Prof’s film about jazz singer screens at Diaspora Film Festival

Sathima-01Professor Daniel Yon’s film Sathima’s Windsong, about the life and times of South African jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin, will screen this weekend as part of the Diaspora Film Festival.

Benjamin’s musical creations were often in the shadow of her husband, jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim.

“Sathima died Aug. 20 in Cape Town, so this screening is a celebration of her life,” says Yon, who premiered the film at York in 2011.

Sathima’s Windsong will screen at the Carlton Cinema Nov. 2 at 1pm.

A portrait of South African jazz vocalist, the film was shot in New York, Cape Town, Saint Helena and on the Atlantic Ocean.

In interviews with Benjamin in her Chelsea Hotel apartment, her home for more than 30 years, the singer patches together her journeys from apartheid’s “pattern of brokenness”, to a chance meeting and recording with Duke Ellington in Paris, to making a life in New York.

Her narrative and reflections are interwoven with her music, and with commentaries on her life and times. Jazz, ships and the sea come together as metaphors in the film for meditating on exile, displacement and diaspora. Its title is inspired by Benjamin’s haunting composition, “Windsong”.

Yon teaches social anthropology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and education in the Faculty of Education at York. He first encountered Benjamin in 2001 at a jazz festival in Cape Town, where he was on sabbatical at the University of Cape Town doing research on the Saint Helena-South African migrations and connections. It turns out Benjamin had roots in the tiny island off the southwest coast of Africa and in the Philippines. These roots, she claimed, explained her unusual voice: “It comes from far, far, far away.” Yon requested an interview and after several meetings persuaded her to let him do a documentary about her.