Carol’s Musings

Carol Martin is AJR’s effervescent travelling reporter, blogger, reviewer in chief, music critic, and writer.

A Healthy Live Music Ecosystem is Needed for Innovations: An Interview with Dr. Cara Stacey

Musician, researcher, and composer Cara Stacey gravitates between the strange and wonderful sonic worlds of classical string ensembles, kinetic ‘music’ on machines, traditional southern Africa mouth bows, and beyond. On November 23, she performs with one of the five bands featured at the upcoming South African Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival at the impressive Spier Wine Farm’s Amphitheatre, newly refurbished. There, will be a splash of the best South African jazz and classical artists in a blaze of contemporary music. On piano and traditional southern African mouth bows, she is joined by long time colleague and Stellenbosch composer, Matthijs van Dijk, and eclectic jazz artists, Reza Khota on electric guitar, and Bryton Bolton on double bass. They call themselves the Night Light Collective. See them at 3.15pm on Saturday!

Traditional bow player, Cara Stacey: credit P. Burger

Originally a classically trained pianist, with Masters degrees from Edinburgh and London, Stacey’s real love migrated to research, play and make southern African musical bows (umrhubhe, uhadi, makhweyane) thanks to long residencies in eSwatini (formerly, Swaziland) where she spent her childhood upbringing.  The makhweyane, a one-stringed gourd-resonating bow, was the subject of her Doctorate which she is now turning into a book.

Makhweyane bow

Stacey became easily enamoured with other out-of-the-box inventions and musical innovations picked up from other country influences, such as in Brazil, Peru, and Iraq, the latter where she delved into pre-1500s Islamic inventors in the field of robotics. Her one-year post-doctoral research as an ethnomusicologist at University of Cape Town (UCT) led her to put flute music to a water-based instrument she built, based on 12th Century Baghdad mechanical inventions.  All this, quite different from her earlier research with traditional African bows. 

She left her teaching at UCT last year to move to Johannesburg where she currently lives, teaching bow ensembles, composing, freelancing with live gigs, writing songs on commission, and preparing her next albums with songs recorded to date. Her UK record label prefers vinyl and digital productions.

For anyone wanting alternative sounds with a very different mix of familiar and less familiar instruments, Stacey’s first album, Things That Grow (2015,) features UK-based Shabaka Hutchings, and offers kinetic/machine-like bumps with the wind instruments of traditional flute and mouth bow rhythms. Her latest album, Ceder (2018), offers an acoustic duo – Stacey on piano with Peruvian flutist and composer, Camilo Angeles. Both albums offer the unusual – some frantic, some familiar rhythms; some wily, some bizarre sound phrasings; a dentist’s drill; some familiar mouth bow overtone sounds of rural southern Africa, sounds of animals and birds, the list goes on. Beware: on Ceder, your dog’s ears will be affected, if not dancing! The titles of the pieces to be performed at Spier are enticing in themselves: Stacey’s visual-score “Luhlata njengetjani” and Dijk’s “How to Sit Underwater”.

Tickets for the Spier Festival on November 23, 2019 are R380 from www.quicket.co.za . The Night Light Collective performs from 3.15pm – 4.15pm.                                        

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I caught up with Dr. Stacey who presently resides in Johannesburg to find out more about what makes her musical spirit tick.

Your contemporary music – what to expect at Spier

CM: The group you are playing with at Spier – Reza Khota, etc. Did you choose this group?
CS: It started as a string quartet led by Matthijs who has a strings background. We were all close friends, united in our particular musical experimental tastes. I’ve worked with Bryton Bolton and Reza Khota in my own capacity – we have different musical backgrounds. We had played in Makanda earlier this year, and with Lungiswa Plaatjies we played at the  Johannesburg International Mozart Festival last year. We basically workshop and experiment together. Our music will be diverse and from our own compositions.

CM: What sounds can we expect from your group, given your own eclectic preferences and training?
CS: With that ensemble, I play indigenous southern African instruments and these musicians all offer me good rhythms. I’ve gained a lot of experience from people who have written in ways I would not have played on those instruments, but can do so in this ensemble space. So I don’t see it too different for myself. And because Matthijs and I come from a classical training, and from the original ensemble, I would say it’s more of a ‘new music’ ensemble. We do quite a bit of improvisation, but it draws more on the contemporary classical type of musical language, so I will play piano in that vein in the ensemble. In my solo capacity, I like to do different things. And in my research I do different things as well.

Musical Kinetics

Stacey’s prototype of medieval perpetual flute with water-based mechanics

CM: What made you gravitate towards the kinetic arts and use of machinery in sound? You were influenced by some Swiss inventors, I believe?

CS: I had two residencies: One in Basel, Switzerland and the other in Brazil through the Africa Center in London. I am also a post-doc Fellow at UCT drawing musical connections existing pre-1500s across the Indian Ocean. It was quite different from my earlier research where I worked with musical bows in Swaziland, now called eSwatini . And I work a lot in performance-based projects whereby composing is a way of creating new knowledge. It was a departure from my other projects as I was all of a sudden surrounded by archaeologists looking at very early African and Asian histories. My task in that project in that year was to build this water-based instrument that had been designed in Baghdad in the 1200s. Sometimes academia can be that way. It’s an old manuscript that laid out the sounds of music.  https://www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2019-03-19-magical-flutes-links-to-early-islamic-robotics

In my research, I noticed how many kinetic and mechanical items were passing my way, and while I was resident in Switzerland, I came across Swiss kinetic artists like Jean Tinguely (d. 1991) in a huge museum in Basel honouring his work. Then, when I went to Brazil, the strangest coincidence happened: a Swiss man who had lived in Salvador where I was, had brought musical ideas about all sorts of design things, and made these kinetic musical instruments. So he influenced me with kinetic principles while I was building this Iraq prototype machine – it was crazy! I’m super ignorant about these things, and one year is definitely not long enough to grapple with such a design. I managed to build this plastic prototype of that machine which lives under my desk now!

Making of Things That Grow album

CM: In your Things That Grow album, there are songs that sound quite dark. What influenced you to compose those songs?
CS: The album, released in 2015, was midway during the PhD when I was getting ready to head back to eSwatini to do more research. The process of making that album was an interesting one. My Masters before that had focused on innovation with southern African bows. I knew most of the bow players around, so I often see the fusions or new forms people make in their performances. There’s often a spoken word component, or the bows take on a certain role in any live ensemble, particularly in traditional rural performance, for instance – all very innovative in their own ways. I wanted to challenge myself in the use of those roles. So I was lucky when living in the UK to have an innovative partner at that time, Shabaka Hutchings, who is a fantastic musician and improviser. I wanted recording sessions with open minded improvisers , mostly jazz musicians, to try to break down some of those roles which traditional instruments tend to take. So I composed different things and just booked the people I respected. They walked into the studio, we tried a lot of things which I didn’t like. Everything was an experiment. I had written a variety of notes, a folk song, something for the drum kit, whatever. I threw out what I had written, so about half the album is improvised. I just drew on the talents of others, and we played combinations of trios and duos. There’s a couple of tunes that are groove-based and you can hear that. ‘Fox’ is my favourite song with a clarinet melody to fit over this mouth bow pattern, so it was all quite experimental. Since I was applying the rural African bow, I had to work out all the sounds that I liked, but try not to replicate music that wasn’t mine.

Experience with African Music – Overtone Sounds

CM: When we talk about ‘African’ music, it really is so varied and eclectic from one side of the continent to the other. What’s your favourite African area in terms of the music you’ve studied?
CS: It has to be eSwatini because of the long time I’ve spent there working with traditional players, composing with them, and doing research on their instruments. I also listen to a lot of archival and old recordings and different contemporary stuff. Then my studies in London focused strongly on different African music, particularly West African as well, like classic ensembles from the 60s and 70s. So it’s difficult for me to pinpoint areas, but I would say southern Africa and West African because of its lyrical styles ….and how they integrate indigenous instruments which is what I’m interested in.

CM: Which music do you gravitate towards in South Africa with its explosion of different forms of musical expression now? In general.
CS: There’s so much!! I’m generally multi-tasking with so much work – I try to stay on top of things, especially dance music, but it’s so incredible out there – so much innovation all the time. It’s easier for me to watch indigenous instruments as I’m in that scene, and I know a lot of the people doing innovations. These creatives are largely under-supported. We’re trying to uplift all the players of those instruments, and at the same time support each other as working musicians. For instance,
Cândido Salomão Zango, also known as ‘Matchume’, from Mozambique is a key link for me with Mozambiquan musicians.

Machume Zango at PNTGM

The eSwatini rural area is important for me. Moving back to South Africa was so confusing! In eSwatini I had a much closer connection with Mozambique – this changes one’s perspectives on a whole range of political, social, and cultural issues. I guess I felt a sense of international connection being outside of South Africa which is a powerful country of influence in the region.

CM: … and an African reality. When you’re talking about the ‘Africanness’ of local music, you’re crossing into an African spirituality, aren’t you? Like what journalist Struan Douglas writes about, or pianist Nduduzo Mhakhatini advocates in his compositions…..
CS: I can speak about the instruments I know best: When I spent so much time with these older musicians in eSwatini, iaged 80s to 90s, they exposed me to lyrical, poetic things that I would never have had contact with. Even where I grew up in eSwatini, I was relatively disconnected with that rural cultural experience. The way eSwatinis use their language is so artistic, like poetry to me. Different to urban slang, you learn through the language and music. This is a different world dealing with spirituality and culture – of these artists being outside of the cash economy. And this is such a different way of being an artist compared to my life, for instance.

CM: I hear in your music the repetition, the chant, common in traditional music. There’s also a low register in the music, like the American Indian music has this low earthy rumble that calls out to the ancestors. Is this the attraction of mouth bow music to you?
CS: As an ethnomusicologist, I know there are a bunch of us who are strong players who think about music from a performance and composing perspective. Some are also doing a more traditional type of research; others maybe more innovative research which brings those two things together – performance and composing. Because of that, I’m exposed to so many types of music from around the world , being in that academic scene, which means that music we listen to globally is almost always popular, commercial music, whether it’s jazz or classical. There are certain structures of the music that we are familiar with. So it takes an effort and skill for people to hear and construct music in a completely different way. For me, bow music has opened me up in a lot of ways because of the way the instrument is played and structured, and the overtone nature of the sound. You listen and create or compose in a completely different way to, like, if I was writing a jazz tune, or for a string quartet. Many different structures and modes of listening: People don’t hear, for instance, the integration of traditional instruments in a pop song; they don’t hear the form of those instruments.

This is why I’m drawn to different types of instruments. If you listen to people like Colin Stetson, he uses that dance, overtone quality in the saxophone. I think people in South Africa are starting to think outside the box in terms of how to structure music. Stetson deals with these deep cycles that, to me, are similar to southern African bow music, but his is a fundamentally different structure to the music. It’s closer to, say, classical minimalists, some other composers that create organized sound that we are not always familiar with. And there are lots of communities around the world that do that in very different ways. I’m lucky in that I go to conferences and have colleagues well versed in making music people are otherwise not familiar with.

Running Concert Series in One’s Home Town

CM: Talk about your concert series in your communities. There’s a whole topic of concern about the ‘lack of venues’…. The venues are there, but the business angle needs to be worked out, to get owners on board with a good business model.
CS: My colleague, Nicola du Toit, and I do a live music series called Betwixt https://betwixtmusic.co.za/  and started it when the ‘Straight No Chaser’ club closed in Cape Town. So now in JHB, we put on live performances in different places. But getting patrons there is so stressful. Basically, doing live means loosing money! When I started the concert series, I realised how hard it was to get people to attend. We had created a model where it was really affordable , and there were add-ons to encourage people to come. But it made me realise that it was on me as well, to go out and spend my money at gigs, and support artists I respect. Musicians can get despondent at audiences, but I think, having been on a number of international residencies where I have met people who are dealing with similar issues in different parts of the world, it is on us to support each other.

CM: That’s very generous of you. I know this is a theme of students at jam sessions – they’re coming out with a real solidarity
CS: It has to be that way. It is so hard to find space for artists to do what they would creatively want to do with live audiences. Audiences do love the arts and will try, but even the musicians wouldn’t come to our gigs. I’m more peripheral in my musical tastes, but I support my male friends’ gigs. However, they never come to mine! I think that for there to be a healthy live ecosystem, there’s lots of responsibility all around. I did a residency in America in 2016 with many musicians from all around the world, who had albums out and had performed a lot. Every one of them also ran a concert series in their home town. So that made me think that I need to contribute something locally, since I move around a lot with live performances. Everyone was involved in creating space for other musicians, as well.

See www.carastacey.com

See www.carastacey.com

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Jazz meets Classical: a Festival of Contemporary South African Musical Encounters at Spier Wine Farm

The Spier Wine Farm will come alive on Saturday, 23 November, with a very special music festival meant to bring authentic jazz and contemporary classical maestros to Spier’s renovated outdoor amphitheatre, long missing the eager arts crowds it hosted years back. The inaugural South African Jazz and Classical Encounters Festival will groove with three seasoned and well-established jazz bands and two classical groups, all known for their interpretive encounters with sound, instrumentation, voice, and rhythm. The brain child of music entrepreneur and former owner of the Orbit jazz club in Johannesburg, Aymeric Peguillan, in association with Shirley de Kock and Associates, this Festival brings not only musical icons to the stage for seven hours, but also opportunities for patrons to enjoy the natural surroundings of Spier and its refreshments on offer, such as casual dining or pre-booked picnics.

Peguillan’s PEGS Music Project (www.pegsmusicproject.co.za) has ambitious plans which reflect his own passion for South African jazz. French-born Peguillan met the jazz experience early in his youth, and ventured on listening journeys to hear and meet musicians playing American jazz standards. Professionally, he has juggled this musical passion with humanitarian development assistance work with MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders in English) in various African and eastern European countries stressed by civil war and other disasters.

“After many years working with MSF, I was sent to South Africa in 1994 to head up its office in Johannesburg. I resigned two years later in 1996 and ventured into teaching, the film industry, and some advertising. But my love of jazz pushed me to open up a live jazz club in Troyville for several years and there I met a lot of South African musicians.”

Johannesburg remained Peguillan’s base as he moved again in MSF circles in Geneva and Swaziland. The jazz bug bit again.

“My wife and I raised our two young children in Swaziland, but I returned to Johannesburg, left MSF, and opened The Orbit jazz club in 2012. This was my ultimate passion, to have a premier live jazz venue where the musicians would feel comfortable meeting and playing with each other, and where patrons could experience the best in live music and cuisine.”

Most unfortunately, the Orbit closed down in 2018 after a winning streak of some six years. Life moves on.

“Concerning the upcoming November 23rd Spier event, I was inspired by wanting upmarket and interesting places for quality music festivals, annually, instead of the current options of big convention centers. Growing up in Europe, my experience of festivals was hearing great music in great places, like in an old church, or in a vineyard. Also, I like the mixing of the performing arts, which is what another PEGS project is – When Ballet Meets Jazz. This mixing of audiences and bringing people together, who love the performing arts, is what I like. The Spier event is also, I think, in line with nation-building, for people who would not normally sit together…. this sort of thing.”

Marrying the best of classical and jazz in a South African context is what November 23rd is about.  The schedule is tight, opening the doors at 13:00. The Kyle Shepherd Trio opens the event and features pianist Shepherd, Shane Cooper on double bass, and drummer Jonno Sweetman, a group that has played and grown together over the years. Following this act is composer/arranger and musician Matthijs Van Dijk as part of the Night Light Collective with pianist Cara Stacey, double bassist Brydon Bolton, and guitarist Reza Khota. These artists are known for their ‘cross-over’ creations with contemporary music of a South African vein. Stacey also plays southern African musical bows, such as the umrhubhe, uhadi,and makhoyane  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZqhW-H2MAg&list=PLIDnYe90LHghhFtaCKyBYPs5oslirN_02

Award winner Van Dijk has performed in several musical genre groups, from a rock band to chamber orchestra.

Trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni’s Tune Recreation Committee has stellar jazz artists: Reza Khota, bassist Nicholas Williams, drummer Clement Benny, and pianist Afrika Mkhize. They tell stories. http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2019/01/26/trcs-afrika-grooves-tells-artists-stories-mlangeni-and-mkize-discusss/

Violist and composer Jan-Hendrik Harley takes to the stage next, with his 11-musician contemporary group Ensemble, Je Ne Comprends Pas, which promises to woo the audience with some breath taking compositions, from chamber music pieces to electro-acoustic.

Lastly, the refreshingly lilting, wistful vocals of jazz trumpeter, Mandisi Dyantyis, supported by saxophonist Buddy Well, pianist Blake Hellaby, bassist Steve De Sousa, and drummer Lumanyano Unity Mzi will surely please.   http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2019/02/14/trumpeter-vocalist-mandisi-dyantyis-emotes-stories-in-somandla-a-cd-review/

Bookings are essential through Quicket at R380 for the day.
Spier Amphitheatre, SPIER Wine Farm, R310 Baden Powell Drive, Stellenbosch.

The schedule: (Doors open at 13:00)
14.00 pm to 15:00 pm – Kyle Shepherd Trio
15:15 to 16:15 pm – The Night Light Collective
16:45 to 17:45 – Mandla Mlangeni’s Tune Recreation Committee
18:00 to 19:00 – Jan-Hendrik Harley Ensemble Je ne Comprends Pas
19 :45 to 20:45 – Mandisi Dyantyis Quintet

Facebook: Jazz & Classical Encounters at Spier
021 809 1100, 078 398 62 50
info@spier.co.za, or aypeguillan@gmail.com

Shirley de Kock Gueller shirley@gueller.com / 071 318 1495

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Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini: African ancestry meets Diaspora jazz – a Trans-Atlantic connection through the Blue Note jazz label

He’s back home, with another mission, after participating in the elegant kickoff concert with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City, celebrating 25 years of democracy in South Africa after Apartheid’s end. Jazz pianist & self-professed healer, Nduduzo Makhathini, was one of five South African instrumentalists and three vocalists to present their compositions at this illustrious opening evening on 12 September.

Nduduzo Makhathini receiving SAMA 2017 award

Nduduzo Makhathini receiving SAMA 2017 award

He had also signed onto America’s premier jazz Blue Note Record Label four months prior to the official announcement at these celebrations. American jazz legend Wynton Marsalis and South African-born Seton Hawkins (Director of Public Programs and Education Resources at Jazz at Lincoln Center) heralded in this ‘first’ collaboration between some of America’s most experienced jazz musicians in this LC Jazz Orchestra and key South African jazz musicians known for pushing creative boundaries.

Wynton Marsalis at 2019 New Orleans Jazz Billboard

Makhathini’s exploration of music as one form of the healing arts focuses on ‘inner-tainment’ (coined by his late Mentor, Zim Ngqawana) which directly contrasts with contemporary jazz struggles ‘entertaining’ still fragile audiences seeking some sort of spiritual release in music. For him, the passage across the Atlantic Ocean to Lincoln Center remains an important milestone: an opportunity to celebrate and draw up links between the African modes of healing through music (or African cosmologies) and the African Diaspora in America who, he thinks, may have lost spiritual and ritual connections with the African Ancestors.

When I noted how rigid and vibe-less the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra seemed when performing the works of (and with) the South African musicians on stage, important clarifications were made by Makhathini:

“The Atlantic was on my mind in this event. I see Jazz as a music of people in displacement. Even early South African jazz had to navigate around the pains and restriction of Apartheid South Africa; yet South Africans have all along been very aware of American jazz, but not visa versa. “

Makhathini, in fact, admitted that his jazz studies syllabus at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) borrowed heavily from American jazz history, and that there were few references to early South African musicians, like Chris McGregor and his Brotherhood exiled in Europe.

“There were no linkages, such as when Coltrane died, South African Winston Mankunku was emerging as a premier jazz musician at home. Similarly, pianist Bheki Mseleku influenced me during my Durban studies, yet he didn’t find that recognition or space to grow his music in South Africa, as he did find during his long exile in London.”      https://www.osirispod.com/podcasts/burning-ambulance/burning-ambulance-nduduzo-makhathini/

While South Africans found solace in some recognition abroad during internal displacements of apartheid, it has been only in the last two post-apartheid decades that artists have emerged from South African training institutions to find voice and patronage at home venues.  “While this creative emergence of South African jazz explored various types of fusions, rhythms, messages, and even healing vibrations from their cultural histories, the African Diaspora has not pursued these connections as forcefully,” says Makhathini.

Why? Makhathini feels that due to slave histories, “the Diaspora may fear that reconnection with ancestral pasts”, most likely because different spaces and cultural environments have been created in the New World. He has made it repeatedly clear that, based on African spiritual cosmologies, African performances invoke spiritual connections, adding chant, ritual, and body movement (dance) to express the communication. His superb interview with USA-based Burning Ambulance podcast (noted above) clearly details his philosophies. His study and admiration of Randy Weston’s legacy has taught the importance of reviving trans-Atlantic linkages between the various musical cultures, also.

Hence, Makhathini considers these trans-Atlantic meetings very reconciling for him.

“At the Lincoln Center in New York, rehearsals with their Jazz Orchestra were important moments. I would stand up and start to dance to get the orchestra to understand the vibe behind our South African compositions. My aim was to expose a deeper mode of remembrance.”

His albums, Ikhambi, and Listening to the Ground, contain fusions of how music becomes healing, how healing connects with listening in the African oral tradition, that one listens THROUGH sound, not TO sound. In Ground, it’s about ‘talking to the ground’, and listening to the Ancestors’ messages. 

Ikhambi album cover

So how can these spiritual and healing connections of Africanisms be infused into the Blue Note jazz label, now celebrating 80 years in the record industry in America?

Makhathini explained how African music uses echoes, drawing on repeated messages from the fundamental roots of African oral tradition. “The Yoruba traditions of Nigeria and even the roots of Cuban music cast echoes of ancestral vibration”, exemplified by Nigeria’s noted Afro-jazz fusionist, Fela Ransom Kuti in the 1970s whereby his notorious Lagos shrine housed the collective echoes of Yoruba tradition.

By joining the Blue Note Label, Makhathini hopes to bridge these trans-Atlantic waters, as a healing metaphor, to create culturally rich musical linkages between peoples of African ancestry who travel over those waters, not as forced migrants or slaves, but as collaborating professionals. The Label’s President, Don Was, seemed to echo this sentiment in his invitation letter to Makhathini: “You embody the artistry that has distinguished the label for the last 80 years and your presence on the roster is proof that the Blue Note ethos is alive and well!”

Makhathini has gleefully accepted:

“I hope to bring that echo of the past into the Blue Note label, so that a voice that has been silenced for a long time can be heard. When playing recently at the Blue Note Club in New York City, I saw the potential for this bridge. Naturally, I’m surrounded by healing vibrations. Healing gets channelled in my music. In my album, Ikhambi, I make concoctions for healing through the musicians themselves and their instruments. When we think about healing, we think of drum, chant, dance, and letting go. There must be a functionality of music in our lives. “

Ikhambi was recorded in the UK in 2017, with one South African (drummer Ayanda Sikade) and others from UK bands, some members who had played with Bheki Mseleku. The album’s songs are meant to restore that spirit of “family beyond kinship”, and connect with the Diasporic feelings, perhaps, of ‘not being at home’.

We enthusiasts, critics, promoters, and supporters are encouraged to watch carefully as this 21st century jazz-induced ‘inner-tainment’ unfolds under the sails of the Blue Note Label. May favourable winds curate Makhathini’s  exciting and transformative journey through trans-Atlantic waters.

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Italian jazz pianist Giovanni Guidi stuns with atypical styles

Visiting Italian jazz pianist, Giovanni Guidi, sent highly improvised sonic waves through Cape Town’s jazz centers recently, leaving in his path networks, some confusion among listeners, but deep respect for choosing stellar musicians to accompany his journey.

G Guidi-courtesy Clement Puig of ECM

Youngblood Cultural Center in central Cape Town came alive again as Guidi  soloed through his first set, and settled listeners into his style. His is more than a sonic journey; he transports, through a matrix of emotional jolts, intellectual explorations, reality checks, and rhythmic changes, to land back on terra firma of the familiar kind. 

This 35-year old has achieved enormous successes, having performed and mentored with some of the great jazz musicians of Europe, notably with Italian trumpet aficionado, Enrico Rava, to name a few. Guidi’s style is hard to describe – he leaves chordal harmonies aside to evoke emotions of disturbance, then resolve. With body swaying over the keys, Guidi connects his sonic messages from lower register rumblings to treble crescendos, crashing into a more subtle tone of a familiar tune which leads the way. His take on such standards as ‘My Funny Valentine’, or ‘Over the Rainbow’, morph out of a cloud of delusion into gentler refrains, thus bringing some relief to the ears. Like silence after a heavy tropical downpour.

In the second set, fellow musicians admirably plucked to Guidi’s free style intros to familiar tunes. Each artist had freedoms to solo and explore: Dutch bassist and Cape Town resident, Hein van der Geyn, could occasionally lead and add percussive beats; Rus Nerwich’s tenor sax could squeak and squeal; Lee Thompson’s trumpet had permission to run away; and drummer Jonno Sweetman whispered and enunciated multiple rhythms, depending on the band’s mood. The piano was not always easy to listen to, but the complementarity of other instruments brought sense back to purpose.

Likewise, an unusual duo concert with legendary Brotherhood of Breath drummer, Louis Moholo-Moholo, now approaching age 80, brought respecting listeners to Langa’s Guga S’Thebe cultural center. Understandably, Guidi had been influenced in his early years by this South African band-in-exile and the improvised styles of pianist Chris McGregor during their 1970s-80s hay days. But the aging Moholo struggled to keep up with the zesty Guidi piano this time, with sounds merging more into a monotonous clackety-clack routine. Still, Guidi’s piano held its own with familiar standards fading in and out of chordal outbursts.

It seems this young, talented pianist wants to explore more….with South African artists…. and find out what makes the South African sound so special. While his Italian Cultural tour was brief this trip, Guidi hopes to spend longer time on South Africa’s soil in the near future and possibly record with his favourite artists, many identified so far

Guidi’s latest recording, Avec Le Temps, exemplifies where he is taking his music with his jazzahead! 2019 quintet:   

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Going ‘Native’ in Cape Town Brings Music back to the ‘Hoods

This article was published in the anthology of stories, “Writing My City: Ordinary Capetownians on Their Extraordinary Home”, by the City of Cape Town, 2019.  The book was launched at the Open Book Festival 2019 this September at the Fugard Theatre, with thanks for the collaboration with The Book Lounge and City of Capetown Libraries.

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The smell of corn cobs and boerewors on the braai, from which oozes charcoal white smoke, meets the nose which points to sniff out other table stalls of second-hand books, and textile and ceramic craft items splashed with colourful designs. People are buzzing about the Kofififee mobile kiosk as ‘Thaps’ churns out cappuccinos or hot chocolates. There’s a slight warmth in this winter air as one saunters through the yard to enter the auditorium of Guga S’Thebe Community Center in the heart of Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township off the National Highway N2. The yard with mosaic wall art bustles with musicians and patrons rubbing shoulders as both place their drink or food orders at the auditorium’s ‘snack’ window. ..or buys an affordable late lunch of curried beef and veggies with fluffy rice from the ‘food pot’ table.

It’s 4 o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Once inside the auditorium, the high roof with a few art works on the walls frames the seating area for some 120 plus people. The ‘Wine Shaq’ table offers a variety of independently distributed wines from the Cape Winelands – always ‘local is lekker’ in attitude and taste. One carefully nurtured wineglass will last through the first set as patrons take their seats. The band numbers five well-seasoned musicians. A hush falls as the gig begins…and the experience continues…

This is Jazz in the Native Yards, bringing the music back to the ‘hood’. The Natives are at home! The patrons are also multi-cultural, coming from various demographics of the wider municipality. The home legends are being heard…and remembered.

The 2019 South African Music Awards (SAMA) voted ‘Neo-Native’ by pianist Bokani Dyer as the best jazz album. Dyer has been exploring what it means to be ‘native’, he coming from a mixed family of Botswana African and Zimbabwe European cultures but brought up and groomed in South Africa. Cape Town pianist and multi-instrumentalist, Hilton Schilder, brought out his ‘Alter Native’ album in 2017 as a statement about his musical and cultural roots combined with modern jazz influences. Another SAMA nominated pianist, Sibusiso Mashiloane, states in his newest album, ‘Closer to Home’, how ancestral and contemporary African musical traditions can wed nicely with contemporary improvisational styles in sound. The Native is back! These artists are examples of bringing their music back into those neighbourhoods from which they have learned much of their craft.

