TRC’s “Afrika Grooves” tells artists’ stories: Mlangeni and Mkize discusss

TRC – Tune Recreation Committee – has produced ‘Afrika Grooves’ which rings of collective healing and learnings, attributed to one’s own musical society at large as well as legendary greats who have influenced each musician.         

Even appreciation for a Buddhist teacher and Swedish hospitality are themed in this eclectic album which presents each musician’s composition. Sonic stories pulse with African beats, longings, and memories of what seemed to work well for each musician, like bassist Nicolas Williams’ love for the red colour in “Red Room” which inspired him at one time. Several compositions stay close to the musician’s forte, like guitarist Reza Khota’s ‘Diamond Mind’ with its spiritual and thoughtful bent punctuated by time signature changes ala John McLaughlin which makes this long piece quite interesting.

Pianist Afrika Mkize tries in “Kudala”, the opening piece on the album, to present a traditional Mbhaqanga tune without using the usual Mbhaqanga 1-4-5 progression. Well, he ended up playing that tried and tested progression. Likewise, in his song, “Malume”, one hears his enthralling tribute to fellow musician and bassist, Herbie Tsoaeli, whose influence and guidance steered the younger Mkize. Saxophonist Mark Fransman adds colour and contrast.

Band leader, trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni , brings two very different pieces to this album’s groove: a classical Ravelian piano feel to “Lover’s Reverie” sets a dreamy mood followed by Mlangeni’s slow muted diction. Here, Mkize shows his classical best. Mlangeni’s ending piece, “Abazingeli”, pulls African beats and indigenous percussion and whistles of guest Tlale Makhene into an aural story about how our early hunters survived.

While TRC upholds a philosophy of collaboration with and freedom by artists, one only wonders what threads hold the musical stories together, other than providing a sonic platform for individual voices and styles.

Musically speaking, pianist Mkize holds this album together. I caught up with him and Mlangeni during their Capetown tour end January 2019….

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Trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni grew up as a ‘city slicker’ with urban influences in a politically active family. He boasts a range of skills including teaching, performing, arranging and composing diverse styles of music for which he has secured an Artist in Residence at the University of the Western Cape in Capetown. Afrika Mkize, son of illustrious pianist, Themba Mkize, grew up in rural KwaZulu Natal and home-studied classical piano from an early age. Both musicians formally trained at the National School for the Arts in Johannesburg, and went on to compose and perform with other bands, some in European and American spaces. Both have received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz.

As part of the TRC’s collaboration focus, the band joins others at Africa-wide music Festivals, including the Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar early February, and later in May, festivals in Swaziland, at JHB’s Constitutional Hill, and then in Reunion Island and Durban. This festival circuit is given the name, Igoda, a concept which in Zulu means weaving two threads to strengthen a rope. “We call it Igoda because the TRC wants to network with various platforms, musicians, and institutions in Africa to share our talents and push jazz music forward across other musical landscapes,” says Mlangeni. He sees his role as Artist in Residence at the University of Western Cape for these next 6 months: “I’ll be dealing with programming and gaining access to larger communities and establishing networks so that artists can tap into a festival network.” Hence, TRC’s thrust in committing to the Igoda Southern African Music Festival Circuit during 2019.

On the other hand, Afrika Mkize has redirected his energies from performing and composing to undertaking other creative and ambitious projects. His ongoing mastery in transcribing the late pianist Mbeki Mseleku’s songs has impressed enthusiasts, teachers, and students who can now access published materials of this great South African jazz legend. Writing audio scores for radio ads and TV series, such as “Fallen”, keeps him working at home where he prefers to be. “It doesn’t make economic sense any more to just perform,” he admits,” particularly now that the Orbit is closed in JHB.” He continues:

“I produce records, even tune pianos now for an income. I never dreamed I would do that! I’m currently working on producing a record for vocalist Mbusa Khosa from Durban, who has worked with [Carlo] Mombelli a lot. Productions maintain an income and commissions plus royalties from the production. I like the business that prolongs income for my children.”

Mkize is very concerned that performances are perhaps dying out.

“Lots of musicians have been going to school, getting degrees, higher degrees, so in the next 5-10 years, everyone will be wanting to teach. And there won’t be many performers or venues out there to listen to. We as performers are in serious trouble also because there won’t be enough opportunities for teaching as there will be too any of us for the few institutions!”

Mkize continues.

“You know, this ‘Integration’ in 1994 is a weird subject to talk about. In the 70s and 80s, Black musicians were playing in the townships. With the new government of 1994, ‘integration’ was almost like a negative thing. The business of music could move ‘to town’ where ‘integration’ could take place, but where there were fewer venues for playing than during apartheid in townships! And capitalism – whoever was making money during apartheid can make their money in the open now, so the gap of who’s making it, and who’s not making it comes to light…those with money flourished. Others of us – are we going to buy a CD or bread? “

Both musicians believe the whole creative sector needs to come together with musicians to clarify values. Mlangeni expresses hope: “We are activating a movement with more cultural currency; more building of bridges, creating a singularity/a vision that includes everyone. African differences are brought together while sharing commonalities at workshops and on the live stage.”

The Igoda Southern African Music Festival Circuit is certainly one major opportunity to gather artists for sharing and resolving issues they continually face. Patrons are urged to attend.

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