During South Africa’s tumultuous history when the world only saw negative images of this beautiful land, there were many special artistic and innovative ambassadors who passionately presented South African society to the world in a different light. Musicians who were representing our culture in a positive way, spreading the vital energy, colour and texture that makes this land the unique spiritual and cultural tapestry that it is. These living legends gave the world our ancient sounds and dances.
The time has now come, in fact it is very much overdue to give expression to our music and boldly shape it in a South African way, giving recognition to the musicians, who through their brilliance, resilience and creativity have highlighted the rich culture of our land to the world at large.
The names and details of these many individuals are too numerous to list here, but a few examples that really stand out include Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Jonas Gwangwa, Dorothy Masuka, Rebecca Malope and Caiphus Semenya, in no particular order, and amongst many others. It is also a known fact that the slaves who were shipped to the Americas centuries back gave the western world music that is still appreciated today. The fusion of sounds from Africa, Spanish, French, German, as well as a small number of American Indians, shaped what became known as Jazz today. It has since been an American art form through revolutionary development.
What has happened to Jazz and Afro-music in Africa? What status has it achieved back home? There is no doubt that this type of music enjoys little recognition from music structures such as recording companies, television and radio stations. It is viewed as music appealing only to a coterie of vanishing appreciators. In the absence of amenable alternative channels, music as an expression of sound has suffered untold distortion to the eclipse of the emancipatory value systems befitting a society undergoing change. While creative music operates under the strain of prejudices, it still has to contend with the whims of promoters and producers whose commercial emphasis treats it with contempt.
This tends to reinforce the amount of denial facing creative music, leaving our artists with no option but to find self-wasting comfort in the kind of music that affords them fortune and fame to the debasement of their creative aptitudes which are left to idle. The public is hoodwinked to believe that what is good is what sells most. Such music delivers no sense or imagery neither does it yield any feeling or tone. Those failing to conform are sidelined.
The appalling effect of this alienation finds disappointing in the kind of music which no nation that is resolved in the transformation of its value system can take pride in. This discriminatory and divisive policy to cultural expression as well as the duress of commercial factors to create music reduces our artists from persons to things, objects of what is desirous in the market through which to produce. Music that is regarded as nation-building must be characterised by all things needed to build a nation musically i.e. inspiration, feeling and thoughts. One must not lose track of the fact that this music has survived the slavery era, it has gone through the human emancipation, two world wars and it defies apartheid.
Jazz is a piece of music borne out of human misery. It has transformed into a most difficult performance art form because of the discipline and feeling entwined in it. One may argue that this creative music as it is today in Africa does not project the image of difficultness; it is more of a sensuous, joyous and thoughtful image. But doesn’t this variation of it from geographical point of view actually project it as an unpredictable art form depending on where you hear it from?
Few of our artists in Africa have enjoyed cult status internationally through this type of music. If jazz is a reaction against the arrogant sloth and snarling decadence that faces us all, threatening to devour all craft and purity and push human beings into the hopper of hysteria, where they will be stripped of all but obvious response, it then needs all the encouragement, support and promotional doses we can administer.
It is partly some of the above stated reasons that motivated us, as the Jazz Foundation, to offer some sort of support system to our local musicians who have sacrificed selflessly to play music that is genuine and expressive of their conditions as a people under perpetual neglect. To date we have created a canned music circuit which is on a rotational basis in various towns in all provinces. The Foundation has honoured and acknowledged one of Africa’s late musical legends, Kippie Moeketsi by unveiling his tombstone.
We are also currently focusing our energies on creating and developing a first ever multi-ethnic jazz orchestra with elements of hip hop into it. This orchestra will be developed over a period of time into a Pan-African orchestra, hence, hosting other international guests as well.