Artscape Youth Jazz: Belhar Music, Touch, ESP, Incredibles & Little Giants

The annual Distell Artscape Youth Jazz Festival features five young peninsula bands performing the culmination of a five-year mentorship programme – and showcases a guest group from Bavaria.

Artscape Youth Jazz: Little Giants 2010

Artscape Youth Jazz: Little Giants 2010

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 12 – 13 June 2010.

Artscape will resound to the sounds of jazz next weekend as five bands of scholars and students celebrate the culmination of a mentorship programme which started in 2005. Initiated by Artscape to develop local musical talent, the programme has seen its bands grow in skill and stature, and become regular features at events such as the National Jazz Festival in Grahamstown. Several band members from the project have auditioned and won places in the National Jazz Band and National Big Band, and all have benefited by receiving master classes with local jazz luminaries such as Keith Tabisher, who acts as musical director for the 2010 show, Hotep Galeta, Errol Dyers, George Werner, Andrew Lilley, Frank Paco, André Swartz, the late Alex van Heerden and Joe Mthimka and current Standard Bank Young Artist (Jazz) award winner, Melanie Scholtz.

“The Artscape Youth Jazz project was started because of a need to provide professional guidance for young musicians,” say Keith Tabisher, musical director for the Festival show, and also one of the project’s mentors. “The model was built on auditions, and then choosing promising bands and pairing them with mentors, professional jazz musicians working in the industry, so they could share important knowledge and experience.”

“The essence is that the kids get to play on a platform, and that there is a platform for the established artists to give back a little bit, and so they can engage in a teaching situation, rather than just a performance situation,” continues Tabisher. “It’s a wonderful project, and this is the culmination of the first five-year phase – in 2011 Artscape will be remodelling the way they proceed with their youth jazz involvement. So the festival is a kind of closure concert, where we looked at the bands that best represent the history of Artscape Youth Jazz and asked them to perform.

The bands chosen to represent the first five years of the Artscape project are the Belhar Music Collective, with musicians ranging from 18 to 21; Touch Ensemble, which represents present and former Bergvliet High School scholars; The Little Giants, led by George Werner; Incredible Brass, which features both young adults and school learners, and ESP from Stellenbosch. Also represented in the line-up is the involvement of the bands’ mentors, from the first project manager, Mzwakhe (Sticks) Mdidimba, to its current custodian, Tarnia van Zitters.

This year, the festival is also a collaboration with Germany’s “Bavaria Meets Western Cape” expo – and the Brassta La Vista group from that country. “The five bands have been given slots at the expo,” says Tabisher. “So they have been getting their pieces ready for that, too. It’s a tough time because many of the bands comprise schoolkids, and they also have to work towards their June exams.”

When Tabisher is not travelling the length and breadth of the Western Cape to sit in on youth jazz rehearsal and performances, he is also a practising jazz musician and a jazz educator involved in the Western Cape Education Department, working in Metropole North. “We provide support for teachers implementing the music curriculum, and advise on music. We monitor the curriculum delivery and moderate matric exams, and things like practicals, music theory and music history, as well as the Performance Assessment Tasks.”

So, then, what is the state of music education in greater Western Cape, from the point of view of an insider actively involved in it. “Not enough kids are doing music,” says Tabisher, “Let’s face it; it’s a small enrolment, with less than 500 learners writing music exams, and only a few schools offering music, with only a few learners in these schools taking it. On the bright side, music is growing, and we have identified schools in formerly disadvantaged areas as focus schools for the arts in the Western Cape. They will offer arts subjects to children, and that is exciting..”

“Another downside, which is that music education only starts in grade ten, but we are trying to put in place a system to prepare the kids, to form a bridge from general education to music education,” he says, “But another positive is that the curriculum now is very broad, covering jazz education, music technology, composition, improvisation and so on. It is a curriculum suited to the music industry and the music world of the twenty-first century. The teachers have also embraced the new curriculum, and this makes it far more open and accessible to kids.”

The annual three hour festival has sold out every year to an audience of jazz lovers of all ages and from all walks of life.  What can be expected? “In the past, the youth bands performed with their mentors, and the mentors performed as a unit so people knew they would hear good jazz, and experienced musicians side-by-side with youth musicians,” says Tabisher. “If you had a band from a rural area, or somewhere like Paarl, they would bring their people, who were used to hearing them, and that audience would also get to hear musicians like Melanie Scholtz or Andrew Lilley or Alvin Dyers – all the top guys and ladies.”

“This year, though, the bands are all seasoned musicians after five years in the project, so we felt they could perform alone,” he concludes. “I’m there just to act as musical director to bring the show together, to make sure we don’t have five bands playing ‘Cape Samba’, and to give it a flow. But these bands have all performed at the festival before, and the project specifically looks at music that represents jazz history, so they know what they are doing. Many of them perform all over the country, so they have carte blanche on their material, and we are looking forward to a show that offers a platform to celebrate the unique development of the Artscape Youth Jazz, and their audience outreach programmes, and the way the project has boosted the profile and the careers of these young musicians.”

The Distell Artscape Youth Jazz Festival is on Friday 18 June at Artscape, featuring ESP Band, Belhar Music Collective, Little Giants, Touch, The Incredibles and, from Bavaria, Brassta La Vista, and is compèred by Gary van Dyk(7.30pm, R50 (pensioners and scholars R30; block bookings of 10 or more, R45), tickets from, Artscape Dial-a-Seat 021-4217695, and Shoprite Checkers outlets).

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 12 – 13 June 2010. Find out more on