ARTISTS 2017 (PG1)
(First Artists Announced) (Second Artists Announced)
First Artists Announced
DARREN ENGLISH (SA/USA)
Trumpeter Darren English was born in Cape Town in 1990. He started exploring music at Muizenberg High School and went on to study at UCT, where his closest playing partner was probably drummer Claude Cozens. With Cozens, he spent time studying in Norway, and appeared at the Norwegian Folk Festival in 2009. English credits much of his professional progress to his willingness to test and hone his skills at jam sessions in and around Cape Town. From that came many musical partnerships and invitations to gig, including a two-year touring stint with Jimmy Dludlu and work with Mark Fransman, Feya Faku and the late Robbie Jansen and Zim Ngqawana, among others. English appeared at the Grahamstown Jazz Festival and at an early incarnation of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, where he also featured last year as part of Nduduzo Makhathini’s Listening to the Ground project. English was a two-time winner of the Fine Music Radio Award, and in 2012 scooped the SAMRO Overseas Scholarship, which supplemented his scholarship at Georgia State University. He graduated with a Masters in Jazz Studies and is now based in Atlanta. In 2014 he featured with Grammy nominee Russell Gunn’s Krunk Orchestra at the Atlanta Jazz Festival – one of his many collaborations subsequently across jazz (where his regular saxophone partner is New York Jazz Award winner Gregory Tardy), hip hop and contemporary pop music. Jazz Times has said the work on his debut album, Imagine Nation (with pianist Kenny Banks Jr, bassist Billy Thornton, drummer Chris Burroughs and guests), represents “a force and a voice to be heard and understood”. English is the youngest artist ever to be signed to top Atlanta label Hot Shoe Records. He told Kaya-FM’s Brenda Sisane, “Music can’t be pretentious – especially jazz. Be as honest as you can be, for the song’s sake.”
DEEPAK PANDIT /MARCUS WYATT/ RANJIT BAROT (INDIA/SA)
Deepak Pandit began learning Indian Classical vocal and violin from his father aged six. He graduated in classical vocal from Prayag Sangeet Samiti in India. Numerous years of training under the guidance of his father, have developed in him a profound understanding of multiple traditional schools of music as well as Western classical music. He began performing solo and as a violin accompanist at an early age and rose to fame accompanying legendary ghazal singer Jagjit Singh in concerts across the globe over 23 years. Today he collaborates widely, and has composed music for films including The Namesake, I am Kalam, The Great Indian Butterfly and Dhoop. Pandit premiered his Symphony of Ghazal with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in February 2016. Pandit believes that classical Indian music must continue to explore and innovate. He told the Indian newspaper The Hindu “We must make sure that, while the essence of the music remains the same, it constantly adapts itself to sound fresh and new.”
Port Elizabeth-born, SAMA-winning trumpeter and composer Marcus Wyatt has been playing the horn since 1983. He is one of a new generation of South African musicians who both draw of jazz and South African roots and still move forward unconstrained by rigid genre boundaries. Wyatt has toured extensively, across Africa and to northern and central Europe and Asia. He has worked with an impressive array of musicians, from Manu Dibango, Abdullah Ibrahim and Miriam Makeba to Maria Schneider, John Faddis, Bheki Mseleku, Lionel Loueke and Steve Turre. His seventh album as leader, One Night in the Sun with the ZAR Jazz Orchestra, won the 2016 SAMA for best jazz album. His other ensembles have included Voice, The Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra (paying homage to the music of the legendary Blue Notes), a 12 piece Afrobalkan ensemble called ‘Bombshelter Beast’, and more. Collaborations with musicians from diverse backgrounds are important to him: “People have this perception about what South African jazz music is and I think often people will try to write something in a certain way so that it sounds like ‘South African jazz’, but that’s such a small part of who we are as a musical nation,” he told the Mail & Guardian.
