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THE music might have died in Sophiatown a long time ago, but just down the road in Westdene, it was thumping like crazy last week. The African Art and Jazz Meander, or aJaZZme, was launched at Afrikan Freedom Station on 30 May, to the cool sounds of the Herbie Tsoaeli Quartet.

It is an initiative of Sifiso ka-Silas Ntuli, with sponsorship from the national Department of Arts and Culture. He hopes “to develop a reliable and sustainable touring circuit in the cultural and tourism industries”, linking artists, promoters and cultural tour guides with venues around the country.

“Generally, aJaZZme will in future feature live musicians, dancers, poets, MCs and jazz DJs at different venues along a cultural-historical node,” says Ntuli, the executive producer of the Nuff Said Kollektive or Nsako, a cultural club that dominated the Jozi arts scene in the late 2000s. The club was documented in a film entitled Rebirth . . . what was Billie Holiday doing in Brixton?

Ntuli has worked in the music business both in the US and Canada and in South Africa for the last decade, including producing the now decade-old PolitBuro Sessions and the "Quintessentially Msawawa Home", the House Of Nsako.

The first show in the meander, at Nambitha’s in Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, will take place on Youth Day, 16 June, and will feature Andile Yenana, Feya Faku, Herbie Tsoaeli, Sydney Mnisi, Hlulani and Josie Field. The pilot project will be in Gauteng at Afro-centric jazzy venues, he explains. Besides Nambitha’s, venues will include Wish in Melville, Moyo at Zoo Lake, and Moyo in Pretoria’s Fountain Gardens.

Ntuli sees the meanders then rolling out nationally; he aims to have shows at 90 venues across southern Africa in a year’s time. “This will form the core of a regional music and culture touring circuit. Finally, aJaZZme is about bringing back an old South African tradition, that of cultural excellence.”

Another hope is to nurture the next generation of South African artists. Ntuli lists with nostalgia the musicians who played in Sophiatown – the Jazz Epistles, Hugh Masekela, Kippie Moeketsi and Abdullah Ibrahim, among others. “That was almost the end of music.”

He is concerned that since 1994, African culture has been “taking a nose dive”, with white music performance dominating. “A lot of our cats are dying – we can’t keep celebrating people in their death.”

He hopes too that the initiative will create jobs, by way of business units that are self-sustaining. The units will be a collective between the artists, the venues and the promoters, through which they will support and promote each other.

Nambitha’s Youth Day happening will start at midday, and run through to 6pm. There will be a shuttle from The Loft in Melville, at a cost of R50 for a return journey. Entrance to the venue is R100, and there will be a show every other Saturday at Nambitha’s.

Walking tours of Vilakazi Street will also be available, as part of the tourism element, conducted by Snowy Mattera of Rishile Tourism and Events. Thuli Mnyandu, the managing director of Vynil Image, is the promoter of the meander and the artists.

For more information, call Sifiso ka-Silas Ntuli on 072 223 2648.

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