National Arts Festival sets stage for young creatives

Afrika Mkhize will direct the 2019 Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival in Makhanda
Afrika Mkhize will direct the 2019 Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival in Makhanda
Image: Supplied

The National Arts Festival (NAF), which starts in Makhanda on Thursday June 26, gives artists a platform to break new ground.

Starting as Youth Month winds down, it plays a pivotal role in showcasing the innovative ideas and resilience of young creatives.

NAF acting executive producer Nobesuthu Rayi says the festival is part of a broader South African arts ecosystem that nurtures both audience and talent.

"We hope it creates a respect for the arts that will see it better funded and integrated into people’s lives.

“It all begins with developing emerging talent and inspiring young minds.

“We want to spark that appetite to be on the stage, to create work – but also to make people want to come and see the arts and to instill a cultural habit.

“We hope that the impact of what happens on the stages, galleries and open spaces of Makhanda goes way beyond the 11 days of the festival.”

A key project in a music environment that offers limited opportunities for mentorship and exposure is the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival, which is a one-of-a-kind programme for jazz musicians aged 19-25 years to receive mentorship and exposure, this year under the direction of Afrika Mkhize.

Another key element of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival is the Standard Bank National Schools’ Big Band; a space for the country’s top young school jazz musicians to perform and experience live performance in a festival setting alongside many of the greats of jazz from SA and abroad.

Reading the biographies of artists on the main Standard Bank Jazz Festival bill – such as Bokani Dyer, Mandisi Dyantis, Shane Cooper and Justin Sasman – it is evident that it was in the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival and Standard Bank National Schools’ Band where many of them gained the recognition and nurturing they needed to forge a career in music.

This year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Mandla Mlangeni, affirms this: “It feels like I have come full circle from being in the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival almost 12 years ago.

“It is largely because of the efforts of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival that South Africa enjoys a thriving music scene today, bringing learners into contact with top-flight jazz musicians from all around the world who congregate at NAF and, for six full days, give all their time to nurturing and guiding young musicians.

“The foundations for a thriving jazz scene take root at the Youth Jazz Festival. I believe if such systems are kept in place, music in South Africa will continue getting better.”

The annual Children’s Concert, this year performed by the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Orchestra, affords children a captivating opportunity to understand the workings of an orchestra and the making of music.

● Further information on the festival, which is from June 27 to July 7, from its website