“It’s bumping there,” says Sifiso Ntuli, the man behind the African Jazz Meander, or AJaZZme.
“There” is Soweto, where the meander led jazz lovers to a groovy gig in March.
Ntuli’s vision is to create a cultural and tourism circuit, with great jazz sounds at its heart. And there’s plenty of talent around – Andile Yenana, Feya Faku, Herbie Tsoaeli, Sydney Mnisi, Hlulani, Marcus Wyatt, and the up and coming The Muffinz, The Brother Moves on, and Ayanda Nhlangothi.
Ntuli, who describes himself as “an internationalist prisoner of hope”, launched his AJaZZme in May last year at the Afrikan Freedom Station in Westdene, to the cool beats of the Herbie Tsoaeli Quartet. It was a laid-back, soulful occasion – I wondered if perhaps it was just a tiny bit like listening to the 1940s’ jazz greats in Sophiatown up the road – The Harlem Swingsters, The African Inkspots, The Jazz Epistles, with Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela, and Abdullah Ibraham, and blues singer Dolly Rathebe.
AJaZZme is now heading for its fourth happening since the launch – all of them held on national holidays. The recent one, on Heritage Day on 21 March, attracted 300 people who grooved to the sounds of the Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra, The Brother Moves On, and Ayanda Nokwe, with Deep Fried Man pulling it together as MC.
Ntuli has several purposes to his meander. He wants to get young people to commemorate and reflect on our national holidays, with an emphasis on learning a bit about our history but also shaking it to the beats of some cool sounds.
Ntuli, who worked at the cultural desk of the ANC in exile until 1996 when he returned, has worked in the music business in the US, Canada and South Africa. He explored music venues in Yeoville and Melville when he returned but found the right place further west.
Together with S’Bu Nxumalo, he began the Nuff Said Kollektiv or Nsako, on the High Street in Brixton, 10 years ago. The idea was, through the PolitBuro Sessions, to consider a new culture beyond apartheid. It kicked off with musicians like Wyatt and Louis Mhlanga, and has featured artists from Canada, the US, England, Holland and Zimbabwe.
Now closed, its premise was that of “bringing South Africans together in conversation and sharing: the people shall groove!”
The club was featured in a documentary entitled Rebirth . . . what was Billie Holiday doing in Brixton? He plans to open Nsako again in Braamfontein towards the end of the year.
The upcoming meander will be a way of getting kids from different racial groups together to hang out on holidays when they normally wouldn’t. Significantly this year marks 100 years since the passing of the Native Land Act of 1913. So he plans to take 100 kids on a jazz meander around Soweto on 16 June, Youth Day, and talk about the struggle and the future, along the theme of “Negotiating a new South African personality”, with a guest who was one of the first people to start negotiations with the liberation movements in exile. They will then enjoy some Afro-beat bands.
Ntuli will be visiting some posh Joburg schools and select kids from them, along with collecting kids from Lenasia, Eldorado Park and Soweto, and depositing them at the Morris Isaacson School, from where thousands of school kids marched on 16 June 1976 before confronting the police and being mowed down.
The kids will then march with the South African Police Brass Band to the nearby Credo Mutwa Cultural Village to learn more about Credo Mutwa, the sangoma and African philosopher.
At the village a mini-cultural festival will be held. Ntuli says that it will be a festival “about people walking up and down the street, moving from one venue to the next as they soak in the haunting sounds of African jazz and music in general. Meandering in Soweto, as it were!”
There’ll be a display of African arts and crafts, tasty African food, and documentaries – “Darkiementaries” – of the African experience. Children will enjoy jumping castles, or listening to African stories. “It is about a great day of music and culture in Soweto.”
He hopes the jazz meander will create jobs, but also “hopefully go further than political speeches ever can – to have a lived experience”.
Future plans include getting artists from beyond South Africa. “We want to make music accessible.” And more. “We want the meander to be the cooking pot for the Cape Town jazz festival and the Joy of Jazz in Joburg.”
It will be accessible to ordinary people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to see top artists like Hugh Masekela, says Ntuli.
New South Africa, new music, new culture, and listening to something other than political speeches.