Standard Bank recently announced their 2017 Young Artist winners in the categories of music, dance, performance art, visual art, theatre and jazz. These awards are given to six promising or accomplished artists each year, selected from among the most interesting and brightest creative talents in South Africa. Benjamin Jephta, a 24-year-old double bass and electric bass player and composer, is the winner of the jazz category.
Jephta was born in Cape Town’s Mitchells Plain and graduated from the prestigious South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town. It’s no surprise, then, that his live performance list is already as long as his arm. In fact, his credentials read like an African jazz instrumentalist’s wish list (young and old). He’s played with Feya Faku, Hugh Masekela, Simphiwe Dana, Jimmy Dludlu, Sibongile Khumalo and Melanie Scholtz, among many others. And at his young age, he’s already something of an old hand.
Jephta has been in the business of live jazz performance and honing his skill for nearly a decade, having started performing when he was 15 years old. His early jazz career was formed under the tutelage of Fred Kuit, a renowned figure in jazz education at Muizenberg High School.
The Benjamin Jephta Quintet
In addition to working as a popular solo performer, Jephta is the band leader of the Benjamin Jephta Quintet, a jazz band in which he features on bass, the 2014 Standard Young Artist winner Kyle Shepherd is on piano, Marcus Wyatt on trumpet, Sphelelo Mazibuko plays the drums and Sisonke Xonti plays the sax. They are based in Johannesburg.
In 2015, Jephta, along with his quintet, released a debut album entitled Homecoming. The 12-track offering featured original music composed by Jephta. He has roots in the church, which naturally influenced the sound of Homecoming.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian about the album’s sound, Jephta said, “I was trying to use the harmonies we use in the church and the whole I-IV-V thing, and put it into this jazz context. I also wanted to keep it quite simple. I want people to be able to sing the music afterwards and for it not to be too overcomplicated. I think jazz musicians tend to be ‘hip’, or write and compose and play for musicians rather than the audience.”
What the award means
The Standard Bank Young Artist Award was established in 1981 by the National Arts Festival. Each year, the six winners are awarded a cash prize, as well as financial backing from main sponsor Standard Bank and the National Arts Festival for producing and financing new work that each artist will debut at the 2017 festival, as part of the main programme. This is a great way to give promising and dedicated young artists such as Jephta a chance to keep creating, and also improving their artform, while moving the South African arts forward.
With several music award nominations already in the bag, the Johannesburg jazz scene in his palm,
a top-class band dedicated to the music and a win as significant as the Young Artist of the Year, Jephta’s story in jazz is only beginning.
Curious about how broad Jephta’s musical interests are? He has also played synth-bass in a pop band!