These are sobering times indeed. Crazy how one minute you are preoccupied with worries of which jazz festival to attend in 2020, then suddenly like a thief in the night, Coronavirus appears and redefines civilization as we know it. Things we took for granted are now completely redefined and we are either on lockdown or on the verge of being locked down and we suddenly have to redefine needs, luxury and hobby to be contained within the confines of our homes. With everyone stuck at home, events like jazz festivals that seemed like yearly rituals where faithful congregated to break bread have become luxuries that seem a world away. Most inhabitants of the planet can’t venture beyond their front doors unless going to the hospital or getting essentials, certainly being serenaded by jazzy melodies in a gathering of thousands is now a world away.
In all of this, artists who had been rehearsing sets for these festivals are left high and dry. Dry in a creative sense and also as importantly, in a financial sense. I worry for the mental health toll this lockdown will have on us all but for obvious reasons, my worry for artists is profound. You wonder how many of them will get into a creative rut following this season of uncertainty and much more be in a good enough state to lead the congregation in those yearly rituals after this is all over. The uncertainty is universal and everyone is trying to cope in different ways. Most of us (a few are still maintaining full work schedules from home) with so much free time on our hands have started digging into archives, revisiting old tracks that the hustle and bustle of daily living had prevented us from enjoying. Not so old tracks are beginning to sound like new ones as we begin to hear new vibes that we had not heard in the past. New favourites are emerging and at the end of this pandemic, certain songs and videos (for those who are revisiting old concert performances) will serve as nostalgic landmarks.
Music fans are not alone in a bid to create and curate sustainable content in these uncertain times. Our favourite artists are adapting to the times too. Isolation concerts have become a thing in these times. Others are releasing previous epic live performances that had not been seen by viewing audiences before. Even in a pandemic, our favourites are still providing content and keeping our heart and souls warm and nourished in this season of Coronavirus.
First out of the block was Mandisi Dyantyis. His schedule had been finely curated to lead up to the CTIJF 2020 as a climax. As is the norm in this season, man proposes and Coronavirus disposes. Mandisi Dyantysis is an artiste I found early last year and wrote about here. Everything about him seems and well-arranged (apart from his beard). He and his band were kind enough to give a stellar performance in isolation (without an audience) just before the curtains went down and South Africa went into lockdown. The stellar performance can be seen below.
There is arguably no busier human (apart from health workers) in this season than Shane Cooper. Dude seems to be attacking the pandemic lockdown with every creative cell in him. He is either releasing a solo video or collaboration video of a sort almost every day while in lockdown. I am certain he and his usual collaborators will unleash all sorts of offerings as soon as all this is all over. Below is a random selection of some of the sounds he has been providing to make this season of uncertainty easier for us all.
Another person who has got us covered in this crazy season is Marcus Wyatt. He has either been putting up new ZAR Orchestra videos or filming and editing isolation performances of other favourites of mine. He recently put up two videos of the orchestra’s performance at 2019 Joy of Jazz festival (feels like ages ago) as we all hold our breath to see if this year’s edition will hold. We have gone from wondering how the organisers would top last year’s edition to now hoping and praying there will be a ritual at all for chronic festival-goers to perform their yearly ritual. The times we live in! The two videos from that spectacular performance of the Jazz orchestra are worthy medication for the times we live in.
He has still found time to film and record the very generous offering from the Keenan Ahrends Trio. With all the rules of social distancing in place, Keenan Ahrends on guitar, Romy Brauteseth on Bass and Sphelelo Mazibuko on Drums came together and produced 35 mins of pure magic.
Talking of 2019 Joy of Jazz festival, Festival headliners(Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis) are not left behind in looking out for their fans. They recently uploaded the full concert video of their Miles Davis performance. Epic, as usual, coming from JLCO. There were some comments about the set excluding most of Miles’ better-known tracks but that is understandable as the concert focused on a specific period. The highlight was not just the interpretation of those tracks but the history lesson that a reluctant Chris Crenshaw (I think he preferred blowing his trombone than doing what Wynton often does) provided as an interlude between the performances. The man knows his stuff. Secondly, the South African songbook that they performed last year is now available for old viewers to reminisce on that fine night and for newer viewers to see the night that was a forerunner to the excellent nights that this excellent orchestra provided at 2019 Joy of Jazz (the A Song For Bra Des Tutu performance is my favourite of the excellent lot). Last but certainly not the least the feast was completed days ago by the uploading of the songbook that the orchestra played at their 2017 30th anniversary. That concert on its own is breathtaking.
One of the reasons I considered going to CTIJF this year was to see Kokoroko perform. I have always liked their vibe. That afrobeat (not afrobeats) vibe in their sound is one I am a sucker for as an ardent congregant at the New Afrika Shrine for Femi Kuti’s performances. When I chose to skip and toyed with the idea of going to the North Sea Jazz festival was even more exciting when I found out they were also on the bill. All such wishful thinking came crashing with the onset of this pandemic. There is still another time but for the time being, I am playing this performance of theirs that was a track off what would have been a set for the cancelled SXSW 2020. I am more convinced that as soon as this season is over, Kokoroko on the bill will be a major factor in choosing the first festival to attend.
While considering artists who have had their income decimated, spare a thought for artists who had album releases coinciding with this pandemic. No new album has been as highly anticipated (according to my biased twitter timeline) as Nduduzo Makhathini’s new album and his debut on the Blue Note Records. The album was launched as planned and on the launch day, he was generous enough to serenade listeners with a live rendition of snippets from the album. I dare say that the 20 minutes performance was almost as good if not better versions of same songs in the album. Maybe the stripped versions just worked better with the current climate.
I have never taken my favourites for granted but in this season I have come to appreciate them even more. What would life be like without this extra content that they have provided (and still keep providing) in these isolation times? We would still exist and carry on but we would be poorer without them. When all of this is over, we will remember tracks and performances that carried us through. Suddenly, old tracks have new meaning, old videos remind us better times and new tracks are now signposts to a world that is different from the world we once knew and had.
More than any other song, I have been most affected by Kokoroko – Abusey Junction. This is not a new track but suddenly I am most moved by it in this season. The same song I heard with little impact months ago, now is on an endless loop in my playlists. The riff seems to break me in a different way and the trumpet solo is one of the best healing I have had in a long time. It is tender, soulful and gentle. Give it a listen (preferably the album audio version) and I hope you enjoy it alongside the videos above. Stay safe and enjoy a sound at the same time!