Carol’s Musings

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

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….

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

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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The unique Blue Note at Sea Jazz Cruise haunts the Caribbean

From 4 -11 February 2017, this maiden voyage of the ‘Blue Note at Sea’ out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was the third back-to-back jazz cruise for some 6000 like-minded passengers organized by Entertainment Cruise Productions (ECP), a slick and well-experienced company having run over 60 full ship programs all over the world for decades. Named after the sponsoring jazz record label, the Blue Note cruise was hosted by the Blue Note Records President, Don Was, and program-managed by the very personable bassist, Marcus Miller, with interviews conducted by the fusion saxophonist extraordinaire, David Sanborn.

On stage: Dave Sanborn, Wycliff Gordon, Marcus Miller

On stage: Dave Sanborn, Wycliff Gordon, Marcus Miller

Don Was interviewing Gregory Porter

Don Was interviewing Gregory Porter

 

Marcus Miller interviewing Diane Reeves

Marcus Miller interviewing Diane Reeves

Obviously, the artists featured on this cruise were all Blue Note labelled who could easily promote the brand. They were not only dons in their own jazz genre over the ages (aka decades) in American jazz circles, but were buddies, having mixed and matched their talents with various band configurations that promoted their own individual creativity over time, domestically as well as internationally. The offerings for 7 nights constituted one long well delivered type of ‘jam session’ starting from 5pm each day and lasting until well after 1am, as performers moved from one stage to another, remarkably (by the organizers) with very little overlap in schedules. Most bands borrowed each other’s artists, almost incestuously. And most performers could stay on the ship during the whole cruise with the exception of one or two. The only ‘oh-shucks’ moment came when four artists had to leave the ship early in order to travel to the Los Angeles-based Grammy Awards ceremony where their nominations translated into awards. These were, not surprisingly, multi-Grammy award recipients: Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, pianist Robert Glasper (USA), singer Gregory Porter(USA), and singer Lalah Hathaway.

Lalah Hathaway

Lalah Hathaway

Chucho Valdez on stage

Chucho Valdez on stage

A major import to this USA-based cruise was the exciting London-based Ronnie Scotts’ House Band which featured the thrilling singer, Natalie Williams, who unashamedly took late-nighters through energetic jam sessions in the appropriately named ‘Revelations’ Lounge. They also kicked off the music at day 1 disembarkation at the pool side,

Natalie Williams at poolside

Natalie Williams at poolside

What swelled for the following days and evenings were not the seawaves, but the swing, the cool sounds of jazz all over the ship. Another ‘house’ band which entertained, but incurred unfortunate time conflicts, was the Celebrity X Summit House Band led by South African-born, New Zealand- resident, Andrea Lisa who sang as well as played guitar. They offered youthful bursts of improvisations, a bit of rock and pop, and danceable songs that pleased the seasoned crowd.

Rubbing shoulders with the artists before and after their gigs, and taking selfies with these celebrities was permitted, but not interviews, at least formal ones. This is America’s music industry – one must work through the musicians’ agents. Nevertheless, Marcus Miller was easy to find wandering the ship

Program Manager Marcus Miller

Program Manager Marcus Miller

 

and availing his friendly self to passing chats with passengers, as were other artists when their time and energies permitted. Most, however, remained a bit hidden from the masses, and for due reason, many preparing for their daily gigs.

Energy is key on an event-filled cruise like this. Sleeping ‘late’ might mean missing a morning shore excursion in San Juan, or opportunity to just walk around on the sands of Haiti’s Labadee island (exclusive only to cruise ships) and enjoy the sea breezes. One might forsake those hefty lunches or dinners in order to slip away for a power nap (on the beach or cabin bed) that recharges for the evening rackets.

Most cruises offer choices of activities, but for the music lover, the jazz never stopped.

The Horns talk to us

The Horns talk to us

Marcus Miller, Dave Sanborn, and Don Was held interviews with featured musicians which took the listener to realms of the artist’s creativity not well known or previously broadcast.

The youngest on board, 23-year old saxophonist, Grace Kelly, held her own amongst these legends with grand poise.

Besides individual interviews, instrumental groups had their say, my favourite being the drummer group made up of the indomitable Greg Hutchinson, Miller’s drummer, Greg Bailey, The Bad Plus’s energetic drummer, Dave King, and the awesome Billy Kilson.

The drummers talk to us

The drummers talk to us

Sanborn’s conversational style steered the chats well, inserting his own multi-layered experiences playing with the various musicians. Bountiful stories emerged, adding dimensions of wit and depths of learning about what jazz and improvisation in the music industry is all about.

Day 1 set the pace with a blue-skyed Saturday, Feb 4, as the 2100 passenger Celebrity Summit left the Fort Lauderdale port to slowly steam eastward first to the Bahamas, then on to Puerto Rico. I didn’t have time to gape out of my ocean view cabin as there were other things to do, like listen to live jazz! As I got into the elevator, I tripped over Gregory Porter’s little boy wallowing on the elevator flour and heard Porter’s sonorous voice announce to fellow passengers how ‘this naughty boy’ is giving him a hard time!

Gregory Porter by poolside

Gregory Porter by poolside

Porter excused himself as he and child exited the elevator and wished us all good times! Later, I reminded Gregory how we met at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival a few years back, something he well remembered. What I recall back then, as I sat at his rehearsal led by conductor and trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, was the band waiting some 45 min for Porter to arrive! Apparently his manager was not informed of the exact time of this important rehearsal for that evening’s performance!! Oh well….. Noone would have known!

During disembarkation at 4pm sharp, the poolside was bustling as the Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars kicked off the 7 day festival. Boy, did that set the pace! I took some videos of that fun bash, took free celebratory drinks on hand, then popped down to the Rendezvous lounge for Joshua Redman and his group – it was his drummer Greg Hutchinson that blew me away.

Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman

He later played with the Peter Martin’s trio. At that point, after this energetic set, I didn’t care where I was going…..I was just going with that jazz flow!! The Greek-born, Ecuador-resident Captain Alex told us where we were going in his comical and zesty way. He was clearly into the vibe as well. Robert Glasper’s trio came on next at the main Celebrity Theater stage at 9pm.

Robert Glasper on stage

Robert Glasper on stage

Thanks to Glasper’s usual comic wit and not too subtle digs at his own fame and fortune, we enjoyed his self-toasting and, at times, roasting. This evening kick-off was just the beginning of evening sessions happening throughout the week which witnessed artists whimsically indulging in comical presentation about their often erratic mis-notes and fancy feelings about their own artistry, all in the name of entertainment. And it was.

 

Wycliff Gordon with Marcus Miller on stage

Wycliff Gordon with Marcus Miller on stage

Drummer Dave King with The Bad Plus on stage

Drummer Dave King with The Bad Plus on stage

Around 10.30pm, I wonder up to the 11th floor’s Revelations Lounge which becomes the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club at sea, a small intimate venue for good listening and interactions. The Cuban trio of Harold Lopez-Nussa were performing, his brother on drums and a younger up and coming double bassist blowing me away. Boy, was this place humming with its blue ceiling lighting and purple hues that matched my jersey. Yeah, it was air conditioned and ‘chilly’, maybe around 20 degrees C, in spite of the warm(er) air outside. The cocktail booklet greeted my table with $10 drinks. Lopez’s melodic piano and his percussionist sitting on his box drum pounding away with a soft salsa was a welcomed change from Glasper’s philosophic and intense solo piano. By 11pm I was already on overload – but bassist Marcus Miller and Grammy-award singer, Lalah Hathaway, were just starting on the large theatre stage!

