International Jazz Day is music-rich but gender-poor; SAMA25 jazz excels

After Freedom Day comes an event marking creative freedom: International Jazz Day (https://jazzday.com/ ), on April 30.

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Herbie Hancock

This year’s concert, in Melbourne, should be of particular interest to us, because next year we’ll be hosting it – in Cape Town. Which means we get to see Herbie Hancock, the event’s guiding spirit, (yay! Read his thoughts here: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/apr/30/herbie-hancock-i-felt-like-i-stood-on-the-shoulders-of-giants-and-now-its-my-turn?CMP=share_btn_link ) and a bunch of international jazz (and not-quite-so-jazz: that business imperative prevails everywhere) names from around the world. The Melbourne bill is impressive and interesting, from Beijing keyboard prodigy A Bu (Dai Liang), to Lebanese-American improviser Tarek Yamani.

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Tineke Postma

Of the 28 performers listed on the event site, only four are female, and three of those are vocalists (the exception is Dutch reed player Tineke Postma, whose skill South Africans have already encountered). That compares poorly with what South Africa managed at the much smaller Cape Town International Jazz Festival in March. Let’s hope we do better than that next year – we could, for example, invite home Shannon Mowday and one of her all-women Scandinavian ensembles, just for starters. The event is marked by multiple South African events listed on the site’s interactive map, including several in Cape Town – including a Jazz in the Native Yards concert headlined by Salim Washington and Afrika Mkhize, as part of the SAJE jazz festival – as well as gigs in Soweto, PE, East London, Mogale City and more. Happy jazz day: go listen to some live music!

At the same time, we’ve seen the jazz nominations for this year’s SAMAs25. The SAMAs are a shleb-fest whose triviality is matched only by its vulgarity, but – thank goodness – the jazz awards don’t usually form part of the cringeworthy televised main event, which this year returns to the capital of tawdry, Sun City. They happen in the non-televised bit.

As befits a quarter-century milestone, this year’s jazz selection is an excellent one – though, as usual, there are regrettable omissions (especially Reza Khota’s Liminal, and all the South African collaborations with European players). The final nominees are:

Once more, the diversity of sounds and visions represented illustrate the absurdity of a ‘competition’ between these artists. exiledExiled is probably the most completely conceived as an album, with not only musicianship but concept, art and liner booklet united in a single, thought-provoking narrative. It illustrates why the disaggregated ‘track’ does original musicians such a disservice. But that doesn’t make it ‘better’ than the sonic interrogation of what African music means on Neo-Native, or the celebration and updating of historic male vocalese on Somandla, or the intense collaborative invention on Afrika Grooves, or the power of the pianistic unexpected on Closer to Home. Each one is different because of the choices the artists have deliberately made, and I’ll celebrate whichever one wins.

Motuba stands head and shoulders above all the other ‘alternative’ albums in her category for the creative originality that presumably is what ‘alternative’ is meant to signify. As past years have taught us, though, that doesn’t mean she’ll win.

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Gabisile Motuba

This year’s selection is also noteworthy for being genuinely national in spread, with musicians speaking for the jazz scenes of Durban, the Cape, Gauteng and various mixes between the three. Any overseas fan or critic listening to all six will gain a real and representative picture of the kind of jazz we listen to here. One hopes Mr Hancock and his colleagues on the UN jazz day committee will do just that.

What’s more, if we look at the roles of the women artists in the selection – as composer as well as pianist on Exiled; as composer/arranger as well as voice on Tefiti; as bassist on Neo Native; and as trombonist on Afrika Grooves – South Africa is already performing better in the gender representivity stakes than the 2019 International Jazz Day bill. IJD 2020 must reflect that.

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The Bokani Dyer Trio with Romy Brauteseth (centre) on bass
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