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Youth and community development take centre stage at jazz festival

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By Shireen Fisher

This past weekend the Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2018 showcased the finest musicians from South Africa and across the globe at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. While the biggest names in the industry, like Incognito wowed crowds with their classic tunes, the biggest surprises were the young talent on display that opened the Rosies and Basil Manenberg stages on both nights of the festival the Sekunjalo Edujazz Band, the Sekunjalo Delft Big Band and the Settlers High School’s Dynamix jazz band.

Settlers High School’s Dynamix jazz band
Settlers High School, which is situated in Bellville, is well-known for producing some of the country’s best performers. The school’s Dynamix Jazz Band owned the stage with a fresh twist on local and international jazz music and a few Latin and pop covers.

Their musical director, Tracey Johannes, a past pupil of the school, says she and the learners were thrilled when they received the invitation to perform on the international platform. Learners have participated in espAfrika’s Youth Training and Development Programme, which is a part of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, over the years and rightfully earned their place at this year’s festival.

The Dynamix Jazz Band (The Settlers High School’s band) delivered a world class performance and paid tribute to another act, Incognito, by performing one of their songs [Photo: Nicholas Felix]
“In the past couple of years, some of our pupils have been involved and they went through the training program. Afterwards, they were motivated and understood what happens in the industry much better. They really thought about things differently. They learned a lot about not just what happened on stage but behind the scenes, the permits they need to get, the security that needs to be put in place, where to position things like food trucks etc. So it was very useful to them,” she says.

“It really opened their eyes and some of them were not even sure if they wanted to study music and go into performing. Some of them realised they actually enjoy branding and PR and that type of thing, so it really broadened their mind sets and made them think outside the box.”

The Settlers High School band opened the Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee stage on the second night of the festival [Photo: Nicholas Felix]
While the school has a big music department and is able to provide many opportunities for learners, like going to the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival, Johannes says they try to make the best of what they have in terms of resources.

“We try and get involved in whatever we can because opportunities are there but they are not waiting for people. We enter the kids into as many things as possible. We try and nurture their skills and take them where they need to be so that they can be seen by those who can give them scholarships or offer bursaries, etc. While we have facilities, we’re also very limited in what we do have.

Johannes says they try to enter competitions to win money that can go towards resources for the department.

“We didn’t have a big band because we didn’t have any trombone players since we didn’t have trombones. A lot of our children want to play but can’t afford to pay for lessons. In 2015 when we won Bandslam, we bought a saxophone and trombones with that money. So we were able to start the big band,” she says.

Johannes adds that getting the opportunity to perform on such grand stages like the Cape Town International Jazz Festival has had a positive effect in more than one area of their lives.

“The learners have become more confident and have started to believe in themselves and have started to believe that they can be pupil number 12 in class, who the teacher may think is invisible but they can achieve great things if they put their minds to it. This has spilled over into other parts of their lives, so in the academic sphere they see they can get better marks if they just put in the work.”

Sekunjalo Delft Big Band
The Sekunjalo Delft Big Band was established in 2008, led by Ian Smith and the Department of Social Development and NGO, Cape Outdoor Adventure Service and Training (COAST). The initiative is aimed at providing a positive alternative to vulnerable youth from Delft.

The band’s project coordinator Trudy Rushin believes that music plays a huge role in uplifting people, especially in communities like Delft, an area plagued by unemployment, substance abuse, teenage pregnancies and children dropping out of school.

“There isn’t much to do in the area, so there was a great need for something artistic for the youth to be involved in. When the band started, anyone who wanted to apply had to be in high school and had to be able to play an instrument. One member had already dropped out of school, but went back when he heard about the band. That’s one of those magical stories about how music can change people’s lives. It really turned his life around. He has since completed a BA degree.”

Currently band members’ ages range from 21 to 30 and most of the original band members are still in the band. They also have the opportunity of giving back to the youth in their community through teaching at the Sekunjalo Delft Music Academy on Saturday mornings at Rosendal High School in Delft. This music school started at the end of 2015.

“In 2016 we had some challenges and things didn’t run smoothly but in 2017 the project had a new beginning,” Rushin says.

Some of the band’s highlights include performing for the Queen of Sweden, playing at festivals in Edinburgh and gigs like Moonstruck on Clifton beach.

“Their longevity speaks volumes because bands break up so easily,” says proudly. “No matter what they go through in terms of their personal experiences in Delft, they all want to make music together. It’s an essential part of their lives.”

Rushin is hopeful that more communities will look to music and the arts to move towards a positive future.

“I think to a large extent these things happen organically, where someone who can play gets people together and starts something. There are cases where a musician wants to channel his or her passion and involve more people, upskill and empower through music. There’s quite a lot of that. But I think it’s also often through certain faith groups who have a strong music culture. Young people should see who’s around in their worlds. Schools are a great place because there’s a venue, a teacher, etc.”

Sekunjalo Edujazz band
The Sekunjalo Edujazz Band took the Rosies stage by storm at the festival. It was first put together by Donovan Witten, who had the idea to create a platform for underprivileged kids. Kelly Bell is the musical director this year and is the first female to lead.

“The band runs in conjunction with workshops and development programs,” Bell explains.

“Before it was all younger learners but we developed over the years, so we got some university students involved to give them a platform as well.”

“Every year the director changes, so learners get to experience different conductors. We choose which musicians we want and ask schools for suggestions when there a gap. Or we have auditions but we don’t start with auditions.”

The band uses Artscape as their base. The program has had a variety of mentors who have conducted workshops which include Alvyn Dyers, Camillo Lombard and Sammy Weber. Bell says that the program is vital due to the large amount of children in townships who are talented but don’t have a band setup to get them going.

“Some have bands at school but don’t have stages to play on. So a project like this is there to get learners more exposure, especially those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. But we also try and keep it as diverse as possible.”

Third-year UCT Jazz Studies student, Brathew van Schalkwyk, says it’s difficult to get communities involved with outreach programs.

“You get students who don’t have access to instruments and you get those who do. Then you have conductors like Miss Bell, who facilitate and help with the development process. I think it starts at the root. We need to get educators involved in the movement to be able to reach out into those other communities.”

“If we had more funding to get more instruments, we’d be able to do a whole lot more,” Bell adds.

“Especially where jazz is concerned, these instruments are so expensive, so a lot of schools don’t have any.”
Brathew became interested in his mother’s keyboard at a young age.

“When I was younger, my mother tried the keyboard and tried to go for lessons but couldn’t afford it,” he says.

“So there was this keyboard in the house. From a young age, I would always just make a noise and eventually I got to go for classes… which did not last long. Eventually, I just started to gravitate towards the instrument because I had such a deep relationship with music and sometimes it was difficult to express myself. I began to use music as an outlet to express myself. My former teacher and UCT alumnus, Tracy Johannes introduced me to the Grahamstown Jazz Festival. The piano was just an instrument that was always there. It was something I was just so close to.”

He encourages the youth to go after what they want in life.

“Sometimes your dreams become a blur because you have so many external forces telling you not to chase them… that it’s not viable. I would encourage every single youngster to chance the dream. At the end of the day it’s about the hard work you put in. You get nowhere by listening to negative thoughts.” VOC

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