Every Month is for Women Jazz Musicians: the South African case

A number of young, world-traveled, South African women musicians have been emerging and tuning our ears to a decade of exploratory sounds and beats that excite what ‘South African jazz’ is becoming. Thanks to current recording technologies and available studios, the 2020 Covid-19 Lockdown has been able to fortunately convert some of those unemployment blues faced by artists without paying audiences into albums, some debut, and some not so bluesy but innovative. Women artists continue to be faced, also, with recurring themes in their industry of sexist portrayal, male hierarchical displays, and even gender-based violence issues. Let’s see what some leading South African women jazz artists are doing or saying….

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Thandi Ntuli
After her successful Exile album (2018), and debut album in 2014, The Offering, (see http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2015/02/26/cd-review-by-carol-martin/) pianist Thandi Ntuli has followed up with Live at Jazzwerkstatt recorded and produced in Switzerland and released in March 2020. During her residency with jazz artists in Switzerland, Ntuli was able to gain more intercultural experience by navigating her new Swiss colleagues’ sounds, particularly with a string quartet that she had barely played with while in Switzerland. This album is a bit of a surprise, combining different genres of Spoken Word, Electronic and World Music along with pointed lyrics. Her story talks about Exile, Black Love and its disappointments, but also a New Way, and Rainbows. Her bold exploration of orchestral arrangements augers well for what South Africans can envision and execute on popular stages. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pquueFbolyc

Here, she is discovering and applying a classical feel with strings, horns, and woodwinds performed by her European colleagues. But South African bassist, Shane Cooper, revs up the spirit with his bass slaps and beats, adding Afro-rhythms for the eager clapping hands of the young audience at that recording. Reworking songs from her Exile album, this compendium of orchestral jive does convince that Ntuli has been well on her way to compositional heights and meaningful collaborations.

Siya Makuzeni
Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2016, singer and trombonist, Siya Makuzeni, pulls on board a seasoned sextet in her 2016 released Out of This World album which includes the Bank’s 2017 winner for Jazz, Thandi Ntuli, on piano and keyboard . Besides playing trombone, Maluzeni also uses her vocal lyrics pedal to loop, sing and scat, portraying often wild, emoting sounds from her six compositions. A seventh song is Bheki Mseleku’s ‘Through the Years’, arranged by another Standard Bank winner, Afrika Mkhize. Makuzeni has been known for her vocal acrobatics ranging from howls and high pitched whines to mellow, lower register yowls which fuse her Xhosa sounds with some basic other roots of bebop and improvisational contemporary jazz. Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guUhDVFRUKE And her journeys…….

http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2016/07/05/ancestral-routes-in-jazz-a-journey-with-siya-makuzeni-standard-bank-young-artist-2016-for-jazz/

Amanda Tiffin
Singer, pianist, educator Amanda Tiffin’s Facing South album haunts with lyrical, thoughtful ballads meant to storytell and warm the ear with soft Latin and South African rhythms and tones. Songs are collaborative: Brazilian Guilherme Ribeiro on piano, accordion, vocal/body percussion and Dutch double bassist, Hein Van De Heyn, now homed in Cape Town, contribute their specific wizardries to guitarist David Leadbettter and Tiffin’s mix of lyrics and harmonies. Opening with ‘Peregrino’ , a Latin clap percussion with guitar/piano harmonies sets the stage for this delightful mix of the musicians’ own compositions. A syncronicity between Tiffin’s vocals and Ribeiro’s accordion in ‘Akkerman’ and ‘Hermato’ proves how expert these musicians can join their sounds at the right pitch and with believable emotions. The Tiffin/Leadbetter collaborations span over decades in Cape Town as one can hear in “Waiting for Stillness’and ‘Desert Road’. Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf7IuiieE6M And the delightful Portuguese lyrics with piano and guitar in ‘Pes na Areia’ (footprints in the sand) solidified with a subtle samba spark. This is a perfect album for any Lockdown – or liberation of spirit!

Shannon Mowday
Norway-based South African saxophonist, Shannon Mowday, gives an honest expose of what a female musician faces in the industry. Watch this 14 minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsU2YUQeotc, courtesy of the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA)( www.ctma.co.za). Capetonian Mowday specialises in saxophones and woodwinds as well as being a composer, director, educator and a mom. In her 4th of 5 very personal and insightful videos produced by CTMA, she talks about some frustrations and stumbling blocks she has experienced being a woman in the world of jazz when all she wanted to do was to play music. As Mowday was researching album covers of lead female saxophonists and musicians, she discovered the fantasy-orientated, sexist, and pictorial vulgarities of women posing (sometimes in compromising positions) with their respective instruments.

She wrote recently on her Facebook page on June 18, 2020:
“I’m working on my album cover and just for fun searched up some images of ‘saxophone covers’ from yester-year. WOW!!!!!!….and one ‘wonders’ why there are so many connotations of female saxophone players or how many ‘battles’ we have to fight before we have played a note…. Really??????? Whilst the ‘giants’ of jazz were doing their thing and being all creative and such and setting the ‘blueprint’ for jazz -this was the ‘image’ created for a woman with a saxophone….Yeah!! let’s have that ‘Me Too’ discussion again!!!! This is a really special site with so many more of all these horrors…….. https://flashbak.com/sax-appeal-48-sexy-saxophone-album-covers-385460/?fbclid=IwAR2rgRP9qL8UDqKNGM7TpyH4jpv85SpRfaH5hLudlfWncnvkTuOXxQA-IeY

Check out another CTMA video referred to by Mowday, with Amanda Tiffin talking about “Gender Dynamics in the Music Industry” (CTMA Moments with Masters). https://youtu.be/NSsRfpA_PbQ

For more info on Shannon Mowday: https://shannonmowday.musicaneo.com/ and follow her on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/shannon.mowday.1

Francesca Bioncoli

Italian-born singer Francesca Bioncoli who has made Cape Town her home, presents her debut album, Ikigai, which rings out mellow and lyrical expressions in her love-lorn messages. “Everything changes and evolves, I am the ocean that crashes on the rock” in Hunter; Bioncoli’s voice overs in most songs offers vocal conversations: “when the wind is blowing, it is hard to breathe” in Wind. This album is listenable, casting a pop-ish sound, but with little change of rhythm. …… Listen on Spotify.

Others….. to follow….. Stay tuned!

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