The Unforgettable Roots of Jazz Music: South Africa

Dominique reveals the forgotten history of South African jazz, a style that reflects the bold and bright, sun-hard land from which it sprung. Follow Dominique @ MusicalHappenings

A tap from our foot, the base of our heels feeling the rough earth, hot heat on our skin. In the air is undeniable, unmistakably joyful music, the type where punks and corporates can dance and start a conversation whilst sipping coffee and clapping their sweaty hands. The beautiful culture warming our veins, the African sunset is just over Table mountain and it’s glorious. We don’t really talk about jazz anymore but when we do, the talk goes back to America, back to where it started from the staple of blues and oppression. Rightfully so, it’s a topic widely discussed between muso’s and enthusiasts that we acknowledge where it all began but thus, we forget about the other roots, the warm roots of South African jazz music. 

Not only was the genre popular in the States but it exploded in South Africa. Apartheid was ruling and ruining lives but somehow, black music was stronger than ever. Through unity and oppression, through loss and pain, African jazz became the beauty of the nation. Jazz musicians met up and performed in local nightclubs, bars and venues, imitating popular music, using different percussive sounds and unique, unforgettable melodies. There were smiles in such a disruptive time.

Bepop Jazz whistled its way into South Africa by the Jazz Epistles, bringing United States Bepop Jazz to the nation. Trombones, trumpets, rhythmic drumming patterns similar to its origin except made into their own. The pioneers brought this genre into Cape Town, during apartheid, starting a revolutionary change in jazz music, popularising a genre that’s so widely appreciated, even today in our modernised music approach.

Jazz music took a turn in my country when the Sharpeville massacre occurred, where politicians wanted to hide the murder of many people, leaving jazz clubs to close, musicians out of work. They fled around the world to keep jazz alive and to bring African Jazz worldwide, where it’s still known. The genre was and is never forgotten thanks to our musicians spreading the word, playing the beauty of African music worldwide, inspiring listeners about their stories even just through a flute solo. 

Step onto the warm ground, the orange dirt and seek the pink skies above you, the Marula tree beside you, the hot air hugging you, mahewu beer in one hand and a mbira in the other. Listen to African Jazz with a different point of view, let it take you back home, back to where it started, back to a place you’ll never forget. Ngiyanemukela.

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