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Andile Yenana at work

Andile Yenana at work

“My interest in Jazz was triggered at a very early age and I guess my soul was nurtured in my formative years by all forms of urban black music – Motown, Philadelphia, South African Jazz, The Blues, Funk & Gospel.”

On completing his studies under the tutelage of Professor Darius Brubeck at Natal University, Andile moved to Johannesburg and began working with many of the seasoned musicians in the country, beginning with Zim Ngqawana. Zim and Andile have since recorded 2 CDs under Sheer Sound – San Song (Norwegian and South African collaboration) and Zimology. Zimology was also recorded in Norway. The Mahube project, the 12-piece collaboration of South African artists, is yet another big musical achievement in Andile’s career. Andile’s relationship with Steve Dyer (producer of Mahube) dates back as early as 1991 in Durban. Andile and Steve have been involved in many Star projects and tours throughout the whole of the sub-Saharan countries. Mahube is a culmination of all the work they have done together and more so the trust Steve has in Andile’s musical abilities.

Besides the afore-mentioned personalities, he has worked extensively with legendary musicians such as Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi, Mike Makhalemele, Barney Rachabane and Stompie Manana. His musical talents have also been put to good use by vocalists such as Sibongile Khumalo, Gloria Bosman.and Suthukazi Arosi. Most recently, Andile has been the co-producer on Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s newest release, “Abantwana be Afrika”.

1996 was a good year for Andile, he took part in a tour of Chicago with Zim Ngqawana; the theme was “Black History Month.” Andile has since been to Chicago twice for an extensive tour of the Midwest in 1997.

He was also involved in a project that was a collaboration between South African and British Jazz musicians; this band was formed primarily in England and played at the Royal Albert Hall in London. They received rave reviews from the press in London. After the concert in London, the South African contingent, led by Zim Ngqawana, went on to play in France at Fin de Siecle (a South African music festival in Nantes).

Andile’s quest to find a voice and chemistry in a group set-up led to the creation of Voice. The infectious passion and love of jazz projected by Herbie Tsoaeli, the resilience and inspiration from Sydney Mnisi, the wealth of life experience in the music projected by ther late Lulu Gontsana and Morabo Morojele and the undaunted spirit of Marcus Wyatt resulted in the recording of Voice: A Quintet Legacy. Voice has recently released their acclaimed second album, “Songs for our Grandchildren – Quintet Legacy Vol. 2”.

Andile recorded his debut solo album, “We Used To Dance” with Sheer Sound; this long awaited album features Feya Faku, Sydney Mnisi, Kevin Gibson and Herbie Tsoaeli. The music shared by Voice served as a launching pad for this solo project. “We Used to Dance” was nominated for a SAMA 9 award in the category of Best South African Jazz Album.

For more information contact: Sheer Sound,
Tel: +27 11 444-1818, Fax: +27 11 444-2275, Email:

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JEFF MALULEKE – Vocalist, Composer

JEFF MALULEKE - Vocalist, Composer

JEFF MALULEKE – Vocalist, Composer

Jeff Maluleke is back full force! His latest album simply titled “A Twist of Jeff” is a resounding release with songs for all ages, stages and colours of life. These are great summer up-tempo feelings, with Latin influences, heartfelt ballads – an album that can get any party rocking, or any quiet gathering listening intently.

The album is produced by Musa Manzini and Lawrence Matchiza, and with a great cast of equally talented musicians, a true return to form for this amazing award winning vocalist and composer.

The History:
Jeff Maluleke was born and raised in semi-rural South Africa, Bushbuckridge in the heart of Mpumalanga Province in the Northern region of the country. From his days as a youth in this region his interest in music was apparent from an early age, and a firm foundation was set for his musical career.

Having completed his studies Jeff moved to Johannesburg where he attended an engineering course at Primitive Studios. During the course he met Dr. Victor who hired him as a backing vocalist for the Rasta Rebels. Jeff was then invited to write a track with Dr. Victor and together they came up with “I Miss Your Love” which was released on the album “One Goal, One Wish”.

His solo musical career began in earnest in September of 1995 when Jeff approached the CCP record company with a rough four-track demo containing what was to become the starting point for HAGONYA. Gone was the township pop of Papa Jeff which had already earned him a gold record (with sales upwards of 30 000 units) and in its place was a new sound that Jeff saw as the future direction of his music. The quality of music attracted some of SA’s finest musicians to do session work.

About the debut album “That’s The Way” Jeff had the following to say: “Underneath the sadness in this album lies a message of hope.” Say Jeff; “If you cannot find it in the lyrics then you will feel it in the music. I have tried to present African music in a form that will make it accessible to all and hopefully bring people to realise that it is not only for Africans, but for the world to enjoy.” This is still true to the music that Jeff makes to the current day.

Some time later, on his recent tour to South Africa Jackson Browne required the services of a support act who could meet his very high standards. Of the several prominent acts submitted for his perusal he chose Jeff Maluleke. The relationship was highly successful with Jeff Maluleke closing out their tour by performing two of Jackson’s tracks with him on the final night.

The album entitled Dzovo, was a brilliant combination of African and Western influences drawing on the inspirations of Mbaqanga, Kwassa Kwassa, melancholy folk, pop ballads, and funky Latin beats with lyrics in English, Zulu and the poetic Tsonga vernacular. Jeff’s touching melodic vocals and hook – jammed choruses, coupled with a prominent acoustic thread is carried throughout by the guitars of Ntokozo and Andy Innes, make “DZOVO” a memorable addition to all record collections.

Since then Jeff has released the resounding KILIMANJARO and MAMBO to great acclaim and radio support. The threads that were sewn so early in his life, attempting to create a universally appealing African sound that all can enjoy, were used to their fullest and saw wide appeal to various different markets with this album.

Jeff’s 2004 release, namely Ximatsatsa, is along these lines, but has a slight diversion with all of the lyrics in Tsonga (Shangaan), Jeff’s home language, and not mixed like his previous albums with elements of English and Swahili amongst others. Also the musical nature of the release sees some diversion. Still very much groove based and up-tempo, Jeff keeps it sweet and simple here, as less is so often more. Containing original compositions as well as some adaptations of traditional songs there is something for everyone to enjoy here and the messages are all very apt for the festive season (with many weddings and celebations) that we now enter.

Jeff’s status as a live performing artist had also progressed. He has performed and continues to perform at events such as the Standard Bank Jazz Festivals, which have been headlined by the likes of Hugh Masekela and Sibongile Khumalo. In fact these were early beginnings and Jeff has proudly held his own on stage performing alongside such greats as: Oliver Mtukudzi, Salif Keita, Femi Kuti, Andy Narell, Richard Bona, Jonas Gwangwa, Tsepo Tshola … the list is endless, you name them, Jeff has been there and impressed all!

SAMA 10 Award – 2003/4 (Best Composer) –album MAMBO
KORA AWARD – 2003 – (Best Video) – MAMBO
SAMA 8 Award – 2001/2 (Best Contemporary African album) – KILIMANJARO
KORA AWARD – 2002 – (Revelation of the Year) – KILIMANJARO
SAMA 7 –2000/1 – Best Producer – album Juliana

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Stix Hojeng was born to music in the small mining town of Kimberley, not far from the Big Hole. His mother was a vocalist; his father played the trumpet and his brother played drums. Stix’s first love affair was with the guitar, when he was just twelve years old. But the piano won his heart and he now plays keyboard for Miriam Makeba among others.

