April 13, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.
You may remember WBGO’s Rhonda Hamilton’s reports from South Africa at last year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival, including her account of witnessing some of the country’s natural wonders of elephants, rhinos, and lions.
This year, we experienced South Africa’s safari a bit differently - we swapped the diesel-fueled 4X4 Land Cruisers packed with camera-happy tourists for a much smaller group with binoculars in-hand and hiking boots on-foot.
Plus, most importantly, this year we were accompanied by two of the more knowledgeable guides in the entire region, also equipped with rifles and elephant-killing (god forbid) caliber bullets.
Sarah Nurse and Rhodes Bezuidenhout are our guides for our 4-day Pafuri “walking trail,” provided by Return Africa at Kruger National Park. This area was introduced to us last year by bassist Carlo Mombelli. He described it as “South Africa’s Notre Dame,” his country’s most important tourist attraction.
Kruger is the rarest of National Parks just in terms of its sheer size. As one of the largest protected areas on the planet, it covers 7,523 square miles, about the size of Israel. The area we hike only features one percent of that land, but offers some of its richest landscape, situated at the park’s northeast corner on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It’s one of the most biologically-diverse areas in South Africa. About 75 percent of Kruger wildlife diversity can be discovered here.
The best way to get up close and personal with Mother Africa Nature is on foot, leaving all vehicles behind. This way of “roughing it” and experiencing the bush may not be for everyone: hiking underneath a scorching sun with sudden, chance encounters with South Africa’s Big Five: buffalo, rhino, elephants, lions, and leopards, will certainly raise any spectator’s blood pressure. My heart palpitated when we encountered a herd of curious, unflinching African buffalo.
Our guides tell us these beasts are the most dangerous and unpredictable mammals in Kruger’s animal kingdom. But the thrill of watching them on foot is only half of the story. The moments of the walking trail that are most memorable are more subtle – like hearing the wind rustle through the Fever Tree forest. (Fever trees got its name because they were once believed to be the cause of malaria.)
Or, the endless loop of exotic African songbirds, singing, chirping, dancing all around you.
Or, the graceful galloping of all its deer-like creatures: zebras, impalla, nyalla, and kudu running next to your path. I swear I even felt the ground reverberate, sending chills down my spine.
And just when the serenity and natural beauty is all too much and your spirit couldn’t get anymore tranquil, you turn a blind corner to find the rear of an giant elephant, tail wagging exuberantly, only a few yards away.
The unpredictability of the bush is really one of its biggest selling points, especially when you are on foot. Every walk offers its own story and surprise engagement with the most compelling natural world around you. And, if the Pafuri Walking Trails isn’t your thing, which is a step up from car camping -- I believe the term is “glamping" -- then you can opt for a more luxurious stay in Return Africa’s Pafuri Camp, complete with 4X4 vehicles, 19 designer lodges with en-suite bathrooms, fine dining, full amenities, and a view of the Luvuvhu River that will steal your breath away.
© 2016 WBGO
April 12, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.
The Cape Town International Jazz Festival is a fabulous way to see South Africa’s unique perspective and definition of jazz music. Singer-songwriters that perform something closer to “neo-soul” or “smooth jazz” -- Angie Stone, SWV, and Jazz Attack featuring Peter White, Rick Braun, and Euge Groove – are all billed as jazz headliners here. Nevertheless, many of the "heavier" musicians that we know in New York City, many of whom who have appeared on The Checkout, such as saxophonist Mark Turner, are featured here too. (Listen to that interview here.)
And the Cape Town Jazz Fest certainly offers its own native crop of serious jazz talent such as Bokani Dyer, Themba Mokena, Thandi Ntuli, Nduduzo Makhathini, and Benjamin Jephta. Listen to The Checkout's interview with Benjamin Jephta from last year here.
My favorite venue to hear this kind of talent is undoubtably Rosies. It’s the smallest space at Cape Town’s brand new convention center, yet offers the best ambience and sound, and it’s not even close. It’s also an experience worth paying for -- those concerts usually require an additional ticket price. Tumi Mogorosi performed at Rosies this year.
He may be a rising star in South Africa, but remains relatively unknown on jazz’s international landscape, at least for now. (The Checkout intends to remedy that a little with an upcoming feature with him soon.) The Sotho drummer and composer released The Elo Project in 2014, a more-or-less string-less trio of drums, bass, and saxophone with sparse interjections of guitar and trombone. Its distinctive and most important ingredient: a vocal quartet. This small choir with jazz combo sounds similar to what Kamasi Washington released a year later with his recording The Epic.
By far the concert I enjoyed most at Rosies this year, and perhaps my favorite concert ever from my three years of attending The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, was guitarist Derek Gripper, solo. Who plays the music of Bach, Egberto Gismonti, Ali Farka Touré, and Toumani Diabate all in the same set? No one I can think of. This classically-trained guitarist whose based in Cape Town is making us rethink how we perceive the music of some of Africa’s greatest composers of the 20th century when he compares the work of Bach with that of Touré and Diabate.
