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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.

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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 trumpeter, Feya Faku, knights drummer Jeff Siegel’s Quartet in kingly fashion in “King of Xhosa” CD.

Feya Faku, trumpet; Jeff 'Siege' Siegel, drums

Feya Faku, trumpet; Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, drums

American drummer, Jeff Siegel, has discovered and gleefully responded to the beckoning African sounds from a musical ‘king’ of the Xhosa people in South Africa, trumpet and fugelhorn wizard, Feya Faku. For those who know him, Faku is known to carry himself certainly in a kingly, but humble, way with the various peers he has played with around the world. As special artist on Siegel’s latest album, “King of Xhosa”, he has indeed knighted Siegel’s Quartet with stunning applause and African sound dimensions that are very special. Both musicians have benefited as teachers of jazz in their respective countries which might explain how the multi-faceted songs landed in this album, with lots of sharing of compositions amongst band members: Erica Lindsay presents her sonorous tenor saxophone on most tracks; pianist Francesca Tanksley keeps the pace, sometimes with a heavy bottom clef or whimsical treble runs, as in her ‘Prayer’; and bassist Rich Syracuse, also a professor, holds the backline tightly, with percussionist Fred Berryhill filling in with samba and other African rhythms.

Xhosa-cover-web

This eclectic album, released this January 2017 by Artists Recording Collective label, starts and ends with Africanness, thanks to Faku’s praise vocals in the beginning ‘Totem’ and Berryhill’s percussion at the end song ‘Umngqungqo (Rhythm)’. In between, the album boasts a mosaic of impressions: open sonic spaces of the South African countryside with Faku’s fugelhorn brilliantly invoking spiritual calling and elephant roars, as in ‘Call to Spirits’; post-bebop tributes to struggling musicians, as in Tanksley’s ‘Life on the Rock’; unattended heros, like Faku’s teachers who gave so much towards cultural growth in others, as in the duo, ‘Courage’ and ‘Unsung’. The latter soulfully presents that familiar Faku touch strengthened by an eloquent Siegel drum solo.

But it’s the prayerful, spiritual nature of mood and message that grabs as Faku weaves his horn’s melodies through solemn chats with Lindsay’s saxophone, as in the thought-provoking ‘Prayer’, which is Siegel’s favourite song on the album.

Erica Lindsay. Courtesy: Francesca-11

Erica Lindsay. Courtesy: Francesca-11

Faku continues to develop his spiritual soundscape by wandering mournfully through “Ballad of the Innocent”, a beautifully crafted piece by Siegel written after the Brussels bombing. It speaks to a need for reflective quietude so that humanity can realize peace and hope for a better world. One hears the pain and struggle for this through Faku’s sensitive manoeuvres as he reverently enhances the mood through conversations with the tenor saxophone. His familiar signature tone is heard also in a ballad-soothing, ‘Inner Passion’, which both Faku and Siegel agree all musicians must have to drive their musicality.

Siegel’s drums set the pace in ‘Gotta Get To It’, an upbeat message after a lilting slow ballad. One hears Coltrane influences from saxophonist and educator Lindsay who penned this piece, which explains her love for bop. The sax and trumpet make carefree play, frolicking very nicely over the keys and rhythms. Once appropriately woken up from a musical slumber, the album intersects with fast beats dominated by Siegel’s skilled percussive direction, like in the salsa inspired “Erica’s Bag”.

Francesca Tanksley

Francesca Tanksley

Feya Faku not only boasts a distinctly clear and relatively uncomplicated sound with clean runs and tonation on his instruments, but also continually activates his intuitive ears which enable him to collaborate with so many other greats. He cannot be ‘compared’ with others; his uniqueness, both in musical mechanics, spirit, and technique can best be measured by the honesty of delivery he gives to so many of his albums. This album shines with Faku’s integrity. And it’s Afro-fusion has rubbed off on the Jeff Siegel Quartet in very special ways.

"King of Xhosa" Jeff Siegel Quartet with Feya Faku

“King of Xhosa” Jeff Siegel Quartet with Feya Faku

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Ancestral Heartbeats Code the Music, an interview with award winner pianist Nduduzo Makhathini.

“The greatest moments are when you can’t tell the difference between the piano, or the bass, or the drum, but rather when there’s one wave of sound…… This is consciousness, becoming one with the environment.”

I felt somehow connected with ancestral energies as I drove this youthful bearded jazz pianist to CapeTown’s airport after his weekend gigs with trumpeter, Feya Faku, and local musicians. His performance with Faku’s album launch, “Le Ngoma”, at CapeTown’s popular Straight No Chaser jazz club was a subdued low key presentation of his wider talents. Johannesburg-based Nduduzo Makhathini, originally from Kwa Zulu Natal, is still on a high from being granted Standard Bank Young Artist 2015 award in the Jazz category. I asked him about his philosophy, messages, and what he meant by ‘identity politics’ which he has adopted.

