Whose Jazz Is It Anyway?

Panelists at 'Whose Jazz Is It Anyway,' picture by Jay Royce Mabwe

This question was asked at the Public Debate on the 29th of March at The Opera Bar, Artscape. The questions that arose from this were, what would terms like “decolonisation” and “transformation” mean for how jazz is taught and learned? Who gets to teach jazz? And what should be happening in classrooms to reflect the democratic spirit of jazz?

On the panel, we had Gwen Ansell chairing the debate with the likes of Percy Mabandu, a columnist and art and features writer who has been writing about jazz music, arts and the black experience.

Asanda Ngoasheng, who is now a Specialist Reporting lecturer at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) was also part of the panel and her interests include Intersectionality in South Africa, the Politics of Identity and the Idea of Decolonisation. Musician, Reza Khota who has received many awards for his work and has collaborated with many fine artists, also took part.

Many are aware of the word “decolonisation” but what is it? Decolonisation can be loosely defined as the process of identifying the influences of colonisation and after this identification; it is the ability to choose what is kept and what is done away with.

Audience at the Public Debate: picture by Jay Royce Mabwe

One has to remember that a big part of colonisation was the destruction of black cultures, which we now have to recover. We find ourselves not knowing much of our history, of our achievements and our contributions as people of colour and this extends to music as well. Even though the focus point was meant to be jazz, the subject was expanded and linked back to the broader sense.

There are many things that can be said about this matter, but what stood out for many was the idea of representation and how it matters. In schools, our curriculum should reflect the demographic of the country.

Mr Khota saying, “If you don’t reflect the people of the country then why are you teaching?” was profound. We barely have access to our own people. This idea, led back to decolonisation and it soon became the focal point.

After the debate, we were left with one question, how do we decolonise? “We decolonise by making a conscience effort to reinforce our cultures,” says Asanda Ngoasheng. It is not only the governments and university’s responsibility but ours too; decolonisation includes the self, a difficult process but a worthy one.