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.