Lalah Hathaway on stage

Lalah Hathaway on stage with saxophonist Alex Han

What would the rest of the week be like, I pondered nervously, wondering if my age and beauty could keep up with it all!! It was a very sound sleep that followed after midnight. I was reaching the beginnings of my musical nirvana….

See more photos at: www.bluenoteatsea.com/gallery-2017

Sunset clouds

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Pianist Kyle Shepherd’s sonic scaffolding continues to enthrall: an Interview.

Grounding a song with left hand pounding out the steady chords, while the right fingers tickled lines, chords, and pearly runs up and down the heavily microphoned piano, the listener was carried through soundscapes of the Kyle Shepherd Trio’s vast repertoire once again.

Kyle Shepherd

                        Kyle Shepherd

On 25 February, Shepherd trio fans experienced another jolt as this 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year pianist, Kyle Shepherd, and his very loyal double bassist Shane Cooper and drummer Jonno Sweetman raised the Reeler Theater roof again at Capetown’s Rondebosh Boy’s High School.  Coopers’ intense plucks and plunks dialoguing with Sweetman’s clackety, forceful drums exploded into crescendos of delight as the trio maneuvered through old and new Shepherd compositions.

You could tell, see, hear, and feel these peers listening intently to each other. They had to; and have done so for the past 9 years.  That’s the make-up of these three masters of their craft as they collaborate, offering their individual sounds. Shepherd’s newer compositions crafted a lot of behind-the-beat, and in-front-of-the-beat, and delayed, punctuated beats on several songs, playing around with off beats that are becoming common in his forward-looking musical journey.

Kyle Shepherd trio in Japan, May  2016

Kyle Shepherd trio at Straight No Chaser; credit: Gregory Franz

The 94-minute session was only interrupted when the pianist looked into the audience, and apologized for the lights still being on.   They were quickly dimmed.  The thirsty pianist also had to ask for water which might have embarrassed the stage organizers somewhat.  But maybe not.

Shane Cooper at Reeler 25 Feb 2017; credit: Gregory Franz

Shane Cooper at Reeler 25 Feb 2017; credit: Gregory Franz

What Shepherd did not tell the audience, even amidst the cameras and sound recording equipment strewn across the stage, was that this concert was the second and final recital required for completing his Masters degree!  It would be submitted digitally as a video presentation.  But even if the audience knew this, I have no doubts that their applause, standing ovations, whistles and cat calls of appreciation would have been less intense,  for this concert was very special, indeed, a culmination of a decade’s worth of hard work, commitment, and growth in developing talents.

Kyle 1

I caught up with Kyle before his concert:

CM:  We live in a strange world where artistry is being stressed out. Some artists are more political than others.  Listeners don’t want to hear about politics either, preferring to listen to music to relax. Yet some artists are message-givers, like Gregory Porter, who writes his own lyrics.  What’s your message now?

KS:  In the beginning of my career, I focused on my ethnic and traditional background.  After the first 3 albums of this, I felt I had to move on towards more global sounds and transcending borders more.  I think borders are human fabrications. I discovered this after traveling for 10 years and meeting people from so many different places around the world, only to see how common we all are.  So the music I’m writing now reflects these realizations I’ve gleaned over the years.  I don’t feel the strong pull to create cultural music of the past.

CM:  Are you saying that perhaps your music is moving into, what some would say, is an ‘intellectual’ mode?

KS:  I think a little bit.  It had to happen a little bit. But it’s not purely intellectual.  I had to start combining other elements.   Now, the sound is more expansive, but in a concert setting I can go in between these two worlds, and can play just Cape cultural music for 30 or 40 minutes if I feel like it. Or, if I play with Xhosa or Zulu musicians, I feel very comfortable with their type of sound….playing Mbaqanga for 90 minutes or more.  Now, with my trio, we have metric challenges in the compositions, but for me, it’s what music I’m feeling in my heart that counts.

CM:  You’re starting to touch on style, and I was wondering how or if your band members are influencing you.  How do you collaborate?

KS:  We’ve been together for 9 years.  In the beginning, for the first 3 years, I had a singular vision on the sound I wanted to create.  I was studying all these cultural influences from South Africa, like what Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana and Winston Mankunku were doing, and I wanted to combine these with my jazz style.   And then, I hit a ceiling – from lack of inspiration, and that necessitates a whole different type of research.  I started this research with my band members because Shane and Jonno came from a totally different cultural and economic background to mine.  So the type of music they were talking about on our planes and buses wasn’t the type of music I grew up with.   I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment, thankfully!  I realized that if I want to expand my scope, I can start with the people they were talking about…. Mostly rock musicians.  Rock wasn’t a sound I knew at all in my upbringing.  My Cape flats life – we listened to R&B, soul, smooth jazz – stuff like that.  Then I started listening to RadioHead smashing funk and rock, and loved the energy and found the spirit quite akin to what we as a trio do in jazz…..sometimes frantic, sometimes crazy, really energetic.  So that’s what we do but sonically on a much smaller scale!  So Shane and Jonno influenced me in that way.  I felt like writing music for all of us and keeping everyone’s musical personality in mind.  The emotional investment in the sound becomes like their own stuff. I found we are all connected on a much higher level as I wrote for them.

CM:  I notice that you seem to prefer the acoustic piano, yet have played the electric piano with other groups, like on Claude Cozen’s “Jubilee Jam” album.  Is that so?

KS:  I have no aversion to the electronic instruments at all –  I have a few keyboards at home.  I use the electronic more with the film and documentaries I’ve written for because I love the analog synthesizers.  If I could afford it, I’d have a room full of Moogs.  I love sounds and the analog ones.

This sound is coming back into contemporary music , like Radio Head, and the Little Dragon. They’re all using analogs now and  I love synthesizers.

But when I think of the trio,  I think acoustic, since we’re all playing acoustic. If others are playing electronic bass, for instance, I can play electric piano.  But it comes down to the sound you want to create with the individual band members.

CM:  Sometimes you put things on the piano strings – like cardboard or paper  –  to get a specific sound effect, which may alter the traditional acoustic sound…. But you convey a message.

KS:  Yeah, I like doing that.  It’s almost like using the analog synthesis without the wires.  As you know, I play a lot of other instruments. But I find that sonically, the piano is very one-dimensional. You plonk a note and it stays as that note.  With a bass or saxophone, you can bend notes.  So I like to create other textures using what we call ‘prepared piano’ which means putting things on the strings to get sound effects.

CM:  Cultivating the traditional instrumental jazz idiom, however it’s done, is a lifelong mission.  But you are now delving into the world of film scoring.  Is this because there are more opportunities in this genre, particularly here where there is a growing film industry in South Africa, or is it something you like?

