Born a South African and raised during the unstable interregnum years of Post-Apartheid South Africa, Guitarist Vuma Ian Levin's music is an attempt to interrogate conceptions of identity, nation, culture, power and being both globally and in the emergent, post 1994 South African Democratic project.
According to The Mail and Guardian, "Vuma Levin is destined to be one of South African jazz's greatest musicians". Beginning his studies in jazz at age 18, Vuma received lessons from the South African Jazz guitar legend, Johnny Fourie. He completed a National Diploma at the Tswane University of Technology going on to be presented with the best Guitarist Award(2008). In 2009, he was selected as the guitarist in the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band, which culminated in a performance at the Grahamstown Jazz Festival and later at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival.
Vuma went on to attend the prestigious Conservatorium Van Amsterdam where he graduated and was one of 10 students in the Netherlands to earn the Non-EU Talent Scholarship to finance his masters study. In 2014 he, won the 2nd prize in the National Leg of the Keep an Eye Jazz Awards. He went on to win the 3rd prize, incentive prize and prize for the most original band in the international leg of the Keep an Eye Jazz Awards, which featured bands from New York, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Vienna and Philadelphia. In 2014 he was nominated for the Dutch Eindwerk Prijs and went on to be announced as one of the 9 national finalists. In 2015, he was selected as a finalist in the Dutch Keep an Eye: The Records awards. In 2016, Vuma won the national leg of the Keep an eye Jazz awards and came 3rd in the international leg, featuring bands from Sienna, Boston, New York, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Later that year, he was selected as a finalist in the Dutch Jazz Awards and won the 2nd place prize which allowed him to record his 2nd album Life and Death on the Otherside of the Dream. He also graduated, cum laude, from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and was selected as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Montreux Socar Internationl Jazz Guitar Competition. Previous winners included Gilad Hekselman and Alexander Goodman.
In 2017, Vuma returned to South Africa to take up a teaching position at the University of Witwatersrand. He was featured on CNNs African Voices and embarked on an international tour to release his 1st and 2nd albums. In 2018, he was selected by Prohelvetia to be Artist in Residence in the City of Basel at the Musikerwohnhuis, during which time he recorded his 3rd album with Swiss guitar virtuoso Theo Duboule. The resulting project “In Motion” would go on to feature Ohad Talmor (protégé of Lee Konitz) and tour throughout Switzerland. In 2019, Vuma was shortlisted as one of the 50 best guitar players in the world by Dutch Guitar Player Magazine in the Category “Best World Music Guitarist”. Later that year he was commissioned to write for the world renowned Stockholm Saxophone Quartet as part of the annual Sterkfontein Compsers Symposium. In 2020, Vuma released his 4th album Antique Spoons and was included in the Mail and Guardian’s 200 young South African’s list. In 2021, Vuma was invited to sit on the panel of judges adjudicating the National leg of the Unisa International Strings Competition, was named as the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz and received the NIHSS, HSS award for best musical composition.
Levin, has performed with some of the top musicians in South Africa and abroad including: Benjamin Herman(Netherlands), Maarten Hogenhuis(Netherlands), Mark Schilders(Netherlands), Ohad Talmor(USA) Banz Oester(SWI), Domenic Landolf(SWI), Matthias Spillman(SWI), Marc Mean (SWI), Marcus Wyatt, Feya Faku, Herbie Tsoeli, Nduduzo Makhatini, Carlo Mombelli, Ayanda Sikade, Sisonke Xonti, Mandla Mlangeni, Kesivan Naidoo, Siya Makuzeni, Kyle Shepherd, Bokani Dyer, Peter Auret, Benjamin Jephta, Neil Gonsalves, Shane Cooper, Ndabo Zulu and many more. He has performed at a number of top venues and festivals in South Africa and Abroad including: North Sea Jazz Festival(NED), Montreux Jazz Festival(SWI), Jazz in Duketown(NED), Amersfoort Jazz Festival(NED), Grachtenfestival(NED), Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, Grahamstown Jazz Festival, More Jazz Series(Mozambique, Maputo), Budapest Palace of the Arts(HUN), The Bimhuis(NED), Lantaren Venster(NED), The Bird's Eye(SWI), AMR(SWI), Gambrinus(SWI) The Orbit, De Tor (Enschede, Netherlands), The Amsterdam Jazz Festival(Amsterdam, Netherlands), Jazz Showcase (Budapest, Hungary). Finally he has received lessons from and attended masterclasses by; Lage Lund, Jesse Van Ruller, Gilad Hekselman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Terryl Stafford, Reinier Baas, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gary Wittner, Helen Sung, Martijn Van Iterson, Maarten van de Grinten and many more... He has released 4 albums as a band leader and has played on countless others as a sideman.
Selected press quotations:
A sonic journey with Vuma Levin – Mail and Guardian – June 2015
“Vuma Levin is destined to be one of South Africa’s greatest musicians... The resulting music is a sonic journey through Levin’s hopes and fears, both as a musician and a South African. These are songs that are trying to soundtrack what it’s like to be displaced at home and abroad. It’s meditative and melancholic, and anchored by his guitar strings.”
Vuma Levin: Musical Painting – All About Jazz – May 2018
“South African guitarist and composer Vuma Levin has been receiving significant accolades in local and international circles, and it’s easy to see why. A thoughtful, intelligent improviser and bandleader, Levin is also a highly thought-provoking composer, one intent on exploring the music’s role in commenting on and shaping societal discourse.”
The biggest jazz musician in Johannesburg – Short Documentary CNN Africa – 1 Sept 2017
“How Vuma Levin became a fan favorite in the African Jazz community.”
In the small halls of North Sea Jazz festival you can still hear special and innovative jazz - Volkskrant - 15 July 2018
“Vuma Levin Quintet sounds playful because of the usually cheerful melodies. Underneath the five put a finely thought out collection of rhythmic motifs that fit nicely together. It is refreshing to hear how guitarist Levin combines the African influences in his music with guitar sounds that you would not expect in South African music. It's also good that the guitarist regularly drops himself into the background. Immediately the guitarist arouses sympathy by thanking the audience after just one song for their choice to come to his concert. ”
Op-Ed: The New Wave of South Africa Jazz – Afro Punk – 24 Feb 2016
“He’s an eclectically cutting edge, aesthetically refreshing new addition to the contemporary African jazz scene. He’s the personification of these exciting times for Africa and Africans around the globe. Watch out Kamasi Washington, Vuma Levin’s in the building.”
I discovered everything that makes me South African in Amsterdam - NRC - March 2018
“The quintet sounds like a solid whole despite the often complex music. Levin has its very own clear guitar sound that sometimes sounds rocky without being rock, rather jazz. The speeches are produced via samples. Xavi Torres ’piano playing is at times phenomenal. You can safely say that this is new South African jazz. "
The South African Identity and Jazz of Vuma Levin - Written in Music - March 2018
"Exciting and listening, lyrical and open, with here and there African elements, Levin proves himself as a special instrumentalist, band leader and composer, who is very successful internationally."