Tom Misch, Africa Melane's greatest find at Cape Town International Jazz Fest

Politicians may have been absent at this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival, in part, due to the Cabinet reshuffle announced by President Jacob Zuma last week, but politics was in our consciousness. Jazz, after all, is a genre synonymous with an energetic expression of society’s consciousness.

‘I am an African, and I only know what it means to love,’ said Moreira Chongiuca to a loud cheer and applause from the audience as he opened the Kippies stage on Friday. This statement conjured up issues of xenophobia and migration dominating the political discourse in South Africa and the world. Chongiuca then introduced the Lion of Cameroon, Manu Dibango, still one of the greatest innovators of world music. Theirs is a relationship that spans 17 years and many projects, and what a privilege to experience them.

Darren English opened the Moses Molelekwa stage on Saturday evening. His beautiful and brooding jazz reminded us why he is a trumpet voice destined for great things. English is a generous musician on stage, and ‘The Birth’ (from his album Imagine Nation) is a lengthy, epic song that demonstrates warmth in his tone and allows him to truly shine as it builds to its memorable crescendo. ‘The Birth’ is one of a suite of songs he wrote to honour Nelson Mandela.

Thandiswa Mazwai was hauntingly beautiful in evoking deep and uncomfortable memories as she paid tribute to iconic women in South Africa and the music they gifted to us during the difficult times this country endured. Opening her set with ‘Jikijela’ (from her latest offering Belede), she set the mood for an experience that at once felt like a sophisticated political rally and an evangelical church gathering. It was her interpretation of the late Busi Mhlongo’s ‘Wakrazulwa’ that would have brought tears to anyone in the audience. We need to cry for our beloved country.

The organisers of the festival received a lot of criticism for programming Mazwai’s set on the Rosies stage where an additional ticket costing R30 is required for an entry to the auditorium. Festival Director Billy Domingo explains: ‘It was Thandiswa Mazwai who insisted on the intimacy of the Rosies venue as she wants to honour the music with the respect that it deserves.’

Mazwai was correct to insist on this. Kippies (which holds up to 25,000 revelers) would have robbed the artists and the audience of a simply sublime experience.

‘I know that your country is going through a political storm at the moment, and my country (USA) is going through its own challenges,’ is what Andra Day said before delivering a heart wrenching performance of ‘Rise Up’ (from her album Cheers to the Fall). ‘All we need is hope, and for that we have each other,’ she sang.

Nomfundo Xaluva is an absolute delight to watch on stage. She is a dynamic and ambitious lyricist beautifully celebrating her youth. She treats every note with great delicacy. And then, magic. ‘Bayathetha’ exulted a jubilation in being one’s self and inspires you to hold your head up high always, no matter what people say about you. Politics of the nation, politics of the mind, politics of the body were laid out to soothe the soul on the various stages at this year’s festival. And it was both joyous and painful.

Buddy Wells Sextet was virtuoso and magnificent. Taylor McFerrin and Marcus Gilmore were superlative and masterful. Gretchen Parlato, that whisper-voiced genius, she stayed with me during my drive home.

A masterstroke from the festival organisers this year was inviting bands and artists who speak to a younger audience and yet lend themselves naturally to a jazz festival. The Internet, Tom Misch (my greatest find this festival) and Kamasi Washington (an awesome assault on all senses) drew an audience you would naturally associate with popular music and hip-hop. Should they buy in to the lifestyle, the future of this festival is assured.

‘Makubenjalo, Makubenjalo, Kude kube ngunaphakade, Kude kube ngunaphakade.’

Africa Melane hosts the 'Weekend Breakfast with Africa' show on Cape Talk

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