Divine Mafa, president, founder, and chairman of Divine Entertainment, has big plans for Memphis. The Zimbabwean (by way of London) is launching the first V.I.P. Jazz Festival, which he plans to make an annual event, at Isaac Hayes' Music Food Passion this Thursday, July 3rd.
"The festival is meant to educate and improve awareness of the importance of jazz music in the Memphis community and the surrounding society," explains a press release. In an interview this week, Mafa is quick to elaborate on his intentions: "This concert is going to be a very prestigious event. I want to make it a yearly tradition. There are some very important jazz stars in Memphis, and we need to cultivate their talent."
Mafa, who came to Memphis four years ago to work at U.T. medical school, has been a jazz fan "for as long as I can remember. My father had a tremendous music collection," he recalls, "and I discovered Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong when I was really young."
Armstrong holds a particular fascination for the promoter. "To me, Louis is the saint of jazz. I consider him the godfather," Mafa says. "He built the foundation that all other jazz players built upon, which is why the first V.I.P. Jazz Festival is going to be a tribute to him."
Mafa has promoted several concerts around town this year. He worked with Showtime Productions to bring Jay-Z to Memphis for the last Tyson fight and produced the "Welcome Home Trenyce" party for the American Idol contestant. He's also booked reggae shows at the Hi-Tone ("my favorite local club," he says) and plans to promote events at The Pyramid and beyond.
His inspiration? Tireless jazz promoter Irwin Sheft, who set up the Jazz Foundation of Memphis in 1985. "If you're not working with Irwin on a jazz show, you're wasting your time," Mafa says with a laugh. "Irwin is my best friend," he continues in all seriousness. "He's been helping me strategize this show, and we're working on future projects together."
The roster for the V.I.P. Jazz Festival includes Herman Green, Kelley Hurt, and Chris Parker.
"Kelley's vocal style is so unique," he continues. "She's so different from what's typically called 'the Memphis Sound.' She's a world-class vocalist. We just might have a big star in Kelley."
Also appearing this year: Trumpeter Nokie Taylor, Los Angeles-based vocalist Kitty Alexander, and former Platters vocalist James Austin, who will be performing with Dr. Bill Herd. "It's so ironic," Mafa enthuses. "I used to watch [Austin's] videos when I was a kid."
Of singer Joyce Cobb, who is slated to perform with her band Cool Heat, Mafa laments, "Everyone knows who she is locally, and she's such a pro, so why isn't she internationally known? There's not enough support for the local jazz community."
"I hope that eventually the V.I.P. Jazz Festival will bring big business to Memphis," Mafa says. "So many people already come to Memphis because of the musical history here.
"Everyone knows Memphis because of Elvis Presley and B.B. King, but we need to focus on music that's happening now, not build museums to the past. What about the future legends?"
The 1st Annual V.I.P. Jazz Festival will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 3rd, at Isaac Hayes in Peabody Place. Tickets are $25, available at the venue or by phone at 529-9222.
Music for the Masses, a musical event of a different sort, will be held at the Raoul Wallenberg Shell in Overton Park on Wednesday, July 9th. The concert, produced by Misty White in conjunction with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, will benefit the Pastors for Peace program, which delivers humanitarian aid to Latin America and the Caribbean. Indie stalwarts Snowglobe and The Coach & Four are scheduled to perform, along with local rapper Chopper Girl, The Visionaires, and Plywood Doghouse, while the Breeding Ground dance troupe will open the show.
Also appearing at Music for the Masses are the "Caravanistas," who, via Pastors for Peace, are transporting buses to Cuba. Concertgoers are encouraged to paint graffiti on the vehicles, explains White, coordinator of the event. "Last year, I drew the TCB logo with the lightning bolt," she recalls. "I broke the embargo on Elvis!"
The Music for the Masses concert is free, although donations to Pastors for Peace are encouraged. The concert is scheduled to run from 2 to 10 p.m.