Thandi and the reinve

Af­ter be­ing well re­ceived at last year’s Stan­dard Bank Na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val in Gra­ham­stown, com­poss Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val. Over coffee, she chat­ted to about her ca­reer, which is on the

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want to talk about South African jazz and the pa­tri­archy,” I tell Thandi Ntuli, sit­ting across from her in a coffee shop in Nor­wood, Jo­han­nes­burg, last week. Ntuli smiles and then laughs. “Sips tea,” she says as she raises her cup to her lips. But it’s just a pre­tence at avoid­ing the sub­ject. “I do think that women are be­ing seen more as in­stru­men­tal­ists and band­leaders now,” she says. “They are not just be­ing seen as singers.”

On April 2, Ntuli will take to the stage at the Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val as a band­leader, per­form­ing her own com­po­si­tions from her gor­geous al­bum, The Of­fer­ing, which was re­leased in 2014.

“There is def­i­nitely still a lot of [sex­ism],” she says. “‘You play so well for a girl,’ or ‘You should meet Thandi, she is the best fe­male pi­anist in the coun­try.’ I mean re­ally, did they have to go there?”

We chat about Siya Makuzeni be­ing recog­nised as the Stan­dard Bank Young Jazz Artist for 2016, al­though that recog­ni­tion is “long over­due”.

We also dis­cuss the fact that in South African jazz, there are still only a hand­ful of pro­gres­sive band­leaders who give op­por­tu­ni­ties to women.

Band­leaders such as Feya Faku, Carlo Mombelli and Mar­cus Wyatt, and the younger gen­er­a­tion rep­re­sented by Nduduzo Makhathini and Tumi Mo­gorosi, are the ex­cep­tions rather than the rule.

Ntuli moved to Jo­han­nes­burg in 2013, a few years af­ter she fin­ished her four years of study­ing jazz pi­ano at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

In 2008, she was of­fered a schol­ar­ship to study at the Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton in the US, but chose to stay in South Africa and com­plete her stud­ies.

She says Berklee is a mas­sive school and she felt she might find that she was not get­ting as much at­ten­tion as she needed.

Ul­ti­mately, Ntuli does not re­gret her de­ci­sion, as she thinks it is all about the “en­vi­ron­ment that you are cul­ti­vated in”.

In 2013, Than­diswa Mazwai an­nounced that she was form­ing an all-fe­male band. Ntuli au­di­tioned and was se­lected.

“That’s what brought me up to Joburg,” she says. “I haven’t looked back.”

She played with Mazwai be­tween 2013 and 2015, dur­ing which she learnt a lot and grew into her ca­reer, but she was also mak­ing her own moves at the same time.

Ntuli wanted to get into the stu­dio and record her own com­po­si­tions.

She had a band of mu­si­cians lined up, which in­cluded gui­tarist Keenan Ahrends, bassist Ben­jamin Jephta, drum­mer Sphelelo Maz­ibuko, vo­cal­ist Spha Md­lalose, trum­peter Mar­cus Wyatt and sax­o­phon­ists Sisonke Xonti and Mthunzi Mvubu.

“Ben­jamin and I met at univer­sity,” says Ntuli. “When I first started play­ing live, it was with a trio, with Ben­jamin on bass and a drum­mer called Ruben.

“We had a mu­si­cal chem­istry,” she says. “He al­ways brought a lot to the ta­ble and is a fan­tas­tic bass player.”

An­other var­sity friend is Xonti, a sax­o­phon­ist Ntuli has played with of­ten.

Speak­ing about drum­mer Maz­ibuko, Ntuli says: “I saw him at a gig. I thought he was a fan­tas­tic drum­mer, but he didn’t live in Jo­han­nes­burg. When he moved to Jo­han­nes­burg, I was like, ‘Hal­lelu­jah!’”

“With Mar­cus Wyatt, I played in his youth band in 2013 at Gra­ham­stown. I revered him, but then I met him and re­alised he was chilled and in­ter­ested in work­ing with younger mu­si­cians.

“Mthunzi Mvubu has a dis­tinct sound and he is al­ways try­ing to grow and get bet­ter.” With the band lined up, she hit the stu­dio. “I went into the stu­dio with­out the money,” says Ntuli. “I had agreed with ev­ery­one what they were get­ting paid and that they were happy to be paid later.

“I ap­plied for a lot of fund­ing, but I didn’t get any of it. Time was pass­ing and I didn’t have


Jazz mu­si­cian Thandi Ntuli plays pi­ano with gusto


SHAK­ING UP THE STA­TUS QUO Thandi Ntuli says fe­male band lead­ers are still in short sup­ply

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