The National Arts Festival has been running in Makhanda (Eastern Cape, South Africa) since 1974, and is the world’s second-largest single cultural festival, attracting performers in all art forms from around South Africa and all over the world. It is undoubtedly the leading cultural exhibition in South Africa and attracts a heterogeneous audience of over 140 000 from around the country, who cram into what is normally a small settler town best known for its academic and legal institutions. Performance venues are thus created in any available venue (school and church halls etc.) and accommodation is at a premium. This, while not up to international festival norms, is what gives Makhanda its unique character and the festival has developed a large and devoted network of artists and audience from around South Africa and the world.
The Jazz Festival – sponsored directly by Standard Bank, who sponsor jazz events regularly around the country – has been running for 15 years, as has the National Youth Jazz Festival (NYJF). The two festivals now run as a single entity, organised by the same administrative team, which provides a forum for sound education at the same time as a vibrant performance stage of aesthetic integrity, with the intention of showcasing the variety and depth of South African jazz; providing a unique intercultural opportunity with top international musicians; and teaching the top young players in the country the essence of jazz.
The Standard Bank Jazz Festival runs for the full 10 days of the National Arts Festival and caters for a variety of jazz styles. The festival incorporates the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival for the first 6 days of the festival, which brings together 350 of the top young jazz musicians in the country (who audition to get into the National Youth and National Schools Jazz Bands), 40 jazz educators and 80 jazz performers from South Africa and around the world.
The intention of the festival is to develop South African jazz:
- by providing educational opportunities for young players
- by encouraging artistic integrity and creativity on the Main Stage
- by creating a forum for South African musicians to network with peers from around the country and with foreign musicians
- by providing audiences with interesting, quality jazz