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UKZN jazz lecturer Mr Neil Gonsalves performing
in a collaboration concert at the Chicago Jazz
Festival to honour Nelson Mandela.

UKZN Jazz Lecturer Mr Neil Gonsalves recently represented South Africa in a tribute to Nelson Mandela at the Chicago Jazz Festival by saxophonist, composer and stalwart of the Chicago jazz scene, Ernest Dawkins.

Speaking about his involvement in the festival, Gonsalves said: ‘Ernest and I play together whenever he visits Durban, which is a few times a year. He was commissioned to write a piece in honour of Nelson Mandela and was seeking some South African participation when he booked me as the piano player in his Chicago 12 ensemble. He called me up at relatively short notice to enquire whether I was in possession of a U.S. visa. When I indicated the affirmative, he booked me on the spot. I was in the right place at the right time, I guess.’

Gonsalves performed in Dawkins’ commissioned piece: “Memory in the Center an Afro Opera: Tribute to Nelson Mandela”, an opus of more than an hour long.

‘The work features the spoken word artistry of Khari B who narrates a reflection of Mandela’s life as an activist and humanitarian as the piece  moves back in time from the present,’ said Gonsalves. ‘It foregrounds the women in Mandela’s life through the powerful voice of Dee Alexander and the bristling vitality of Chicago’s young jazz lions, the Chicago 12. The piece is energised by the many intersections between jazz and the struggle for liberation in South Africa.

‘We played to between 5 000 and 10 000 people in Millennium Park. There was an overwhelmingly positive reception to the music and many people came up to thank us after the concert and in the days afterwards,’ said Gonsalves. ‘Dawkins and Khari B had sought to weave into the story the many challenges that still exist in Chicago around race relations and that the struggle against apartheid continues here and there. This seemed to really strike a chord amongst many members of the audience with some people in tears after the concert.

‘I really enjoyed seeing many ensembles that comprised musicians of all ages and there is a strong sense of the older, experienced musicians returning to Chicago to invest back into the communities from which they come, even if they have made it big in New York or on the West Coast,’ added Gonsalves.