Jazz in the Native Yards, while proudly endorsing the otherwise unfortunate apartheid address for township communities resident in ‘NY’ numbered streets, is enthusiastically spreading its philosophy of taking those ‘hood musical styles to other ‘hoods. After all, Cape jazz and South African jazz emanated and developed their unique sounds from many back yards during apartheid restrictions on township residents’ movements. In turn, this provided relief – comic and musical – for both artists and patrons in weathering the debilitating effects of racial, economic, and political separation from the country’s wealth and opportunities.

Jazz in the Native Yards traces its ancestral footprints to the 1960s when impromptu live jazz sessions took place every weekend in Cape Town’s townships and elsewhere. Back then, jazz enthusiasts listened to Josh Sithole who made the penny whistle famous, even on street corners of major cities. The Nofemele brothers played The Manhattan Brothers covers with unsurpassed flair. The Ngcukana brothers from Gugulethu performed with their father Mra and the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim, and became a regular feature in the community yards.

Then, a change in access evolved: Post-apartheid Jazz clubs moved more to town centers, requiring enthusiasts to leave their home areas, and find often expensive means of transport to evening events which also charged fees higher than what true jazz fans from marginalised communities could afford. This restrictive gap in access to the quality legendary music has now been revealed: many arts and culture promoters no longer wish to dominate live jazz through another form of exclusionary, middle class opportunity to hear quality music.

Ironically, as these town ‘clubs’ started closing down for various management and financial reasons in the past 10 years, the call from communities became loud and clear: ‘We want the music here, with us!” Thus, live jazz started brewing again in Native Yards and communities throughout Cape Town’s metropolis; in restaurants, in a bakery, at an artisanal ginnery or beer brewery, at cultural centers , like Langa’s Guga S’Thebe, and even in musicians’ homes. Those opportunities to preserve the proven legacies of jazz giants like Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Robbie Jansen and Cups Nkanuka, were taking hold, partly thanks to appreciative and discerning younger musicians who saw value and integrity in preserving musical histories. These well-trained musicians also wanted live platforms to strut their stuff.

Since the Native Land Act of 1913 defined separate development with the later enforcement of the Group Areas Act in 1950, non-white South African citizens found themselves in unattractive and unsustainable economic and social conditions, unable to break out of their township confines to pursue a more progressive life. Instead, undesirable forms of behaviour plunged them into gangsterism, drug peddling and alcoholism.

In contemporary times, Jazz in the Native Yards seeks to avoid a downward spiral by grooming human creativity, especially among the youth from marginalised communities. Its projects were born in 2015 and JiNY developed a social movement that encourages the use of live jazz performances as platforms for diverse musical voices to be heard and seen. Young and older musicians can ‘meet and greet’ each other on these platforms. For instance, Marimba specialist, Bongani Shotsoananda from Gugulethu, often comes to afternoon concerts at the homey ‘Kwa Sec’ house where weekend gigs feature a variety of South African and international bands. Another legendary jazz pianist, Tete Mbambisa, and Langa singer Ncediwe Sylvia Mdunyelwa, pop in to see what the younger ones are doing. Sometimes, these venues hold workshops before the live performances, further adding to the artistic excitement.

It’s about ‘Experience’, says Koko Nkalashe, one of the founders of JiNY. “We want to create spaces and opportunities for more social cohesion for Western Cape residents, a positive ambience of backyard performance venues for residents and visitors alike to get to know and understand South Africa’s diversity, rather than just focus on its marginalised communities. “ These spaces, safe but simple, grow paying audiences who thereby offer opportunities whereby artists can actually earn an income rather than rely on free or sponsored concerts.

So where does one ‘catch’ these audiences? JiNY has ‘Routes’: musicians can perform at centers which have sizeable data bases of patrons, like the annual Stellenbosch Woordfeest as part of the musical program; then a Sunday afternoon at the Delheim Wine Estate pulling in residents from Franschoek and surroundings, then continue on to Khayalitsha’s Isivivanda Center ; then on to Mitchells Plain’s Alliance Francaise Cultural Center (still in progress). That’s the ‘Eastern Route’. Patrons and fans who live along the way can catch quality performances and be able to afford paying for the experience.

The ‘Central Route’ comprises of Gugulethu’s Kwa Sec which is a private home space for smaller crowds; then to Nyanga Arts Center (still in progress) which receives supports by the Belgium government….. then on to Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center for larger crowds, and continue on to the Alliance Francaise in central Cape Town CBD or to an arts and culture gallery on Bree Street.

All of these routes seek to engage the moneyed class and less economically endowed residents in experiencing together the fruits of musical achievements of the younger and older legends coming from these communities. Adding to the Experience are people’s video snippets on social media, selfies with musicians, and other pictorial stories which show patrons’ excitement. Clinking wine glasses, rattling coffee cups, audience members dancing, and an inside fire roaring to keyboard runs – people experience joyful fun and amusement in the vibey arena. And when the experience is good, you sure will want to return and find your new-found friends at the next gig….and on and on it goes. Socializing, appreciating, learning, seeing, asking questions, understanding, liking, tasting, telling others – the experiences expand.

Performing in ‘Native Yards’ does not benefit just local musicians and local patrons. Word spreads, rippling through social media, radio, print media outlets, and country Embassies. When South African musicians work on projects overseas, namely in Europe and seldom in USA, international visitors, musicians, and music business promoters hear about the ‘hood happenings, and know where to go. Fundors like ConcertsSA, the Italian Consulate, Swiss promoters, and others, enable music students and their teachers to collaborate and spread music in the ‘Hoods.

Indeed, the Legends listen from their ancestral heights in pure delight!

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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.

+++++++++++++

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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Jazz Pianist Zoe Molelekwa brings his “unconsciously South African” repertoire to Cape Town: an Interview

All Jazz Radio caught busy Zoe Molelekwa for an interview about what makes him tick with his music and life in general.

With all your current training and family influences, I was just wondering – everybody finds their own style as they grow into their music – so what’s your style? You’ve been influenced; you’ve studied, and probably done a lot of experimentation as well. What kind of sound do you feel comfortable with ? What turns you on in playing music?

Zoe Molelekwa – credit T. Visagie

Being around my father growing up, and absorbing the music he was playing, was a time very short-lived. I grew up in Soweto which was very culturally rich with music all around. There was so much to pick up from everyone. My one real experience that made me want to listen to jazz was from the old man who lived across the street from where I lived – I grew up with my uncle, on my mother’s side of the family. This man was always playing his LPs, but I could never know who he was playing. So, he challenged me to get to know my father’s music and CDs, and the older music on these vinyls, and how people were approaching this music . My formal music training started with the recorder in the First Grade. Then, I took up violin, then alto saxophone and just listening to different music. The music that attracted me most from South Africa was the mirabi and mbaqanga variety.

How did your family support you in pursuing music?

I had to work for a year after my high school.  Growing up on my Mom’s side of the family, they didn’t want me involved in music. So I worked at Exclusive Books for a year after my high school. There, I became very interested in stories, music, and art. I was always listening to music on my headphones, so the store asked me to make a playlist of music to play in the store. People in the store would come and ask me who was playing a song, and what’s the album called, this sort of thing. Some actually would buy the album and show me that they had bought it!

That’s when I started meeting musicians I had heard on radio, through their albums and interviews, and even seeing them at their performances. The first musician I met who helped me alot was Lwanda Gogwana, the trumpeter. He heard my father’s music being played in the store, and started to befriend me, asked me if I wish to pursue this music, and what my plans were.

Uhadi Traditional/Synth Modern – Lwanda Gogwana Expands Xhosa jazz

Then I was introduced to the pianist, Themba Mkize, who helped me find places where I could study music, and recommended University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN).

Wonderful. OK, I thought on your grandfather’s side (Moses’ father), you would be groomed as well.

Actually, I hardly ever saw my grandfather growing up. I saw him maybe four or five times when I was very young. This was not out of choice. Then when I was ten years old, I ran away [from my mother’s family side] because I felt suffocated. I really wanted to have an experience with music at that time. I was playing drums with my father when I was three or four years old. I would walk into his rehearsals and pick up the drummer’s stick and started beating. Then I got my own drum kit. When I was picked up from school, I would ask if my father was rehearsing at Kippies. If yes, I would ask to fetch my drum kit so I could rehearse with him. That’s the kind of environment I grew up with, and when I no longer had that, after my parents’ death, [when I was just six years old] and into my teen years, it really was challenging for me. But the exposure I had at that early age made me continue to listen and try to absorb all the sounds that I loved. So when I finally got an opportunity to study or express myself, I had a certain foundation already.

When you met up with Mkhize and Gogwana who encouraged you to continue in music, was your family still not supportive?

They were….yet in a sense they weren’t. I mean, to them, music was not considered a viable career for me. I think also with the circumstances surrounding my parents passing on, and the kind of environment that the music scene can operate in, they were reluctant about me being a part of that, of knowing what that environment actually is. It’s funny because even my mother was an artist, and her father was a great actor and musician, James Mthoba, who acted in various productions at the Market Theater [and was artistic director of the Theater], was a pianist in the film Sarafina, and worked with other actors, such as John Kani. So it was weird for me to experience this, knowing that there’s so much cultural heritage that we have at home that I could actually take so much from. It would also help me on my journey. But they weren’t so supportive so it ended up being that way.

Your mother’s father, did he support you?

He passed away when I was very young so didn’t know him. I tried to be around people I’d like to be like, like musicians. When I was studying privately with Themba Mkize, and I actually lived with him for a while, that’s when I met pianist Nduduzo Makhatini who became another great influence for me.

Nduduzo Makhathini

He was performing in Soweto with his band when I was on way back to JHB as my UKZN semester had just ended for the holidays. Nduduzo called me and asked me if I’d like to come with two tunes and rehearse with his band. The gig which followed was the first time I had performed my music live! I had been composing and attending performances, just trying to get to know how other musicians prepare for their performances, and what makes the music sound so great. So when I think about how I would present my music, it would come out as though I, too, am trying to set my own path in this music.

Where are you studying music now, and is it your full time love?

I’m in my 2nd year at UKZN Jazz Program with one more year to go. It’s not my only love but where my passion lies. I envision my performances to have many experiences which include visuals, sound, and words – I’m a poet as well – because I find words can express things we can’t feel in sound, or see in pictures. That’s the ultimate vision, but primarily, I’d like to be a full time musician, perhaps work as an arranger, or a film scorer, but also be involved in art entrepreneurship in the long run.

In what way? The entrepreneurship…..

I think my being around some of the great musicians to whom I and my peers look up to, and getting a sense of how to look at ourselves not only as musicians, but also as a business, teaches us how to make a living. I’m seeing certain things not known to musicians, that could actually really help in their careers. In the immediate sense, that’s how I’d like to be of help. Maybe have my own label. But for now, I just want to be a great musician and a great human being!

What are your other interests?

I enjoy art and also writing…. Literature. I experiment a lot; I write essays, I write short stories; sometimes I write poems . I’m thinking a bit broader to write novels…

What about some jazz journalism?

People have told me I should consider archiving or journalism – something more serious and worthwhile. I’ve been very busy just archiving my father’s works, trying to put all the content together and package it in such a way that it could be used by those hungry for the music.

I like your mention of stories and poems…. Not everyone can write, but it sounds like you have a facility for that. If you could spend a whole day in a library, what would you want to read?

I love History, African history. In earlier days, I read the Classics – Edgar Allan Poe and George Orwell. I like philosophy, many different schools of thought, Eastern philosophy, some Buddhist and Zen books. I practice Tai Chi – I’ve adopted this as a habit to keep me balanced about what troubles me.

I see you have a meditative style when you sit down at the piano, like at Guga S’Thebe during Hassan’adas tribute to your father’s music. Where do you think you fit into South African jazz? Where do you feel comfortable – with free flow, traditional, contemporary styles….?

I like the traditional – it’s like the foundation of the tree. In those earlier times, there were different things – socially, politically, and economically – that were influencing not only the way people were living, but the music which was being written for a certain purpose . I might fall under not just the traditional, but maybe the contemporary, African . There are influences, such as kwaito , deep house, hip hop which I’ve come to like. My father’s music was traditional, but also progressive…. I try to have nuances that are unconsciously South African because that’s where I come from.

Sunday, 25 August at Jazz Sessions, Masque Theater, Muizenberg, at 18.30 hrs. R120.

And at these sponsored by Jazz in the Native Yards: (see poster) 
Wed 28 August at Youngblood, 74 Bree Street, at 7.30pm
Friday 30 August at Alliance Francaise, 155 Loop Street, at 7.30pm
Sunday 1 September at Guga S’Thebe, Langa, at 4pm
Sunday 1 September at Selective Live, 189 Buitengracht St, at 7pm.

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Tradition and improv find musical foundations at Rootspring with Amathongo

An evening at Rootspring, a tall house originally built for an opera singer, just meters to Muizenberg’s False Bay beach, is guaranteed to swallow patrons into a vortex of known and unknown musical originality – wedding the traditional with improvisation that produce acoustically pleasing and sometimes surprising sounds. There’s also an experience to be had as the nontraditional seating ranges from movable chairs and large stuffed cushions on a bouncy floor made for dancing, to pillows on the stairwell to enhance the view onto the stage as well as the sound – in last Saturday’s case – of the five-piece Amathongo group.

Hidden away on the razed wing of the large main room is a wooden stove firing much welcomed heat on this wet wintry Cape Town night. Patrons arrive early to chat with friends and peg their seats, and perhaps open that bottle of wine they’ve brought and hope the cork doesn’t break into the bottle. When the gig starts sharp at 7pm, a hushed silence welcomes the incredible sounds and rhythms that break out for the first set.

https://youtu.be/cICllz9zfBE

Amathongo, an ethnically diverse group of musicians, entices you to connect with ‘ancestral spirits’, which is the isiZulu meaning. In keeping with Rootspring’s philosophy of promoting musical creativity, Amathongo describes itself as an evolving world music project, unique, South African and original. Its use of improvisation is also deeply rooted in traditional African styles. The sound strongly features traditional Southern African musical bows and other traditional African Instruments made popular by singer Madosini with her varieties of Uhade bows, and Pedro Espi-Sanchis on traditional flute. Get ready for a journey that beckons the listeners to explore their own ancestral roots!

Hilton Schilder outside his home in CT- credit Franziska Lentes

What makes a concert exciting is to see how each musician projects sounds within a classical musical scoring that allows for free flow solos. Pianist Hilton Schilder, known for his allegorical stories around the Cape ghoema music, most recently on his album, Alter Native, brings a spirituality to his piano. Coming from the legendary Cape Town musical Schilder family, Hilton has mastered traditional instruments that are home to the khoi/san roots of the Cape.


The keeper of the ancestral soul of Amathongo is Madosini on Xhosa bows, who centers the musically emotive storytelling within the group. All add their vocals to her isiXhosa praising and healing chants. Madosini is also the comic, with body language and facial expressions that jerk suddenly, waking up the otherwise meditative audience.  https://youtu.be/Gemr9gru72U

Madosini’s fellow singer and percussionist, Lungiswa Plaatjies, adds vocals and rhythms which enchant. Seasoned by her uncle, Dizu Plaatjies, professor of African indigenous music at University of Cape Town, ‘Lulu’ as she is called, became lead female vocalist of South Africa’s famous Amampondo group with her uncle. Their album, Ekhaya, became a popular eclectic, Xhosa-language version of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues. Lulu has also reached music heights by being the first South African female musician to play the imbira and incorporate it into her compositions.    https://sarafinamagazine.com/2019/05/14/a-conversation-with-lungiswa-plaatjies/

One of Rootspring’s visionaries, guitarist Johnny Blundell, adds strings and box percussion that makes Amathongo sound eclectic with raps of folk and jazz.

Pedro with Madosini

But the eyes stare at the antics of Pedro Espi-Sanchis, known as ‘Pedro the Music Man’ from his long-running children’s television series in the 1990s. Rarely seen with Amathongo lately, Pedro proudly presents his kelp pipe flute, stringed guitar on tortoise shell, and a gourd-cased mbira.    https://youtu.be/XUFgqiCIYDk

Born in Spain and raised in France, Pedro has pleased audiences in South Africa for over 30 years through performances, education with young audiences, and storytelling. He can leave kids (and adults) spellbound as he shows how found objects can make music – paw-paw leaves, kudu horns, cow-bells, calabashes, seaweed, and more. It was the latter that he played on this inspiring Amathongo evening at Rootspring that excited – a Lekgodilo flute made from kelp pipe. Go down to your friendly Cape Town beach and find some black rubbery kelp pipe, cut it properly, and start blowing! Pedro shows how     https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=89&v=AN1OAXyjf9c

According to this instructive vimeo, the flute produces a lydian scale which becomes chromatic after the 6th degree. It is here where the roots of Jazz, i.e. improvisation, started from early times.    https://vimeo.com/8274470

Johnny Blundell, who also comes from an illustrious musical family in Cape Town, has visions and supports to make Rootspring one of the most eclectic, original, and progressive musical venues in greater Cape Town. Well-marketed with its newsy email Newsletter, it tells well in advance the types of bands booked for the month ahead. Sign up! http://www.rootspring.co.za  Become a Rootspringer!

Tickets are at www.quicket.co.za and include a pensioner price as well as pre-booked dinner wraps as a meal for those wanting a munch during the concert interval. Glasses are provided for your bring-your-own drinks or wines.

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Alma Café hosts ‘alternative’ cross-over music, and Alternative Folk prove it!

A wintry, rainy, cold August night in Cape Town is totally forgotten as 51 patrons fill the intimate Alma Café in Rosebank to capacity, to enjoy an unusual fanfare of music, plus a burger meal with dessert. It’s not every day one can hear Cape Town’s musicians perform unique compositions in different formats of sound reflecting their genre preferences. The Cafe’s family-run business on a tiny slip of road called Alma Road boasts two guitar-playing musicians – country folk guitarist father Richard Tait, known for his creative trouser patchworks and monitoring the sound system, and guitarist son Jono Tait – and mother Raita managing a kitchen which very efficiently delivers meals before the gig begins. After enjoying the first course meal, the stage takes over.

The Café listens to the stage, but allows for plenty of talk time before and during the gig intervals when the dessert is served. The patrons have come out to enjoy the eclectic music from ‘Alternative Folk’ in this small venue with no loud, blaring amplification, or need for ear plugs to protect sensitive ears. One’s bring-your-own-bottle of wine on the table, with corkage fee, kept most comfortably warm.

Ronan Skillen on tabla with Jono Tait

Jono has chosen one of South Africa’s top percussionists, Ronan Skillen on tabla and shakes, to present an Eastern flavour to Jono’s own folk guitar. It’s not often a musician presents his intimate health issues on stage, but Jono unabashedly introduced one of his songs which is based on his dealing with depression challenges brought on by his own Bipolar Disorder. The song asks us to learn how to ‘slow down’ from the pressures we face in life. This moving piece leaves the listener quite spellbound at such honesty from a sometimes troubled musician. As a comrade in support, Ronan accompanied his guitarist in style and various rhythms that never overpowered.

The colleagues cracked jokes with each other while tuning up their instruments for the next song, allowing the audience to chime in.  Musicians are known to feel at ease at Alma, often rapping a bit with the audience who return the joviality.

This set the stage for the next half, after a serving of dessert and coffee, as part of the meal offerings. Another ‘alternative folk’ takes over – a lady duo, both illustrious in their musical journeys. Singer/guitarist/educator Nicky Schrire has explored all sorts of musical genre, from her jazz studies at University of Cape Town to contemporary folk, singing her songs about Paris and back home, ‘Love Letter’ about Cape Town.

She and her childhood friend, cellist Ariella Caira, known for her sterling band membership with the all-female string band, Sterling EQ, combine their musical DNA and present soulful and inspirational ballads in expert unison. Their synchronicity reflects their individual journeys around the world, both performing and studying, in the worlds of jazz, classical, folk, and ‘alternative’ sounds in music. Nicky made the point that “love songs have already been taken care of which is why I focus on things, items, and not necessarily ‘love’ “. Her five years living in New York, plus collaborations with a multitude of domestic and international artists, has helped her combine her original jazz exposure with innovative sonic realms touching on a bit of Celtic and folk, embodied in her own compositions as well as interpretations of other’s works, such as the Beatenberg pop song, “Never Let Me Go” and her “Ingrid Yonker Suite” which blends folk, cinematic and art song genres. Also, think Joni Mitchell.

https://youtu.be/V9RiIacH0rc

With a voice that can move from emotion to theatrics, Nicky describes herself as “trained in jazz but a troubadour by choice”. Besides an engaging stage presence, she projects humour, wit, an assertive personality, and storytelling abilities (both verbal and written) that are educative and highly entertaining. Her marketing skills cleverly explore the visual, using for instance the popular Woodstock-based Popsicle Studios’ video productions in Cape Town.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJbm3No_4qA  Even Cape Talk radio’s John Maytham Show produced an interesting podcast discussion with Jono and Nicky about the nature of ‘Alternative Folk’, which also highlighted the types of venues artists prefer to perform in.  http://www.capetalk.co.za/podcasts/144/the-john-maytham-show/235674/alternative-folk-at-the-alma-cafe 

This evening ended with all four ‘Alternatives’ joining their sonic spirits to delight and haunt our understandings about our contemporary music-scape!       https://youtu.be/d9Vs5sP2r3M

While many venues face fluctuations in patronage among cash-strapped fans, an intimate and friendly venue like Alma Café hopes to draw all those daring to venture into different sonic worlds for an affordable evening’s experience, rain or shine. Their listings can be seen on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/The-Alma-Cafe-159089414146612/  

 

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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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Jazz in the Native Yards Brings Joy with Music Coming back to the Capetown ‘Hoods

There’s a slight warmth in this winter air as one enters the outdoor patio where the band is set up, with listeners seated in the garage space looking onto the patio. This is No 52, NY138 named ‘Kwa Sec’ in Gugulethu, a ‘township’ outside of Cape Town center.

Sisonke Xonti sax; Jono Sweetman drums; Shane Cooper bass-credit: T. Visagie

People are buzzing with loud chatter which drowns out the MC with the mic, who is trying to introduce the band and settle the crowd. If one hops quickly inside the house, more buzzing and smell of freshly brewing coffee meets the senses as ‘Thaps’ (Thapelo Mahloane) churns out cappuccinos or hot chocolates at his Kofififee mobile kiosk.  

The eyes wonder onto a bucket of ice at the ‘Wine Shaq’ table which offers a variety of independently produced and distributed wines from the Cape Winelands/Stellenbosch area – always ‘local is lekker’ in attitude and taste, says its wine connoisseur, Nomhle Zondani. Hailing from Langa, Zondani travels the various routes of this promoter based at Kwa Sec, Jazz in the Native Yards, pleasing pallets thirsty for high quality but lesser known wines.

One carefully nurtured wineglass will last through the first set as patrons take their seats. The band numbers five well-seasoned musicians. A hush falls as the gig begins… or rather, the Experience continues…..

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It’s 4 o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Saxophonist Sisonke Xonti and his illustrious and long time band members, are bringing the music back to the ‘hood’. The Natives are at home! The patrons are also multi-cultural, coming from various demographics of the wider municipality – radio and media journalists, fellow musicians, regular fans, local leaders, and foreigners working in Cape Town.

Credit: Gregory Franz

During the set break, raucous joviality explodes as old friends chat about nothing, or strangers are introduced. Some patrons who announce this is their first visit to Kwa Sec are immediately embraced and coached on why they should come more often. The energy in the space becomes electric. Ubuntu is speaking. There are no barriers here – colour, nationality, profession, status in life – it doesn’t matter. It’s the pumping rhythms in song that brings hearts and spirits together, laughing and just enjoying life and being there.

Ezra & brother Duke Ngcukana 1987-credit: Tony McGregor

Home legends are being acknowledged by this youthful band as it swings into songs of late jazz dons, like Zim Ngqawana and Gugulethu’s own, Ezra Ngcukana. It’s Youth Day in South Africa, June 16, a national holiday celebrating how Black youth uprisings in 1976 against the then apartheid government’s attempts to enforce the teaching of Afrikaans in their schools changed the course of history. But sordid memories seemed subdued amidst the joyous celebration and networking around song and artistry.

JiNY Co-founders: Luvuyo Kakaza (left), Koko Nkalashe (right)-credit: Nikki Froneman

Jazz in the Native Yards, while proudly endorsing the otherwise demeaning apartheid address for township communities resident in ‘NY’ numbered streets, is enthusiastically spreading its philosophy of taking those ‘hood musical styles to other ‘hoods. After all, Cape jazz and South African jazz emanated and developed their unique sounds from many back yards during apartheid restrictions on township residents’ movements. In turn, this provided relief – comic and musical – for both artists and patrons in weathering the debilitating effects of racial, economic, and political separation from the country’s wealth and opportunities.

Jazz in the Native Yards traces its ancestral footprints to the 1960s when impromptu live jazz sessions took place every weekend in Cape Town’s townships and elsewhere. Back then, jazz enthusiasts listened to Joshua Sithole who made the penny whistle famous in kwela jazz, even on street corners of major cities. The Nofemele brothers played The Manhattan Brothers covers with unsurpassed flair. The Ngcukana brothers from Gugulethu performed with their father Mra and the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim, and became a regular feature in the community yards.

Then, a change in access evolved: Post-apartheid jazz clubs moved more to town centers, requiring enthusiasts to leave their home areas, and find often expensive means of transport to evening events which also charged fees higher than what true jazz fans from marginalised communities could afford. This restrictive gap in access to the quality legendary music has now been revealed: many arts and culture promoters no longer wish to dominate live jazz through another form of exclusionary, middle class opportunity to hear quality music.

Patrons at Kwa Sec Sisonke Xonti gig-credit: T Visagie

Ironically, as these town ‘clubs’ started closing down for various management and financial reasons in the past 10 years, the call from communities became loud and clear: ‘We want the music here, with us!” Thus, live jazz started brewing again in Native Yards and communities throughout Cape Town’s metropolis; in restaurants, in a bakery, at an artisan ginnery and beer brewery, at cultural centers , like Langa’s Guga S’Thebe, and even in musicians’ homes. Those opportunities to preserve the proven legacies of jazz giants like Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Robbie Jansen and Cups Nkanuka, were taking hold, partly thanks to appreciative and discerning younger musicians who saw value and integrity in preserving musical histories. These well-trained musicians also wanted live platforms to strut their stuff.

In contemporary times, Jazz in the Native Yards seeks to avoid a downward spiral caused by gangsterism, drug peddling and alcoholism. One answer is to groom human creativity, especially among the youth from marginalised communities. Its projects were born in 2015 and JiNY developed a social movement that encourages the use of live jazz performances as platforms for diverse musical voices to be heard and seen. Young and older musicians can ‘meet and greet’ each other on these platforms.

Bongani Shotsoananda at Kwa Sec- Oct 2018

For instance, Marimba specialist, Bongani Shotsoananda (from Nyanga) and trumpeter Blacki Tempi (from Gugulethu), often come to afternoon concerts at the homey ‘Kwa Sec’ house where weekend gigs feature a variety of South African and international bands.

Another legendary jazz pianist, Tete Mbambisa, and Langa singer Ncediwe Sylvia Mdunyelwa, pop in to see what the younger ones are doing. Koko Nkalashe, YiNY’s co-founder, says, “Thanks to ConcertSA we have also managed to bring more established musicians to our stages and the mix with overseas traveling musicians creates a beautiful mix of musical stories.”

Koko Nkalashe

It’s about ‘Experience’, says Nkalashe. “We want to create spaces and opportunities for more social cohesion for Western Cape residents, a positive ambiance of backyard performance venues for residents and visitors alike to get to know and understand South Africa’s diversity, rather than just focus on its marginalised communities. “ These spaces, safe but simple, grow paying audiences who thereby offer opportunities whereby artists can actually earn an income rather than rely on free or sponsored concerts.

So where does one ‘catch’ these audiences?

JiNY has ‘Routes’: musicians can perform at cultural centers and NGO spaces which have sizeable data bases of patrons, and at festivals, like the annual Stellenbosch Woordfeest as part of the musical program; then a Sunday afternoon at the Delheim Wine Estate pulling in residents from Franschoek and surroundings; then continue on to the Khaylitsha’s Isivivana Center, an NGO space ; then on to Mitchells Plain Alliance Francaise Cultural Center (still in progress). That’s the ‘Eastern Route’. Patrons and fans who live along the way can catch quality performances and be able to afford paying for the experience.

The ‘Central Route’ comprises of Gugulethu’s Kwa Sec for smaller crowds; then to Nyanga Arts Center (still in progress) which receives supports from the Belgium government….. then on to Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center for larger crowds, and continue on to the Alliance Francaise in central Cape Town CBD or to an arts and culture gallery on Bree Street.

