Judith Sephuma does Aquajazz

A perennial darling of Cape Town’s jazz crowds, Judith Sephuma returns to the city that saw her start her career to sing above the waves at the unique Aquajazz evening.

Judith Sephuma does Aquajazz

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 12/13 December 2009.

South African Music Award winner and frequent nominee, Judith Sephuma, hails from Polokwane but studied and, quite literally, found her voice in Cape Town. She graduated from UCT’s College of Music to in 2000 and, already a firm favourite on the local live scene, released her debut, “A Cry, A Smile, A Dance” in 2001. Produced by fellow Cape Town alumnus, Selaelo Selota, it earned her platinum sales and concert bookings countrywide and internationally (Holland, Mexico and Senegal, amongst others). Her new album, “Change Is Here”, a follow-up to the sophomore, “New Beginnings” sees the pop-jazz songstress continue to create an audience-winning melding of African roots with contemporary jazz and hints of R’nB.

Judith answers the telephone from her Gauteng base with the sounds of voices and a bit of clattering in the background. “I got to my sister’s place and she hijacked me,” she laughs. “I was supposed to just drop off the kids, but she said I must cook!” Quips about a new career as a celebrity chef elicit more laughs and she quickly notes that she’s looking forward to returning to Cape Town. “I was in Cape Town last weekend, doing something very small, but mainly visiting and, let me tell you, I can;t wait to get back. I haven’t performed for the people in a whole and we were doing the programme today to make sure that there’s something to appeal to the fans I know I have there. Whenever I play in Cape Town, it is a beautiful gig…”
Even when the gig is the innovative Aquajazz, and the singer will be on a stage that’s floating on the sea? She guffaws again. “I was thinking about just that – I have sung on the ‘Symphony’ (cruise-liner) before and I actually got a bit seasick. But I have sung on the floating stage before, at the IPL Gala Dinner at the One & Only, and I was fine. It was a a wonderful stage, with amazing lighting and really beautifully done. I’m looking forward to seeing the Aquajazz stage, and being right there, with the sea and the mountain.”
Aquajazz is part of the month-long Aquafestival, which also features Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Clegg, Freshlyground, a Miriam Makeba tribute starring Sibongile Khumalo, AquaBallet, AquaCarols and AquAbba, amongst others – and starts next weekend with AquaOpera. AquaJazz sees Sephuma sharing a stage with vocalist Gavin Minter and veteran Cape jazz maestro Robbie Jansen, all backed by an 18-piece Big Band conducted by Prof. Mike Campbell.
How does it feel for the singer to be on stage beside her one time mentor? “Ah, Mike Campbell,” she sighs. “Playing with him reminds me that you never stop learning. Every time I perform with him, there is something new that I learn. Also, working with a big band or an orchestra is not like working with a small band, where you have to maintain control. Here, you have to forget about being the leader. That is part of more growth, not letting yourself try to be in charge, and making sure you focus on the other people as well. It is very challenging, but very wonderful.”
One of the most loved songs from “Change Is Here” is “Ask Me Who I Am”, one of four English works on the album. Written about the relationship of love between mother and daughter, especially during the sometimes confusing teenage years, and features Judith’s daughter, Tebelelo. “I always open up and I always share in my music,” Judith explains. “I believe that God has given me a gift, and most of the time I feel it is definitely not just for me; it is to share. I tell about the personal and hopefully people take something positive from it, rather than trying to take it and use it negatively. Use it for your benefit if it can be of help – that is what I believe this whole thing is about.”
Looking at 2010, Judith can scarcely contain her excitement at the planned recording of her next album. “I am so ready for the next one,” she gleams. “If everything goes according to plan, I should have another one out in August next year.” With plans like the album’s producer and any collaborations under wraps, she is, at least, able to speak about its musical direction.
“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to sound like, but I kind of know what it’s going to feel like,” she says. “I have always been an inspired and an inspirational person, and I want to go deeper into that inspiration, and give the fans more of that. I like being inspired by things that we go through on a daily basis; our challenges as people, and seeing their situations – whether they are tough or not so tough. I don’t think that inspiration is very far from us; it’s around us every day, and it’s what builds us. I try to encourage people to do better, and to be better, to be their best. The sky should not be the limit for anyone; nobody actually said this is where we should stop, so why not try harder?”
Judith Sephuma stars in Aquajazz with Robbie Jansen, Gavin Minter and the 18-piece Big Band Jazz conducted by professor Mike Campbell on Friday, 1 January (North Wharf, V&A Waterfront (at the Aquarium entrance), 8.30pm; details Aquafestival.com). She also sings with tenor Garth Witten and the Steenberg Choir at Steenberg Estate on Wednesday, December 16 (adults R110, children R55; details and bookings 021-7132222)

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 12/13 December 2009. Find out more on Tonight.co.za .