“Her life has always been about interacting with people.  She has worked in the tourism sector which led to the formation of her public relations consulting firm. But it’s her dedication and commitment to jazz that has earned her adoration from many jazz lovers.  One of her wishes is to see more female broadcasters, a complete eradication of violence against women and affordable data to make e-learning a reality”

Gauteng based jazz enthusiasts and DSTV subscribers are always looking forward to her Sunday slot called “The Art of Sunday” between 10h00 and 14h00 at Kaya FM.  It’s a show that is both entertaining musically, very insightful as it features an array of guests in the field of jazz including the latest trends affecting the genre. Brenda Sisane is the presenter of this slot whose popularity goes beyond the province where the radio station is based.  Its loyal listeners are all over South Africa, Europe and the US.  The voice of this veteran broadcaster has been serenading Kaya FM listeners since 2012.

She was born in Meadowlands, Soweto after her family was moved from Sophiatown.   Brenda was brought up in a family that have a history of migration, land appropriation and forced removals “It meant that my folks had survived the oppressions of the time and found ways to retain their sense of being”, she told Jazz It Out. There is a formula they were meant to follow while growing up for an example, become a churchgoer, seek formal education, pursue a career in the acceptable professions such as teaching, legal, medicine or some such.

Her love for reading began at a young age and was introduced to the library as a teenager.  She started reading “Reader’s Digest” which offered content on an array of fascinating subjects spanning literature, science, history and tourism.  Brenda also joined a reading club while at school and read the “African Writer’s Series” by Heinemann Books  her treasured love. Gaining access to these books was as a result of handouts, donations and lending systems that formed part of her upbringing. This love for reading made her a dreamer and a loner who outgrew playing in the streets very early on.

Veteran jazz broadcaster Brenda Sisane. Picture by Andile Buka

After finishing school, she held a part time job at the Rand Easter Show one year and worked at the Sun International pavilion.  She was spotted by the management who invited her to join the organization through a targeted training programme.  This meant her practical work as public relations officer took place at resorts such as Sun City.  When her internship was completed she was stationed at Mmabatho Sun in Bophuthatswana, the former homeland that was incorporated into North-West Province.  “My responsibilities were to work with the media profiling the destination, stakeholder relations with local businesses, customer relations, organizing the entertainment programme, and conducting tours to natural sites for our guests”, she recalls.

Brenda’s affinity for music and her involvement in the tourism industry made her come into contact with Radio Bop presenters whom she found extremely friendly.  She was a fan of the station and Bop TV before meeting her idols in Mmabatho, now called Mahikeng.  The Soweto born PR professional found herself an initiate of Edgar Dikgole, popularly known as Brother ED who recruited her to Radio Bop. Dikgole passed away this week.  “I was thrown into the deep end with my first radio show called the “Midday Show” on Sunday from 13h00 – 15h00, a prime time show that played a medley of R&B, Soul and Jazz classics”, she told Jazz It Out.  After passing that test, she did an evening show called “Night Prowlers” from 9pm to midnight. She also worked as a presenter on Bop TV.

“We had one of the most exciting music libraries where you could loose yourself in the building for hours doing research and getting acquainted with the vast music offerings”, reflecting back to those years. Bob TV was also doing amazing things with their programming.  The television channel had young edgy producers and presenters.  There was also Mmabatho cultural centre and a jazz club at Mmabatho Sun.  Living not far from the Botswana border made it easy for Brenda to connect with the SADC community and socialize across borders where she made friends from Gaborone, Mbabane and Maseru. That broadcasting career also launched her PR consulting firm in 1995.

After leaving Radio Bob and Bop TV, she moved closer to home joining Metro FM. Her initial slot was the Sunday midday show which was similar to what she did at Bop. However, this started getting a little monotonous for her adventurous mind.  She asked to be moved to the jazz slot. “I had the hardest time learning to put together a jazz programme”, with a chuckle.  The content of the slot called “The Jazz Collective”began with mostly easy listening stuff. “Soon I got on to a firmer footing where I could easily play the so-called jazz masters. It was a three hour show and I had time dig deeper into the jazz world”, she added.

