Vuyolwethu Sotashe

Jazz vocalist

Jazz vocalist Vuyolwethu Sotashe has made the classic fairy-tale move from singing with the local church choir to performing on the international stage.

He’s won numerous career-enhancing competitions and valuable bursaries, taking him from Umtata to the New York club circuit.

“Music has always been part of my world. Jazz music in particular has helped me realise my identity, not only as an artist, but as a human being that has to interact and live with other human beings,” he says.

Jazz brings together many different cultures and forces you to consider the person next to you, he says. “When I’m on the bandstand I always have to be listening — attentive and aware of the musicians I’m playing with. They would be listening to me too — it’s a community in action. I’ve been able to express myself artistically with the most freedom I can in this music.”

Sotashe was born into a musical family and sang in school and in church. He moved to Cape Town to complete his education, where his love of jazz was ignited. Despite having no formal musical training he was accepted onto a course for jazz studies by the University of Cape Town’s South African College of Music.

He went on to win the FMR Jazz Scholarship in 2011 and first prize in the jazz category at the 2011 Samro Foundation Overseas Scholarship Competition for Singers. He graduated from UCT with top honours and won the 2012 Class Medal.

Sotashe moved to New York in 2013 on a Fulbright Scholarship for a master’s in music at William Paterson University. He won first prize at the first Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Vocal Competition in 2014, and returned to perform on the festival’s main stage in 2015. That year he won the Audience Award at the Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition in Switzerland (www.mjaf.ch) and came second overall, and he’s been invited back to perform again this year.

He’s sung in Italy and Sweden, appeared at the Cape Town International Festival with George Benson and the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, toured with the band Proxy in the UK and performed with gospel artist Israel Houghton as part of the New Breed (Africa) ensemble. His most recent triumph was coming third in the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocal Competition.

He now sings with the Lincoln Centre Orchestra in New York and performs around the city with other musicians. — Lesley Stones

Photo: Montreux Jazz Academy © 2015 FFJM- Marc Ducrest

Twitter: @vuyosotashe