to get through. I think art helps us get through some of the difficult things.’

Thandi Ntuli, the 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, is a leading pianist and composer among a rich cadre of South Africa’s upcoming jazz musicians. With a broad musical vision, Ntuli plays with equal excitement alongside DJs in an experimental outfit or with a classic jazz band or philharmonic orchestra.

Born in 1987 in Soshanguve, north of Tshwane, Ntuli began taking music lessons when she was four “and never stopped… luckily!” Once in high school, she developed a real desire to become a professional musician and completed a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance at the University of Cape Town.

The Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival is where Ntuli took flight and she was selected as a member of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band in 2013. A year later, she released her debut album, The Offering, which showcases Ntuli as a gifted pianist and imaginative composer. Exiled, her sophisticated second album released in February, was recently named by Apple Music as one of the musical highlights of the year.

Ntuli tours regularly and has played on local and international stages, including the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and the Calabar International Jazz Festival in Nigeria. She has also played with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, along with Mike Campbell and the UCT Big Band.

Ntuli has collaborated with South African greats Thandiswa Mazwai and Neo Muyanga and, in 2017, was called on by American steel pan genius Andy Narell at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, Grahamstown.

These straight-ahead jazz collaborations are well balanced by her work in more experimental settings with the likes of DJ Kenzhero. Together with Sphelelo Mazibuko on drums, Benjamin Jephta on bass, Senzo Ngcobo on trombone, Sthe Bhengu on trumpet and Linda Sikhakhane on tenor sax, this free styling collective – known as the Rebirth of Cool – weaves between jazz standards and hip hop. She has recently collaborated with Georgie Anne Muldrew on Denderah Rising and some of her songs were used in Spike Lee’s TV series, She’s Gotta Have it.