SAUL MOLOBI, Jambo Africa Online’s Publisher and presenter of “Sunset Serenade”, a three-hour Sunday jazz music programme on Chai 101.9 FM, is ready for a two-day musical extravaganza that transcends boundaries and celebrates the beauty of jazz in all its forms at the 2023 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival. He bets his last penny that it’s an event that promises to leave a lasting imprint on your musical soul…

In the heart of Johannesburg, the vibrant city that pulsates to the rhythm of life, an annual celebration of music, culture and unity emerges each year, transcending borders and breaking boundaries. The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival has since 1997 become an iconic event on the global music calendar, where local and international musicians converge to create an unforgettable harmonious fusion. This year, the festival promises to be an electrifying showcase of musical talent, cultural diversity, and a celebration of Africa’s rich heritage in the world of jazz.

A Jazz Odyssey Begins: Origins and Evolution

Before we dive into the vibrant present of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, it’s crucial to understand its roots and the remarkable journey it has traversed to reach its current status as one of the world’s premier jazz festivals.

The festival was conceived in 1997 by renowned South African jazz musician Peter Tladi and has since grown exponentially in scale and significance. Over the years, it has consistently attracted the crème de la crème of jazz musicians from Africa and around the globe. What started as a modest gathering has evolved into a global phenomenon, synonymous with artistic excellence and cross-cultural collaboration.

The Essence of Joy: Celebrating African Jazz

At its core, the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival is a celebration of African jazz, a genre deeply rooted in the continent’s history and traditions. African jazz is a unique blend of diverse musical influences, reflecting the continent’s multiculturalism and complex history.

Africa’s contribution to jazz is immeasurable, with legends like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Abdullah Ibrahim, whose music continues to inspire and influence artists worldwide. The festival pays homage to these luminaries while providing a platform for the next generation of African jazz talent to shine.

The Global Flair: International Jazz Icons

While African jazz takes center stage, the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival also embraces the global nature of the genre. Jazz is, after all, a genre born from a fusion of African rhythms, European harmonies, and American improvisation. This year’s festival boasts an impressive lineup of international jazz icons who bring their unique perspectives and styles to the stage.

This Africa’s most prestigious jazz festival is set to captivate audiences on 29 and 30 September 2023 at the Sandton International Convention Centre. With an exhilarating lineup of jazz luminaries from around the globe, the 2023 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz promises two days of musical delight across its four main stages. This year’s event is a harmonious reunion for music enthusiasts, rekindling the joy of jazz in every note.

The Dinaledi Stage will shine with the presence of Grammy Award-winning Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider and Friends Ayanda Nhlangothi, Vusi Nhlapo, and Vuyo Tshuma on Vocals. Together, they will bring a Mzansi twist to the grand doowop tradition, infusing it with their inimitable style. Meanwhile, the Grand Stage will feature the exceptional trumpeter, multi-band leader, and composer Marcus Wyatt, along with the guitar virtuoso hailing from Kwa Zulu Natal, Ernie Smith.

On the Conga Stage, Grammy Award recipient pianist and composer Robert Glasper takes the spotlight. Joining him are contemporary jazz giants known for their mastery in straight ahead jazz and exploration of other genres.

Casual listeners and connoisseurs alike will be entranced by the Alexander Beets’ Quintet, featuring pianist Miguel Rodriguez, bassist Marius Beets, drummer Sven Rozier, and tenor man Lucas Santana. They promise a perfect fusion of swing, ballads, standards, and original compositions, all infused with the contemporary verve of jazz.

In a specially curated tribute performance, guitarist Billy Monama will honour Allen Kwela, joined by special guests Titi Luzipo and Mimi Mtshali.

Another poignant tribute will see The Hugh Masekela Band, featuring Leeroy Sauls, Godfrey Mgcina, Fana Zulu, Cameron Ward, Johan Mthethwa, Sydney Mavundla, Percy Mbonani, Mluleki Chuma, and Selema Mokgothi on vocals, paying homage to the late great trumpeter.

