Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2019: An Illicit Grooves Report

#CTIJF209 Friday 29th-Saturday 30th March 2019

Cape Town International Conference Centre (CTICC)

To begin to fully understand this festival, its line-up and its organisation one first has to place it in the context of Cape Town as a city.

An outward looking port city, Cape Town is a diverse mix of cultures and styles, a young population but one where age is just another ingredient in the melting pot of flavours. It is a city where locally owned businesses and street level entrepreneurship sit comfortably alongside glass fronted household names and financial giants. It is a city where on speaking to anyone for the first time, regardless of age or cultural background, a code of respect, courtesy and manners is strictly observed. On meeting for a second time is then to be treated as an old friend and by the 3rd meeting expect to be called brother, uncle and on occasion for me, comrade. It is a city where on my first day here I learned how to say thank you in seven different languages.

From a journalists point of view the organisation of the Jazz Festival was clear to see with timed press conferences by the artists all running to schedule (no mean feat there alone) and a quick an efficient registration and accreditation procedure and a media liaison crew brilliantly run by Carenza, Thandileke, Shineeq and their colleagues. Prior to the event I went into the venue to watch the setting up and spoke to production manager Amelia. Again, the efficiency and professionalism of all involved was clearly in evidence.

From a punter’s point of view the quick queuing times for entry, for service at the cashless bars and the signage for finding ones way around the five stages and the clearly printed event guide and timetable were only matched by well briefed personnel. From security guards to event ambassadors and media liaison efficiency, fun and enjoyment were the watchwords.

So what of the music of the festival itself? Well the line up, across the 5 stages within the CTICC complex combined the local with the national and international. Superstars of music shared the bill with new and upcoming acts, underground acts and the mainstream met with the avant garde like the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. A line-up which featured the Roma Flamenco of The Gypsy Kings, the bass heavy jazz-funk and fusion of Richard Bona, the township militancy of Soweto’s BCUC and the LDN sounds from Nubya Garcia, Alfa Mist and Moses Boyd.

Opening with a free concert on the Wednesday in Cape Town’s Market and closing with an after-party event in the nearby township of Langa and via the educational programs associated with the festival local Capetonians were front and centre of those welcome at the festival. The marketing and programming also ensuring an international flavour in the audience as it was on the stages. In terms of the diversity of programming, the partnerships with local and national government agencies and businesses this festival is something from which other city and town based jazz festivals could learn.

With the natural laws of physics and timetable clashes preventing me from seeing every act that I wanted to what follows is really an impression of those I did see but written from a music fan’s perspective more than from that of a hard nosed music hack. I’m writing this now with the aide memoir of notes I made at the time of seeing each performance and will attempt to keep the emotional responses I felt then.

The two acts I saw in the huge Kippie’s stage arena could not have been more different in genre and styles but both created an atmosphere of excitement and joyous fun in their very differing styles. The Gypsy Kings played loud and with energy, unencumbered by the need to be radio friendly, let rip with highly percussive and heavy latin rhythm versions of their well known hits from the last 3 decades. Indeed, their rendition of crowd favourite Bambalaya bordered on the Latin House vibe which would not have been out of place in a Nu Yorican or Salsoul set. Richard Bona, on the other hand, delighted the crowd with his fusion of West African rhythms and Jazz-Funk fusion. A band which included two Cubans on drums and percussion and an Frenchman and Neopolitan on keys and lead guitar respectively, ran through many of Bona‘s hits and also a crowd stopping version of Jaco Pistorious‘ ‘Tin Town. Brilliant stuff and, of course, Bona‘s bass playing was something out of the genius level.

bona

The acts I was able to experience on outside Mannenberg stage was a mix of multi-instrumental musicianship and a use of technology as well as a mixing of styles. On this stage I saw and dance to BCUC, Moonchochild, FKJ and Corey Henry & the Funk Apostles.

BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) is a Soweto based act which mixes poetry and rap with live music courtesy of a seven piece line-up who ,mix indigenous beats with hip-hop and Punk influences. My own reaction to seeing BCUC is best summed up by what the band says ‘We draw from the blues, funk and psychedelia. We are from Soweto and people are crazy and animated. We are just us, doing our thing like we always do. With the amount of drums and drive that comes from our relentless bass lines one cannot help but get carried away.’ Carried away indeed, I was.

BCUC

Moonchild is a three piece band from LA, California. Augmented by drummer Efa Etoroma on drums for this event the line-up of Amber Navran on vocals, sax and clarinet, Max Bryx on keys, sax and clarinet and Andris Mattson on keys, trumpet and flugelhorn combines pop-funk and neo-soul. It comes as a a pleasant but understandable surprise to find out that Moonchild has played alongside Kamasi Washington and opened for Stevie Wonder. The performance at CTIJF had me after a couple of tracks. The multiculti make-up of the audience of mainly Twentysomething South Africans who were singing along word for word and cogniscent of every rythmic, melodic and mood change in the set reminded me of being in a late 80s/early 90s London venue watching one of the acid jazz bands around at the time. Very accessible Jazzy and soulful dance music and a mixed crowd who knew what they liked. A lovely energy and great musicianship.

