Tsala Jazz is a dynamic music and lifestyle event that was launched in Soweto in 2007, and has evolved beyond just sound. Like a robust jazz standard capable of transforming lives, it has grown into a movement, the mission of which is to spread the art form far and wide.
We spoke to Mthuthuzeli Ndlebe, one part of the two-man collective of Tsala Jazz, who told us about the movement’s vision to make it accessible and break stereotypes.
What is Tsala Jazz and how was it conceived?
Tsala Jazz is a movement that started as an event. We started off hosting festive events around Christmas time, but because of our love for jazz, we turned it into a movement, and it has grown in that way in the past decade. We’ve kept it going is because we would like to do our bit in the music industry to preserve the art form of jazz and the other genres that fall under the mother-title, which is jazz.
Who is Tsala Jazz?
Tsala Jazz has been a two-man show since 2007. It was founded by two brothers who are also business partners: Mlulelo Ndlebe, as technical director, and myself as the creative and operations director of the company.
It all started in Soweto – has it branched out to other areas?
We are gradually growing. We still have the same venue in Soweto, but have branched out to other venues and spaces, doing different things and collaborating with artists in other formats. We curate art projects, whether it’s dance, fine arts or just music, while adding a touch of jazz to it. We also act as consultants and host events for other people.
What has the movement achieved and what’s your vision for the future?
We’re driven by the lack of social integration and social upliftment in our community, which is Diepkloof in Soweto. We have been creating jobs in our community through Tsala Jazz and have also been able to change the mind set of the youth and their attitudes towards jazz as an art form. And we’ve grown to a level where we’re working with both up-and-coming as well as established artists. Currently, we’ve been appointed to assist with Beleza Global Sounds to host Nicola Conte on his local tour as assistant production managers.
How would you describe the local jazz scene?
That’s a complex question. Internally, jazz is a mainstream genre played everywhere, even at shopping malls, and according to my reality, South Africa is the only country where it isn’t. I think the status quo has made it very inaccessible and a genre played by only a certain crowd. Our primary cause is to break that and introduce it to young people, especially while they are young. We also need to realise that we have a great jazz scene, and if everyone were to enjoy it, our jazz musicians would have greater opportunities for employment. At the moment, jazz artists don’t have employment, and there are very few jazz events that take place in the country. We have very few jazz venues and that is because the media doesn’t play enough jazz on the radio, making it a taboo. Jazz events are also often hosted in very niche environments but we want to break the stereotype and show that we can have jazz out in the streets as a block party or even picnic.
How has travel played a role in your love for music and Tsala Jazz as a movement?
I’ve travelled quite a lot across Europe. I’ve visited France, Spain, Germany and Portugal, doing a lot of arts projects there. So every trip I take to these countries is a chance for me to learn more about what I do. So I try to learn how music defines their cultures; so it’s really shaped my mind and opened doors in terms of my contribution to jazz in South Africa.
Are there plans to expand into the rest of the continent?
I’ve travelled to the SADC region, but I’m still looking forward to doing projects in other African countries. One of our projects is to have collaborations and cultural exchange programmes between SA artists and other artists from the continent. We’re still toying with the idea but it is something that is in the pipeline, and will possibly open doors to events or projects in other countries.
Any hidden gems you’d like to tell us about?
I’ll start here at home because we have so much talent. I get to be instructed to a new jazz artist at almost every week. We have a lot of jazz artists that have credentials and can perform very well, but don’t have enough opportunities. There is Zoe Modiga, Thuto Motsemme, Gugu Shezi, to name a few. The list is just endless and grows every day. We need change-leaders out there and people to create opportunities for these gems to get out there. We cannot have gems that will just take their talent to the grave.
Tsala Jazz hosts an annual picnic and concert at Mhlanga Park in Soweto on New Year’s day, which promises good wine, champagne bars, grills and, of course, a coveted selection of jazz artists and DJs on stage.