All of these routes seek to “cook up the vibe”: engage the moneyed class, suburbia folk and tourists, and the less economically endowed residents in experiencing together the fruits of musical achievements of the younger and older legends coming from these communities. Adding to the Experience are people’s video snippets on social media, selfies with musicians, and other pictorial stories which show patrons’ excitement. Clinking wine glasses, rattling coffee cups, audience members dancing, and an inside fire roaring to keyboard runs – people experience joyful fun and amusement in the vibey arena. And when the experience is good, you sure will want to return and find your new-found friends at the next gig….and on and on it goes. Socializing, appreciating, learning, seeing, asking questions, understanding, liking, tasting, telling others – the experiences expand.

Performing in ‘Native Yards’ does not benefit just local musicians and local patrons. Word spreads, rippling through social media, radio, print media outlets, and country Embassies. When South African musicians work on projects overseas, namely in Europe, international visitors, musicians, and music business promoters hear about the ‘hood happenings, and know where to go. Fundors like ConcertsSA, the Italian Consulate, Swiss promoters like ProHelvetia, and others, enable music students and their teachers to collaborate and spread music in the ‘Hoods.

Indeed, the Legends listen from their ancestral heights in pure delight! The ‘hoods are back!!

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Singer Florence Chitacumbi /Percussionist Mino Cinelu cause sonic bangs in Cape Town

They flew in and wowed the crowd at Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center with their authentic fusion of African, Creole, Euro-pop, and Afro-soul . Sitting on his box drum, renowned French percussionist Mino Cinelu rattled his various arsenal of sonic weapons, standing and emoting over his hand-held triangle when he wasn’t furiously tapping out a myriad of beats on his 25 year old plus wave drum.

Mino Cinelu at Langa, Guga S’Thebe: credit Terence Visagie

 

Florence Chitacumbi at Guga S’Thebe,Langa: credit Terence Visagie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeper of melodies, Swiss-Angolan singer Florence Chitacumbi, and leader of this Reunion Tour in Southern Africa, added soulful and jazzy tunes which come from several of her albums with Cinelu. This duo, along with the versatile Swiss Guitarist Christophe Bovet, were ‘encountering the other’ as they shared their musicality with South African and Lesotho audiences during their intensive one week tour to conclude a dazzling International Jazz Month of April.  Multiple thanks go to local organizers, Jazz in the Native Yards and the South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE), for these April performances. 

Credit: T. Visagie

The last concert on May 4 was properly framed in Cape Town’s beautiful Peninsula suburb of Kalk Bay which reaches another local area known for its artistry, Navy home, and calm waters facing a circle of mountains. Again, the Olympia Bakery shoved its machines to the side and made concert room for the trio, this time with an additional two South African guests: jazz pianist Nduduzo Makhatini based in Port Elizabeth; the other, Cape Town’s own legend, accordion/traditional bow/guitarist Tony Cedras who worked with percussionist Cinelu back in those 1980s New York City days. Another story!   The beauty of spontaneity in the moment meant that Cinelu could invite Cedras to the reunion at the last minute.

Tony Cedras

Both South Africans added flavour and transformed the Chitacumbi/Cinelu Afro and Creole rhythms with their own jazz subtleties, the likes of Bheki Mseleku, Nina Simone, and a host of others.

The colourful, sold-out concert saw people still inching into the venue, even sitting on the piled up flour bags ready for use by the Bakery the next day.

Chitacumbi, who led the band, boasted a wide repertoire of music, thanks to Cinelu’s rhythms that included Congolese soukous, Portuguese Fado (folk music) , West African influences, funk, blues, and jazz Standards. She has toured with a host of notables and cut three albums featuring well-known African and European artists seeking to build those sonic bridges between the two continents. But it was former Weather Report’s (and Miles Davis, and Sting) master percussionist, Paris-born Mino Cinelu, whom the whistling audience eyed non-stop. Cinelu was also reuniting with his old pal, Tony Cedras, known for his exiled days in New York arranging songs and touring with Paul Simon’s Graceland album. This visiting duo maintained an exciting and vibrant stage presence right to the standing applause end.

Thanks go to the people involved in promoting/producing and sponsoring this concert, namely Arte Viva Management, Slow Life Music Promotion, Pro Helvetia, Ville de Neuchatel in Switzerland, Foundation SUISA, and Loterie Romande without whom the show and its success would not have been guaranteed.

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Several histories were revealed in my interview (CM) with Florence Chitacumbi (FC) and Mino Cinelu (MC). Both have fathers from Africa or the Diaspora, and both were raised in Francophone/European cultures which explains Cinelu’s love for the Fado folk music of Portugal where his grandmother’s roots lay. Also, his interesting explanation on why the drum and percussion reigned more in Francophone Africa/Diaspora – read more below:

CM: Tell me how you guys linked up as a duo, since you both had lots of experience with other bands and tours over the decades.
FC: Yes, I had a band while living in Paris and I gradually felt there was still something missing. I knew Mino and liked his musical approach and rhythms, so I called him. We started collaborating in 2005 and we produced and album, Regard Croises.
MC: I’ve performed with many artists so feel at ease in both seats – with duos and larger collaborations. I just try to keep an open mind when meeting a new collaboration. And now Florence and I have a duo project that we were looking for.

CM: With South African jazz, what is so different to you personally compared to other African influences, such as the music of Francophone northern Africa?
FC: In Senegal, you find a lot of percussion or guitar, and in Cameroun, you find a good bass player, but not so much the piano or saxophone. But here [South Africa] , there’s a jazz tradition which mixes American jazz with their own sounds – the rhythm , the patterns, the scales, and different types of melody.
MC: Also, as you go north from here, there was less of the English influence which had strict rules about the use of the drum, but the French ex-colonial areas of central and west Africa allowed for the indigenous beats and rhythms and harmonies of those singers . In South Africa, the Africans under colonialism found a way to preserve their music, for example, in the boot dance of the miners. The same in Trinidad under the English when the people developed the steel pan and rhythms to go with it. So in the ex-British areas, the drums are not that well developed but there’s something else. So the non ex-English areas were allowed to develop the drums, and the singing, and other expressions.
FC: I find South African jazz really inspiring; they have something special – the melody, the styles of Bheki Mseleku, and Hugh Masakela… I saw Mkize and Washington’s gig in Langa yesterday, and I like the way they play that scale… it’s unique to South African jazz here.

CM: ….then you get to the Western Cape with the ghoema, and the Malay rhythms, and the Khoi instruments. … I wish the South African students could hear you, perhaps on your next tour here….
FC: It seems that maybe they are afraid of knowing their culture and roots….
CM: There is a trauma…. A psychological stress and anti-colonial phase students are going through presently, often not well understood by them. Whereas, African countries have been independent for long…
MC: People find a way to eventually express themselves…..

CM: You both have lots of African influences in your musical approaches, but you haven’t experienced much collaboration with Africans as such on the African continent, I mean in terms of performances. Why is that?
MC: You can hear in my first album many songs from Ivory Coast and Senegal. You have the talking drum, and the udu from Nigeria – I was the first to bring this instrument into rock music in Europe. I was music director for Saif Khaita, and was the drummer with Chris McGregor in Paris where I also met Dudu Pukoane.
FC: I was in Burkino Faso and Senegal, and last year I was at Jazz a Ouaga in Burkino Faso. Then we came here to South Africa last year….
MC: After touring with Sting, I just took the first plane out of New York, and spent one and a half months in Senegal and played with the drummers every Sunday. Just jamming. There was no TV at the time, or Internet…. I also went to the Ivory Coast to see the top guys there, and we started to jam a lot…

CM: We are more global and digital now so we don’t always have to be physically ‘there’ to collaborate. Yet you are doing a ‘reconnection tour’, not just with yourselves, but as you said in another interview, you (to FC) want to “encounter the other”. So, this means you want to be there physically, right?
FC: Yeah, one can’t stay in their comfort zone in home areas all the time. But when I say ‘meet the other’, I also mean to bring one’s own music to another audience, or another culture. We need to make the unknown interesting. When I meet up and work with Nduduzo [Makhatini] , I look forward to sharing our music with him.

CM: Why have you chosen Nduduzo? Of all the South African artists…
FC: I had met several artists, of course, like Zenzile Makeba. Then, last year I began talking on Facebook with Nduduzo and watching his page, and that’s when I contacted him about collaborating. I also know Afrika Mkhize very well… Then in 2004, I had contacted Darius Brubeck…

CM: Let’s talk about your audiences. What did you think of the audience yesterday [in Langa]? Their reaction was so different between your performance and Mkhize’s. You are perhaps used to revving up European and American audiences. What did you feel was different with the Langa crowd?
MC: Nice. People came out. It was good. People share the same passion and they were very thankful that we came. We don’t take that lightly or for granted. That humbles us. They were really listening and hearing something different. I like that. They didn’t want to miss anything. Our band was different to what they hear – we had no bass or piano, just a guitar, singer, and beat. In ours, there’s no safety net, no frills, just acoustic….

CM: [To MC] There are so many sounds from your percussion toys…. Back in the days of Miles Davis, the technology was different from now with a range of electronica…particularly the wave drum….Any comments?
MC: My wave drum is over 25 years old. I wish they still made this model, because the newer one is smaller and doesn’t fit my style as well. Zawinul [of Weather Report] asked me to join his new project and I was happy to be able to play with Weather Report, and to play with drummer Omar Hakim before the group broke up. Also, I have to rent my percussion instruments when I travel. I’ve got some made of wood – hard to find – to give that sound – like the shoe clogs people used to wear in Holland, or the stomping on wooden floors of verandas in old houses in the American South.

CM: Often, visiting musicians are flown in and out again, giving little time for making important connections with local artists and cultures. How could this be improved so that you are given time to workshop with students and others, and share your skills?
MC: It’s often the case. Promoters don’t realize that the hardest part for a musician is not the playing, but the traveling. Sometimes my conferences take a long time, and I go very deep in the discussions. This is all tiring. You have to open to people and cultures you’re visiting. I like to immerse myself into others’ cultures as much as possible when I’m visiting a place. We have to share our music with musicians we visit. This takes time.
FC: Definitely. At home in Switzerland, I teach at a music school in Geneva called ETM which is part of the government program – students can choose music as a subject with ETM . We also have a professional section for 3 years. Students study a 1st and 2nd instrument.
MC: I mostly have private students. I’d like to do more masterclasses in different countries, but I just don’t have the time. A dear friend of mine, Tony Gray, a bassist who is nephew of John McLauglin, and I are working on a collaboration to do a video program so I can share that as much as possible.

Catch both artists on a number of YouTube videos!

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Jazz Singer Ziza Muftic dazzles in her “Shining Hour” album and Life

Croatian-born Ziza Muftic stepped into an ambitious musical journey in South Africa when her parents migrated from a war-torn Croatia in 1992. It was terribly cold in Johannesburg that August, as she left her teenage sandals behind in the summery North. Her academic and professional success as a jazz vocalist confirms her gutsy approach to creativity, as she explored what she felt was still missing in her own Balkan musicality: a South African musical expression. Subsequently, she has performed with some of South Africa’s top Jazz musicians like Johnny Fourie, Reza Khota, and Marcus Wyatt. She was also asked to sing a finalist piece at the SAMRO 2018 composer’s finals, where the composition won in category.

Muftic is now feeling her shining hour. Shining Hour (2019) is her second album, entitled from songwriter, Jonny Mercer’s ‘My Shining Hour’ song of hope and high expectations, and follows on her first album, Silver Moonbeams (2015), with its Balkan rhythms, lyrics, and melodies. Her stories shine in delightfully pleasing and thoughtful ways as she handpicks from known songs and her own compositions.

She adds the spoken word to such standards as Bheki Mseleku’s ‘Homeboyz’ and the Beattles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ which continues in a sullen mood started by the opening Mseleku piece. Her low voice register breathes a kind of soft whimsical lullaby sound with inflections from her able band members that make this jazz album enticing and moving. She says on her album cover: “Music and thoughts collected on a journey from Bosnia and Croatia to South Africa. These tunes found this band and have become a part of our standard repertoire.”

Muftic searches with questions put to English lyrics: in the moody, sometimes sassy ‘what’s the colour of my Heart’, and in how ‘Love is the Drug’ tells about something familiar and is skilfully supported by Sydney Mnisi’s wailing tenor saxophone and pianist Roland Moses’s runs. Then, inventive mixes of Croatian lyrics and Balkan-style vocals with a South African context in ‘Kwela/Gontsana (Milena)’ reveals hints about the next song, ‘Unfinished Story’, where drummer Peter Auret holds a steady fast beat while Muftic scats her unfinished story. It seems clear how Muftic’s interest and research into Balkan styles are transposed with South African ethnomusicality, a theme she is pursuing presently.

Her skills in arranging come through interpretations of the Latin swing, as in the popular Corea/Jobim ‘Chega de Saudade’, and in her own composition, ‘Blue’, influenced by Pat Metheny, which has Mnisi’s flute solo querying Muftic’s unending searching and wondering.

The album ends with an inventive taster for what’s to come in the future: ‘Bosnian Flute Jam’ is just that, Balkan dance mixed with South African marabi rhythms. With a cross over voice the likes of a Carmen McCrea and Balkan mixes which would excite the Bombshelter Beast’s mixed bag, Shining Hour guarantees to hold the listener ‘s heart and ears in a tight embrace.


An interview with Muftic explains herself:

CM: You have absorbed so much of the South African experience, from being a teenage immigrant who quickly adapted to the local artistry back in the 1990s.
ZM: As I grew in this country, I realized that I had much more similarity with the way of living of Black people in townships than the squeaky clean middle class –both black and white – that live in the suburbs of JoBurg . This thing of community living, of not locking your door, and going next door to your neighbour if you needed some salt – we used to live like that in Croatia. There, we lived in flats with only one key, and my neighbour was always in my lounge. But now in JHB, we have several keys which we are always having to sort out which is for what……and there’s an alarm button, and a code for a lock, just to get into your own house! It’s like phases, you know…..

CM: You came to South Africa after your matric in Croatia, right? And was able to study music right away here. How did you manage with English?
FM: I had music credentials from my Croatian high school and a respected music school in Zagreb called Vatroslav Lisinski, and studied under one of Croatia’s well known divas, Lidija Horvat. It was then that I won a third place at a singing competition amongst young singers from all over Croatia. So when I arrived in JoBurg, I could enter university here right away. It was hard as I had to learn English just from living, so I just learned as I went along. I completed my BA in Music in 1996 focusing on Classical Vocal studies, and my Masters in Music in 2013, both degrees from Wits University. My Masters was in Performance and Research. My two recitals were late classical to contemporary, a program which covered music from Stravinsky to Django.

CM: You seem to enjoy mixing your Balkan musical heritage with the South African sounds. Can you tell me more? Particularly about that last song ‘Bosnian Flute Jam’ on your album.
FM: FM: I started the ‘mixing’ during my Masters studies. It was then that I picked up a well known Bosnian folk tune, ‘Ne klepeci nanulama’. Everybody knows that song in the ex- Yugoslav countries and everyone in my family sings it well. I added to it a standard South African jazz progression, and you know, long before I performed that song, I would just sit and cry in my studio. Because there was this soul thing I found with South African jazz, it filled something in me that I was missing from my Croatian side. So I put the Bosnian flute jam at the end of this album as a signal of what was brewing inside me and what will come next in future albums.

CM: You wrote your Masters thesis about Balkan music in South African music. Explain more.
FM: I used to go to Balkanology parties in JoBurg ages ago, where I heard this music that sounded like something from home. I was completely bewildered hearing this in Newtown in JoBurg , and found two DJs from Capetown!! So I chatted to the people that I was trying to find a theme for my research, so I just went back to that. There was no ‘soul’ connection as such, but there was definitely something like a ‘fun’ thing in these parties, and their dance was fun. It reminded me of these raucous weddings you’d see in the villages back home in Bosnia and Serbia with that familiar um pah n pah n pah. So going to these parties helped me decide about what I could write for my thesis.

CM: So how did you conduct this research from the parties?
FM: My Professors were so keen to do research on this because there is so little written about Popular music in South Africa (academic writing in particular). So I focused my ethnographic research on these parties. I took two different parties where you dress up in costumes and then dance to this crazy music of that period around the time of the war. The whole thing was actually a movement. So right about the time of the war, there were a lot of immigrants to – it started in Germany, I think. They displayed this nostalgia thing where they started playing a Romani music and a kind of Serbian cheezy pop that you would hear at 4 o’clock in the morning from people who were drunk-drunk from the wedding parties. So it became like a trend, you know. And then ‘Borat’ came out – you know with that Sacha Baron Cohen actor and his character from Eastern Europe who is a bit naïve. So I had these influences growing up. Then there was the film, The Underground , that turned the eyes of the world towards our country and culture, some of it ridiculing how naïve people from the village seemed as they carried themselves awkwardly into the city or whatever. You know how it is when people from the Western world will always look for something new to spice up this doof doof doof they have in clubs.

CM: What do you mean? You mean how the Bombshelter Beast emerged as a popular band…..
FM: What Marcus [Wyatt] has done is genius because that sound is Joburg right now, if you had the energy and it wasn’t so dangerous to walk around , like in Braamfontein, to absorb all the sounds . I enjoyed going to the Bombshelter beast gigs because of the experience …I mean every time I go to his gig [Bombshelter Beast] and hear that guy that raps in Sisotho and isiXhosa and other languages, and the girls that rap, and then there’s the umpah umpah umpah that comes out of the songs, and the band all running around in those onesies…..

CM: Yes, they are quite entertaining. So what was your thesis title?
MF: It is entitled, “Hopa!: Exploring Balkanology in South African Popular music culture”.

CM: Let’s talk about your voice. You’ve got a pleasing timber and register in your voice. Who has influenced you in your voice production?
ZM: I don’t listen to vocalists that much, but when I do, I examine things like sound and breath, and how they blend into music and how they phrase. Often, I get disappointed because the singers tend to over-sing those things, you know, instead of really interpreting the phrasing that is what the music is about. I find beautiful voices that aren’t doing enough with the music, and then I get a little bit bored. Today, take someone like Cecile McLorin Salvant, and the technique and the colour she has and the attention to the music – you don’t always get these details today in musicians. So when I listen to my own recordings, and I see there’s a little too much there, too much excitement, then …. But I would say people like Billy Holiday, Joni Mitchell , Janis Joplin, and Carmen McCrea are some of my favourites.


Ziza has performed with some of South Africa’s top Jazz musicians like Johnny Fourie, Reza Khota, and Marcus Wyatt. She was also asked to sing a finalist piece at the SAMRO 2018 composer’s finals, where the composition won in category. See the YouTube promotion of Shining Hour:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ud0QSNZkdW4&feature=share

The album features: Sydney Mnisi on tenor saxophone and flutes;  Roland Moses on piano;  Peter Sklair on electric bass; and Peter Auret on drums

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“My Miriam Makeba Story” Resonates a Language of Truth for Simangele Mashazi’s own life story

This is a story, a collage of charming impressions about Miriam Makeba’s own life in song and politics-in-exile which have resonated with the young singer and song writer Simangele Mashazi’s own life journey, particularly after 1994 when Makeba could return to South Africa.

Simangele Mashazi

‘Sima’, raised in Newcastle, KZN, learned her vocals and groomed her  talents firstly during her church choir years with strong gospel roots.  She followed up with private classical vocal training sessions, but only studied music in a Ministry school when she moved to Stellenbosch. After experience on stage providing backing vocals to South African and European artists during European tours, her breakthrough came when casted to play the then late Miriam Makeba in the popular musical Mama Africa, a collaboration between the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the University of Missouri (USA).  A stage career was developing.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – JANUARY 17: Miriam Makeba, January 17, 2008 at Palau de la Musica, credit Jordi Vidal/Redferns

The bug had bitten her: Sima became inspired, if not spellbound, by the wealth of talents and history Makeba passed down, and in particular, how Makeba spoke truth through her lyrics. However, in 2017, Sima chose to leave the cast to pursue teaching and further studies at Stellenbosch University in Linguistics.  But this hasn’t stopped her musicality. She delved into replicating that truth-through-lyrics by starting to compose My Story which introduces her as a songwriter and storyteller.  It also enabled her to write her own songs which are performed in the show: ‘Bashadile ‘ (Zulu for “They are married”) and ‘Still Miss You’, along with other known gems like ‘Phatha Phatha’, to lesser known popular songs, like ‘Suliram’, an Indonesian lullaby. For ‘Bashadile’, Sima says she was inspired by a childhood game where children would all stand in a circle, and then children in the centre would pick a partner to “marry”. “The ones left in the circle would then sing ‘Kusele mina ngedwa nje’, which means ‘I am the only one left, “Bonke bashadile” – they are all married.” The song wants to take you on a journey and let you fall in love with life.

Her backing band excels as one of the Cape’s most popular jazz bands, made up of Ramon Alexander on piano, Annemie Nel on drums, Bradley Prince on guitars, Chadleigh Gower on bass, and Muneeb Hermans on trumpet. Some might query why she chose a Cape jazz band, even though highly successful on the local scene, but which is ethnically removed from the type of music Makeba wrote.

Sima and Ramon with KKNK 2019 Award

Sima had known the band-leader and pianist, composer, and producer Ramon Alexander, also living in Stellenbosch, for some ten years, and experienced not only mentorship from him, but the band’s versatility with genres of music. Together with Ramon, Sima could comfortably mastermind her next passion: to produce her own show, ‘My Miriam Makeba Story’, about Makeba but from her own perspective. It worked. Both she and Alexander received the award for Best Music Production at the recent 2019 Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK).

Preparing the show became essentially a learning journey for this stage-seasoned singer about an icon’s struggle with politics and life, in general. As a student of Linguistics, Sima had learned in Mama Africa how language is a symbol of power, and how Makeba in exile spoke truth to power. In this regard, Sima’s humour and engagement with the audience started early in her performance, when she asked what was the name of the song she had just sung (the ‘click song’). Soft clucking sounds buzzed around the Artscape’s sound-perfect auditorium, imitating click sounds found particularly in isiXhosa. It seemed so natural; this was an African audience who understood these linguistic dynamics, at least functionally, and why Makeba sung the ‘click song’ to European audiences while she was in exile. Sima’s background in Linguistics enabled her to point out the differences between her isiZulu clicks and isiXhosa ones, making this aspect of her presentation quite entertaining. The music became a background to her story, however.

“We must re-imagine a multi language society and view multi-lingualism as a norm in South Africa,” Sima emphatically stated in our interview. ”Ideologies are attached to language which is why I’m eager to study Linguistics and understand the power of language for social change. This is why I liked the way Makeba spoke her truth. I can do also. She used her voice to instigate social change.”

For example, during her performance, Sima did not shy away from the pain of loss which Makeba had experienced, the latter unable to visit her dying mother because apartheid barriers would not allow Makeba to return to South Africa from exile. Sima had also suffered loss, of her two sisters, and was inspired to sing her own tribute song to that, honestly and reflectively. Also, in keeping with the themes of carrying the South African ‘sound’ to world corners, she honoured the renowned Capetownian musician, Tony Cedras, (who had sculptured and arranged Paul Simon’s songs before and during their Gracelands album tour) and his efforts to spread the Cape musical histories far and wide.

Sima says she’s not a social activist per se, or a jazz artist, but she believes in the power of the message and entertaining through musical stories. Audiences won’t find intricate musicality and technique in My Story, but a melodic voice well controlled, at times spicy, and one that can emote and engage feeling about her sonic journey. Be prepared to have an intimate evening of relaxing moods tainted with a storytelling charm.

On 11 June, 2019, the show will run at the Fynarts Festival in Hermanus  http://www.hermanusfynarts.co.za; in Pretoria at the Pierneef Teater on 13 July and in Johannesburg at the Foxwood House & Theatre) on 14 July. In September, the show will run at the Aardklop National Arts Festival in Potchefstroom.

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April International Jazz Month brings Cape Town Jazz Mania, festivals and marathon hysteria

Is there festival fatigue?

Cape Town became festival city as the month of April, worldwide set as ‘International Jazz Month’, wound its way around major holiday periods of Easter, South Africa’s Freedom Day, and May Day celebrations. It started with the annual popular and globally applauded Cape Town International Jazz Festival at end March which brought in a myriad of talents and music genres, including exploring jazz styles outside of the conservative mainstream box. Then the Marathons – for bicyclers and runners – through the beauties of the Cape Peninsula terrain. The announcement that UNESCO has designated Cape Town as the site for next year’s ‘Global International Jazz Day 2020’ events brought awe to key stakeholders who were invited to start thinking about their events, alongside empathetic supports (but no money, yet) from the South African Department of Arts and Culture and Department of Tourism.   The 2020 Global Host City event theme befittingly applies to an African city like Cape Town:  “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz.”

But it was this past week in April: Cape Town, which is fast becoming a traffic jammed, stadium-attired, marathon- mania hub on Africa’s culturally rich continent, exploded with jazz talents: some international, some returnees, some surprises, and many stalwart locals who hold the jazz fort . The main issue at stake, in order to please and cater to the varieties of music lovers, is getting the live performance schedules out into the public awareness so that lovers can choose. Other than social media platforms used by artists and their promoters alike, the Cape Town Jazz Gig Guide https://www.facebook.com/capetownjazzgigguide/   tells pretty much what’s happening in and around town. The caveat is that artists and promoters must send in their listings for publication….. but many simply do not. Scheduled clashes occurred, especially when the annual South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE) Jazz Festival was scheduled way in advance – for scholars and public alike. Stunning lineups happened; but with shockingly poor turnouts. Has Mania turned to Burn Out of public ears and wallet pockets, one wonder? Or was it the venue….at a Boy’s High School which some might think underrates the quality of the artists presenting, or…..?

Who’s On Top?

Promoters such as Jazz in the Native Yards (JiNY), Slow Life, Iluminar Productions, Arte Viva Management, SAJE, small schools of music, venue presenters, and radio presenters on community and internet stations, such as Bush Radio, Fine Music Radio, All Jazz Radio, and MetroFM, and many others, all have vested and honest sympathies to ‘spread the music’ to the wide varieties of patrons in this growing city and globally. Everyone is in the same boat, scrounging around for funding and venues; there’s no hierarchy amongst us; we all must work together! But sometimes, artists ‘pop up’ in our midst, at the last minute, without proper forewarning or marketing, for whatever reasons.

It makes sense that Artists in town for, let’s say one week, are slotted into various venues over the time period to avoid date clashes. A case in point was a gig at The Alma Café, centrally located in Rondebosch and popular for presenting a variety of live music through the week. Thursdays host its jazz night. The scheduled band of Muneem Hermans generously accommodated, at the last minute, a visiting artist, singer Ziza Muftic and her two other musicians, as it added uniqueness to hear this remarkable Johannesburg-based Croatian singer and South African-schooled artist launch songs from her just-released album, Shining Hour. That is a true collaboration in giving space —but where was the audience for this very worthy double-bill?

What Jazz lovers might have missed….

SAJE’s annual festival kicked off at the Reeler Theatre, a centrally located pleasantly acoustic space at the Rondebosch Boys High School, with a fantastic evening double-bill of musicians who would normally draw large crowds both domestically and overseas.

The Paul Hanmer (piano) and McCoy Mrubata (saxophones), both originally from Cape Town, are celebrating their 30+ years of friendship and jazz.
Seems hardly fair to enjoy only 1 hour of their vast repertoire, but their workshop interview about their brotherhood in jazz the following day tantalized one to run out and listen to their songs, at least digitally.

The Friday double-bill then featured a more international set of visiting Italian saxophonist, Emanuele Cisi, performing with Capetown-based Dutch bassist, Hein van de Geyn, and local wizards, David Leadbetter on piano, and Jono Sweetman, all expertly following Cisi’s own compositions, with a few Standards thrown in. How powerful is that for quality jazz? The patronage turnout was shockingly dismal.

Saturday evening at Reeler found music lovers swooning to some popular jazz Standards performed by the American duo of Darius Brubeck (piano) and Mike Rossi (saxophone). But it was that last song which Brubeck eloquently introduced: when he and the legend, Winston Mankunku, played in Durban in the 1980s during apartheid years, Mankunku chose to play the African-American spiritual song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, a commentary on what he, himself, was living through, his musicality cut off by discriminating elements of the day. Brubeck was remembering.

Afrika Mkhize & Salim Washington at Reeler

Their moving tributes were followed by a higher tempo of saxophonist Salim Washington’s Quartet which swung into zesty South African tunes and highly emotional piano chordal flings of the otherwise shy Afrika Mkhize, himself a popular subject for the portrait photographers. Since the day, 27 April, celebrated Freedom Day in South Africa, it was appropriate to play Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” with spoken word reminders by Washington that Freedom has to reign amongst all.