He has played with some of South Africa’s greatest talents, including Jimmy Dludlu, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Tsepo Tshola, Dr Victor and the late Brenda Fassie. He also played with the band CC Beat. And with Dludlu, Frank Paco and John Nassan, he was a founder member of the band Loading Zone. Later he joined another group, Africa OYe, and with this band produced an album called Moment of Truth.

For more read his CD review by Brian Hough on this website

Interview with Stix Hojeng by Brian Hough

On first meeting Stix Hojeng, one is bowled over by his humility, ready smile, self-effacing humour, and relaxed energy. We met in an Italian coffee shop and to my surprise Stix ordered a cappuccino and bowl of soup. So, the man is unconventional, and entertaining, and for the next hour I listened fascinated as Stix outlined his journey of jazz.

As a 12-year, he was knocked out by the return of a long lost uncle whose guitar skills were formidable. Such was the experience that Stix abandoned his plans to be a drummer, and started on the guitar immediately.

Although his early influences came from the Bee Gees, Abba, and whatever was a ’hit’ on local radio, he soon fell under the spells generated by Chick Corea, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and local jazz musos.

Stix has spent much of his life travelling in the UK, Europe, and USA and one can hear the influences from those countries when listening to him play.

His CD, is reviewed on this website provides a fascinating insight into his styles, and eclectic gathering of tunes. He spends most of his time at the keyboard where he composes, writes, arranges, produces, and even markets his endeavours. Copies of his album can be ordered directly from Stix by writing to him at:

Contact Details:
Brian Hough – E-mail: – Snailmail: Box 320 Bruma Johannesburg 2026 South Africa Tel/Fax: 27+11+622-1519 – Cell: 27+83+262-2333

Visit his website at

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RUS NERWICH – Project Founder and Director, Saxophonist

RUS NERWICH - Project Founder and Director, Saxophonist

RUS NERWICH – Project Founder and Director, Saxophonist

An artist of high integrity and sensitivity, Rus Nerwich has a reputation for being an innovative and dedicated musician. Committed to using music as a vehicle to uplift, communicate and empower, Nerwich is highly regarded by both musicians and the listening public, his album “Beyond the Walls” is recognized to be one of the most interesting and daring musical works to come out of South Africa in recent years. Nerwich has recently released an album of new work, from a project called entitled “Mantras4ModernMan”. Recent highlight performances were at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival as well as The Spier Arts Festival.

Visit Rus’ website at

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JAMES SCHOLFIELD – Guitarist, composer, band leader

JAMES SCHOLFIELD - Guitarist, composer, band leader

JAMES SCHOLFIELD – Guitarist, composer, band leader

James grew up in Cape Town, South Africa (after appearing initially at a Manchester hospital in the UK).

After trying hand (and lips) at a number of musical instruments went for the guitar as this seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Hanging out at the Jazz Workshop in Cape Town got to learn a lot and meet plenty of musicains from all over the place. Spent many teenage years hanging out at the local jazz gigs and watching the older cats play.

Amazing players like Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Jonathan Butler, Basil Moses, John Fourie, Merton Barrow. In between lots of playing with lots of musicians eg: Billy Hart (Wes Montgomery, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock and many more) Hein Van De Geyn (Dee Dee Bridgewater, John Abercrombie, Hein is also head of Challenge Jazz) Natascha Roth, Andrew Lilley, Coleman Mellet (Chuck Mangione), Jeanie Bryson (Terrance Blanchard, Grover Washington), Hotep Idris Galeta (Jackie Mclain), Winston Mankunku Ngozi, John Fourie, Jack Van Poll, Stacey Rowles, Paul Hamner, Gavin Minter, Philip Aertes to name a few.

Since 2003 James has been getting around Europe South Africa and the US. He still would like to go to South America and the Far East and is working on it.

Also check out – visit

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NATASHA ROTH – Vocalist, Bandleader, Composer, Teacher

NATASHA ROTH - Vocalist, Bandleader, Composer, Teacher

NATASHA ROTH – Vocalist, Bandleader, Composer, Teacher

Natascha is a jazz singer who has contributed so much to the South African Jazz scene and has performed all over South Africa including many years teaching at the University of Cape Town, where she has helped to produce some of South Africa’s leading voices in Jazz.

Recently Natascha was one of the vocalists featured at the Melodi International Jazz Festival 2007 in South Africa – together with the legendary Zulu Vocal Trio Mahotella Queens, 4 times SAMA award winner Simphiwe Dana and R&B star Lira as well as Cuban piano player Ramon Valle and jazz legend Pharao Sanders. In the USA Natascha has performed alongside the great jazz singer Jeanie Bryson, daughter of the late Dizzy Gillespie.

Natascha is the daughter of well-known German political journalist Thomas Roth, former bureau chief of German TV Johannesburg, later head of ARD Haupstadt Studio Berlin and currently chief correspondent for German Television in Moscow.

Growing up in Germany as a teenager Natascha was discovered by director Stephan Barbarino and featured in his production for the Staatstheater Stuttgart of Brecht’s “Baal”, performing alongside great actors such as Andrea Sawatzki and Johannes Silberschneider.

Later Natascha studied musical theatre at the Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna (AU) and completed a masters degree in Jazz Vocals at the University of Graz (AU) with Jazz singers Mark Murphy, Andy Bey, Jay Clayton, Sheila Jordan and Michele Hendricks.


Natascha is truly a world musician, singing in many different languages from Brazilian Portuguese, English and various European languages to the languages of Africa like Xhosa, Zulu, Pedi and Swahili.

Africa has been Natascha’s home for many years and she draws inspiration from the wealth of vocal tradition that emanates from the diverse cultures that exist on this continent.

Natascha, like her music, is not restricted by borders and travels regularly to different parts of the world to perform and to share her experience. The result being a unique way of combining different traditions of music and her global repertoire of songs.

Natascha has remained an individualist with a deep emotional connection to her material, which translates to a joyous and sincere live performance experience.

“The (Cd “Everything I love”)…is startling in its musical precision and complexity, while their musical sensitivity epitomizes the beauty of the jazz duo” (Program Standard Bank Jazz Festival, RSA 2007).

“…light and swinging her incredibly flexible voice…softly she lures the audience into the song…then her voice drops to unexpected lows and depth” (Koehler, HN-Stimme_04.12.04)

” …with all her professionalism, her singing is relaxed…she masters the scat of an Ella Fitzgerald effortlessly…a lot of feeling for tradition”. (Günther Currle, Göppingen_GP-Kult03).

“It’s All About sharing the Passion”

“South Africa has a seemingly endless resource of incredible vocal talent! If you are passionate about the human voice, like I am, it is very special to be surrounded by so much talent and beauty!”(N.R.)

For many years Natascha has been involved in sharing her passion for voice with other singers: “Helping young vocalists to develop their individual musicianship and watching them grow into skilled performers has been enormously exciting.”

Teaching at Universities in South Africa and Europe as well as at various national and international jazz workshops, Natascha has helped young singers to develop individual skills and confidence.

