Jazz: The New Age of Listening (Part 2)

Marvin sat down with members of “Jazz in our Lifetime”; Mduduzi Godlo and Kelebogile Motswatswa and they shared their journey as a collective of artists and curators of the series.

Marvin: Jazz in Our Lifetime as a collective has an impressive repertoire of artists who lend themselves to the series, what has stood out for you in terms of the different shows, performances etc?

MG: The beauty about South African jazz is that, each musician has their own way of telling our stories and one gets contrasting experiences from that, in fact it also makes it difficult to pick out what we would call “the best” because we spend time understanding them as individuals and their craft and that expresses a different feeling every time one comes in contact with it. It also speaks to the foundation of many South African jazz artists as they have a similar understanding of how to play, even though the interpretations of the music will vary. However, our first event that we hosted, gave us an understanding of how to organize these events, gave us our name too.

KM: I will admit, it is very difficult to say, who has stood out the most because each artist is singular, and one tends to find it hard to compare two people who are not the same. If there is one show that I found quite captivating was when we showcased Keenan Ahrends, that show had fewer people in the audience, which gave me an idea that we could actually leverage off by curating events that are warm and close. Indeed, we are definitely learning and perfecting which is going to allow us to curate more intimate settings for our events that will certainly take our sessions to another level. Marvin: As an events company, what has been your biggest challenge? Are people coming to the events?

MG: As a jazz project, the biggest challenge is actually getting the people to attend your events and given the presumption around jazz; in the city and in our country generally, it tends to be an uphill battle as a start-up. Many venues also do not appreciate the value of live jazz performances in their space the first time around and usually take some convincing in that regard. Then there is also having the right service standards to retain the patrons for your events. Lastly, one also has to take into consideration and be cognisant of the logistics process too, referring to cover charges, payments etc., however, we were fortunate to encounter people who understood the intention around the project, and we have been able to partner with great brands and venues.

Marvin: Let’s reflect on your successes and your plan for the future, where would you like to see Jazz in Our Lifetime going?

MG: The biggest success for us when we were approached at the Thembelihle Tojana event and complimented about how vibrant and appealing our jazz event was and that for us as Jazz in our Lifetime saw that as a positive nod and cemented our position in the jazz scene as an integral entity. We have also become a vehicle and an ally that allows musicians to expose their music to different venues and audiences within the jazz scene in Johannesburg.

KM: The same event Mduduzi is referring to, surprised us as we were not anticipating the number of people who were at the event. It was rather stressful, but most certainly up there with our biggest success stories.

Marvin: It goes without saying that jazz music in South Africa has a bright future ahead, we have been able to make connections with the rest of the world through our authentic sound and original compositions that make up the South African songbook as it were; do you think it can become popular culture?

MG: Jazz in South Africa has the greatest potential to become as big and as popular as its neighbouring genres such as Gqom and Amapiano, simply because of the style in which it is composed by our artists today, it significantly resonates with the current climate and with our history, however, the limitation with its classification, we have found, that it is made to only be venerated on a Sunday as part of the soul sessions or even a Thursday evening gig in the city but for it to become popular culture, it has to be played alongside the other genres as an addition to the playlist because it also forms part of who we are. We as supporters, curators and collectors also need to be more active in creating that space for jazz, a space for it to be in the mainstream of music that is played and be recognized as popular culture.

Marvin: Where to from here? Let’s talk about the ultimate vision for Jazz in Our Lifetime? MG: Jazz in Our Lifetime is to become a fully-fledged non-profit platform that creates, preserves and enables the showcasing of South African jazz history. We are inspired by the “energy of youth” through curating and supporting multiple forms of jazz expressions, present a collaborative space for young and established jazz musicians to work together and this speaks to our initial intention around harnessing and cultivating a space where music can be presented whilst preserving the South African songbook and also creating a new history for jazz in our country.

Marvin: In closing, for people who are always listening to jazz, I know it’s hard to choose a favourite artist/album of all time because there is a connection to each and every composition, however, if I had to ask, who would it be? Why?

MG: It is quite difficult, but I would go with Herbie Tsoaeli. His style and art of composition is very important, it draws from the history of where we come from as South Africans including his own heritage of the Basotho people. He fuses this sound and tells tales of his experiences, encompassing the Blues, Marabi Jazz and Bebop influences in order to express and capture moments in time and to tell the stories of black people in South Africa. My time spent with Jazz in Our Lifetime has given me a tiny glimpse in understanding what it takes to curate the many jazz festivals we enjoy today, yet jazz remains misunderstood and set aside by many. It is labelled by many as “My grandfather’s music” or the famous “It is for the boring”, unfairly so, but I did learn from the team that it is our responsibility to change this perception. Increase the activism and jazz education, more conversations about our local jazz with each other and most

Writer:  Ngwako Malakalaka