Drummer Lumanyano Mzi: Give Artists Visas; Let Them Share Global Spaces!

Lumanyano Mzi has been visiting his South African home, touring with the internationally renowned Cape Town-based reggae band, Azania, as well as playing a few shows in Cape Town with his friends and colleagues. It’s been 18 months since Lumanyano left home to further his education at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston to which he will be returning to start his 4th academic term in September.  All Jazz Radio Internet Radio based in Cape Town caught up with him during this brief visit to discover the vast opportunities he has taken up while schooling in Boston. 

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Music, rhythm, and message have remained strong cornerstones of growth for this young man since he was 7 years old!  http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2017/11/08/gigging-since-age-7-persistence-pays-off-for-drummer-lumanyano-unity-mzi/   Brought up in the township of Delft in Cape Town, Lumanyano’s thirst for sonic diversity led him through local bands, studying at the South African College of Music UCT, as well as being part of some international projects. Keeping to his transcultural interests, he was accepted to study at Berklee in 2018 but due to financial difficulties was unable to attend and unfortunately had to defer. A few years later through the great generosity of The Great Hospitality company based in France, CEO Thomas Gamier believed in Lumanyano’s dream and awarded him a scholarship to attend Berklee in Boston starting January 2021.

I had briefly joined a mentorship training program which was run by Berklee College of Music, City Music program at the Stellenbosch University about six years ago. During this time I met Berklee professors who were facilitators in this program. On their first day, they were taken to Langa to a performance by Jo Kunnuji which I was a part of and this is where they heard me play. After the performance, two of the professors expressed that Berklee would be the best place for me to go, and they could help with recommendation letters. 

When I got accepted to Berklee I was extremely happy as it was a dream come true! But then that was followed by sadness when I saw the scholarship awarded. I knew I was not going to have the rest of the finances! So I chucked the letter away for a while! Some touring projects became available, including being a band member in the smash-hit musical “Kinky Boots”, at Cape Town’s now-closed popular Fugard Theatre, plus marriage to his favorite other. 

Then COVID hit, just another anti-artist whack in the face, divorcing artists from gaining much-needed income from live gigs.  But determined, Lumanyano used his time to find funds from here and there, successfully, and proceeded to join an amazing international crowd of creatives at the Boston school. His studies are dated up to 2025, and he plans to do his Masters there.

At the College, students can join various ensembles of interest.  You can get into the ensembles you want depending on your audition ratings. There are many musical styles that interest me. These past few semesters I did the Berklee Contemporary  Indian ensemble, The Afro Caribbean ensemble, The Brazilian ensemble, a Jazz Straight-ahead ensemble, as well as a classical percussion ensemble. The ensembles have offered me incredible growth. I do a lot of writing, producing, and arranging, and am learning piano as it’s a required course for my Contemporary Writing & Production Major. My other major is in Performance (in drums).

Whilst at Berklee, who has been the biggest influence in your growth? Just being there has influenced me on so many levels. I’m playing with incredible musicians and meeting amazing people whom I call friends. I am studying with some of the best professors/musicians in the industry. The percussion department alone has drummers I’ve looked up to since I was a child. For my principal instrument, the drum, so far I’ve studied with Richard Flanagan, Jon Hazilla, Neal Smith, and Billy Kilson. All of these interactions have been a great influence. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t7770WttJg Sunday, the 25th – by Ciara Moser, Amaury Cabral, Lumanyano Mzi, Paolo Peruzzi, feat Aditi Malhotra

One might think that coming from the African continent might seem like a disadvantage, but in fact, it has been my strongest weapon. Our strong culture and diversity are what sets us apart. That is why being African alone has been exciting; our music is at the very core of what the institution is built on. But coming home, it’s always good to see my friends killing it on the local scene, performing and cutting albums, like Mandisi Dyantyis, Sean Sanby, and Muneeb Hermans to mention a few. It was incredible to listen to Hilton’s Goema Club band live at Hanks the one night. And thank God for social media, we are able to stay in touch. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20dkwxVicl4&t=4s   Unity Band playing ‘Trails’, 2019.

What’s it like living in the United States, especially with a social climate that hangs heavy with racial tensions?  Honestly, where I am in Boston is an international space, a student city if I may say. I haven’t experienced that sort of prejudice.  Rather, I experienced a sense of ‘ubuntu’ from foreign nationals in Boston and at the school. I’m not in spaces where I feel uncomfortable.

Except when he and his wife moved into their apartment and were eager to meet their neighbors as one would do living in Cape Town.  Well, knocking on the neighbor’s door to introduce ourselves didn’t go over so well;  not something Americans do, readily!  Lumanyano admitted he found that people are afraid of confrontation, or not always open to conversation.  But being on the side of cyberspace, with “cyber keyboard wires”, people can appear friendly.

His name means ‘unity’ and he won’t give up living his message.  Just being an artist speaks for itself.  I promote love, peace, and unity through my music and through projects I affiliate with.  Let’s bring people together. The world is tough, and only art helps us cope. It is very sad that artists cannot share their love, art, and message that easily through traveling and joining in events. Open the world up to artists. Give artists visas so they can travel and share their music!!  This would benefit society so much!!

Original Unity Band-credit: Daniel R. Manners

The UNITY Band plans on launching its new project this year. This will be its second album following up on their 2018 debut album Fabric which won them the 2019 Best Newcomer in Jazz award at the Mzantsi Jazz Awards. The songs were recorded during the lockdown in 2020, and the album is being touched up, for the release. 

Lumanyano still needs our help to continue his dream at the Berklee College of Music. If you or your organization would like to help or donate, please feel free to get in touch with him: unitymzi@gmail.com or visit his website at www.unitymzi.com 

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