Jazz is back in South African townships – and it sounds great

image credit- britannica

Wine glasses clink and friends share laughs as the sunshine beats down onto the back yard of No 52, Kwa Sec, on a Sunday afternoon.

As the hubbub dies down, McCoy Mrubata plays a smooth solo on saxophone before the double bass and drums kick in a few bars later. A wave of applause follows and before long, people in the front row are up and dancing.

This is Jazz In The Native Yards (JiNY), a regular concert that sees some of South Africa’s best musicians take the stage in Gugulethu, one of Cape Town’s largest townships. Following a strict COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa’s winter months of June and July, the jazz event is restarting on Sunday with local singer-songwriter Tankiso Mamabolo.

Mrubata, meanwhile, had made the journey down from Johannesburg to play in his home city in May. He grew up in Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township, just six kilometres (four miles) northwest of Gugulethu.

Some of the country’s top jazz musicians grew up in these areas, but until JiNY came along, the music was not hugely accessible for people living here. Now, young local musicians are reclaiming the space and inserting themselves into Cape Town’s musical narrative which, for decades, has been tailored to the upper and middle classes.

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