KS:  On a practical level,  I had to make a decision.  Here in Capetown now, there are no more jazz venues to play at, whereas for years I had gigs 4-5 times a week with no problem.  I could pay the bills and perform.  Now, the film opportunity came.  I love film, my wife’s a film buff, and her father is a film director.  So we take note of the cinematography and the score – we’ve always done that.  And there’s composition in film.  It’s not just compiling pre-recorded music for film; it’s actually intense composition.   At first, I wasn’t sure it was for me, but when I got to the end of my first film scoring which was for Noem My Skollie, I felt that this was something I can do, that I would like to do.

CM:  Your songs were featured in other films, like Action Kommandant, about Ashley Kriel….

KS:  Yeah, those were already pre-recorded.  But for Noem, the songs were originally composed for the film.  Again, I loved the idea of Noem My Skollie because the sound you can operate in is so expansive – from orchestras to crazy sound module stuff which I love.   If I could do one or two films a year, I’d be very happy.  My ideal life going forward is doing both:  performing and film scoring.

CM:  You write poetry. Are you interested in writing lyrics for songs?

KS:  I used to write counterparts to my compositions, but not any more.  I used to read live as part of the performance.  It’s not something I’m particularly interested in doing now.   But if I compose something, and there’s an inspiration for a text, then that’s cool.

CM:  Interested in playing any other instruments?

KS:  (Ha ha ha!).  My practice routine now is …..  my music is heavily baseline driven.  I play this odd-metre repeated chords with my left hand, while with the right hand, I tap out on the snare drum for 30 minutes.  This helps to develop rootedness  and stamina of my left hand while also keeping the grooviness going.  You have to be groovy when you play drums, there’s no other way!!!  So that’s my practice thing, playing odd-time signatures and repeated patterns with the left hand but playing drums at the same time with a drum stick in the right hand. It’s also fun.

I had struggled to make practice fun which is part of the challenge!  After ten years of playing, you have to make fun.  Otherwise, it’s just mechanical.  I tell my private students this all the time.

CM:  Are you interested in teaching?

KS:  I’m finishing my  Masters degree at Stellenbosh University. It was funded by the British Council. I focused on half performance, half research  – an orthography of my own process of composing and improvising, and interrogated Abdullah Ibrahim and Zim Ngqawana’s process as I know it from their work and writings.  This opens up new opportunities, perhaps, for education and teaching, but I don’t see myself there yet.

CM:  There was a time when you were collaborating with another group in a festival – with the Beatenberg  band.  In terms of the future of South African jazz, is your music remaining in the ‘jazz’ genre, if that’s what you want to call it? Many ‘jazz’ musicians renounce the description, saying  “I just play music”!

KS:  Yeah.  I feel the same.  We can’t take improvisation away, because the way we phrase is jazz.  But now there’s so much influence from contemporary music  in what we’re doing, from classical music to ethnic or primitive music .  I can’t call it just one thing anymore.  But festival producers and record label producers – it helps them  to catalogue ‘jazz’.   The different textures and emotions and themes all piled into one sound – is hard to define.

Kyle trio in Japan May 2016; credit:  Seigo Matsunaga

Kyle trio in Japan May 2016; credit: Seigo Matsunaga

CM:  Speaking about emotions.  I found a quote you made that referenced ‘emotional disposition of a character in a scene’,  ‘sonic scaffolding for those emotions’,  – you’re using very poetic words here – ‘emotional anonymity’ ….

KS:  I had to learn how to write when doing my thesis – that was a big thing, to write properly!  What I meant by ‘emotional anonymity’, when I wrote my solo works on my own albums, there’s a deep emotional investment in it – like an emotional rollercoaster.  But what I like about composing for films is that there’s the requirement to just tell the story; my own emotions fall by the wayside, they don’t count.   By ‘emotional scaffolding’, I mean create the sound, the spine of what’s being seen.  What you see on the screen falls onto the sound.   The music is a very important part of filmmaking.

CM:  You would consider yourself to be a very visual person?  You’re driven by visuals.

KS:  Yeah,  I think so.  When I see star performances by actors in films, it tells me what kind of sound I have to produce, what I have to compose.  For me, it’s a welcome release from having to compose something solo or concert music because you have none of that emotional pictorial context.  All that content, all the narrative is coming from you, by yourself.

CM:  Have you considered doing slides and visuals put to your music?

KS:  Right now, I’m collaborating with a photographer.  We’re doing a performance on 11 May at the Youngblood Gallery in Bree Street.  I’ll work with his photo projections.

CM:  Anything else?

KS:  I went through a really bad period with the closing of venues in Capetown for gigs. It really depressed me.  My plea is do something, who’s going to help us musicians?  Traveling has become very difficult with prices so high.  Also, my trio has lost two possible performances in the U.S. because of the change of government there now, and the sponsoring organizations are not sure of funds coming in to support jazz/music efforts.  One in New York, one in Washington DC.

But with the film prospects in South Africa, the future is looking brighter now with many film productions in Capetown and a lot more funding is becoming available.  So there’s something to do there.  As a composer, I’m quite excited about that.  But as an artist, I would love to be able to play in concerts and gigs with my trio, with appreciative audiences, and with different collaborations – through jazz and also composing for visual media projects.  That’s what I’m working hard towards, where I would like things to go.  It’s like I’m at the beginning of my composing career!  It’s like ten years all over again.  You know, when my first few albums were released, I was flying all over the country doing gigs and launches, driving to radio stations to deliver my CDs, etc., essentially doing the leg work to promote my music.  Luckily, with the digital age, things have become a bit easier to promote oneself.  But now,  with my composing career, I’m doing the same thing, just not physically.

@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@&@

In an announcement made on Thursday, 16 Feb 2017, Kyle Shepherd, who composed the film score for Noem My Skollie / Call Me Thief, was nominated for South African Film & Television Award [SAFTA] for Best Achievement in an Original Music Score in a Feature Film.  In a major feat, the film scored 10 SAFTA nominations including Best Feature Film & Best Director (Daryne Joshua).  The original soundtrack of the film is now available for purchase, worldwide, on all major digital retail platforms via Gallo Record Company.

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Jazz Pianist Blake Hellaby blazes into “New Beginnings”: An Interview and CD Review

A relaxed Leigh-Ann met me for the first time as she and her husband, Blake, finished their lunch at La Vie Restaurant on Beach Road in Sea Point, Capetown. I had heard her for the first time at their “New Beginnings” CD launch at the Nassau (Groot Schuur High School) several Sundays ago, as she opened their set with two mellow Christian songs which have inspired both of them in their personal and musical journeys.

 

Blake and wife Leigh-Ann Hellaby at CD launch 27 November 2016

Blake and wife Leigh-Ann Hellaby at CD launch 27 November 2016

In 2013, Blake was selected to be part of the Standard Bank National Youth Band, The Standard Bank Schools’ Big Band, as well as The Miagi Youth Orchestra. He has performed at The Oslo Jazz Festival, The Cape Town International Jazz Festival, the Jo’burg Joy of Jazz Festival, The Grahamstown Jazz Festival, The Young Euro Classic Festival in Berlin, and at Jazz on The Rocks – Titties Baai. He has also toured Burgundy, France with The Delft Big Band.

