• Setting The Stage: The Cape Town International Jazz Festival

    April 1, 2016. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Welcome to the 17th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival in South Africa.

    Table Mountain
    Table Mountain

    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.

    Lion Head
    Lion Head

    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
    Dr. Victor & The Rasta Rebels
    Laëtitia Dana
    Laëtitia Dana

    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.

    Derek Gripper
    Derek Gripper

    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.

    Bokani Dyer
    Bokani Dyer with Simon Rentner

    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.

    Camps Bay

    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.

  • Donny McCaslin and Jason Lindner talk working with David Bowie on his final album

    January 11, 2016. Posted by Josh Landes.

    Saxophonist Donny McCaslin and keyboardist Jason Lindner worked with the late David Bowie on what will be his final record, Blackstar. They came into the WBGO studios to talk about the experience with Simon Rentner for The Checkout.


  • Relive WBGO's 2015 Trip To South Africa

    April 29, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Twenty-five WBGO members visited South Africa this March with Midday Jazz host Rhonda Hamilton and The Checkout's Simon Rentner.

    In addition to soaking up the sights and sounds of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, they enjoyed the Rainbow Nation's wildlife, culture, heritage, historical sites, golf and vibrant urban communities in Johannesburg, Soweto and Cape Town.

    Rhonda, Simon, and reporter Giovanni Russonnello share insights with us in a wonderful series of photo essays, news features and interviews. Click on the links below to share their Rainbow Nation experiences. Enjoy, and hope to see you there next year!


    WBGO Dispatches from South Africa

    Lesedi Cultural Village

    Around Johannesburg

    In Soweto

    Elephants, Rhinos and Lions

    Rhonda and Simon Tee Up!

    Rhonda's FInal Thoughts

    Mandela's Garden

    In Cape Town

    At The Cape Town Jazz Fest

    The Checkout In South Africa

    Hugh Masekela: The Checkout Interview

    Thundercat: The Checkout Interview

    Claude Cozens: "Jubilee Jam"

    Benjamin Jephta: "The Homecoming"

    Carlo Mombelli: "Stories"

    Audio Features For WBGO News

    Simon Rentner: Lesedi Cultural Village

    Simon Rentner: The Apartheid Museum

    Giovanni Russonnello: The Business Of The Cape Town Jazz Fest

    Giovanni Russonnello: The Chimurenga Chronic

  • WBGO In South Africa 9: At The Cape Town Jazz Fest

    April 15, 2015. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Our amazing WBGO travel experience to South Africa ends with an exclamation point: The 16th Annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival!


    Thanks to our travel expert, Hema Shah from Immersion Journeys, Rhonda Hamilton, 25 WBGO members and I spent the first part of our trip truly immersed in the Rainbow Nation’s heritage, wildlife, history, communities of Johannesburg and Soweto – and even got to play golf!

    After this we dove headfirst into South Africa's vibrant jazz scene. The Cape Town International Jazz Fest featured more than forty concerts over two days on five stages, exhibitions, master classes, and even a fashion show.

    Most of these concerts were held at Cape Town’s convention center, which stands up to any state-of-the-art theater anywhere in the world. It is well worthy of hosting a world-class jazz festival.


    In his news features for the WBGO Journal, Giovanni Russonello explains this year’s fest emphasized South Africa’s domestic jazz talent - such as emerging Cape jazz drummer Claude Cozens, and bassists Benjamin Jephta and Carlo Mombelli.

    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    Russonello also had a conversation with Cozens for The Checkout – don’t miss it. They talk about Abdullah Ibrahim, the so-called “Goema” Cape Jazz sound, and the young drummer’s modern take on that music with his trio’s new CD, Jubilee Jam.

    In addition to these newcomers, South Africa’s musical legends are here too. I felt lucky to hear in concert and also interview the man who is perhaps Africa’s most important living jazz player: trumpeter Hugh Masekela.

    Photo by Ignatius Mokone
    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    It cannot be overstated how much of a gift is to see and hear Hugh play on his home turf, in front of ten thousand squealing fans humming along to every song.

    “It’s akin to seeing Shakespeare performed by the Royal Shakespeare company,” says Dean Irby, an actor and WBGO member who traveled with our group. “Seeing the master actors perform in front of the people the play was written for.”

    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    In my conversation with Masekela for The Checkout, we take a time warp back to 1965, the year that made him a star.

