They came in numbers. Jazz lovers know how to dress for an event and this festival was no exception, probably the biggest event in the province for this year thus far.  The gorgeous Durban weather gave patrons several choices to decide on what to wear. They were elegantly dressed.  With a spacious venue which they managed to fill that had enough parking, revellers were looking forward to performances from their favourite artists, including those that had travelled a long distance.

CEO of Sagiya Foundation, Philani Duma, welcomed the audience and expressed his sincere appreciation that jazz appreciators for their presence.  KZN International Jazz Festival held on Saturday was divided into three segments which were the Smooth Jazz Hour, Afro Jazz Hour and International Jazz Hour.  Multi award winning pianist, Mthobisi Mthalane, was the first artist to go on stage with his ensemble, kicking off the Smooth Jazz Hour.  Having a highly decorated Mthalane as the first act was a sign of great performances to come.

Next on stage was the trio of guitarists Nibs Van Der Spuy, Demi Fernandez and pianist Neil Gonsalves.  Their selection of songs got the audience listening attentively to their performance, and received a standing ovation when their set was completed.  Events such as jazz festivals often provide a platform networking.  Bronwen Turner knew that her message would resonate with the jazz enthusiasts at the festival.  She is a volunteer at Umgeni Community Empowerment Center (UCEC) responsible for communication, public awareness and media liaison.

Guitarist Selaelo Selota. Picture by Sbonga Gatsheni

Her organization deals with a very diverse situation of human trafficking which affects many women and children.  She firmly believes that human trafficking is just like a pandemic and people are groomed to be victims of the scourge.  UCEC also assists sex workers, provides food security in terms of feeding the homeless.  Bronwen is tasked with creating awareness about the existence of the organization and attract more funding.  This is because they often find themselves having to cater for more people than initially anticipated.

The Smooth Jazz Hour ended with a performance by bassist Bongani Nkwanyana.  His opening tune titled “My Lovely Lady” was a start of a great set he had.  One of the songs he performed was “Mantombi” which was composed by his late mentor Sipho Gumede while he was with Afro Jazz group Sakhile.  As Nkwanyana was completing his set, some of the members of Umkhumbane Jazz Ensemble (UJE) were dancing backstage getting ready for their performance.  Broadcasters Mandla Mdletshe and Brenda Sisane who were the MCs at the festival were delighted to witness such energy from the artists.

UJE kicked off the Afro Jazz Hour with a sterling performance.  Their sound was so well coordinated, and their dance moves were amazing.  Many younger musicians can learn a few lessons from these legends in terms of discipline, commitment and playing as a unit.  Unbeknown to members of this big band was that one of their key members, saxophonist Adolph Kunene, passed away shortly after they finished performing.  He was not part of the ensemble on Saturday evening as he was not well days leading to the festival.  Kunene’s memorial service will be held at the Bat Centre this afternoon.  His funeral will be held at Umlazi Section K Hall and will be laid to rest at the Lamontville cemetery.

Xolisa Dlamini and Zawadi YaMungu. Picture by Sbonga Gatsheni

Vocalist Xolisa Dlamini is known for electrifying stage performances.  It is hard to sit still during her performances.  It was clear that her musical director, Siyanda Zulu, did his thorough preparation at the rehearsal, which resulted in an incredible sound including the horn section. The introduction of her special guest, Zawadi YaMungu, was met with a warm applause.  When the two ladies did “Ngimhle”, a song which simply means ‘I am beautiful’, they sang it without the band, much to the delight of the packed venue.

The Afro Jazz Hour ended with another electrifying performance by guitar maestro Selaelo Selota.  In the run up to the festival, he had stated he wanted to leave Durban with fond memories.  Selota is known for giving his band members an opportunity to shine in his gigs.  Last Saturday was no exception.  There were brilliant individual solo performances from his band members.  By the time he finished singing his classic “Thrr Phaaa”, revellers were screaming on top of their voices.  He has a way of keeping his audiences in captivity.

Often the breaks between acts performing were longer than anticipated.  The MCs wmanaged to persuade the audience to remain calm.  At some stage, while the sound was prepared for the next act, Mdletshe did an impromptu singing of “Nomganga” by Stompie Mavi and the audience sang along.  Despite some of these challenges, the jazz enthusiasts waited patiently as they knew who the artists that made the lineup were and had travelled far and wide to see them on stage.

Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini. Picture by Sbonga Gatsheni

Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini and vocalist Mbuso Khoza’s performance was not for the faint hearted.  The duo began the International Jazz Hour.  Their performance was deeply spiritual. It demanded attentive listening in instead of singing along.  It was a combination of singing and the spoken work in a poetic way which was thought provoking.  In a surprise move, Makhathini introduced two special guests.  The first was Nomajerusalema, who is his biological mother and a recording artist in her own right.  The second was Nomangugu who is CEO of I Jadu Le Afrika.  They did a collaboration titled “Sandlwana” which reflected on the Battle of Isandlwana between AmaZulu and British troops in the late 1800.

For her performance at the festival, Japanese born US based pianist Yayoi Ikawa chose to complete her trio with Durban based drummer Sbu Zondi and double bassist Blessing Twala.  By the time she completed her very first tune, the audience had declared admiration for her incredible performance.  She was worth the wait and gave her very best.  As one of the two US based artists to perform, this former student of Richard Bona was a hit with the audience.  When the announcement was made that had bought some of her CD’s and was willing to sign the purchased copies, they were sold out in less than 10 minutes.  

Finally, the Cameroon born multi-instrumentalist, Richard Bona, walked to the stage dressed in all white with a black cap and his trademark glasses carrying the Ninja bass guitar which is his creation.  It was so evident that he was born to be a musician. He brought his regular band members who rewarded the patrons that waited for them with an outstanding performance. Bona asked those that were at the back of the venue to closer to the front as he wanted to see everyone dancing and enjoying themselves.  That request was met with a positive response. As the revellers left the Station Events, they looked completely satisfied with what they had witnessed at the festival.

Pianist Yayoi Ikawa. Picture by Sbonga Gatsheni

Often KZN jazz lovers moan about not having a ‘real’ jazz festival in the province. Based on the huge turnout from the audience, people are willing to purchase tickets for an event of this nature.  The huge turnout was an indication that jazz enthusiasts are willing to attend a festival with a good ‘menu’ to whet their ‘musical’ appetite.  KZN International Jazz Festival was undoubtedly a historic event.  Sagiya Foundation in association with KZN Jazz Appreciation Association managed to stage it with the minimal resources they had at their disposal.  

The festival enjoys international recognition as Durban is a city registered with United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  It also provided a network platform to connect with organizations including Institute for Jazz, Cultural Connection Africa. As the first instalment of this festival, there were technical glitches, most notably the poor sound which led to delays in changing from one act to another.  Addressing a media conference yesterday, the organizers acknowledged such mistakes, made an apology, and promised an improved festival in 2024.