Some of South Africa’s young and leading singers of today have mentioned Natascha as one of their mentors and inspirations.

Award Winning SA Students:
• Monique Hellenberg: Winner SAMRO Jazz Vocal 2007, National Youth Jazz Band 2007, National Youth Big Band 2004, UCT Graduate.

• Lisa Bauer: 2nd pl. SAMRO Jazz Vocal 2007, UCT Graduate.

• Mimi Ntenjwa: Standard Bank National Youth Band 2004, UCT Graduate.

• Abigail Petersen: Winner SAMRO Jazz Vocal 2003, Jazz Impressions 2003, UCT Graduate, UCT Lecturer jazz voice.

• Nonthutuselo Puoane: Semifinalist International Brussels Jazz Competition 2006. 2nd pl. SAMRO Jazz Vocal 2003, Winner Regional Old Mutual Jazz Competition,.

• Lindiwe Maxolo: Winner Regional Old Mutual African Jazz 2002, UCT Graduate.

• Zukiswa Nomtshongwana: Winner National Old Mutual African Jazz Voice 2001, UCT Graduate.

Visit her websites at or

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JOHNNY FOURIE – Mentor, teacher, guitarist and songwriter

JOHNNY FOURIE - Mentor, teacher, guitarist and songwriter

JOHNNY FOURIE – Mentor, teacher, guitarist and songwriter

Johnny Fourie – a detailed biography first published in Rootz Magazine 2002
By Jonathan Crossley

“Johnny Fourie is one of the greatest guitar players of our epoque”
John McLaughlin, 21st June 2002.

When still at school, and studying classical guitar, I expressed a desire to study under Johnny Fourie. I brought this up with my guitar teacher of the time, who expressed certain preconceptions surrounding Fourie’s teaching, and other unrelated idiosyncrasies. A second and later attempt with another teacher also met a similar response.

I finally began lessons with Fourie in 1998, and over the past years have discovered that this gentle, caring and above all honest man is definitely the subject of many urban legends. Hopefully, this article will arouse some new interest, and perhaps put a few truths on record.

Johnny Fourie was born Jan Carel Fourie in the Postmansburg district of Hay in the Western Cape on the eighteenth of May 1937. His earliest recollections are of his father going to fight in the Second World War, and of growing up on a farm with his grandparents. He remembers already having expressed the desire to play the guitar by the age of four but his mother was unable to purchase one for him. His parents separated when he was six years old and his mother moved the small family to the east-rand town of Benoni where she worked as a seamstress. She also played the accordion and encouraged Fourie’s musical development by purchasing a guitar.

It was while living in Benoni that Fourie was introduced to American films. On Saturdays he would ‘slip into the movie house’, and watch films for the better part of the day. Through these films Fourie was introduced to country music, as well as many of the great swing ballads and show tunes that would become part of his staple repertoire. But his first real listening experience of jazz came in 1949, with a radio show by the George Shearing quintet. In fact this show made such an impression on Fourie that he still recalls the personnel; George Sherring on piano, Chuck Wayne on guitar, Marjorie Haymes on vibraphone, Vernel Fournier on drums and Denzil Best on bass. The very next day Fourie was at the local bicycle shop, where he could buy 78’ shellac records, and got his hands on this recording, which he then took home and set about mastering every nook and cranny of the disc.

He delved into many recordings over the next few years, and absorbed recordings by Barney Kessel, Oscar Moore, Johnny Smith and Mundell Lowe, to name but a few. By the age of fourteen he had already decided to turn professional and managed to mislead his mother into allowing him to enrol at the Benoni engineering college with the real intent of quitting later. After three months at the college he found a way out, and moved to Brixton Johannesburg to embark on his professional career.

His early professional endeavours saw him moving in the boermusiek circles, between bands run by Nico Carstens, Jurie Ferreira and Hendric Susan as well as a number of sessions for Gallo records for the likes of the Manhattan Brothers and Sam Sklair. The gigs consisted of popular boeremusiek numbers of the day but Fourie’s heart was already in jazz and he was fired on more than one occasion for playing what his ears told him to. This love for jazz was to draw him to London, and recognition. In 1961 Fourie got a gig playing on a boat en route to London; there was a three-day stop over in London, after which he flew back overland to Johannesburg. He says ‘What I saw in Soho forced me to leave in November on a boat destined for London with my wife a baby and about two hundred rand’

His first gig in London was with an Eastern European violinist who needed a guitar player for a restaurant gig, The Blue Boar Inn, where Fourie had to dress in a Robin Hood style outfit while supporting this Gypsy violinist! Fortunately it wasn’t long before Fourie was able to leave this gig. Through a South African friend, who was a roadie for the Ray Ellington Quartet, it came to Fourie’s attention that there might be a guitar position available in this quartet, as their current guitarist was problematic. Although Ellington liked Fourie’s guitar style, he didn’t get the job at first, because he couldn’t read the charts. When the replacement guitarist proved unreliable, Ellington’s piano player persuaded him to try to use Fourie by offering him the opportunity to memorise the music.

Playing with the Ellington band proved to be the turning point in Fourie’s career. By touring around the United Kingdom for two years, Fourie’s playing ability was recognised by the jazz public, as well as the press. The recognition that Fourie received through his performances with the Ray Ellington group brought his playing to the attention of Ronnie Scott, owner and manager of the famous London based jazz club, The Ronnie Scott Club. Scott approached Fourie to take up a residency there, and Fourie was offered the post for five nights per week. Interestingly John McLaughlin, who was a close friend of Fourie’s, took over the guitar post in Ellington’s group and Fourie was responsible for teaching McLaughlin the group’s specific arrangements. McLaughlin says ‘I was working with a Rhythm and Blues band, which I was not very enthusiastic about and Johnny did not like his job at the time, so we just traded jobs.’

While working at Ronnie Scott’s club Fourie was exposed to numerous famous musicians and groups, many of who were to be influential in the development of his style. Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Rene Thomas, Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, Roland Kirk and Sonny Rollins are just a few important names. Although Fourie became quite a name in the UK, he felt that times were changing and that players like Coltrane and Davis were changing the face of jazz. He became increasingly unhappy about his current musical position and decided to give up everything, return to South Africa, and spend time studying to expand his musical goals.

After a brief stint back in England in the late 1960’s and then another brief time back in South Africa, Fourie went to New York in 1971 to play fusion. His search ‘came from trying to find freedom, freedom within and without the structure, this was the search for the Holy Grail.’ Once in New York he made immediate contact with his old friend, John McLaughlin, and remembers going to the launch of McLaughlin’s album ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ at the famous club, ‘My Father’s Place’. McLaughlin was busy with his own band and he asked Fourie to stand in for him on the Charles Erland recording, “Intensity”. The album featured Charles Erland on organ, Hubert Laws on flute, Fourie on guitar and Billy Cobham on drums, as well as many other players. The pieces were long funk-based improvisatory works and called for Fourie’s new improvisation techniques as well as the use of his prized fuzz box. After this session Billy Cobham recommended Fourie to Clive Stevens for his group Atmospheres. John Abercrombie was leaving this band and Fourie took the post for roughly a twelve-month period performing at many famous jazz venues.

