Carol’s Musings

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

Delheim Jazz and Cheese Fondue 2022 Sundays: Sonic Joys with Taste!

Why do many arts lovers make an association between live jazz as a musical idiom and food? Upmarket hotels and restaurants may advertise their ‘jazz brunch’ for a slow, mellow sonic Sunday mince and munch which is always paired, must be paired, with a particular grape cultivar. Or that fancy cocktail ‘special’ for romantic sundowners where cool jazzy drums show ocean view backdrops at the harbor. Is this snobbishness, maybe? Or just favourable intentions to swing the Happiness Index with sound and taste?

Cape wine Estates tend to do the latter during our Mediterranean-styled winter climate, using both indoor and outdoor settings to advantage as rains and chills come and go.

Some, like Delheim Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, offer cozy indoor plates on wooden tables surrounded by open-faced brick walls characteristic of a wine cellar. A complementary glass of Glühwein is offered at the entrance, and acoustic jazz is next on order, along with sizzling cheese fondue and maybe other chosen meal top-ups. And, of course, your order of award-winning Estate wine.

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The music happens on Sunday afternoons, supported and curated by Luvuyo Kakaza of the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA), and runs from June 23 to August 25. This otherwise quiet wine tasting cellar transforms into a bustling and sometimes boisterous vibe of eaters-cum-listeners as two live musical sets are performed.

Sunday, July 24, featured multi-instrumentalist and crooner Mark Fransman and his Trio of bassist Eugene Ackerman and drummer Paul Tizzard, all reputable session musicians in Cape Town. There’s no airs about this jazz wizard, a master at simultaneously (not digitally) producing instrumental sounds emanating firstly from the piano which sets the tune. Then that saxophone overlay, played with one hand while the other hand wrestles with piano chords. A brief respite and comment from the mouth harmonica which really needs two hands to bellow out that bluesy rendition of some funky gospel tune. All interspersed with vocals and lyrics that hum mournful messages in between breaths from harmonica and sax. Yes, it is breathtaking!

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Hot iron pots of bubbling goat cheese are placed on the table along with pieces of dough bread and a generous allotment of fresh vegetables, bacon, and cold meats, all which get doused in the cheese fondue. “The jazz has certainly become as big a highlight, if not bigger, as the cheese fondues we traditionally serve as part of the event at this time of the year”, says the Estate’s marketing agent. See their lineup here:

Nestled in the Simonsberg Mountain, 50 km from Cape Town, the Sperling family-owned Delheim Estate boasts award-winning wines, including the Grand Reserve, and the popular Pinotage Rosé (the 1st of its kind to be produced in South Africa in 1976). The popular Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is exclusively available from the estate, and pairs exquisitely with cheese and veggies.

The lineup to come provides rich and colourful musical ambiance, but events do become SOLD OUT early.

31 July: Bongani Sotshononda Quartet;
7 Aug: Sean Sanby Quartet;
14 Aug: Thandeka Dladla and trio;
21 Aug: Keegan Steenkamp; and,
28 Aug: Nobuhle Ashanti.

The Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA), started in 2016 as a registered non-profit company, envisions to create and facilitate performance, recording and skills development opportunities as well as international performing and educational exchanges for emerging and established musicians and related artists from communities in the Western Cape. Their supports have been vast, and include not only this wine estate, but other city venues, like the Alliance Francaise.

Reservations are at: or tickets at
R450 per person will get you to the table and includes the complimentary Glühwein on arrival, the live entertainment, the cheese fondue-for-two including bread and vegetables, and a decadent dessert. All beverages and meal add-ons are not included, but the wine selection is handsome.
Bookings are per pot – serving parties of two of four.

You’re sure to have some great Winter fun in the Cape’s glorious wine country!

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Saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane: Thinking Education and Spirituality in Music

Thirty-year old tenor/soprano saxophonist, Linda Sikhakhane, remarked in 2018: “Jazz comes from a traditional perspective for me rather than thinking of jazz as an art form.”  So let’s follow this thought, as All Jazz Radio caught up with him during his brief, but revealing Cape Town tour this July.

A winner of a SAMRO Overseas Scholarship, after studying music at University of KwaZulu Natal, and before that with the late Dr. Brian Thusi’s famed Siyakhula Music Centre in Durban, Sikhakhane headed for the  New School for Social Research in New York in 2018.  He liked the teachers there; hence, the choice. 

After his two year program ended, earning him a Bachelors in music, he hoped to continue studying for his Masters degree.  As happened, the touring Covid pandemic settled him, rather, back home in South Africa where he mentored with piano maestro, Nduduzo Makhathini, and featured in several of the latter’s albums. Having released his first album before New York, Two Sides, One Mirror (2017), his grooming back home helped him release An Open Dialogue in 2020 which also won him the Apple Music’s Artist of the Month (November) award, the first South African to win such!

Nduduzo Makhathini-credit: Rod Taylor

It seems this soft-spoken Sikhakhane was especially destined to bring us musical joy blessed with a spiritual touch amidst otherwise hard human realities blasting South African society, like the riots of July 2021 in KZN and the silencing by the viral pandemic.  But his energies were never silenced; songs for his third album, Isambulo , just released (July 2022) under the US record label, Ropeadope, (the first South African to do so)  were cultivated after deep reflection on what his musical style is all about.  “Isambulo means ‘revelation’. The album shows a journey of religious concepts about what freedom is all about, on physical, psychological, and spiritual levels.” 

Now studying at Oslo’s Norwegian Academy of Music for his Masters in Music Performance, Sikhakhane will not only expand his musical horizons, but develop his philosophy of appreciation for ancestral teachings and the spiritual tools for living a good life.


