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Asmal: Opening of North Sea Jazz Festival's Duotone Gallery (09/04/2004)

Date: 09/04/2004 Source: Department of Education Title: K Asmal: Opening of North Sea Jazz Festival's Duotone Gallery

ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR KADER ASMAL, MP, MINISTER OF EDUCATION, AT THE OPENING OF THE NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL, CAPE TOWN'S DUOTONE GALLERY, CAPE TOWN INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE, 9 April 2004

It is a great pleasure to be with you tonight as we open this brilliant exhibition of jazz photography. We celebrate tonight the new exhibition space for the Duotone Gallery in the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Since the beginning of the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2000, we have had photographic exhibitions. Photography has been an important part of our annual celebration of jazz. Tonight's opening is a step up in making jazz photography a permanent part of our artistic life in Cape Town.

We are surrounded by the work of three great artists. We have the work of the great jazz photographer, Herman Leonard. For many years, Herman Leonard has been the "Eye of Jazz". His early photographs from the late 1940s and early 1950s gave us powerful and enduring images of greatness - Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Theolonius Monk, Count Bassie, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Sara Vaughn, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. His exhibitions have helped us to keep these images alive all over the world.

We have the work of Alf Khumalo. From the early 1950s, Alf Khumalo's photographs have captured ordinary life in South Africa and they have given us enduring images of our extraordinary political leaders - from Albert Luthuli to Thabo Mbeki - in our struggle for a better life for all South Africans. His photographs have been very important in helping us see who we are.

And we have the work of George Hallett, who left South Africa in 1970, exiled in London, Paris, and Amsterdam, but returned in 1995 to cast his expert eye on our recent past and possible future. His collection of South African photography, celebrating our ten years of freedom and democracy, deserves special mention.

Like Herman Leonard, our South African photographers have given us powerful images of jazz. They have documented our musicians in South Africa and in the furthest reaches of exile.

They have also been teachers. Seriously, for a moment, in my capacity as Minister of Education, I want to acknowledge the work that has been done by both Alf Khumalo and George Hallett in training young South African photographers. They are both masters of their art. They are also both teachers. Alf Khumalo has opened a photographic school in Soweto so that young, aspiring photographers will not have to deal with the hardships he faced in starting out without any training. Likewise, George Hallett is a teacher of photography, teaching all over the world, but also actively involved in running workshops and courses for young photographers in South Africa. So, I want to recognise and praise their efforts in education.

But we are not here to honour education. We are here for the music. Jazz is music, our music. But jazz is also the wellspring of so much of our life in the creative and performing arts.

Jazz, our music, is also writing. Some of the best, most vibrant writing has come from jazz. I remember the jazz writing of Todd Matshikiza, who wrote during 1950s for Drum. He could write. He wrote about jazz. But he also wrote jazz, collaborating on the production of the musical, which was first performed in 1959, "King Kong - An African Jazz Opera." This jazz opera required jazz writing. It required writing that was immediate and strong. It required writing of simplicity and complexity. It required lyrics like this:

King Kong, strong as a lion King Kong, bigger than Cape Town King Kong, listens to no one That's me; I'm him, right now

That phrase - "right now" - of course was the simplest, but most complex, lyric in the entire jazz opera. Right now was 1959; right now was apartheid; right now was a world that tried to make us weak and prevent us from being as strong as a lion. In that time, in that "right now", jazz made us feel as strong as King Kong. We could play, and we could write.

One of the effects of apartheid education was the damage it did to our writing. Christian National Education and Bantu Education drained life out of writing. Under apartheid, our schooling made writing dull and flat. We see this in the writing of all of our students, black and white. For the most part, our students were taught by apartheid education to write dead prose.

We still need to bring our writing to life. We need more jazz writing. I am delighted to see seminars for writers that have been put together by the North Sea Jazz Festival and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. This is important. We need to bring jazz back to our writing.

Jazz is music. But jazz is also art, photography, and powerful imagery.

We know the iconic imagery of American jazz - Dizzy and Miles, Bird and Coltrane, Ella and Lady Day. We are in the presence of some of the most powerful of these images at this exhibition. These images are an important counterpoint to the music. They show us life of jazz. They show us music in its dynamic tension and its quiet relaxation, in its mysterious shadows and its curling smoke, in its interplay of light and dark.

In South Africa, however, we needed images of our players for a very specific reason. We needed these images as ammunition in the struggle against forces that were trying to make us invisible. We needed photographic evidence - we needed visible testimony - to the very fact that we existed.

So many of us were in exile - Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, and so many others. Our people in South Africa needed photographs of them to prove that they were alive and well. We needed evidence that even in exile they were still with the people of South Africa.

Within apartheid South Africa, so many of us were condemned to invisibility. Apartheid tried to erase us. South African jazz has a strange history in which many of our artists were heard but not seen. During the apartheid era, the great saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi played at Cape Town City Hall. But he was hidden behind a screen, while a white man, who was billed as "Winston Mann", stood in front of the audience and pretended to play. The audience could hear - but it could not see - the source of the music.

For the old South African Broadcasting Corporation, this trick of invisibility was even easier to play on radio. For example, the music of trumpeter Johnny Mekoa was played on the radio, but he was called "Johnny Keen". The music of pianist Tony Schilder was played, but he was called "Peter Evans." Their music might have sounded black, but their names on the radio sounded white.

Under these conditions, photography was more than illustration. Photography was a powerful defence of our visibility in the ongoing struggle against the forces that tried to make us invisible.

So, tonight, we celebrate our music and our visibility. We can be heard, in our music, and we can be seen, fully visible - in powerful images captured and conveyed by our artists of photography.

In the art of photography, I have always preferred images in black and white. In the interplay of light and dark, we see so much subtlety, so much nuance, and so much complexity. Black and white photography, I have always felt, draws us into the photograph.

In my life, images that had the greatest impact - and stayed with me - were photographs in black and white.

When I think of photographs, I think of powerful images in black and white that have remained with me. I think of an exhibition that I saw at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, of the photographic record of people, ordinary people living and working, suffering and unemployed, during the Great Depression in the United States. I think of the first images that came out of the death camps at Buchenwald - pictures of survivors and pictures of mass graves - that galvanised my interest in human rights when I was young. I think of the photograph of Hector Peterson, dying in Sharpeville, living on at the heart of our struggle.

So, I might dream in colour, but I remember in and through these vivid black and white photographs.

Looking at Herman Leonard's black and white photographs, I see the music. I see the sound. Of course, I know that we are not supposed to see sounds. We are supposed to hear sounds. We are not supposed to see sounds. That is called synesthesia - seeing sounds, hearing colours - that only people who are mystics or crazy can achieve. But when I look at these photographs I can see the music.

I look at his image of Charlie Parker and I see the light flashing out of the darkness. I see the light on Charlie Parkers fingertips. I see the light glistening on his instrument. I see the light playing off his face as he reaches out of the darkness, including his own darkness, to achieve the highest illumination of sound. Seeing all that, I can see the music.

I look at his image of Miles Davis and I see tension and relaxation. I see calm and I see the storm. I see the horn. And I see the man. He is looking down. He is taking us up. Seeing all that, I can see the music.

So, I celebrate this exhibition. I celebrate our artists - Herman Leonard, Alf Khumalo, and George Hallett. And I celebrate our music, which they have helped us to see with new eyes.

Let us look at their art and see the music.

I thank you all.

Issued by: Department of Education 9 April 2004 Source: Department of Education (http://www. education. gov. za)

Edited by: Shona Kohler Creamer Media Research Associate