International Jazz Day: A day for celebrating South Africa’s contribution to global jazz

Posted on April 30, 2019

In November 2018, UNESCO’s Director General, Audrey Azoulay, announced that the International Jazz Day Global Host City for 2020 will be Cape Town, South Africa, marking the first time the now established celebration is hosted by an African city. As the 2020 Global Host City, Cape Town will showcase a unique jazz history and heritage. The 2020 Global Host City event theme, “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz,” includes discovering, through jazz music, African identity and the creative potential of Africa to inspire global music making.

This wonderful coup is made possible by the valiant efforts of our local International Jazz Day South Africa team. Congratulations to Brenda Sisane and her colleagues at the Spin Foundation. The 2019 International Jazz Day celebrations are specifically geared to build up to the 2020 Cape Town celebration.

It comes as no surprise, although about time, that UNESCO brings International Jazz Day celebrations to South Africa. Jazz was born in the United States of America, where it flourished into what is America’s greatest music. While jazz was born in the USA, it was also created internationally. The nature of jazz is to constantly evolve and adapt. Most cities in various parts of the world can lay claim to a particular regional flavor of jazz, with essential traits of American jazz infused with local culture. Today we enjoy international strains of Afro-Cuban jazz, Brazilian Jazz, Nordic jazz and South African jazz.

The story of jazz in South Africa is intertwined with our painful history and our struggle for freedom during the apartheid era. The beautiful music we call jazz was born out of the struggle of a nation. While we continue to battle inequality in South Africa, socio-economic imbalances and adverse poverty, we have reason to celebrate the rich heritage of South African jazz, carried on the shoulders of great South African jazz musicians.

Prof Lenora Helm Hammonds from North Carolina Central University and the band.

I am very pleased to hear that the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan School of Music, New York and the ELMA Music Foundation have recently established the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship, which will provide full scholarships to six South African music students, enabling them to pursue a Bachelor of Music degree at the Manhattan School of Music. The scholarship was announced on what would have been Hugh Masekela’s 80th birthday.

It is an exciting time for jazz as the world draws its attention to South Africa, to celebrate our contribution to the history and the future of jazz. As we enjoy International Jazz Day celebrations, let us set our sights on Cape Town 2020 and blow our South African trumpet loud.

Mageshen Naidoo is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Jazz Studies in the School of the Arts at the University of Pretoria, and is President of the South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE).


- Author Prof Mageshen Naidoo

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