NM: Mine is spiritual, wedded with cultural. I was introduced to music in its religious mode, and later to the business side of music. I grew up as a Christian, going to churches, etc. but I don’t subscribe to any of them. Music moved me into a more spiritual groove. In my youth, I would visit up to four churches on a Sunday just for the music. I loved the gospel messages and sounds. I would leave when the sermons started!

CM: Who else has influenced you besides Zim and Bheki Mseleku?
NM: My mom is my greatest inspiration, and my first piano teacher. I also grew up with the traditional isicathamiya ensembles, or male acopella, like Black Mambazo. I love harmonies which is why this singing drew me to the piano where I can make harmonies myself. I also love harmony in life, which is why I became so close to Bheki who focused on harmonizing things in life. Andre Petersen is also one of my favourites as he expresses inspiration also with Mseleku.

CM: Your three kids are also part of your music journey, aren’t they?
NM: Wow, I have three kids. What a responsibility now! What can I put out there for them? What is left for me by my forefathers, and for them? So my album, “Sketches of Tomorrow” is for my kids. I fused the Western with the traditional African since I have to deal with both cultures, which meet on this album. And they do too.

2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz- Nduduzo Makhathini. Credit: Adam McConnachie

2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz- Nduduzo Makhathini. Credit: Adam McConnachie

CM: You talk about healing others. What about healing yourself?
NM: I always feel that the music I play has a message sent through me. Sometimes I don’t understand these messages. So healing goes through me, my system. It tries to heal the space that we’re in, our environment where everyone operates. There are different forms of healing, but I concentrate on the traditional kind in my Zulu culture. I want my family to learn that each and every individual has a role to play on earth, and we need to find out what that is. That’s my ‘politics’, that everyone, equally, has a contribution to offer. We are passing the shacks now [along Cape Town’s N2 highway on route to airport]. Without those people here, this process of honouring each other cannot be complete unless we continue the legacy. That’s why I care for everyone, the kids and people on the streets, and even the more fortunate in the suburbs. These people in shacks barely have the basics for living. My music speaks to them more because these people need healing.

My grandmother was a healer who would have water and pray on it. I asked people to bring water to my gigs, and just have it there in their possession. My music, I believe, then allows the water to capture the healing, and this water has the power of coding certain messages. Mbeki and I used to go to these temples and learn how the spiritual energies were moved by earth elements, and I learned from this. Together, we explored healing as a gift through the language of ingoma or our musicianship.

CM: Regarding your still-to-be launched album, “Listening to the Ground”, I’m curious why you have pulled in the Swedish tenor saxophonist, Karl Martin Almquist, one of my very favourites from northern Europe?
NM: I found him on YouTube, had never met him, but loved his sound. I sent him an email a few years ago, and invited him to join in my latest album. He said, Yes!

CM: Tell me about your album, “Listening to the Ground”.
NM: This is for my ancestors. It’s about the African soil, and African environment, which has so much energy and sounds in it. How deep is the African ground, and how deep is the African soul? In spite of slavery, African people continue to smile, continue to have hope, and till the soil.

CM: Your music you say comes from an ‘external’ force. If you mean a higher Spirit (let’s call it ‘God’), then why can’t this powerful force be ‘internal’ as well? Your project seems to have integral components working together.
NM: Yes, right. I see God as a holistic view of consciousness. It means ‘God’ is a complete picture, both internal and external. The deeper you get into the internal mode of self, the more you can go outside yourself. Like those who had ‘out of body’ experience….. they went so deep inside themselves that they could actually come out of that experience.

SBYA 2015 - jazz. Nduduzo Makhathini

SBYA 2015 – jazz. Nduduzo Makhathini

CM: You’d make a good Buddhist!
NM: Oh, hah hah! I read and listen alot to Osho? On Sundays, with my family in our house, we listen to Osho teachings and alot of music, and learn and discuss. Osho leaves things open for us to look for conclusion. For instance, he observes the cycle of water with this story: There was a stream that flowed for so many years, but then runs into a desert. Osho then panicks wondering how he’s going to find water in this dry desert. But he had another thought: If I become one with the desert and dissolve in it, then I’ll be OK. It then began to rain in a different place and saved his desert. His message was that sometimes, we must dissolve and not take ourselves so seriously. And this is what the exercise of music teaches. I can just let go and not become so absorbed in my individuality. The greatest moments are when you can’t tell the difference between the piano, or the bass, or the drum, but rather when there’s one wave of sound…… This is consciousness, becoming one with the environment.

CM: Are you interested in teaching about this consciousness, environmental holistic healing, and ways to save us all!
NM: It’s always there indirectly. The music is our greatest teaching. My music is universal, always a means to a destiny. Music has a power, something deeper, for people to reach for. I’ve been writing alot, in social media, about what inspires my music. Many people who resonate with my music and its ingoma (musical healing) are not necessarily jazz lovers.

