South African Jazz
Did you know?
The annual Jazz on the Lake, held every September, is the largest free event on Johannesburg's annual entertainment calendar.
South African jazz has a way of getting under your skin. Its distinctive voice tells the story of a century of collaboration and conversation between African musicians and artists from across the globe. It is dynamic, unexpected and yet familiar in the way it constantly re-interprets the genre from a South African perspective.
African-American jazz began reaching South Africa in the early 20th century. The influence and popularity of ragtime and dixieland music lead to the development of a uniquely South African musical form called marabi. This mixed American sounds with African cyclical harmonies and a trance-like rhythm. It took the country by storm and, with the onset of swing, the music became progressively more complex.
Kwela, a musical style that made the pennywhistle an indispensible part of its sound, was followed by the sleek, sophisticated rhythms of mbaqanga, a genre that combines guitar and bass with brass.
These sounds evolved with the influence of the many South African jazz musicians who lived in exile during the apartheid-era, including legends such as Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim and the late Miriam Makeba. When they returned home, their music reflected their international experiences as much as it reflected the local legacy of artists such as guitarist Philip Tabane and saxophonists Kippie Moeketsi and Winston 'Mankunku' Ngozi.
Today, South African jazz is more popular than ever. It is continuously revitalised by talented young musicians, a mix of graduates from tertiary institutions and community-based jazz education programmes, who are engaging with their music and their context in innovative ways and winning fans in the process.