Adding his drum soundscape is drummer Ranjit Barot – described by guitar legend John McLaughlin as "one of the leading edges in drumming", and also a distinguished film composer, music producer and arranger, a pioneer of jazz/ Indian music collaborations (he appeared at the legendary Jazz Yatra 80) and a man whose musical vision has spoken for India at Commonwealth Games and Davos events. The rest of the ensemble comprises tabla player Vijay Ghate; pianist and keyboard player Santosh Mulekar; and bassist Romy Brauteseth.
DOPE SAINT JUDE (SA)
Rap artist and activist Dope Saint Jude (Catherine Saint Jude Pretorious) began rapping as a teenager on the Cape Flats, rapidly developing to write her own songs and later designing innovative live presentations. Coming from a Catholic home, with a father who listened to classical music, her sounds draw from a wide palette. She first made waves with the 2014 Hit Politik, followed by The Golden Ratio, and in 2015 released Keep in Touch featuring Angel-Ho. She recently dropped her first EP, Reimagine of which reviewer Sabelo Mkhabela said: “a tapestry of emotions – it’s the story of someone living – going through things, spending time with loved ones, getting pissed off by some things and celebrating wins.” Dope Saint Jude is an articulate advocate for feminism, and has lectured on hip hop’s role as a vehicle for social commentary. Music scholar Adam Haupt has credited her with “transforming South African hip hop by queering a genre that has predominantly been male and heteronormative.” She has also facilitated an arts education community project, iNtombi Workshop, in Elsie’s River. Dope Saint Jude was chosen by MIA to be part of international retailer H&M’s awareness-raising campaign video for World Recycle Week in April 2016. In her own words to website OkayAFRICA: “I’m a Cape Flats girl, but now I’m going to America and France. And I think about where my mother and grandmother came from – cleaning houses – it’s my right to flex. It’s a political act.”
EN VOGUE (USA)
It’s back to the future with all-female RnB group En Vogue, who have sold more than 20 million records to date, starting with their 1990 debut album Born to Sing, which produced the smash hit Hold On, right through to today’s powerhouse vocal outing Déjà Vu, their first single outing in five years. En Vogue have won seven MTV Music Awards, three Soul Train Awards, and two American Music Awards, as well as receiving seven Grammy nominations. In March 2015, Billboard named them the ninth most successful female group of all time. The roots of the music of these ‘real funky divas’ lie in Oakland, California where, in the late 1980s, producers assembled a quartet that they hoped could re-ignite the style, vocal talent and sass of mid-Twentieth Century female vocal groups.
The singers they selected more than fulfilled that promise. En Vogue are credited with originating the innovative blend of soul and hip hop that was dubbed ‘New Jill Swing” in the 1990s. The stresses of an extremely hardworking touring career have led to several personnel switches over the years, and the departure of two original members. Currently, En Vogue is a trio comprising of original members Cindy Herron-Braggs and Terry Ellis, and featuring Rhona Bennett. The UK Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan described a 2015 London performance as demonstrating how they remain “the girls next door…who make a point of having fun… [but still] make you marvel at their technique.” As for En Vogue themselves, they still love the musical life: “We absolutely love singing. We’re not done just yet. We’re absolutely not ready to put the mics down!” Herron-Braggs told UK publication The Voice online.
Escalandrum is an Argentine sextet led by drummer Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazzola, grandson of the man who pioneered a revolution in tango music for new urban audiences back in the 1940s. That grandfather, Astor Piazzola, a classically-trained bandoneon player, introduced modern techniques such as chromatic harmony and paved the way for ‘tango nuevo’ (the new tango) to spread beyond its homeland and enchant world music audiences everywhere. Astor’s son Daniel was also a musician, and so grandson Pipi grew up in a house full of jazz and tango, spending many evenings backstage as his father and grandfather performed. Escalandrum was initially formed in 1999 by Pipi and a group of friends who simply loved to jam together, taking its name from a mash-up of the name of a local sand-shark (the Piazzola family love to fish) and the word ‘drum’.