CM: You’re on a journey….particularly with your family. With your mom….And your wife?
NM: My Mom’s very special, supports me 100%, even though she doesn’t have my belief systems. My wife, Nomagugu, is on all my albums. She’s one of my favourite singers. I’ve got my daughter on ‘Mother Tongue’. The three children and my wife finish the last track on “Sketches of Tomorrow”, with my children ending the song: “Oh Nothing; Oh Nothing Again”. I thought what a beautiful message as it came from them listening to the woes about Zimbabwe daughters there, about “Africa’s daughters are without names,” with a loss of identity. So I think it’s amazing how kids can spark this energy in the music we play in the house. In terms of healing the space, the kids and my wife heal that house space which becomes charged with so much energy.

CM: What an experience for the kids! You talked about your Sunday gigs just for the three of them.
Do you record your family sessions?
NM: Oh Oh. No. What an idea! I should record them, you know. We would talk about the gigs, about what is God and existence, and about what they feel in the music, and how the music connects to God, etc. Other kids would tell them about their church experience, but my kids would tell their friends about the music: “Our Dad does gigs for us!” and explain what we played at home that morning.

CM: So your journey continues….
NM: Like Bheki Mseleku who said he never knew how or where to finish a tune, it just kept going and going, with no real ending…… So I think I love the same kind of thing, where music never ends. Durban is a center for guitar harmonies, too, which I love. My father played guitar, so I have been inspired by those traditional sounds . I portray this in the song,“From an Old Bag of Umkhumbane”. I recently discovered that my paternal grandfather came from this town of Umkhumbane which, like Sophiatown, became a melting pot for jazz and music. There was a whole tradition of guitar culture. This is why I like to explore how to express this guitar on the piano.

I’ll be doing my masters at Stellenbosch University through York University partnership. I’ll focus on oral tradition and jazz, and how music has been taught without written music. Similarly, how stories in a song have been orally presented, not written. Written scores present different interpretations, like Winston’s Yakhal’ Inkomo which he authored in a different time. Likewise, I’m dealing with certain things now, but how do I make that song relevant and how do we push this music forward for it to make sense with the generations to come which don’t know much about the history of South Africa? But in this music, certain things can be coded and documented, of history and music.

CM: The coding of music……

At this point, Nduduzo had only half hour to check in for his flight. Our chat could have continued forever….. It will.

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Bokani Dyer dyertribes again at Straight No Chaser with Swiss crew

As light rain falls in the middle of Cape Town’s dry winter, Straight No Chaser is the place to be, a manageable venue that handles what warmth seekers want to hear – good live jazz. I walked in on last night’s well advertised gig featuring our own pianist Bokani Dyer who presented his band of seasoned Swiss musicians having musical ties to South Africa. Together, on a country wide tour, his Swiss Quintet performed Bokani’s own ‘dyertribe’ compositions, some from his latest album, ‘World Music’.

Bokani Dyer Swiss Quintet on Tour in South Africa

Bokani Dyer Swiss Quintet on Tour in South Africa

I arrived for the second set, as the first group of patrons were leaving. Entering this small but cozy venue from the chilly wet outside, my eye glasses immediately fogged up. The sauna of human breath was inviting, indeed, and I quickly warmed up as these five musicians took to the stage, thanks to their sponsor, Prohelvetia.

Being a Bheki Mseleku fan (as I am), Bokani performed his own version of Mseleku’s “Cycle” which featured a stunning double bass solo from Stephan Kurmann, followed by a piano duet which sounded very much like the late great Mseleku we knew. Trumpeter Mattias Spillmann started the next song rustling an A4 paper as the bass punctuated. Bokani plucked his piano strings. Drummer Norbert Pfammatter fell in with a steady funky beat. Then, Spillmann put his hat on his trumpet to act like a muffler, another innovative ‘hat trick’! I called this ‘trumpet ruffles while hat muffles’ as the song’s name wasn’t announced.

Mattias Spillmann's hat muffler

Mattias Spillmann’s hat muffler

The final song, “Fanfare”, struck off with a familiar South African beat – again a Mseleku sound – with an extraordinary saxophone solo by Donat Fisch followed by an equally competitive one by the trumpet. It was a finale making any outside inclement weather little to care about.

The Bokani I knew from the past was shining, as usual. But he has lost his dredlocks. His shaved head grown out a little bit connotes him as avant-garde, plain, older, but simpler. I guess a Bokani in the raw!! I grew up with big Afro -black-is-beautiful heads. OK, I’m outdated….

