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AusTebza talks spirituality and owning her crown as The Groove Queen ahead of the CTIJF’s 21st celebration

March is easily one of my favourite months of the year, second only to October, my birthday month. And the reason is simple — the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, so basically Christmas for me.

Mind you, by the time March rolls around I’ve already spent hours swooning over the line-up, dreaming of the music both international and local that I’ll get to experience with my own eyes, ears and soul, and did I mention the interviews I’d get to conduct?

The first musician on my interview list was local talent, Tebogo “AusTebza” Sedumedi, respected and revered as ‘The Groove Queen’.

The Groove Queen hails from Krugersdorp, music being a part of her life from as early as she can recall — school concerts, talent shows, and eventually joining Mmabana Cultural Centre Music Department in North West Province.

She subsequently formed her own band, all-girl group, Deeva. The only band member missing was a bassist, so she took it upon herself to start playing bass, and she fell in love with it. Their popularity saw them becoming the backing band for the late kwaito/hip-hop artist, HHP, before taking the solo road as AusTebza.

The Groove Queen answers the phone and, humbly, I greet her royal Highness. She wastes no time in telling me how incredible the studio session she just came from was, “Yoh, it was so good! I didn’t wanna come back home.”

I comment on how cute all the sunflower emojis she sent me were, while we were coordinating the interview and through the heartiest laughter she manages to say, “That’s just me and if I could I would go around just dishing sunflowers out to everybody.”

The conversation heats up quickly when I compare the role of a good bassist — to listen, to sit in the pocket, to groove, and to support the song — with the role of lead vocalist — to captivate and to hold the audience’s attention through emotive story-telling. AusTebza both fronts the band and plays bass, so I ask how she approaches these contrasting mindsets simultaneously, “Sjoh you know,” she laughs, “It’s a skill on its own, ‘cause most of the time they hold two different rhythms and patterns.”

She explains, “The singing is here and the playing is going the other way. You also to remember that you form part of the backbone… And being a singer for a number of bands, and writing my own music, I understand what it means to be in the front.”

Symbiosis is what it’s all about, about holding it all together, allowing things to coexist and cooperate, hitting that sweet spot, “When you get it, you feel like you are a boss, like wow! It’s all driven by passion and really wanting to share what’s inside of you. Yoh but I’m not perfect, not like Richard Bona (Cameroonian Grammy Award-winning jazz bassist),” she cracks up.

She exposes her spiritual connection with music, “If music is not honest, then we are sending out a negative energy to the world, you know, ‘cause music is supposed to heal. It’s supposed to make us understand better. Music is supposed to grant us some form of peace.”

Being honest, to AusTebza, involves standing by your convictions, “I can vouch for everything that I say. And I can take responsibility for everything that I do on stage because I’m not just making it up for the sake of it, or to be famous, or because I want people to roll with me. She drives it home, “It’s all about being honest. And that’s what I love about jazz — jazz is accommodating, that means jazz is open enough to allow people to be who they are.”

Her music has allowed her to explore the world, so she comments on taking the South African sound abroad, “Every time I am overseas, the respect, oh my gosh, I promise you I don’t wanna come back home! I love overseas, because of the respect and the knowledge of our history through music. It’s fascinating to be coming from a country that is so full of history and culture, and we don’t see it.”

Many jazz festival-goers are more drawn to the festival for the internationals, and understandably so — they’re inconveniently out of reach, and we revere them as gods. We don’t have the same respect and appreciation for our local musicians, and it’s an inferiority complex.

AusTebza starts, “You have to look at yourself and be like, ‘I’m enough’, ‘cause we don’t have a lot of that. We don’t believe that. We don’t believe that we are enough, that our sound is enough. We don’t believe that our ideas are good enough.” She concludes, “That’s what we need to work at, because our sound is enough!”

I ask what she’s most excited about for jazz, and she tells me about her upcoming album, a surprise she’s reserved for the festival, “The CTIJF is the perfect stage on which to launch my new album, and I can’t wait to share my hard work with my fans at the festival.”

AusTebza is one of forty top-quality local and international acts that you can look forward to at the 21st anniversary of “Africa’s Grandest Gathering.”

Tickets for the 2020 festival are available through Computicket at R999 for a Weekend Pass and R649 for a day pass.