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1 Dec

Lerato Pakade Is Capturing Jazz In Motion

Lerato Phakade is a talented jazz photographer from Cape Town. At a time where the jazz scene was booming, young Lerato used to drag her parents all over town to attend a series of shows. As a jazz-obsessed teenager, she collected black and white photographs of famous artists such as Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba. Today, under the guidance of respected jazz photographers such as Phomolo Nzunga, she’s the one behind the lens and recently held her first solo exhibitionat Leano Restaurant in Braamfontein, Johannesburg – the home of jazz in Johannesburg. She takes us through her journey of becoming an archivist of some of the most iconic musicians of our time.

“I have always followed brilliant photographers like Siphiwe Mhlambi, Jonathan Reese, Andile Bhala, Dan Carter, Vuyo Giba, Thobeka Shoba and Arthur Dlamini. Looking at their incredible work awoke something in me.”

“The moment it was confirmed for me was an afternoon in my garden, listening to Simphiwe Dana’s song “Umthandazo wase Afrika”. There’s a line in the song that says “Wandifundisa ukuba ngumgcini, mgcini wamaxesha. Nats’indlela yam – ibhaliwe.” That felt like a direct command and confirmation from above of what my work was to be – an archivist of the musical icons of our time.”

What connects music, jazz in particular, to photography?

They are two art forms in conversation, in real time! What you see in a single frame is the result of artists in collaboration – a union of gifts. That’s the magic you feel when you see the emotion captured in a single picture!  

Is there a particular outcome that you aim for when taking photos?

Music Photography is a combination of strategy and surrender. The strategy part is observing the band – watching how they move, listening to the music and its movements, and how they express emotion. The bigger component is surrendering to the moment, allowing it to reveal itself to you.

My single job as a photographer is to make the viewer feel something. Sometimes it’s the raw emotion expressed by a vocalist like Muneyi and sometimes its a peaceful curiosity evoked by someone like Muhammad Dawjee (saxophonist). I’m learning to put this emotion first, before any technical perfection. What matters is capturing the sacred moment between the musician and the audience, making the viewer feel like they were right in that room!

What unique challenges do you face as one of the few black female jazz photographers?

I think the challenges in this space mirror challenges faced by black women in all spheres of work life. For example, there’s a delicate balance between letting your work speak for itself and pushing to make sure that your work is seen in the relevant rooms. There are also specific challenges like the fact that most gigs happen in the evening

There are also specific challenges like the fact that most gigs happen in the evenings – so you have to travel and leave your family at home. It has helped to have an incredibly supportive husband, who believes in my gift and vision. 

That said, being the only woman in the room is a strange dynamic, and my sincere hope is that there can be more and more of us!

I’m also grateful for sisterhood and support from fellow Music Photographers who are women, as well as women musicians! 

Do you have favourite photography subjects?

Haha I can’t answer that – you’ll get me in trouble! 

Sincerely, though, each subject has a unique beauty and energy. Some are quiet and contemplative, others have an electric stage presence, and their audiences love them for that particular energy. My job is to plug in to a musician’s frequency, and work with that.   

What is the jazz photography scene like in South Africa? 

It’s exciting! That is fed largely by the fact that the jazz scene itself is increasingly exciting. I appreciate the sense of mutual respect among jazz photographers – we love each other’s work. Even if there are several of us shooting at the same show, our perspectives are all different, and we each tell a different story with our images. The beauty of that is that it fosters an abundance mindset – the sense that there is more than enough room for all of us.

Lerato’s Top Picks From Her Collection

1. Bra Feya Faku 

Bra Feya Faku photographed by Lerato Pakade

This was taken at my very first official lesson with my teacher, Phomolo Nzunga, at Bra Feya’s Birthday concert at the Joburg Theatre. Phomolo made it clear that the learning process was going to be an active one, not just theoretical. I love this photo because it was another confirmation for me that I am making the right choice by pursuing this work – Bra Feya used this image in his thank you message after the concert, which was a huge honour. The irony is that when his team asked for more photos, I had to admit that I hadn’t taken that many because I was shy! I’ve come a long way since then.

2. Bra Herbie Tsoaeli

Herbie Tsoaeli Photographed by Lerato Pakade

These were taken at Bra Herbie’s show at the Joburg Theatre, too. They are special to me because his team was the first ever to commission me for paid work. They had seen the work I had been posting and believed in me. It has been truly special to continue the relationship over time, including adding both of these images to the selection for my first solo exhibition.

3. Mandisi Dyantyis

Mandisi Dyantyisi photographed by Lerato Pakade

This was taken quite recently – at a concert hosted by The Dig. The atmosphere was so warm – beautiful black people gathered on a Sunday afternoon to feed their spirits and souls through music. When Mandisi came on stage, it was late afternoon, so the light you see behind him is the afternoon sun shining through the glass. This image captures a kind of joyful communion between artist and audience – his audience delights in him just as he does in them. It’s a beauty to behold!

4. Dudu Makhoba and Ntate Prince Lengoasa

Dudu Makhoba and Prince Lengoate photographed by Lerato Pakade

This moment is from the 2nd World Sound Concert, also hosted at the Joburg Theatre (I see a trend here – the lighting of the theatre is amazing for shooting!). Here, brilliant vocalist Dudu Makhoba had invited Ntate Prince Lengoasa on to the stage to perform “There’s Music in the Air”. I loved witnessing the intergenerational collaboration, and particularly the mutual appreciation. In this moment, Dudu had made a stunning vocal choice that departs from the original song and, as you can see, Ntate Prince is both impressed and moved!

5. Mbuso Khoza 

Mbuso Khoza photographed by Lerato Pakade

Finally, this is another photograph taken early on in my photography journey – at the 2022 Makhanda Arts Festival. Mbuso Khoza is an alchemist of spirit and sound. Shooting this was an interesting challenge because of how emotionally moved I was by his performance. It felt like having to travel back and forth between dimensions to both experience and capture his musical performance. This particular photo reflects a quiet moment, which felt like we were eavesdropping on a prayer.

6. Malcom Jiyane

I’m going to be sneaky and add one more! This moment between trombonist Malcom Jiyane and his band mates speaks for itself. It shows us that the musicians themselves take nothing for granted – they don’t play by wrote learning. Instead, they too surrender to something greater, to be vessels! How beautiful that even the most experienced musicians remain in awe of the Music.

To get a copy of her catalogue, you can email Lerato at or you can follow her on Instagram @leratopakade.

If you’re a musician or an artist of another kind, I’m definitely open for commission to capture live shows and other take live portraits. And of course, if you’re going on tour, my passport is ready!


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