Bokani’s set perked me up. Mind you, at 10.20pm, on a rainy chilly night at the bottom of this hemisphere, I could have dealt with bed. Easily. The trek out was worth it! And why the Swiss four? In May 2014, Bokani did a residency in Basel at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club where he performed with his Swiss comrades who, individually, carry a wealth of experience with worldly views, including performing with notable South African musicians like Abdullah Ibrahim, Feya Faku, Marcus Wyatt, etc.

Bokani with Marlon & Shane

I now look forward to digesting his new CD, ‘World Music’, which Bokani recorded with South Africans he has grown up with. The 12 songs promise another dyertribe special, I’m sure!

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Mike del Ferro’s “The Johannesburg Sessions”, a CD Review by C. Martin

Here comes another improvisational jewel of an album from Dutchman Mike del Ferro, whose piano keys, heart, and well-versed skills combine traditional South African sounds with electronic wizardry of fellow band members, all South African. Challenge Records is offering this third album, “The Johannesburg Sessions”, as part of a 10-album series that present del Ferro’s “songs inspired by wandering the globe”. His South African experience of absorbing local jazz sounds, rural and urban rhythms, and musings with traditional healers has produced another magically enlightening study in sound. Like his recent workshop “Working in Sound” at the March 2015 SAJE conference (South African Association for Jazz Education), del Ferro explores how electronic effects open up avenues for compositions which wed the traditional human and animal sounds with contemporary improvisation. More about that later.

The Johannesburg Sessions

Cover: “The Johannesburg Sessions”

The album is filled with Zulu and Xhosa vocal chants (from Zulu singer Mbuso Khoza) mixed with electronica of bassist/composer Carlo Mombelli, and punctuated with African rhythmic sounds of drummer Kesivan Naidoo and percussionist Thebe Lipere. It opens with a lilting Zulu song, “Smomondiya”, about a beautiful Zulu woman. One hears Khoza’s falsetto voice enamoured with her image. “Ntylo Ntylo” followed by “Goema on Saturday” ring familiar to the local popular song and Cape rhythms. Naidoo kicks off in characteristic goema style with del Ferro’s piano chords and phrases and Khoza’s vocal chants announcing the joyful street dances and parades reminiscent of the January Cape Carnival.
“Umlolozelo” is an absolutely beautiful traditional Zulu ballad, presented skilfully by Khoza’s gentle and wide soprano voice range as is his other slow ballad, “Imbusise” meaning ‘Lord bless the work of my hands’. An interesting 12/8 improvisation is “Twelfish” with familiar worldly percussive effects but fundamentally African. The final songs feature Khoza’s tributes to his cultural kingdoms of old, of the late 1870s Zulu King Cetshwayo’s reign with original scores by del Ferro in “Leyla” and “Mpushini”, which is a melodic del Ferro song with Khoza spoken lyrics about the river that runs next to his native village in KZN. It ends the album on a meditative note.

My favourite on the album comes in the middle: “The Mosquito Loop” is fun. The mozzie buzz is always there, glittering with the electronic effects of bassist Mombelli playing with his pedals as he enjoys doing. There is something ‘traditional’ (in keeping with the album’s otherwise African sounds) about the ever-present and monotonous mosquito buzz as the piano echoes in short phrases as the percussion taps out energy and the drum rolls crescendo (Naidoo’s signature method) just as the mozzie lands. The psychedelic electronica merges as mozzie flies away happy! This is a fascinating study in pedal loop improvisation – just make sure your stereophonic range is well tuned.

I can’t wait to hear the subsequent 7 albums yet to come in this 10-part masterful series of global sounds.

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Del Ferro is also a master of improvisation workshops as exhibited in several ‘shops’ I attended in March.  Nobuhle Mazinyane, a 16 year old Grade 11 student at Groote Schuur High School, played her own composition at Mike’s workshop “Working in Sound” on 30 March 2015.

Mike del Ferro coaching Nobuhle Mazinyane

Mike del Ferro coaching Nobuhle Mazinyane

“Try to give each note more or less the same value. The stretch of your hand – one note in the chord can make a big difference.” He explained how the electronic keyboard can guide one’s composition with the different harmonies and sounds (like scat). “With the Roland (keyboard), I play different harmonies because the overtones change. I never use the ‘piano’ sound on the electric piano. Trick is to send a note behind the bar, a syncopation….”

In his other workshop, “Self management and networking for musicians”, he advises: “It is essential for starting (and non starting) musicians to have the right organizational and networking skills in order to create a successful career in music”.” Don’t wait too late to learn these skills. Network your sounds: “….12/8 and 6/8 time – you hear this in Senegal and South Africa. There are lots of inspirations from African rhythms and traditions.”

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Mike del Ferro’s dizzying schedule of ‘wandering the globe’ can be seen on his website, www.mikedelferro.com, along with a multitude of video clips that offer armchair travelers an array of those globalized sounds ala Mike.

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Filed under CD & Gig Reviews, Education, Interviews with Carol Martin