Although he was now set for a promising career, even auditioning for Chick Corea’s second Return To Forever band, he only came to America on a three-month visitors visa and application for an extension was turned down. He continued to try and work illegally, but was eventually deported to South Africa in 1974.

The period since his return has been characterised by continuous growth through his involvement with a wide variety of bands, performing with many top South African artists. Of particular importance is the wide influence Johnny Fourie has had spreading the tradition of jazz guitar through working with many musicians, as well as taking younger musician’s under his wing. A significant period was devoted to the development of the ‘Johnny Fourie Band’ (1979-1985), featuring his son Sean Fourie on keys, Raymond Boschoff on drums and Chris Bekker on bass.

During the late 80s, Fourie performed in Carlo Mombelli’s group ‘The Abstractions’, playing complex and modern jazz inspired by the sounds of the German ECM label. Fourie feels this group was extremely important, both to him and to the South African jazz scene. While the JFB band had been free and uncompromising, this band took what they were learning to a new level. The heads of the works were often complex and detailed, while the improvisatory sections offered a lot of freedom to the soloist and were not limited in length.

Two things took up his focus in the 1990’s. Firstly his new job as teacher at the Pretoria Technikon Jazz Department, and secondly the formation of the Short Attention Span Ensemble. This fusions group performed original works by Sean Fourie and Johnny, and played many festivals and events throughout South Africa, releasing their debut disc ‘Fingerprints of the Gods’ in 1997. The band featured Johnny, Sean, Barry van Zyl, Trevor don Jeany, and British saxophonist Dave O’Higgans. But the majority of his energies over the past number of years have gone into his students, and it is in these students that his legacy will live on.

Fourie has never really received the amount of attention he deserves. He was never politically outspoken, and has no interest in being so. While he never approved of the systems in place his protest was a quiet one, working with all the musicians from all the backgrounds that would play with him. The list is endless; Allan Kwela, Errol Dyers, Bob Mintzer, Cyril Mgubane, Nico Carstens, Johnny Boschoff, Robert Payne, Bob Zotolla, Carlo Mombelli, Barney Rashabane, Groove Holmes, Avzal Ismail, Wessel van Rensburg, Gilbey Karno, Jack van Pohl and many, many more. His focus has always been the music, the advancement of it, taking our sounds to the next generation, and above all: playing, playing, playing jazz!

Thanks to Jonathan Crossley and Roots Magazine

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AYA – Vocalist, Actress

AYA - Vocalist, Actress

AYA – Vocalist, Actress

Into the space between the jazzy torch songs of old, and a fresh homegrown infusion of earthy self-penned compositions, comes A STATE OF AYA.

The artist behind the album is Aya – and is her sonic “state of mind” that she is showcasing on her debut solo album. The often jubilant, fun and sweetly sophisticated jazz sounds allow her distinct vocals to shine – unveiling a scintillating new talent on South African scene.

A truly lively album – from the jaunty, sax-punctuated sounds of ‘Shame On You’ (Ngiyakudabukela) to the soul-stirring, Gospel-drenched magnificence of ‘Ngcwele’ and the elegant ‘Japanese Blue’, A STATE OF AYA maps out the musical ground that this prodigiously talented individual occupies.

Says Aya: “The album is a representation of my identity, the music I love, the songs that have influenced me, my direction and the dreams that I hold.”

It’s not going to be long before Aya imprints herself into the lives of music fans around the country and beyond – a destiny that she’s long-known is where her own personal state of being lies.

Born Ayanda Mpama, the 23-year-old has been waiting in the wings for several years, ready to make an impression on the recording industry. Aya’s work in stage performance, numerous intimate live gigs in Durban and a degree in Music and Drama from the University of Natal (now the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal) have all assisted Aya in shaping the musical vision that is contained in her debut album.

That Aya’s sweet, soulful voice may be familiar to South Africans can be put down to her selection as a Top 10 Idols finalist in 2005. Says Aya: “That was an experience but not something that I am holding onto. The real benefit of the Idols experience was connecting with Dave Thompson who has helped nurture my recording career.”

Indeed, Thompson knew right from the moment he first heard Aya sing that hers was a special talent – and when Aya moved to Johannesburg, the A & R and Marketing head of Sony BMG wasted no time in inking a deal with the artist.

Right from the onset, Aya wanted a “fresh, jazzy sound – close to the old standards but relevant to who I am as well as the audience that I am playing to.”

Fine-tuning the sound that appears on A STATE OF AYA was no easy task. “I’m a diverse kind of girl – I think in both Zulu and English, I was born in Swaziland, lived in Zambia and spent much of my childhood in Durban and I am as much an urban girl as a rural one so that needed to be reflected in the music,” she exclaims, her trademark laugh rippling around her words.

In conversation, Aya is magnetic – unafraid to voice her opinions, singularly focused and full of what can only be described as a thoroughly engaging zest for life. Whether it’s recounting stories of living in a rural community for several weeks, or the downside of plying your singing trade in a restaurant where people are there for the food, Aya is capable of holding the attention of her listener.

But, she confesses, it’s in the studio and on the stage that she really comes alive. “I could not have waited much longer for this moment,” she says, “and am eternally grateful that I was able to find the right people to work with in creating an album that I am so very proud of.”

Aya found “a wonderful” creative collaborator in Crighton Goodwill who both produced and co-wrote the material on the album. “I attempt to play the piano so most of my songs were melodies and lyrics that existed in my head. Crighton came in with the strong musicality and arrangement ideas and was able to flesh out these ideas. It was amazing feeling – it is like seeing a baby that grows and all of a sudden becomes a person that is alive and fully-formed and strong.”

Several of the songs were sourced from an international publisher, including ‘I Don’t Want To See You Cry’ and ‘Japanese Blue’, a gentle, inspirational song that Aya says is one of her favourites on the album.

Those that Aya and Goodwill wrote deal primarily with issues of gender and relationships – in particular, a woman’s role in the world on songs like ‘Ntombi’ and ‘As A Woman’. It’s not surprising considering Aya is an only child who spent most of her childhood in with her mother – her father having died in 1992. “We are very close – we talk at least three times a day so I guess a lot of my lyrics that revolve around lyrics are down to her as a role-model.”

Given Aya’s academic background, it is not surprising to find that the thread that connects the songs on the album is a sense of sophistication; a jazziness that is underpinned by a soulfulness that only comes from a place of authenticity.

Aya’s very natural ability to switch between English and Zulu only adds to the album’s appeal. “I know just instinctively which words need to be conveyed in which language and I do think that the choice adds to the impact of the lyrics and the songs,” she says.

Listening to A STATE OF AYA confirms this: one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Thula Nhiliziyo Yami’ is an organic mix of English and Zulu, its understated beauty enhanced by a piano melody and horn playing that once again signifies the album’s retro mood.

The composition, ‘Everyday’ is another gem that provides the perfect platform for Aya to let her spirit fly through a song whose simplicity is part of its charm.

Aya’s ability to convey emotions, like love gone wrong on the ballad ‘I Don’t Want To See You Cry’, is a highpoint of A STATE OF AYA yet her innate feel for a song means she never veers into histrionics, preferring instead to let subtle intonation bring the message home.