I spoke with Blake and Leigh Ann about their musical journeys, life together, and what makes them tick.

CM: What do you mean by ‘New Beginnings’? You had mentioned at your concert that your songs were inspired after experiencing some travails of life before your first son was born.
BH: Yeah, I was in a bit of a personal mess in my late teens that caused me to suspend my University studies in music for about 2 years. Family problems, my own smoking and drinking bouts, a child – all these made me wake up and find a path out of a little hell I had created. I wasn’t a Christian at that time, but meeting and marrying Leigh-Ann helped me to see a way towards a higher goal, and find God as my salvation. I started going to her church, and became involved in their musical program.   Our first son two years ago struck a ‘new beginning’ for me, and us.

CM: Then you continued with University?
BH: I continued with jazz studies as that’s the type of music I really wanted to pursue, instead of classical which is what I grew up with. I was influenced by so many South African musicians who were making their way with their craft, like Kyle Shephard, whose own spirituality drew me inward to find my own voice. I attended his concerts at Grahamstown a few years ago and was just blown away with how he handled his piano. He is someone who shows great integrity in his music, and discipline. Likewise, I listened a lot to the late Moses Molelekwa who, like the late, great Mbeki Mseleku, died before his time and left such a wealth of creativity behind.

The late jazz pianist, Moses Molelekwa

The late jazz pianist, Moses Molelekwa

CM: What other musicians have influenced you?
BH: Kenny Werner, saxman Michael Brecker, Keith Jarrett – these all have a very spiritual bent to their playing and thinking.

CM: I often ask to what extent a musician wishes to engage with social activism, at different levels, depending on one’s time and concern about certain issues. Do you have a message in your music about current affairs or social/political issues about which you would like to make a statement?
BH: I try to read a lot, and particularly like my fellow jazz saxman, Buddy Wells, who writes his own blog about economic matters. I am very concerned about ethnic and racial inequalities in this country, as someone who has mixed ethnicity – my father being English and my mother being a local ‘coloured’.

Blake Hellaby

Blake Hellaby

CM: How does this affect you?
BH: I’m curious how other people look at me – am I ‘white’ or a ‘coloured’? Many think I’m white, yet I my music is made up of all sorts of South African and African influences and rhythms. I really hate racism and will work to get rid of it where possible. It has no room in one’s spiritual development. My music seeks to attract all peoples, regardless of their backgrounds.

CM: How do you plan to promote yourself?
BH: I need a manager now. I simply can’t practice and compose and focus on my art while trying to promote myself in the business. Earlier, I had released an album under a U.S. label, and some songs became quite popular here, and were played on the radio. They were more pop songs. But that album isn’t available in this country now.

CM: I wonder if you could develop some Christmas songs that pertain more to South African realities.
BH: We were just talking about that! Yes, there is a need for more indigenous Christmas songs that don’t talk about snow and reindeers and Santa Clause! I agree, we should work on that.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&

New Beginnings band members

New Beginnings band members

Blake’s CD launch of “New Beginnings” convincingly displayed his own and his band’s talents when they performed at the Nassau on Sunday, November 27. One song not on his album was a tribute to the late piano maestro, Mbeki Mseleku’s “Monwabisi”. This was lovingly presented with its funky groove and listenable drum and bass duet. However, along the way during the well-executed offerings, the sound system’s bass amplification produced irritating loud hums which threw off concentration. This is surprising for the Nassau, known as a comfortable listening venue, to make these mistakes.

New Beginnings CD Cover

New Beginnings CD Cover

But the CD itself contains jewels of sound, starting off with reference to his family background in “The First Hellabies in Africa”. A familiar few bars of Abdullah Ibrahim’s famous ‘Mannenberg’ sets the scene for England-comes-to-the-Cape where his British father fell in love with a ‘coloured’ girl. The song contains memories and rhythmic changes to connote ethnic realities, flowing between bebop to ghoema, all woven with a bit of salsa. Nice piece. “Me” has, again. a salsa feel with horn duets and a subtle piano improv , again in the minor key. Hellaby displays prowess with chord structures as he unrolls his personal statement. One hears some sadness, wandering (by the sax), different rhythms, many conversations. A delectable piece.

Hellaby appropriately honours fellow jazz spirit, pianist Kyle Shepherd, with whom band members grew up during their respective Cape schooling days and professional boost into the music world. “For Shepherd” is just that, a big ‘thank-you’ for mentoring sounds.

Several songs remind us that God helps fulfil: “He Who Loves Us” is a clear message of what spiritually rules us. It’s in a minor key which one can associate with the interior, hidden, even dark, elements of our soul. A bass solo melodically overrides a piano staccato. Likewise, “Thank You For Listening” has a slow funky gospel-ish groove with lovely, elevating trumpet, guitar, and sax solos. This is a jewel of a song. “Take Me To Church” also suggests how to turn one’s life around through a spiritual purpose driving the process. This happened to Hellaby so he knows.

“All That Surrounds Me” starts with human activity sounds and moves into a delightful arrangement of guitar tinkling around piano phrases. Drums keep pace nicely with Hellaby’s various changing themes. “Noonku” is a restful lullaby with synthesizer, written for youngest son, Daniel, who reminded his family that ‘new beginnings’ meant chasing renewed possibilities. One can hear little Daniel’s advice.

This album is a gem that needs a following. It’s copyrighted by Under the Influence.
www.blakehellaby.com

THE BAND: Marco Maritz | Trumpet & Flugel Horn
Zeke Le Grange | Tenor Saxophone
Bradley Prince | Electric Guitar
Sean Sanby | Double and Electric Bass
Lumanyano Mzi | Drums
Blake Hellaby | Piano, Electric Piano, Organ and Synthesizers

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Two Capetown jazz venues shake up Sunday afternoons for avid listeners!

Jazz in the Native Yards is a cosy outdoor space in a pub seating about 50 people who view a performing band taking up about the same amount of space. Its address suggests ‘community’, a residential heartland amidst Sunday outers who play or stroll in the streets of Gugulethu.

Viwe Mkizwana band at Jazz in the Native Yards, Gugulethu

Viwe Mkizwana band at Jazz in the Native Yards, Gugulethu

Last Sunday, a riveting quintet of three Johannesburg-based musicians headed by double bassist, Viwe Mkizwana, with the innovative trumpet/fugelhorn of Ntsikelelo Mcwabe, and fellow saxophonist, Malysi Masia, along with two local Capetown musicians, Blake Hellaby on piano and drummer Claude Couzen, impressed all with their daring improvisational styles, expressive solos that elicited appreciative whistles, and general professional comportment.

