Just over a decade ago, Vuyo Giba attended a performance by the late Latozi “Madosini” Mpahleni and Pedro Espi-Sanchis at Nelson Mandela Art Museum in Qqeberha. Madosini walked on stage in her Xhosa attire from head to toe. She still has vivid memories of what happened that day. “I felt so much at peace inside the venue. No words can explain the feeling I had. The stage, the indigenous instruments uhadi and umrhubhe, the shakers and emotions displayed were so moving to watch”, she told Jazz It Out

What she witnessed at the museum made her decide to pursue photography as a career. The self – taught photographer, film maker, writer, archivist, daughter, mother, sister and Jazz aficionado has captured iconic images that narrate amazing stories through the lens. “When I purchased my first camera, I knew I wanted to tell music stories”, looking back. She received her early lessons from the late photographer and Jazz head Mzi Mtola. A beautiful image by the late Pierre Crocquet which captured her soul led to an interaction with his brother who is responsible for his works.

On her arrival in Johannesburg, Vuyo reached an agreement with the owner of Niki’s Oasis Jazz Restaurant, Simnikiwe Sondlo, to be resident photographer at the establishment. “Ms Sondlo played a very important and crucial role in my musical growth and photography”, she said. It was great music she heard from a distance that led to her discovery of Niki’s. “I visited The Market Theatre for a show. When it ended, I heard a robust yet smooth sound of the saxophone. I followed the music and found it to be at Niki’s, a club that was established in 1995”, she added.

Vuyo Giba. Picture by SIX BLX

An ambience of good music, good food, and excited patrons made her fall in love with the club. She immediately identified an opportunity. “I noticed that there was no photographer capturing the live performance patrons were witnessing”, she recalls. Armed with her entire photography equipment, she negotiated with the co-owner, Zuko Rwaxa, to take images and have them delivered on Monday. “He agreed, and just like that I was at the heart of South African Jazz greats”, she added.

Vuyo spent most of her weekends at Niki’s. “I became part of the establishment. I consider myself very fortunate to have been at the heart of South African Jazz. It was very important to learn music from a camera point of view, as well as researching musicians on stage”, she said. A stone throw away from The Market Theatre is Kippies, named after famous saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, where most Jazz legends performed.

Besides her role as resident photographer at Niki’s, she became a guest photographer at The Orbit Live Music & Bistro. Her early days of capturing special moments were in landscape, contemporary, theatre, architectural, street and urban. By her own admission, she did not listen to a lot of music at her younger age. “I was a sore reader. I may have appeared to be a bit ahead of my reading mates at primary school”, she confessed. But she heard songs such as “Mamgobhozi” by Brenda Fassie regularly. Later she heard the sounds of Selaelo Selota’s “Thrrr Phaaa” and “Ebhofolo” and “Qula Kwedini” by Zim Ngqawana as anthems that were played at her location.

Trumpeter Feya Faku at The One Room

Through the years of capturing iconic images, Vuyo’s approach to taking pictures is to allow music take its course where timing is very important and focus is everything. The very first note sets the mood for what lies ahead in a performance. “Photography is an integral part of narrating the stories to those that never witness performances. Hope that my stories reach the masses through emotions and texture”, she said. Embedding memories of pure magic and sound is what she always has in mind when taking pictures.

It is not a secret that the arts and entertainment industry is male dominated and photography is not excluded. Some people make a wrong assumption that she is male. “Maybe it’s because I do not watermark my images, people find my work to be masculine”, she said. This puts her in a position where she constantly has to prove herself. “However, I have met wonderful male photographers that I look up to”, she added. She has largely been inspired by fellow female photographers that she finds extremely bold. The beautiful stories they tell make her want to be a better person.

The past 12 years have made her realise that Jazz is a form of healing and provides spiritual upliftment. She describes music as a friend that stays with you when everyone else is gone. Preparations for performances that last long, especially festivals, require thorough preparation. “I always make sure I have extra accessories such as batteries, maybe a spare body and patience”, she confessed. Most importantly, it is very important to have fun while working, which is reflected in the images that are captured. “Festivals are very tricky because one can work for 6 hours per gig”, she acknowledged.

Bassist Spencer Mbadu at Little Jazz Town Filming

Vuyo has worked with a number of South African Jazz musicians, her most recent highlight being commissioned to capture imagery for the cover art of Ayanda Sikade’s second album “Umakhulu”. In April 2022, she was invited to capture the return of legendary Feya Faku as he launched his songbook and two of his latest offerings. She also covered the Makhanda National Arts Festival which featured Feya Faku, Andile Yenana, Clement Benny, Phumlani Mtiti and Shane Cooper. Her lens also captured performances at the Mandela Bay Arts Festival which featured Jazz offering by Phumlani Mtiti and The Raf Collective led by drummer, composer, and educator Zolani Rafuza.

Other accolades include Jazz Against Apartheid which featured international and local Jazz musicians such as Daniel Guggenheim (Frankfurt), Claude Deppa (London), Allen Jacobsen (Canada), Chester Summerton, Sakhile Simani, NeAhytah Israel and Sakhi Nompozolo. Her collection of pictures includes Feya Saku, Lex Futshane, Zim Ngqawana, Sisonke Xonti, Tete Mbambisa, Mandla Mlangeni, Thandi Ntuli, Nduduzo Makhathini, Linda Sikhakhane, Siya Makuzeni, Andile Yenana, Herbie Tsoaeli and many others.

Using photography to narrate Jazz stories is something Vuyo is very passionate about. “When I started my residency at Niki’s, I wanted to be present for the entire weekend, to witness history and anthologies. The importance of history and heritage cannot be overemphasized”, she said. Her friend and fellow photographer Lerato Pakade always describes herself ‘umgcini wamaxesha’ which means ‘the one who always captures memorable events’. Vuyo offers her images to student musicians as part of their academic work.

Saxophonist Patrick Pasha in Gqeberha

She is also a proud member of an international initiative called Women in Jazz, which seeks to celebrate female photographers globally. “My role is to celebrate and honour the immense talent in South African Jazz music”, she said. More often, she gets approached by aspiring female photographers, seeking her advice. They always get told ‘there are no short cuts in building relationships with your clients. Integrity, honesty, professionalism and presentation count the most’. The iconic images she has taken in over a decade bear testimony to that effect.

Her favourite South African artists include Tete Mbambisa, Dudu Pukwana, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Zim Ngqawana, Andile Yenana, Feya Faku, Bheki Khoza, Spencer Mbadu, Bokani Dyer, and Sisonke Xonti. Internationally, she likes the influences of musicians like Freddie Hubbard, Oded Tzur, Tom Harrell, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Lloyd and Dave Brubeck. She describes herself as strictly Bohemian. When she is not taking pictures, you will see her visiting creative spaces, theatre, hanging out with friends, and sharing laughter with family. On Facebook, LinkedIn and Linktree, she is Vuyo Giba. Follow her on Instagram @vuyo_giba