Authentic, fresh, full of young life yet imbued with a sense of history, and with just enough sophistication to take it across generations, A STATE OF AYA is bound to be an integral part of the collection of South Africa’s discerning music lovers.

Aya intends supporting the release of her debut with a slate of live performances – and she is up for the challenge of winning over audiences. “If I can do it in front of a supper crowd and on national television in the pretty weird scenario that was Idols, then I think that I can convince an audience who appreciates fine music that mine is well worth the listen,” she says.

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The Development of Jazz in South Africa

by The Late Prof. Hotep Idris Galeta

The Late Prof. Hotep Idris Galeta

One cannot write or talk about an art form without serious analysis of the numerous socio-political conditions responsible for its creation and development. The development of Jazz and its effect upon popular music in the United States and the rest of the world are the direct result of the African slave trade and the African Diaspora in the United States. This unique musical art form initiated by African/Americans during the latter part of the 19th century is probably the most influential musical phenomenon produced on the North American Continent.

The social conditions which spawned this dynamic art form is rooted in the human rights abuses and oppressive conditions experienced by Africans captured and uprooted from their traditional cultures then transported in the most barbaric and inhumane conditions to an alien environment as slaves. It is these dynamics coupled over the years with exposure to and assimilation of European arts and cultural forms that gave rise to new modes of musical expression which began to develop within the slave and Creole communities in and around New Orleans as well as other areas in the United States. These were the early embryonic beginnings and early developmental stages of what was to become known as Jazz.

South African Jazz has had many elements contributing to its evolution and development. The most prominent and significant being the rich eclectic cultural diversity of the country’s inhabitants and the influence of African/American musical culture upon it over the years. These two variants coupled with an environment of legislated racism, gross human rights violations, created the unique artistic forge and mould responsible for the evolution of South African Jazz. The first contact South Africans had with black Americans and black American music in particular was on the 30th of June in 1889 when the minstrel troop of Orpheus Myron McAdoo’s “Virginia Jubilee Singers” from Hampton Virginia appeared in concert in Cape Town. Their appearance was to have a significant impact upon the music scene as it later influenced the creation and formation of the “Kaapse Klopse” or “Coon Carnival.” To use the derogatory term of the racist American, south of that time, “Coon” being the equivalent of the South African derogatory term of “Kaffir”, “Cooley” or “Hotnot”.

It is not clearly known how such a derogatory racist American term “Coon’ came to be known in Cape Town, however given South Africa’s racist colonial past leaves little doubt for speculation as to it’s origin. The “Coon carnival’s” popularity decreased as the struggle for liberation intensified over the coming years. McAdoo’s Minstrels stayed and toured throughout South Africa for eighteen months visiting places such as Grahamstown, Kingwilliamstown and Alice where they visited and performed at Lovedale College. Musical history also indicates that their impact and influence on the performing arts culture of the Eastern Cape was quite significant as it influenced the rich Xhosa choral traditions in existence there. It is somehow ironic that this genre of Creole/African/American minstrel-spiritual music which became one of the key developmental elements of jazz in New Orleans in 1895 should also become a contributing factor and play a crucial role in the development of South African Jazz. The introduction of Jazz into South Africa took place shortly after the 1 World War, around 1918 and this introduction was again via Cape Town. The first Jazz recording was only made in 1917, and this by the all white New Orleans Band called “The Original New Orleans Dixieland Band”. Some of these early recordings were brought to Cape Town by American merchant seaman. Local white and coloured bands (the mixed racial population group resident in the Cape Town area) and even some visiting American musicians were instrumental in popularizing early New Orleans style jazz at the Cape after World War 1. To the white musicians who played it and the white audiences who danced to it in America and elsewhere in the British and European Imperial colonies it became known as Dixieland. Given the dreary social life and appalling conditions in the townships, it is easy to understand why the introduction of the radio, gramophone and recordings of New Orleans Jazz served as the biggest catalyst for the developing styles of early township music and black professional musicianship in the 1920’s. It was in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape however that Jazz first developed and started to take on its South African character. Of all black people in South Africa at that time, the Xhosa nation were the most educated as the result of the early establishment of the British Missionary school system

The introduction of Jazz into South Africa took place shortly after the 1st World War, 1918 and this introduction was again via Cape Town. The first Jazz recording was only made in 1917, and this by the all white New Orleans Band called “The Original New Orleans Dixieland Band”. Some of these early recordings were brought to Cape Town by American merchant seaman. Local white and coloured bands and even some visiting American musicians were instrumental in popularising early New Orleans style jazz at the Cape after World War 1. To the white musicians who played it and the white audiences who danced to it in America and elsewhere in the colonies it became known as Dixieland. Given the dreary social life and appalling conditions in the townships, it is easy to understand why the introduction of the radio, the gramophone and recordings of New Orleans Jazz served as the biggest catalyst for the developing styles of early township music and black professional musicianship in the 1920’s. It was in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape however that Jazz first developed and started to take on its South African character. Of all black people in South Africa that time, the Xhosa nation were the most educated as the result of the early establishment of British Mission schools.

The exposure to European Hymnody and classical music plus formal education gave rise to a black upper class and a group of very sophisticated musicians and composers who embraced this new black American art form called Jazz. In the 1920’s Queenstown became known as “Little Jazz Town” because of the New Orleans styles that were resident there.

The most popular bands there in the 20’s and 30’s were Meekly Matshikiza’s “Blue Rhythm Syncopators” and William Mbali’s “Bif Four” who entertained both whites and upper class blacks. Some of the earliest preserved examples of South African Jazz were recorded by Gumede’s Swing Band on Gallotone GE 942 in the late 1920’s. It was during the late 20’s that Boet Gashe an itinerant organist from Queenstown popularised the three chord system, the forerunner to the Marabi and Mbaqanga styles that were later to be perfected in the township shebeen environments of Johannesburg and Marabastad situated on the outskirts of Pretoria. Sophiatown the legendary ghetto of Johannesburg became the experimental ground for this vibrant new township music that was to under go further innovation during the 1930’s into the 50’s. The music of the townships served as an important platform and vehicle for developing singers and instrumentalists. Larger 15 piece bands such as the “Jazz Maniacs” were formed by popular Doornfontein shebeen pianist turned saxophonist, Solomon “Zulu Boy” Cele who saw the possibility of developing marabi into an orchestral form. This band was to feature and develop some of the legendary township Jazz players. They included saxophonists Mackay Davashe, Zakes Nkosi, Ntemi Pilliso and Wilson “Kink Fish” Silgee. The Jazz Maniacs are significant because they carried the spirit of marabi to the dance halls and provided inspiration for a new breed of emergent Jazz musicians such as Dollar Brand now known as Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Kiepie Moeketsie, Jonas Gwangwa, Sol Klaaste and Gwigwi Mwerebi. Some of the legendary Sophiatown vocal groups and singers associated with the “Jazz Maniacs” are the Manhattan Brothers, The Quad Sisters, The Woody Wood Peckers and a group that was to launch four great individual singers, The Skylarks, consisting of Miriam Makeba, Abigail Khubeka, Letta Mbulu and Mary Rabotaba. The demise of marabi big bands can be directly attributed to encroaching legislated racism, forced removals and regulations forbidding blacks to appear at venues where liquor was served.