Music enthusiasts can also anticipate a captivating performance by the exceptionally gifted vocalist and song-stylist, Zoe Modiga. The innovative composer and bassist, Carlo Mombelli, is set to thrill fans with his distinct angular jazz style.

In what promises to be a standout tribute, bassist and composer Herbie Tsoaeli will present “BASSLINE,” a tribute to the legendary bassist and jazz pioneer Johnny Dyani, featuring contemporary bass virtuosos Viwe Mkizwana and Dalusi Ndlazi. This instrumental tribute will be complemented by Titi Lozipho’s homage to Gloria Bosman, a timely ode to the recently departed singer and composer.

Reedman McCoy Mrubata and Brasskap will grace the Joy of Jazz stage alongside Hlubi Kwebulana, Lwanda Gogwana, Jabu Magubane, Gareth Harvey, Wandile Molefe, Nhlanhla Radebe, and Bernice Boikanyo.

Jazz enthusiasts can also look forward to the performance of multi-award-winning pianist and Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz (SBYA) recipient Nduduzo Makhathini Trio, featuring Cuban drummer Francisco Mela and bassist Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere, with the captivating Omagugu Makhathini.

The Mbira Stage will offer a diverse array of musical entertainers catering to a wide range of sonic preferences. Zonke, Buhle Bendalo of Soil fame, and Max-Hoba will pay tribute to Jabu Khanyile, while soulful singers like Ami Faku, Langa Mavuso, Samthing Soweto, and the contemporary political conscience voice of Simphiwe Dana will grace the stage.

Adding to the excitement is “iNkabi Zezwe Reframed,” an ensemble featuring SAMA award-winning trumpeter Ndabo Zulu and the current Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz (SBYA), Linda Sikhakhane.

For those with an adventurous musical palate, the Lounge Jazz Market is a must-visit. 4EVERJAZZ, hosted by Nothemba Madumo, will showcase percussionist Thomas Dyani and MARUMO FEMME with Mammello and Kopano.

To keep the vibe alive, DJ HAPPY J, Di Castro, and the maestro DJ KENZHERO EXPERIENCE, featuring Melo B Jones on vocals, Drum Machine, and Me-Ko on Keys and Trumpet, will keep the beats coming. Lounge and house music enthusiasts can anticipate a uniquely delightful musical experience with the return of “BREAKFAST AT KHUJOS” at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz.

One of the festival’s most exciting aspects is the opportunity for musicians from diverse backgrounds to come together and create magic on stage. The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival has always been a hub for collaboration, where artists from different parts of the world and various musical traditions join forces to produce breathtaking performances.

What truly sets the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival apart is its ability to attract a diverse audience from all walks of life. The festival welcomes jazz aficionados, music lovers, tourists, and locals alike, creating a unique atmosphere of unity and celebration.

Walking through the festival grounds, one can hear conversations in different languages, see people of various ages and backgrounds sharing stories, and witness the universal language of music bringing smiles to faces. It’s a testament to the festival’s mission of fostering cultural exchange and celebrating diversity.

The choice of Johannesburg as the festival’s host city is no accident. Johannesburg, often referred to as the “City of Gold,” is not only the economic hub of Africa but also a melting pot of cultures and a hotbed of artistic creativity. It is the capital of the Gauteng City Region (GCR), which contributes 33% to the country’s GDP – over 3% more than the combined GDP of the 2nd and 3rd contributors, KZN at 15,9% and the Western Cape at 13,9%. The GCR is the 5th biggest economy in Africa, bigger than the economies of 50 African countries.

Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival continues to prove that music knows no boundaries. It transcends borders, languages, and cultures, uniting people from all corners of the globe in a celebration of life, diversity, and artistic excellence.

This year’s instalment which in my mind remains “an African Affair with a Global Flair” – as I dubbed it last year – encapsulates the festival’s essence perfectly. It’s a testament to the enduring influence of African jazz on the world stage and the festival’s commitment to showcasing both local and international talent.