MOONCHILD-PIC

FKJ (French Kiwi Juice) was an unbelievable performance. A one man band using percussion, keys and a variety of horns with a sampler. Parisian FKJ (real name Vincent Fenton) is rather similar to the current LDN musicians of the moment (Moses Boyd, Joe Armon-Jones, Cassie Kinoshi etc) in that he wears all his musical influences on his sleeve, or rather on his stage. With a partly improvised set he can, and did, create a hip-hop or DnB drum break live, sample it and then add instrumental parts to layer the track before then blowing a horn solo over what he has has created. This is so much more than just being clever, this is the creative process in the raw and excellent musicianship to boot. It is also fantastic jazz driven dance music and, once again, I did dance.

FKJ

Closing the Mannenberg stage on Saturday night and the final act of the whole festival was Corey Henry & the Funk Apostles. Chatting to a group of young Capetonians near the front of the stage prior to his coming on I was asked if I knew Corey Henry and I posited the suggestion that this was the moment when they would all lose their elegance and would throw everything into dancing. By the time the band had finished the crowd was in some kind of rapture. Combining funk with soul and gospel this set was over far too soon and anyone who is at any festival with Corey Henry and the Funk Apostles on the bill needs to see them to believe just how good and how uplifting this band is. Brilliant stuff.

corey henry

It was also good to see that along with acts from pan-Afrika, USA and continental Europe there was also a strong LDN presence with an added twist of collaboration with African musicians too.

On the Moses Lolelekwa stage I saw both Nubya Garcia and Alfa Mist bring the house down. Alfa Mist‘s set was received by an appreciative crowd who showed that appreciation with a standing ovation at the end. A brilliant line-up of Kaya Thomas-Dyke on bass (and superb vocals on one track), Peter Adam-Hill on drums, Jamie Leeming on guitar and John Woodham on trumpet as well as Alfa Mist on keys and vocals created a show in which all musicians on that stage were given room to show their individual virtuosities within an excellent group performance. As I said, a standing ovation at the end and well deserved. I spoke to a Xhosa woman after the set and she asked me where Alfa Mist was from, ‘East London’, I replied. ‘Ach, so he is South African then’, she smiled. ‘No, east London in London, UK, not the Eastern Cape.’ ‘Oh, well he is very good and he should come and live here where it’s warmer.’ At this she smiled at me again, looked at my stein of Castle Lager and said ‘and so should you, you can drink that everyday here.’

alfa mist

On the same stage the night before, Nubya Garcia achieved a similar reaction with a superb set which also incorporated the vocal and poetry skills of Siyabonga Mhleli. A band with Joe Armon-Jones on keys and Nubya Garcia on sax is always going to be the business and with Sam Jones on drums and Dan Casimir on bass the business was what it was. Again, the biggest compliment that the crowd could give other than the regular rounds of applause was how many left their seats (myself included) to go and dance at the sides of the auditorium.

nubya

Also worth noting on this stage were the Swiss/South African collab combo The Mill and, from Jo’burg, The Reza Khota Quartet.  I will certainly be researching these two acts for inclusion on the playlists of The Illicit Grooves Radio Show.

But back to the LDN presence, and my personal highlight of the festival, Moses Boyd’s collaboration rePercussions, live on the Bassline stage late on the Friday night. Featuring Moses Boyd on drums, producer DJ Lag, guitarist Tiago Correia-Paulo, singer/songwriter Nonku Phiri and trumpeter & composer Mnadla Mlangeni, rePercussions created a cross-cultural hour of full on dance music featuring club genres from the UK, South Africa and Mozambique. Gqom, Township House, Cape House, Drum and Bass, Hip-Hop, Funk and, of course, Jazz were all present in this joyful mix of dance music brilliance. I tweeted at the time that my kness would not forgive me for how hard I was dancing to rePercussions but, you know, my knees screaming like sirens was a small price to pay for how good this set was. Also, so great to see Nubya garcia, Joe Armon-Jones and the rest of Nubya’s band all in the crowd supporting their fellow Tomorow’s Warrior Moses Boyd. As I said, this set from rePercussions was the highlight amongst highlights at this festival.

the-repercussions

Also worth noting that the Bassline stage was generally a South African affair in its programming and included a contestant from the RSA version of Pop Idol, the brilliant Durban singer Shekinah. She drew a huge crowd to this 2nd of the outside stages and I have to say she, and her band, were brilliant. An RnB infused soul set which included some phat beats and a great vocal presence. I’ve always found RnB far too overproduced and bling bling clean for my raw tastes but a great singer is an even greater singer live and Shekhinah was great.

shekinah

If I have any critiques of this festival it would be to create a bigger area at the front of the Molelekwa stage for people to stand and dance. I would also look again at the Rosie’s stage which was a ticketed and fully seated auditorium which felt a little too exclusive. I understand the desire to not have people wandering in and out of certain performances but it was a little unwelcoming.

Would I recommend this festival? Yes. Will I go again? Yes.

Who would be on The Return of the Illicit Groove dream line-up for this festival

Ezra Collective, Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids, Shamrock Guitor, Simphiwe Dana, SEED Ensemble, Joe Armon-Jones, Nerija, Cymande, Esperanza Spalding and Rodriguez are just a few of the acts I noted down as being perfect for this event.  Maybe, just maybe, eh? 

With Cape Town also hosting the International Jazz Day Concert in 2020 then next year looks like another trip to South Africa for The Return of the Illicit Groove.

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