Sound and space need better coordination: Zoe Molelekwa tests Youngblood Gallery

Take the wall paintings and sculptures made from metal, wire, and wood, and put together the sound of a solo baby grand piano and what do you get? Visual art meets musical vibrations producing a soulful push that is once meditative, and gently soothing in this creative space. Then add an able drummer, bass guitar and amplification and the whole sonic experience crumbles. High ceilings of this otherwise delightful gallery simply do not permit loud percussive instruments to work. Framed visual art pieces can survive on well painted or brick walls with some clever lighting effects, but sounds depend on spacial air to carry the vibrations which is why wind instruments and human voices resonate kindly in cathedrals and in lofty no-ceiling structures.

Zoe Molelekwa at piano with Buddy Wells on sax

Youngblood Arts and Cultural Development Gallery on Bree Street in central Cape Town, while a space for experiencing awe and wonderment at the visuals on display, finds it challenging to provide a decent sound for a variety of instruments. Pianist Zoe Molelekwa handled his solos delicately on the baby grand piano, so rarely available for concerts in public places. Thank you, Gallery, for this. His repetitive phrasing, almost chant-like, and soft touch of chords splitting apart into runs made for easy and thoughtful music to the ears.

When his capable band members chimed in, the upped volume with bass amplification drowned out both piano and bass guitar. Buddy Well’s enduring saxophone could rise above the cacophony of sounds and carry the tune well. High ceilings simply don’t do justice to the music. Then again, why amplify so loudly in such a small space as the Youngblood’s foyer?

Also, musician training – to talk clearly and loudly into the microphone when introducing a song or message – requires attention of the artist to mic deficiencies. It was such a pity that one heard little this evening inspite of this aspiring young musician’s attempts to present his hard-worked compositions.

A pleasant arrangement of tables and chairs by the bar provided nourishment and a cosy atmosphere for diners to view the stage just before the show started. But the coffee grinding machine humming during a solo piano just doesn’t work; the meditative mood set by the pianist was shattered as wine glasses or cutlery falls. Bars near the seated audience need to shut their noise, not shut down, during an act. Simple.

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In contrast, Guga S’thebe Cultural Center in Langa provided, again, a pleasant, sound-perfect experience when young Molelekwa and his band took the stage last Sunday. Molelekwa’s piano solos were delicate, almost Pythagorean in healing , as head hung low , he massaged the keys with a depth of soul, even longing, as he ended his afternoon concert playing one of his late father’s songs. We could hear his microphone introductions clearly, in spite of his somewhat timid, perhaps shy, voice timber.

https://youtu.be/JcIqlanLZFw

Molelekwa and his drummer Bonolo Nkoane, his bassist Grant van Royen, and saxman Buddy Wells warrant applause for presenting the soulful compositions of young Molelekwa who seems to be well on his way to emulating his late father Moses Molelekwa’s creative jazz-bending styles. Caution, therefore, is required in choosing the right sound system for spaces unable to cushion those floating vibrations that easily distort.

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