Soweto International Jazz Festival Wants To Celebrate The Music Of Africa

By Shontel Horne


When the Soweto International Jazz Festival debuts in Johannesburg, South Africa June 14th-17th at the State of the Art Soweto Theatre Festival Complex, the inaugural music festival hopes to celebrate the beauty of African sounds while also serving as a place of connection for people throughout the African diaspora. At the helm of the event is entertainment industry veteran Nolan M. Baynes, who tells Travel Noire what the event will mean for the people of South Africa, and for music fans around the world.



Travel Noire: How long had you been working to make the festival a reality?

Nolan: My partners (Ernest Kelly, Martin Paulsen) and the General Director of the Soweto Theatre, Nomsa, conjured up the vision last year during a visit to the Soweto Theatre. The energy and history of Soweto and the people made it obvious that the city of Soweto deserves its own staple event. We felt it was important to just do it, so we galvanized and put the plan in motion quickly. We have a 3-year plan to fully grow the festival, year one (Phase one) took us 7 months to plan.


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Travel Noire: What makes the Soweto International Jazz Festival different from other music festivals?

Nolan: I think Soweto makes it different. There is a special energy in Soweto. The music, art and creativity permeate throughout the people and spaces. Music means more there and it’s the fuel of everything Soweto has gone through. It’s part of the progress that is being made every day. Our formula is to feature African derived music (Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, Reggae, and of course, local genres of music), enrichment programs to build a bridge between the diaspora, especially African-American and our South African sisters and brothers through information exchange and cultural collaborations.


We have four unique themes: Youth Day, Power of Women, International and Inspirational. We intend to feature the Soweto culture with food, art, history and of course Music.


Travel Noire: What can you tell us about the venue? 


Nolan: The venue is in the heart of the township. It’s a state of the art facility and very beautiful. Imagine being the first to do a festival in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.


Travel Noire: What do you hope the festival will mean to the people of Johannesburg?


Nola: We hope the festival will become a bridge for South Africans and African-Americans to have a meaningful cultural exchange. We hope it will serve as a platform to import and export culture and ultimately become a positive economic engine for Soweto. We have already forged meaningful collaborations and partnerships will local organizations and individuals who understand the importance of the mission to bridge the gap between our people. There are 4 million people living in Soweto, its a massive city with challenges and potential. We hope the SIJF will help spark development, job creation, skills training, business opportunity for local entrepreneurs. It’s more than just a good time, with incredible music for us, we hope it will do its part to help to stimulate growth for the city and its people.


Travel Noire: Which up-and-coming South African artists are you most excited to have at the festival?

Nolan: There are so many, on the Hip Hop side of the spectrum. There’s Nasty C, Sho Madjozi and Major League DJz. These young acts have a translatable quality for Hip Hop fans in the states. Ernie Smith is an R&B/Jazz act with an incredible voice. Zama Jobe’s voice is remarkable. Of course acts like Soweto Gospel Choir, Khaya Mthethwa, and Mi Casa are all must-see acts. We are also working with our partners at the theatre to spotlight up and coming acts.


Travel Noire: Aside from the music, what else can guests expect from the festival?

Nolan: I think guest can expect the opportunity to experience an exchange of cultures. Our enrichment forums will inspire and promote hope. We have people like Grammy-winning songwriter, producer and artist Rico Love conducting a masterclass on making hit music. We’ll have a women’s empowerment panel with some of the most accomplished women in South Africa sharing their stories, Third World (world renown Reggae band) will conduct workshops on the history of Reggae music, and an acoustic session with jazz artists sharing the stories behind their songs. And of course, Soweto will be spotlighted through cuisine and art/crafts.


Learn more about the Soweto International Jazz Festival now.

Travel Noire

Shontel Horne

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