After declaring that South Africa “belongs to all who live in it”, and goes further to proclaim that “the doors of learning and culture shall be open to all”. These are clarion calls in the Freedom Charter – a document outlining the aspirational principles of freedom and democracy in South Africa which was adopted by anti-apartheid organisations in Kliptown, Soweto, in 1955. In was in responding to this call that we began to speak about a people’s culture.
So in my “Sunset Serenade” – a two-hour jazz programme broadcast on Chai FM – I situate jazz within the context of the dialectics of culture by using the “circuit of culture” as an analytic framework. This circuit was developed by one of the foremost cultural theorists, Jamaican-British scholar Stuart Hall, and is premised on interacting elements — representation, identity, production, consumption and regulation — which range in their level of visibility in the public space. Indeed, deconstructing the agency of jazz, it doesn’t only communicate what we were, but also what we have become. This is what Hall defines as the culture dialectic. This is an eloquent description of the development of our culture, and music in this instance.
Any new music means this: “Find the self, then kill it” – this is courtesy of the African-American poet, Amiri Baraka, who waxed lyrical in the liner notes to the 1965 live album, “The New Wave in Jazz“, which featured the ferocious works of improvisers like John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler. Baraka was just appreciating the dialectical struggle between the thesis and anti-thesis whose resolution result into what Dr Vipin Gupta described as the birth of a transvergent culture – which in our everyday language we call a cultural melting pot. For our development, we have to creatively efface who we were, allowing for a synthesis to take its place.
This is what Samora Machel, post-independence Mozambique’s president, once mused: “For a nation to be born, a tribe has to die.”
Observing the emergence of the politics of race polarisation and narrow nationalism in South Africa and across the world, it’s time that we – the people in general, and the youth in particular – that we go back to our classics and mobilise our people in our struggle for the development of s new personality: non-racial, non-sexist, democratic against all forms of exclusions.
The midwives to this process is often, if not always, the youth. So this is apt for me this month as we celebrate the Youth Month in South Africa. Jazz has been deeply intertwined with the youth culture and socio-political landscape of South Africa. It has served as a form of cultural expression and celebration of our heritage. Today, young South African musicians continue to embrace jazz, infusing it with their unique perspectives, blending it with local influences, and contributing to the ongoing evolution of the genre.
The Soweto youth of 1976 ignited a spark that spread throughout South Africa, fuelling the resistance against apartheid. Their actions inspired countless others to join the struggle for freedom, equality, and justice. They became the voice of a generation, demanding change and refusing to be silenced.
The relationship between youth and jazz in South Africa is particularly significant and has a rich history. Jazz has played a vital role in the country’s cultural and political landscape, and young South Africans have been both creators and consumers of this genre.
During the apartheid era, jazz became a powerful tool for resistance and a means of expressing the struggles and aspirations of the South African people. Musicians like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) used their music to raise awareness about the injustices of apartheid and to promote social change. Their music resonated with young people who were at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement, providing them with a soundtrack and a sense of unity.
In the 1950s and 1960s, South African jazz experienced a vibrant period known as “township jazz” or “jazz in the shebeens.” It emerged in the townships, where black communities were segregated under apartheid. Musicians like Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, and Winston Mankunku Ngozi created a unique fusion of American jazz influences with traditional South African rhythms and melodies. Township jazz became a symbol of resistance, cultural pride, and a voice for the marginalised. In my interview with Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse recently for my radio show, he emphasised this dialectical relationship between jazz and fashion.
Following the dismantling of apartheid in the early 1990s, South Africa experienced a cultural renaissance, and jazz played a significant role in this revival. Young South African musicians, such as trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf and pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, embraced jazz as a means of exploring their own heritage, blending it with contemporary sounds and international influences. They incorporated elements of indigenous African music, traditional rhythms, and languages into their compositions, creating a unique and vibrant South African jazz sound.
Additionally, jazz education and mentorship programs have flourished in South Africa, providing opportunities for young musicians to develop their skills and connect with experienced artists. Institutions like the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town and the Jazz Studies Program at the University of KwaZulu-Natal offer formal jazz education, while organisations like the South African Jazz Appreciators and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival promote jazz appreciation and showcase young talent.
Furthermore, various jazz festivals and events take place throughout the country, including the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown, the Joy of Jazz festival in Johannesburg, and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. These festivals attract a diverse audience, including young people, and provide platforms for both established and emerging South African jazz artists to showcase their skills.
In summary, jazz has been deeply intertwined with the youth culture and socio-political landscape of South Africa. It has served as a form of resistance, cultural expression, and celebration of heritage. Today, young South African musicians continue to embrace jazz, infusing it with their unique perspectives, blending it with local influences, and contributing to the ongoing evolution of the genre.
Do enjoy your Youth Month celebrations.
Saul Molobi (FCIM)
Publisher, Group Chairman & CEO
Tel: +27 11 483 1019
Mobile: +27 83 635 7773