An exploration of the gender and sexual dynamics for women performers in the Cape Town jazz community

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
This research explores the dynamics of gender, sexuality and power for women performers within the jazz community in Cape Town. Although the history and development of South African jazz has been extensively researched, very few texts mention the presence and impact of women performers and has yet to include how questions of gender, power and sexuality influence both the cultures of jazz and the experiences of women jazz artists. The current study is strongly influenced by feminist theory, which seeks to uncover experiences obscured by patriarchal epistemologies. A qualitative methodology is used to ensure each narrative remains at the forefront of the research. Interviews were conducted with jazz women musicians involved in various roles within the jazz industry in Cape Town. These semi-structured interviews allow for these women to narrate their turbulent musical journeys. What is revealed and subsequently further explored are the rich identity politics involved in being women “performers”, what is assumed and expected of them, the role “boys clubs” play in their exclusion, and the pressures and implications of stringent gender stereotypes, beauty ideals and vicious hyper-sexualization. Moreover, I explore the analytics of power within this specific culture and its' effect on jazz women. Their accounts reveal how the Cape Town jazz community remains saturated with gender stereotypes and is seemingly committed to continuing violent displays of misogyny. The study argues that despite the prevalence of this misogyny, women jazz artists actively design strategies which skilfully and innovatively allow them to pursue influential careers, deepening the meaning of “jazz” in Cape Town and beyond. The research thus both extends the analysis of feminist jazz theorists in Cape Town, and suggests that understanding the contemporary dynamics of gender and sexuality in South African jazz artists' experience deserves more research.