ART STATE publisher Mpho Matsitle shares a reflection on Gig Culture’s birthday edition of Jazz On The Lawn that took place on Sunday March 28 at Elrido Guest Lodge.
“I love days like these,” the Shaun Escoffery refrain welcomes us. Familiar eyes start trickling in. A sign of the times if ever there was one, we have grown accustomed to recognising people by their eyes; what with most of the facial real estate overtaken by masks. No one, curiously – encouragingly – is wearing the complimentary masks offered upon entry together with the GigCulture plastic cup. That can only mean everybody took care to bring their own. We might just beat this thing yet.
The obligatory been-a-whiles are exchanged. There’s a palpable awkwardness to the whole affair; we may be familiar with each other. Hell, even love each other. But the only thing that brings us together, the glue of our relationship – Jazz On The Lawn – has been missing for the greater part of a year. We are afraid to ask questions that in normal times are most banal, but in the new normal border on being incendiary: “how are you?” What with the R300million that has grown feet from the coffers of the National Arts Council, and the occupation currently agwaan at the province’s Performing Arts Council. It is almost as if being here – performing and enjoying art – is signing your name in the register of sellouts.
And in fact, given the times, there’s an actual register that one signs upon entry. Almost mechanically we tick no on any of the symptoms listed. No Covid formed against us shall stand in the way of this third anniversary of Jazz On The Lawn. And – no small matter this – founder Lesley Jennings’ birthday. Simply because, notwithstanding the personal and political struggles, we love days like this.
A vibe for the whole family. Credit: wreffimages
Some gossiper asks me, as the self-appointed chief art patron of Mangaung, to confirm that I have been at every single Jazz On The Lawn there ever was. My knee-jerk reaction is to say yes; I remember the one time I sped across the N1 on my way from Johannesburg loathing to miss some instalment. A similar rush floods my memories, after I had overslept and almost missed Jess Moonchild’s debut on the Jazz On The Lawn stage. But lying has never been in my constitution. I suspect, I confess to the gossiper and their partner, I missed the very first one. I was out of the city. And maybe two more, for the self same reason. And right there I realise how much of an institution Jazz On The Lawn is – it has come to occupy the poetic memory, and has collapsed time completely. Three years, Lesley insists it has been. But for many of us, there is no great before nor an ever after. This is our life – we have made friends here, found love here, discovered ourselves here.
The institutionalisation of Jazz On The Lawn is no accident of luck, but a well-managed process that has been characterised by consistency, communication, quality and creativity. The partnerships GigCulture has forged are quite visible. Almost every aspect of the event has been there from the very beginning – the sound team, the ushers, the bar, the artists and audience (dubbed ‘GigCitizens’ in the nomenclature of the organiser). Unlike many of the events in the city, this one doesn’t operate underground. By the time you come across a poster on some lamp post, chances are you have received an email from Gig Culture, a WhatsApp broadcast message and a Facebook tag from Lesley. Before the health pandemic, none of these was even necessary – for we all knew where we needed to be on the last Sunday of every month. Even the imbeciles who subscribe to the apocryphal tall tale that nOtHIng hAPPeNs iN bLoEMfoNteIn admit Jazz On The Lawn as an exception. One can be so bold to suggest that if you don’t know about Jazz On The Lawn, you took a resolute and firm decision not to know.
“How did you come to know about this event?” My companion asks, being a lenywere in the city. “Oh but of course; we are Jazz On The Lawn!” Almost scandalised we retort. We have zoomed right past being patrons, this is now our identity. Covid – in concert with the pandemic of philistinism rampant in the province’s institutions of (f)arts and (v)ultures – has rendered us without identity. Ilolo. Natives of nowhere, cosmic hoboes, homeless.
Pako on percussion, Bux on bass, Mmusi on keys. Credit: wreffimages
But Elrido Guest Lodge – the new home of Jazz On The Lawn – welcomes us nonetheless. The carpet lawn makes me forgo my chair and plonk myself on the floor. The trees, green and graceful, seem to nod their approval at our presence. It is but a slight breeze that causes them to dance so. The breeze is felt almost to the bone – it is autumn in Bloemfontein after all. With the northern suburbs all bushy and spacious, add that to the swimming pool right smack in the middle of the garden, it promises to be a chilly evening. My companion, hailing from the ampoer-tropical Zululand plateau, is already curling into herself. We could do with some fire.
‘Dumelang!’ Seraga delivers his demand for recognition of his presence into the mic. The speakers carry it faithfully, without offending the tranquility of the venue. Kudos to Danie van der Merwe, the sound engineer for the day and all days like these before. To Seraga’s dismay, his demand does little to command our attention away from our cyclical orgy of hi-how-are-yous. He’s never been the shy type. Bloemfontein knows him only too well, for a long time as an MC extraordinaire who could fire up any audience – no matter how dull the show – with his musical comedic antics, but lately as a hitmaker. He chides us for not giving him enough attention. Nay – for not giving his beauty enough attention. To wit he starts posing and prancing about, like a supermodel on a runway. A spontaneous applause erupts.
