Monday, March 30, 2020

2019 – The Year That Was…

The jazz world received 2019 with excitement and high expectations because of the 2018 announcement of the bid to host 2020 International Jazz Day (IJD) in Cape Town. Different stakeholders put their all behind the preparation of the major event in April of 2020. Now that the year is drawing to a close, the various countries have started registering their planned activities for the month of April. In fact, when you go through the various IJD social media platforms they are flooded with posts of countries which have registered their events. What better way to end the year and it is such a big win for jazz!

Botswana has seen a growth in the initiatives such as WDP Crib Shindig, a concept of events hosted at people’s homes on a rotational basis. In some cases, the events are held in parking lots. This initiative has hosted musicians from all walks of life and it has created an opportunity for both the newcomers and the veterans. I have attended a few and I like the atmosphere as well as the general mood.

Some of the jazz composers of note that started with the It Has To Be Jazz® project have progressed into recording their own projects. We are proud of Sebaga Rabantheng, who is currently halfway through composing some of the material for her forthcoming album. She has also braved the stormy arts industry business and started a partnership in an initiative simply dubbed Jam & Soul.

There was a wave of collaborations and one that comes to mind is the Trans-Kalahari Quintet featuring Matthew Dacso from the United States of America (USA) and the Botswana living legend John Selolwane accompanied by Zakes Gwaze, Arthur ‘Makhwenkwe’ Mengwe, Brian Nyakurukwa and Lekofi Sejeso. This continues to grow as a number of artists continue to tour and participate in cultural exchange programmes throughout Africa and other continents.

The best gift for the year was the presentation of the South African Song Book by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It was first presented in the USA featuring some of the South African artists. But the real prize was presentation on the opening night at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz by both South African Jazz Orchestra and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis.

We have seen a major leap with some of the incredible jazz composers like Nduduzo Makhathini who secured a recording contract with the prestigious Blue Note label. Over the years we have always known the quality of the majority of jazz composers from Africa and the recent events are indeed a living proof of confirmation of what we have been saying.

The introduction of jazz poetry has grown remarkably in the last 12 months with most recordings accompanied by jazz ensembles. I must admit though, that some of the earlier attempts for a combined jazz – poetry compositions struck me as odd in that it took some getting-used-to to establish a clear understanding of what the poets were trying to achieve.

Social media was not left behind, especially the effects of Your Story function which seem to tell a lot more just from pictures. The various jazz groups have utilised this function to advertise their events, including any new recordings. Instagram continues to do wonders for on the spot dissemination of information.

This year has experienced an unbelievable increase in the participation of visual artists, jazz photographers, graphic designers, journalists and authors who specialise in both documentation and archiving. This is the most welcome idea as it will help in ensuring a clear understanding of how musicians and jazz composers functioned in the jazz space. Of course, this also means archiving material that future jazz generations can have as a point of reference.

There are media houses that took a conscious decision to support jazz over the years and Sunday Standard is one of a handful that has and continues to lead by example in this area. The newspaper’s relationship with the It Has To Be Jazz® project is nothing short of ‘match made in heaven.’ We have been able to reach and grow our following in the last 12 months and grew further with our articles published on Sunday Standard online platform. We only hope that other media houses will follow suite in the forthcoming year.

Seeing that this was our third year, it only made sense to research further for purposes of evaluating our progress and measuring it against our medium-term goals and strategies. I guess to a very great extent we borrowed from some of the great companies like Coca Cola. I would like to share results from one of the elements that formed our research and that is branding and brand management. When we chose the brand colours as black and white, there were a number of people who really never thought much of the impact. Research results show that jazz folks have always associated jazz with ‘black & white’ colours. The explanation in most cases seems to be vague, with most likening the colours to the black and white movies and album sleeves era. The majority could easily identify the It Has to Be Jazz® logo which was designed by Leene Mogobe, an accomplished brand manager from LMK Designs (Pty) Ltd. Strange as it may sound, they could not provide a detailed description of all the logo features. But hey! For us that was good enough. After all, very few people can tell you with certainty if the words Coca Cola on both sides of the container are in the same direction. That is, if they read from left to right.

It is end of the year and the festive season is upon us. Your support has been phenomenal and the It Has To Be Jazz® project team wishes you all the best and be safe. We hope to see you next year. Great things are planned for 2020.

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