Fun Jazz in Jozi

When I first decided to move to Johannesburg, I had vague fantasies about going out on the town here and “experiencing” jazz. The idea of listening to jazz in a cosmopolitan African city appealed to me. Joburg is known to be a hotbed for jazz musicians.

I didn’t get around to living out this fantasy until last weekend. Not only did I attend a proper jazz performance on Saturday evening, but that performance took place in Sophiatown (pronounced “soh-FYE-ah-town”), the birthplace of Jozi jazz. I can’t believe it took me so long to do this, as I’ve known for quite some time that there is a jazz concert on the last Saturday of every month at the Sophiatown Heritage Centre. And I’m fascinated by the history of Sophiatown, which is literally around the corner from Melville.

Sophiatown jazz, Instagrammed.

Even though I harbored these fantasies about listening to jazz in Jozi, I didn’t think I really liked jazz. Listening to jazz, in my mind, was something one did to feel cultured, not necessarily to have fun.

How wrong I was. I didn’t just enjoy the jazz in Sophiatown last weekend; I actually loved it. I had a great time. I can’t wait to go back again.

The Young Lions perform in the Sophiatown Heritage Centre.

The band that performed is called the Young Lions Ensemble. I’m no music critic and I know nothing about jazz, but I thought they were awesome. The band members had a youthful spirit about them that made me feel happy. Each musician was an individual.

I didn’t get the names of all the musicians. But the sax player is Nhlanhla Mahlangu.

Alto sax player Linda Shabalala. I love the juxtaposition of the only female musician in the band with the poster of Dolly Radebe, one of Sophiatown’s most famous jazz singers. Unlike the guys in the band, who are all smiles and exuberance, Linda is all business.

The cute drummer. I think his name is Sibusile but I could be wrong.

This is Nduduzo Makhathini, the leader of the Young Lions. I love his outfit. (His piano playing’s not bad either.)

Taking a bow.

Tickets cost R70 (about $8.50). You can bring your own food and drink and have a picnic at your table. I’m told that when the weather is warmer (it was still rather chilly on Saturday evening), the performances take place outside on the lawn. Click here for a listing of events at the Sophiatown Heritage Centre.

My friends and I were in good spirits after the concert, so we spontaneously stopped for a drink at a small place called the Afrikan Freedom Station, just up the street from the Heritage Centre. I’d been hearing good things about the Afrikan Freedom Station and wanted to check it out.

Instagram shot of Kwena, proprietor of the Afrikan Freedom Station.

I’m not sure how to describe the Afrikan Freedom Station — it’s a kind of cafe-coffee/tea-house-bar-African-art-gallery-meeting-place. In essence, it’s Joburg. I’m in love with it.

Afrikan art at the Afrikan Freedom Station, Instagrammed.

We were pleased to find the Freedom Station open so late, as the Westdene/Sophiatown area is generally completely dead at night. We were the only customers there when we arrived.

Then suddenly, the Young Lions Ensemble and all of their groupies cruised in. I was a little starstruck. The cute drummer, Sibusile (someone please correct me if this is not his name), was the first to arrive.

“We just saw you play at the Heritage Centre!” I said when he walked in.

Sibusile smiled. “I recognize you,” he said. “You were at Constitution Hill on Thursday.”

Turns out Sibusile was the drummer who played in the jazz band at my photo exhibition last week. I even took his photo that night, but hadn’t made the connection. I guess my mind was elsewhere on Thursday.

There is Sibusile on the left. The guy in the middle is not a member of the Young Lions, but he was also there on Saturday evening. I sat next to him at the Afrikan Freedom Station. Jozi is a small world.

I’ve been feeling a bit down lately and wondering why it suddenly feels so difficult for me to have fun. Saturday cured that. It was the perfect evening of fun. Thank you, Jozi.

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19 Comments

  • Reply eremophila October 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Music is LIFE! It cures all ailments!

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish October 3, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Someone once told me that we listen to rock with our feet, to soul with our hearts and to jazz with our minds. I think there’s a lot of heart in there too.

    • Reply 2summers October 3, 2012 at 8:11 pm

      Yep, there was a lot of heart there. I rarely listen to music with my mind, I don’t think.

  • Reply yojoburg October 3, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    How is it that I’ve lived here for nine years and never knew about this? My picnic basket, my partner and I will be at the next one! Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply 2summers October 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      Well the Heritage Centre is only a couple of years old, and the jazz has only been going for a year or so, I think. So you’re excused from not knowing until now 🙂

      • Reply yojoburg October 3, 2012 at 9:34 pm

        Phew! That does actually make me feel better. Thanks!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough October 4, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Sounds like a great evening, Heather. ANd how cool that can bring your own food and drink to the concert!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers October 4, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Yes, it was good fun. And it left me with a lot of good picnic-y leftovers.

  • Reply Jeroen October 4, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Cool. Does Joburg still/again have a jazz swing dancing scene? In the 50s it was big, witness the ‘Dancing at the Ritz’ picture by Jurgen Schadeberg (nr 3 here: http://flopetersgallery.com/artists/juergen-schadeberg).

    • Reply 2summers October 4, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      Well there was no dancing at the this event, unless you count the drunk old guy in the corner who was dancing with himself. I’m not sure about swing dancing, but salsa dancing is huge here these days. I actually need to write a post about that.

  • Reply efiaelena October 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I wish i was there!!The music is amazing!!

  • Reply Derek Smith February 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Kwena is not only a fine artist, am author and a jazz lover. He also holds an BA (Honours) from Wits, an MA fro Leeds in the UK and was awarded the distinguished visiting fellow at the Instutute of Social Studies at The Hague in 2005. Saw you hanging out at AFS on Saturday night but couldn’t stop – Was on the way to the Rodriguez concert

    • Reply 2summers February 19, 2013 at 8:01 am

      Yes, and Kwena also lived in my home town of Baltimore for 15 years! I learned that on Saturday. Small world.

  • Reply Derek Smith February 19, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Did not know that!

  • Reply khaya Simelane September 30, 2014 at 3:24 am

    “The cute drummer. I think his name is Sibusile but I could be wrong”. is Tumi Magorosi. Just released an album called “Project Elo”. <>
    Regards
    KsK on behalf of Avant Garde: Vintage Lounge

    • Reply 2summers September 30, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Thanks very much! I hope the album does well.

  • Reply Melville Newsflash: Print for Sale at Mzansi Gallery – 2 Summers September 19, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    […] wall-sized masterpiece called “No Land No Love” by Joburg artist and the founder of the Afrikan Freedom Station, Steve “Kwena” Mokwena. Can’t afford the wall-sized masterpiece? You can […]

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