Let’s talk about experiences of studying music overseas and what influences or changes help develop one’s ‘art’ or, as Sikhakhane would prefer to think, “one’s spiritual perspective”.

Jazz Curriculum: Honouring the Legacy

Sikhakhane admits that the jazz curriculum he found at the New School in New York was familiar since American jazz was imported into his UKZN music training. And besides the NY faculty members who enticed him to study there, the retention of jazz history in the curriculum impressed him:

“What is important to me is how the American jazz curriculum includes the history of jazz music, and that earlier renowned jazz musicians can still have a voice in the institutions.  In other words, the Coltranes and Miles Davis’s are still alive in USA contemporary music, but the Barney Rachebane’s or Tete Mbambisa’s aren’t heard any more here in South Africa! “

Many South African musicians have complained to educationists that the elders and legacy holders are not being honoured in present-day curriculum. “One thing I’m constantly thinking about is how do we create a home within this curriculum, a home that would be safe for our music, for our thoughts, for our Masters?   So my journey of studying is not only about gaining knowledge,  but how do we create a home for these knowledge systems?  It’s important that Bra Winston, Bra Molelekwa, and others not be erased.  How do we archive them and document them for educational longevity?”

We can still buy CDs about the music of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker today as their music has been preserved.  But in South Africa, we ask who is responsible for mapping out strategies for teaching jazz,  and where is this music curriculum coming from? From what sources?  Where would Sikhakhane begin if he were asked to upgrade the music/jazz curriculum:  

Linda Sikhakhane – credit: Ano Shumba

“For me, the first thing to do is to honour the source.  The institution receives students who audition but they’re already coming from another training, and siting their teachers. So the institution should honour where the student is coming from.  At the New School, I was given the opportunity to choose my own saxophone teacher on the faculty.  Likewise, if I was studying in a South African institution, I would love to be given the opportunity to study with (a non-faculty) Makhaya Mahlangu, but somehow there isn’t the opportunity. He’s not there.  It worries me also that I went to University of KZN, but I couldn’t study with Mam Busi Mhlongo [Busisiwe Victoria Mhlongo]  because she was also not in the curriculum.  So after school hours, we attend those concerts of influential artists, but somehow they are not honoured as teachers in the institution.”  LS would like to see the Barney Rachebane’s and the Tete Mbambisa’s brought into the classroom. 

Preserving Longevity of the Music

“You see, they are teaching already, but not in the institution!  I spent a lot of time with my mentor, Dr. Brian Thusi, learning from him, but when I graduated from UKZN, he’s not mentioned!”

Reference was made to’s approach (  compile materials for schools that archive the legacy of noteworthy past and present artists, like the late Barney Rachebane, by publishing their CD recordings, books, and histories for piloting by the Department of Education in Gauteng schools and elsewhere. Also, these learning materials are made available to the public, as well.  Recordings include, for instance, Amakholwa – Believers by singer Busi Mhlongo and Octavia Rachebane’s  Episode 05: Re – Invention with Octavia Rachabane

While in New York, LS was drawn to Cuban music. How is it that such music has experienced longevity in spite of Cuba’s problems with sanctions and economic stresses through the decades? “There’s something about being dislocated. Dislocation creates a search for something that connects you to home, so the Cubans have been able to use music as a way to help them remember who they are.” 

Spiritual Foundations

Future of his form of jazz?  LS finds more of his voice as he moves about American, European and African sounds. “ Music for me is a tool for discovering and not to judge or be judged.  I’m always looking to discover because this is a very innovative period and I’m paying attention to what is happening now.”  So what is it about the saxophone that works for LS?  “I’m trying to have my saxophone speak my language.  My spiritual language, my history, my people.  Zulu music. And the function of music itself.  I’m thinking about all these things.  My biggest goal is make this instrument understand myself and how I can translate whatever, my feelings, my spirit. Think about it:  My instrument is conventional. The saxophone is played all around the world. But our influences are not the same.  One example is Bra Winston Mankunku who really defines the sound of South African jazz and the saxophone.  And we cannot ignore how space influences our sound – like being in Cape Town, one is exposed to the mountain, and the water…ecological beauties which can influence our sound.”

“When we speak about freedom, for instance, we talk about the physical, but not the psychological and spiritual side also.  We need to deal with the totality of what freedom entails.”  LS talks about ‘religious concepts’ which imply religious institutions, such as the Abrahamic faith traditions.  But spirituality can belong to all. “I was brought up in a church, but my family has always been traditional, but also believed in practicing our religion in the church.  Even religious concepts are spiritual because it’s something we believe in”.   So how could he study overseas and write songs away from home, yet maintain a consistency and attachment to his traditional Zulu music forms?

“My studies and my music journey, I believe, belong together.  So I don’t become a different person when I’m studying….It’s all connected.  Take for instance my song, ‘uNongoma’,  a place in KZN where my family comes from.  The word stem means ‘mother of music’.  It speaks of longing, the male vocalist is quivering, chanting, speaking about longing for his father. He is missing his father.  I wrote these songs away.  For my previous album – most of the songs were written while I was in the USA”.  Clearly, Sikhakhane is culturally deeply rooted, and in Makhathini’s vision, ‘Listens to the Ground’.


The Isambulo album

Sikhakhane’s 6-week residency in 2021 in Basel, Switzerland, gave him reflective time to produce and record songs on his latest album, Isambulo“ Most of my band members are from Switzerland except for the singer Paras, the percussionist El Hadji Ngari Ndong, and singer Anna Widauer from Austria, and all band members were working with my residency. We could not perform in live gigs, so I concentrated on recording, instead.  Nduduzo Makhathini had recorded his Inner Dimensions album there so we knew these musicians from these connections.”   