We recorded an intimate interview and field recording with the guitarist in his home at the base of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Look out for that soon, including music from his latest (awesome) recording Libraries On Fire. That name refers to a griots death in West African culture. When a griot dies, a library burns.
Ilhan Erhasin is all over the globe these days, playing with his Turkish popstar friends, or curating an electro-jazz festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We New Yorkers know and love the saxophonist for his Lower East Side establishment known as NuBlu. In his upcoming interview for The Checkout, he reveals that his iconic New York club is moving soon, and also shares music from his recording The Istanbul Sessions.
Just when you think the legend behind Toronto’s rogue jazz trio couldn’t get any more mystical, these bad boys of jazz, BadBadNotGood, keeps dropping the magic -- releasing jazz/hip hop gems on the interwebs and enchanting young audiences at music festivals. South Africa’s millennials – who are often referred to as “Born-Frees” in Cape Town – were the subjects this time. The enthusiastic crowd was rewarded by a supernatural guest appearance of Yasiin Bey formerly known as Mos Def. I can’t think of a better way to end The Cape Town International Jazz Festival’s 17th installment.
© 2016 WBGO
April 3, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.
A close associate to this year's Cape Town International Jazz Festival says this year's concert programming had a strong focus on women in music.
No one would argue that the two most "Legendary Ladies In Song" at this year's festival (as they are also co-billed), are Dorothy Masuka and Abigail Kubeka.
Like South African jazz mega-stars Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim these two singers should also be commonly known among jazz appreciators in America. But that never happened. One theory, I suppose, is that neither left Africa in exile during apartheid. Thus, their artistry was never recognized internationally like their male counterparts. Nevertheless, their mark on South African music history should be noted. Masuka penned “Pata-Pata” – yes, that “Pata-Pata,” made famous by Miriam Makeba, whom she was close with.
Abigail Kubeka played in some of her country’s most historic jazz ensembles – the Malombo Jazz Makers, the Elite Swingers, and the Jazz Dazzlers. Kubeka even shared the stage with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and Kippie Moeketsi, known as the “Charlie Parker” of South Africa. Stay tuned for our upcoming feature with both “legendary ladies” on WBGO’s The Checkout.
Many of today’s South African women in music are less informed by jazz but embrace a more pro-Africa sound like Nhlanhla Nciza, the other half of Zulu-influenced pop duo Mafikizolo. Her music fits her like a glove, or, perhaps more accurately, her own clothing line: sleek, modern, and as vibrant as her rainbow nation.
Singer/songwriter/songbird Tribute “Birdie” Mboweni, born near Kruger National Park, is new voice in South Africa’s soundscape. Don’t let her tiny body fool you. Her booming voice advocates for the preservation of Africa’s endangered environment. And, bird-watching is one of her hobbies.
And then there were the many American female vocalists who appeared this year –- Cassandra Wilson, Angie Stone, Sheila E., and SWV. Look out for The Checkout’s ongoing coverage of this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival with our exclusive interviews with Lizz Wright, and the brilliant Meshell N’dgeocello.
© 2016 WBGO
April 2, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.
The South African born, Manhattan-based Vuyo Sotashe placed second place in last year's Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. For our continued coverage of the 17th Cape Town International Jazz Festival this week, we speak to the jazz singer/songwriter from the Cape Flats about the complexities of being a "Born-Free," part of the generation born in South Africa after the era of apartheid. He also shares an original song written in his native Xhosa language dedicated to his mother.
© 2016 WBGO
April 1, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.
Welcome to the 17th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival in South Africa.
From all the places that WBGO and The Checkout takes you, there isn’t a destination more scenic -- and perhaps as breathtaking -- than Cape Town, one of Africa’s oldest port cities. It exists with the backdrop of Table Mountain, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. These towering rocks rise from beautiful white sand beaches next to the Atlantic Ocean.
The sense of excitement among festival ticket holders is palpable. Event though the festival is only a two-night engagement, they call it “Africa’s Grandest Gathering” for a reason. Every year it sells out many months in advance. Those that aren’t fortunate to lock down a ticket can at least enjoy its annual free concert at Greenmarket Square. Laëtitia Dana from France kicked off the festivities this year.
Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels are a favorite band among the locals. They mostly sing Bob Marley covers. The 90’s soul band SWV also performed Wednesday night with hundreds of South Africans singing along.
One local artist who I’m especially enthusiastic about seeing is the classically-trained guitarist who's gone griot: Derek Gripper. He specializes in adapting ancient music from Mali in his latest recording Libraries on Fire, where he takes on tunes composed by his hero: the legendary kora master Toumani Diabaté. Stay tuned for my exclusive interview with Gripper on The Checkout plus his upcoming concert at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in New York this November.
And another rising star (and future guest on The Checkout) is pianist and producer Bokani Dyer, who's studied in New York City with pianist Jason Moran. The Botswana-born musician was raised by his South African parents in exile during the era of apartheid. He now resides in the country’s cultural capital of Johannesburg.
Return to this blog for my daily updates from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Soon there will be an interview with the extremely talented vocalist and songwriter from the Cape Flats Vuyo Sotashe. He finished second in this year’s Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. See the full festival lineup here.
© 2016 WBGO