A symposium to preserve a rich Eastern Cape jazz heritage

Rhodes University will be hosting a Histories, Aesthetics and Politics of South African Jazz Symposium from 17 – 18 January 2012. The conference will take place in the Beethoven Room and will be officially opened by the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Saleem Badat.

The symposium forms a discrete part of the three year Rhodes Mellon Jazz Heritage Project which   aims to preserve the rich jazz legacy of the Eastern Cape, celebrating the extraordinary contribution the Eastern Cape had made to the South Africa’s jazz heritage, as well as securing the legacy for future generations of academics and musicians.

The symposium is convened by the Rhodes University/Mellon Jazz heritage Project, which is spearheaded by a cross-departmental group of jazz enthusiasts and academics. It is led by the Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Prof Robert van Niekerk, the Head of Department of Music and Musicology, Dr Jeffrey Brukman, the Director of International Library of African Music (ILAM), Prof Diane Thram and Dr Nishlyn Ramanna, lecturer in jazz studies.

The symposium will be graced by the presence of the internationally acclaimed jazz researchers such as Gwen Ansell, David Coplan and Carol Muller. Muller will be launching her Duke University Press book titled Musical Echoes about jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin.

Ingrid Monson, the Quincy Jones Chair of African-American music at Harvard University will give the keynote address.  Other presenters include Jonathan Eato, University of York, who will present a paper  entitled: Negotiating tradition, modernity, and cultural identity in contemporary South Africa: The music of Tete Mbambisa, Louis Moholo-Moholo and Zim Ngqawana, David Coplan (University of the Witwatersrand) presentation entitled: Thula Mabota:  South African jazz in popular culture since 1994, Dr Ramanna  on Jazz as a capital: Contemporary jazz and meta-narratives of nation in post-apartheid South Africa and Lindelwa Dalamba (University of the Witwatersrand) will present a paper on Gwigwi Mrwebi, ghetto musicians and the jazz imperative.

The panel discussion on the Blue Notes with Maxine McGregor and Tony McGregor entitled: From the Blue Notes to the Brotherhood of Breath: A journey through the South African musical landscape will be chaired by Prof Van Niekerk.

“The conference forms part of the project’s academic component as articulated in its founding document. This conference will have a quantifiable outcome in the form of articles published in a special edition of South Africa’s premiere peer-reviewed accredited music research journal, South African Music Studies (SAMUS),” says Dr Brukman.

The conference will also place an academic emphasis on the Eastern Cape’s contribution to South Africa’s jazz heritage, in particular the contribution of legendary pianist, Chris McGregor and his band the Blue Notes.

“It is a development from Diane Thram’s (ILAM) research into the jazz heritage of the Red Location, New Brighton area, Port Elizabeth. It is part of a move to expand ILAM’s archival holdings to include more than African traditional music but also to incorporate the documentation of music from other domains that requires archiving and preserving for future research and possible performance,” he says.

“The Jazz Heritage Project is focussed on recording the life histories of jazz musicians, in particular those with roots in the Eastern Cape, in the context of politics of the era. It is also concerned with digitising rare jazz recordings and collecting memorabilia and artifacts of the jazz life for scholarly and archival purposes,” added Prof Van Niekerk.

Rhodes Mellon Jazz Heritage Project is tasked to digitise and archive nearly forgotten local recordings (and ephemera) from the 1950s through to the 80s, and conducting oral history research with veteran musicians who kept the jazz flame burning during the dark year of apartheid.

Dr Ramanna and former colleague at Rhodes, Dr Lee Watkins will carry out research to explore and build on the work done in Port Elizabeth, New Brighton Township, Queenstown and East London areas. The Eastern Cape Jazz has a distinctive sound, and the jazz musicians in this region have long and colourful histories which span the years of the struggle against apartheid.

The Mellon Jazz Heritage project was launched last year with an event on the Blue Notes, a remarkable non-racial South African jazz group. The band is viewed as a symbolic foundation of the project and all the members of the band came from the Eastern Cape except drummer Louis Moholo who came from Cape Town. Pianist Chris McGregor was born and bred in Transkei, Mongezi Feza the trumpeter was from Queenstown, Johnny Dyani the bassist from King Williamstown and Dudu Pukwana the sax player from Port Elizabeth.

Project organisers are grateful to Maxine McGregor for her donation of parts of Chris McGregor’s archive. These materials and others will be collated as the Project progresses and will become part of ILAM’s holding. They will form the basis for further (student and professional) research into, and creative engagement with the jazz heritage of the Eastern Cape.

Photo caption: Picture supplied: From L-R: Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza and Chris McGregor. This is a photograph of the acclaimed Blue Notes at their first ever gig while in exile in London in 1965.

Rhodes University/Mellon Jazz Programme