South African artists at the London Jazz Festival – well sort of…

A South African at the London Jazz Festival: Abdullah Ibrahim

A South African at the London Jazz Festival: Abdullah Ibrahim

I received an email press release from the London Jazz Festival. In the subject field it read: “PRESS RELEASE: South African artists at the EFG London Jazz Festival.”

I was all excited. The opportunity for some forward-thinking British jazz festival to acknowledge and showcase South African musicians, and give them a chance to play over here, has long been ignored. But now LJF was setting that right.

Further investigation of the press release and the LJF website, however, showed that this headline, while not exactly qualifying for investigation under the trades description act, was a little wide of the truth – well, my expectation of this truth anyway.

The release went on to talk about the Dedication Orchestra. Of the 25 musicians in the Dedication Orchestra, I can identify three as definitely South Africans: Claude Deppa, David Serame and Louis Moholo-Moholo. If I look for more South Africans in other events at LJF I can find pianist Bokani Dyer who is playing with a band of British musicians, and Abdullah Ibrahim, who is playing solo, with two American musicians, and with his Ekaya band which didn’t contain any other South Africans last time I looked. Also, chromatic harmonica player Adam Glasser (he has South African lineage but was born here) is guest with the group from the Junior Academy Jazz Course for a lunchtime concert of his music plus that of Bheki Mseleku, Dudu Pukwana and others.

So that’s five true South Africans, I make it. We won’t go into how many of those five actually spend a lot of time in the country of their birth.

Now I know that the Dedication Orchestra was always a predominantly British band and what they are dedicated to is playing the music of, or inspired by, the South Africans Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza and Johnny Dyani, who, with Louis Mofolo-Moholo, who is still on drums, made a big impact on British jazz in the 1960s.

And I am, of course, delighted that Abdullah Ibrahim, whose music spans more than half a century and is still hugely relevant, and Bokani Dyer, who does represent the current SA scene, are playing in London.

But I do still feel a little cheated by that headline. The opportunity has still not really been taken.

There is some talk at the moment – co-incidentally in the South African media here as well as on social media (look for a Facebook post earlier today by Shabaka Hutchings) – about how women musicians are overlooked in jazz. Imagine a headline that read “Women artists at the London Jazz Festival” and then referred to predominantly male musicians playing jazz by, or inspired by, women. Yes, I know this is not a perfect analogy, but I’ll leave it with you.

And if you want more information about the South African-linked music at the London Jazz Festival, it’s here.

Categories: Opinion

Tags: , , , ,

7 replies

  1. ANd you’ll really upset them by calling it the London Jazz Festival and leaving the sponsors name off!

  2. Can you quote/paraphrase Shabaka’s post for those that aren’t connected to him on FB? Nx

    • Will do, later, when i’m back home. 😀

    • This is what Shabaka has to say on Facebook. He follows it with a list of women jazz musicians, and there are many comments from others adding to that list:
      “over the last year or so i’ve heard more and more discussions about the representation of women in jazz music and reasons for the lack thereof. i think that, like issues along these lines involving race, its complicated. this theme involves a myriad of sociological issues some running in tandem, some standing alone from the standard ‘boys club’ narrative (often offered in reductionist terms) usually offered as an explanation of the lack of diversity on this front.
      “i don’t think i have the relevant expertise to give justice to the complexity of this issue, however, i do think that if gender imbalance is to be addressed then an effort must be made to actively promote and support the women that are already out there playing.
      “so if anyone out there is interested in this issue and simply doesn’t know of the women doing their thing in london here’s my favourite ladies – (this is not attempting to be anything but my subjective picks, not a concise run down by any means. please do add more names to comments if you feel like it and support shows by any of these musicians you might not have heard before). sorry for leaving peeps out!!!”

  3. Nice. It’s a start. I agree with him-the onus is on the promoters/bookers to give women a platform on an ongoing basis-then there’s no need for “Women in Jazz” themes which feels like an afterthought, a consolation prize, instead of being brought into the mainstream with our male peers. Just slowly, but surely, rectify the imbalance by making a concerted effort to give women opportunities. As Standard Bank failed to do. Amazingly.

    The same goes for SA jazz being flavour of the month/year but yet the artists who lead these themed-festivals are the same-Hugh and Abdullah. There’s not much support for actual young SA artists hailing from SA. Carnegie Hall did a fantastic job on getting it right this year. May others take a leaf out of their book.

    Thanks, Peter! Excellent forum, as always.

  4. Don’t forget that the Dedication Orchestra was set up to raise funds for the scholarship set up in its name in SA by Hazel Miller of Ogun Records and others to fund young SA musicians. I believe the first graduate of this scholarship will be in the UK with the Dedication Orch. So this is a little more complex than just showcasing new SA talent – the rich history of the Blue Notes had an international dimension that went beyond narrow nationalism.


  1. Let it be Told: a personal take on South African Jazz | thejazzbreakfast

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