Cape Town – As huge fans of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, iconic South African Afro-pop band Mango Groove are “thrilled” and “honoured” to be one of the headline acts at the Free Concert on Greenmarket Square on Wednesday.

Claire Johnston, whose distinctive vocals which along with the kwela, marabi, pennywhistle and big band brass sounds make Mango Groove so familiar to South Africans of all ages, said: “We’ve never performed at the festival. We’ve performed in Cape Town a 100 times or more and Cape Town is always amazing.

Claire Johnston, lead singer of Mango Groove, who will be performing at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee

“The festival is an incredible event, so we are thrilled to be involved in two of the events. We perform at the Free Concert with En Vogue and then at the Manenberg stage (on Friday),” she said.

Mango Groove’s roots in African jazz will be a “good jumping off point for jazz fans to understand what our music is all about”, said Johnston.

“For me jazz really is about mixing things up, making things interesting, and of course, Mango Groove does that, in a strange way,” she said.

The band sticks to song structures but there are a couple of tracks built for improvisation where the brass section, the guitarist and drummer will sometimes “go a bit nuts in a song or two”, where they “can lose their minds and express themselves”, said Johnston.

Founding member of the 11-piece band, John Leyden said their sound has always been a “bit poppy with bitter sweet sounds, the sounds of kwela”.

“If you listen to our latest album, Faces to the Sun, it is very much the same sound, a bit rooted in history but at the same time affected by what is influencing us right now, a sort of eclectic pop sound.

“We have always been very, very strongly South African. Musically and lyrically, what we reflect about being South African is a celebration of it, the whole ethos,” Leyden said.

Jazz fans can expect to hear Johnston’s voice at the “best she has ever sounded” as it has “improved with her confidence and her experience through the years and her range has increased with it, which is fantastic”, he said.

Around for 33 years, the band will showcase some new songs and many of their old standards “which people know and love” like Special Star, Dance Some More or Moments Away, when they take to the stage next week, still very much themselves, said Leyden.

Billed as the CTIJF Free Community Concert which in the past attracted some 13 600 fans, the rest of Wednesday’s line-up includes R‘nB USA band En Vogue, Mozambican reedman Moreira Chonguica, espYoung Legends winner VuDu, SACTWU talent winner Danielle Jacobs and the developmental All Star Band.

* The Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) takes place on Friday March 31 and Saturday April 1 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. The weekend passes are already sold out, but day passes remain on sale at R690 each.

Cape Argus