A Township Venue Comes Alive

This concert was one fine example of collaboration between SAJE and the JiNY who handled the Washington Quartet’s travel arrangements to the Jazz Festival as well as offered one of its venues.  They performed again on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the SAJE Jazz Festival, their sounds resounding with an eager foot-stomping, whistling and whooing crowd of enthusiasts at the popular Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center in Cape Town’s oldest Township of Langa.

Florence Chitacumbi & Mino Cinelu: credit Terence Visagie

Rhythms sang throughout this packed hall, starting with the Afro-European group led by vocalist Florence Chitacumbi, with her percussionist supreme, Mino Cinelu, excelling on his wave drum, and French guitarist, Christophe Bovet. That double-bill requires its own separate entry, including this writer’s interview with Chitacumbi and Cinelu to follow. The afternoon went into evening, closing after 7pm with the Washington/Mkhize band rapturing the crowd for two sets. Happy patrons wobbled home exhausted, imbibed with such unique fanfare of sounds of that day.

One wonders if afternoon performances bring more patrons closer to jazz than evening concerts. It’s a mystery. Yet Saturday evening, May 4, sees Chitacumbi’s trio perform with South African pianist, Nduduzo Makhatini, at Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay thanks to another willing collaborator, Slow Life. One expects there will be a full house of locals stalking these different Afro-soul and rhythmically gifted musicians to wallow in their eclectic mix of African jazz. Tickets at quicket.co.za for Saturday, May 4, 2019; 8pm or contact 082-892-0350 (Paul Kahanowitz).

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Jazz Trumpeter Keyon Harrold talks Black experience at CTIJF 2019

Two American artists of notoriety drew audiences wanting diversity, style, and message in the music. Both spoke to the Black condition in contemporary American society; one wooed the younger fans with his pizzaz which elegantly matched their heartthrobbing outbursts of “Cory, I love you!”  The other musician hailed from Ferguson’s steaming racial struggles. 

Briefly, a major draw card for the festival was New Yorker organist/rapper Cory Henry who ignited a packed-full Masterclass room of some 500 loving youthful fans, whistling and wooing in awe when Henry breathed one word or played one chord. Then complete utter silence when he opened his mouth to speak. Henry wanted to chat with this audience, and rightly so. His kinetic energy prevailed. We heard only one song performed at the end. But he made us all feel young again with his youth appeal, his experimental musical audacity on the organ, and his friendly acceptance of all. No attitude in this vibrant man!!  But he then disappeared….from press interviews. 

Keyon Harrold March 2019

Trumpeter Keyon Harrold, another jazz-hip hop cross-over draw card performed at the same time as Henry, both closing the 2nd day of the Festival in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Not only did Henry not show up for his press conference and scheduled one-on-one interview with me, but I missed his performance. A downer for this writer, indeed! But I had to choose. And choose I did…..

Keyon Harrold – one of 16 siblings, a brother drummer with Gregory Porter, a policeman grandfather who worked young Keyon into music education projects with hundreds of others, a policeman father who carried forward this young talent, to calm and educate the Black kids who were viewed as potential threats to the ‘established order’ of urban St. Louis and Ferguson – rose in ranks with such positive backing amidst horrors of being a Black male in middle America……

I interviewed and watched the performance of this soft spoken trumpeter, who hails from the civil strife in his home town of Ferguson, Missouri, known for its extensive police brutality. Coming from a musical family, Harrold has articulated his stance against injustice with truthfulness. His unadulterated views on police brutality (followed by questionable judiciary proceedings) towards African Americans and other Blacks from the Diaspora, shone through a surprising musical gentility during his performance. Harrold is humble, yet savvy with the ‘celebrity’ world, having befriended and doubled with actor Don Cheatle in the memorable (Hollywood) film, Miles Ahead, about jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis. Harrold played the music; Cheatle mimicked on camera.

During his performance on the Moses Molelekwa stage late Saturday night, Harrold’s melodies and songs, backed by a stellar set of musicians including pianist Gerald Clayton (no stranger to Capetown stages), produced both memory and emotion: some wailing, joyful runs, pensive and sometimes mournful moods from bassist Burniss Travis, and other mixes of improvisation, rock and blues.

Gerald Clayton

His opening song set the mood for honouring memory: his mother’s voice message left on his phone applauding him for being strong in the struggle led into a soft blues ballad remembering her; she had passed on in December 2018. But when popular rapper Pharoahe Monch came on stage towards the end of Harrold’s moving episodes from his album, Mugician, the audience was set alight. The hip hop rap pounded on serious themes of injustice, warnings, and call for unity. The fans were on their feet, many seeming to know the rapper better than Harrold himself.

Pharoahe Monch

Harrold’s press conference revealed his experience and knowledge of the truth behind what it’s like to live, learn, and walk as a Black man in American cities. When asked about his social activism, he replied, “When I’m moved by something, I must write about it…. That’s my calling.”

When asked by Cheatle and producer Robert Glasper to play Miles Davis (who also grew up in St. Louis) behind the scene, Harrold quipped: “Technically, the music of Miles was in my DNA. I already knew it. I was already transcribing Miles and listening to so much of his music as part of my own development.” Harrold knew the technicalities of playing trumpet. In the comforts of his home studio, he played and recorded: “With only three valves to play on, I watched Don’s fingering, and had to go through some 7 types of possible fingers to get the right sound.”

Harrold’s social activism revolves around musical attitude and youth development. “I’m lucky that I’ve had such opportunity to learn, and that I try my best to give back as much as I can, whether it’s working in schools or in a community center.” He doesn’t shy away from telling the true story: “I’ve been blessed in life with a story (police brutality) that requires me to talk about it. My parents encouraged this. I’m touched by certain things so I feel I have to tell it and write it in my music. If something is going on, like the refugee crises or the Michael Brown killing, I have to write about it. “

What is it like to be invited to a festival in Africa? Harrold expressed his yearning as an African American, living in the United States, that something was ‘missing’. “But when I come here, I can find a way to complete what my psyche is missing. It’s such a pleasure to perform on this continent. Africa gave birth to the root of jazz, the soul, the rhythm, the intensity. The heart of jazz, for me, comes from the Black experience. It’s a homecoming to me, so coming here is very very special.” In a careful and calculated way, Harrold admits he will continue to fight against the “global matrix of anti-black sentiments”, and to be part of the solution, “to advance culture and the majesty of Black people”.

So how would you define your music, I asked Harrold sheepishly, knowing full well no one likes to be asked that question. Keeping to his polite demeanor, he shared: “ My music is not traditional, with trumpet, bass, etc. but sometimes rap, sometimes beats from the machine. It’s everything. That’s why I brought my man, Pharoahe Monch, with me. His music is a living kind of thing, so I use it.” Monch had brought the final performance of the Festival on that one stage to an utter frenzy, as security mustered up their wits to prepare for a jovial crowd of over 1000 people to exit the hall en mass, down the narrow escalators, almost single file, to exit the Center at ground level.

But I can’t stop here…. There’s more to tell about this creative thinker and grassroots activist. Wanting to look right into the soul of this artist, I asked: “What really moves you?”  Appropriately, he quickly replied: “You said it – ‘move’ is key. I like to use the word,’ vibration’. Blowing the horn, there’s a vibration for every note. So everytime I play the trumpet, I get moved, I can’t explain it. I just like to send out those vibrations, in the spirit of love and peace.”

Keyon Harrold is determined to return to South Africa, and is ever ready to workshop with youth, something he’s used to doing for several decades, with grace and a giving spirit. We were blessed to have his presence, even though short.  Watch this delightful video:;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_Yx-cWkYWo&list=RDEMjtGg6C4kL0ghpt3y2va-6A&start_radio=1

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BLACK EARTH, BLACK IDENTITIES, AND AFROFUTURISM ring messages at CTIJF 2019: Flautist Nicole Mitchell and the Black Earth Ensemble.

There are particularly moving and important themes in this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival offerings which attracted this writer immediately after assessing the artist lineup. Telling, indeed, about our increasingly destabilising contemporary world and how music is becoming reactive. Various artists from Black identities brought ancestral histories and current struggles for equality and justice to the fore, not just in their sound – we’re talking music, right? – but in their message.

Giving voice to the unheard profoundly resonated a truth, but with a sense of love and inclusiveness. ….cause we’re all in this together…… Particular focus, I found, was on the Black female, the feminine in nature and spirit, the Earth as being the root of soul that Mothers all, and on her-stories about chained freedoms. African American flautist Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble breathed message and emotion into her flute as her two female percussionists led the rhythms which detailed African rootedness, torture of separation from a motherland, and resolve in making the new land listen and take note of beautiful identities which honour spirit, tradition, and caring for all humanity to better sustain Mother Earth.

photo credit: Lauren Deutch

Collectively, Mitchell’s purpose with poet/pastor/singer husband Calvin Gantt was to convey messages of peace, hope, and courage to the downtrodden, or what she refers to as ‘Afrofuturist fantasies’ wedded with social activism.

During her press conference, Mitchell giggled about how her teenage journaling was influenced by African American futurist and science fiction author, Octavia Butler, whose works had also attracted Mitchell’s mother to paint about futuristic fantasies, like black mothers with their babies sitting on Saturn. Butler’s stories inspired three of Mitchell’s music projects, one dealing with a black woman on a space ship who wakes up, and then must deal with extra-terrestrials she encounters. “ So my music reflects all aspects of life – the horrors, struggles, joys, etc. – and is not always at ease with sound,” Mitchell admits. Another off-putting moment for her band was their performance a day after the USA elections of 2016 and how the band had to stay focused after the shock announcement that D. Trump had won the Presidential election. Their audience was seeking refuge and the band felt it must not become overwhelmed by the heartbreak and distain of their fellow Black and white communities brought about by this result. As Mitchell explained, “I feel instrumental music isn’t enough for me; I feel I have to make lyrics about what’s going on in our humanity in order to provide some hope.”

Regarding the question of the worthiness of music technologies and how it affects creativity, her points again addressed social justice issues. “We focus too much on technology which is geared to making money. Rather, we should focus more on our humanity and the way we treat each other, recognize our human suicide, and support communities with ecological sensitivities.” This resonates with why she chose the flute: “As a child, I related to birds, bugs, and nature. The flute embodied this nature. My voice is the same range as the instrument, so using my voice is a way of leaving evidence that a woman was here, in music that doesn’t always celebrate women as it should.”

Continuing with her take on tech: “I try to embody or model in my music how we can bond together better, with different musical languages co-existing together. The Western way of doing things is coming to an end. Very few people benefit while many suffer. In this regard, I have explored electronics and am working on a CD as my first electronics venture.”

Likewise, jazz education at university level can be a bit exclusionary: “I think if you have a conservatory method, then you are automatically closing access to a lot of great talent which can offer other skills. You have to bring in the jazz musicians as teachers, and not just those who have academic credentials. I have seen students who audition for music school; some will prefer to show their improvisation skills; others will read their scores. Many schools will take the student who can read. This is a privileged position which many great musicians don’t have.”

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Mitchell’s Master class revealed talent galore in her 9 piece band, several being multi-instrumentalists and well educated in the industry. Mitchell herself boasts a number of awards and leadership service, including being the first Black female president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago. But ‘leadership’ is not what she intended; rather creative messaging to get the truth out there.

In their festival stage performance, her Black Earth Ensemble presented some ambitious, highly rhythmic self-composed songs in their festival performance, filling the stage with their energetic repertoire. The band concluded with a highly emotional incantation in gospel style by singer Avery Young in “Save the Children”. The singer was actually in tears and received consolation from fellow singer, pastor Calvin Gantt, who proceeded to preach how we must save the street children of Capetown. While one can applaud such a noble message, it also strikes of typical American arrogance known too well to hosting audiences, especially coming from a first-time-visitor to Capetown, or for that matter, to ‘Africa’. Well, as I listened, I was always looking for the music amongst the messaging. Percussion (bongos, congas, and drums) can easily overpower vocalists and instruments. I’m afraid this is what happened. Yet, Mitchell’s mastery of the flute is jaw-dropping, as is her laudable attitude to make right what has gone horribly wrong in our world. 

Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble 2018 album, Mandorla Awakening II:Emerging Worlds can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP7FRucsNKc

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Vocal chants and silent noise: jazz vocalist Gabisile Motuba evokes profoundly deep sonic themes and bends rules

Artists who invoke the philosophies of Franz Fanon or saxophonist Zim Ngqawana, and search for spiritual content in artistry in our otherwise violent contemporary world, resonate with an admirable depth for exploration. Young vocalist, Gabisile Motuba, supported by her drummer husband, Tumi Mogorosi, is a sound enthusiast who has delighted our Capetown stages with hauntingly alternative music which defies definition.

I think about the silence that occurs in violence, and how to survive staying silent while the scream that occurs on the other side is heard under this veil of silence.

Launching her new album, Tefiti – Goddess of Creation, this being her and her husband’s second album after Sanctum Santorium which was a product of her Swiss residency with ProHelvetia, Motuba presents a rare ‘classical’ feel to her musical idiom which is more choral ancestral chant than rhythm and blues. She has creatively wedded the string instruments of violin, viola, and cello in slow melodies with a voice that breathes out its message in unconventional ways. One listens and absorbs spirit-like sonic tones and pitches influenced by chanting, with softer and more mellow lower register strings harnessing this vocal repetition. Several songs on Tefiti have Tswana and English lyrics.

Completing her jazz music degree in 2013 at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in Pretoria, Mamolodi-born Motuba embarked on an experimental journey to find her own voice. She doesn’t consider herself a singer, per se, but sees a range of soundscapes possible with breath, voicing, and strings. For instance, she explores ‘silent noise’, referring to how slaves sang their songs in quiet tones so as not to appear rambunctious or defiant to their owners. But their messages were stark.

Motuba draws inspiration from such vocalists as Gretchen Parlato, Esperanza Spalding and Concha Buika, and South Africans such as pianist Nduduzo Makhatini, trombonist Malcolm Jiyane, and saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu. Her and her husband’s European residency with Swiss musicians spiralled this young couple into unknown and continuing sonic journeys in experimentation within the ‘jazz’ idiom, begun during their studies at TUT. She admits:

Knowledge I gained wasn’t always through a conscious pursuit of what jazz is; rather, it was music I ran into or was introduced to by friends. A lot of us gravitated collectively towards the spiritual, into African spirituality. Not in a literal sense, but evoking a need to go deeper, an excavation of what this music is about, and not just performing for the sake of performing. This is why I gravitated towards the chanting style.

Thirsty for more insights, I caught up with Gabi between her various Capetown gigs.

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CM: Why strings? And why the cello in your compositions?

Gabi: I love the timber of the cello and viola with their alto sound I had been listening a lot to the strings compositions by John Shaw at the time, and also the British cellist, Jacqueline Mary du Pré, in her classical performances, and I was thinking of how to use these stringed instruments…. You know, how to navigate this ‘other world’ of the classics. I was focusing on sound, and realized why the viola is paired so well with the cello and violins. The cello has this warm and rich sound along with the voila’s lower register warmth, compared to the higher nervous pitch of the violin. The cello is a bit more sound-friendly for my vocal range.

CM: You trained in ‘jazz’, but your style and approach to music is not improvisational. It’s more like traditional chants, like a connection with the spiritual pursuits you hear in church, and also amongst First Peoples’ music, like the American Indian’s music with their ancestral male chants. You did mention that you’re not into voice techniques so I’d like to understand your thinking here.

Gabi: I don’t think initially it was intentional. The jazz department at the Tshwane University of Technology really allowed artist to experiment so I never felt I was trapped in the traditional aspects of jazz and their formations. My peers and I were able to explore music together beyond the jazz idiom, even when intensively studying jazz music. You can really plant little seeds and let the collective discussions happen. This is what I’m interested in.

CM: There’s a term we can use when trying to describe or go deeper into that spiritual realm, and that is exploring consciousness. That seems to be what you are doing, exploring deeper levels of consciousness and awareness of being, of existence. And sound allows us humans to go deeper, doesn’t it?

Gabi: Yes, tapping into awareness – the jazz idiom allows us to understand that this jazz music doesn’t only exist within the jazz idiom, but can bring friends with different expressions together to produce music. This has enabled many to look outside of jazz to connect and search deeper into narratives. For instance, going into academia, or fine art, or literary art, it allows us to find jazz outside of the standard stage.

CM: I’m intrigued because it’s all about sound, and what sound evokes in our being. You’re not coming with a message that I need to listen to. Rather, I’m led to find out what that message is, through your sound.

Gabi: Yes, exactly. It’s not pointing to a particular thing, but giving us an idea in a very subtle way, and in a way that the listener can really engage within their own parameters and understanding, with a sense of freedom.

CM: So who has offered you inspiration?

Gabi: Well, my husband……. Haha….. he’s, of course, my inspiration! I grew up with and watched Siya Makuzeni, and her approach to vocals and scat music, sound technique, and her sound. She helped me a lot with my own artistic mapping. I listen to a lot of people — particularly the generation ahead of me – those jazz practitioners like Nduduzo Makhatini, Zim Ngqawana, and that age group. They had better access to their older peers, like Zim Ngqawana, Andile Yenana, Herbie, and Mholo. I found landmarks to use for navigating and thinking through my kind of sound, along with my peers.

CM: Tell me more about ‘The Wretched’ project – what tonality and instruments are you using because you’re focusing on violence in the world?

Gabi: I’m excited to be with this collective which includes my husband improvising on drums, and Andre van Vyk on electronics soundscaping, and then me on voice. We are concerned with the chapter on violence that Franz Fanon talks about in his book, The Wretched of the Earth. We are reinterpreting his text through the sonic, looking at violence and how it manifests itself in our dark spaces. I think about the silence that occurs in violence, and how to survive staying silent while the scream that occurs on the other side is heard under this veil of silence. My voice in this collective is bizarre. The music will not be ‘enjoyed’; it’s loud and poses uncomfortable sounds because the topic of violence is not pleasant. This narrative is brought home ….. referring to violence in S. African society.

We’ve already recorded the project. Now, we’re deciding how to present it.

CM: It sounds like you and Tumi are musical activists in that you want to pursue the deeper themes, having compassion about our world, but want to bring forth the message that violence must be confronted.

Gabi: Yes, it’s this idea of violence against the ‘other’, the violence of ‘othering’ bodies, that we’ve allowed this ‘otherness’ to take up space occupied by people of Black decent. So it’s a very intensive and crazy subject and demanding….

CM: Well, it’s not crazy when you see how this ‘otherness’ is growing globally and coming under fire – with all this white supremacy raising its ugly head.

Gabi: By ‘crazy’ I mean that this condition [of violence] is unfathomable, and allowed to become possible. So we are addressing this, thinking through in The Wretched this idea of the ‘possible impossibilities’ of Blackness, and these impossibilities being violence in its different forms.
So the music becomes an artistic piece and engages with one’s imagination and opinions about what’s going on. It allows you to also expand your own thoughts, and be open to receiving this other uncomfortable message.

Motuba’s quest to deploy meaning in her music appears noble, gutsy, and perhaps unnerving, but ultimately transformative for our own soul-scapes.

Catch her upcoming gigs in Capetown organized by Jazz in the Native Yards at The Drawing Room in Observatory on Friday, 22 March (7pm), and at the Alliance Francaise on Friday, 29 March (7pm).

She and husband plan to tour their Tefiti album in Africa soon, then in Frankfort and Berlin in May.

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Pianist Ibrahim Khalil Shihab revives a musical era in Essence of Spring (2018): CD Review

Listening to Essence of Spring (2018), a remake from its 1969 debut, is like experiencing an intergenerational revival, as the Elder Legend performs with his younger proteges, but without copying the past. It’s a musical history of an era in which composer Ibrahim Khalil Shihab, formerly Chris Schilder, performed with the popular Pacific Express band. Fifty years onward, Shihab, now in this 70s, has resurrected those popular songs, fusing them in this album with more contemporary jazz compositions.

Album producer and fellow pianist and protégé, Ramon Alexander, joins in this stylistic revival, moving Shihab’s songs from a swing era, including favourite American Standards, to present-day Cape ghoema rhythms.

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab and Ramon Alexander

Shihab’s Quintet is performing Spring this March, first at next week’s Woordfees at Stellenbosch University, and then at the Capetown International Jazz Festival (30 March on Rosie’s Stage) . The album is a celebration of style, but not necessarily story. The listener enjoys a mixture of motown, dance swing and blues, Latin, some improvised free jazz, and of course, the local Cape ghoema so richly conserved by the Schilder family generations.  Key, here, is Shahib’s satin piano solos, rich and graceful.

There’s electric and acoustic which provide moods with textures along with Shihab’s pentatonics that suggest the bluesy-ness of an era. His famous “Give a Little Love” is, according to Gary van Dyk writing in the album notes, “one of the anthems” of South African music. Van Dyk’s ‘notes’ are themselves an enlightening review of the album, telling us about the ‘Why’.

The younger musicians shine, while staying true to the legendary: The subtle yet pleasantly rhythmic inuendos of drummer Annemie Nel feature throughout, particularly in the last piece, Shihab’s remake of a classic, “My Funny Valentine”. Hear a soothing Shihab piano interpretation with Nel’s drums and the slight touch of delicacy by Lionel Buekes’ acoustic bass. Saxophonist Zeke Le Grange fires through the opening song, ‘Spring’, with a bossa feel and runs, followed by Shihab’s piano solo. The sax harmonies continue with trumpeter Marco Maritz accompanying the vibrant ghoema drums in ‘BoKaap’, as Shihab celebrates contemporary Cape jazz styles. Le Grange’s imitative stance holds well with Shihab’s fast paced keyboards in the liquidy “Cancerian Moon”.

Different vocalists interpret other Pacific Express songs: in “Angel of love”, Heinrich Frans’s familiar vocals and scats offer convincing emotions along with Alexander’s piano supports; Deon Manchess croons out lyrics in “I Hear Music”, suggesting just relax and let the music take you far and away to find that dream and never be without a song!

Shihab is not afraid to wander across the ‘free jazz’ modalities, thanks to guitarist, Reza Khota, known for his improvisational voicings, as “In Pursuance”, and where Asia meets Latin in Shihab’s unsuspecting ‘Jing’an Park’ with a surprising but cute ending. 

See the IK Shihab Quintet at the Weltevreden Restaurant Theater in Stellenbosch on 2 March at 13:00 and on 3 March at 19:00

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Trumpeter, Vocalist Mandisi Dyantyis emotes stories in ‘Somandla’: a CD Review

Trumpeter, vocalist, composer, arranger, director, Mandisi Dyantyis, has birthed his first jazz album, Somandla, which spellbounds. This lyrical album contains not your ordinary love themes, but queries, confusions, dark spaces conveying loneliness and searching for acceptance, from family, a loved one, even from God.

A deeply emotional story, Somandla (which means ‘the all-powerful’, a reference to God) calls us to try to understand laments in relationships. While a few songs are just instrumental, mostly in ballad form, highlighting the talents of the Quintet, most sung lyrics by Dyantyis with his voice-overs effectively displaying multiple harmonies that skillfully weave messages of forlorn or crass warnings to parents to wake up and behave! Remarkably, Dyantyis has chosen to sing in isiXhosa which adds to the authentic nature of his stories, and, indeed, adds diversity to the South African jazz repertoire.

Band members add dimension to Dyantyis’ sometimes troubled horn and lyrics: Established tenor saxman Buddy Wells and pianist Blake Hellaby match well with the younger hopefuls, drummer Lumanyano Unity Mzi and double bassist Sean Sanby. No electronic instrumentation exists in this very moving album, acoustically recorded in the Capetown Milestone Studios in 2018. Other guest pianists are Andrew Lily and Bokani Dyer.

The lyrics strain the ear with unexpected messages. [For non-isiXhosa speakers] Our society remains stagnant and needs to improve in ‘Kuse Kude’; don’t pretend you’re not having pain in ‘Inzingo’; are we producing a nation of moral cripples in ‘Esazalwwa Sinje’; the orphan is vulnerable in ‘Ingoma Yenedama’; a prayer to the All Powerful One in ‘Somandla’; a longing for that beautiful lady to be my soulmate in ‘Molo Sisi’; how love is unmeasurable in the love ballad, ‘Ndimthanda’; and I cry for your love until my eyes bleed in ‘Kobe Kube Nini’. Rarely has a jazz album evoked such emotion, from Dyantyis’ voice inflections and mellow controls to the instrumental tightness and loyalty of fellow musicians who so expertly understand how music and emotion work together. You will too.

Although this is his first jazz album, Dyantyis boasts an impressive work history composing for musical theatre, scoring plays, and traveling worldwide with drama troupes. Now resident in Capetown, Dyantiyis and his Quintet perform on Sunday, 24 Feb, at Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Community Center starting 4pm.  Another exciting sponsorship by Jazz in the Native Yards and ConcertsSA. 

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Cape Jazz Piano, Vol 5, says it all: a CD Review

For anyone wanting to learn more about, or just listen to the tried and tested tunes from the Cape jazz legends, this album guarantees without disappointing. It’s perfectly listenable, even for those inevitable urban traffic jams as delightful tunes and rhythms spew forth from the comforts of your car’s (no doubt) excellent sound system. Designed and produced by Paddy Lee-Thorp and recorded at Milestone Studios in Capetown in 2018, rarely does an album harness the clear articulations and different styles of key pianists known to also ‘cross over’, from the Cape ghoema and musical inflections unique to this part of South Africa into other ‘genres’ of songs made popular by their highly melodic, soulful, and danceable content….yet stay true to ‘Cape jazz’. Let’s explore.

Jazz pianists were asked to play songs rated as ‘standards’ of the Cape. Most played at least one of their own creations which will have you melt away into their enticingly simple stories, even with reinterpretations.

Hilton Schilder, known for both his love and mastery of Khoisan instruments, teases with his two piano-crafted Khoisan Symphony pieces – the listener at first hears a familiar ballad-style which breaks out into rhythmic ghoema, and returns to the melodic soul. We return to the camp fire after the hunt.

Ramon Alexander stays true to tradition, again with ballad intros that break into a zesty Cape ghoema in ‘Club Montreal’ (written by Tony Schilder, father of Hilton). Alexander has always explored the emotions and musical depths of his musical gurus and this song perks with loving affirmation.

Ibrahim Shihab & Ramon Alexander

In his next presentation, ‘Kaapse Medley; Alexander plays his own piece, ‘Take Me Back to Capetown’, with that love for the rhythmic and soul-lifting Cape sound…yet, with a twist.

Mike Perry, known to have played with local legends of saxman Winston Mankunku and Robbie Jansen, has revived his ‘Green and Gold’ song, a tribute to the new South Africa, and the well-versed ‘Crossroads’ which depicts those township days announcing that freedom-is-here. These tunes are not just copies; they’re expressing something awesomely new about realities 20 years hence. Just listen.

But the real don of this album is Ibrahim Kalil Shihab’s (aka Chris Schilder, uncle to Hilton) medleys.   His popular and reinvented ‘Give a Little Love’, commonly voiced over the years by many Capeys, is refreshingly presented  as its author finds slippery and then defined routes to truthfully navigate this essentially beautiful tune of love, as bluesy as it is. A remarkable interpretation and so listenable. Likewise, his ‘All Through the Years’ continues to push his own sound into that contemporary style of improvising on the theme. Just listen.

This is why ‘Cape Jazz Piano’ is a collector’s item; the songs are ageless, ever storytelling, and ultimately danceable and celebratory…… yet still evoking newer messaging and sound styling.  I wonder in awe what Volume 6 might look like!

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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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‘Gin and Jazz’ – oriGINal musical concoctions at Deep South Distillery

Why visit an artisanal gin distillery on a Wednesday evening in Heron Park in the sleepy Cape Peninsula village of Kommetjie?

Entertainment, gin tasting, and …. a different experience for a change. Why not? Deep South Distillery in partnership with All Jazz Radio is hosting delightful ‘Jazz and Gin’ Wednesdays (two per month for now) this 2019 featuring musicians in duos playing their acoustic oriGINal compositions for a listening audience eager to also sip away on a welcoming cocktail.

Steve Erlank, Owner Deep South Distillery

This ginnery converts its tasting room by day into a quality and intimate music venue by night – and quality it was. The room is decked out with a variety of gin bottles using different botanicals accompanied with colourful garnishes including juniper berries, dried orange slices, almost transparent cucumber slivers, and bottles of rum which is becoming a popular commodity as well.

