I felt a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye several times during the 2021 Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival Vol 3 at the Spier Amphitheatre on the night of Saturday, 4 December.
One was when the amazing soprano Zandile Mzazi, accompanied by pianist Yohan Chun and bassist Francois Botha, in their tribute set to Sibongile Khumalo, played some of the late opera and jazz singer’s famous hits, such as Thula Mama and Ntyilo Ntyilo. It was almost as if one could feel the deceased’s spirit in the room, beyond the huge posters of her and another late, great musician, Andre Petersen, which adorned the stage.
The second moment was when the acclaimed New York-based, South African-born pianist Kathleen Tagg ended off her set with the mellow but haunting Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Major as a dedication to the late jazz and classical pianist Petersen, with whom she had often collaborated.
The third was when the night’s main attraction, trumpeter Feya Faku, spoke about how he survived a serious illness which had incapacitated him, making him believe he would never perform again. There was another such moment earlier when he introduced his band members, including pianist Bokani Dyer, who Faku had known since he was eight years old when he played with his dad, Steve Dyer, the celebrated saxophonist.
I felt a lump in my throat every time I looked around the reasonably small audience and realised that it has been almost two years since we have been able to do this: watch amazing live music with a mix of local and foreign-based artists in a beautiful setting.
Yes, it was strange to see so many people sitting with masks while watching the show, and we had to undergo all the necessary protocols before we were allowed into the venue, such as taking our temperature, filling in a form confirming our Covid-19 history (or lack thereof) and leaving our contact details in case there was a need to get in touch if anyone tested positive after the event. There was no indication of the event being open only to vaccinated people, which, I suppose, is the logical next step.
It was the first time in a long time that we went out to an event with so many people, even though the venue was not even half full. But we were nervous in the days leading up to the event. I kept on thinking about the possibility of contracting the virus, even while I was sitting at the concert and even though I am vaccinated.
This is, I suppose, the reality of living in a pandemic. We all have to take precautions and make sure that we keep each other safe if we want to return to any sense of normality.
It has been a tough time for the music industry, in particular, and I found myself wondering how one sustains one’s loyalty to such a craft when there is no clear path to any sense of normality. Many musicians have told me that it is not the same to perform for an online audience. Musicians thrive on their interaction with their audiences and audiences, likewise, value the live interaction with musicians.
Apart from the lump-in-throat moments, there were so many highlights of Saturday’s performances that give me hope that it will take more than a virus, with all its alphabetical variants, to silence the music industry.
Bokani Dyers’s fingers flying over his keyboard; the artistic versatility of the married couple, Yohan Chun and Francois Botha, who both played piano and bass on stage; the you-could-smash-glass-with-that-voice of Zandile Mzazi, making one wonder how high can anyone’s voice realistically go; the intimacy and vibrancy of American-based South African-born violinist Elinor Speirs, accompanied by the hugely talented and versatile Mark Fransman on saxophone and piano, Brydon Bolton on bass and Jonno Sweetman on drums; the piano wizardry of Kathleen Tagg, who convinced Shane Cooper to join her on stage playing an electronic instrument and not his usual double bass; and the energetic drumming of Ayanda Sikade in Feya Faku’s backing band, and the great Louis Moholo. All the musicians performed at their best, as if this was the last time.
It was almost like the gods did not want to interrupt the music, with the expected rain only coming after the encore by Faku and his band and as people were making their way home after the 10-hour show.
The Spier Jazz & Classical Encounters are unique in that they bring together some of the best proponents of jazz and classical music and they are able to show the similarities between the two genres, where many people often only see differences.
This year’s rendition was dedicated to Sibongile Khumalo and Andre Petersen, among the many musical greats that we have lost in the past year or two. I am sure that the two of them smiled happily from wherever they are and that others, such as Hugh Masekela and Robbie Jansen, nodded in agreement. DM