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Luanda International Jazz Festival - African musical heritage returns to its source

Many in the African diaspora trace their rhythmic roots to Angola's drumming. On Friday 31 July to Sunday 02 August, this musical heritage returns to its source as musicians from Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa and the United States (US) descend on Cine Atlântico in Angola's capital city, Luanda. They will participate in the launch of the Luanda International Jazz Festival - an initiative of Ritek - a first in the diamond-rich and oil-endowed country. “Despite its rich musical history, Angola has never had an international jazz festival,” says company's CEO António Cristóvão.
As a company in the hospitality sector, Ritek found no better way to promote itself as a brand in the region than to organise an international jazz festival. “Tourism is linked to culture,” stated Cristóvão. “If you want to attract tourists to your country and region, the most important asset that you have is your culture.” Looking at the festival's line-up, there is no doubt in the organisers' desire to showcase Angolan musicians and also to expose local audiences to sounds from faraway places. Leading the US team is none other than the great McCoy Tyner. Cutting his teeth as a member of the John Coltrane Quartet in the early 1960s, the 70-year-old musician is the doyen of jazz piano. In the last 18 months, Tyner has released two superb CDs that demonstrate why in the region's lingua franca anyone who excels is called “a real McCoy”. Tyner's recent recording with guitarists John Scofield, Bela Fleck, Marc Ribot, Derek Trucks and Bill Frisell has won the pianist numerous accolades. So has his album with saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. At his age, Tyner still brims with energy and vitality. This he will certainly bring to Angola.

Joining the McCoy Tyner Trio as a guest is Grammy-winning saxophonist, Gary Bartz. After his illustrative membership of groups led by Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey and Miles Davis, Bartz was one of the first Afro-American musicians to experiment with a fusion of free jazz, soul, hard bop and African rhythms. His band, Ntu Troop, borrowed its name from Southern African languages to express the unity of all things - time and space; the living and the dead; and the seen and unseen. Bartz won a Grammy Award for his piercing alto-playing in Tyner's 2004 recording, Illuminations.

Also from across the Atlantic is the popular US quartet, Yellowjackets. Now constituted by saxophonist Bob Mintzer, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Marcus Baylor, the Yellowjackets go back to the 1970s. Whether belting out their moving fusion sounds or more acoustic jazz, the group is known for its tight playing. Yellowjackets' latest CD, Lifecycle, won the group a Grammy nomination in 2008.

Sharing the stage with these great US bands is the cream of Angola's music scene. Leading the Angolan squadron is Paulo Flores. Flores is a leading proponent of kizomba - Angola's popular genres of dance and music derived directly from zouk sounds. Joining Flores are other Angolan musicians - Afrikkanitha, Sandra Corderio, Dodo Miranda and Totó. Afrikkanitha and Corderio are the country's emerging female voices. Afrikkanitha, who sings in Portuguese, French, English and Angola's vernacular languages, fuses soul, jazz, rock and funk with her country's indigenous music, while Corderio is rooted in bossa and Afro-jazz styles. The other young artist who will definitely amaze those not familiar with the music of Angola is Totó. Currently, the 29-year-old vocalist is making waves with his fusion of Angolan and Brazilian sounds.

The festival's Lusophone connection comes from Vanessa Da Mata and guitarist Jimmy Dludlu. Da Mata who hails from Brazil grew up listening to the music samba and bossa kings such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Orlando Silva and Milton Nascimento. Early in her career, the 33-year-old was a member of an all-women reggae group before she joined a group called Black Uhuru. Her dazzling voice has led to collaborations with famous guitarist Fernando Catatau.

Dludlu's residence in South Africa may have for many blurred his Lusophone connection but his music has not. From humble beginnings in Mozambique, Dludlu has risen to be the icon of Afro-jazz. His music embraces the best in the world without being dislodged from his roots. This is evident in all his four recordings. Each of his albums has won him at least South Africa's highest music award, a South African Music Award (SAMA). From down south, Dludlu will be joined by a South African crew. Included in this is award-winning vocalist Lira, indomitable group Freshlyground, Marcus Wyatt and his band Language 12, and Afrobeat.

In addition to performing on three nights, some of the musicians on the star-studded line-up will a day before the music extravaganza conduct workshops for local artists and students at the Luanda's Museum of Natural History. This demonstrates the festival organisers' commitment to develop and nurture local talent. Helping to stage the event is renowned South African company, espAfrika. The Cape Town-based events management group organises other three jazz festivals in Southern Africa - the prestigious Cape Town International Jazz Festival, the Mozambique Jazz Festival and the Mpumalanga Arts and Culture Festival (MACfest). “The mandate given to espAfrika is to ensure that there is training and transfer of skills to Ritek so that the Angolan team is able to run the Luanda festival in its own entirety in five years time,” says Cristóvão.

Participants at the festival will not only hear great sounds - the event promises to be a treatment to a wholesome Angolan experience. The event's venue has been redesigned and refurbished into a world-class entertainment facility, with expansive stages and stalls for sumptuous Angolan cuisine. For more information on the festival please contact: Maria Peres +244 929 630 561.