CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA. This past Easter holiday jazz revellers around the world converged on Cape Town for the 11th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF).
With over 40 international and African bands performing in two days from five different stages to a sell-out crowd - cherry-on-top - the perfect weather. The festival was a great success, and indeed, 'Africa's grandest gathering'.
This year the line-up included, among others, George Benson, Jonathan Butler, Vusi Mahlasela, Rachelle Ferrell, Selaelo Selota, Bilal, Judith Sephuma, Lira, Rick Braun, McCoy Tyner Trio, Toots Thielemans Quartet , Alluo April, Mezzoforte, Stix Hojeng, Musa Manzini, Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Ronny Jordan Organ Trio, and TKZee.
Day One of the event on the Kippies Stage (which was a major attraction), George Benson, 67-year-old legend guitarist/vocalist, staged 'An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat "King" Cole', with a 28-piece South African orchestra. The Grammy Award winner took jazz enthusiasts back in time as he added colour to Cole's popular songs like Unforgettable, When I Fall In Love and Love Is The Thing. Cole is regarded as one of the all-time greatest musical personality in international jazz circles - even 45 years after his death. Benson received the honour of Jazz Master (US' highest honour in jazz), last year from the National Endowment of the Arts. It was, therefore, fitting for a Jazz Master to pay tribute to "King".
The Kippies Stage was earlier opened by Judith Sephuma who was making her return to the festival after a debut appearance in 2002. Vusi Mahlasela followed Judith Sephuma and with his amazing voice that moulds his poetic lyrics that got the 45-year-old guitarist and vocalist nicknamed 'The Voice' among his legion of fans, left the crowd begging for more. Mahlasela performed his socio-politically conscious songs that tell stories of ordinary people like Silang Mabele, Thula Mama, Weeping and closed with his famous yet haunting struggle song When You Come Back. Thula Mama, which he said it is dedicated to all the women in South Africa with special mention of his grandmother, left the Kippies crowd echoing 'my-song-of-life, my-song-of-love'.
Jonathan Butler with special guests, Rick Braun and Richard Elliot wrapped up the Day One Kippies performances with an exceptional display of musical talent. Jonathan Butler, born in Cape Town on 7th Avenue Athlone, but currently based in the United States of America (US), preceded his performance by showing video of himself at his 'home' in Athlone, Cape Town. Butler, who shared with the crowd that he has been through a challenging year in which his mother passed away, he lost one of his closest friends and he supported his wife in her battle against cancer, performed some of his gospel songs from his upcoming album titled So Strong. Butler concluded his set with his 1988 popular song titled 7th Avenue, named after his birth place address. He performed alongside RnR, a duo collaboration of the award winning trumpeter Rick Braun and talented saxophonist Richard Elliot, with his zebra-striped tenor saxophone.
Day Two of the CTIJF, the popular Kippies stage was opened by Lira, the young singing sensation making her second appearance to the CTIJF with her joyful Afro-pop songs. Following Lira was another songstress, this time from the US, called Rachelle Ferrell. Ferrell performed alongside another American artist, Bilal, former member of the neosoul group Soulquarians. Bilal and Ferrell produced wonderful duet with her, displaying ability to imitate sounds of instruments, and his (Bilal) knowledge to connect his singing to the beat.
Celebrated South African Afro-jazz star, Selaelo Selota also came on Kippies. The legend guitarist moved the crowd with his Pedi songs. When he finally did his popular Thirr Phaa song, Selota took off his jacket and shirt to demonstrate the aggression in the song and the crowd loved it, punching and shouting Thirr... Phaa..! The Kippies was finally closed by George Benson, on his second appearance after Day One, this time coming to stage his greatest hits. The mostly mature crowd was treated to the Jazz Master's old time hits from the 50s such as Breezin, This Masquerade and Give Me The Light.
The Cape Town International Jazz Festival began in 2000 and according to the festival website, 'attendance figures have increased from the initial 14 000 to 32 000 in the last 10 years'. The website also reports that MelodyTrip has ranked the CTIJT as No.4 in the world jazz festivals, outshining events such as Switzerland's Montreaux Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland. Last Sunday City Press reported that the prestigious event, which is dubbed 'Africa's Grandest Gathering' has contributed R761 million to the South African GDP in 2008.