The City of Johannesburg’s Arts, Culture and Heritage department delivered the 2023 Jazz in the Lights Festival in style at the Joburg Zoo. The festival, a collaboration with Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo and the Joburg City Theatre, was a unique production that will proudly go down as one of the most memorable live events in a long time.
The Joburg Zoo will certainly hold unique memories for the over 5000 audience members that gathered at the Jazz in the Lights Festival on Saturday, the 11 March 2023. The entire experience was nothing short of magical.
The programme featured a total of over 20 artists on the round band stand at the Joburg Zoo, giving the audience a 360⁰ experience. Gates opened early to queues of families ready to take a tour of the Zoo, to experience and interact with various animals whilst admiring the beautiful landscaping; capturing new memories that will certainly outlive us all.
The children were super excited to get up close and personal with animals and go on rides with ambient music providing the soundtrack to their revelry. The youth were dressed to the nines, creating enough 'content' for their social media pages while catching a glimpse of their favourate artists. The more matured crowd was mesmerized by the melodic jazz sounds that transported them to otherworldly places.
There was a joviality that permeated the air, a perfect companionship that resulted in an incident-free event and fulfilling musical experience. A touching moment was when a child lost a toy giraffe and it was found by an audience member and brought to the stage. Unfortunately the child, Samuel, was so distraught that he had already fallen asleep by then.
The festival was a success in so many respects; the curation was exceptional, the quality of performances outstanding, and the reception of the audience phenomenal. The weather came out to play and the sound was good enough for the elephants to dance along.
"What a beautiful experience we had on Saturday. It was humbling to witness how the audience received jazz music on the day. We have been stuck in Covid-19 without live events for a long time and this was a perfect reconnection for audiences, as much as it was for musicians. What I loved is that all the musicians, irrespective of genre, came with one goal in mind, to give the residents of Johannesburg an unforgettable experience. I am grateful to the City of Johannesburg for being part of this wonderful and historic moment," Sydney Mavundla, Musical Director of the festival, said.
The show was opened with an exceptional offering by the Morris Isaacson School of Music, which was followed by the talented youth of the National School of the Arts, doing covers that got the audience off their picnic blankets to dance along.
The tone for the festival was set by Neo Joshua Mabena, who gave a good lesson to late comers to always honour the starting time of a festival. His first tune titled "Umhlabathi" featured sterling work on the saxophone. He later featured Sydney Mavundla on trumpet in his set, with Tlale Makhene anchoring the songs beautifully on percussion.
The festival goers were spoiled for choice amongst the jazz artists who followed. These included McCoy Mrubata, Mandla Mlangeni, Sydney Mavundla, and later Mandisi Dyantyis.
The gears switched to keys when Mdu Mtshali performed to a highly engaged audience, many of whom were playing an imaginary piano to echo his brilliant renditions. There were more pianists to come, from the prowess of Thandi Ntuli, whose magical fingers serenaded the audience with a spiritually deep sound, to Keenan Meyer, who had a larger-than-life presence on stage and kept the audience glued to every note.
The humility of Sbu Mashiloane is almost palpable in his sound, and his relationship with the paino exposed the audience to the sheer depth and width of South African sounds. Nhlanhla Radebe, with his massive upright bass, had the audience eating from his fingertips.
The festival was fired up by hip hop virtuoso Stogie T, who was ushered in by DJ Hammathedude with the sound of Skwatta Kamp playing 'uMoya'. The eloquent lyricism of Stogie T erased any doubt why he deserved to be in the line-up.
The soaring baritone of Dumza Maswana surely got the lions pacing in panic, thinking their territory was in jeopardy. The irony of his thunderous voice having such a soothing effect was fascinating to observe. There were a range of exclamations during his repetoire, confirming just how much people loved his performance.
Spha Mdlalose then took over to soothe the audience with her velvet voice. Nobuhle gave a riveting performance which left the audience transfixed, never moving an inch. There was a change in the atmosphere when the Afrikan Jazz Pioneers and the Mahotella Queens ascended the stage, to much singing and dancing along. This was a perfect warm-up for maskandi legend Phuzekhemisi, who coaxed many into dancing Indlamu, the famous isiZulu dance routine. The festival reached a crescendo with Samthing Soweto, elevating everyone with his calm demeanor yet sensational performance. Although it was late in the day, almost past the cut-off time for the festival, the audience stubbornly waited for Mandisi Dyantyis to perform. True to his style, Mandisi didn't disappoint. His enchanting voice singing "Molweni, Molweni!" got the audience singing along with excitement. They sang their hearts out until the very last song of his set.
"The festival brought together a unique blend of music, lights, and zoo experiences for an unforgettable family adventure. We were lucky enough to catch performances by incredible artists," according to Waya Waya Magazine.
The venue presented a beautifully intimate setting that nudged everyone into the decorum of an indoor event but with all the elements of an outdoor live event. The organizing team from the City of Johannesburg deserve every accolade for their outstanding contribution to the success of this festival. As Sbu Mashiloane said, "My manager said to me that she has never dealt with such a professional outfit in South Africa. The communication, the payments and the logistics were all on point."
Special thanks to the team at the JCT and the JCPZ. We are grateful to Pundit Projects for the fabulous work they do in the country, a youth-driven company that has displayed enormous innovation in the way they execute live events. Special thanks to everyone that contributed to the success of this event, our amazing audience and all media houses that extensively covered the event.
The creative industries deserve more such capital injections to improve their competitiveness and economic viability. The City is open to partnering with the private sector to grow this beautiful artistic offering.