As dance halls in Sophiatown and other areas around the country were destroyed, black musicians were shut out of the inner cities or had to play behind a curtain when playing with some of their white counterparts at white only clubs, Jazz was gradually being deprived of its multi racial audience. The 1950’s are remembered as the days of passive resistance against the Nationalist government’s institutionalised racism, but it is also remembered as a great age of Jazz development in South Africa. A new strain of Jazz began to emerge which contained a greater American influence. This new strain was the result of the Bebop revolution in the U.S. young emergent musicians such as Dollar Brand, Chris McGregor, Johnny Gertse, Sammy Moritz, Makaya Ntoshoko Mra “Cristopher Columbus” Ngcukana, Jimmy Adams, “Cups and Saucers” Kanuka, Hugh Masekela, Kippie Moeketsie, Henry February, Anthony and Richard Schilder, Harold Japhta and this writer included. We took to this new exciting Jazz form from America like ducks to water. The real milestone occurred when one of my future mentors to be, visiting American pianist and Jazz educator John Mehegan came to South Africa in the late 50’s on one of those State Department sponsored tours. After the tour he assembled a local group to record an album for Gallo Records entitled “Jazz in Africa”. Beside Mehegan on piano the group consisted of Hugh Masekela on Trumpet, Jonas Gwangwa on Trombone, Kiepie Moeketsie on Alto Saxophone, Gene Latimore on Drums and Claude Shange on Bass. When Mehegan departed for the U.S. Dollar Brand added Johnny Gertse on Bass and Makaya Ntoshoko on Drums, creating a new rhythm section to which he added Masekela, Gwangwa and Moeketsie, calling this new band “The Jazz Epistles” One of the most dynamic and creative bands of the late 50’s. The band recorded two albums “The Jazz Epistles Vol. 1 and Vol. 2” played a few gigs around the country and disbanded when Masekela and Gwangwa left to study in the U.S. in 1960. That unfortunately was the end of the line for that kind of American Jazz in South Africa. Many of the musicians who played it left the country because of the increasingly repressive political situation, this writer included; many stayed and continued to produce creative music in a political environment that became increasingly oppressive and brutal.

In the Western Cape, musicians such as Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee, Robbie Jansen, Paul Abrahams, Chris Schilder, Gilbert Matthews, and many others to numerous to mention gave their commitment, time and creativity to the struggle for democracy. They used South African Jazz as a platform and became deeply involved in the struggle for democracy on a creative level using their music as a clarion call for liberation at United Democratic Front political rallies in the townships. Today in a democratic South Africa Jazz is thriving in an environment of freedom and racial reconciliation. At present there exists an up and coming core of extremely masterful young musicians, both black and white. Some of them are graduates from tertiary institutions here in South Africa with vibrant jazz education programs and some come from community jazz education programs. Gloria Bosman, Judith Sephuma, Melanie Scholtz, Zim Ngqawana, Andile Yenana, Lulu Gontsana, Mark Fransman, Buddy Wells, Paul Hamner, Keshivan Naidoo, Marcus Wyatt, Herbie Tshoali, Themba Mkize and the late Moses Taiwa Molelekwa. These are some of the new innovative core of younger South African musicians who are responsible for taking the music into a new creative direction. Their vision and innovative approaches is creating a significant impact upon the South African jazz scene by the development of new concepts and ideas within the South African jazz genre. This bodes extremely well for the development of jazz in South African which like in nazi Germany some sixty odd years ago had been suppressed and stifled during the turbulent apartheid era.

Around the beginning of the 20th century, the earliest Jazz piano style emerged, centred in New Orleans. This style was created and initially dominated by the pianist Joseph Ferdinand La Menthe, better known as “Jelly Roll Morton” (1885-1941) Morton was a combination of ragtime pianist, composer, blues and Jazzman rolled into one. He began playing professionally in the “Redlight District” of New Orleans called Storyville in 1902 when he was seventeen. Morton is also regarded as the first true Jazz composer. He was the first to write down his Jazz arrangements in musical notation and was the originator of a large number of pieces that became staples in the Jazz repertoire of that time. His arrangement of his own composition “Jelly Roll Blues” in 1915 was the first published Jazz arrangement in history. He became an itinerant pianist in 1904 and started to wander throughout the U.S. stopping off in places such as St Louis at the time of the Worlds Fair, then on to Chicago, the West Coast into Canada and Alaska and returning to Chicago by 1923 where he made his first recording. “Jelly Roll” set a precedent by playing piano at the recording session for the all white band “The New Orleans Rhythm Kings”. Morton is undoubtedly the father of solo Jazz piano. His piano style represented a synthesis of the chief elements of the blues, piano rags and orchestral Jazz. A few years before his death in 1941 he capped his eventful career with a massive recording project at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. (May-July 1938) where he related his version of the history of Jazz and illustrated it with piano solos and song, making fifty two records with more than one hundred pieces recorded. Allan Lomax the American folk music historian interviewed Morton and supervised this historic recording project. Few of the people he influenced recorded in his day. Today however there are one or two “Jelly Roll” Morton specialists who attempt to preserve his style the way he played it. James Dapogny is one of them; having recorded a C.D. on 22/09/1993 entitled “Original Jelly Roll Blues” on the Warner/Electra/Asylum Label.

During the 1920’s it was generally believed that Chicago had the best black bands and that New York City was home to some of the finest Jazz pianists.

This belief amongst musicians and Jazz fans was predicated upon the fact that during the 1920’s the Harlem district of New York City became the Center for the development of a highly technical and hard driving solo piano style as “Harlem Stride”. The master of this new approach in the early 1920’s was James P Johnson (1891-1955). Johnson began playing ragtime piano professionally in 1904 and gradually adapted and innovated his style to the changing times of the post World War 1 era. The highly competitive spirit that existed amongst black pianists of the period led them to practice constantly in order to excel at the frequent “cutting” competitions that separated the “wheat from the chaff”. Johnson was a prolific composer, composing most of the music he played but publishing very little. His “Carolina Shout” became a test piece for would be Jazz pianist of the era because of its rhythmic complexity and speed. Johnson’s protégé, Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904-1943) was regarded by some as representing the summation of the Harlem style and the link between it and modern Jazz pianism. Waller also made another contribution to Jazz history by successfully adapting the style of Jazz pianism to the Hammond and pipe organ. “Fats” Waller became the most widely known of the Harlem pianists. He toured quite extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe as a solo pianist, accompanist and singer. He was also a prolific composer of Jazz and popular songs. His well known compositions are “Honey Suckle Rose”, “Ain’t Misbehaving” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right down and Write Myself a Letter”. The Harlem pianists not only influenced their contemporaries, but also later generations of Jazzmen. In the Midwestern part of the United States during the 1920’s and 30’s Earl “Fatha” Hines was laying down the foundation for a deferent kind of Jazz piano. His pianism first attracted the attention when he played in Chicago with Louis Armstrongs “Hot Five” band. Hines developed a piano style in which his right hand played melodic figures similar to those of a trumpet, but in octaves, while his left hand provided the firm bass as in a rhythm section. His style combined with the smoother approach of Waller, influenced most pianists of the next generation, notably Teddy Wilson (1912-1986) who was to play a crucial role in the band of Benny Goodman during the swing era of the late 1930’s into the 1940’s and Art Tatum who performed mostly as a soloist and who was regarded with awe for his phenomenal technique and complex virtuosity.

