Rhodes>Ilam>Current Projects

Current Projects

Neo-traditional jazz heritage of the Eastern Cape

Archiving the music of the African diaspora in the Indian Ocean

“Beyond the Digital Return”

New deposits

Ntaba kaNdoda project

HT Document Preservation

ILAM Photo Collection Online

ILAM/Red Location Outreach Project

ILAM SAMAP online Archive

HT Fieldtape Preservation




Last Modified: Thu, 07 Mar 2024 16:32:07 SAST

Rhodes>Ilam>Current Projects

Research on the neo-traditional jazz heritage of the Eastern Cape from a developmental perspective

Members of the research team

Lee Watkins - ILAM, RU

Elijah Madiba - ILAM, RU

Thobeka Ndlebe-September - ILAM, RU

Qhawe Giyose - ILAM, RU

Mlungisi Gegana - Mlungisi Music Academy, Research associate, Queenstown

Retsi Pule – Research associate, East London



The Eastern Cape is witness to the origins of a unique style of jazz music which draws on traditional music while also gazing across the Atlantic Ocean to the music of Black Americans. As yet, the historical and cultural uniqueness of this jazz heritage has not been fully explored, documented and studied because research on popular music and jazz in South Africa focuses mainly onJohannesburg and Cape Town with the contribution of the Eastern Cape to South African jazz and popular music seriously neglected. The approach to the jazz scene in the Eastern Cape is lacking as well because generally there is not a comprehensiveplan for its development; rather, many times the appreciation of this scene is superficial with little regard to its future sustainabilityfrom the ground up. Two students were recruited to focus on this research.  One is a Ph D student and the other one a Masters degree student. Both are Black women. The two students are assisted by research associates in the communities of Queenstown (Komani), East London and King Williams Town.


Since 2009, the International Library of African Music initiated and produced a reasonable number of outputs on the jazz heritage of Port Elizabeth. This research in Port Elizabeth has resulted in performances, the production of a video, workshops for younger musicians, an income for musicians, and at least two Masters degree theses, one at Rhodes University and the other at Nelson Mandela University. This project is producing as many tangible outputs, which include interviews, concerts, theses,attempts at sustainability, and workshops conducted by veteran musicians and cultural activists in Queenstown, King Williams Town and East London. By expanding the breadth of the research area beyond Port Elizabeth it is then highly possible to provide a comprehensive purview of the history and legacy of the jazz heritage of this province, while also giving local musicians themeans to exposure and economic independence.


We met with veteran musicians in East London, King Williams Town and Queenstown to explain the goals of the project and toobtain their support. Once their support was obtained, the veteran musicians established a network of musicians and otherinterlocutors with knowledge of the jazz music history of the Eastern Cape. A meeting was called in each centre where the projectwas introduced, conditions of participation were ratified, and musicians were consulted on the matter of developing a sustainable means of income. Musicians were interviewed by students and academics on a regular basis at their homes or other venues.Further information was obtained from publications, desktop research, visits to newspaper archives and public gatherings. Monitoring of the project is ongoing, in partnership with associates in the community of musicians, and an evaluation of the progress is conducted once a semester, in partnership with the associates.


We are conducting interviews with surviving musicians and anti-apartheid activists who were either fans or involved in theperformance of jazz during this era. There is an intimate relationship between jazz music and the struggle against apartheid. Oral histories are being complemented by analyses of the music, and how the music is produced by musicians and consumed by fans. Surviving members of jazz performance groups such as Slofoot in King Williams Town were contacted to talk about their experience as musicians. Veteran jazz musicians such as Retsi Pule and the late Lulama Gaulana in East London, jazz singer,Loxton Nkwentsha in King Williams Town and saxophonist, Nkinki Skwebu, in Mdantsane Township and Cory Pule, are assisting ILAM’s staff and the postgraduate students in conducting the research. Mlungisi Gegana of the Mlungisi Music Academy in Queenstown is a research associate and has a pivotal role in managing this project. Since Queenstown is very far away, we deemed it necessary to have someone local represent the interests of the project. There are ongoing consultations with Mlungisi and other associates to ensure that the goals of the project are managed efficiently.


The developmental goals are to use all recorded data to generate an income over the long term for those musicians participating inthe project and to provide training for musicians in aspects such as copyright, musicians' rights, entrepreneurial skills for musicians, and how to understand the music business in South Africa. Further goals are:


  1. To initiate and develop an ongoing, working relationship between the International Library of African Music, a music archive, and locally based jazz musicians particularly in the rural Eastern Cape.
  2. To build community participation into the development of this
  3. To add to the conservation of musical artefacts and recordings in South
  4. To increase the volume of digitised music products and artefacts in South
  5. To generate income from sales of recordings for musicians and/or their families in cases where the musicians are deceased.
  6. To prepare Ethnomusicology, Heritage and Music students for their respective careers in the scholarship of South
  7. To initiate and develop an ongoing, working relationship between an archive and local musicians.


As far as capacity building and skills development are concerned, my colleague, Elijah Madiba, and I, have been training students, veteran musicians, and recruited members of local communities when it becomes necessary. Their training includes learning interview skills, audio and video recording, archiving, and conservation techniques. A critical intervention is that rural based musicians are receiving training in how to manage their careers in the music and entertainment industries so that they may develop sustainable careers as performers. The music industry in South Africa is notorious for exploiting musicians and it isalarming the extent to which musicians in the rural Eastern Cape are not equipped to manage their careers. There were workshops on musicians’ rights on 12 March 2022 and on 29 October 2022. They were conducted by the renowned musician and entrepreneur, Concorde Nkabinde. Another was conducted by the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) on 21 November 2020 in Queenstown. We also had 2 concerts on 30 October 2021 and December 2022.


Further, learners and students involved in the performance aspect of this project in Queenstown are developing and refining their skills in musicianship and performance as they learn from veteran musicians during rehearsals and in performance. We concentrated our efforts on Queenstown because it is the oldest ‘little jazz town’ in the Eastern Cape and they have the least exposure to the music industry. The experience gained in the process is preparing them for participation in the entertainment industry in SouthAfrica. The research and workshops are enhancing the presence and prerogatives of ILAM and RU in the community of musicians from Port Elizabeth to Queenstown. Younger musicians are refining their skills and marketability while older musicians are receiving due recognition for their services and talents.

Last Modified: Thu, 07 Mar 2024 16:32:08 SAST