The group has nine albums to its credit so far – most recently Piazzola Project with guest vocalist Elena Roger. They have toured more than 20 countries and won multiple awards in their homeland, as well as securing a Latin Grammy nomination for their 2011 album Piazzola plays Piazzola. Escalandrum’s music is not simply a revival of tango tradition; it draws inspiration from global as well as local beats, and from folklore as well as city music. Piazzola’s fascination is with claves: the rhythmic patterns used to organise Afro-Cuban, and this plus jazz led the New York Latin Jazz website to declare that he was taking “his grandfather’s tango nuevo in an entirely new direction”. But Piazzola remains conscious of his roots and the tango aesthetic; “It’s in my blood. It’s in the air – and what’s in the air sticks to you.”
ERNIE SMITH (SA)
A multiple SAMA, KORA and Metro music award winner, guitarist Ernie Smith, was born in Durban and began playing in his early teens. At that time, his listening was wide, taking in both the experimental approaches of Pat Metheny and the easy listening sounds of George Benson, as well as many others. Closer to home, legendary Durban veteran Sandile Shange and Jonathan Butler were both heroes. From this mix, Smith took the lesson that he had to craft his own voice; a voice that could blend jazz, African and popular influences into a unique personal sound. He released his first album, Child of the Light in 2001, followed the next year by Lovely Things, My African Heart (where Butler guested) and then Everything Around Me. His most recent album, Time for Love, reached out to an international audience through his signing to SAIG Entertainment in New Orleans. Ernest Kelly, owner of SAIG and a well-known name on the American jazz scene, said of Ernie that he “brings a unique sound to an American market looking for something new and inspiring. His sophisticated, African-infused contemporary style has already been warmly welcomed.” Smith is also much in demand as a producer, not only of his own material, also but for countless other artists, with his Child of the Light studio in Johannesburg already becoming a hub for a diverse range of SA talent. Billboard’s Diane Coetzer said of Smith’s debut: “[he] is the perfect 21st century artist…offering up a musical melting pot that’s destined to find fans across a wide spectrum of music tastes.” For Smith, the secret of his success is to “work on your craft every day and learn as much as you can about what it’s going to take to get you to where you want to go.”
GRETCHEN PARLATO (USA)
American Jazz singer Gretchen Parlato was born into a musical family in Los Angeles (her father, David Parlato, is a well-known bassist) and earned a degree in Ethnomusicology and Jazz Studies at UCLA. She became the first vocalist to be accepted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in 2001. In 2004, she won the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition. She has released four albums under her own name: Gretchen Parlato, In A Dream, The Lost and Found (co-produced with Robert Glasper) and Live in NYC. With an extensive international touring schedule, Parlato is an in-demand teacher and performer, her voice appearing on over 70 albums, recording and performing with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Burrell, Esperanza Spalding, Terence Blanchard, Terri Lyne Carrington, Marcus Miller, and Lionel Loueke. Maintaining top status and worldwide critical acclaim, Parlato has been praised and admired for displaying a musical individuality loaded with paradoxical powers. Her sultry, intriguing voice and unique, rhythmically agile phrasing comes with inescapable centripetal force; the more intimate and understated she sings, the more she draws listeners in. Parlato once told Jazz Times: “We all have our own unique and honest vocal sound. Underneath anything affected or forced is a very pure, simple, completely emotionally connected tone. It seems at a certain point, we should stop trying to sound like anyone else and just sing from our heart, from our soul, sing as we would speak.”
JONAS MOSA GWANGWA & FRIENDS (SA)
The 40-year career of veteran composer, trombonist, bandleader and director Jonas Mosa Gwangwa, born in Johannesburg’s Orlando East township in 1937, epitomises the marriage of art and activism. The two-time Oscar-nominee began playing while still at high school (St Peter’s College), in the Huddleston Jazz Band. He paid his dues in several well-regarded bands– but was also woodshedding in the modern jazz sessions at the Odin Cinema, eventually becoming a core member of the ground-breaking Jazz Epistles. In 1961, he left South Africa as a cast member of the musical King Kong, eventually securing a scholarship to study at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York. During 15 years in the USA, Gwangwa composed and arranged music for, among many others, Miriam Makeba and, with the patronage and collaboration of singer Harry Belafonte, worked tirelessly to make America aware of the evils of apartheid. From the military camps of Umkhonto we Sizwe across Africa, Gwangwa recruited, trained and directed talented young performers for the Amandla Cultural Ensemble, which toured the world raising awareness and thrilling audiences.