Viwe Mkizwana band

Viwe Mkizwana band

There is no street named ‘KwaSec NY 138’, and you’ll find it difficult to see ‘no 52’ if you want to read. Your ear will guide you. Just keep the car windows open and you’ll hear the jazz oozing out of this small corner house which is a bar by night. The young smiling fellows in their bright yellow jackets beckon you to park. You’ve arrived. It’s Sunday afternoon, and immediately the smells of meat braais from the super popular Mzoli’s restaurant down the road hit the nostrils hard. All your senses are kicking in. You are welcomed at the narrow doorless entrance to the venue where the upside down wine barrel announces an entrance fee – ‘R60 / R40 Pensioners & Students’ plus a small leaflet listing upcoming Sunday gigs. Stacked chairs unfold for some sort of seating arrangement under an outdoor ceiling. The afternoon sun rays hit the band straight on if there’s no large umbrella for them. Someone takes your drink order. Listeners are listening, smiles on their faces, identities from far and wide, and local. The band is already hot, not amplified but pleasantly acoustic, and already you’re tapping away, head swaying. The beat is on!

Bongani Sotshonanda, marimba band with Willie Haubrick

Bongani Sotshonanda, marimba band with Willie Haubrick

Who performs at Jazz in the Native Yards? Obviously, locally resident musicians, like Marimba extraordinaire Bongani Sotshononda and his capable group, or trumpeter Fezekile Reginald Tempi, known familiarly as ‘Blackey’, and others. These Sunday jazzy afternoons are sponsored by Concerts SA (a joint Norwegian-South African collaboration to promote the arts) and are comfortably receptive to all sorts of music lovers. There seems to be plenty of room for all.

Upcoming Sunday gigs at Native Yards are:

27 November Chapterz and McCoy Mrubata (guest)
4 December McCoy Mrubata and Paul Hanmer
11 December The Mike Rossi Project

************************
A TOUCH OF MADNESS on Nuthall Rd in Observatory is a welcoming restaurant, which seems like a home with various rooms for eating and lounging. One room contains the band with seating for about 30 people, meant to be more for listening than eating, although the bar provides the imbibing arts for the thirsty seekers. The outdoor veranda provides fresh air and a perfect proximity to the band’s sounds.

A Touch of Madness, Observatory/Capetown

A Touch of Madness, Observatory/Capetown

The venue’s Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening gigs offer fine and seasoned jazz bands for the week’s listening as well as a common menu of eats and snacks. Local resident owner Olivia Andrews and her husband rescued the venue after it was closed for some 8 months, and hopes to provide some sizzling sounds from far and wide, like the Thursday night Irish band, and also another night of poetry. Just the thing for Observatory’s vibes, which love the fringy and alternative.

Ramon Alexander, piano

Ramon Alexander, piano

As I walked in last Sunday afternoon, the familiar improvisation style of Ramon Alexander’s piano sung to me, as did the drums of Annelmie Nel and bassist Chadleigh Gowar. Classically trained percussionist, Annelmie, admitted she has ‘crossed over’ to jazz drums now, and has joined the highly underrated pianist and winemaker, Alexander, to strut their jazz stuff through the Cape.

The latter, managed by a visionary studio-owner, Leonardo Fortuin, and his entourage are supporting a fresh jazz venue in Kraaifontein called ‘Joostenberg Vlakte’ which is appropriately situated for the northern suburbs crowds eager for listening venues.

In the meantime, House of Madness also hires out its rooms for parties at R150 pp which includes a meal and drinks. What a nice cozy hangout for a party celebration! Restaurant contact is 021 447 4650.

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Nigerian Jazz Trumpeter, Etuk Ubong, remains consistent and focused: An Interview

As I was clearing out old files and articles, one caption hit my eye hard. “Exodus of Cape Town’s Jazz Giants” by Ayesha Ismail started: “Jazz greats are leaving Cape Town in droves because they can’t earn a living in the city once regarded as South Africa’s capital of jazz.” That was published in September 1998 (Sunday Times Metro) ! Yet, jazz schools of music, like the U.C.T.’s College of Music Jazz Studies, has experienced a steady influx of overseas and African talents seeking degrees and interactions with South Africa’s music legends. One such determined soul is 24-year old trumpeter, Etuk Ubong, from southern Nigerian, who already has notable experience to his name as well as incredible discipline and commitment to his art. His quartet of young South Africans is one of five bands which will compete for the ESP Young Legends award to perform at the 2017 Capetown International Jazz Festival. His album, ‘Miracle’, can be heard on https://soundcloud.com/search?q=Etuk%20Ubong.

Etuk Ubong - media

Etuk Ubong – media

I caught up with Etuk on 10 October 2016 before he left for Nigeria to resume his life and goals there. It seems consistency and focus is this young gun’s mantra. Oh, and ‘hard work’. He sounded mature and seasoned, having weathered the disruptions which his University (U.C.T./Capetown) politics were affecting. It’s hard to study and get ahead in a foreign academic environment when the indigenes upset academic progress which eager students from other disruptive African countries so badly seek. Etuk chose to leave those protests behind him, for now.

We chatted about his personality, and mentors like Victor Ademofe and Femi Kuti, son of famous late shrine leader Fela Ransom Kuti, and his own emerging form of music which he calls ‘Earth’ music. “It’s got attitude, spirit, and voice.” His other gurus like Clifford Brown and Wynton Marsalis have helped groom his sound as well.

CM: What makes you tick, and go for improvisation? And why jazz?
EU: Just passion and love of the sound of music. It’s about the message and how to integrate it and reflect it in my music. I studied music at an early age so I got my freedom early. I considered music is about love, bringing people together and making them smile. I love the Coltrane and jazz, but I see myself creating another sound.

CM: What’s so special about your music that comes from Etuk?
EU: Attitude, spirit, and my personality: essential factors are about love, obedience, loyalty, and being humble. Making sure things go right.

CM: It sounds like you had a good childhood.
EU: Yeah, I got this discipline from my parents and my four sisters who were all around me growing up. Also, my parents were hard working – my father was a driver who would get up at 5am to go to work. Same with my mom, a trader. I was a teenager when I took up this trumpet, thanks to my Mom who said this would be my future! She got me to play in our Church band. I didn’t take it seriously for a while, just played around. Then I started practicing from 5am before walking to school and would continue the practices after school until 10pm. My tutor, Victor Ademofe, was a God-send. He was like a Godfather and taught me a lot about life as well, so I got that food and solid orientation from him. He’s also very talented and disciplined as well. He changed me.

Etuk Ubong in Capetown

Etuk Ubong in Capetown

CM: Some musicians are activists who use their music for a cause or to get their message across. Are you an activist of sorts?
EU: Yes, I grew up to love nature, and I never liked the way my country’s economy was going or the corruption surrounding our leaders and the way they were acting. I used to say that I’m going to get to a level where I was going to fight for justice and to eradicate this corruption, and stand up for what’s right. I grew up with like-minded people and wanted to address these corruption issues growing in my country.

CM: How were you going to do that?
EU: With my music, with my power, with my soul. I read this book about Fela Ransom Kuti who said a lot in his music and life. He referred to Malcolm X whom I then studied. Fela was making sense by presenting his perspectives on politics at that time. As a teenager, I read about his legacy and structure, and what he was trying to fight for. He made sense to me.

