In Review: CTIJF 2019 Day 1

The 20th anniversary of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival brought together world class musicians from different countries and eras, and the appropriate theme for Day 1 is: Legends – Old & New.

Over the 14 hours that Chad (my incredible photo guy) and myself had spent doing jazz fest things, in and out of press conferences and stealing away from a Master Class to rush off for an artist interview, I’d clocked a casual 16 225 steps. That’s 11.6 of the jazziest kilometres I’ve walked in a while.

The line-up was packed with musicians we just had to see, had to snap pics of, had to listen and get down to. Having to prioritise certain musicians over others led to some of the most difficult life decisions we’ve ever had to make, but we survived.

Cory Henry (of Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles – electric organist and killer keyboardist) kicked off our day with a Master Class where he dropped some sweet advice on creating art and making music, and played us out with the most soulful cover of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” I have ever heard. 8 minutes of pure musical bliss.

Freshen up: done. Media lounge check-in: done. Phone charged: please sir, could I have some more? Oh well, no time, the music’s about to start.

Mahube, a 10-piece super group of award-winning musicians from all across the continent showed us the truth, the light and the way, alternating between lead vocals, horn instruments, percussion and keyboard to teach us a lesson on the sounds of Africa. Their tribute to Hugh Masekela was a personal favourite. The Manenberg Stage was glowing. 

American jazz-funktronica band Knower were the perfect act to open the Bassline Stage outside. I knew what to expect: everything and nothing. And they delivered more. They’re a goofy bunch of burning musos who don’t take themselves seriously at all. Their outfits are marvelously over the top, topped only by their stage antics and virtuosic playing. Their futuristic funk is proof that time machines do exist.

Cameroonian bass legend Richard Bona brought the groove back inside to the Kippies Stage, with a band he’d collected from all around the world. He played the melody to our national anthem as an intro to one of his expertly soulful bass solos – instant crowd favourite. “Do you wanna dance some more? One more song? Two more songs? THREE more songs?” he teased. And then they played four more.

Oh wow, where to begin with Soweto Gospel Choir? Maybe with: the patriotic feels were overwhelming as they represented for the South African acts on the line-up. Their outfits, choreography and stage performance, powerful harmonies and pure energy screamed attention to detail. That’s how you win a Grammy award (more than once): you be Soweto Gospel Choir.

A literal pop-in at the Moses Molelekwa Stage treated us to about 10 minutes of UK-based Nubya Garcia’s Afro-jazz stylings, a beautifully raw and honest performance that, much to my pleasant surprise, included a collab with Siyabonga Mthembu of The Brother Moves On. Damn, the sassy saxophonist has bucketloads of swag and soul.

Afraid we’d miss prime picture taking time with BCUC, Chad and I literally sprinted down the escalator, burst through the doors and passages that lead to stage, and made it just as it had properly started cooking. Judging by how actively the audience was getting down (and then up and then down and then up again), BCUC came prepped to put on a magnificently charismatic.

Go Go Penguin, who I interviewed earlier during the day, played a dreamy, driven jazz-rock-classical concoction that moved me. Nearly to tears, and definitely to another dimension void of time and space. They played flawlessly, precisely and effortlessly – true musical mastery.

Ten-time Grammy award-winning R&B and soul icon Chaka Kahn delivered a powerful vocal performance that proved why, after 40 years in the game and 59 years on earth, she is still one of the fiercest divas and biggest voices to ever take to the stage. And don’t even get me started on the band who simply ooze funk and drip groove. At one point, her 70-year old guitarist was shredding the grooviest solo behind his back. Showman of note!

John Scofield, the father of funk-tastical jazz rock, ended off Day 1 at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Him and his recently formed band, Combo 66, played a world class set on the Rosie’s Stage – definitely the most luxurious of the 5 stages. It was funk. It was jazz. It was blues. It was folk. It was improvisational genius. And it was the perfect way to end what had been a very colourful education in music.

To have so much music mastery spread across 5 stages was to live a technicoloured dream set to an expertly curated soundtrack of some of the best international and local talent on the planet. The Cape Town International Jazz Festival’s 20th celebration was an over delivery on a very big promise and everyone was sent home more than satisfied.

Check back tomorrow for our review of Day 2.

All pics courtesy of Chad Camarinha.