Last Wednesday, 2 January, kicked in the New Year with style: The duo of guitarist James Kibby who thrives on Rhythm ‘n Blues, and the zany let-your-hair-fling vocalist Charles Summerfield who crosses over everyone from Sting to Marley to…..well, the list is long. Their presentations and tempo stayed true to the name they call themselves – The Outlaws. Since they started bending musical rules in 2012 in Capetown, The Outlaws incorporate spontaneous composition during their performances, something akin to Theatre Sports or the TV show, ‘ Whose Line Is It Anyway’.

Charles enjoys surprising listeners with his lyrical gymnastics that are twisty and spontaneous, a technique which he has used also with his animal rights awareness projects, particularly regarding rhino conservation. Those messages are serious, but this Wednesday eve, his style was playful and teasing, keeping pace with the audience’s mood. James brings his own magic, creating exciting musical composition groove combinations on his guitar and loop station, while creatively driving the rhythms. The duo played two sets, with intervals to allow listeners time to explore the different drinks at the cash bar, or munch on an affordable smoked rib or burger sliders from the Hungry Bear food truck parked outside. Deep South plans to showcase local craft food and beverages, the latter which offered delicious tastings from the Ginny Fowl Gin varieties and creative sodas made by Cape Cola.

The Outlaws’ music touches on acoustic disco, a bit of jazz, and Manu Chao style World Music, all mostly improvised. They continue to grow their oriGINal material in wild and wonderful ways for audiences in the Cape area, and will be welcomed to return again to Deep South in another six months.

Upcoming duos will feature:
16 January: Buddy Wells Saxophone Duo
6 February: Dave Ledbetter (Guitar/Vocals) & Ronan Skillen (Percussion) from Deep South
20 February: Hilton and Eldred Schilder Piano & Bass
For bookings, contact hello@jazzconnection.co.za or +27 (0)76 900 3171

Arrive 6.30pm for a bite to eat; music 7-9pm.

For R170 entry which includes a welcome cocktail and the music, this is a Wednesday evening of rare experience, a unique and intimate vibe, creative libations, and inventive sonic concoctions. Stay tuned on the Jazz Connection or All Jazz Radio Facebook pages.

Or just visit Deep South Distillery at 53 Heron Park, Wildevoelvlei Road, Kommetjie; Contact +27 (0)21 783 0129 or admin@deepsouthdistillery.co.za or https://www.deepsouthdistillery.co.za/
53 Heron Park, Wildevoelvlei Road, Kommetjie
Contact: 021 783 0129 or admin@deepsouthdistillery.co.za

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Bassist Carlo Mombelli spells out encounters with Angels and Demons: CD Review

This is a story about a search and an encounter, a wandering to find a bio-soul betwixt the angelic and demonic offerings in life. Mombelli’s compositions, heard on a vinyl recording released in December 2018, are haunting because of his findings which are emotional mixed with sensitivity, resolving to the sadness of displaced people’s uprootedness, yet suggesting there’s a mutual belongingness that we all can find and build amongst us. His creativity has wrestled with these anomalies for years, as he has travelled, educated, and co-created in many lands and institutions of Europe, America, and South Africa, his motherland.

Now based in Johannesburg where he also teaches at the University of Witswaterand and mentors students in Switzerland, his like-minded core band members help provide a framework for discovery in Angels and Demons: pianist Kyle Shepherd who frequents Mombelli’s sonic haunts; guitarist Keenen Ahrends; and whispy drummer Jonno Sweetman The pace is set in the opening song, ‘In Search of the Holy Grail’ with Shepherd’s Bach-ish piano runs and Mombelli’s eerie vocals behind Ahrends’ guitar conversation. Then the ear moves from this spiritual groove to ‘Pulses in the Centre of Silence’ which continues an emotional exploration of sound. It is also the title of Mombelli’s new book which presents how he has created his compositions.

Mombelli likes to creep around the edges. A classical feel emerges as cello strings are bowed in ‘Glissando’ by guest artist, Susan Mouton, behind a head-held-low piano. One listens carefully as this story unfolds oh so slowly and thoughtfully.

Ahrends shows his true grace and style on this album while Mombelli maintains a subtle lower register pace. In ‘Athens’, the piano chips into this repetitive beat held. Mombelli is searching to find his father here, after several decades’ absence. One hears perhaps a hesitancy of encountering, trepidation with the unknown, particularly as his bass maintains a rhythmic drone while Ahrend’s subtle guitar talks throughout.

Keenan Ahrends-credit Gregory Franz

This reunion of father/son becomes a renewal, of capturing without clinging. I found this song one of the most enthralling Mombelli-styled arrangements. It’s also the longest track on the album.

In ‘The Spiral Staircase’, there’s a wailing and yearning as Mombelli’s bass sets a steady repetitive hum. But confusion sets in. It’s like plunging into a long, deep well of uncertainty, enhanced by a rarely heard bass clarinet of guest artist, Janus van der Merwe. Further questioning follows with “Like a Mouse In a Maze” featuring Cartwright playing Bach-gone-mad improvised runs that deliberately hit ‘wrong’ notes, something tolerated in improvised music. Fortunately, that scattered tone doesn’t last long as his piano melts into a soulful ballad-type ‘Children of Aleppo’ with Mombelli’s underlying sad pronouncements about a pathetic world gone wrong for children (and adults). One is surprised by the contemplative nature of technique which, because of the subject theme, would expect to be cacophonic and aggressively unpleasant. Unlike entry of the next songs on the album which are almost immediate, there is a much relieved pause after ‘Children of Aleppo’ finishes, allowing for reflection, deep breathing, and a moment of much needed silence in this expressive album.

Having caught one’s breath, the baroque orchestral feel in ‘In the End We all Belong’, which is a more melodic, less frantic piece, suggests some resolution is finalising Mombelli’s spiritual search for those angels to counter the always pervasive demons.

Loop pedal repeats of the bass cast an illusory image in ‘The Ghost of Norcia’ and its ‘Part 2’ which ends the album. There is a haunting symbolism here as though those demons, seemingly revisited, are finally outcast. But are they?

This album leaves one wondering. Is the spiritual lost-and-found journey of life real or ever final? Listen carefully.

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Sibusiso Mashiloane Moves Jazz Closer to Home: CD Review

I always thought this Durban-based jazz piano composer, teacher, and performer, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, was already pretty glued to ‘home’ ethnicities from which he derives his pride in studying and presenting South Africa’s musical demography.

In his most recent album, Closer to Home (2018), we hear how each hill that he traverses exudes its own musical dialects and landscape colours. Mash draws on creative spirits like the late greats of Winston Mankunku and Moses Molelekwa, and from other communities with whom he has stayed and shared, himself being a mix of influences among Ndebele, Pedi , Zulu, and Swazi, among others. Heritage and a place for safety and truth is ‘home’, as verbally announced in his first track. One starts with the indigenous longings. The album flows towards deeper identities, breaking any molds for specific types of jazz that has developed from past masters. Mashiloane holds truth with his chordal harmonic fifths, so prominent in the musical landscape.

Mash calls for relevancy and accuracy, which are essential criteria for him to choose the musicians featured on his album. He has done this masterfully, with the likes of spirited Nigerian guitarist, Kunle Ayo, percussionist Tlale Makhene, drummer Paki Peloeole, and bass guitarist Qhubekani Mthetwa. There is the brass section as well: Mthunzi Mvubu on saxophone, Thabo Sikhakhane on trumpet and Thembinkosi Ngcobo on trombone.

Elegance of tempo and message mark the delivery of this composer’s songs. “Naima” simply and softly conveys what’s hopeful and free, through the spoken word. Renditions from pianist Moses Molelekwa are evident throughout, as in “Molelekwa Spirt” and “Ke Mashiloane” with lots of chord structures and traditional sounds. Mash honours the jazz giants, as with Mankunku’s famous “Yakhal’ Nkomo”, and “African Heart” with shades of Zim Ngqawana’s spirit-bending.

It’s Makhene’s percussive presence that hits the heart, as in “Umthandazo”, another spoken word song with Mash’s soft chordal backing, and in “Naima”. Even a twisty “All Blues” honors Miles Davis as Mash uses the higher register of his keyboard to mimic Davis’ trumpet blues, with honesty and pride.

It is no wonder that Mashiloane will soon receive his Doctorate which focuses on South African music, and jazz in particular. His first two albums set the pace for digging deeper into those home roots, as in this third album.  Amanz’ Olwandle (2016) received two Mzanti Jazz Awards as best Contemporary Jazz Album (decided by a jury) and Best Jazz Album (voted for by the public).  His second album, Rotha – A Tribute to Mama (2017) , Mashiloane eloquently combines tradition with more universal jazz styles. What might his fourth album portray, one wonders? The roots wander far and wide, and his music will thus be endless and highly educational.

Album musicians:
Sibusiso Mashiloane – piano & keyboard
Kunle Ayo – guitar
Tlale Makhene – percussions
Paki Peloeole – drums
Qhubekani Mthetwa – bass guitar
Mthunzi Mvubu – saxophone
Thabo Sikhakhane – trumpet
Thembinkosi Ngcobo – trombone
Backing vocals…..

Mashiloane performs at the Muizenberg Jazz Festival on Friday, 16 November.

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Uhadi Traditional/Synth Modern – Lwanda Gogwana Expands Xhosa jazz

Trumpeter Lwanda Gogwana finds identity through his Xhosa roots in his latest album, Uhadi Synth’(2016).

Songs ring in his native tongue of isiXhosa as he probes cultural roots, deeply exhuming the mythical. A non-isiXhosa speaker won’t feel left out when Xhosa lyrics burst out….. there’s excitement in the presentation alone. In this album, the language of jazz is a language of moods, emotions, and joys energized through traditional modalities with twists of unheard-of improvisation. That’s what Uhadi Synth is: the traditional Xhosa single stringed mouth bow, called the ‘uhadi’, made popular by the late Nofinishi Dywili whom Godwana studied at University, juxtaposed with the modern electronic synthesizer instrument.

                     NofinshiDyaiwili

But you won’t hear the actual ‘Uhadi’, just it’s interpretation as story-telling messages by several vocalists, and harmonics by Kyle Shepherd’s piano with a repetitive lower registry.

Composer, arranger and producer, Lwanda Gogwana, has composed for a number of artists and bands in South Africa. But it’s this second album which pegs his own signature to a music he has been exploring since the beginning, starting with his first album, Songbook, Chapter 1, which addressed various influences on this young master’s growth.

Gogwana explains: It’s about finding identity, now that young Black South Africans have the freedoms` to explore, harvest, and proudly spread their cultural expressions through song.

Don’t feel confused why a synthesizer enters: Shepherd is a lover of synths; he has used them concurrently with piano to enforce his love of the indigenous ghoema music of historical slave days in the Cape areas and original Khoisan culture. For Shepherd, synthesizers have a way of ‘bending’ the sounds. For instance, in “Umculo”, Shepherd’s spirit-bending chords and characteristic ghoema twist resonate with gospel nuances. Then, add the influx and settlement of Xhosa people from parts east who settled in the Cape urban centers helps to gel these sounds we hear on this album. The listener gets carried through South African jazz Standards of earlier urban sounds into a melange of more contemporary expressions from youthful inputs: tradition – meets- funk.

Vocalists, like Sakhile Moleshe, offer warm, laid-back, jazzy scats to “Qula Kwedini” with big band swing styles of the classic 1940s urbanized African jazz, and audio pronouncements about stick fighting in the olden days of Xhosa tradition among boys and men.

A stunning piece, “Yibhluz”, and the only song on the album with lyrics, sees history meet the blues: how the sordid colonial history is delivered with a diplomatic wit, which raises issues of whether society now is mirroring its past grievances. Here is a reflective tradition-meets-blues as Gogwana skilfully weaves a dialogue around Zim Ngqawana-influenced pride in culture while youth are pulled towards the secular and mundane. Xonti’s sax brings this sultry mood and sarcasm across nicely, as do the vocalists.

Sisonke Xonti at NAF 2015

Shepherd’s piano and repetitive baseline holds the uhadi form on several songs, while Gogwana’s horn echoes conversations between the rolling Xhosa hills of his homeland in “Maqundeni”. He would call this ‘a swing feel in Xhosa’. This leads nicely into “Ndiyagoduka” (I’m going home), an upbeat improvisational song with lots of trumpet triple tonguing and that uhadi-like piano supported by Amaeshi Ikechi’s bass sound. The penetration by the horns exudes an energy that leaves one quite breathless at the end of this album.

Hear Gogwana perform at the Muizenberg Jazz Festival on Saturday, 17 November 2018 at 18.30 hours.

On the album:

Lwanda Gogwana – trumpet and fugelhorn

Kyle Shepherd – piano and synthesizer
Sisonke Xonti – sax
Amaeshi Ikechi – bass
Lungile Kunene – drums
Dumza Maswana – vocals
Sandile Maleshe – vocals

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Struan Douglas Journeys with Ubuntu Healing through Music

“Towards the Peace on Earth: Projections Manifest” (published by www.afribeat.com, 2018) is an engaging account of one man’s journey of healing, with upfront honesty and attempted enlightenment through a rebirth into Ubuntu Africa from European roots.  Struan Douglas, an arts journalist and musician, portrays a fascinating, yet mysterious, plunge into the spirituality surrounding the music industry in South Africa, and why all is not always rosy in the perceived healing abilities of this  art form.

Douglas’s own contentious struggle with a severe illness in his youth, compounded by insecurities, outrages, and inferiority complexes, found  amazing portals of resolve, as his pathways crossed with innovative and intuitively spiritual music producers.  Shamanic healing brought the light of love onto the Cullinan farm outside of Johannesburg, affectionately dubbed the University of Celebration, where Douglas lived out his post-traumatic syndrome with an eccentric Frenchman, ‘Ananda’, and an inventive Swiss music producer, Robert Trunz.  Together, with  an additional eco-healer and photographer, Lianne, the foursome worked the land as Trunz established a music studio where a host of well-known, predominately African musicians engaged with each other to move their artistry forward.  A healing in music took place through Trunz’s music label, MELT2000, and writer/musician Douglas found a much needed home in this Musical Energy Loud Truth space.

Or so it seems.

Struan Douglas

Unsuspectingly, the story leads into dark passages to reveal truths:  gory outcomes  as some musicians submit to too much stress;  a realisation that jazz may not heal, but do the opposite. Douglas sites examples where the creative wizardry succumbs to devilish forces:  like the deaths of pianist Moses Molelekwa and saxophonist Moses Khumalo, where mental illness, drugs, and other demons can take hold.  Even the central character of this book, the Buddhist inspired ‘Ananda’, born Andre Masset, and raised in a French orphanage, and found his way into a California prison for 14 years for drug trafficking, surprises the reader with his supposed transformation  through African shamanic healing. Here, Douglas becomes his disciple, finding wisdom and healing in his ‘master’s’ spiritual stewardship, until an enormous anger streak  totally absorbs Ananda’s psyche and soul, and leads to the demise of this Osho-influenced self-designed healer.  Trunz on the other hand invents and promotes sound technologies, namely audio speakers, in Switzerland and the UK, and brings them to the Cullinan farm.  When he falls ill, the farm becomes a short-lived ecological experiment with notable outcomes, but is resuscitated as a musical hub when Trunz returns.  During all of these transmutations of energy and purpose, Douglas is still faced with quo vadis issues, and this is what grabs the reader.  Uncertainties circulate through the enigmas of life.

This book touches the unavoidable real by opening our minds to what constitutes the ‘void’, from entering disorientation that can manipulate the mind,  to experiencing the beauties of Ubuntu love and respect found on the African continent.  Douglas uses the metaphorical ‘fifth’ to explain:  “As the fifth in music harmonically divides the octave, so the fifth dimension in Spiritual terms co-creates.” (p. 113)  The Cullinan farm and its various inhabitants provided this ‘nature spirit’ space  where African griots, drummers, trance-dancers of the Kalahari, and other newer students of sound in his Forest Jam project could co-create.  By 2015, Douglas found a new journey, having manifested projections involving a vast healing from this previous trip through the 1980s to the present.

Madala Kunene

 

One of these manifestations was how guitarist Madala Kunene mentored Douglas to revive his trumpet playing skills.   A very readable story, the reader goes away amazed, with a revived spirit that co-creation in music can indeed find causes of illness, and bring joy, growth, and healing to the collective consciousness.

In this lies the enigma of music.

Buy the book online through Lulu or kindle versions, or weblog.

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Pianist Adrian Iaies adds Argentinian jazz pazzaz at NAF Youth Jazz Festival 2018!

Adrian Iaies at Standard Bank National Arts Festival 2018 in South Africa

With a career stretching back more than 30 years, and 25 albums as a band leader, and more than 300 concerts all over the world, Argentinian jazz pianist Adrian Iaies is just plain hard to describe.  His exhausting list of awards and accomplishments would woo any jazz lover to his musical haven.  But it’s listening to his sometimes quirky technique, sometimes mournful and romantic moods, his slow fox trots and ballads, and then bursts of emotional tango beats and all-that-swing, all with an improvisational twist of notes, chords, and harmonics, that intrigues.  Born in Buenos Aires in 1960, Iaies landed (July 2018) in South Africa’s National Arts Festival heartland of Grahamstown, now renamed Makhanda, his first SA visit, to bless patrons with his brand of jazz.

Percussionist Facundo Guevara – FB

 

His Colegiales Quartet was made up of the illustrious percussionist, Facundo Guevara, bandoneon player Federico Siksnys, and young double-bassist Diana Arias who is originally from Colombia.  It was bassist Arias whose performance outranked many seasoned professionals with her very pronounced and fast paced runs and solos with a variety of classical American, South American, and African beats.

Diana Maria Arias atNAF 2018-Standard Bank

Can the Tango have a jazz ‘swing’?  You bet.  This NAF performance proved that the classic tango rhythms can and do manoeuvre into other sound spaces.

Iaies, who is also the Artistic Director for the annual Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival as well as the Director of one of the city’s finest cultural centers, La Usina del Arte, considers himself first and foremost an improvisational jazz pianist. His many albums cut across various genres of ‘world’, including Argentinian folkloric, European classical, and Latin music. From traditional bluesy swing of early American jazz to Strayhorn moods to tango-esque styles to funky rhythms which remind one of Oscar Petersen’s occasional break with tradition to John Coltrane’s broken off-beats, there’s something to please most listening ears.

* * * * * * *

I caught up with Iaies during one of his breaks from workshops and rehearsals which occupied his, and all other illustrious teaching musicians’, time at this bustling Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival, a welcomed part of the NAF that brings some 350 music students from all over South Africa to study, jam, and perform with another 150 professional local and international jazz musicians.

Tango Reflections

Vals de la 81st & Columbia (2008)

CM:  Let’s talk about how you relate with the South African jazz sound.  What has been your impression about what you’ve heard so far?

AI:   I come from a classical music heritage through my mother but I also listened to jazz artists, like John Lewis and Duke Ellington growing up.  I love the small groups, not the big bands.  I discovered African music later because the first artists I brought to the Buenos Aires international jazz festival was Randy Weston.  I had attended his gig in New York to check out if he was in good health to travel 14 hours to Argentina.  He was in his mid 80s then.  My first pick, however, for that festival, was Dollar Brand.  I have no special approach in African music.  My main teacher has been my drummer, Fecundo, because he has a special interest in the global music.  I’m also now looking at including South African jazz at the BA international jazz festival this year!  I would also love to return back here to record with local artists.

CM:  Piazzolla Escalandrum band performed in Cape Town a while back. Its leader, Daniel Piazzolla, said he was tired of the tango in its traditional form and wanted to move it forward.

AI:  Yes, people talked about Aster Piazzolla’s music like it was a step toward jazz.  His traditional music had nothing to do with jazz.   Juan Carlos Cobian* music is the closest to my favourite composer, Billy Strayhorn.  There’s the same sophistication, harmony, and chromatic sounds, ….   The traditional music has common points with this because the repertoire includes great sounds, great harmony, ….  You can play the traditional Tango in the same way you play songs by Irving Berlin …. Because it’s rhythmic music.

CM:  In South Africa, there is a continual debate about what is “South African jazz”.  It boils down to cultural roots.

AI:  We were just talking about this with Thandi Ntuli.  I told her she has one tight band.  They are patient.  They take their time to reach the climax.  They [South African musicians] are very kind people so their culture speaks through the music.

CM:  When I listen to Brazilian music, with its mixtures, like in Argentina with Spanish and indigenous sounds, etc, I get a sense of the frantic, the dance type of music, that’s very lively.

AI:   In the workshops, the student asked some very smart questions about these mixtures, like how do you learn music. The important thing is the musical form and rhythms, and where the composers come from, like from sub-tropical climates or freezing south pole areas.  In our workshop, we spoke about the three main groups of people in Argentina: one which stems from the indigenous Inca people, then the people in the eastern part of the country stemming from the Europeans, and then the group mixed with Africans.

CM:  That’s quite a variety of influences, then, in your own jazz……

IA: We as musicians need to understand these different regions. That’s why I experiment a lot with my drummer, Facundo, who comes from Mendoza, because he has a wide exposure to different world regions.  Also, how do you learn music?  Through oral traditions. There’s no self-taught musician. We learn from others and traditions, what’s around us.  This is very important.

CM:  Explain further.

AI:  Fecundo is a very good teacher.  When we leave Argentina to perform elsewhere, we notice how people behave in their countries. This is very educational.  But when I return to Buenos Aires, I need some days to get used to BA again.   Elsewhere, I see everyone is smiling, but back in BA, it’s not like that- it’s more black and white, more dark than light.

* * * * * * *

At this point, the piano was being tuned in the hall where we were chatting. Iaies volunteered to test it out, thus leaving our cozy chat, while Facundo and I continued.  Facundo added, “I grew up looking to Africa as I understood this was the source, so this is my first trip to Africa.  With my background in Argentinian folkloric percussion, I understand African rhythms.”  We spoke about how Africans and other South Africans had latched onto American jazz, pop and the Blues during the Apartheid era, and how this has influenced South African jazz compositions.

* * * * * *

The Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival, which Iaies has run as Director since 2007, is scheduled  from 14 – 19 November 2018.

* Juan Carlos Cobián (1888–1942), an Argentine bandleader and tango composer, led the “evolutionary” tendency in tango which was perceived as tending to concert music than to traditional dance music. As a composer, he and Enrique Delfino paved the road for the road for avant-garde tango.  To this extent, Cobián was such an evolutionist that the publishers did not accept his early tangos because they regarded them as ‘wrongly composed’. The truth is that they were far beyond the popular music of the time. (from  https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Carlos_Cobi%C3%A1n)

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The ‘Hoods breathe Cape Town weekend jazz

Bassist Carlo Mombelli

Artists and patrons moan that there’s no longer steady jazz ‘clubs’ in Capetown! When Carlo Mombelli took to the Olympia Bakery’s stage, he defied such thinking. “I had the most amazing concert last night…in a movie theatre! The Labia! Smelling all that popcorn. Then, I come here to a bakery (Olympia) and smell the bread…..” The unconventional Johannesburg-based Mombelli, with his eclectic band of merry men – aspiring and inspiring pianist, Kyle Shepherd; his able-bodied faithful drummer, Jonno Sweetman, and young rising star on all stages, guitarist Keenan Ahrends – guarantees performances oozing with meditative qualities, yet packed full of emotion when crescendos shout with rage . Thanks to Paul Kahanovitz’s ‘Slow Life’ brand of musical offerings, the Bakery transforms at night into a cozy listening venue for quality live jazz. Similarly at his other hand-picked venues, such as the Labia movie theatre, which kicked off on Friday with Mombelli’s crew. However, sound continues to be an issue from the Bakery’s flat stage which should be elevated for better viewing of the band. And that piano…..!!

Machine at Olympia Bakery

As the Bakery morphs, Mombelli excels, with a standing audience to tell the story. Like the conflicting colour scheme of his purple and green attire, he works his electric bass with sounds of multiple strings at different registries, then adds his wispy, child-like voicings with alien precision. His awkward looking body molds his bass guitar. At high treble range, the bass cries in other-worldly, unrecognisable sounds. But that’s what jazz is. A basic theme holds him to earth by guitarist Ahrends and pianist Shepherd’s occasional classical comments.

Kyle Shepherd

The audience remains in deep spaces, meditatively moving between spirit-breathing and reality-testing. Fortunately, they knew when not to clap, but to let the refrains finish. Cacophonous outbursts resolve back into joyful harmonies as Mombelli exhibits his new materials. The introspective, closed-eye Shepherd also catches these melodic meditations, which is why the two gents are such a worthy match. Mombelli’s compositions are beyond tribe, self, and country. They hit spirit realms common to all ears – if we would just listen!    

The ending song tells a touching story: Mombelli had not seen his father, who now resides in Athens, Greece, for 36 years. One hears the tender, thoughtful harmonies of this beautiful mellow piece, the peace of reunion and affirmation. And here lies the genius of this bassist – to elicit emotions and a sense of joy….in the living.

——

Jazz in the Native Yards (JNY), which hails as an arts managing agent from Gugulethu, a suburb of Capetown, continued the weekend jive in other ‘hoods’, starting with a 3 course luncheon of cheese fondu at Delheim Wine Estate and wine pairing, all deliciously enraptured by Spanish guitarist Luis Gimenez Amoros and his trio.

Luis Gimenez Amoros

Gimenez works at University of the Western Cape in Capetown as a researcher of the traditional mbira instrument and fuses Spanish musical styles with African rhythms, including the North African Berber, West African Gnawa and Saharawi and soukous, Afro-beats, and Cuban music. And those are the exciting sounds one hears as one sips the delicious and matured estate wines. The Delheim 2016 Shiraz was particularly conducive to the foot-tapping, body-swaying effects caused by the trio.

The Estate is surrounded by rich vegetation and gardens on the north side of Stellenbosch’s mountain range as well as family-reared Jack Russells.  Sunday jazz luncheons operate during this Winter season until end September so don’t miss it!

Sunday Jazz & Cheese Fondu at Delheimer

After wiggling around for two sets of Afro-Latin beats, drive back towards Capetown and stop in another JNY ‘hood, at Gugu S’Thebe Cultural Center in Langa, which is the longest established township in Capetown. Here, another local crowd of listening enthusiasts nestle into the large auditorium, with snacks and wine on offer, for a late afternoon of saxophonist McCoy Mburata with his hand-picked younger musicians. McCoy is familiar to all, having come from these parts, and grown up in the township jazz scene of South Africa. He’s home, and plays like it, with nostalgia, since residing in Gauteng’s Johannesburg has made him a ‘Gautownian’ as musicians flee from Capetown, sadly, to have more lucrative work in Gauteng.

Saxophonist Mccoy Mburata, Marco Maritz trumpet

So ‘native yards’ touches hearts of locals, be they living near or migrating to wine estates, or to other ethnically and financially diverse neighbourhoods. JNY plans to continue its venue sitings wherever the people want jazz, whether it be at the Alliance Francaise cultural center in the city, or out in African townships of Stellenbosch, or in homes such as Kwa Sec house in Gugulethu. Music has no boundaries but pulls us into one.

Check JNY on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nativeyards/ and at www.jazzinthenativeyards.co.za

Koko Nkalashe, manager of Jazz in the Native Yards

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Get Gripped with Malian sounds with Guitarist Derek Gripper

He’s alone on stage, twisting his classical guitar string pegs to get the right tuning. The sound of an eager patron, sitting right in front of him in the front row, crunching on her popcorn, evokes his off-put reaction:  “Oh, the sound of popcorn!” …  pause…. “Really?”  His not-so-subtle sarcasm sets a humourous tone which threads throughout his one-man performance.

His own classically traditional instrument, a relatively inexpensive ‘hippy’ acoustic guitar, as he calls it, transcribes complicated yet melodious songs from Mali’s kora musical traditions, a feat which has continually impressed the Mali musicians themselves.

The popcorn crackling stops.

Besides an unfortunate 30 minute delay in starting the concert, a time management issue at Capetown’s main ‘independent’ Labia Theater which also runs films, Gripper acknowledged appreciation that a significant crowd ‘came out in the rain’, something Capetownians inevitably and consistently try to avoid.  The sponsor of the performance, Slow Life, which offers stellar concerts in other venues, like at Kalk Bay’s cozy Olympia Bakery in order to attract peninsular audiences, proudly introduced Gripper, a local Capetownian becoming increasingly familiar when not traveling and gigging in regular overseas areas such as Europe, United States, West Africa, and parts of Asia.

For one hour plus, we heard beautiful arrangements of Malian songs, his guitar transforming runs and lower register thematic hums with ingenuity and uniqueness. Gripper has worked hard to transcribe kora works of Mali musicians, like Toumani Diabaté and  Boubacar Traoré, magically morphing sounds onto a western-style classical guitar.

