The 2020 Standard Bank Jazz Festival will bring musicians and art lovers together in a celebration and experience of Jazz Reimagined. For the first time in its 33 years of musical magic and festive fellowship, the SBJF will take place entirely online with performances streaming from the festival website to living rooms and jazz lovers’ devices.
Traditionally, the festival takes place in the town of Makhanda (Grahamstown) for a gathering of what has been dubbed ’11 Days of Amazing’ during the National Arts Festival. The annual jazz festival will, this year, dare to reimagine what it means to keep the flame of culture and community, creativity and celebration alive during challenging times by embracing the requirement to be socially distanced, but culturally connected. Hence, staying true to the innovative spirit that has won the SBJF acclaim as the barometer of the best showcase of jazz in South Africa and the continent.
This year, the festival will feature an impeccable line-up of jazz musicians inspired to beat the odds of isolation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic with the power of their musical ingenuity.
The highlights are led by this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz – Sisonke Xonti.
He will showcase his vision and voice as a composer and bandleader. Xonti is heir to a rich saxophone lineage rooted both in the Kha-La-Gu-Nya (Khayelitsha; Langa; Gugulethu, Nyanga) region of Cape Town, and an international pedigree. Gifted with formidable jazz skills and vast experience that has seen him play with the likes of Jimmy Dludlu, Lira, Hugh Masekela, Judith Sephuma, Feya Faku, Freshlyground, Abdullah Ibrahim, Simphiwe Dana, Bombshelter Beast, and more. Xonti is a product of the festival’s development programme too. He’s been in both the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Band and the Standard Bank National Schools Big Band.
Once every generation, Britain shores up a new voice for the ages. Like Grammy Award-winning Jacob Collier (UK), a song stylist with a knack for reinventing and meddling everything from doo-wop harmonies to jazz, folk and soul.
Tenor man Linda Sikhakhane (SA) is another exciting youthful voice carving a voice as a composer and prodigiously capable collaborator. Trumpeter Sakhile Simani, with his People of My Community, will be paying homage to his cultural roots, while seeking to make a mark propelling the jazz art form forward in his own way. Easily the most exciting jazz duet on in recent years, Mete Erker & Jeroen van Vliet (Netherlands) will perform their unique poetic music showcases born of a 30-year deep musical partnership.
Also set to thrill audiences, Michael Bester (SA) is a Joburg-based and Berkley educated guitarist and composer who leads a power-packed quintet that plays music with a rare and gorgeous rapport.
Few singer-songwriters have embodied the spirit of reinvention as the inimitable Thandiswa Mazwai (SA); her career cuts through house music, kwaito afro-soul and now straight-ahead jazz. The masterful vocalist and composer, Croatia-born Ziza Muftic repeatedly finds South African-rooted ways to breathe new energy into well-loved jazz classics – both traditional and cutting edge. Not to be missed, vocalist Spha Mdlalose is arguably the most sought-after collaborator among her peers. Guitarist Vuma Levin (SA) is a studious composer whose work explores new ways to probe questions of identity, power and culture and notions of being both global and locally rooted. Also on the roster are Ami Faku (SA) – one of South Africa’s fastest-rising Afro-soul stars – Ramon Alexander (SA), Swing City (SA) and Micasa (SA).
‘This year, we’ve had to balance our longstanding sponsorship and commitment to growing the creative industry, and the continued investment in the development of South African jazz with health and safety requirements occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has meant finding a way to retain the best and most essential part of the festival whilst finding a new way to ensure we deliver on the promises of the festival to our clients and arts lovers in general,’ says Desiree Pooe – Standard Bank Head of Sponsorship and Events.
‘2020 brought the biggest challenges faced by the world in a century with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nations around the globe had to literally shut down for months with devastating effects on industries. For an industry and an art form that depends, by its very nature, on human contact – between musicians improvising on stage, and by their interaction with their audience – this posed challenges not previously even contemplated, especially for a festival like ours in Makhanda, where we thrive on international collaboration, cramped venues and personal contact with hundreds of students gathered to learn about the art form they are passionate about,’ says Festival Executive Director, Alan Webster.