He has us and doesn’t let go. Colourful Souls, the mainstay band of Mangaung, kicks into gear as the muso exalts our individual and collective beauty. It isn’t just because we are narcissists that we pay him attention, he – unlike many who make the claim – actually has a good story to tell. With Obakeng ‘Bux’ Mophosho feigning indifference on bass, Pako Golelelwang punctuating every punchline on the drums, and Mmusi Seshotlo’s naughty glint on keys, Seraga uses a medley of cover and original afro-pop hits to weave his cute little thing of romance, of girl meets boy, of the pleasures of love – all told in comedic gusto.
Always a hoot at Jazz On The Lawn. Credit: wreffimages
Hot on Seraga’s heels S’nazo – sultry, sweet, and oh so melodic – took to stage with the same trio. All afternoon long she walked the lawns, hi-how-are-you’d, laughed and loved like the rest of us plebs. But as she steps to the mic, after a costume change, she is completely transformed. And simultaneously transforms the piece of ground cordoned off for the performers into something much grander than itself. It is all in her voice; commanding. As soon as she belts out the first notes phones are up in the air capturing for posterity. This, even a cautious bettor would wager, is most probably one of those ‘a star is born’ moment.
One gentlemen stealths his way from the back rows, cellphone in hand, camera on. He doesn’t seem to mind his steps, eyes fixed on the six inch glow in his hand. He inches ever so closely, no care in the world, until he has encroached past the iron curtain between performer and audience, his camera right in the face of the seemingly unbothered diva; the star sure is ready for the paparazzi.
The birthday girl, Lesley Jennings, on saxophone. Credit: wreffimages
Such is the power of her voice, it reels one in like a seasoned angler. You find yourself completely lost in her melodic universe. A universe so vast, it expanded to accommodate yet another sun: Lesley dropped her cap as the resident badass organiser and Ms Party to take up her reed, joining S’nazo on stage for the last leg of her act. S’nazo picked up where Seraga left off with the Mzansi romantic repertoire. Except here there was a bit of pain as well. For as the adage goes: ba tla o hurda. Her rendition of the heartbreak classic, Katse Semenya’s Matswale, saw the right flank of the garden transform into the Kempton Park World Trade Centre for a prolonged Codesa that forced the band into overtime after they thought they were done for the day. The people were not done dancing, ergo the band could not stop playing.
When they eventually did, the intermission – manned by the evergreen DJ Levince – didn’t last long. A substitution on bass was swift as Sino Msolo took the sundowners set with Yamkelani Beyi now providing the canvas. Mfundo Dube of Liquid Culture, the official mixologist of Jazz On The Lawn, kept the cocktails flowing. I had settled on some cinnamon concoction that was majestic on the tongue but did very little in providing cover for bad decisions.
Now a national sensation, Sino cut his teeth on this very stage for some years, performing with this very band. His mere step on to the stage produced screams reminiscent of orgasmic ecstasy. He soon calmed it all down with his mellow crooning. Sans any hesitation, the rowdy crowd quit their hollering and listened. Attentive almost as if an infant on their parent’s chest, listening to a lullaby. Sino has always mastered the art of silence in his music, the pauses in his soothing voice are as much an instrument as the notes that accompany them. Part of his genius lies in those minuscule pockets of space where time completely collapses, and being is elevated towards divinity.
Sino Msolo rocks from the cradle to the rave. Credit: wreffimages
Part of it. The other is in turning on the party. Which is exactly what he did as the sun settled for its daily slumber. He introduced this the audience of his great before to hits he worked on with the likes of Shimza and Sun El Musician. None however came close to the absolute ruckus caused by his feature on Kelvin Momo’s Madlamini, which he closed off the day with. In recent times DJs have sought to take us back to church, with Madlamini we are transported back to the playground. Which is what Sino turned the Elrido gardens into, he commanded all to pair up and take space front stage. Once assembled and in the groove, he let the music play and joined in the fun of this playground singing game. For those few minutes, for the active and passive, much needed lightness coloured our lives. We could breathe.
Alone with his guitar, Sino soothes us into meditative silence; with a DJ in tow, he jolts us into redemptive rupture. This versatility to rock us from the cradle to the rave is the full expanse of his musical genius. On this day of Lesley’s and Jazz On The Lawn’s birthday celebration, we got to experience the full range of his talent. Days like these have unfortunately been too far and few in between. Vaccine-willing, we hope to experience more of them.
FEATURED IMAGE: S’nazo serenading the crowd. Credit: wreffimages