In between songs, Gripper’s quirky humourous stories break the silence (and awe) from a spellbound audience:  a monologue on honouring “this folk guy, JS Bach, from Germany” whose music he enjoys playing in a more contemporary setting; a ramble about the communality of Mali tea drinking; comments about tonality when a patron’s cell phone rings. During one song brake, Gripper sits with one leg crossed and starts filing his right hand nails, suggesting that this is perfectly ordinary amongst guitarists. “I found this fantastic thumb nail from Lithuania,” or “ This dude gave me a cool glass file which I dropped, unfortunately.”  The audience chuckles as he continues to tune his strings and tell stories about how to secure good nail files as he travels worldwide.

Songs played come from his two last albums, ‘One Night on Earth: Music from the Strings of Mali” and “Libraries on Fire” which is his latest. Listening to Gripper is like taking the base theme superimposed with repetitive plucked runs characteristic of kora playing, and moving one’s spirit to another level, meditatively and gently. His six-string guitar assumes abilities to transform the mystical, and awe-inspiring tones of the kora, thus revealing Gripper’s expert handle on these unique Malian tonalities.  His creative synthesis of the two guitars of the West African and classical western, an improviser’s dream, excites as it pushes sonic boundaries.

Stream and buy his albums on https://newcape.bandcamp.com   You won’t be disappointed.

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South Africa’s Sound in Jazz? SAJE 2018 Conference Explains

April is Jazz Appreciation Month worldwide. April in Capetown met with unfortunate drought (rain) for the bi-annual South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE) Conference 2018 at the University of Capetown`s School of Music Recital Hall.

There was nothing drought about this conference, however, which bustled with robust discussions, performances, panel presentations, papers, and general comradery amongst the enthusiastic jazz geeks. It concluded on 29 April with a whopping concert in one of Capetown’s original homes for South African jazz, Gugulethu. There, in a small cozy friendly venue, called Kwa Sec, Jazz in the Native Yards (JNY), a neighbourhood initiative, brought the sounds to the ‘hood’ in homey style. Capetown continues to be proud of its jazz by respecting its various venues which bring contemporary and more traditional South African jazz sounds to eager audiences. In fact, that was this year’s Conference theme, “The South African Sound in Jazz Today”.

Not all was clear, however; several conference presenters expressed their ‘confusion’ about what is ‘South African jazz’? Issues arose that queried meaning, context, cultural identity, and indigenous sounds in ‘jazz’. Significantly, to help out were jazz students performing their versions of the SA sound, coming from Eastern Cape’s Fort Hare University, an institution notable in producing South African’s Black intelligentsia during Apartheid years. Another performance group were Italian and South African students who had collaborated in their training with jazz education institutions in Italy and South Africa. They required little rehearsal time to present a tight and crisp performance.

Jazz in a spiritual context came up among such presenters as pianist Nduduzo Makhathini who admitted, as a healer himself, that music, spirituality, and healing were all integrated. Spirit essentially speaks through sound, referring to sangoma influences from South Africa’s Zim Ngqawana, Bheki Mseleku, and guitarist Philip Tabane. Makhathini and pianist Sibusiso Mashiloane challenged how
terminologies and theoretical frameworks of the West were articulating African music. For Mashiloane, his music is about his African identity with improvisation viewed as scales and colours that change with various melodic patterns, tones, and rhythms.

SAJE’s President, Dr. Mageshen Naidoo, demonstrated with his guitar techniques that produce the African sounds. For instance, specific styles of sounds of the 5 to 1 chordal notes are found in South Africa’s indigenous music, particularly in marabi and kwela, and these styles have been fused with an American swing (heard throughout the country during Apartheid years) to create a South African sound.

Sounds of place led to robust discussions about how South African jazz has retreated and reasserted itself, over time, in various urban centers. Art critic and jazz scholar Gwen Ansell stressed how jazz clubs come and go, depending on the politics of the day, and on the expansion of urban centers, as `jazz` was increasingly commoditized by opportunists.

The business of producing and spreading the SA sound of jazz today unfortunately repeats refrains for better gender inclusion, more effective audience development, and conservation. The Lady Day Big Band, a stunning 18-member, Capetown-based collective, proved that professional female instrumentalists were alive and well, as did vocalist, Ernestine Deane`s all-female DUB4MAMA band performance. A robust discussion challenged persistent, discriminatory views held by the less aware public that females appeared better able as vocalists than as instrumentalists. To counter these erroneous beliefs and build on Ansell`s point that jazz should reach communities accessibly, one panel of venue promoters discussed the neighborhood approach to hosting quality bands. Venues in townships, along with social media advocacy, video streaming, online sites including internet and local radio, all must play a part in building appreciative audiences.

Another question: Which SA jazz should be played now? Professor Mike Rossi warned that teachers and promoters should not limit the jazz repertoire to those notable past artists who popularized SA jazz to the world earlier, but highlight the current wave of new expressions being explored by the younger trained artists.

In this respect, trumpeter composer Mandisi Dyantyis spoke about the harmonic complementarity between influences on SA jazz, namely the fusion being explored between African hymns, western classical, and African American jazz connections. These have, he admits, rhythmically and melodically extended SA jazz sounds into exciting musical spaces.

The Conference may not have answered heady questions that remain, but the debates have already spinned minds and hearts to further support that never-ending search for qualifying What is South African jazz?`

For information on SAJE details, see www.saje.org.za

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The Whacky Dance of Bombshelter Beast in a Sculpture Garden

How would you like your music? Sculptured around a terrain of hills, valleys, boulders, and ponds, all sculptured by the artist himself, Dylan Lewis, who turned this land into a fairy-like garden for his own giant and small sculptures?

Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden, Stellenbosch

Music sculptured in old-school kwaito with a gypsy swing by a clownish band of Balkan enthusiasts and jazz aficionados, all dressed in multi-coloured, polka-dotted overalls, some with Afrocentric designs, and painted faces to match their costumes?

The Stellenbosch Woordfees 2018 turned heads by offering a unique experience to ‘concert goers’ who thirsted for something different, interactive, and outdoorsy, as art-meets-music-meets South African talents at their best. And interactive it was, as the Saturday, 10 March, event at the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden outside of Stellenbosch joyfully took off from 6pm. Early birds could enjoy feasting on the visual beauties of mountains lit up by a distant cloudy sunset. A lone duck in the garden’s pond peacefully lulled lookers-on, oblivious to what was about to happen.

The Polish accordion player serenaded us in the garden with Italian love songs. The stage was set; the band had finished their sound check. But by 6.30pm, where was the band?

As I sat on a small rock watching the waning sun reflect in the docile pond, sounds emerged: the eye followed, catching the saxman (Sisonke ) standing under a giant sculpture on a mound on the other side of the pond; then trumpeter and leader of the band, Marcus Wyatt, dressed in bright red overalls with a hat to match, bellows out nature’s sound of a trumpeting elephant; then a petit singer dancing on another mound; then far to the left, the oomp pah pah of the blaring sousaphone, with only its bright silver head moving in a comical sway through the reeds near a stream that feeds the pond. Then, the trombone howls. The instruments magically form a harmonic union as the musicians meet on the same path and lead the dispersed crowd of some 50 people closer to the stage.

The party begins! This is how the Bombshelter Beast likes it: an inspiringly beautiful setting, outdoors, so that their whacky and wonderful sonic outbursts can engage listeners. The three lead singers carry the comradery, pulse, and zaniness of the songs composed and arranged by legendary jazz trumpeter Marcus Wyatt. The singers entice the audience with a scatty rap, funny facial expressions, and funky hip-hop dances, with linguistic jols between them in different South African languages.

Pule

They’re a motley lot: Pule (meaning ‘rain’ in Setswana) is ‘white’ with impressive experience in African cultures where he raps in Zulu and other South African languages. Sort of a Beast Johnny Clegg on staccato steroids. His style moves from funk to heavy metal screams to hip-hoppy humour. It’s no wonder that he has also studied to be a clown, and is now embarking on a Ph.D. in Linguistics.

  The two African lady singers, one large and voluptuous with a huge head of hair, the other thin and petite with large wide eyes, add to the clownish humour. Their exaggerated burlesque dancing and singing extends to jumping into the crowd to wiggle about and make faces. The dancing crowd howls in appreciation. The Army helmeted sousaphone player, himself larger than life, and a 60-something opera singer, made their contrasting mark on the skillfully choreographed stage from which hung various country flags to add to the splash of colourful textiles.

These free-spirited AfroBalkan musical buffs fit coincidentally with artist Dylan Lewis’s connection with his ‘authentic, untamed inner nature’, and the non-judgmental inspirations from nature which tames and nurtures this ‘authentic wild self’ to find an inner peace.

One would hope that the Beast could match this paradox. And alas, its raucous and occasional outrageous outbursts did mellow as its ‘Dance of the Chicken’, the title of the Beast’s album, resolved into skadubhall and free-fall. Maverick and ragtaggy? YES!! And delightfully festive!

But why the Balkan take? Composer Wyatt was asked to write a soundtrack for a film called Taka Takata in 2010 about a clumsy football team that plays in a parking-lot. The film has yet to be released and features several comedians, including Trevor Noah. Wyatt ended up writing a lot of Balkan music about this ragtag football team, and through networks and reworkings, converted scores to become the Bombshelter Beast. Wyatt boasts popular albums in the jazz genre, such as with the Voice, The Prisoners of Strange with Carlo Mombelli, Language 12 (music being the 12th South African official ‘language’), and the Blue Notes Tribute Orchestra (tributes to past legends).

Marcus Wyatt

For some reason, the Beatles’s song, Octopus’s Garden, kept ringing in my ears afterwards, spurred on by the ‘Chicken’s Dance’ of the Beast, both songs reminiscent of a love affair with nature and its wonders.

 

The Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden is viewable by appointment Tuesday to Saturday. Booking information can be found here.

 

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Shane Cooper’s audio book about ‘Our World’ MABUTA

‘Welcome to Our World’ is a swirl through Africa’s sonic scapes, from Ethiopia to Mali to Nigeria and beyond borders. Designed and curated by SAMA award-winning Capetownian bassist and composer, Shane Cooper, this album showcases well-seasoned fellow South African musicians pushing out of their familiar zones of contemporary post-bop jazz with South African flavours, into other cultural worlds with pentatonic scales, traditional West African  influences, and Afro-pop rhythms.

Mabuta band 2017

In this musical road trip around Africa, the album contains songs which depict Cooper’s varied experiences with different kinds of people, impressions, ecosystems, and spaces. His compositions are meant to absorb one’s aural consciousness, like in a dream, placing experiences of ‘our world’ in sometimes rosy, soft and hopeful zones. At other times, one’s spirit disappears into ramps and rages about the hard realities of life, like immigrant-focused border fences, the inevitable media and technology overload, and exaggerated human noise, all which cause eyes (and ears) to squish, squint and speculate.

 

Hence, the album’s appropriate title, MABUTA, meaning ‘eyelid’ in Japanese. Cooper explains: “I chose ‘mabuta’ as a theme of opening doors between the Western world and the dream world…perceiving the juxtaposition of the ancient worlds with the modern worlds of technology.” What results is an audio book which takes shape, also, around the individual touches given by each musician.

Bokani Dyer

The touring live band featured some of South Africa’s freshest musicians: Bokani Dyer (keys), Sisonke Xonti (tenor sax), Robin Fassie-Kock (trumpet), Marlon Witbooi (drums), and Reza Khota (guitar). The album features saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings, Buddy Wells and more.

Cooper and his cohorts love the techy touches of modern day instruments. A case in point is how Cooper surprises with his double bass by using extended techniques to elicit human or nature sounds. By running crumpled paper through his strings, stroked with specially crafted ribbed drum sticks which create certain vibrations and distortions, one hears sounds of rustling water, bird flapping wings, wind, etc.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=cCiOs4TTGdQ    “I have about five variations for these hand-made sticks to create acoustic distortions I particularly like,” says Cooper. This acoustic trip mimics instruments from West Africa like the balafon made of gourds, as in ‘Bamako Love Song’. On the album, these effects are also heard from pianist Bokani Dyer’s papers placed on the piano strings.

Why does this musical journey encompass three African countries’ musical idioms? “For me, these countries have been leaders in musical consciousness: Bob Marley’s Ethiopia, Senegalese singer Ismael Lo with influences from Mali, and Femi Kuti’s Nigerian high life.” Here’s an example of how a creative South African, himself coming from a pluralistic society, absorbs the continental sounds so readily, enabling him to produce the sense of Africanness in the jazz milieu.

Let’s take the journey:

Listening to the album, one is struck immediately how experimental the musicians are, using their instruments in emotional, percussive, and defining ways. For instance, the Malian ‘sound’ is mimicked in the synthesizer and percussion slaps on the bass and guitar strings.

Marlon Witbooi; courtesy Dan Shout

The album starts out hopeful.  Track one,‘Welcome to our World’, is a placid, melancholic piece sustained by chugging drums and Sisonki Xonti’s singing tenor sax. The next track, ‘Bamako Love Song’, strikes another joyful message heard in mixed percussive effects from bass and guitar slapping to bongo effects on the drums with a Malian 12/4 rhythm, and the jesty sax of guest artist, Shabaka Hutchings. Pianist Bokani Dyer’s synth rings and runs, mimicking Malian instruments. Nigeria’s Fela Afro-beat supports the bouncy ‘Log Out Shut Down’, implying the obvious to survive Our World’s constant incursions on our hearts, mind, and body in an overloaded techno world. Buddy Wells solos convincingly, backed by two rhythmic tenors saxes. ‘Tafattala’, meaning ‘twisting together’ in Amharic, showcases all the horns as Ethiopian chords and pentatonic scales mark the song’s purpose.  Reworked from an earlier Cooper-led album, Skyjack, Dyer’s piano swings into a more contemporary improvisation, bop-pish in texture, then flows back into the familiar Ethiopian style. An interesting interpretation.

Sisonki Xonti

Anger hits in ‘Fences’, as Our World moves to heady political spheres that threaten humanity’s wellbeing. Xonti’s sax holds the melody as Witbooi pounds out an energetic, protesting drum; Hutchings’ sax solo wails admonitions…. Originally titled ‘Alternative Facts’, the song sketches the hard realities pertaining to border walls and wars (referring to contemporary America….and elsewhere). The not-too-subtle rumbling by the horns in ‘Beneath the Waves’ suggests a search for that elusive peacefulness as one sinks deeper into the waters of hope. The higher register of the piano conveys this feeling nicely. Cooper’s scuba diving adventures in South Africa’s oceans inspired him to find this silence, every dive bringing a new sensory experience.

Robin Fassie-Kock; Courtesy Øystein Grutle Haara

After the anger conveyed in ‘Fences’, the meditative soft trumpet of Fassie-Kock in ‘As We Drift Away’ sets the mood, perhaps, of separation from our contentious, at times hideously inhumane, world. It’s an inspirational piece, with excellent triple tonguing from trumpeter Fassie-Kock and Dyer’s gospelled piano. Cooper explains: “ Remembering my deceased young friend of many years, the song speaks to how spirit hovers over body, family and friends before departing at death. This gives ‘our world’ a connection with the process of dying and a resultant release. This release gives a picture, perhaps, of what a nicer world might look like ahead.”

There’s another intriguing side of this reality-meets-dream phenomenon in Cooper’s sonic vision.
The album concludes with ‘The Tunnel’ which, of itself, ends abruptly. “The intention was that life speeds toward the end. It speeds through a tunnel without knowing where it’s going to end up, and then the lights go out.” Cooper’s influence comes from Vangelis’ enigmatic score for the original film, ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), and how the present film sequel (2017) reworks sound with contemporary synthwave and cyberpunk interpretations, thanks to present day sound effects technologies. “Vangelis informed a lot of musical decisions I have made in my writing, and has allowed me to reshape “The Tunnel” to reflect my own journey with electronic sci-fi styles and effects. It’s like when I took a speed train in Japan, I passed a rural scene with beautiful mountains and within 20 minutes, I’d be in a huge congested futuristic city. I look at the ancient and traditional, and the newer technologies at the same time. Both of these worlds emerge in my album, and weave not so much a clash but how our world actually appears in our real life.”

             MABUTA band

Cooper and his band’s ‘our world’ is indeed African, conveyed so effectively by MABUTA’s mixed bag of musicians. Perhaps, after his 4 months in Europe co-curating the Bern jazz festival and undergoing a residency in Zurich through ProHelvetia, Cooper’s next album might reflect on those contemplative under water scenes which seem to have considerably energised his otherwise terrestrial journeys.

Catch MABUTA  live at the upcoming Capetown International Jazz Festival on the Rosie Stage on Friday, 23 March 2018.

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MSMF jazz band: “Music Makes us Brothers” – another Cape Town Special

Four guys in their mid-20s, from three different parts of the country, following their individual musical paths and, essentially, leading each other, fuse together a special sound that’s clean, refreshingly different, and soulfully sealed.  Named after their surnames (Matsimela-Steenkamp-Mahola-Fine = MSMF), this ‘boy band’, as they unwittingly think of themselves, pulled themselves through the University of Cape Town’s school of music to focus their young energies on creative improvisation with an individualistic sonic touch.

MSMF band members

Importantly, it is the symmetry reached by the four gents as they funnel their diverse backgrounds into a matrix homed by Capetownian Steenkamp’s Muizenberg roots. Double bassist Sibusiso Matsimela, originally hailing from Mpumulanga by way of Pretoria, reflects cross-cultural jazz. “Music makes us brothers,” he quips as he explains how relaxed and chilled his new home of Capetown is, after acquiring exposure from overseas training in USA and Italy.

Bassist Sibusiso Matsimela; drummer Tefo Mahola, at LAPA Feb 2018

The second youngest member (after Steenkamp), drummer Tefo Mahola, hails from Gugulethu, Cape Town, and brings zest, creative texture, different styles and genre to his songs. His compositions depict a jazz with multiple influences.   https://youtu.be/8n0Ifwcnay8

Guitarist Dylan Fine, raised in Cape Town after his parents returned to South Africa during

Trumpeter Keegan Steenkamp; Guitarist Dylan Fine at LAPA Feb 2018

Mandela days, presents soulful, melodic, and modern styles drawing from multiple influences, from the intricate Pat Matheny to the soft rock of John Mayer.

MSMF proudly performs a mix of contemporary and Old School Hip-Hop, Modern Jazz, and South African jazz, all shaped by the players’ personalities which stamp their individual signatures on their compositions.

 

The LAPA recently provided a pleasant Sunday afternoon venue for MSMF to perform their originals.  Having an African feel with a thatch roof and open interior, it can comfortably seat approximately 50 or more people at tables. The slightly raised stage is carefully designed with lighting which projects alternating pastel colours which streak down the white backdrop of the stage. This effect gives a live neon look when a band is livestreamed through a video camera.

LAPA white stage backdrop

The sound capacity for acoustics is superb. An attractive outdoor sitting area with indigenous plants reminds one about the relatively water-stressed area of Kraaifontein’s Joostenberg Vlakte. But the surrounding vast, flat agricultural veld is brought to life by wide open skies that view distant mountain silhouettes of the Hottentot Holland Mountains bordering the Cape Town Municipality.

The LAPA

The band’s concert reeked of joyful respect for each other’s freedoms; Steenkamp’s trumpet delivering consistently clean notes, never raspy unless intended. In one song, the trumpet presented a hollow sound like an angry cat avoiding its partner. Steenkamp likes to puff up his lips, weary from wear, to get different sound effects. Mahola emotes occasionally with subtle ‘aaahhh’ outbursts, announcing approval as each band member self-absorbs into his own solo. Fine’s guitar plays mostly single note runs reminiscent of R&B and soul with a Scofield-like improv. Fine’s occasional chords struck harmony highs in several songs as did  double bassist Matsimela who took its freedoms in tuneful solos that often brought out Mahola’s gleeful ‘aaahhh’ of approval! MSMF’s repertoire is sure to please, from member’s individual compositions to songs from master jazz legends, like drummer Louis Moholo Moholo’s classic, “You Think You Know Me but You Don’t Know Me”.  When funds become available, MSMF plan to record their first album, which promises to be a whopper!

During the concert’s break, patrons can use a ‘warm up’ kitchen to prepare their picnic lunches or snacks  accompanied by any drinks (soft or alcoholic) they bring.   Besides the live concert venue, i-Studios premises also provide a large house inside which is a recording studio  with state of the art audio and video equipment, and five ensuite bedrooms for visiting artists who record their album over several days. This Studio house offers other space for administration, recording, rehearsals, and opportunities to use its other open spaces as an art gallery and recital area.

The LAPA interior

Founded in December 2014 as an independent Music Record   Label and Artist Management Agency,    i-Studios seeks to enable artists to develop creatively a quality music which engages music lovers of all ethnic backgrounds. “Our mission is to find raw, undiscovered talent and maximize their musical capacity” says i-Studios visionary, Leonardo Fortuin, an engineer and entrepreneur. The LAPA and i-Studios is easily accessible from Cape Town, the Northern suburbs, Stelllenbosch and Paarl.

 

 

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JOZEFINN’ AUSTRAL VIEW (JAV) offers ‘Pan-austral’ Polyphonic Jazz

Something unique about the lush, cavernous tropical French island of Reunion is its polyglot fingerprint on the southwest Indian Ocean region, with all its multiple flavours in cuisine, music, sun, sea, and dramatic volcanic mountain craters.

JAV band members

One group that is spreading a dynamic musical fusion representing both traditional and contemporary cultures of the ‘austral’ or southern Indian Ocean peoples is JOZEFINN’ AUSTRAL VIEW (JAV). It’s brainchild and musical director, guitarist Jean Pierre Jozefinn’, conceived the project in 2008, but it was through the Reunion cultural organization, Artistic Window for Tradition and Cultural Action, that JAV could take off with its own signature group in 2013.

Jozefinn-credit Bernard Beranhard

Various collaborations followed between France and Madagascar which enabled this pan-austral project to bring together artists from Reunion (France) and southern Africa, namely South Africa/ Mozambique/ Madagascar and explode rhythms and harmonies that leave one mesmerized.

Supported by various Francophone organizations in France and Madagascar, and making waves at world and local music festivals, JAV has imprinted its multicultural and polyphonic foundations in its first impressive album recording, “Trapdanza” (2016).

Building on Reunion’s principle rhythmic styles of ‘sega’ and ‘maloya’, one hears overlays with South African mbaqanga, Madagascar gospel which also reflect Zulu music, and the Arab/African/European/Indian influences that mark the historical music of this small island, going back to the slave and indentured servant era of French colonialism.  This Indo-African feast of sounds cannot really be named, says the group, when I caught up with them after a day’s rehearsal for upcoming music festivals in Reunion in December 2017.  “We don’t want to ‘box in’ our music, but just call it ‘pan-austral’ fusion, because each of us acts as a cultural ambassador from our countries.”

Bongani Sotshononda 2015

Marimba specialist, Bongani Sotshononda, brings moving isi-Xhosa vocals and rhythms from South Africa;  well-seasoned drummer Frank Paco from Mozambique also adds melodic vocals as does all band members.  From Madagascar, Andry Michael Randriantseva holds songs together on piano and trombone, and from Reunion, double bassist Jacky Boyer rounds out the band’s strength with his compatriot musical director, Jean Pierre Jozefinn’.

Bongani Sotshononda-credit AM Randriantseva

“The rhythm of sega and maloya, two main musical idioms in Reunion, has no name.  Rather, we like the syncretism of these traditional musical repertoires found in Reunion, including marrabenta, nicketsche, salegy, tsapiky….  Combine these with South Africa’s mbaqanga,  and Mozambique and Madagascar rhythms which are similar to Zulu ones, and one arrives at a no-name  polyglot of beats and sounds.  We call ours pan-austral polyphonic.”  Amidst this exciting polyglot, Euro bebop and jazz inflections are found throughout, particularly in ‘Shap Shap’ and ‘Saint Michel’, followed by a  happy melodic swing as in ‘Learn to Love for Peace’ with  melodic Afro-beat interplay between percussionist Paco and Sotshononda’s marimba.  This is a masterpiece of improvised fusion.  The marimba excels in the funky “Ebony Swing” and the Xhosa-sung “Indlala Yini Na” which opens the album.

 

 

Pianist Andry M. Randriantseva & JP Jozefinn’ Dec 2017

Jozefinn’s guitar and Randriantseva’s  synthesizer hold a groove in ‘Mangrove’ that echos through the energetic rhythms fused from this panaustral, four-country comraderie. “It represents rivers from various sources running into one mangrove swamp, nourishing as they flow. This is what we are as JAV,” says Jozefinn.

JAV is searching for sponsorships to support this concept which is expanding more and more through such popular music festivals as Reunion’s best attended  SAFIKO Festival and the Capetown International Jazz Festival, to name a few on the JAV biography. The band members consistently participate in educational mentoring and workshopping at schools and colleges in Reunion, for instance, recently at the college at Bernica in St. Gilles Les Hauts, but want to expand their presence throughout the pan-austral Indian Ocean communities and beyond.

Randriantseva at college workshop in Cilaos, Dec 2017

This is a unique group to watch, as panaustralism ripples and surges through Afro-Indian Ocean musical veins, bringing joyous cultural reunions to our shores!

 

JAV at Safiko Festival in Reunion 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Acoustically Tripping through KZN Soundscapes with Guitarist Guy Buttery: an Interview and CD Review

Put European Celtic, Zulu maskandi, and Indian classical sounds together, and what do you get? A uniquely South African musical stroll through KwaZulu-Natal’s sonic cultures embodied in a passionately creative Guy Buttery, his guitar and songs.

Shane Cooper, bass; Guy Buttery, guitar; Ronan Skillen, tabla in Cape Town 9 November 2017

Buttery performed recently in Cape Town with a stunning alignment of double bassist, Shane Cooper, and percussion/tabla player, Ronan Skillen, all sponsored once again by Slow Life entertainment.   https://youtu.be/lDq3JlU-YKw     Their repertoire ranged from Buttery’s usual mix of folk, maskandi, and Indian classical to solo and duos with his illustrious band members, themselves past recipients of music awards in South Africa. One quickly identifies the unmistakable beauty of Skillen’s tabla and electric drum, stylistic in tone and feel, along with Cooper’s consistently unencumbered double bass. Buttery has now added another award to his expanding profile, as the Standard Bank ‘s Young Artist for Music 2018. His recent Cape Town concerts drew crowds, undeniably committed to this soon-to-be 34 year old’s continued journey to push his music into uncharted ethnically-influenced soundscapes.

Album cover: “Guy Buttery”

His latest (6th) CD album is self titled as just “Guy Buttery”, deliberately a no-name. “It’s a rebirthing album so I preferred not to name it, specifically,” he explained in our interview. One would not realize the music is played on a guitar as there are so many formats and manipulation of sounds from his acoustic strings.  Zulu maskandi and traditional ushupe mouth bow in “Werner Meets Egberto in Manaus” with Brazilian touches sets the cultural tone that runs throughout this eclectic album, including Vusi Mahlasela vocals. Buttery explores with humour in “Floop” which combines the key of F with loop pedals in ‘floopy’ ways. Similarly, “Sleep Deprivation” speaks for itself with some erratic harmonics.

Wispy zen ambiance with loopy psychedelia is heard in “In the Shade of the Wild Fig” as also in “A Piece for Rudolf Fritsch”, the latter having an interesting story: Buttery had met online and befriended this man from Germany as they shared over some ten years their love for different styles of music. They learned from each other and developed a special bond; yet they never met. Then one day, Buttery learned that Fritsch fell asleep on his train home and died. Hence, this whimsical song is Buttery’s tribute to a late mentor.

Nibs van der Spuy

Electric guitarist Nibs van der Spuy joins the album on two Indian classical and Led Zeppelin – influenced songs, and plays the cuatro in “Wild Fig”. “From Srinager” clearly refers to Buttery’s love of the sitar (in this song, the sarangi played by Lorenzo Mantovani), and the African mbira which he plays here. Van der Spuy’s electronica and the sarangi are also transposed into a rock vibe in “To Goulimine” which was influenced by Buttery’s good friend and fellow guitarist, Dan Palansky. “The piece is like a India-meets-Led Zeppelin groove of the 90s. This was undeniably the hardest piece to release in terms of colour, having been based in a sort of rock music,” Buttery admits.   Other imaginative textures and rhythms emerge in this album as Buttery explores the soundscapes of KwaZulu-Natal, sponging up the pastoral and natural contexts of his homeland. Enjoy this sonic nirvana of enduring beauty!

