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Written byTyla Burnett

A Jazz Festival daydream at Market Square.

I had been wanting to attend the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this year with a zeal and a resolve unusual to myself. But after the pin dropped on the status of my bank account (as I’m sure many native South Africans understand) I was quickly deflated by my chances in the lead up to the show. However, on a fortuitous stroll up Kloof street one afternoon, my eyes were blessed by a poster reminding me that the gracious hosts of the festival always put on a free show in Greenmarket square, which happens the day before the true festivities of the Jazz Fest begin in the prestigious CTICC. This got me ruminating on how special it is that they chose, and continue to choose to provide a platform to not only the artists, so that they might be able to reach a broader audience in the city.

But also to a broader and less monetarily fortunate audience, so they might attend a legendary show they otherwise would miss. The organisers don’t have to put on a high-budget one-night Jazz festival for the city at large, right in the pulsating heart of Cape Town, but they did. And that’s truly special, or at least I think so. In an age where nothing comes free and profit is the bottom line, the CTIJF blessed us with a night of pure magic and freedom that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. It glowed with a touch of romance and festive cheer you might not find in the luxury and ultimately exclusive halls of the CTICC. With this stewing in my mind I hopped myself onto a train into town and waltzed my way into a vibrant night of unity, inclusivity and most importantly, Jazz. 

In an age where nothing comes free and profit is the bottom line, the CTIJF blessed us with a night of pure magic and freedom that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

On arrival I was greeted by a grand scene, Cape Town in all its glory and chaotic splendour. After a walk through one of my favourite parts of the city – the market district on St Georges Mall – I slid into the buzz of Greenmarket square where I could already hear Jazz music emanating. After a quick caffeine power up from a corner cafe in the square – which was to become my local for the night – I was welcomed by the sight of an eclectic mix of all who encapsulate our city. Mainstay Hipsters to homeless wanderers. Long dread Rastas to tannies in camping chairs waiting for a Jol. White, Black and Coloured blurred to Capetonian. Old, young and trendy mixed into a crowd. Hippy, high class and everyday people melded into a Jazz vortex. Indian, Muslim and Xhosa all became irrelevant as for just one fleeting moment we all joined to celebrate life, music (Jazz in particular) and our treasured troubled city for a night of unspoken peace and reverie. 

The first performer I saw was a ten-year-old DJ named Sophia whose father had taught to spin. At the tender age of 4, she had apparently shown a keen interest in her dad’s musical noodlings and now hosts her own radio show. While she warmed the crowd up in the afternoon with a mix of House and SA classics I got to daydreaming about where I was and why. As I stared down at the cobblestones beneath my feet, which never fail to evoke an image of old cities and ancient ways, my mind was quickly cast back to a bygone era. What dramas played out there, what scenes of old Africa, of a gathering place for people trying to haggle with survival, and a hub of connection in the young city. Now Greenmarket square usually resembles a tourist trap, and maybe that is an image that works broadly in our city. Where the bright lights and tinsel glamour of the CBD is reserved for the status quo, and anyone with enough of a Buck to sink a few cold ones. An increasing rarity amongst our times of political turbulence and modern survival. 

I looked up from my musing however and saw again a gathering of souls, a unity of culture and a pride in the city, all taking place in a space that was intended just for that. After local rising Jazz stars Kujenga, my favourite band in SA at the moment and the undoubtable highlight of the night. I found myself stopping in for another refill on my pint. Me and my ever talented partner in crime, the photographer behind all my articles – the enigmatic and insightful Cobe – decided to change pace from the bourgeois cafe we had been frequenting to a hole in the wall shebeen opposite – one that we otherwise might never had entered on another night. When we walked in we immediately bumped into one of the bartenders from Evol that Cobe had photographed from my last article, he was ecstatic when we showed him his face featured on the CCC website so we idly chatted, ordered a few quarts and made our way outside to listen to Judith Sephuma, a local Afro Jazz legend in SA.

Standing there nursing our beers we inevitably attracted the attention of some of the locals who began querying us as to our presence and mayhaps a free beer? They may have taken their chance but soon we all got to shaking hands and exchanging stories and it was all done in the good spirit and genuine curiosity born of the moonlit madness of the night. Standing there in the shabeen looking over a crowd of more than a thousand people to a Jazz festival stage set up in Greenmarket square, it felt to me as though I were in the heart and pulse of the mother city. Cape Town is a collision of worlds, and that’s what it felt like to be there. But we were all gathered in unity. No violence to be seen, just in drunken celebration. Drunk on life, on cheap beer. On brotherhood and finest Jazz music. After meeting these chance encountered strangers I wondered, why do we put on shows in the first place? Is it for monetisation? Or is it for art, for community, for togetherness, is it for the soul? 

After meeting these chance encountered strangers I wondered, why do we put on shows in the first place? Is it for monetisation? Or is it for art, for community, for togetherness, is it for the soul?

With foreigners often unable to understand the feeling of anxiousness we feel in our city at night, unlike they do at home, I wondered, is this what it’s like to feel truly alive on the streets of Cape Town? I know from experience that one can drink and be merry at all hours of the night on the streets of London without feeling the need to look over your shoulder, but how many of us can say the same of home? Of Long Street, Lower Main, or anywhere? We’re so boxed in we often don’t even know our own neighbours. This made me ponder, where has our sense of solidarity, shared spaces and unity gone? Our sense of pride in our home? We all crave it and we strive to create it, but there’s a divide somewhere, and its safety, it’s the all powerful bottom Dollar, its community.

I was left to imagine a Greenmarket square of a different era in my mind’s eye, or maybe it has always been this way in our wild and tumultuous continent. Yet here for one night I found myself truly alive in a city where people die in the streets every day. Seeking safety through payment for exclusivity is the cultural norm of the day. And yet here we all were, together. Mixed in all our diversity, brought together by the very same performances and settings that often wall us in behind bouncers, wrist bands and barbed wire. It’s naive to assume that if we tore down all our guarded walls that we would live in bliss, unity and mutual respect indefinitely. But for just a brief second, in Greenmarket square, I felt it was possible.

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