CM: So you were doing things that other teenagers in your home weren’t doing, it sounds like?
EU: Yeah, none of my friends liked what I was doing and thought I was just lazy. After high school, they got involved with jobs, making money, buying clothes, etc. But I just kept practicing trumpet.
I don’t mind going back to those days as I prepare to return home to Nigeria. I’m so grateful that I had learned something about hard work, diligence, commitment, consistency, focus, and of course, my culture. This is what keeps me going. Back then, my parents tried to discourage me from going into music. My father actually grounded me, wouldn’t give me money, and sometimes would lock up my trumpet! [Etuk laughs] He didn’t want me to identify with some of those musicians or artists who smoke and take drugs, but he didn’t see the other side to what I wanted from the music, and I knew where I wanted to go.

I told my parents I was playing on TV and that I was going to travel on tours. They didn’t like this, but gradually could see I was playing well, even as a teenager, started to show me respect. Now, they’re my number one fans!! I wish my mom was still alive; she would have been crazy about my success now. For my second album, I’ve composed songs for her in a high life form which she loved. My Dad is supportive now, as are my sisters.

CM: Are you interested in teaching?
EU: Yeah, I’m doing this in Nigeria. I try to reach out to the youth to impact them.

Etuk Ubong Album Cover 'Miracle' (2016)

Etuk Ubong Album Cover ‘Miracle’ (2016)

CM: What influenced your album songs?
EU: ‘Miracle’, ‘Prayer’, ‘Reading in the Dark’, and ‘Thinking’. They’re all my compositions. I had studied classical music in Lagos, and played in Femi Kuti’s band. But when I put my own band together, I wanted to play my own music. So my songs came out in different places, and at different times . I just wrote the music but never gave the songs a name, until I had to record them. The song names came to me while I was in the bath! I thought of what Nigeria has gone through, its struggle for Independence and all, and that’s how I got those names….’miracle’, ‘thinking’, ‘prayer’. It was like we in Nigeria were reading in the dark, when things were obscure and uncertain , and then thinking how to develop ourselves as a nation,

CM: Are you thinking of becoming politically involved? I think I’m driving to that! I need to study history, learn more about where I’m coming from in general. So I’m trying to read as much as I can now.

Here’s a fiery artist to watch as Africa broadens its reach with interesting jazz initiatives having those special cultural flavours.

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Kenyan jazz pianist Aaron Rimbui overcame odds to excel

It was no small matter, at age 14, to suffer second degree burns from a gas explosion, and over months in hospital, to reconstruct the functional parts of his body, including his hands. Pianist Aaron Rimbui from Kenya had started with drums as he simply couldn’t finger the piano keys. But he overcame, and now rates as one of East Africa’s top jazz artists, as well as a radio host on Capital Radio in Nairobi.

Aaron Rimbui plucking at The Orbit 22 Sept 2016

Aaron Rimbui plucking at The Orbit 22 Sept 2016

On 21 September 2016, Rimbui joined Nigerian double bassist, Amaeshi Ikechi, and South Africa’s master drummer, Ayanda Sikade, for an impressive two-set performance at Johannesburg’s premier jazz club, The Orbit.

Amaeshi Ikechi at The Orbit

Amaeshi Ikechi at The Orbit

This is a tight group, careful in their relational manoeuvres with each other. Relatively little known, yet energetic bassist Ikechi, who says he’s been living in South Africa for the past 10 years, never shied away from telling it how it is. His best plucks accompanying Rimbui’s piano string tapping presented a most rewarding aural funk from such songs as ‘Karibu’. Rimbui made no secret about his scarred hands as he introduced himself and his band, saying that healing and recovery of his ability to play piano was solely a gift from God. Supported by his actress wife, Rimbui attests to his spiritual rehabilitation, through music, soul and jazz he listened to throughout his youth. “I am a born-again Christian who happens to be an artist.”

Aaron Rimbui

Aaron Rimbu

Rimbui, also a composer and producer, has travelled widely and performed with other notable African musicians, such as Kora winner Eric Wainaina and the world traveled Sauti Sol, South African legend Hugh Masekela, and with Nigeria’s afro-beat sensation Sean Kuti. His several albums have boosted him into the international talent pool of African jazz artists

“I am self-taught, never studied music formally. It’s a God-given gift,” he says. Rimbui apparently had been offered scholarships to study music in the USA, but lack of funds prohibited him taking that route.

“I met Ayanda and Siya Makuzeni from South Africa at this year’s Safaricom International Jazz Festival in Kenya where we chatted and discovered our common threads. Ayanda invited me to Johannesburg in April where I joined Benjamin Jephta on bass at a gig at the Orbit. And now I’m back, enjoying the Joy of Jazz, and reuniting with my South African friends, thanks to the Orbit’s owner, Aymeric Peguillan, who invited me to perform. I chose Nigerian bassist, Amaeshi Ikechi, because of his energy, sound, and confidence.”

Aaron Playing at All That Jazz 2013

Aaron Playing at All That Jazz 2013

Next week, Rimbui will be recording an album with this trio, and a stunning trio at that. From what I heard at the Orbit, the collective and individual styles, nuances, listening skills, and musical comradery of these three will produce an unusual album with mixtures of mainstream bebop, Afro-funk, and soul ballads all tinged with experienced improvisation.

His 2016 album, Deeper, is available on iTunes.

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SKYJACK fuses and dialogues: A South African/Swiss collaboration

Three South African musicians, all previous winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, and two well-known Swiss musicians offer an exciting and emotion-packed album, long overdue. This group has toured together in Europe and Grahamstown since 2013, and have finished their jaunts in Capetown last weekend.

skyjack-musos

Energetic drummer Kesivan Naidoo is now home after a finishing his Masters degree at Boston’s fine Berkelee School of Jazz; bassist Shane Cooper continues to grow his sometimes esoteric double bass styles with various groups of musicians, both local and international; pianist Kyle Shephard brings his extraordinary improv renditions to the aural table. Swiss tenor saxophonist Marc Stucki and trombonist Andreas Tschopp are no strangers to Grahamstown’s National Arts Festivals or to South Africa, generally. Tschopp has been on a three month residency in South Africa. Thanks to Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council and Concerts SA, they have launched their album here in South Africa with packed-out audiences.

Skyjack cover

Skyjack cover

The first song, “Taffatala”, sets the tension for the rest of the album. One hears Ethiopian chords in pentatonic scales with rumblings of elephants, or are they giraffe herds, and the characteristic spirited drumming of Kesivan Naidoo which comes through loud and clear throughout the album.   Cooper states he resonates more now with African music and jazz idioms, particularly from Mali, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, as in this first song.

“Anonymous in New York” starts in a minor key, following on the Ethio-jazz tradition, but with a contemporary jazz mix of urban aloneness and Tschopp’s extended trombone voicings which sometimes sound mournful, then joyous and meandering.

“Grandmere Dasant” starts with a welcomed shift into Shepherd’s characteristic Cape ghoema beat which is immediately dominated by saxman Stucki who runs a small jazz club in Berne, Switzerland. Each musician adds his chat to the ghoema, with Naidoo’s drum signature ever-present.

