Thursday, March 4, 2021

The rise and fall of ‘Sunday Jazz’ note

Jazz on Sundays has become a tradition but there actually was a time when church was the only mass activity you would associate with this day.

If you have been living in Gaborone long enough, you would probably trace this tradition to 1996 when Buddies Jazz Garden in No Mathata shopping mall (now called Talking Heads Nightclub) started playing jazz on Sundays. However, Soares Katumbela, the man who was behind both that initiative and the decks, goes back at least 17 years farther to tell the Sunday jazz story.

His story starts in 1979 when the Orapa Jazz Club was only place in Botswana that had a regular and structured Sunday jazz experience. Orapa diamond mine had just started operating two years earlier and Katumbela, who worked for Debswana Mining Company as an auto-mechanist, founded this club alongside Ephraim Mothapo, Boiki Sebubi, Tebogo Makgale and Lukie Sesinyi. These jazz enthusiasts would meet every Saturday to sample jazz tunes.

Three years later, Katumbela resurfaced in Francistown and repeated his Orapa feat by co-founding the Francistown Jazz Club and becoming secretary of its first committee. It was at this point that the earliest manifestation of present-day Sunday jazz came into being. Both members and paying non-members met at the now defunct New Yorker Nightclub on Sundays. Around this time, South Africa was under the yoke of apartheid and Francistown had a sizeable jazz-loving refugee population who were members of this club.

“These were the only jazz sessions in Botswana. Some of the people visiting Francistown from Gaborone would stay up late at these sessions and return on Monday morning. Occasionally, we would also host a jazz band from Bulawayo,” says Katumbela, mentioning Paul Lunga, Jazz Merchants, Jazz Impacto and Akwaba among Zimbabwean acts that would visit.

Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Afro Sunshine would also drop by to play gigs. For new acts like Makgadikgadi (made up of Kenny Ndaba and Cynthia Gaetsewe), the New Yorker jazz shows provided an opportunity to bloom as artists. Still maintaining links with Orapa, Katumbela would take some of these bands there. It so happened that the owner of New Yorker also owned another nightclub in Selebi Phikwe called “Talk of the Town.” Through this connection, the Francistown Jazz Club took its sounds beyond Ghetto to the copper mining town.

However, New Yorker would close down in 1989 and three years later, Katumbela opened Ritzma Sounds Beer Garden in a Francistown area called Kgaphamadi. In 1996, he relocated down south and through Buddies, introduced Gaborone to Sunday jazz. This is when the Sunday jazz craze really caught on and two years later, Katumbela opened Take 5 Nightclub, Botswana’s first – and to date, only nightclub that strictly played jazz every night.

“The club got very busy the second week of its opening,” he recalls.

However, three months later, the landlord and the tenant parted ways due to irreconcilable differences.

Looking back 34 years later, Katumbela has formed the opinion that “Sunday jazz has sort of died.” Exhibit 1: a majority of its patrons don’t really appreciate the genre but are just pining for the putative status associated with its followers. Exhibit 2: the early Sunday jazz fans – the ones that truly love the music – no longer go out because of familial and professional commitments. “Some of them are now CEOs and managers,” Katumbela says. Exhibit 3: the deejays play the same music over and over again, week in, week out, and some of that music is not even jazz.

That notwithstanding, Katumbela expresses some satisfaction that real Sunday jazz helped launch the careers of jazz musicians and deejays and also helped re-popularise live bands. Now a music promoter, Katumbela was one-third of a local collaboration that brought United States jazz maestros David Sanborn and Joe Sample to Botswana last year. He also manages local jazz musicians, Shanti Lo and Nnunu Ramogotsi.

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