Isambulo promotes a respect for tradition, ancestral learnings, and longing for the spiritual. It sets the mind and heart into reflective, sometimes daunting, sometimes contemplative, but always upbeat moods.  It seems certain notes and chords tweak certain areas of the body as well. Just listen to your own reactions.  Sikhakhane’s style of projecting soft long notes entertwined with fast-paced runs and wailings touch various emotional and contemplative levels of our being.  One just needs to listen soulfully with eyes wide shut.

The album starts with a rework of LS’s 2017 single, ‘Inner Freedom’ which takes us on a meditative journey one slow note at a time.  ‘Gog_uIdah’ is his prayer to his grandmother when she passed away, but did not resignate until years later when the song emerged in his Spirit.  An awakening.  Other subsequent songs feature a frantic, energetic, sax keeping pace with fast beats of the drums and bass.  Vocalist Anna Widauer presents lyrics in English that talk about procrastination and our lazy tendency to just wait-and-see in ‘A Day Passed’.  Next, in ‘Ikhandlela’, a subtle samba rhythm entices the tenor sax to join in a joy, an upliftment.  Fabien Iannone’s double bass casts a different slow mood compared to his style in other album songs.  Appropriately ending with ‘Hymn for the Majors’, Sikhakhane continues this lower register meditation with more joyful pulses and reflective moods, obviously honouring the musical Masters that went before.

His home knowledge systems clearly embolden his musical achievements so far. We look forward to more of the Sikhakhane therapeutic sounds for the weary souls out there!

Streaming of Isambulo album is available on all major music platforms.  A delightful video in the House on the Hill series tells us lots more about how Sikhakhane has informed and cultivated his music.  (Nov 21, 2021).  Produced by Language 12.

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Eric Alan Wannenburg (1951-2022) Sustained Jazz Radio for South Africa and Globally

Eric Alan Wannenburg (10 Dec 1951 – 28 June 2022) was a music institution in his own right, and promoter of radio jazz in South Africa and globally for some fifty years. A resident of Cape Town, he passed away peacefully this week after a debilitating illness. He leaves a legacy of profound supports, passion, and unadulterated love for professional radio broadcasting focusing on jazz, blues, Latin & World jazz of South Africa and the Global Village.

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Eric was a founding member of the Cape Town-based community radio Fine Music Radio (FMR – 101.3FM) which went live in July 1995, and worked as the Program Manager responsible for jazz programming amidst a predominately classic music oriented station. Eric was also responsible for training new jazz presenters for this new community station, and in 1993, mentored a young FMR Duty Producer, Granville Skippers, who later joined All Jazz Radio as a weekly presenter.

During his tenure, Richard Arends served as Chair of FMR’s Board of Directors, and Rashid Lombard was Station Manager. In March 2005, Eric left FMR in to join Radio 2000, a national public broadcast station with the SABC PBS portfolio, where he produced and presented his popular ‘Jazz Rendezvous’ series of weekly three-hour sessions which included live interviews with local and overseas jazz musicians and professionals intermixed with airplay of leading albums, chats about good foods, wines, and all good things that accompany the world of improvised music, blues, Latin, and world jazz.

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Chatting with Billy Domingo, CEO of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival

In 2012, Eric saw the need for a wider exposure and listenership of the growing jazz genre, both within South Africa and globally. Thus, his home radio studio birthed All Jazz Radio as an Internet Radio station which streams 24/7 jazz ‘live on the Net’ on He left Radio 2000 in 2013, subsequently, to pursue this lifelong dream.

Each program is streamed live during the day, and repeated twice during the week in the evenings in-between the playlist streaming. The broadcasts can also be streamed from various mobile apps, like TuneIn and Radio South Africa.

As the founder, program and music Manager, and compiler for All Jazz Radio, Eric brought on board several local and international jazz radio presenters over the years. Of the Capetownians, Granville Skippers presented his The Mother City Mix, welcomed old and new South African and other jazz works, and has continued to assist with technical matters in radio programming. Guitarist James Kibby presents his weekly The Kibby Factor with James “Acid Robot” Kibby, a blend of futuristic jazz, blues, and electronic music. Clifford Graham, an old colleague, had presented his Take 5 & Then Some, a mix of mainstream, nostalgic, vocal and pop jazz with a smattering of news about theatre, music, and reviews. Brian Currin focused on South African blues and rock in his The Vagabond Show.

The Global Village of radio presenters included Wolfgang König, based in Berlin, who produces and presents Jazz Around The World, focusing on the European jazz scene. Besides broadcasting, he writes, attends jazz festivals, and has been a frequent visitor to Cape Town’s International Jazz Festival. Other presenters include:

Modern Jazz Today with Jeff Williams & Kari Gaffney (USA)
Todd’s Turntable with Todd Gordon (UK)
Smooth Jazz Weekend with Tina E Clarke (USA)
The Groove Merchant with Andy Hardy (NZ)

Eric presented his The Jazz Rendezvous Radio Pinotage, Coffee, Sarmie (Sandwich) & Stockvel Show, which included ‘In Conversation with’ … a leading artist. His ‘The Klutz In The Kitchen’ segment presented zany and sometimes irreverent chats with Chefs and restaurateurs about recipes, artisanal wines, liquors, and beers, and how to lick your fat fingers delicately. Wingerd Griep en Ander Stories (Vineyard Flu and Other Stories which is also known as The Wrath of the Grape) debunked many of the myths of enjoying and drinking wine, spirits and beer with a special focus on artisanal products. Before his professional broadcasting days began, Eric had been a club DJ and chef/restaurant owner with a penchant for South Africa’s finest Pinotage. Since he collected recipe books, he added books and albums about jazz, blues, Latin and world jazz to his cluttered shelves.

