“Some jazz commentators have acknowledged that these awards are growing from strength to strength.  This is reflected in the list of nominees for 2020 which probably gave some of the adjudicators sleepless nights and will make voting a nightmare for jazz enthusiasts. The awards will be tightly contested but jazz as a genre will emerge the overall winner”

When coach and academic Dr Mongezi Makhalima saw the lack of recognition accorded to jazz musicians and those involved in making the genre popular in this country, he decided to do something about this which led to the formation of Mzantsi Jazz Awards (MJA).  Four years later the awards have grown in popularity and more lovers of jazz are taking notice and appreciation for their role in highlighting the best of South African jazz.  Despite the cancellation of major jazz events due to the outbreak of Covid-19, this year’s instalment of the awards will be held on the 29th of August.

MJA nominee Viwe Mkizwana Ensemble album Tributes

Makhalima told Jazz It Out that because of the restrictions imposed, they are exploring other options including going virtual.  “We might even have a hybrid version of the event”, he said.  Last year’s recipients of the awards included The Unity Band, Zarcia, Ndivhuho N L, Branford Marsalis, Gabisile Motuba, Thabang Tabane, Sibusiso “Mash” Mashiloane and Talie Monin among others. What was more exciting about last year’s prizes is that they included the recording of the video for the best jazz album, best jazz song and best newcomer by MJA.  They will be doing the same this year.

Several changes were scheduled to be introduced this year.  These included creating a development path for young musicians in partnership with a production company owned by multi-instrumentalist Mpumi Dhlamini to raise the standard of young jazz musicians and create an additional pathway to profession.  However, due to this challenge facing the country, they are holding off a lot of changes till 2021. One change they were able to implement was to make criteria stricter about who gets to the final stages of the nomination process. Individuals and groups who are announced as nominees are already evaluated by the various judges as the best deserving in the eligible year.

MJA nominee Spha Mdlalose album Indlel’eyekhaya

MJA are taking a slightly different direction to the music prepared for the date the ceremony will be held, but this is something people will see when they attend, whether online or whichever way they get to stage it. This pandemic has taught Makhalima to be agile and clear with his vision and surround himself with people who share his passion.  These include judges, the MJA team, musicians, the artistic team, and the jazz loving audience.  Even though this year has posed a lot of challenges, the event must take place because jazz is bigger than individuals.

Categories for this year’s awards include Best Jazz Album, Best Jazz Song, Best Contemporary Jazz Album, Best Traditional Jazz Album, Best Female Jazz Artist, Best Male Jazz Artist, Best International Jazz Album/Artist, Best Radio Station Playing Jazz and Best Club/Venue for Jazz.  It is somewhat disappointing to notice that the category for Best Female Jazz Artist only has two nominees while most categories has four or five nominations.  Even other categories have a single female nomination if there is one. Perhaps the single nomination of Special Effect Jazz Club for the Best Club/Venue for Jazz can be attributed to less gatherings taking place since the lockdown was imposed.

MJA nominee Riley G album A Groove for the Nation

For jazz to grow and be made popular in this country, the category for Best Radio Station Playing Jazz must be more tightly contested.  This category could have received more than three nominations. Did Makhalima decline a nomination for his own jazz slot to avoid what would have been perceived as a conflict of interest? Another example that MJA are growing from strength to strength is that drummer Riley G and pianist Sibusiso “Mash” Mashiloane are contesting for the Best Male Jazz Artist Award and Best Contemporary Jazz Album Award. This is quite interesting because Riley has recorded several albums as part of the Mash Trio.

Nominees for the Best Jazz Album are Ndabo Zulu & Umgidi Ensemble – Queen Nandi, Steve Dyer – Genesis of a Different World, Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane – Umkhuleko, McCoy Mrubata – Brasskap Sessions Volume III, Viwe Mkizwana Ensemble – Tributes and Spha Mdlalose – Indlel’ eyekhaya. Nominees for Best Jazz Song are Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane – Tugela, Ndabo Zulu & Umgidi Ensemble – Ngovivi, McCoy Mrubata – Ziphi, Viwe Mkizwana Ensemble – Sicel’u Xolo, Steve Dyer – Bhaca Blue and Bandabanda & The Crocodiles – Ester and James. 

MJA nominee IT HAS TO BE JAZZ album Ancestors Danced

In the Best Contemporary Jazz Album, the nominees are Sean Sanby – Out of the candlelight, Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane – Amanzi Nemifula: Umkhuleko, Riley G – A groove for the nation, Bandabanda & The Crocodiles – Africado, Victor Kgantlape – The Right Timing, and Spha Mdlalose – Indlel’ eyekhaya.  In the Best Traditional Jazz Album, the nominees are Ndabo Zulu & Umgidi Ensemble – Queen Nandi, It Has To Be Jazz – Ancestors Danced, Paul Hanmer & Robert Pickup – Morning into evening, Clement Benny & se7enofn9ne – By way of introduction and Steve Dyer – Genesis of a Different World.

Only two nominees are in the Best Female Jazz Artist category.  These are Ziza Muftic – Shining Hour and Spha Mdlalose – Indlel’ eyekhaya.  The Best Male Jazz Artist category has Riley G, Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane, McCoy Mrubata, Viwe Mkizwana and Victor Kgantlape.  Nominees for Best International Jazz Album/Artist are Ambrose Akinmusire – On The Tender Spot Of Every Calloused Moment, John Scofield – Swallow Tales, John Zorn – Calculus, Lakecia Benjamin – PURSUANCE: THE COLTRANES and Boney James – Solid.  Special Effect Jazz Club are probably celebrating already as they have no contest in the Best Club/Venue for Jazz which they also won last year.

MJA nominee MoAfrika Wa Mokgathi from Transafrica Radio

For Best Radio Station Playing Jazz, Alex FM 89.1, TransAfrica Radio (Mo’Afrika Wa Mokgathi) and Kofifi FM 97.2 make up the nominees.  For more information on the voting procedure, where to purchase tickets and all the information related to the awards, please visit their website www.zajazzawards.co.za or drop them an email at info@zajazzawards.co.za .  Like their Facebook Page Mzantsi Jazz Awards, follow them on Twitter @ZaJazzAwards and Instagram @zajazzawards. Wishing all the nominees the best of luck and well done to MJA for pulling the 4th instalment of the ceremony and most importantly for acknowledging the rich jazz culture this country has.