His work on the score of the film Cry Freedom won both the Ivor Novello and Black Emmy Awards, and was also nominated for Oscar, Grammy, and Ivor Novello, Anthony Asquith and BAFTA awards. He composed music for the massive London Mandela 70th Birthday concert, for South Africa’s Olympic bid, for the launch of the National Coat of Arms and for many documentaries celebrating great South African lives and struggles. Gwangwa holds honorary Doctorates from UNISA and Walter Sisulu University, received a meritorious award from then-president Nelson Mandela and the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold. He has released seven albums as leader since his return from exile. The late producer Koloi Lebona described him as having “seen life’s sunshine and shadows and learned about himself along the way. The tales he tells through his music come from the heart.” But for him, as he told TimesLive “I never had the notion of being a big star or having big money. I was just into the music.”
JAZZ FUNK SOUL WITH EVERETTE HARP, JEFF LORBER & PAUL JACKSON JR. (USA)
This contemporary jazz supergroup was the brainchild of the Shanachie label, which realised fans would instantly warm to a line-up uniting three of the world’s most admired fusion players: reedman Everette Harp, keyboardist Jeff Lorber and guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. Their self-titled 2014 album debut won instant worldwide acclaim, and a Grammy nomination. That wasn’t the first such nomination for Lorber who started playing piano at the age of four, and who has been touring with various formations – most notably The Jeff Lorber Fusion – since 1977. Lorber, who also composes and produces, has been hailed as one of the founding fathers of contemporary jazz and, among others, launched the career of Kenny G. He continues to work both in collaborations such as Jazz Funk Soul, and on his own projects, most recently the 2015 album Step It Up with Jimmy Haslip. In contrast to Lorber’s cool, laid-back style, Everette Harp brings an assertive, warm, churchy saxophone sound to the stage. Houston-born Harp is a Downbeat Award winner who, like Lorber, leads personal projects and adds lustre to the support bands of many other artists including singers Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker. Reviewing the group’s second album, the 2016 More Serious Business, Allaboutjazz commented that it offered “playing, production and professionalism. Perfect for easy listening after a hard day at work.” Harp can explain why the chemistry of Jazz Funk Soul’s music works so well: “We are very different personalities but we all respect where each other comes from.”
JUDITH SEPHUMA (SA)
Afro funk, jazz and gospel singer Judith Sephuma knew from her early childhood in Polokwane that she wanted to sing. Her voice made her a finalist in the Shell Road to Fame and the SABC Jam Alley Talent Search, and she won the 1999 Old Mutual Jazz into the Future award. Sephuma studied at the FUBA music school and UCT, graduating with honours in jazz performance in 1999. While at university, she worked with many Mother City outfits including Loading Zone, the C-Base Collective and the UCT Big Band. She has also toured extensively, both across Africa and worldwide – beginning with the Nantes Fin de Siecle Festival while she was still at college – and also sang at the inauguration of South Africa’s second State President, Thabo Mbeki. Her first album, the 2001 A Cry, A Smile, A Dance was critically acclaimed, and six more have followed, most recently the 2015 Pan-African-influenced One Word and the 2016 The Experience – Live. Critics have admired the warmth of her voice, which News24 described as “one of our national treasures.” Sephuma has also worked as a music mentor, being choirmaster for the Limpopo choir during the 2012 Mzansi Magic Clash of the Choirs contest, and showed other sides of her talent as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing and in the Zaziwa TV music talk show. Sephuma told The Sowetan’s Lesley Mofokeng: “You have to be that curious singer and see what your voice can do. You have to love your craft enough to want to learn more about it and not be caged.”