    That year, Masekela recorded his career-making album The Americanization of the Ooga Booga, while in exile in New York City. He says that experience brought his music into the mainstream.

    In 1965, he also launched his own boutique record label, Chisa! That venture helped the trumpeter find his unique voice that combined jazz with the sounds of his homeland.

    Another high point for me was hearing the contemporary jazz/hip-hop group led by the talented singer Melanie Scholtz alongside rapper Jitzvinger.

    Photo by Mary-Ann Daniels
    Photo by Mary-Ann Daniels

    Scholtz, a Cape Town-bred singer and songwriter, won the 2010 Standard Bank Young Artist jazz prize. Her popularity in Europe has been growing steadily; she plans to move to Prague soon. She will be featured on The Checkout in May.

    Photo by Ignatius Mokone
    Photo by Ignatius Mokone

    Last, and definitely not least, for me, was Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner! HooooooO!

    This elusive bassist, singer-songwriter and producer is one of my personal creative heroes; I’ve tried to get him on The Checkout for years. I was thrilled to spend an hour talking with him at the Cape Sun Hotel.

    Thundercat not only creates his own brilliant music, but he is constantly busy, working with some of today’s cutting-edge mainstream musicians, such as Kimbra and Kendrick Lamar.

    We talked about those artists and many others in his Los Angeles creative sphere: Eric Andre, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, and the late Austin Peralta.

    What more can I say about my experience at the Cape Town International Jazz Fest? Only that I can’t wait to go back!

  • WBGO in South Africa 8: In Cape Town

    April 6, 2015. Posted by Rhonda Hamilton.

    The culmination of our trip was the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, “Africa’s Grandest Gathering."

    As the festival celebrated its 16th year, they chose to honor the 50th anniversary of the legendary South African mbaqanga singing group, the Mahotella Queens.

    Photo credit: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times
    Photo credit: Esa Alexander/Sunday Times

    One of the original members, lead singer Hilda Tloubatla, is still with the group.

    “We’ve got the spirit of the true musicians," she said, when asked what keeps the Mahotella Queens going strong. "We know how to go about a song - how to do a song.”

    Well, you can believe that! From the first note, these ladies energized the crowd, which gave them a rousing reception.

    Rounds of thunderous applause and loving shouts and screeches of approval echoed throughout the huge concert hall.

    Photo credit: Ignatius Mokolone
    Photo credit: Ignatius Mokone

    The concert of South African musical icon Hugh Masekela was the one that moved me most. The trumpeter is internationally revered as one of our master musicians.

    More than any other artist, he has introduced the world to the music and culture of South Africa.

    To be in the midst of an adoring South African audience as Hugh Masekela performed was a thrill I will never forget. You could feel the love they have for him, and he for them, his brothers and sisters.

    My soul stirred as soon as I heard the familiar introduction to “Coal Train” (Stimela), Masekela’s dedication to the men who work in South Africa’s mines.

    I’ve heard this song many times before, but this time, I heard it with new ears and a new understanding.

    There is a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi

    There is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe,

    There is a train that comes from Angola and Mozambique,

    From Lesotho, from Botswana, from Swaziland,

    From all the hinterland of Southern and Central Africa.

    This train carries young and old, African men

    Who are conscripted to come and work on contract

    In the golden mineral mines of Johannesburg

    And its surrounding metropolis, sixteen hours or more a day

    For almost no pay.

    Deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth

    When they are digging and drilling

    For that shiny mighty evasive stone,

    Or when they dish that mish mesh mush food

    into their iron plates with the iron shank.

    Or when they sit in their stinky, funky, filthy,

    Flea-ridden barracks and hostels.

    They think about the loved ones they may never see again

    Because they might have already been forcibly removed

    From where they last left them

    Or wantonly murdered in the dead of night

    By roving and marauding gangs of no particular origin.

    We are told they think about their land and their herds

    That were taken away from them with a gun, and the bomb

    and the teargas and the cannon.

    And when they hear that Choo-Choo train

    They always curse, curse the coal train,

    The coal train that brought them to Johannesburg.

    Rhonda and Masekela600

    Thank you, South Africa. Thanks to our hosts Hema Shah of Immersion Journeys and Judy Pillay of South African Tourism, and their respective staffs.

    In Hema’s words, you are “awesome!”

    Thanks to my colleague Simon Rentner for your hard work and for facilitating this trip, and to the team at WBGO.

    Most of all, thanks to all of the wonderful people who were part of our group, and with whom we shared this amazing journey.