Eric made sure the written word about the world of jazz was accessible and informative to avid listeners and readers. The All Jazz Radio website contains a section for this, including his ‘Blog Supreme’ with quirky chats, reviews, and comments about the food-wine-jazz world of quality cuisine supported by quality live jazz. Other writers like Carol M. Martin web-edits, writes reviews on live events, interviews and writes about musicians and their albums. Her writings are found under ‘Carol’s Musings’.

Sadly his shows drained his time away; his energies had to be diverted to the necessary tasks of organising and cataloguing all incoming albums he received from all over the world, daily.

Thanks to contributions from the volunteer contributors named above and to Eric’s passion and leadership, All Jazz Radio has received its various awards and acknowledgements since inception:

• AJR was the proud winner of the Mzantsi (South African) Jazz Award for the Best Radio Station Playing Jazz 2018/9

• AJR received the Certificate of Acknowledgement of Participation and Appreciation on the 94th Birthday of President Nelson Mandela 2000 Voices Birthday Wish Recording 2012

• Eric was the Recipient of the Radio 2000 Staff Excellence Award – Weekend Presenter of the Year 2010/11

• Eric served as Master of Ceremonies on the Rosies Stage at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and as media conference host from inception of the Festival event, from 2000 – 2018.

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With Judith Supuma at CTIJF

Eric leaves behind a host of colleagues and close friends. His wishes are that the AJR Radio station continue to promote its mission. Friends can join the various media platforms, such as TuneIn and Radio South Africa apps, on Facebook pages: and
The Twitter handle: @AllJazzRadioSA
The website at

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Whilst at Berklee, who has been the biggest influence in your growth? Just being there has influenced me on so many levels. I’m playing with incredible musicians and meeting amazing people whom I call friends. I am studying with some of the best professors/musicians in the industry. The percussion department alone has drummers I’ve looked up to since I was a child. For my principal instrument, the drum, so far I’ve studied with Richard Flanagan, Jon Hazilla, Neal Smith, and Billy Kilson. All of these interactions have been a great influence. Sunday, the 25th – by Ciara Moser, Amaury Cabral, Lumanyano Mzi, Paolo Peruzzi, feat Aditi Malhotra

One might think that coming from the African continent might seem like a disadvantage, but in fact, it has been my strongest weapon. Our strong culture and diversity are what sets us apart. That is why being African alone has been exciting; our music is at the very core of what the institution is built on. But coming home, it’s always good to see my friends killing it on the local scene, performing and cutting albums, like Mandisi Dyantyis, Sean Sanby, and Muneeb Hermans to mention a few. It was incredible to listen to Hilton’s Goema Club band live at Hanks the one night. And thank God for social media, we are able to stay in touch.   Unity Band playing ‘Trails’, 2019.

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

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

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

Original Unity Band-credit: Daniel R. Manners

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

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

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Reedman McCoy Mrubata Meets Strings in the Sonic Chambers of a Pandemic

Unholy alliances emerge from the lockdown blues, it seems, while we tend to listen to our own noise and seek redress from unpleasant pandemic restrictions. Reedman and eclectic jazz artist, McCoy Mrubata, decided during 2020 and 2021 to just be quiet, reflective, and continue the creative bent that has characterized his unending career in music. Two albums later, we revel in his generous offerings.

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Quiet Please (2021)
Speaking to SABC Morning Live one day, Mrubata was adamant: “We talk too much, there’s too much narrative, and not enough sitting back and listening to the youth, the musicians, with each other. We need to listen more.” Quiet Please , a compendium of long-worked compositions over time, represents his thoughts and tributes towards many musicians he has worked with, including pianist Paul Hanmer on 4 tracks and bassist Lex Futshane on 2 tracks. With clever finesse during those quiet days of the pandemic, Mrubata decided to throw in four stringed instruments into his repertoire, thanks to assistance from arranger Gareth Harvey.

“The real influence was Andile Yenana. He was in KZN, me in JGB. We went into Studio in December 2020 face-to-face after sharing notes on songs.”

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Andile Yenana

Four short ‘Lockdown Suites’ were assisted by Yenana and Hanmer and feature 2 violins, viola, and cello, with soothing flutes of Sydney Mnisi and Mrubata in a rare harmony. The bouncy mbaqanga ‘Ndlelantle’ breaks the previous soft ballad mode, as though the pandemic was finally breaking up and freeing us all. Yenana’s own ‘Saka Ke’ brings back the ballad with stunning piano runs.

“This is the first time I brought in strings. It was challenging in a studio setting, but Gareth Harvey did the strings arrangement. “ Quiet Please intended just that: “Let’s pause and listen to the young ones. It’s nice to zoom, but at the end of the day, we have to work. There’s too much narration.”

Quiet-spoken, 63 year old Mrubata, known for his subtle on-stage jokes and stories behind his songs, has yet to ‘take a break’, pushing his desires and intentions to produce more strings in inter-generational

The Strings Attached Project – First Green (2022)

Mrubata’s Strings project had been long in the making, thanks to collaboration with excellent chamber musicians based in Daveyton near Johannesburg, and skillful arrangements by composers Viwe Mkiswana and Gareth Harvey who also had his hand in producing Quiet Please.

