by David Mwanambuyu

Jill Scott steals the show

American songstress outshines peers

American Jill Scott was the toast of Cape Town Jazz Festival


Americans are supremos at showbiz – without a shadow of doubt. As such, one wonders whether the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) would have the same allure without their participation. In 2011 Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) blew the venue to pieces with a gutsy show never seen before. Last year, another American, Dave Koz, reignited his compatriots’ musical spark with a sensational display that still rankles deep in the memory of most jazz junkies.

 Then came Jill Scott. Oh boy, did she shake the cobwebs out of a rusty party house. The three-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter played her best music to a packed Kippies, the main venue at the CTICC, in a two-hour masterstroke on Saturday April 6. Resplendent in a knee-lengthy sexy outfit that stuck on her bodice immaculately, while revealing her stunning legs, she was a double delight for the male fans.

 Her music was as good as she looked on the night. The multi-talented artist, a New York Times best-selling poet and acclaimed actress, showed her love of the spoken word in most of the tunes she belted out, mostly drawing on personal life experiences.

 It was easy to discern she had started her career as a poet. Her conversational style resonated with the rainbow crowd, particularly the ladies who seemed to outnumber males in the packed auditorium.

 For an artist who came on stage in the face of fans’ unhappiness, after organisers cut short Thandiswa Mazwai’s repertoire earlier, you would have sworn you were in a different place altogether. Jill Scott made the fans swallow their misery so quickly they were swaying to her music nonchalantly.

 Playing with an all-male supporting band, Jill Scott was at one stage teasing female fans to dare mingle with her bandsmen “if you want trouble ladies”. At one juncture, as she adjusted her well-endowed cleavage, there was a rupture of hilarious applause, mostly from females, as though to appreciate “what the sister has got”.

 It was a thrilling show by all accounts. She performed numbers from her albums Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol 1, Beautiful Human: Words & Sounds, Vol 2 and The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Vol 3.

 Jill Scott, who had more time added on - the first time this has happened – considering just an hour earlier Thandiswa Mazwai had to be hurried off the stage, tore into her songs with gusto and uncharacteristic verve to entertain her hero-worshipping fans, most whom were seeing her perform live for the first time.

 The two hours she spent on stage is the hallmark by which most fans will remember the 2013 Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

 “Super performance from Jill Scott….she just set the Fest on fire,” Evans Manyonga, a Cape Media journalist, wrote on Facebook shortly after.

 That feeling echoed throughout the night, long after she had gone.

 And of course there were other acts too.  On the opening night, Mafikizolo (reunion) started proceedings at Kippies. Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza, the surviving members of the original trio, impressed with their usual flamboyance of style and township-themed garb.

 They played hits from their heyday, songs that became township party anthems when the group first burst onto the South Africa kwaito scene in the 1990s. Still as popular, their fans were happy to see them together once again, looking as dandy and as fresh as a daisy.

 “This woman doesn’t change,” remarked one adoring fan, in reference to Nhlanhla, who looked elegant in her trademark flowing frocks.

 The music was familiar; the dance moves a legendary township choreography we have come to expect from this trend-setting Kwaito group.

 Oh poor Thandiswa Mazwai. She came on stage full of vim and exuding the confidence of the superstar she is, till her show was abruptly interrupted. Apparently, she exceeded her fair share of time allocation, a fact that didn’t go down well with the fans; who responded by booing the MCs when they ascended the stage to introduce the next outfit.

 Before the incident, Thandiswa, she of Zabalaza fame, was reveling in rhythmic adoration by her fans, as they danced along to her Xhosa lyrics. She has a commanding presence on stage and took full advantage of it. Midway through the show, however, she introduced her sister who played one catchy tune before handing the reins back. Perhaps, that’s why she lost time.

 What followed was totally unexpected; as she prepared to do another song, the bad news was relayed and instead of playing on, she bade a hasty farewell.

 “They said cut,” she told the bemused fans who were evidently looking forward to more of the home beat.

 Picking up on this incident later, Bruce Kgapane, a music promoter who runs Ziyaphenduka Promotions in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, had a difference of opinion with a festival patron, who expressed disgust at the manner in which she was treated.

 “Hey chief, the problem with artists is that once they get on stage, some of them forget about time limitations. They start chatting about Chiefs and Pirates when they are supposed to spend every second there performing not engaging in idle banter,” said Kgapane, obviously drawing from his past experiences.

 Nevertheless, many fans were embittered by this experience as they felt they had been denied their local flavour. Thankfully, Jill Scott was next and she wiped off their misery instantly.

 And who says communists aren’t fun? The immaculately dressed Cuban ensemble, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, captured the  imagination of many fans. Once again, music proved its versatility as a universal language, with the the Cubans conducting all proceedings in Spanish.

 They put up a decent show and one understands why they performed on two subsequent nights. It would have been illogical to fly them all the way from Cuba, with all the travel restrictions there, just for an hour-long show.

 The 13-piece band, deeply rooted in the old Cuban music tradition, brought a variety of a different kind. Remarkable was the performance by Omara Portuondo, the grand old lady of Cuba’s golden generation of musicians, who impressed with some nifty stagecraft and soulful vocals. For a veteran of more than 50 years in music industry, she showed some sleek dance moves to the amusement of fans, marveling at her energy in spite of her age.

 Back at the corporate village –courtesy of Anglo American - the party was spoilt by the SABC. Their live screening of proceedings failed in the middle of a performance. That sent most patrons scuttling back to the venues, instead of relaxing in the comfort of the corporate hospitality, laid out for their pleasure at great expense.

 That meant I had to watch Jimmy Dludlu strum his stuff live. Which turned out to be an exhilarating experience really. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have missed it for the VIP lounge.

 Reflecting on this later, a bemused patron remarked: “Jimmy was fantastic tonight; I think he “smoked”. When the guy “smokes” and gets on stage, oh he is unstoppable - almost peerless.”

 Indeed the man was in his element. Song after song, he showed the class that shot him to the top of the jazz charts, since his days as founding member of the Loading Zone in the 1990s.

 Jill Scott must return - with the hearts she stole.


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Issue 83


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