Percussionist John Hassan Revives the Moses Molelekwa legacy through another Jazz in the Native Yard Experience

In February 2001, the South African music world was shocked suddenly: a young brilliant pianist, Moses Molelekwa, and his manager wife, Flo, were found dead in their central Johannesburg office. The Cape Town fans and musicians held an unforgetable mourning gathering at Good Hope Center to mark this untimely passing of an unusually talented artist at age 27.   Last Sunday, 28 July in 2019, a day after a national public Memorial for another extraordinary Legend, Johnny Clegg, the Cape Town community came together to honour Molelekwa’s legacy, with an added delightful feature of Molelekwa’s son, Zoe, at piano.

Moses Molelekwa – credit Shadley Lombard

The Tribute, conceived by percussionist-composer John Hassan of the South African Afro-Latin band, Hassan’adas, revived appreciation for a notable period in South Africa’s jazz history when young guns moved their artistry through the 1980s apartheid hurtles into the 1990s new political dawn.

John Hassan -Credit T Visagie

Moses was there, fired up by both family supports and the times to ‘find himself’ as his first 1994 album, Finding One’s Self, suggested. At age 22, his mastery and level of maturity with improvisation and technique were shaking heads. By the time he released his second album, Genes and Spirits in 1999, Moses had toured and mentored with other legends, such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Cuba’s own Chucho Valdes. Then, dead at age 27.

There will be more to applaud about Moses and his musical legacy when the very tall son Zoe returns to perform in Cape Town next month. His parents’ deaths left 6 year old Zoe to the care of Moses’ musically innovative father, Jerry ‘Bra Monk’, who made sure little grandson Zoe would grow up in the finest of musical traditions through the Moses Molelekwa Foundation, established to provide learning opportunities to young musicians. Remarkable stories abound.

A Jazzy experience before the concert: Traditional beer, beaded watch bands, and books for sale

It needs to be mentioned, again, that events sponsored by Jazz in the Native Yards aim at giving patrons an experience of jazz which which they will marvel at for days/weeks after. Always get to a JiNY concert early . This Moses Molelekwa Tribute concert on Sunday was held at the popular Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center in Langa township, 15 minutes from Cape Town’s CBD.

As you walk into the Center, wall paintings, murals, and a wide range of hand-made beaded and sculptured items meet the eye, splashing colourful artistry that seems authentic and honest. Tables are lined up with these artistic varieties seeking to not just welcome patrons to the musical event, but engage them in tasting, viewing, and maybe even buying some of the enticing offerings coming from the township artisans. This is how ‘the experience” begins: The delectable smell of Waga’s Fries draws one into conversation about how a ‘special’ variety of potato can be turned into a healthy snack; it’s grown as a project at the Cape Town University of Technology Belville campus garden by horticulturalist, Wanga Ncise.

Waga Fries with promoter Wanga Ncise

Taste the fry, slightly brown and crisp, and coated with tasty herbs and bread crumbs, and you’ll see why a potato can be transformed before your very eyes! Snack in hand with this crunchy fry, the eye feast continues through the tables: beautifully beaded watch bands with red watch faces to die for; cloth earrings and jewelry. I liked the traditional beer keg on the second-hand books table! Now that entices one to read, neh?

Finally, entering the open courtyard of Guga with its mural walls and drinks ‘n snacks kiosk beckoning, one finds another table of home–made curry stew with rice and salad. If the weather did not call for sprinkles, more artists’ tables would distract and beckon from this courtyard.

The music starts. Hassan has rightly provided a space for two young musicians to kick off the event: Pianist Nobhule Ashanti and trumpeter Keitumetsi ‘Tumi’ Pheko.

Zoe Molelekwa- credit T Visagie

When 24 year old Zoe sits down at the piano for a few songs, a deafening silence spreads through the audience of some 110 patrons, with photographers slowly inching close to the stage like cautious chameleons to get that careful shot of Zoe’s head hung low over the keys, his dreadlocks obscuring his good looks. His rendition of his father’s classic “Spirit of Thembisa” stayed true to form.

Hassan’s band then explodes into Latin and Molelekwa tunes, with several songs taken from Hassan’s own Afro-Jazz repertoire with Hassan also playing guitar. Stellar musicians make up his band: Lucas Khumalo (bass guitar), Trevino Isaacs (piano), Nathan Carolus (guitar), and the cream of Cape Town’s jazz scene comprising of drummer Kevin Gibson, and saxophonist Buddy Wells (saxophone). Hassan tells how he and Moses were once flatmates in Johannesburg which is why Hassan is passionate about remembering his dear friend’s legacy.

“We are starting with one show in Cape Town and hope to take the show to other provinces in time. The idea is to bring Moses’ son Zoe and musicians from the Moses Molelekwa Foundation to join us in future performances.”

Tributes are usually to the artist in passing, but they allow for the sponsoring promoter, Hassan, to also promote his own music. “The object of this project is to celebrate Moses’ music. It is not a benefit concert but rather a tribute to Moses Molelekwa” says Hassan.

Criticism might be cast as to the balance between a tribute and self-promotion, but Hassan’s contributions and passion certainly got the audience enthused, appreciative, and dancing with his bouncy reggae “Peace and Love”!! He has educated and re-engaged listeners to be aware of the unusual, yet forever resounding sounds of the genes and spirits of Moses Molelekwa, an artistic gift to South Africa’s musical and cultural legacy. Such awareness raising will continue with Zoe Molelekwa’s upcoming tour which will focus more on his father’s music and on Zoe’s own growing library of compositions and favourites. Stay tuned for more on the Molelekwas!

Zoe Molelekwa Trio performs at several venues in Cape Town, hosted by Jazz in the Native Yards (all gigs are R100): 

Wed 28 August:  7.30 pm.  Youngblood, 70-74 Bree Street

Frid 30 August:  7.30 pm.  Alliance Francaise, 155 Loop Street

Sunday 1 September:  4pm.  Guga S’thebe, King Langalibalele Dr, Langa.

Jazz Sessions has scheduled the Masque Theater, Muizenberg, on Sunday, 25 August, 2019, 18:30 hours. Tickets R120. Information: 021-788-1898 or https://www.facebook.com/UllaJazzSessions/

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