Years in the making, one full year of pre-production, the Jazz Against Apartheid Homecoming Tour stood up to its billing as a first for South Africa, the Eastern Cape and Buffalo City.
JAA Homecoming 2022 was a memorable premiere with its unusual combination of
- rehearsals among professional musicians from Great Britain, Canada and Germany and South African professionals;
- workshops of this mixed JAA set of musicians for students of music and the community around the Gompo Arts Centre the “rehearsal-gig” on Saturday – the night before the main event at the SBC – in House 87 as a first time ever concert of the JAA-veterans from Europe and Canada together with their South African JAA musical counterparts.
The strong commitment of these musicians and activists embodied the struggle for South Africa’s cultural memory. Thy illustrates that the sources of jazz as African and that the freedom of jazz expression lends itself to decidedly political commitment.
There is no greater story than this to show the international role South African jazz has played in equating improvised music with freedom. There is no greater role model than Johnny Dyani, his esteemed collaborators and the future generations from all over the world who have taken on his music. These musicians are like the prophets of freedom through music.
South African jazz exiles like Johnny Dyani exposed the African origin of jazz to Europe, which in turn laid open the universal route of jazz. A lot of that came through with the free music. It opened up a whole new chapter of music in Europe. Just like free jazz negotiated a space of co-operation on the band stand, so the music began to mix with politics and the need to create social harmony, particularly in South Africa.
Testimony to the spirit of activism through jazz
“People who are smiling when it´s raining just put seeds in the ground. “
This was uniquely fitting analogy (of a participant at Gompo Art Centre who shared this with Elisabeth Ehrhorn) for what happened during the JAA Homecoming 2022 in South Africa´s Eastern Cape. Fitting not just for what happened at the Gompo Arts Centre in Duncan Village or at House 87 in East London, but also at Steve Biko Centre in King Williamstown.
JAA Homecoming 2022 was a remarkable testimony of the ability to endure complications and deal with handicaps, to overcome stress and take on responsibility to make things happen; to dare to get involved and explore the possibilities to develop further in one´s abilities and confront challenges – and ultimately to enjoy the communal and liberating spirit of the music.
“What is really important? What really matters?” These questions pop up arise when difficulties arise. The answers JAA Homecoming gave were visible and audible: Not giving in to minor upheavals but keeping in mind the objectives ahead – that is: Sharing the vitality of this music, promoting the existence of the forgotten exile (and exiled) art of Johnny Dyani – as one artist among others who was forced to leave the country; and inciting honor and pride for what artists like him fought for and achieved abroad while others, remaining in South Africa, struggled to free themselves from apartheid. Keeping in mind that the fight against apartheid was a shared fight: fought in many different areas, with many different people but with one objective: to end the terror of overall injustice caused by apartheid rule.
One incident at Gompo Art Centre may illustrate this particular point: When the MC of the JAA Homecoming event, told the audience at the workshop that Johnny Dyani was born in Duncan Village and therefore that “he was one of us” there was a huge sigh of astonishment… “One of us?” this sigh signalled – “Are you sure? One of us who left the country, fought against apartheid from abroad, and got other people involved who fought with him and supported his cause – and then, to top it all – came back spiritually with his music and colleagues playing his music, keeping alive the memory and rich cultural roots of his South African home?” These sighs, not just one, but several, were sighs of pride, wonder and astonishment – and joy to be part of this amazing story right there and then….
“Jürgen and I would like to thank all of you wholeheartedly and once again. Without your unwavering support and dedication to JAA´s Homecoming, this amazing event in December would never have happened. All of us would have been poorer for it – and I, Elisabeth, believe most of all: the youth and people of Duncan Village would have been poorer.”elisabeth ehrhorn
The Buffalo City Homecoming of 2022 provided the return of Jazz Against Apartheid and the legacy of musical prodigy Johnny Dyani to his roots in the Eastern Cape. For the first time ever “old” fighters for elementary freedoms through jazz were united with new and future generations.