A true lover of jazz. Picture by Avant Garde Troupe

When her contract at Metro FM came to an end, Brenda formed the company SPIN Productions and its non-profit sister organization The SPIN Foundation NPC, which signaled her return to entrepreneurship. Her intention was to create a media and marketing agency specializing in the arts.  “There are variables in communicating artistic initiatives.  It is a specialized area that warrants attention of specialist writing and special talents to roll out the programmes”, she told Jazz It Out. She has had to perform the role of executive producer on global collaborations for the South African government, often as a strategic consultant in communications, fundraising, programming and talent placement of key individuals to achieve the objectives of the events.

Her reunion with radio occurred in 2012 when she joined Kaya FM as the host of “The Art of Sunday”.  When the station manager Greg Maloka recruited Brenda, he told her to do what she always dreamt of doing as a broadcaster.  “I put a show that would truly be an extention of my passions which are to be actively involved in growing the jazz sector by using my platform as a centre for information, and a tool for art activism.  My highlights have been truly that”, she said with a sense of achievement. Her show is curated to elevate African improvisers and weaving a bold narrative about the richly endowed African contributions to the genre.  She is glad the show is able to bring back jazz into the mainstream radio as a result.

Brenda’s long association with jazz saw her assuming the role for International Jazz Day (IJD) 2020 which was a journey on its own.  A colleague in the media industry who also loves jazz received a press release from the United Nations (UN) about the launch of IJD and encouraged the veteran broadcaster to take it on.  She engaged Motsumi Makhene, a musicologist and educator who immediately understood the prerogatives of this initiative.  Makhene helped design the first consultative meeting they held with broadcasters, practitioners, jazz journalists and musicians at The Market Theatre in 2015.  The agenda was to ask the jazz fraternity to help develop a raison d’etre for hosting IJD in South Africa.

After getting the nod of approval from the industry, she conducted further research about this project resulting in the official convening of the project as an official undertaking by SPIN Foundation which is sister company to SPIN Productions, designed for international arts cooperation.  The foundation was already set up with a Board of Directors which advised on various steps of appointing patrons and mobilizing specific stakeholders necessary to build this project.  “I was in constant consultation with our jazz movement.  In fact, I asked Mamsie Ntshangase of E-Jazz Appreciation Society to help when the then Thelonious Monk Institute asked for a write up that would profile the South African chapter of IJD”, she said.

A regular MC at jazz gatherings. Picture by Ill

Seton Hawkins of Jazz at Lincoln Centre was the next person with whom Brenda consulted for his knowledge of the global space.  “We also consulted the South African Ministry in charge for United Nations Education Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO), and our Permanent Delegation in Paris, to champion us as we undertook the task of bidding to host.  It was at the second attempt that we won the bid”, recalling the hard work put by the team.  By then, they were not aware there would be a global pandemic.  They had been so immersed in the planning which was a huge responsibility on its own until February this year.  COVID-19 took centre stage of global news and they began discussing the possibility of a smaller event or a postponement.  It became practical and necessary that they would not host this event as expected.

Jazz heads in South Africa and across the globe are still curious to know if International Jazz Day will be celebrated in the manner that was initially planned or will UNESCO take the event to the next host in 2021 with South Africa losing out on the festivities.  “It is not an easy answer as the process involves many variables and other stakeholders locally and globally”, she told Jazz It Out.  The status of the pandemic is South Africa remains the most important consideration about what can possibly happen.  Maybe the picture will become clear after the easing of the lockdown where they will make announcements.  As with other similar events, the travel ban remains a major setback. To mark April 30 2020 a day that South Africa was to showcase its jazz gifts to the world, a major digital celebration was held featuring Sibongile Khumalo with a host of global IJD ambassadors and a masterclass on SA jazz by Lwanda Gongwana.

Through all these roles she performs as a jazz activist, Brenda has also formed a cordial relationship with the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz who are the conveners of IJD mandated by UNESCO and Herbie Hancock as the Worldwide Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue.  It is together with his Institute that the host countries plan the Jazzday Global Concert and its Education Programme.  These global engagements have made Brenda realize that many people have been appreciating South African jazz and we as a sector have mostly been looking inwards in growing the artform.  She commends those individuals that have done well in showcasing SA jazz across the borders.  “Our intention with IJD was to grow this outward looking model of making SA jazz accessible to the world”, she emphasized.

