Rhythm Changes: Rethinking Jazz Cultures
South African Stories
Jazz spaces are often mythologized as "the place to have been" or "the place to be seen" one need only think of Storyville, Bourbon Street, 52nd Street and how they, and spaces like them, have helped frame jazz's history and mythology. Jostine Loubser from the University of Salford gave a fascinating paper entitled You Are Now In Fairyland: Jazz from District Six, which examined the relationship between space and music in the particular case of District Six, Cape Town, South Africa in the 1970s. As related by Loubser, District Six was a vibrant community of colored residents, black Xhosa residents, Malay immigrants, Muslims, Christians, Afrikaans, whites and Indians. Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim once described District Six as "a city within a city," and interestingly, Loubser questioned Ibrahim's perceived role as a pioneer of South African jazz, citing instead guitarist/singer Cliffie Moses as one of the pioneers of the Cape Town sound, which was influenced by carnival music. For Loubser, District Six was comparable to Storyville, New Orleans, and a place where human activities and music intertwined successfully, with music and dance as the glue in the integration of the people.
Loubser described how the apartheid government systematically removed District Six's 60,000 inhabitants in accordance with its policy of racial segregation, almost entirely leveling the neighborhood in little more than a decade. The racial integration of District Six was cause for celebration, and in fact the neighborhood has been immortalized in film, poetry and song. In terms of significant worldwide migration, waves of refugees fleeing conflict, and an exodus from the countryside to the cities, Loubser's paper served as a timely reminder of the possibilities of integrated communities and music's role in fostering and cementing integration.
The question of a Cape Town jazz sound, as alluded to by Loubser, was examined in a paper entitled New Ways of Being South African: Canon Formation in South African Jazz and Elsewhere, by Marc Duby of the University of South Africa. Duby drew attention to the existence of the Cape Jazz Real Book, though he admitted that trying to define South African Jazz, "is like walking a tightrope between essentialism and nostalgia." Authenticity and essentialism were recurring themes throughout a number of papers and one of the more illuminating ones was You Ain't Gonna Hear Me 'Cause You Think You Hear Me: South African Jazz's Struggle Against European Cliché, by Jonathan Eato of the University of York. Taking the South African group the Blue Notes as his starting point, Eato assessed the influence of the group in Europe and the subsequent splinter groups, notably pianist Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, but the central tenet of his paper was the nature, or rather the perceived natureof these South African exiles' music that has influenced more than one generation of European jazz musician.