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Honouring women, an important cross-generational hum through Mrubata’s musical and ethical veins, runs thematically through the album starting with Swedish vocalist, Eva Rune’s ‘First Green’ composition about spring in Sweden. This is a soothing chat between soprano sax and cello, mellow with intention to entice. Gradually, the songs swing into familiar rhythms without strings domination. Continuing with the melodic ‘Two Ma Sophies’ , one hears the steady percussion and bass rooting the song. Familiar South African chords and choral structures take over in ‘Zodwa Wam’, a tribute to Mrubata’s best love and partner, his wife. To the glee of Norway-based saxophonist Shannon Mowday, Mrubata presents her ‘Women in Africa’ as Track 8, written as a tribute to the brutal death of Mrubata’s daughter in 2006. Mowday says on her Facebook page:

“When experiences like this come into your ‘inner circle’, you are reminded of the harsh reality of SA having one of the highest rates of abuse against women and children. A fear that ultimately saw me leave my country. A song in her dedication flowed out of me-whilst upbeat and seemingly ‘positive’ – honouring women for the gift of life and nurturing mankind, overcoming all obstacles thrown at them with positivity; it also asks in return, how is it then that they are treated so unkindly, alluding to rape and murder.”

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Mrubata tosses between orchestral chamber sounds and jazzy arrangements, switching instruments between his lilting flute in early songs to broader temperaments of his saxophones, ending off with his expressive, jivey tenor sax. His influencers and co-producers, bassist Viwe Mkiswana, arranger Gareth Harvey, and others add weight. He enjoys mood ranges: the rhythmic ‘Tunisia’ with drums, darbuka, and percussion which reflect co-composer Greg Georgiades’s own style of middle eastern cadencies, followed by a thoughtful duet between soprano sax and cello in ‘You Are Not Alone’ composed by Mkiswana. Ziza Muftic’s vocals in ‘Ziphi’ add texture and strength along with Godfrey Mgcina’s drumcussion, another ‘McCoy’ special.

More mbaqanga with strings follow in the homey jive in ‘Khumbul’ekhaya’, a danceable tune skillfully arranged by Harvey. A tribute to Ma Madosini with younger musicians, vocalist Thandeka Dladla and fugelhornist Marco Maritz round out the feminine touch to this unusual album.

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Stephen de Souza, bass; McCoy Mrubata sax; Marco Maritz trumpet

What’s next? More Quiet? Strings? Intergenerational collaborations? …… YES!

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Trombonist Siya Charles takes up opportunities with poise and guts

Why do some female musicians take to the large, bulky horn instruments like the baritone saxophone, the bass trombone, the bass clarinet, etc? “It’s their rich, deep, wide sound that holds melody, mood, and a sense of power,” chirps trombonist Siya Charles, as she prepares to leave South Africa for academic ventures at Julliard School of Music in New York City. “They’re suitable to round out that big band sound.”

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“When I was in High School, I actually wanted to learn jazz piano, but my teacher, Graham Beyer, enticed me toward the trombone. I’m happy that now, there’s a rise of more female musicians learning the brass instruments in South Africa, thanks to encouraging teachers and music programs.”

Charles is a product of Eastern Cape upbringing but with mobile parents as her father found work as a civil engineer in various vistas of the country. Hence, her exposure to different societies, schools, and cultures enriched her now progressive tendencies to build skills in both the jazz music genre and academia. Opportunities came her way, spinning her through exciting artistic collectives, from home music festivals like the Makhanda Youth Jazz Festivals, to international youth collaboration in Norway and Italy.

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At National Arts Festival 2021

Thirty one year old Charles is ready to roll, from working hard as a ‘side’ band member to leading her own Sextet of three horns. “After I finished my Honours at UCT in 2013, I was in an academic space where I loved books, doing research, and I just wanted to keep on going. I could gig on the side which was great for me. Then I went straight into a Masters Degree in Dissertation and jazz performance at UCT. I loved the academic side but used the lockdown time during the Covid pandemic to write my compositions. I was constantly learning from others, too.”

Charles is an avid teacher. “I grew up thinking I would perform as my primary focus. It’s been hard to break into the Cape town networks because much depends on ‘who you know’ and how you can break into that ‘brotherhood’ of musicians. I’ve always wanted to be in that teaching role and work with youth, and see them grow so fast, but for now I’m tending towards performing.”

We talked about social activism required of women artists and how many are reluctant to put themselves out there on a limb. The importance of reaching young students is one way. “I really want to be a part of the grassroots levels. Like, remember the program of the Norwegian Academy of Music that bought instruments for some township-based young musicians? Three of us taught at the Mannenberg High School with these instruments but it became so difficult due to security issues. Look at how Lorenzo Blignaut, the trumpeter, has forged his career – a good example of growing up in a township band, the Delft Band, as a teenager!”

As with life’s surprises, all may not go as smoothly as one would like in spite of ‘hard work’ intentions. “I’ve just been underestimated a lot, and talked down to by fellow collaborators. For instance, as a trombone player, I would be asked: ‘Are you sure you can play that?’ or about a tempo: ‘Is that not too fast for you?’ We female trombone players are sometimes seen as a disability,” she laughs.

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So what advice would Charles give to female musicians, given societal attitudes and security issues? “I had to practice my hiney off to get past all of that! I just want to be seen as a musician, and not be overlooked and undermined.” She referred also to her learnings from other female horn players: “Siya Makuzeni has shared her stories with honesty – stories about experiencing sexual harassment in the jazz space. Her overcoming these obstacles was a big inspiration for me. Same with Shannon Mowday’s experiences, being harassed because she preferred that larger baritone sax! We really need mentorships for young women artists.” This echoes the past experience of SAJE (South African Association for Jazz Education) in running a mentoring program which, after six months, ran out of funds.

