Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 12:08 am
Brilliant art often hides in plain sight. Such is the case in South Africa, where, for centuries, the country turned its back on black and "coloured" musicians.
In the mid-'60s, the apartheid government made it impossible for its best musicians to operate or make a living. Being a true jazz musician in the apartheid era was particularly dangerous; artists who played music that symbolized empowerment, integration and freedom posed a direct threat. This is why so few "classic" South African jazz recordings exist in the first place. Now, as South Africa enters a modern age, many of the same problems that frustrate American jazz artists actually plague South Africans. Recording contracts for its elders are few and far between.
That said, there's one bright light in the country: The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, one of Africa's largest music events. Last weekend, jazz — and all that it represents — was celebrated as a vital component of South African identity. This "grandest gathering," as it was called, not only drew a massive audience (26,000 people in two days), but also attracted Africa's top business leaders and dignitaries, including South Africa's president himself.
Here are five South Africans — all featured at this year's festival — whom every jazz aficionado should know.