Stucki’s ‘Black Box’ has pianist Shepherd conversing with both sax and trombone in a slow ballad. “Flying Without Leaving the Ground” suggests its title. Is there hesitancy or joy that spirit can hover and lead us? Some interesting chord combinations by the horns present wonderment. Then, surprisingly, the take-off happens as Shepherd’s keys up the tempo, propelling the melody into a sonic but terrestrial boom. Naidoo drums keep up the pace.

Slowing the pace comes “Sakura”, another minor key, contemplative ballad. It’s sadness comes across through Tshopp’s clear trombone chorded with the tenor sax, and an almost funereal drum praise.

A very moving piece in this album, for me, is “The Last Rainbow Doesn’t Fade”, again submerged in alternating minor and major keys, with a samba beat mixed with a bit of ghoema and other South African beats. Half way through, the tempo changes with Shepherd’s danceable Cape sound ….and the beat goes on with each musician nourishing the song.

An impressive and emotional end piece is “Freedom Dance” featuring recordings of Nelson Mandela expressing his hope for peace and harmony in the future. It contains his “….for which I am prepared to die” speech as he entered the free world fighting all the way for a unified and dignified democracy for the nation.

This is a wonderful album which shows the individual expertise and soul of each artist, brought together by a common thread of trans-nationalism and cross-culturalism. One can’t really determine whose composition is playing as the songs fuse each musician’s creativity. This is marvellous fusion.

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Soul Groover BOB JAMES meets hip-hop times: An Interview at Joy of Jazz 2016

Bob James at 2016 Joy of Jazz

Bob James at 2016 Joy of Jazz

Maestro pianist of soulful funk and smooth grooves, the inimitable Bob James performed eclectic grooves and soulful conversations at his late night gig on opening night of Standard Bank’s Joy of Jazz Festival celebration, 15 – 17 September in Sandton, Johannesburg. He was supported by his stellar cast of seasoned musicians, particularly by his enigmatic Cuban double bassist, Carlitos del Puerto, whom everyone seemed to eye.

Carlitos del Puerto at Joy of Jazz 2016

Carlitos del Puerto at Joy of Jazz 2016

Son of Carlos del Puerto, a world famous bassist, 39-year old Carlitos sustained energetic and joyful playing that explains why, at age 17, he was named Best New Jazz Artist at the International Jazz Festival in Havana, Cuba. James’ guitarist, Perry Hughes, and a long-time friend and collaborator, set the audience on fire with his masterful bluesy runs. The band delivered the expected – ages old funky soul grooves echoing the classic Bob James who, at 77 years of age, shows no signs of stopping.

I caught up with James by his hotel pool the morning after that gig.

CM: One view of jazz is improvisation on folk music. Where do you see jazz going world-wide? How is the ‘soul groove’ moving forward?

Bob James Sept 2016

Bob James Sept 2016

BJ: In my time, jazz represented something unique because the art of improvisation was at the root of the instant creativity emanating from the unpredictability of jazz. A very personal expression grew out of this, and this is the most important aspect of moving jazz. I hope this continues. And socially, what jazz represented at that earlier time is different now. Jazz was the most daring and anti-establishment form of expression back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The blacks were bursting out angrily about how they were being treated socially in America. The musical expression is different now because the hip-hop has taken over that daringness in confronting social issues in a way. I think hip-hop people are being influenced about what jazz used to be as they end up sampling and using jazz in their music. I’m very lucky because some of them used chunks of my 1970s recordings, and these samples entered their own expressions. I wasn’t directly doing it, but the music resonated with these hip hop artists. It was a fringe benefit for me for their discovering how jazz could move their own expressions. I think there’s hope as long as we stay open to the fact that we won’t be reliving the Dizzy – Coltrane worlds, but other revelations founded on the jazz idiom.

CM: Many jazz artists love to come to South Africa, and they love the music here. What’s so attractive about South African jazz?

BJ: We strive for a groove and we know historically that black artists know how to swing. Here in South Africa there’s a special way rhythms lock in, are danceable, and this is culturally-driven. I respond to this immediately. One elementary school I visited yesterday that offers jazz education performed for me and I was blown away by the artistry and quality these kids showed. They were confident and played naturally in a way in which some of our [American] musicians would like to play, but they simply don’t have that groove in them, no matter how much they might practice.

CM: Sort of like some of our opera singers here who are black, because the singing style comes from their indigenous African musical heritage.

BJ: Yes. You can imagine what I went through, as a white guy in the 1950s – 70s, playing a funk soul groove, inspite of the racial prejudice prevalent in the US at that early time, and trying to get accepted. I had to deal with this and develop confidence. Fortunately, I lived near Detroit which had an active jazz scene back then, so I was able to play with a lot of jazz players there. Also, when I moved to New York City. I got enough encouragement so that several people gave me that badge of acceptance which led to my joining Sarah Vaughn’s band as her music director. I toured with her for quite a few years, if not decades.

 

 

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Thanks, AJR, for saluting our women musicians!

Salute to all you South African women musicians out there – inside and outside South Africa – as AJR celebrates your Women’s Day today!! I have been listening to wonderful artists in the ‘jazz’ genre (since that’s my narrow niche) and applaud AJR Eric Alan for broadcasting women artists all day today! What other radio station in RSA is doing this, I wonder?

I’d like to also salute a few artists in particular. But there are so many; please forgive me if I left out other notables. Andreas Loven’s latest album, “District Six”, contains double bassist Romy Brauteseth’s exceptional bass scats – her vocals as she plucks away. She is going far, performing with all sorts of domestic and international artists, and is far away as we speak – in Europe on tour.

I think of those Sisters in Sound (SIS) mentors of yesteryear who contributed their skills to the up-and-coming, one mentee being Spha Mdlalose who is growing her art. Lisa Bauer, drummer and vocalist, mentored and taught. Her February 2015 single release of “A Life That’s Lead” provides magic in her art, as does her earlier album, “Finding a New Way”. Other SISs remembered are saxophonist and educator Ronel Nagfaal whose pianist daughter, Nobuhle Mazinyane, recently joined the National Schools Band 2016 during the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. Monique Hellenberg, pianist and vocalist, graciously gave her time and energy to the SIS program, also.

So many other fabulous women artists: musical families of the Willie sisters – bassist Chantal and singer Denay. The Standard Bank 2016 Young Artist for Jazz, Siya Makuzeni, trombonist and vocalist, featured nobly with her own compositions and arrangements at the NAF. Other young artists making their mark are singer Zoe Modiga, trombonist Siya Charles, and pianist Thandi Ntuli whose debut album “Offering” offers some interesting South African beats and twists.

Not to forget those South African women established elsewhere in the world. Norway-based saxophonist Shannon Mowday is cutting an album with brother Hylton and Dad Bob; London-based pianist/singer Estelle Kokot continues to ripen – listen to her “The Sound of You” album. Her solo tour in South Africa called, “The Jazz Feminine in Africa” kicks off in Johannesburg on 12 August. Her Capetown performance is on Wednesday, 17 August, at the Rosebank Theater. Asia-based songstress Brigitte Mitchell, who has played with the greats, offers delectable sounds in her latest album, “Let’s Call It Love” released in Japan in March.

