Institutionalized racism on the one hand, denial and defense of exile on the other – how are these experiences processed artistically? And how do they flow into the oeuvre and consciousness of artistic work?
The bassist and composer Johnny Mbizo Dyani, along with the drummer Makaya Ntshoko, were some of the first to go into exile in Europe and, with a strong commitment, embodied the struggle for South Africa’s cultural memory. Both of them, as representatives of others, taught us that the sources of jazz are African. And both of them combined the freedom of jazz expression with decidedly political commitment.
Jazz Against Apartheid – “Beyond exile” unites old fighters for elementary freedoms with new and future generations, thus bridging the gap between geography and history.
“Beyond exile” brings much needed awareness to the valiant work of South Africa’s cultural exiles such as Johnny Dyani, Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Makaya Ntshoko, Pinise Saul, Claude Deppa, and photographer Jürgen Schadeberg. Built around the timeless musical compositions of Johnny Dyani, “Beyond exile” is extending the 35 years of consistent musical performances to a collaboration with a sextet of dynamic rising stars of Eastern Cape Jazz, packed with talent and curiosity.
From its founding in Frankfurt am Main in 1985 as a progressive art platform and social movement that drew attention to the problems in apartheid South Africa, today it not only returns to its roots in the Eastern Cape, the native language of the Xhosa and the deep tradition of Xhosa spirituality, but in turn impacts back on German society, asking what developments are possible from (exile) history. This project is about such a profound cross-fertilization.
The musical collaboration and confrontation between the highly experienced JAA apartheid veterans from Germany, London and Canada together with Eastern Cape stars, as young as 24 years old, offers tremendous surprise and excitement for and a musical spectacle for South African and German audiences.
There is a national library in Frankfurt that has a permanent exhibition called, “Exile”, and it refers to the period of the Nazi regime, 1933 until 1945. And it shows the destinies of people who had to go into exile during those 12 years and what happened afterwards.
Neville Alexander, South African political scientist, said to Juergen, “Don’t be astonished if what will happen in South Africa, will be more or less the same, as what happened in Germany, that the ones who are went into exile are not welcome when they come home to their own countries.
This is an experience that German intellectual artists had when they had to leave, Nazi Germany during the Nazi period. When they returned, they were looked upon with suspicion or outright rejection. The quote “to return or to stay,” is a quote by a German author called Klaus Mann, he is the son of Thomas Mann. Jazz Against Apartheid changed this to say between returning and staying in exile. It’s that situation in-between. You’re not quite home at home. You’re in an existence in-between because of the experiences of the people in exile.
As Jürgen Leinhos explained, “If conditions are bad, for people, if the political conditions are awful, it’s usually the best people who leave a country and who have their works, done not in the country they live. It’s that people who go into exile, very often create marvellous works in exile in those conditions under exile. It was not just musicians, not just artists, also political people like Neville Alexander. Under the conditions of exile they do create wonderful works. And they teach us to listen. And this is why they’re so very helpful and fruitful for our society as well, for the society in which exiles live.”
This was part of the special mission of Jazz Against Apartheid, Jürgen Leinhos and his Frankfurt-based initiative “Kultur im Ghetto” (Culture in the Ghetto).
South Africa and Germany share inglorious, burdening experiences in their history. The apartheid system in South Africa was inspired in essential points by the race laws of the National Socialists in Germany. And, as a result, the experiences of exile that the cultural avant-garde of both countries went through. Structurally similar is also the ignoring of these very experiences up to the rejection and denial of the achievements of those who had to spend substantial parts of their lives in exile.
With Leinhos’s life’s work being recognised in South Africa with the prestigious OR Tambo presidential award (2021), a space was created for the political and cultural achievements of exiled South African jazz musicians together with the supportive creative and collaborative German jazz musicians to return to South Africa to share, inspire and create a fresh collaborative musical experience.
Although Dyani died shortly after the inaugural event in 1986, Leinhos has preserved this treasure for South Africans with roughly 100 Concerts, Poetry recitals, Workshops, Exhibitions and Symposia in Germany, Switzerland and the USA presenting the music of Johnny Mbizo Dyani. JAA is a testimony to the passionate struggle against apartheid, a biography of a life in exile and a complete documentation of 25 years of exile history.