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Shannon Mowday

Other blockages? Charles admits there have been payment issues and difficulties in obtaining adequate finances as a young Black South African. “People find it risky to invest in musicians, so I went the academic route, through scholarships, to make my networks and participate. Also, being away from my family at age 16 to school in Cape Town was hard. I got a scholarship to attend Stellenberg High School near Bellville and to sing in their school choir, while my family stayed in Gqeberha. That was difficult and I had to live in a dorm arrangement with the other students. This taught me discipline, but I told the conductor that I’m more interested in playing an instrument than in singing. My mother sang, my society sings, so I did that. I also so missed my little brother, being away from him and not seeing him grow.”

But Charles has managed admirably, with a seriousness of purpose. The Julliard School of Music in New York awaits her to start her two year Masters program this September 2022. But how did that come about for a young Black South African woman artist? “I pursued searching for scholarships and bursaries on line as I subscribe to an international network offering scholarships. Noone really helped me. It was through hard research. I found this First Rand scholarship from a philanthropist who had started the bank, the Laurie Dippenaar scholarship. So, I am contracted to return to South Africa for 5 years after completing my academic program. I won’t ‘get lost’ in New York.” While that was reassuring that South Africa might not ‘lose’ another creative artist to the other worlds, not everybody has initiative to make it on their own as she did. “We need to pay more attention to harvesting or facilitating opportunities for young women to grow their skills,” she admitted, “rather than have young people rely on their own initiative or networks which may be weak to non-existent.”

Stream her music here:

An 18 minute YouTube video shows Siya Charles’ expertise in leading her sextet at her National Arts Festival 2021 performance in Capetown: with band members:
Zeke Le Grange (Saxophone)
Shaw Komori (Trumpet)
Blake Hellaby (Piano)
Sibusiso Matsimela (Bass)
Damian Kamineth (Drums)

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Guitarist Allou April & singer Sandra Butler croon Butler-style

The reorganized Blue Room at Cape Town’s premium Grub & Vine restaurant on Bree Street celebrated the end of International Jazz Month (April) befittingly with another ‘April’ performing his bluesy works.

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Allou April 27 April 2022

Journalist Rusana Philander was there to also capture the various Spirits hovering through the evening’s repertoire: guitarist Allou April and crooners Heinrich Frans and Sandra Butler who took to the stage. Both singers boasted a special acquaintance that has influenced their musical careers: internationally renowned, South African-born guitarist, Jonathan Butler, now residing in California, to whom this tribute concert was dedicated.
Rusana tells it at it was.
It was a true Jonathan Butler tribute like none when his sister, Sandra, joined the band on stage.

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Credit: Rusana Philander

The brilliant guitarist, composer and singer Allou April wrapped up International Jazz Month of April at Cape Town’s new jazz venue, the Blue Room, with flair as the Butler ‘sound’ and legacy was upheld by vocalists Sandra and another Jonathan fan, Heinrich Frans.

Every time I listen to Allou performing, I am mesmerised at how masterfully he plays the guitar. He relayed the story of the first time he heard Jonathan Butler’s ‘7th Avenue’ song on the radio and recorded it on a cassette tape. “It was 1988 and I was rewinding the tape and listening to the song over and over. ‘7th Avenue’ is also the name of the street where Jonathan grew up in Belgravia, Athlone, a suburb of Cape Town.” Allou’s first session also included the song ‘Elizabeth’ which Jonathan wrote for his mother.

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Jonathan Butler, Facebook page

After doing his fantastic rendition of 7th Avenue, Allou was joined on stage by singer Heinrich Frans who sang ‘Sarah, Sarah’. Other stories were told: Heinrich related how he was honoured to have travelled and performed with the Grammy nominated artist in 2003.

Heinrich Frans, Facebook page

Later, the audience delighted in a real treat when Jonathan Butler’s sister Sandra came on stage and sang his famous song: ’Falling in love with Jesus’. She recalled how she and Jonathan grew up in a family of 17 siblings in Belgravia. “Jonathan is my baby brother,” she recalled. “Every time I see candles like in the venue tonight, I think of our days growing up in 7th Avenue. Before leaving for shows at night there would always be candles burning, but when we came home later it was completely dark. I remember the night Jonathan was born and the nurse told my mother that that was to be her last baby! We have wonderful memories of growing up in 7th Avenue.”

Another friend of Jonathan Butler, Colin Daries, told me: “One day while driving in the car, Jonathan called me. He told me that Stevie Wonder asked him if he could sing his song: ‘Falling in love with Jesus’. This is one fond memory I have of Jonathan.”
That evening’s concert featured the young bassist, Charlton Daniels, who offered impressive solos that added to April’s bluesy vocals and strumming.

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Bassist Charlton Daniels

Another young gun, Brynne Bailey, was on keys and seasoned drummer, Damien Kamineth, added his usual flair to the tribute.

Pianist Brynne Bailey
Drummer Damien Kamineth

Here’s April at his best:

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Youth Developer Tu Nokwe’s Amajika buskers discovered by Japan’s Urban Cohesion

“Amajika should be seen in every corner of South Africa’s Townships”, says an impassioned singer/guitarist, storyteller, and youth developer, Tu Nokwe, who also emerged from Durban’s Amajika beginnings as a teenager in the 1970s. This rich cultural program resonates from the illustriously musical Nokwe family who continue to hone youth leadership and artistic skills in the often confusing modern urban setting of Johannesburg.

