It came as an old surprise that South African Jazz legends; multiple-award winning singers and composers Dorothy Masuka and Abigail Kubeka have no one who wants to play with them, or even a smalla-nyana record label willing to go into the studio with them. The two Diva–Stalwarts made impassioned pleas to anybody willing to listen during a press briefing  ahead of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (1&2 April) last week-end.

This Money Thing!

Abigail Kubeka, who is 76, says the only way she’s been able to survive all these years is because she is  essentially  an artist,  a  performer so she does Cabaret shows, voice overs and a bit of acting here and there to make ends meet. But she says her true passion, to make music, that door she says has remained closed to her for many years. “I’m ready to go into studio now, but I have to raise the money for that. People are no longer willing to spend money, they want to make money” She said behind black sunglasses. Dorothy Masuka (81) who was forced into exile for decades during the peak of her career as a singer, song- writer and composer reiterated their shared state of isolation from the mainstream recording industry.  “I’m going to perish with my stuff right now, I am full of nothing but material, my age does not control my compositions. I didn’t want to sing, singing wanted me. It’s a disease which no doctor can cure”. The two legends however commended South African Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa , whose ministry was one of the official funders of this year’s festival ( the others include Independent newspapers and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa “Prasa”)  for including them in the  program. Both of them hosted master classes as part of the program and performed on the main – Kippies – stage on the opening (first) night of the Jazz Festival. Nothing like this had been done for them before, they both said, hugging and patting the minister who smiled with satisfaction. So that when I met them during lunch after the press conference they both told me that things are getting better, “People are at least starting to listen” they said between bites “at least there’s a conversation going on now”.  But everybody knows real money is on the Rosies’ stage, with red comfortable seats.

But Wait a Minute…

Then I met an American Jazz journalist at the Jazz festival, for him of course, it’s an annual event. He asked to use my phone because he couldn’t make local calls with his iPhone.  He wanted to go to his all-time favourite restaurant in Cape Town called “la Colo …”” what? La Colombe. I had never heard of it before.  Anyway he told me, it’s the best restaurant in the world, his opinion at least. It served the most sublime food and he wanted to go as soon as possible which is why he was using my phone to call them to make a booking. So while he was holding the line and he waited for quite a while, we had a conversation about my name Jedi, which has nothing to do with Star Wars of which he is a complete fan. He complained that South African Tourism (SA Tourism) who sponsored his trip to cover the entire Jazz festival had promised to take him there too, but they had somehow forgotten to make him a booking.  “They serve dinner for like, 120 USD, he said, but it’s like a six course meal or something ridiculous” Okay, lucky you I said.

Nothing Unusual There or….

We waited for at least ten to twenty minutes for American Jazz songstress Cassandra Wilson, 60, the main Act who graced the cover pages of this year’s Who’s Who Jazz catalogue to come to the press briefing with all the artists present, until the director of the festival Billy Domingo decided that the show must go on to preserve some modicum of respect for the Minister, and all other artists present at the press briefing without her.  She arrived minutes after the press conference was over and then the doors had to be shut so that the media didn’t escape.

But we had booked an interview

Soon after we were ushered into a private hotel room with two journalists from Spain, waiting for an interview with Cassandra Wilson. Revered South African Jazz writer Gwen Ansell had the first 15min minutes and we were next.  Then we were told by three of her minders, CTIJF staff, that she will no longer be doing the interview with us. She was tired. Nothing we could  do. There’s no one to kill, but Cassandra Wilson herself because even if she’s old, that would definitely be a huge travesty. I wanted to ask her if she could collaborate with Dorothy Masuka and Abigail Kubeka, did she even know about them? Ah well…

“They” Think Americans Are The Only Bankable Artists

America currently has the largest (consumer) market for Jazz Music in the world so of course, it makes sense. Artists are intrinsically unpredictable, moody and rebellious. Makes even more sense. But of course she’s Cassandra Wilson. In any case this year’s festival has been the best, Eric Alan -Founder-Producer-Presenter-CEO-President-Chairman-Chief Grub Maker-Pot Plant Babysitter-Serious Pinotage, Coffee & Beer Quaffer-Utterly Passionate Jazz at the online AllJazz Radio Station has had the pleasure to attend. It had the highest number of South African not local artists performing than any one of the 16 festival before this.  Eric Alan would know because he has done it 17 times, and most of the artists on his own wish list which he submitted to the festival organizers and selection committee were on the bill. So he was a happy man with a beard.   But this he said did not detract from the fact that South African musicians did not get their fair share of the pie on commercial extra-terrestrial radio stations. “They need and deserve to bask in the in the spotlight. But that’s not happening because “they” think American music sells.  They being the SABC, to be precise.

In other news: The Cape Town International Jazz  Festival contributes more than half a billion rand to the Western Cape Gross Domestic Product. Last year the festival created 2,723 jobs, of which 321 were direct and 2,402 were indirect. Cab drivers charged inflated prices for local rides, 150 rands or more for a local turn that normally costs 40 bucks, even though none of them knew where Devil’s Peak was. They had no sense of direction even with a Global Positioning System. All flights out of the city, from SAA, Kulula, Mango, Flysafair, British Airways, etc. Were fully booked until today the 8th of April. I know because I missed mine. So I bussed it, with a Translux long-distance bus, which incidentally is owned by Prasa. The official sponsor of the Jazz festival. After chasing 42 artists, 21 of whom performed simultaneously each day on five different stages until way past midnight… I was more than ready to put my feet up and sleep for the 18 hour ride home, on my birthday.


Picture Credit: Estacio Voloi.


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