Photo Essay: Jazz colossus in South African townships

Documentary photographer Sethembiso Zulu’s 10-year journey weaves a story of the love of jazz music and how it is embraced in communities as it touches people from all walks of life.

Jazz music and its subculture have been embedded in South African township life for as long as townships themselves have existed.

Zulu has captured the aesthetics of the jazz periphery over 10 years and built up a collection of works that showcase the colour and richness of the jazz-appreciating community from across multiple backgrounds, cultures and classes.

He realised that jazz was a unifier, and that some people would travel long distances in their best outfits to attend gatherings far away. It is in this spirit that the community evolves and continues to develop itself.

This collection is, in some ways, a reflection of some of the happiest times of township life in South Africa and how the term kinship became a reality.

Most events would take place at community halls and jazz pubs. These were mostly indoors because there is a sharpness that is associated with this culture, which can be seen in the shiny shoes, the crisp shirts, the jackets and a style that mirrors the early origins of jazz music in the 1920s with contemporary inspiration.

Today, the jazz clubs from various townships meet over their favourite music and spend time appreciating the culture as a community.

People who love bebop have certain dances and dress style and, similarly, the blues followers will also develop their own sense of style and attributes.

These are some of the nuances that make up the story behind each of the photographs – they add to the richness of the clubs, communities and gatherings that define the love for jazz in many of South Africa’s townships.

Zulu still seeks funding for this body of work to be exhibited and hopes to publish a photographic book simultaneously.

Vusi Msiza (left) and Bra Sfiso have a smoke break between sessions at Vosloorus Community Hall
Richie ‘Kamuka’ Mabula does a final check on his attire after entering Leondale Community Hall
A reveller cleans up before going on stage at Moses Molelekwa Community Centre in Tembisa
Bra ‘T’ shows off his dance moves at his jazz session in Tembisa
Bra Moyane, a member of the Jazz Famers Club, sits on top of his 1982 Chrysler outside Jazz Temple in Vosloorus
Bra Abiot ‘Buck’ Mogotsi (centre) from the Joy Jazz Collectors greets jazz lovers at Moses Molelekwa Community Centre
The vinyl records that will be played during Bra Denger’s session at Isibaya in Vosloorus

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