After World War 1 leading European composers such as Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg began to take cognisance of the rich promise and vitality of Jazz and began to incorporate some aspects of the style into their works. These composers first heard authentic Jazz when touring black Jazz ensembles played in Europe or when they the composers visited the United States; for example Milhaud when he visited Harlem in the 1920’s and Ravel when he went to Chicago in 1928. The best known works inspired by Jazz are Darius Milhaud’s “ La Creation Du Monde” (The Creation of The World) (1923) Ravels “Piano Concerto In D” (1931) and Stravinsky’s “ The Ebony Concerto For Dance Orchestra” (1946). Jazz also inspired a number of American composers to write works employing elements within the Jazz genre. Amongst the most enduring of the symphonic works have been Aaron Copeland’s “Music for the Theatre” (1925) and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924) “Piano Concerto in F” (1925) and “An American in Paris” (1928)

The evolution of Jazz piano since the post -World War 1 period, right up to the present day is often the result of innovative, impressionistic European classical influences introduced into Jazz, especially Jazz keyboard harmony. These influences and others will continue to change and mould the face of Jazz and Jazz piano in particular, as the influences of a broader global culture impacts on its evolution. During the 1940’s Jazz piano underwent another major change with the introduction of the Bebop style. This radical new style was introduced upon the Jazz scene by a group of musicians who used to get together after working hours at a club in Harlem called “Minton’s Playhouse” There they would play and exchange musical ideas until the early hours of the morning. Usually the group consisted of pianist Thelonius Monk (1917-1982) drummer Kenny Clarke (1914-1986) guitarist Charlie Christian (1919-1942) and trumpeter John Berks “Dizzy” Gillespie (1917-1992). The alto saxophonist Charles Christopher Parker (1929-1955) also known as “Bird” also joined the group of experimenters and became one of the exponents of Bebop. Parkers’s contribution to the evolution of Bebop is enormous. He composed quite a number of innovative pieces that has become Bebop standards. His most well known pieces are “Now is The Time” “Scrapple for the Apple” and “Moose the Mooch”.

Bebop was still based on the principle of improvisation over a chord progression, but the tempos were faster, the rhythms extremely syncopated, the phrases longer and more complex with exciting new tone colours and dissonant harmonies. The melodic signpost of this new music was the “flattened fifth” of the major scale, which thereafter joined the other “blue notes” or “bent tones” of black music. Thelonius Monk one of the revolutionary pianists of the Bebop movement, pianistically came from the stride piano style of James P. Johnson. Where as most of the Bebop players were playing lines that had a melodic curve, Monks lines had sharp angles. His improvisation was spare and choppy and his playing always provocative. As a composer he contributed numerous pieces that are standards in the Jazz repertoire. They are “In Walked Bud” “Well You Needn’t” “Epistrophy” and that evergreen Jazz classic and beautiful ballad “Round Midnight”

The most innovative pianist to emerge during the Bebop revolutionary years was Earl “Bud” Powell (1924-1966). Powell was a classically trained pianist whose fast highly individual and technically proficient style laid its stamp upon this new music. Bud Powell was undoubtedly the most overwhelming creative pianist in the “Hothouse” of Bebop. His powerful driving style was incredible and his album “The Bud Powell Trio” recorded by Blue Note Records in the 1950’s is a perfect example of those qualities. Monk and Powell were to become two of the major influences on modern Jazz piano. In the late 50’s the pianist and composer Dave Brubeck born in 1920, a student of Darius Milhaud and Arnold Schoenberg achieved great popularity with his blend of classical music and Jazz utilising different meters of time. This was to be another innovative step in the development of Jazz piano. Jazz piano has developed very rapidly over the last forty years. This rapid development has been largely due to the emergence of younger conservatory trained pianists. During the late 1960’s and early 70’s a small number of highly regarded Jazz musicians were appointed to professorial positions at academic institutions in the U.S. allowing them to combine teaching with touring, recording and lecturing. They filled positions as guest lecturers, composers in residence, and artists in residence, visiting professors and tenured professors. The by-product of this innovative concept at academic institutions was that the young aspiring Jazz artist could now study the art form at tertiary level.

By the 1980’s there were sixty or more academic institutions that had established Jazz Studies Programmes in the U.S. This new generation of tertiary educated musicians were unlike any previous ones in the history of Jazz. The most striking feature of this group was their youth at the time of attaining “Super Stardom”. Many are and were in their twenties. The came well prepared as they had begun their musical studies as children, had played in grade or high school bands or attended summer music camps and later went on to study music further in college. There they were exposed to both the Western Classical and African American musical traditions. They then incorporated their knowledge and skills of advanced keyboard harmony and theory into the development of Jazz pianism. This tradition continues up to the present and will continue into the future as more tertiary institutions in the U.S. and around the world offer Jazz and Jazz education programmes.

Pianists such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Correa, Bill Evans, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Geoff Keezer, Stephen Scott, Bennie Green, Brad Maldau and a host of future young emergent pianists who had this exposure to formal musical education will continue to change and mould the face of Jazz and Jazz piano.

Jazz remains alive, vibrant and well and continues to cross the barriers and bring people together in the joy of music.

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Bebop and Beyond the Blues – South African Jazz History

By Struan Douglas of Afribeat

“Jazz is a music which has its roots in a life of insecurity, in which a single moment of self-realisation, of love, light and movement, is extraordinarily more important than a whole lifetime. From a situation in which violence is endemic, where a man escapes a police bullet only to be cut down by a knife-happy African thug, has come an ebullient sound more intuitive than any outside the US of what jazz is supposed to celebrate – the moment of love, lust, bravery, incense, fruition, and all those vivid dancing good times of the body when the now is maybe all there is.”
Lewis Nkosi, journalist, in Jazz in Exile, 1966

“Sophiatown was a very beautiful place. There was music everywhere, flowing out of every house, from every corner and every shebeen. Rhythm was the unsaid word. There was mbaqanga, marabi, kwela jive, and on Sundays the gospel choirs marched down Toby street singing, and we always joined them. And then there was jazz at night. We used to go to `Sis Petty’s shebeen and watch the Jazz Maniacs and listen to recorded American jazzmen. Inside it was packed, you wouldn’t be able to move. But when the jazz came on, those bodies made space. Nobody would be standing still. Outside, `Sis Petty’s kids would be watching for the police, but the jazz was so good they would keep on coming inside. `Sis Petty would have to chase them out, and the men would carry on drinking as much as they could as quickly as they could, just in case the police arrived. Everybody used to meet there, musicians, artists, intellectuals, writers, politicians and boozers. And all of us, the young aspirants, were growing up in this cultural explosion, even Felicia [Mabuza Suttle]!”

Singing icon Thandi Klassens’ story is one of many from the racy, vibrant and seemingly indestructible Sophiatown of the early fifties. Along with Langa, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Sophiatown was a place where black urban culture was erupting. And where there was black urban culture, there was jazz. And everybody wanted a piece of it.

