Keeping it jazzy with the Kiffness

The Kiffness & Matthew Gold (centre) perform at the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival. Photo: Kyle Prinsloo

David Scott, Matthew Gold, and Raiven Hansmann moved and grooved into Grahamstown’s Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival (SBNYJF) on Friday evening. Mike Skipper, music teacher at St Andrew’s College and Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) and founder of the SBNYJF in 1992, welcomed The Kiffness & Matthew Gold.

A polished saxophone and trumpet greeted the audience from the stage on entry, luminous in the kaleidoscopic strobe lights. The well-worn wooden floors of the high school gymnasium trembled with the crowd’s bouncing, reminiscent of 2014 Monastery pre-concrete. They brought the vibes to Grahamstown bru, and the mass of DSG students clustered before the stage reflected the performers’ energy.

Electro zig-zags from Hansmann’s synths interspersed with whirls of bass flowed from the speakers over the booming beat. A Redbone-level of pure sex oozed from the trumpet and the saxophone’s soaring solos, weaving the elements into a fluid rhythm. Gold’s vocals covered a spectrum of notes wider than the stage he covered, with the deepest notes springing from his gut. The glow of iPhone torches swayed in time to his crooning, and the glow of screens bounced as they filmed his swifter staccato flows for Snapchat stories.

While both acts originated in Cape Town, The Kiffness is familiar with the donkey-lined streets and halls of Grahamstown. David Scott, the founding member, first performed at the SBNYJF at the age of 12. He went on to graduate from Rhodes University, and later from the self-proclaimed “bedroom producer” to studio-owner. His experimentations with jazz and house produced successful singles featuring South African artists like Shortstraw, Samuel Miller, and Tresor.

To Scott, jazz is freedom of expression and living in the moment. “It’s the perfect balance of being free, but also knowing the rules of music,” he describes. “Jazz would be the perfect society because you would understand the laws, but also feel free to express yourself in the confines of the laws.”

Having performed their previous work at festivals including Rocking the Daisies, Splashy Fen, and Park Acoustics, and in countries as far as Vietnam and the Seychelles, it’s time for The Kiffness to release new music — and they are. Their next album will be available from 28 July, featuring several collaborations.

“I’ve collaborated with quite a few African artists, which is exciting. I feel honoured that these artists were willing to collaborate with me, being a white guy,” Scott said. “I’m being more deliberate in the kind of music I’m making these days — music that sounds good but has a good message.”

He continued: “I used to think playing on big stages to a lot of people was the ultimate goal, but I find those things are quite unfulfilling. Just being able to make a difference in the world is the most fulfilling thing.”

By Ash Dean