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Discussing music in more depth, this writer posed to him the question about what drives his inspiration and message.

“ This is a tricky question. My influences tend to be vast, endless, fluctuating and inconsistent. Every piece of music comes from a different place, inspired by people and places, people I meet on my travels. It all seems like a kind of murky and undetermined past. I never know where a piece I’m composing is going to take me. I’m always searching, hopefully with some transparency.”

Sounds to me like a definition of ‘creativity’, I posed which he, in turn, queried:

“I know a lot of people who are creative, like in the way they live and think through life. I’m always curious about this: what is the ‘creative mind’? What is it that distinguishes one mind from the other, that produces a piece quite different from another person’s piece? I think that in the end, we’re all drawing from the same source, to which we are all connected, and are all distilling it somehow.”

Buttery skilfully handles a lovely mix from the Celtic, an ancient European source, and from the ancient African source, having grown up in the Zulu context. He effectively, and in a learned way, sponges up his living experiences with history and culture.

“Yes, there are influences from a European KwaZulu-Natal and from Zulu culture which have moved me….. I’m currently working with a fabulous Zulu maskandi guitarist, Madala Kunene , on some compositions…. Then, there is the Indian classical music of Durban which I fuse into my songs. If one tunes in to one’s environment, then these three musical influences in South Africa are clearly represented in KZN.”

Regarding the Indian classical influences, Buttery admits to taking caution about delving into playing the sitar in its traditional fashion, or in genres associated with this instrument.

“But I’m interested in taking an instrument out of its context – I love to improvise and do solo pieces with the sitar. In the last year, I’ve been taking it more into my rehearsal space, but I haven’t taken it on the road yet. I’m currently working with an amazing Indian classical sitar player and singer, Dr. Kanaada Narahari, in Durban and entering that world even more. Harmonically, Indian classical music is quite simple, and melodically, I think they’re at the forefront , with an ornateness in its structure and contour which is quite amazing.”

Buttery is still over the moon about his award as the Standard Bank Young Artist for Music 2018. What future prospects are in the offing?

“Yes, it’s certainly an honour. I’ve been doing concerts since I was 16 years old, and I feel this award is enabling and assisting in my growth to make new music and projects. That’s hugely reaffirming for me, so I’m deeply grateful for that.”

But will this award create more pressures to produce, I posed?

“It’s crazy to be lumped into this incredible group of artist with such awards. But there is definitely a lot of stuff in the works with interesting collaborations and recording projects ahead…..to be revealed later ….no secrets now….just ironing out….”

There is a hint of promoting music education, yet to be consolidated but in the works.

“I’m scheduled to do some educational work at institutions – the older I get, the more this idea appeals to me. Not to just do workshops, but do more performance-based work with Q/As, and focus on music as a lifestyle thing rather than take an academic approach. I intend to do a lot of this next year.”

So where do you think South African music is going, I asked?

“The modern world has changed, and to give an example, this album was recorded across three continents in 4 to 5 different countries. Technology has played a big role in allowing for these exchanges. There is …..I won’t say a need….but an openness to amalgamate so many different sounds and to have collaborations with musicians that in the past wasn’t attainable. This is happening all around the world but more so, for the first time, in South Africa . What it has revealed is that there’s an unbelievable amount of incredible musicians in this country that previously didn’t have a voice. I find the jazz musicians are crossing over more with ‘world’ musicians and with the rock and folk musicians. It’s colourful. This is exceptionally healthy; we all have a lot to learn from one another, about openness and our abilities for sharing.”

Indeed, recording these various artists living in Italy (Mantovani), different parts of South Africa, in Vermont, USA (Will Ackerman on “A Piece for Rudolf Fritsch”) and in France (vocalist Piers Faccini on “The Upper Reaches”) was a masterful feat in itself, thanks to various studios and technologies.

Guy Buttery will have a very happy birthday end November , and we listeners will be happy to see this guitar wizard ‘loop’ around our various shores and hinterlands during 2018. Find his album to stream, download, or purchase at http://guybuttery.bandcamp.com.

On loop pedal

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Gigging since Age 7, Persistence Pays Off for Drummer Lumanyano ‘Unity’ Mzi

At age 7, he snuck out of home, walked from Delft to Phillippe to hear his favourite drummer perform….only to discover that the drummer was not there on that day! Here starts Lumanyano ‘Unity’ Mzi’s first gig, when, at that session, the band invited him to play reggae chops which he knew so well from his father, who headed up the popular reggae Azania Band in Capetown. Mzi showed that he knew the rhythms, but didn’t understand the coaching by the bass player: “You play the kick on one, and the snare on three, which is a rock theme.” Mzi’s musical career had started, and he was having fun!

Lumanyano ‘Unity’ Mzi: courtesy Gregory Franz

Born in 1995, and fifteen years after this first ‘gig’, Mzi thrives daily on his Jazz Performance Diploma studies at UCT’s College of Music as well as moving his UNITY Band from one performance venue to another. UNITY actually started while he was still in High School, with his teen friends who were excited to back visiting bands coming from Johannesburg’s hip hop scene. He held this tight group well, progressing to serve as the resident band at Capetown’s upmarket Taj Hotel main bar on Thursdays.

Delph singer Adelia Dou

Delph singer, Adelia Douw, a teen when she joined the Delph Big Band as the lead vocalist, also joined UNITY. It was then that the Big Band’s director, trumpeter Ian Smith, discovered this Delphite, Mzi, a bit too late to add Mzi to the Big Band. Mzi’s father, an avid Rastafarian, was Mzi’s main influence, taking his son to rehearsals of his band, yet never taught his son how to play the drums. Instead, Mzi sat next to the drummer and watched every move. Mzi would cry when he wasn’t taken to the actual gigs, but determined, he could at least play some songs during rehearsals. Now, as a young adult, he regularly performs at annual reggae festivals, like the Monwabisi Reggae Festival held in Khayelitsha, and has toured in Africa with the All Nations Band to the Gambia, and attended three reggae festivals in the Reunion Islands, one in which his band’s backing vocalist was the late reggae artist Lucky Dube’s daughter. Sponging off from several genres of music during his high school musical years, Mzi has impressively mixed hip hop, gospel, funk, and reggae into his current curry of improvisational drumming, following such notable percussionists as Frank Paco from Mozambique, Brice Wassy from Cameroun, and Paco Siry from Cote d’Ivoire.

Cameroun drummer Brice Wassy

He wants to live up to his name, ‘unity’, and believes in collaboration to bring people and cultures together. “I like to break boundaries, and create bridges to minimize racial tensions around us. We must all work together for the cause of music and social cohesion.” In this vein, Mzi is willing to join social/political causes, such as the Marikana issue, by performing with his band at functions that create awareness and support worthy activism. Another example has been his following with the Spoken Word movement, “Lingua Franca”, initiated with poets and musicians at Capetown’s Baxter Theater to explore how to mutually support their artistry. Amongst all of these exciting projects, Mzi is finishing his University program, and looks forward to performing with UNITY, touring (as a drummer) with the King Kong production which starts again in Capetown next week, and writing his music.

UNITY Band

See the UNITY Band perform at the Masque Theater Foyer Sessions in Muizenberg on 12 November, 2017 at 6.30pm. Band members are: Stephen ‘Stevovo’ de Souza (bass), Thandeka Dladla (vocals), Lonwabo Diba Mafani (piano), Dylan Fine (guitar), Marco Maritz (trumpet), Ofentse Moshwetsi (alto saxophone), and Lilavan Gangen (percussion).

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Earthy grunts of Zulu Blues: A Journey with pianist Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane

Slow Life’s Olympia Bakery came to life again Saturday eve, 4 November, with an eclectic array of Zulu blues, impressive  improvisational arrangements of contemporary standards, such as in ‘Amazing Grace’,  and stunning solos by bassist Dalisu Ndlazi, drummer Riley Giandhari, and the multi-award pianist, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, who leads The Mash Trio.

Sibusiso Mashiloane

The huge full moon was rising over the Kalk Bay waters of Capetown’s southern Peninsula where this delightfully vibey venue hosts almost weekly quality jazz concerts, thanks to its passionate owner, Paul Kahanovitz.

Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay, Capetown

One felt not only the magnetism of moon-waters caressing the soul, but also the earthy beats of Zulu music grunting through the listeners’ bones.  The sounds were raw and danceable, persistent, then mellowing. Mashiloane’s leadership takes one on a journey of cadences, with tones of African rhythm and blues Zulu-style, and fused with swing-bop, hip hop, gospel and funk. Often, a blues rock unfolds, then Mashiloane’s piano sets the fast pace, and finally, crescendo!  The criminal is caught.

Bassist Dalisu Ndlazi

One song was reeling: a Zulu boot dance rhythm followed by orchestral chords from the synthesizer with the bass pounding out that beat, then a contemporary jazz swing improv followed by that same dance rhythm that took the song home. Another song starts with earthy Zulu funk, then mixes in refrains of ballads with shades of Bheki Mseleku styles, adds voice hummings, and then returns to that funk to end a song full of innovations and character twists. Quite a journey!

S. Mashiloane & drummer Riley Giandhari at Olympia – courtesy Neil Frye

This group is nothing less than exciting at macro levels. They obviously display an utter pride and joy in their inherited music of the soil.  The three musicians hail from Durban where they schooled in jazz studies at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban.   Saddled with a Masters Degree in Jazz Performance, plus various awards for best jazz artist, including his debut album, ‘Amanz’ Olwandle’ (released in 2016) winning best jazz album awards, ‘Mash’ has grown his musical and teaching skills through festivals, guest lectureships  in the USA and South Africa, and two recorded albums.

His most recent album was recorded at the time of his mother’s death; hence, the title ‘Rotha – a Tribute to Mama’ (2017 Unlockedkeys Records).  A very listenable album, with songs written from 2003 that seem to document his fifteen year musical journey, one hears memories of South Africa’s past and present, with female backing vocalists and two horns as well as the occasional guitar.  The live performance in Capetown offered completely different styles and tricks compared to the mellow and melodic jazz arrangements on this album, all mixed with down-home South African musical roots. For instance, ‘Song for Bheki’ clearly portrays allegiance to this late legend from the homeland, pianist extraordinaire Bheki Mseleku.

Bheki Mseleku – courtesy GettyImages

Mashiloane’s passion is to support African musical heritage by captivating his students’ minds to decolonize their ways of thinking, and to exercise pride in, and ownership of, the local cultural expressions.  This is why his ‘crossover jazz’ can include a variety of motifs, such as bop, blues, and funk, wedded to South African tribal and spiritual sounds.  Such Afro-centered fusion makes this album all the more meaningful, in such songs as the bluesy ‘Unlockedkeys Blues’,  the boppish ‘Mr SJ’, or the soft, sung ballad, ‘Meditation’.   Videos tell his story, also:   Mr SJ at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDWV6ImrCD0  and  ‘My Lyllah’ at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybh1MBVSNkI.

One soon concludes that Mash has explored a wide variety of composers such as McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, and fellow South Africans Themba Mkhize and the late Zim Ngqawana.

This CD ‘Rotha’ is very different from Mash’s live performances.  It offers a mellow, bluesy, and thoughtful message with reminiscence of a dear Mama who was graced by life herself, and who graced others, particularly her son.

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WHERE IS SOUTH AFRICAN JAZZ HEADING?

Where are the venues? I can’t do late nights! I really don’t understand this ‘improvisation’ thing – sounds like noise to me. These are comments heard from many who wish to support our local musical talents, but cannot find a comfort level with ‘jazz’. Rather, the uncertain keep gravitating to what they already know – that vibey afternoon restaurant with a blues guitarist, that music club nearby that plays electric or rock/pop.

While jazz enthusiasts, or those who would like to learn more, speculate about ‘how is jazz doing in South Africa’, curious and hopeful attitudes seem to be growing. Let’s hear from our Festival performers:

Pianist Bokani Dyer admits there are a lot of powerful young voices on the scene right now. He feels part of something, like being plugged into the rest of the world, with a new wave of younger musicians who are proud of their South African heritage and ready to explode it through the arts to other continents. For instance, Dyer is presently compiling for publication a more comprehensive South African ‘REAL’ book of compositions of musicians from all parts of the country. This would educate the public at large about these worthy artists and enable the less well known artists to present their profiles.

Saxophonist Buddy Wells really enjoys the directions which South African jazz is taking, with exciting young composers and players pushing the boundaries, like Reza Khota, Bokani Dyer, Kyle Shepherd, and the 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Benjamin Jephta, to name a few. Likewise, Bongani Sotshononda sees that bright future: “In the past 5 years,

Bongani Sotshononda at Native Yards

having been introduced to many extremely talented musicians, I can safely say that the world needs to watch this space. In the past, seasoned musicians from Europe and America at international jazz festivals used to scare us as these artists were on top of the game. Now, in my opinion, our local jazz musos, thanks to their dedication, are on par with some of the world’s best talents!”

Trombonist Jannie ‘Hanepoot’ van Tonder says SA jazz is going through a period of renewal, where a lot of young musicians are receiving an education which was not available 20 or 30 years ago. “Since the advent of jazz being taught at our universities (however limited or lacking in direction some of those programmes might be), the result has been a new generation of jazz musicians who can read and write, and even have qualifications to work at recognised institutions such as music schools and universities. This wave of education, together with the valuable work done by Capetown-based grassroots institutions like IMAD, The Little Giants, and the Delft Big Band, is bringing about a new era with many skilled young musicians practising and teaching their craft. Unfortunately, the lack of infrastructure and funding supports, amidst a seemingly corrupt government not able to grow the economy, minimizes opportunities to develop latent talents in music and the arts in general.

On the other hand, pianist Ramon Alexander is seeing how the young South African composers are digging deeper within themselves for a more personalized, individual sound that seems to steer from a local sound to a more globalized one.

Ramon Alexander album

“In South Africa, like in America and Europe, you will always have the forward-thinking ‘Pioneers’ competing with the ‘Conservatives’, the preservers of tradition. I believe that if you have a balanced pool of both the ‘Pioneer’ and the ‘Conservative’, you will always have a wonderful, diverse body of work within our South African music community. Diversity is key.”
Warning! The ‘scouts’ in the corporate industries are enticing teenagers with fame and greed, says Jazz Yard Academy Chris Petersen. “We encourage the kids to be confident and to have faith in the goals they have set in life, but sometimes at performances, ‘scouts’ by-pass the JYA adult personnel and secretly approach the kids with financial offers. This is a scourge that makes it very difficult for us to keep the kids focused on the bigger picture. Yet, with more education for youth, particularly valuable interactions with the Cape jazz legends, we can ensure the proliferation and sustainability of Cape Jazz music worldwide.”

Muriel Marco

Singer/pianist Muriel Marco speculates whether the artist is freely exploring and playing for the audience, or is the artist playing for the market? “There has been a tremendous exploration beyond boundaries by the musicians, and supports for venues and festivals are growing. Unfortunately, there still isn’t a steady venue in Capetown that can support daily concerts.” The repetitive mantra from worried musicians continues to haunt: How can we creatively explore with our craft if the basic financial supports are hard to find?

In terms of the overseas market, there is heightened demand for South African jazz to collaborate, through performances, cultural exchanges, and workshops, with host country musicians and their educational institutions, according to saxophonist McCoy Mrubata. “Our music is being studied abroad and we are always asked to conduct workshops and master classes when we tour in other countries.” Likewise, trumpeter Keegan Steenkamp gets motivation from seeing his colleagues, as in his MSMF band, search for that stronger sense of direction in sounds and styles. “I see young musicians growing up to be less influenced by international trends and styles, it’s already happening, and the ripple effect has begun. My generation is partly a product of it. That consciousness in these young creatives is what I think will help bring back a bigger audience for South African music.”

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PART II: WHAT TO EXPECT TO HEAR AT MJF!

https://muizenbergjazzfestival.com/part-ii-what-to-expect-to-hear-at-mjf/

There’s another musical mix at this year’s inaugural Muizenberg Jazz Festival: youth showcasing their original compositions; Cape Ghoema; South American Latin; and Xhosa-Langa contemporary jazz!

A highlight on Friday evening is Argentinian Muriel Marco who will charm with her Latin jazz renditions. As a pianist and singer, Marco doesn’t cut corners. She explores how to engage several styles with traditional songs, thereby avoiding a singular sound. Hence, her ND Project – No Directions – means just that, a mix of salsa, Maskandi swing, contemporary improv , all moving that tango or native chacarera forward. Marco doesn’t like to keep things as they are. Her concert will, rather, offer an open, unrestricted spontaneity of expression, essentially with no directions or specific style.

On Saturday evening, as already discussed athttps://muizenbergjazzfestival.com/a-festival-of-contrasts-even-a-small-jazz-festival-can-have-wide-diversity/, American songstress, Yvette Norwood-Tiger, will bellow out the unique styles and scats of the Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, as part of Norwood-Tiger’s world tour honouring this jazz legend.

Besides the excitement of teenage talents on stage, with the Jazz Yard Academy (JYA), already discussed in the same link above, expect some fireworks from the quartet, MSMF, led by trumpeter Keenan Steenkamp.

His well-trained fellow musicians from Mpumulanga, Eastern Cape, and Capetown will play interactive music with a sincerity and pride in their South African cultural heritage. Steenkamp also loves to compose, his songs very much highlighting the beauties of Muizenberg where he grew up and lives. How local is that!? MSMF exemplifies how the young guns coming out of Schools of Music wish to push their kind of jazz towards new boundaries in sound.

The roots-infected swing of Cape Ghoema also brings indigenous jazz styles to this festival. Pianist and composer, Ramon Alexander,pays respect to the jazz tradition of South Africa’s musical forefathers, such as favourites, pianist Ibrahim Khalil Shihab (previously known as Chris Schilder), Abdullah Ibrahim, and a host of others who are late. Alexander is a ‘disciple’ of this sub-genre, known as ‘Cape Jazz’, and will present his own originals along with songs from the above-named, all compiled in an exciting South African standard repertoire.

Following on the voice of South Africa’s contemporary music, both within the traditional and jazz veins, saxophonist McCoy Mburata has been deeply influenced by Xhosa traditional songs, which he grew up with, and fuses their styles and rhythms with contemporary improvisation. Results are electric and stimulating as Mburata and his band present a special Langa Township jive and swing which will elegantly paint a-proudly-South-African hew on this local-is-lekker Jazz Festival.

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Muizenberg Jazz Festival: Part II: What’s Special about the Muizenberg Jazz Festival offerings?

The jazz artists performing at this year’s maiden voyage Muizenberg Jazz Festival (MJF) have performed on prominent South African and international stages, and at the Capetown International Jazz Festival (CTIJF), considered one of the most prestigious international jazz festivals in the world.

Economies of scale run high for these large volume and often congested stages. They usually risk the regular early sell-out of weekend pass tickets before one blinks an eye after ticket sales open for business. Admittedly, large music festivals like the CTIJF, boasting some 35,0000 plus ticket-holders annually, bring welcomed funds to the wider municipality, temporary jobs that curate the festival operations, and, for some listeners, earaches during and after gigs.  For those not listening, there’s still revelry just in the vibe, familiar sounds, and the comradery of finding among the masses likeminded appreciative and exuberant festinos.    MJF invites all to experience the same…plus…..

There’s another way to enjoy the music….in the spirit of festive revelry…

The MJF will take over the accessible Masque Theatre on Muizenberg’s Main Road, known for its historic community centeredness in providing popular theatre to Capetown residents.  Here, in  this relatively ‘small’ space which seats about 165 patrons, an illustrious line up of performances and workshops promise to bring high quality of art to the music lovers.  [See the Programme on the website]

Small jazz/music festivals bring harmony and understanding amongst festinos who otherwise might not be exposed, or have opportunities to learn, about ‘the other’ neighbourhoods in the Cape’s wide cultural diversity.  “Small” means intimate, accessible, participatory, and affordable without having one’s ears blown out from loud amplification.  Festinos can rub shoulders with the crafters and artists, talk about their music, and easily purchase CDs or digital albums at discounted prices.  They can meet the supportive local leaders who attend the various activities, and even offer constructive feedback about their likes/ dislikes in life, politics, community-run initiatives, etc.

Well, why ‘jazz’, and not rock/pop/classical/electro-funk?  Well, guess what?  ‘Jazz’ improvises on all of those genres, pulling them into a harmonic and rhythmic soundscape, with feet-stomping nourishment for the soul.  Driven by worthy local talents to do this, not only in the Cape, but within South Africa and beyond, jazz offerings from local bands crisscross cultural and ethnic boundaries, and make exciting renditions of songs, familiar and unfamiliar.

For the international offerings, Ella Fitzgerald lovers will be enraptured by Norwood-Tiger’s renditions on Saturday night, the 14th.  Tributes to South African musical legends will impress audiences with admirable young talents proudly displayed by the Jazz Yard Academy on Friday, the 13th.

For these reasons, the MJF aims to provide enriching exposure with a sense of intimacy, comradery, and enlightening soundsCapes (a term coined by Cape guitarist Steve Newman) that depict just what our artistic communities are producing right under our noses. Even young and not-so-young will enjoy the Saturday afternoon music workshops offered by three notable musicians in our ‘hoods’.  The hustle and bustle of The Masque Theatre will come alive as the artists showcase high quality music in less competitive and more convivial spaces with audiences that listen and digest.

The Masque Theatre is at 37 Main Road, Muizenberg.

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Muizenberg Jazz Festival is Comin’ to the Suburbs: Part I: The Value of Small Arts/Culture Festivals

For jazz aficionados, and others, Friday/Saturday 13/14 October 2017 lights up Muizenberg’s Masque Theater for the first Jazz Festival in this peninsular community, boasting ten reputable bands, a photo exhibition, and Saturday afternoon mentoring workshops! See www.muizenbergjazzfestival.com for tickets and details.

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One thinks of small arts and music festivals as just fun and friendly and cheap? Well, yes they are, but much more. They infuse understanding and appreciation for the local and visiting talents, crafts and craftiness of a local culture seeking not only to have its voice heard, but to inspire the participating masses in more intimate ways.

What do festival-goers, or festinos, want in their local community-initiated festivals? Festinos need to make decisions about how they wish to attend a festival, first, looking at the time spent on a weekend, choosing this over that, feeling spontaneous (or not) to join events, and looking at what costs might be for little Vuyo’s chocolate ice-cream or Dad’s wish to attend that 8pm jazz gig at the Masque Theatre, or Mom’s urgency to buy that gorgeous embroidered bag which she really doesn’t need. Just planning for that family festive outing can be overwhelming; yet manageable in terms of economies of scale.

Smaller festivals can facilitate so many reactions and outcomes:

 Showcasing the artist’s work up close and personal, particularly those who are less well known but significant movers of a craft or style, and providing display stalls without paying exorbitant rentals for space.

 Interactions and sharing: people from all walks of life can more easily share their experiences, enthusiasms, and learnings with each other through informal eateries, and smaller listening venues that also cater to food craft, wine, and even books. It’s heritage time and communities often talk proudly about their histories, legends, and accomplishments.

 Escape reality: You can escape from life’s pressures and defy routine for a weekend of fun without feeling (too) guilty; sing along to a song being performed; satisfy your inner child yearnings or passion for home-made chocolates and curries, or gluten-free breads. (And risk more easily being seen indulging in these small desires!) Even wear what you want without having to gloss and glitter!

 Give constructive feedback: Often times, there’s instant feedback to performers from audience reactions, if audiences are smaller in number and able to be heard (for instance, mingling with artists after a show; getting signed autographs; sharing impressions with one’s immediate neighbour at a venue, or displaying emotions about a song being performed. Communities can be inspired to plan and plot together for future promotional schemes as well.

 Marketing of local artistic talents through small markets, workshops, hands-on mentoring events, etc. whereby services or products are made available to the curious seeker. In the case of the Muizenberg Jazz Festival, a festival markets historic buildings, such as the 100+ year old Masque Theater, as part of raising awareness of the areas’ socio-cultural heritage.

Importantly, the financial rewards from small festivals to the independent entrepreneurs, artists, and home industries must be noted, too, as visitors devour the sought-after crafts not usually found in their own neighbourhoods. Independent vendors and producers are rarely side-lined amongst the hungry mobs.

So how can the Muizenberg Jazz Festival benefit from it’s offerings on 12-13 October, 2017? See Part II.

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PRIMORDIAL AND POLYRHYTHMIC ‘ANCIENT AGENTS’ is a PERCUSSION DELIGHT

Eclectic, exploratory with Afro-middle eastern medleys, a percussion-lover’s dream come true with udus (oval ceramic pot played with hands), a tabla, a box drum or ‘cajon’ (sat on and beat), a riq (Arab tambourine), the esoteric frame drum, and bells and rattles, this album and live performances are guaranteed to jump-start one’s wistful and primordial body and soul.

Percussionist Ronan Skillen (tabla and didgeridoo) and his cohorts are raising funds for their first ‘Ancient Agents’ album entitled just that. It’s important to get the variety of percussive sounds just right with amplification which made the group’s live performances in Capetown venues quite challenging, yet with profoundly real outputs.

Ancients concert at Nassau 16 September 2017: credit Gregory Franz

As expected, live performances capture the moment’s emotions and musical rhetoric as the musicians suss out each other’s attitudes-as-they-happen. Studio-recorded albums offer something a bit different; yet this album has managed to stay true to the innuendos and subtle rumblings of messages which Skillan’s quartet uses to successfully captivate the listener.

One of the most innovative percussionists from Europe, Fredrik Gille of Sweden, offered instruments not often heard, at least live, in South Africa: he sits on the cajon and taps away; his frame drum has resonances that defy pure, simple notes, conveying sliding note intervals, echoes, and pulled notes similar to the didgeridoo. His frame drum solo is magic to watch:

Fredrik Gille & frame drum

While the guitars carry the tunes, Skillen follows suit with his various small to large items, tapped, banged at times, or just clicked through the air, along with his consistently flawless tabla playing. But that sliding didgeridoo in shining metal does raise eyebrows….”Normally, didgeridoos don’t ‘slide’ as they are made of one long bamboo pipe”, Skillen joked at his recent Nassau concert at Capetown’s Groot Schuur High School’s auditorium.

Ronan Skillen & metal didgeridoo

However, his handmade didgeridoo is made of three metal pipes and a wooden mouthpiece. Simple. Hence the sliding note intervals complementing the slippery resonance and echoes of the frame drum as earlier noted. Pure magic!

This ‘Nassau’ venue is known also as “Jazz at the Nassau”, which offers occasional Sunday evening jazz concerts very popular to an established local crowd of jazz enthusiasts. The Ancient’s performance there reeked of earthy, low frequency, primordial vibrations coming from all the instruments, as though the instruments were deliberately designed for this quartet.

Listening to the Ancient’s recorded album, one is further engaged with their interpretations of ‘world’ sounds. The traditional mixed with the electric contemporary bring alive the magic of sound through breath, sentient percussion, and melodic strings – as physics meets with soul, producing very moving earfuls of sonic wonderment. For instance, a favourite track is bassist Joubert’s Middle Eastern-influenced “Kelefa” displaying a haunting bass solo, then the guitars crescendo into a quiet refrain with Gille’s percussion. The frantic pace begins again with Joubert’s exhausting bass runs, then a humourous play with our ears as harmony and rhythm produce erratic pulsations and expectations. A splendid piece!


Khota’s “Misir Wot” strikes Ethiopian pentatonic sounds with his acoustic guitar and creates wonders in his “Unearth” with Congolese Soukous and danceable rhumba beats. The two Ancients-designed songs, “Clouseau’s Dream” which opens the album, and “Ancient Agents”, highlight the polyrhythmic collaborations amongst the musicians, each contributing their own distinct signature.

The musicians come from diverse experiences – Reza Khota, a fan of alternative guitarist, John McLaughlin, has explored classical and improvisational guitar in a variety of forms, much revealed in his album, Transmutations, released in 2014. Bassist Schalk Joubert, a highly sought-after musician, has also combined South and West African music with Euro-Middle Eastern influences and continues his exploratory arts with well-chosen collaborators far and wide. Ronan Skillen who co-produced the eclectic Ancients’ album has professionally roamed ethnic geographies, including studying Indian classical music with Indian notables, and created his own versions of wind-percussion sounds with the didgeridoo.

Fredrik Gille, a Euro additive to this other-worldly collective soundscapers has experienced Arab Palestinian musical joy , and performed with Algerian, Tunisian, Swiss, and Latin groups. An enthralling expose of Gille’s photographic prowess in the Anna Pavlova Ballet Photography Contest 2017 made him a winner in the “Movement and Passion” category.

Be willing to be aurally transported to parts of the world, maybe not familiar to most, but recognizable, thanks to the continual cross-pollination which these South African and Swedish creatives are giving to their music.