All over the country, people tuned into Voice of America to hear what was hip. For a while, it was the big band sounds of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. But when bebop came, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were all over the radio, everywhere. The white musicians who’d been to America spread the sound, magazines talked about it, and you could by it from the avant-garde record stores or American sailors who often docked on our shores. Pianist ‘Dollar’ Brand (who later changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim) got his nickname because he always had a dollar in his pocket in case he came across one of these jazz records. City life was very impressed by bebop and its hip style and happening jazzmen. Twotone shoes, Stetsons, Buicks, Chevys and suits were the image, and the gents were impeccably dressed and smoothly mannered, for the chicks, the bebop and the fun of it.

All over the country, people tuned into Voice of America to hear what was hip. For a while, it was the big band sounds of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. But when bebop came, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were all over the radio, everywhere. The white musicians who’d been to America spread the sound, magazines talked about it, and you could by it from the avant-garde record stores or American sailors who often docked on our shores. Pianist ‘Dollar’ Brand (who later changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim) got his nickname because he always had a dollar in his pocket in case he came across one of these jazz records. City life was very impressed by bebop and its hip style and happening jazzmen. Twotone shoes, Stetsons, Buicks, Chevys and suits were the image, and the gents were impeccably dressed and smoothly mannered, for the chicks, the bebop and the fun of it.

And in the blazen path set by the American cats, South African jazz developed, emerging out of a similar socio-cultural oppression, as a healing and transformative tool. Uniting the two suppressive streams into a form of music that had the expression of its roots, but with a unique African flavour.

One of the great pioneers was Cape Town’s Chris Macgregor. He was studying at the University of Cape Town, but his interest was in what the black musicians were doing. He was energetic and enthusiastic, always practicing and composing, and defying ‘illegal gathering’ laws in order to meet and play with the musicians he wanted to. And that’s how the Blue Notes came together. Chris often went to The Vortex jazz club in Long Street, a popular venue where musicians jammed together. Dudu Pukwana was the regular pianist, he’d rehearse during the day, perform at nights and sleep in the basement. Chris and him talked about getting a band together, but they were both piano players. Dudu, however, had always wanted to play sax, so they hired one and the Blue Notes took off.

At the same time, the Jo’berg scene was being set alight by Kippie Moeketsi, who modelled himself on the erratic, hip and stylish Charlie Parker, innovating and improvising on the saxophone with similar brilliance. He joined young trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa and arrangement genius Abdullah Ibrahim to form The Jazz Epistles. As much as Kippie was the energy and virtuoso of the group, Abdullah was the composer and leader, intense and passionate. Long time friend, Vince Colbe, describes him as ‘a deadly serious bloke’. “He used to lock himself in his room with only bread and milk and compose. I remember going to his house and listening to one of his tracks, Eclipse at Dawn. I teased him you know. `Dollar, play something dancy!’ `You’re a prostitute!’ he replied. `You’re prostituting the art, you must speak the truth.’ That’s how intense he was. That’s why there was an edge to his sound, a hauntingness, almost a howl in the wilderness.”

The Jazz Epistles were the first black South African group to record an album but broke up only six months after forming. Other than Abdullah, the band joined the all African opera, King Kong. “It was a ground-breaking musical, very powerful.” says Hugh Masekela. “Jonas and I were the copyists and Kippie was one of the arrangers. It was like an assembly line, with the arrangers in one room, and us in another. They would churn out the arrangements and bring the orchestration to me and Jonas and we’d do the parts, and then rehearse it with a cast of seventy. It was star studded, with some of the prettiest women I’ve seen in my life. A wonderful experience!”

King Kong was South Africa’s first jazz export and a major achievement in escaping political parochialism and taking our unique sounds to the West End. It also started the exodus of musicians to foreign and free pastures, where they could explore themselves and their art. Abdullah went to Switzerland, Hugh to New York to study, and Jonas his own way. The Blue Notes hung around until ’63, touring the country and then playing the Cold Castle Jazz festival in Jo’berg. With the politics becoming impossible and his feet itching for departure, Chris put together a 17 piece band featuring some of the best musicians across the country as a symbolic climax to the end of a rich period of jazz. It was a last minute affair. Chris composed furiously, whilst his wife arranged financing and facilities. Even though there was no time for rehearsing, the individual skill of the players saw the band to victory and a recording.

On this high note, the Blue Notes joined the other musicians in exile. Kippie tried to keep the memories alive, but he never got over the departure of the other jazz players, and became overwhelmed by the political frustrations. The Sharpeville massacre had ripped the heart out of the nation and the situation was deteriorating. Apartheid was serious about destroying this vibrant era, and no exceptions would be made for jazz. It was an expressive force seeking musical and social equality, and apartheid hated that.

Radio restrictions, big police clampdowns, violence and the destruction of vibrant communities ensued, leaving a big void for those who stayed behind in the ‘Verwoerd to Vorster’ years. Musicians went back to 9-5 jobs. `Cups `n Saucers’ Ngcukana, for example, Cold Castle musician of the year in ’62, was forced to work in a shoe store and never played again. Jazz lost a lot of its great talents and a lot of its identity, explains his son Ezra. “Things were wild, restrictive and so unnecessary then. I remember suggesting the name ‘Amoeboid Movement’ for a song, and just because of the political perceptions of the word `movement’, it was never given airplay.”

Abdullah returned in the mid-70s to record two albums, one with Kippie and the other with Cape Town musos Robbie Jansen and the late Basil `Manenberg’ Coetzee. With them he reworked a ’50s jazz mbaqanga melody into the quintessential Cape Town anthem, `Manenberg’.

But it was Saxophonist Winston Mankunku who anchored the scene, particularly in the late sixties, occasionally playing behind curtains under the alias ‘Winston Man’ to conceal his race, or performing out in Swaziland. His music was very avant-garde, an expression of society’s desperation for freedom. Wild and freeform, no restrictions for that. In ’68 he recorded the classic ‘Yakhal Nkomo’ (Bellowing Bull), “a scream for equality and freedom, a shout for recognition of the pain we were feeling,” explains Winston.

Now, many years later, the voice that was lost has been rediscovered and reinvented in many ways, by both the returned pioneers and new musicians. Hugh’s 1997 album ‘Black to the Future’ shows a sensitivity to the music of youth culture, mixing up the old and the new, mbaqanga, jazz and kwaito. Winston’s latest album ‘Molo Africa’ recently won the SAMA award for best traditional album. And Jonas’ 1999 A Temporary Inconvenience proves that he’s still playing with the touch that made the Jazz Epistles pioneers and legends.

Of the newer names, multi-instrumentalist Zim Ngqawana is playing wild and adventurous jazz in the mould of the Blue Notes and the Jazz Epistles. And `young lions’ like McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Moses Molelekwa and Marcus Wyatt are igniting the scene with always fresh and often funky interpretations of old styles with new sounds, acknowledging the past and experimenting with the cutting edge, “in a conscious attempt to find ourselves,” says Moses. “As a country we are finally back in touch with ourselves and the rest of the world,” says Hugh Masekela. “It’s great to be South African and its great to have the music and we are exploring this freedom and discovering new and beautiful things.”

Struan is the author of the Story of South African Jazz, Volume 1

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