A true lover of art. Picture by Andile Buka

“The Art of Sunday” is one show most jazz enthusiasts always look forward to because it gives them a sense of belonging.  Her show engages the audience in many respects where she does interviews with different types of jazz stakeholders such as musicians, journalists, authors, festival organizers, and music collectors to mention but a few.  She uses social media platforms such as the Facebook Page of the show and Twitter to keep listeners abreast of what is happening.  Often she hosts live performances by different jazz artists at the radio station building with a small and intimate audience in attendance while the rest of listeners stay glued to their radio and other devices they may be listening from.

Brenda believes female jazz artists and broadcasters have a role to play whose importance must not be underestimated.  “I love female jazz artists who teach me more about being a woman”, she said.  When she met jazz singer and broadcaster Dee Alexander, they ended up sitting on her couch in her room talking about love, life and jazz.  She learnt a lot from that interaction.  “I personally think we just don’t give women a chance to truly lead.  In broadcasting, we all know that women are savvy communicators” she added.  They should be employed for this innate capacity.  Information is the backbone of community and given a chance, women can make a big difference in creating an informed society.

In 2019 Kaya FM launched its satellite radio station Jazzuary FM, which plays jazz. The birthchild of the month long jazz celebration that has become satellite station was created just before Brenda joined Kaya FM.  When the station decided to extend it as a satellite radio station, she and Colin Kgari were asked to give ideas about what the shape and form of this offering could be.  They gave insights and strategies such as using young musicians to present programmes and making it a digitally savvy jazz memory, but does not want to take individual credit.  “There is a team of great minds who work behind the scenes”, she said.  One of her firm beliefs is that jazz lovers must continue to expand their learning about this genre otherwise they will stagnate.

Brenda Sisane talks about her love for jazz

By her own admission, she loves the waltzes, the Avant Garde era for its experimental and rebellious nature, but also has reverence for the pioneers.  “South African jazz sound was marginalized by apartheid, I tend to focus on it for the inspiration I find in the words the chants and the familiar sound of it”, not mincing her words.  One of the recent interesting books she has read about jazz is “Women in Jazz the Women the Legends and their Fight” written by Sammy Stein.  It covers the PR people, radio hosts, agents, composers, singers, writers, label managers, instrumentalists and many others.

When asked what is she currently listening to, she gave a very interesting names and titles.  Mvuzo Dimba A-Pre-Sent produced by McCoy Mrubata, Mrubata’s Udini Trio, Asher Gamedze’s Dialectical Soul, Keith Jarrett’s The Canergie Hall Concert, This is Herbie Hancock by Herbie Hancock, Universal Mother by Don Cherry, SoulVibrations by Dorothy Ashby, Mantra Mode by Abdullah Ibrahim, Open the Door by Betty Carter, and Love Chant Pithecanthropus by Charles Mingus who is a challenge to learn about as an accomplished bassist.

Brenda has this message to fellow women on Women’s Day: “We need more presence of women in the judiciary, in courts, in the police force, in the media, at all places where women’s safety and rights should be asserted.  Let us engage these spaces and help make them work so that we can bring an end to gender based violence.  Let us not look away because it could easily be any of us who is the next victim”.  She also wishes the country should invest in creating access to data for the excluded in the poor communities, one that matches the investment in cyber culture.  Access to data is of paramount importance for supporting e-learning, otherwise the status quo remains.

Her work involves a lot of research and writing.  Despite this, she thinks it is still good to read for escapism once in a while. She also listens to a lot of music, collecting all the new releases while learning to cook healthier.  Kaya FM is on 95.9 in Gauteng, Channel 170 on DSTV or log on to the station’s website www.kayafm.co.za to listen online.  Like the Facebook Page The Art of Sunday with Brenda Sisane.  Follow her on Twitter @BrendaSisane and #brendasisane on Instagram.