Ancient Agents album was released in September 2017 in South Africa, and can be obtained through the website: www.ancientagents.com

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‘Lunar Jazz’ vibrations with Moon Songstress, Lisa Bauer, and quintet

The Moon Song Project engages vocalist and drummer Lisa Bauer and her favourite musicians in more musical exploration with the full moon, but with a familiar jazzy twist.  Inspired by her connection to the moon cycles, regeneration and the power of vocalisation, Bauer’s upcoming concert (Sat, 9 September) at Kalk Bay’s vibey Olympia Bakery, hosted by Slow Life, will feature her composition Moon Suite, other original compositions, and tunes by some of her favourite, unique American jazz composers and artists.

Her Moon Suite compositions, still in process, and crafted while eyeballing the temperaments of our Full Moon over time, promise to move the audience with ‘lunar jazz’.  Her stellar quintet of Andrew Lilly (keyboards), Mark Fransman (saxophones), electric bassist Max Starcke, and Andre Swartz (drums) will handsomely complement her sassy, soft yet forceful, vocals.

Earlier, her recently released single, A Life That’s Lead, makes a pun of a life journey sometimes heavy, but golden with rich creative outcomes. It also includes the rare combo of Bauer playing drums and singing.  Bauer’s debut 2011 SAMA nominated album, Finding a New Way, is a precursor to her ‘now found’ new ways to sonically nurture our vibrational selves. For that album, she drew inspiration from her musical experiences in New York & San Francisco.

Brought up studying piano, guitar, and violin, Bauer ventured into the drumming world at age 16 through formal training, and then into vocal jazz at the Universities of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch (SUN), particularly with the acapella group, Track Five.

Traditional jazz coupled with motown, funk, neo-soul and New Age characterise the soundscapes which Bauer so eloquently produces, both through her vocals nourished by years of study, mentorships, and practice, as well as through her well-picked band colleagues.   She is currently part of a collaborative art project, video installation and exhibition that investigates the highly contentious issue of fracking in the Karoo region of South Africa.  A jazz educator as well, she teaches drums and vocals in a formal educational institution and with private students.

While Bauer works on the pre-production for her 2nd full length album of moon songs, enjoy being lunar-stung by her performances around town.

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Mozambique/world Drummer Frank Paco’s ‘New Horizons’ offers dictionary corrections to Afro-World music

frank paco at drums

 

Spirit is deep, dark shadows real, and playful day-to-day appreciations of beauty sung – these are required in this eclectic Afro jazz collaboration featuring  Central, Eastern, and Southern African musical stories.

New Horizons FP walking

After his successful “Buyanini” album which pleased as another sonic,  Afro-centric smorgasbord journey,  Frank Paco’s visions grow deeper towards  new horizons, announcing that the world is changing with citizen awareness, hope, and joy amongst current and past dark shadows of  oppression and subjugation.  Let’s be positive – this is what his latest album, New Horizons, is all about, both musically and in its messages.

Frank Paco Art Ensemble New Horizons

FP Art Ensemble is a group of illustrious musicians called together by Paco’s unyielding appetite for the interactive, for inclusion. All have strong influences derived from their roots,  such as Congolese bassist and songbird Sylvain Beloubeta  (adds effective vocals in French as well), Mozambiquan percussionist John Hassan, the enigmatic style of vocalist Zoe Modiga,

02 Zoe Modiga with guitarist Keenan Ahrends

steelpans master Dave Reynolds, key vocalists like Amanda Tiffin, trumpets from Capetownian Darren English (now resident in USA) and Norwegian Hildegunn Oiseth, other guitars from local stalwarts Allou April and Keenan Ahrends, and several keyboardists, including the exciting Congo-Brazzaville pianist Nelson Malela and Capetown-seasoned Blake Hellaby.

Nelson Malela

Sax man Buddy Wells uses mainly a high pitched soprano saxophone, an effective additive to the songs’ emotional presentations.   As Paco says,  “the project seeks to instil a sense of pride in our ancestral heritage, promoting unity in our diverse cultural societies and to bring about awareness of the fact that there is a common thread that links us all, even though we speak different languages, have different cultural practices, but through music we are one.”

Nelson Malela

New Horizons reeks of West African Congolese, Mozambique rhythms,  local Cape jazz sounds, some swinging shoobee-doo-bee-doo put to Afro beats, danceable funk, swing pop characteristics in Paco’s samba beats;  melodic ballads supported by vocalist Zoe Modiga;  all with an obvious passion to spread the samba message in various ways.

Sylvain Beloubeta; photo Rob Piper

Sylvain Beloubeta; photo Rob Piper

The songs are stories about culture and history, presented in various languages of Mozambique (including Portugese), and in French and local languages of the Congos.    “Ancestral Footsteps” reminds us to honour our roots;  a call for peace and love in Mozambique in “Moz Blues”;   be light in spirit and discover life as a sweet melody, as cried out in “New Horizons” and “I Wanna Dance”.  More macabre songs talk about a man squandering his family’s money in “Tshelete” featuring Modiga’s vocals in wifely chastisement, and the unusual reminder about the treatment of slaves in “Madame  Desbassayns”, which carefully avoids lyrics and lets the soprano sax wail its sad message.  In “Grain de Poussiere”, Beloubeta’s forceful vocals suggest one should take life as a grain of sand, again, lightly.   The delightful swing of “That’s How My Song Goes” queries if you cannot change things, smell the roses!  There are those romantic beach songs, too, stylishly presented in “Red Moon Gazing” and the pre-party bounce in “Madrugada”.  It has to be Mozambique’s Indian Ocean beaches!

FP portrait

The awakened listener won’t resist gleefully singing along on a number of tracks, so it’s best that the album be played in the confines of a car where song breakout won’t startle the public or security.  But then again, why not broadcast?  There’s a carnival-esque  bounciness that morfs into danceable and smiley expressions as one self-absorbs into the songs. “Remembering Madiba” does just that as it mimics Mandela’s famous dance steps and rhythms.

Paco dedicates this album to his parents who nourished his talents so diligently. His several brother  siblings count amongst some of Mozambique’s leading musicians as well; this musical family knows well its cultural roots and futures  in pushing African and ‘World music’ forward.  New horizons indeed abound as the rising moon and sun bless the unforgettable musical soundscape that we so enjoy through Paco’s Art Ensemble.

FP at FoyerSessions Masque

See the FP Art Ensemble performs this Sunday, 3 September, at The Masque Theatre, Main Rd, Muizenberg starting 1830 hours. His band includes Peter Ndlala (bass), Buddy Wells(sax), Brathew van Schalkwyk (piano) and the rising star vocalist Adelia Douw.  Also, the Ensemble will perform  at the Masque in mid-October during the Muizenberg Jazz Festival which is a key addition to the annual arts, culture, and food Festival.

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JAZZY VENUES BUSTLE with female bands DURING WOMEN’S DAY WEEK IN CAPETOWN

A bustling, vibey Café Roux came alive on 9 August Women’s Day, as did the rest of that small side street in central Capetown. People who were unable to buy tickets to the sold-out concert featuring songbird Ernestine Deane and her all-female band were happy enough to jive their evening away listening outside. It was like festive summer’s eve in a little Italian village where Capetown’s (still) cobbled streets merged with the modern sounds of contemporary and original songs of a jazz calibre special to this city. Only it was a cold mid-winter’s night.

Ernestine Deane; photo by Gregory Franz

Ernestine Deane; photo by Gregory Franz

A ‘returnee’ Capetownian, Deane kicked off in style the Café’s Women’s Day celebrations after a hiatus away from the public music scene for a while, as she readjusted to her hometown after years away in Europe raising her family. She is known for her hip hop funky styles with Moodphase5ive in yester years, plus her 2007 album “Dub 4 Mama”. Her eloquent voice holds its own, while her satirical lyrics tell her story, often pinpointing the crass and ironic twists in life, to find that special bird in one’s ear chanting hope. Café Roux became almost raucous as the audience joined in with the tweeting ‘diridee’ bird sounds set off from the stage.

Deane, Terryl Bell drums; Carly Nauta violin; photo by Olga Callige

Deane, Terryl Bell drums; Carly Nauta violin; photo by Olga Callige

Women in the audience, particularly, participated in this ritual, seemingly already initiated into what Deane was joyfully, and sometimes comically, conveying. She warrants a separate interview with this writer about her music and message for the future. Her colourful band featured some surprisingly mature young players, such as Tiana Marwanqana on bass, 19 year-old pianist, Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane who is fast making her mark on the local scene, and drummer Terryl Bell. The violin of Carly Nauta added zest to Deane’s often bluesy, sultry, and whimsical vocals.

Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane; photo by Nikki Froneman

Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane; photo by Nikki Froneman

Tiana Marwanqana ; photo by Olga Callige

Tiana Marwanqana ; photo by Olga Callige

A bit about the Café….. Located at 74 Shortmarket Street between the popular Streets of Long and Loop in central Capetown, this restaurant opens at 4pm each day to cater to the after-work/after-hours chatty and hungry crowds of workers… who also stay on for the daily evening dose of live music. Originally established in the cozy peninsular Village Market of Noordhoek, Roux owners decided it was time to also establish in the big bad city for the urban fundis. Its menu is simple, offering light to gourmet-ish pizzas and inviting salads, and homemade pasta, along with a bar. This ‘sexy little sister’ branch (so called from their website) is run by the owner’s cousin, Vanessa Bisschop-Louw, and her husband Michael. Check them out at www.caferouxsessions.co.za; cell 061 339 4438; email: Vanessa@caferoux.co.za or Michael@caferoux.co.za. Its ‘Music Sessions’ are nightly, a mix of live performances to fit everyone’s particular taste in music, sometimes combined with standup comedy, or even dance. The venue is sure to please, as would Deane and her merry band wherever they may perform.

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The Women’s Day week ended with another enthusiastic mostly-female band calling themselves the “Language of Being” headed up by drummer, Terryl Bell, who composes for the group.

Terryl Bell

     Terryl Bell

Language of Being group
Last Sunday, they warmed the hearts of Kwa Sec Jazz in the Native Yards crowd in Gugulethu with South African Standards from local legends, now late, like sax men Winston Mankunku and Ezra Ngcukana. Because of the cold wind blowing outside, Kwa Sec lit up inside with a wood fire as patrons pulled their chairs in, chatted with strangers, and sipped their wine to this youthful band.

At Kwa Sec Gugulethu; photo by Mncedisi Siza

At Kwa Sec Gugulethu; photo by Mncedisi Siza

‘Language’ presented trombonist and sister, Kelly Bell, two sax ladies Claire de Kock and Georgia Jones, bassist Grant van Rooyen, and a star of the show, 19 year old pianist Nobuhle Mazinyane, who also performed with Ernestine Deane previously.

Claire de Kock

Claire de Kock

It was not surprising that the local crowd kicked in their dancing shoes to songs which emanated from Capetown’s townships, another respecting gesture of our young musicians honouring the elder legends who have left us so much. This writer made two new friends at Kwa Sec, known for its continual hospitable outreach to all who embrace the music of the Native Yards. Native Yards offers live performances about 2-3 times a month at various local venues.

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Marc Hendricks handles relational complexities with sonic lyrics and emotion: a CD Review of ‘Upright Citizen’

Sonorous melodies belie the hurt which underpin lyrics about love’s complexities – this sums up the remarkably ambitious debut solo album by  Capetownian singer/composer Marc Hendricks, his fourth album to date. Upright Citizen features a wealth of compositions written in past decades, whilst songwriter Hendricks pursued his other passion with medicine, as a paediatric oncologist.

CD Cover

Early 2000s saw the young/er Hendricks head back to his family ‘upright’ piano, hence the title of his album, to revise and reinterpret buried songs and to compose new ones, like “Like a Girl” which kicks off this album. In those past years, Hendricks wrote songs for other singers, like Judith Sephuma. But one single, Satisfy”, earned a SAMA nomination in the ‘Best Pop-Rock category in 2001.Fortunately, his mother kept her promise to her young children: they would grow up learning to play music on their dark wood, Ibach upright piano, expensively bought with meagre funds at that time. Mother, father and sisters all sang at home, and it was this musical DNA which stimulated Hendrick’s song writing during the maturing years.

Marc-206

The Motown rhythm ‘n blues jive of the ‘70s infused his youthful musical bent with those sounds fashionable to that hip era. His compositions have retained some of this influence in a delightfully contemporary way, while pointedly remarking about those age-old relational complexities – of trying to make sense of what love means.

Musical temperaments range from soft ballads to pop/rock, smooth jazz, and blues, all very listenable thanks to the dynamic talents of fifteen Capetown-based artists on the album. The Motown-esque ‘Do What You Say’, composed by fellow song arranger and album producer, Amanda Tiffin; the afropop ‘Never Forget’; smooth jazz in “I Fell Down”; a classical feel between viola and cello in “So It Goes”. This album is definitely NOT background music, or light music for dining. It’s for the listening heart. Each song tells a moving story with which we all can identify. The storybook unfolds with pianist and vocalist Amanda Tiffin who organized other musicians: Kevin Gibson’s drums; Dan Shout’s sax; a violin, viola, cello; William Haubrich’s trombone; a trumpet; Bridget Rennie-Salonen’s flute, and other backing vocalists. The orchestral tones nicely balance other ballad or pop arrangements, depending on the song’s message.

The stories are not just about the tired love woes scenarios. Hendricks’ lyrics convey meaning to the deep and often traumatic, emotional messages about relational manipulations and resolve, all amongst the burning reality that hurt does hurt. Then there’s always the hopeful ‘maybe’… Without giving out spoilers….here are some excerpts:

• “ Everytime you take me, I’m so afraid you’ll break me…. When you close the door, how will I know you’re really gone….. Will you be behind that door, and will I know you’re gone for sure, but maybe you’ll come back… I’d sell my soul for that….” (Someone Leaves The Room)

• “Beautiful broken complexity, honest and spoken, take what you see. Reckless devotion…… “
(Beautiful Broken) This is a beautiful soft ballad featuring Dan Shout’s sax wailing out the message.

• “so complicated…. we fed on the feelings when all of my reasons seemed wrong…. Your wisdom is wasted…. heavy with words….we trade our excuses, and blame has been shifted. Can we go back to the page…. where we burned…. Have we burned?” (Burned) Kristiyan opens with a haunting cello solo, maybe warning of things to come?
• ‘…do what you say, just don’t stay, don’t call on me. I’m done with you……I’m ready for anything… (Do What You Say) Self-explanatory with some wonderful sax runs agreeing.

• “Do you remember the moments you know…..take me back….hold me close…so it goes.” (So It Goes) This includes a very moving viola and cello duo which convey memories, sadness…..

Marc-421

Hendrich’s vocal capacity and temperament has to keep up with the pervasive emoting lyrics which he tries to present, admirably. Yet, the engaging, incidentally dismissive and often contorted and angry storytelling narratives will dominate over any vocal prowess. May the listener decide.

In real life, Marc Hendricks is a paediatric oncologist with Capetown’s renowned Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Importantly, his young patients benefit from his sonic therapies and fund raising concerts.

This CD was produced by Amanda Tiffin who also provided string, brass, and vocal arrangements.
See Hendricks’s upcoming concerts on his facebook and website pages.

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Slow Life featuring lyricist songster Marc Hendricks shakes up Olympia Bakery on Sunday nights

Slow Life logo

If you’re looking for live music of quality on an early Sunday eve, and a very eatable lamb burger downed with your favourite glass of bubbly whatever, Kalk Bay’s vibey hole in the wall Olympia Bakery gives space for about 50 people who end up pretty much knowing each other by the end of the two to three hour event. A small but adequate bar greets one coming off a side street where the chatty crowd spills out during the music break. This robust comradery, even among strangers, punctuates the sunset skies of this quaint Cape Peninsular village which overlooks fishing boats and fishy restaurants, antique shops, and outdoor markets.

Olympia Bakery frontage

Lively chats dim inside the dark entertainment hall as the featured artists take to the dimly lit stage. Singer and lyricist Marc Hendricks leaves his professional oncology duties behind to lead his exceptionally talented band through a range of very moving compositions off his debut solo album, ‘Upright Citizen’.

CD Cover

He’s been writing for over two decades now, supported by highly skilled fellow musicians in the jazz and classical genre. This Sunday gig saw him backed by fellow collaborator and album producer, vocalist/pianist Amanda Tiffin, drummer Frank Paco, bassist Shaun Yohannes, and guitarist Dave Ledbetter. This superb band deserves the best sound projection which still remains an issue in the small venue. It’s when Hendricks takes over the mic and can subdue the band with soft ballads that one hears his emotion-packed lyrics, stunning not so much in their delivery as in their messages.

This live gig kicked off with a ballad, followed by ‘Never Forget’ written for his father, followed by a reworked soft ballad ‘Beautiful Broken’ which speaks about the complexities of relationships, of being lost and found. As the evening progressed, Hendrick’s sometimes high falsetto voice tells one melodic story after another about events in his life. The venue’s sound system seems to get better. One hears different emotions: remembering a trip to Canada with his sister in “So It Goes”; a writing project with friends from France and England in “Running Away”; other love inadequacies in “Someone Leaves the Room”; then “Tear Drops” about his awful year of 2013.

When the break comes, one is already absorbed in this singer’s memoir of love woes. But are these woes his or mine, actually? I need some soothing. Where’s that small lamb burger?

As the second set concluded, I could only feel that this singer’s life had hit rocks, lows, and middle highs. If one listens to his CD, answers come that explain the perturbing, mellow, quizzical, and divulging messages in the lyrics. Ultimately, one tastes the truth, a common thread throughout this musical storybook, about betrayal, connections, and what makes for joyful resolutions. For this, the CD warrants a separate review by this writer on All Jazz Radio’s blog.

Slow Life, a creative music promotion initiative of Paul Kahanovitz, offers such engaging and poignant live performances using other venues around Capetown. But there’s a special vibe at the Bakery, a community spirit that holds its own, which can easily suck the unsuspecting into its creative space.

Olympia Bakery plates of food
Check the Facebook page for upcoming events which promise purely authentic South African entertainment.

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Errol Dyers: Your Music made even dogs dance!

Dear Errol,

Your transition to the loving world of spirit has left many of us gabbing and cackling about how to keep Cape jazz alive and appreciated, as you so eloquently tried to do.  Maybe you have not liked such terms as ‘giving tribute’ or ‘legacy’, attributed to you and your ilk, but applause and celebrations for your contributions to South African and specifically, Cape music, will continue.

ErrolDyersb

We’ve heard many ideas and suggestions flowing during mad chats after your passing about how South Africa must retain and honour its artistry for generations to come.  A common theme seems to run throughout:  preservation of one’s music through written charts, and archiving  written and digital materials for public access.  Your close musical friend, Hilton Schilder,  said in an interview:  “My father was a prolific composer, but I don’t have any charts or anything written down.”  Others have commented:  There needs to be financial assistance arrangements for  musicians while they’re living for emergencies,  illnesses, and the like;  South African and Cape jazz needs more airtime on the radio and general media  in order to counter the ‘dumbing down’ on youth ears of the  increasing American–and–other playlists congesting soundwaves through cellphones and other digital media. “The little ones get clouded by a certain mode of thinking, that it’s cool to jive to American music”, Schilder continues.  What’s needed is faithful observation, social responsibility, and interaction in both accessing local music, and generating appreciation for it.  Musicians must submit their performance sheets and materials to SAMRO in order to be paid for their contributions, cries singer/guitarist Tina Schouw, during a recent music memorial evening. We must be more pro-active!

Dear Errol.  You knew all this, and advocated for it.  But…are the journalists and responsible social media having their say? Fewer, if any now, newspapers and magazines are carrying articles or pages on the local legacies.  All Jazz Radio suggests, along with many others, that a collective blog is needed as a platform for informing, debating, and archiving about our Cape jazz legacies.   Arts journalism has now morphed into ‘celebrity’ journalism, as very well pined by journalist, Ryland Fisher:  “We need good quality and thoughtful journalism at all levels and in all media forms to which people can contribute.  In social media, it’s about numbers. But blogs can be updated as more like-minded people contribute.  There’s value in community strength.”   The same has been echoed  throughout the years by jazz journalist, Gwen Ansell, in her wordpress blog.  Lack of acknowledgments to local artistry IS a worrying trend. A few community radio stations, like Bush Radio and Fine Music Radio, based in Capetown, and a scattered few in other parts of the country, do sponsor worthy programs that offer local and international jazz.  But that vast majority of terrestrial stations subsidized with profits choose the obvious – the marketing of income-generating brands of artistry, regardless of quality or intention.

You were adamant about the importance of musicians choosing record labels that were truthful to the cause of artistic mastery and cultural expression.  And schools of music – all must offer a healthy balance that favours , and flavours, local heritage – Cape music – South African Standards  –  over the aping of American music, no matter how good.  Stories! You cried.  It’s about hearing those indigenous stories, and learning from them!

Dear Errol.  We know that even a dog danced at your Muizenberg concert – ‘Sugar’  shaked with your Cape ghoema jazz, and spread the word, as featured in your first album, ‘Sonesta’. What musical memories you have left to us today will stimulate more dancing and celebrations to make your legacy remembered, revered, and pushing artistry forward in these new times.

With love and great respect,

All Jazz Radio team of presenters and fans

30 July 2017

Sonesta -web

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Parlato and Washington: TWO AMERICAN JAZZ ARTISTS FROM DIFFERENT ILKS…..

Post-CTIJF 2017 Notes from the Underground #1

Kamasi Washington; courtesy John Lamparski

Kamasi Washington; courtesy John Lamparski

They grew up in the same city of Los Angeles.  They both studied ethnomusicology at the University of Los Angeles. Both come from musical and artistic families who supported their artistic growth. The common thread of rhythm, sensitivity, and intelligence punctuates their exceptionally unique sounds. Yet, their styles of improvisation are as different as their own ethnic backgrounds and communities.

Gretchen Parlato at CTIJF 2017Parlato 1-1

Songbird Gretchen Parlato’s quiet, whimsical and careful emoting style  vs  saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s protesting, raw but enlightening sonic outbursts in his choral, orchestral, and improvised music on the large Kippie’s stage of the Festival, she on the listening stage of Rosies.

Gretchen Parlato

Parlato hisses, clicks, and hushes into her microphone while clapping gentle beats with her hands, supported by husband, Mark Guiliana’s off-beat clickety clacks on basic drums.    Born into a richly musical family in Los Angeles, CA, Parlato has cultivated musical dimensions from multiple sources who have lavished praise on her, like American jazz musician of note, Wayne Shorter:  “There’s simply no one out there like Gretchen Parlato.”

Gretchen Parlato band at CTIJF 2017

Gretchen Parlato band at CTIJF 2017

Her performance on the Rosies Stage at the Capetown International Jazz Festival 2017 brought sighs and awe to a highly charged crowd which gave her a standing ovation after her riveting and rhythmically enduring concert. We floated home after her last ballad, a catchy ditty that rang in the head for days.

In her Masterclass, offered a day before her performance, Parlato stressed the three levels of analysis she uses to characterise and deliver a song:  On a more basic level is the emotional, with the tools to feel and indulge the impulses, messages, and tones of a song. “Examine what the lyricist or song writer is trying to convey in the music and what emotions affect the listener or deliverer of the song.” At the middle level is the technical, how a song is constructed, what techniques are used to deliver the song. “Ask yourself: what process did the writer go through to write the song.” At a higher level is the spiritual, how the song connects with others, and what higher thoughts or consciousness are realised because of the song’s delivery and message.  She had started her Masterclass with a 10-minute unspoken meditation to introduce the audience to her process of creating. That mellowed all.

In chatting with Parlato, she explains her stylistic technique with humble recommendations:

I asked: what did she want to convey in her songs, whether written by her or by others?   “Every song I perform is an extension of my personal connection.  There should always be some work with a song about ‘the story’, but also a personal injection, about what is genuine and honest for me.”

She has sung on some 70 albums and produced four of her own. And what is genuine and right for her now?  “Every album is a portrait of what’s happening in my life.  The last album “live in NYC” contains love songs that question our life, the meaning of life, our existence, why we’re here.   I wrote these songs with what was for me a twist of irony and sarcasm, but someone else might interpret them differently.  I think that’s good – to allow the listener to have their own interpretation.  A song I sang five years ago, if sung now, would come from a different place in my life experience, and be expressed that way.”

Parlato 4

I found Parlato exudes a strong confidence with herself.  “It comes from being honest and true to myself.”  We discussed what suggestions she could give to those female singers coming from marginalized backgrounds, for instance the Black South Africans musicians, in how to project themselves with honesty and confidence?

“Everyone has pain and pleasure in their life, at different degrees and intensities. One should do soul-searching to find out who they are, their background and history, and find out what their talents or gifts are. Find out what their learned behaviour is, does it come from their parents, or from some event that happened that caused a change? Then try to write about it, in poetry or words. I recommend journaling.   I journal so that I can record that stream of consciousness that flows…….It just might turn into a song, or just bring out some truthful thinking about oneself.  This is about getting comfortable with yourself, and your agency.  Everyone has something to share, whether it is sorrow, or tragedy, or something uplifting. This is when confidence comes, when you see that truth, and you’re willing to share it.  Then your song becomes helpful and therapeutic to others who hear it.”

Parlato’s music is very polyrhythmic, so she explained where that comes from. “Yes, my high school, Los Angeles School for the Arts, exposed me to the different arts, with a West African drum teacher, teachers from the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department where I studied later, with Javanese ensembles, and many other groups. Then, at UCLA, I pursued the cultures and rhythms through music and dance.”

Kamasi Washington

On the other large Kippies Stage, saxophonist Kamasi Washington exploded with his 10-piece band, including his own brother, Rickey, on a delightful flute.

Kamasi Washington at CTIJF 2017  Kamasi Washington at CTIJF2017

Washington’s three-album The Epic (Brainfeeder label) stirred up critics’ charts and listeners in 2015, and contains his own compositions in collaboration with a variety of artists ranging from choral to hip hop to orchestral to electronic grooves.  Indeed, an epic fusion.

The Epic album cover

The Epic album cover

As we chatted, he explained his epic three-disc album : “ I wanted the album to speak my own mind for a change.  I had always been playing other people’s music.  I wanted something that was completely me, to put it all out there at once. There were some consultations about the songs with masterful musicians, but because the musicians were close friends, I could run with it freely.”  Thundercat, the electric bassist, is one of Washington’s top five musicians he applauds, as he led his Masterclass listeners to understand what influenced him to ‘break away’ from other mainstream jazz and make his own fusions with a variety of hip hop, R&B, and choral genres.

Washington humbly presented his wish to know South African musicians better, citing Hugh Masekela as a big influence on his early musical years.  “My father used to play Hugh’s records over and over, and I grew to really dig him.  This opened my ears also to other Africans, like Fela.”

Kamasi Washington Masterclass at CTIJF 2017

Kamasi Washington Masterclass at CTIJF 2017

As an African-American, Washington confirmed a desire to spend more time with Africans (aka indigenous or ‘black’) on this continent because he felt a connection. “I listened to the kids outside this hotel playing drums and dancing.  My African-American culture comes from here – it is African culture.  I feel a connection.  My dual connection is to Africa and to my own community – I think about troubles here in Africa as being similar to ours at home.” He says he learned a lot from the Academy of Music of Alexander High School in Beverlywood, Los Angeles, “but it’s in my home area of Watts (which experienced serious riots during the 1960s civil rights marches) where I hear the rhythms, language, tones, and emotions from my people, and where I feel free to express myself”.

Kamasi Washington being interviewed 2 April 2017

Kamasi Washington being interviewed 2 April 2017

What messages, i.e. political, is he trying to convey, if any, in his music?  “I guess music and politics are intertwined.  I don’t force the music either way, just infuse it with my views on society. I don’t see myself as a politician, but I have strong views on how the state of things should be or currently is. I don’t present anything directly political, but try to infuse my thoughts and sensitivities into a song.”

And how does he see jazz education in American black communities, mentioning how ‘decolonizing’ of curriculum is now an important issue in South African arts, in the curriculum, and in learning processes?  “We call it ‘institutionalizing’ which has caused lots of problems with the arts, with equality issues. Schools in urban African-American communities don’t have music programs at all.  And where music is taught in the other schools, African-American music isn’t necessarily taught. That’s why I’ve stayed close to my cultural community of Watts. Our other issue in schools is to obtain instruments, just to be able to have classes.  African-Americans grow up with music in churches where there’s some instruments, but our schools don’t have the instruments for teaching and learning.”

The CTIJF 2017 event was all the richer because of these two incredibly innovative artists and their bands.

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