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“I decided to convert my house in Belgravia to the Amajika Youth and Children’s Performing Arts Centre, where children come together to practice, learn, and create in areas of music, dance, storytelling, poetry, and hard core drama, about the heady issues they face as children growing up in a more difficult South Africa.”

This legendary grand dame, and soul partner with the late great jazz pianist, Bheki Mseleku, has embroiled her extended family in exciting and creative mentoring, home schooling, leadership training, and artistic styles development. New creative generations emerge and surprise, like 15-year old NoBiko (named after activist Steve Biko) who sings and plays guitar with her 13-year old guitarist brother, Manna, and the swift footed, hip swaging dancing of younger brother, Mfundo, now age 7.

Amajika discovered
One day in 2019, while drawing a crowd busking on Maboneng street corners in Johannesburg, these frisky children were discovered. Several interested young Japanese musicians started filming these young performers. A year later, Biko was singing Japanese cover songs with proficiency. These children became hits spread all over Instagram and YouTube in the Japanese media.–4V8 How did that happen?

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Amajika children learning storytelling and dance at Center

Biko explains: “We youth from the area come together on Fridays and Saturdays at the Amajika Centre to perform dance, music ensembles, poetry, and storytelling with each other. We now have 9 Youth Volunteers at the Centre who teach and mentor us. Our Japanese musician friends look for innovative youth artists in various countries. In their training program called “Urban Cohesion”, which spends several months in a country talent-building with select youth groups like my siblings, I learned the lyrics to Japanese songs. We became a hit in Japan! South Africans singing in Japanese!”

Tu Nokwe admits that Amajika has had an intermittent growth. “We are always looking for funding, but at the same time, we are blessed with fantastic fellow musicians, like guitarist Bheki Khosa, to teach the kids, mostly by Zoom during the lockdown days. Now, the Amajika Arts and Life focuses on art therapy as a way to build character, spirituality, and creative thinking in youth.”

The Nokwe family
The Nokwes have married into other artistic families. Niece Ayanda Nhlangoti, mother to Biko, Manna, and Mfundo, has a cultural program on Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s WOMan Radio, a women-led online radio station, on Fridays from 10am to noon. Her life partner, Sebone Rangata, who uses the playful stage name of “King Bsorobsarabsa”, teaches drama and music arts with the Amajika children, and actively collaborates in home-schooling his three children. “Biko’s Singing Kitchen” cooks lunches for the Amajika centre children, encouraging the art of cooking accompanied with song. It is all about art as therapy.

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Manna preparing dishes

The Japanese arts invaders have also taught select children how to film using the digital camera, so Manna is often seen filming live over Facebook or Zoom the Amajika performances with his borrowed camera or tablet.

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The Nokwe Creative Development Foundation was set up as a framework for the development of a Safe House for abused women and children. For those youth over 19 years, the #AmajikaArtsandLife workshops offer training in LAW (Leadership in Artist’s World) using JOS Method (Journey of My Soul) developed from Tu Nokwe’s own artistic and spiritual journey with Self Management systems which include a Diary and Workbook.

Parental education is encouraged; parents can witness their children’s creative sessions at the Centre or on social media live. At #AfricanChild, Facebook live streaming of Centre activities along with Instagram hash-tags all flood Amajika’s social media platforms, and engage parents to come and see what their children are doing at the Centre. In October 2021, Amajika’s Facebook page praised the parents: “We are breaking bread with the parents of Amajika Performing Arts #AmajikaArtsAndLife. It was a blessed day, and the children got to show their parents the beauty of their talents and what they have been learning at Amajika. We feel stronger with the parents energy at #Amajika. Let us continue to support the #AfricanChild by all means possible.”

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In spite of the wonders of discovery by outsiders, local youth groups still struggle for recognition and funding for their programs. Why shouldn’t Amajika be a program in every Township?

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Nduduzo Makhathini Rituals radiate spiritual sonic adventures: a weekend at Glenelly Wine Estate.

Jazz pianist and prophetic word artist, Nduduzo Makhathini, brings a spiritual sonic adventure that resounds within nature’s endowed hills of Glenelly Estate Wine Cellar in Stellenbosch this weekend (March 11-13). The occasion at ‘Jazz and Vines’ presents Makhathini’s themes of “Singing as a way of Being in the World”, the title of his three offerings, blessed by nature’s fruits of the vineyards. A philosopher and healer, now on the U.S. jazz label, Blue Note, Makhathini delves into African cosmology to uncover that healing Spirit of Ntu which he draws from his immediate Zulu culture. He would like others to benefit from this, too.

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To support his musical lineup is a stellar band of notables: Young Robin Fassie Kock on trumpet and fugel horn, Ariel Zamonsky on double bass, the creative whisks of drummer Ayanda Sikade, and the equally moving Gontse Makhene on percussion.

Makhathini follows upon his latest albums (see: He talks about what a post-colonial South Africa looks like, and speaks of the continuing burning fires leaving ashes: “The fires are symptomatic of people’s tiredness, people being promised post-1994 free education, free health care, housing… without these promises being fulfilled.”

His thesis: Much healing is needed. One remedy is to sing rituals that evoke African spiritual connections. Hence, a three-part series of sonic rituals, one for each evening this weekend.

“The symbolism of these rituals will be anchored on the trinity that governs an African worldview. We have been told from the wise ones that an African world is made up of the living, living-dead (ancestors) and the ones-not-yet-born as being in a constant counterpoint,” he explains. “These rituals are meant to connect people with the spiritual world and the environment we live in.”

