Smooth sounds of success


There are very few artists able to balance staying true to their art yet able to appeal to a wide cross section of the public – this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz winner Siya Makuzeni is one of the special few.

Born in Mdantsane, the trombone player, vocalist, lyricist and songwriter is one of the main attractions at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Makuzeni, who has had a busy schedule since winning the 2016 Standard Bank award in October last year, is also working on a new album which she hopes to release soon.

“Since the award was announced, I got busy with the Songs From Jazztown production between October and December last year. I was then invited to the Safaricom Jazz festival in Kenya, as well as the Blues Dans Jazz festival in Mauritius,” Makuzeni said.

Directed by James Ngcobo, Songs of Jazztown, is a musical collage of tunes written by South African composers, and was performed at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre.

Makuzeni also recently opened for the Jazz Epistles Reunion showcase in Johannesburg.

The Jazz Epistles band consists of Abdullah Ibrahim (piano), Hugh Masekela (trumpet), Jonas Gwangwa (trombone), Kippie Moeketsi (alto saxophone), Johnny Gertze (bass) and drummers Makaya Ntshoko and Early Mabuza.

This was an experience she describes as one of her career highlights.

Being no stranger to the Grahamstown stage, this year the 33-year-old performs with the Siya Makuzeni Sextet, featuring Ayanda Sikade on drums, Benjamin Jephta on bass, Thandi Ntuli on piano, Sisonke Xonti on saxophone and Sakhile Simani on trumpet – each one a notable artist in their own right. Their performance was scheduled at the DSG Hall last night.

The former Stirling High School pupil’s love for music and jazz started when she joined the Stirling Primary School choir. She only picked up the trombone in 1997 while in high school.

Her former music teacher Alan Webster said it was always clear that Makuzeni had talent. He said she had an interesting and original view of music and quickly picked up the trombone at Stirling, becoming a creative member of the school’s jazz band.

“It’s wonderful that she has managed to make such progress in the competitive and difficult environment. The key to this would be her musical creativity and commitment,” said Webster, adding her combination of musical genres is certainly pioneering and a visible indication to young musicians that jazz is open to incorporation of modern music styles.

Throughout high school she attended the National Youth Jazz Festival in Grahamstown and participated in the National School’s Big Band, National Youth Big Band, and ultimately the National Youth Jazz Band, and also recorded with the National Youth Jazz Band.

She has toured the globe and shared the stage with some of South Africa’s music legends, including McCoy Mrubata, Feya Faku and Sibongile Khumalo.

Experiences that Makuzeni describes as all contributing to her growth.

“Having worked with all the musicians I have, I realised that without their input I wouldn’t be the person that I am, there was no way around and working with all those musicians has helped and is helping me find my voice.”

Makuzeni said winning the Standard Bank award was great recognition, within both the genre itself and within the industry. She feels it was a reward for all the hard work put in over the years.

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival has become one of the country’s most significant jazz development programmes and takes place at DSG in Grahamstown until Monday.

Makuzeni is just one of the Young Artist alumna who will be performing at this year’s festival and hopes that by doing so she will be inspiring a new generation of players.

Some of the country’s top performers have participated in this event which is now in its 24th year.

She joins an impressive list that includes Kesivan Naidoo, Beatenberg’s Matthew Field, The Kiffness duo of David Scott and Clem Carr, Tutu Puoane, Kyle Shepherd, Goldfish’s Dominic Peters and David Poole who met at the festival, Bokani Dyer, James Bassingthwaighte, Shaun Johannes, Monique Hellenberg, Ivan Mazuze, Dan Shout, Ayanda Sikade, Mimi Ntenjwa, Chris Engel, Prince Bulo, Mandla Mlangeni, Lwanda Gogwana, Sisonke Xonti, Thandi Ntuli and Melissa van der Spuy.

At the festival, Makuzeni will also deliver the vocals for the Afrika Mkhize Big Band’s Tribute Show to Bheki Mseleku tonight at the DSG Hall at 7.30pm. Tickets R100.

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