There are so many others. Thanks again to All Jazz Radio based in Capetown for broadcasting such a generous tribute to many South African women jazz artists!!

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Mateo Mera Band – Rocking over Bridges, Heights, and Continents at SBNAF 2016

Mateo Mera sits cross-legged on a mat, resting his Sitar on his bent leg, as he opens the set with a Sitar solo, sung in his best gentle voice.

Matea Mera playing Sitar. Photo: (Cue/Dani O’Neill)

Matea Mera playing Sitar. Photo: (Cue/Dani O’Neill)

What followed was a raucus few songs in not-so-light rock with his quartet’s three guitars blazing. While this seemed like a quirky and unlikely contrast with the viewer’s expectation, the group rather skilfully switched tempos, as well as instruments as they moved through Uruguayan, Indian, the 1970s/1980s American pop rock. Their second concert at Grahamstown’s Standard Bank National Arts Festival 2016 on 6 July drew sold out crowds again, thanks to the group’s sponsorship by the Uruguay Embassy in South Africa, Nikki Froneman Arts Management in partnership with NAF 2016,  and hosting in Johannesburg by UNISA who provided workshop and performance opportunities to these zesty young musicians. I particularly liked their inventive interpretation of a BeeGees song, “You don’t know what it’s like to love somebody” as they swung into American-styled rock. Their concerts pulled songs from their first album, “Sobre los Puentes y Las Alturas” (Over the Bridges and Heights) cut in 2013 but published in 2015.

Matea Mera on lead guitar. Photo: Cue/Dani O'Neill

Matea Mera on lead guitar. Photo: Cue/Dani O’Neill

Full of humour in their performance, the members pranced around the stage, taking sips from their water bottles and swopping instruments and places. Mateo’s highlight was playing guitar and harmonica simultaneously while kicking (backward) a drum with attached cymbal suitcase for percussive effect. Here he excelled in delivering a soft ballad. This was followed by a Beetles’ song by George Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun”, played with a ukulele, after which Mateo jumps around to the piano and vocalizes with the band a heavy rock song (unfamiliar to my otherwise jazz ears). This was mostly a rock concert, and the Sitar was, unfortunately, forgotten after the first song, but the bands versatility in delivering different fusions of rock was appreciated. The set ended with the drummer swopping his drums for the mic as he swung the band into an exciting and physical rap. This ‘rappatoire’ brought instant whistles from a rock-oriented audience, along with a standing ovation.

I caught up for a chat with the band before this performance. Matea puts me at ease immediately as he enters the room and offers me a sip of Uruguayan tea with a chuckle. As I looked down at the greenish brown herbal mush in a brass pot and sipped from a brass straw, Matea enthusiastically remarked, “This is for energy!” Indeed, they had it. This group of 30-somethings chuckle throughout their encounter, each calling out answers to any questions and volunteering information freely.

Drinking tea with Matea Mera band, 6 July 2016 at NAF 2016

Drinking tea with Matea Mera band, 6 July 2016 at NAF 2016

CM: What is special about South Africa?
The Group: There are great musicians. They don’t make one mistake. They were really professional, like Roland Moses and Sakhile Moleshe, the singer. He is like a Uruguayan rapper. We all have a lot in common.

CM: You seem playful and also serious at the same time. What social issues concern you in your music?
The Group: We are goofy and laugh a lot. We’re a sun of another time. But we talk about violence against women, the street life of gangs, and people in difficult circumstances, in our songs. The world has no borders now and I can be anything in the world. We are not just from a country but live in the world. We would like to spend more time in South Africa working with musicians and learning more about your history, particularly those aspects of colonialism and apartheid which were similar in Uruguay.

CM: You say you are a fusion band.
The Group: We call ourselves a rock band, but we actually would like to do more jazz and improvisation. We love fusion, and mix everything. We travel to other countries and find out how to mix our music, like using flute of Bolivia. We love to do special things so we are identified as doing special sounds.

CM: Where did you study or learn your instruments?
The Group: In the house of a master – there’s not a structure for studying in institutions. It’s private study. There are limited numbers of students. You don’t have to go to school to be a good musician. In Uruguay, everybody plays guitar. The government has funding to enable a student to study with a particular professor.
Mateo – I learned my sitar in India with a master. I take several trips to India in order to learn and buy the right instruments. It’s hard to find Indian players in Uruguay.

CM: What kind of groups would you want to work with here in South Africa, if you had an opportunity?
The Group: Percussionists. All of our Uruguayan percussion came from Africa. Our ‘cueros’ percussion is special, too, and goes like this (demonstration).

CM: Why do you want to move more into jazz?
The Group: On stage we are always improving. If we are excited, we absorb the energy of the audience. People loved our first show in Grahamstown. They told us we should play in a theatre without chairs so people can dance.

&*&*&*&*&*&*&

And yes, their rocking music is danceable! I hope this zesty group returns to RSA soon. Huuummm…..funding………

Mateo Mera – voice, sitar, guitar, keyboards, bass suitcase
Gonzalo Díaz – voice, bass guitar
Rogelio Lago – drums
Rodrigo Baeza – voice, guitar, sax

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Toon Roos Quartet’s rag doll effect – a highlight performance at NAF 2016

Here’s a Dutch saxophonist who really made me just melt away like hot putty in my seat! At times, I wondered if I had died and gone to heaven. Toon Roos and his band looked like ordinary chaps who might play ordinary jazz. Nope. Roos’s own aura reverberated around the stage as he pulled off inventive, and sometimes quirky, arrangements to certain tantalizing American jazz standards that spoke about the important…..love…..

Toon Roos at NAF2016: CuePix/NAF2016

Toon Roos at NAF2016: CuePix/NAF2016

Known for playing lyrical and funky jazz that grooves to the moment, Roos took us on an escapade into unfamiliar twists and turns. “I Fall in Love Too Easily” spoke reality; Dutch bassist Hein van de Geyn, now an implant on South African soil, slid his bass lithfully into what seemed as hopelessness. I came out as a wobbly rag doll. “Straight No Chaser” displayed masterful arrangements, but “Body and Soul” turned a sleepy ballad on Roos’s tenor sax into another blanket-hugging rendition, again with Hein’s double bass solo exuding the mellow, the expressive, and always the gentle. As many musicians do, Roos wrote “Fading Star’ for a relative, his mother long passed, and offered a beautiful slow ballad in tribute. My dollishness was awakened with the last song by Roos boasting a happy and melodic Brazilian beat. Could improvisational jazz be any better?

Toon Roos Quartet: CuePix/NAF2016

Toon Roos Quartet: CuePix/NAF2016

Roos has played with the greats of Joe Zawinul, John Scofield, Toots Thielemans, Steely Dan, Ravi Coltrane, and Art Blakey. The list is endless. No wonder he’s also a funk master, having a vocal project with drummer Manu Katche who also plays with Sting and Joni Mitchell. Eleven years ago, Roos and his Quartet performed at Capetown’s North Sea Jazz Festival. The man has credentials, as do current band members. He’s been compared to Saxophonist Wayne Shorter by contemporaries, but Roos is really beyond comparison. I would fly to Europe to hear this man again, but more credentialed and less raggedy dollish.

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