Concert 1 on Friday evening, March 11, deals with Preparation which explores ‘ukuphahla’ when a traditional healer is preparing to accept a calling to heal others. The symbolic colour for this concert is red, a symbol of light, and features singer Thandiswa Mazwai.This performance will explore the language of the spirits there by inviting through ukuphahla to guide us on a journey ahead,” explains Makhathini.

Concert 2 on Saturday evening, March 12, deals with Elsewhere meant to take the audience on a journey towards the unknown where healing resides, and where the healer finds his/her training. The artistry of singer Asanda Msaki Myana expects to deepen this auditory and spiritual journey with the colour green symbolising spiritual growth.

Concert 3 on Sunday, March 13, at 3pm, entitled The Return, with Makhathini’s wife and singer, Omagugu Makhathini, “captures a celebratory spirit and new knowledge of self,” explains Makhathini. The symbolic colour is white, for purity.

All three singers have commendable accolades behind their artistry.

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credit: Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Thandiswa Mazwai has a long, illustrative performance history ranging from a leading kwaito band, Bongo Maffin, to Afro-pop, to world music and jazz, with two Sama Awards for Best Female Artist and Best DVD (2010), Best of the Forgotten Free. She performed at the FIFA 2010 World Cup Opening Ceremony, and at a host of world festivals mixing with such genres as her traditional Xhosa rhythms, reggae, mbaqanga, funk, and jazz. Born a soul rebel during the youth uprisings of 1976, Mazwai doesn’t hide her political activism in her music. She has toured worldwide, picking up themes of liberation from Cuba, West Africa, Black America, and the Congo.

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credit: Rez Inyanzi

Originally from East London, Asanda Msaki Myana combines soulful folk with symphonic movements, Xhosa lyrics, and African poly-rhythms. Her debut album, Zaneliza: How the Water Moves, talks about the wave-like rhythms between loss and hope, and was co-produced by Makhathini under her own label, One Shushu Day Artistry in 2016. Her work in visual design has also added interesting artistic highlights to her compositions and performances, often with stunning costume designs and sculptures. In January 2022, Msaki unveiled her 12-piece exhibition at the Nirox Sculpture Park in Krugersdorp, Gauteng, where she has been artist in residency. In her soon to be released sophomore double album, Platinumb Heart, Msaki has produced a sonic and visual exhibition that speaks to themes of protest and love which she threads through this album.

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The imaginative Omagugu Makhathini, spirit side kick to husband Nduduzo, will end the weekend series on Sunday, no doubt with an energetic, yet soulful singing ritual of joy. Voice coach and choir conductor, singer/songwriter Omagugu has experienced a wealth of exposure with both domestic musicians including national bands and specific jazz groups as well as tours overseas to USA, Europe, and a world jazz cruise. She released her debut album, Uthingo LweNkosazana, in 2018, and hopes to release her next album this year. Her contributions are befitting to end what should be a highly inspirational connection with Spirit and Nature as singing becomes a therapeutic way to live, and Be, in this world.

As Makhathini explores the depth of Being, the spirit of Ntu arises as a musical therapy.
“As an artist I have argued that my artistic practice enunciates from a cosmological standpoint. In other words, the articulation of my sound is a result of deep mediations and engagements with the worldview described above. Ultimately, the music I will be presenting seeks resonance with the greater ancestral paradigms, spirit worlds, the environment, and all living things.”

This weekend has been packaged as a three-day pass at R900, or R350 for each concert. Either way, attending one or all concerts will offer upliftment and a sense of harmony in one’s soul, and that is a guarantee with the sounds of this musical Healer in our midst with his very capable musicians and singers. Bookings are at Quicket: View the beauty of the Wine Estate setting at:
For more information, contact Luvuyo Kakaza , IkweziArts, 060 960 8935;

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Pianist Sibusiso Mashiloane offers communal sounds from his people

Durban-based pianist, composer, arranger, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, has moved from trio stage in earlier albums, including a solo piano album, into vocal chanting and other communal sounds of horns and percussion, including three tenor saxophones and a flute. This is Volume 1 of Music From My People, recently released, portraying music from Sibu Mash’s home ground. But he is far from finished. “Due to lockdown, my band had to record online and I didn’t have access to a long piano – the Yamaha – which is what I wanted to play on,” he laments.

Mash’s music is to be performed in the living flesh, in an acoustic setup, on a stage with that eager listening audience. As the Covid viral safari subsides somewhat, only now can he find solace to play live with his band, while still using a studio setting where he could record this latest album. “For live, I might do without the drums and just stay with percussion. Tlale* knows the sound. My wish, also, is to play with the singer, Siya Makuzeni, because her musicality transcends; she knows the nuisances of what sounds I want.” So there’s more to come.

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Sibusiso Mashiloane

Fifteen instrumentalists feature in the album along with three vocalists, giving varieties of texture, breath of sound, and instrumental melodies to Mash’s foundational expressions, especially in his left hand’s lower register which firmly grounds the harmonic vocals. The theme of 1976 Youth protests to freedom days of the 1990s onward are spelled out by these intergenerational musicians, including the younger Linda Sikhakhane on tenor saxophone, and the flute of Tseleng Mkhatla, who trained at the Moses Molelekwa Foundation school in Johannesburg.

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The album’s creatively pictorial cover and inserts, designed by Elashna Amruthlal, show stick figures of people reacting to those 1976 shootings of youth in protest, giving a haunting reminder that ‘home music’ was also surrounded by violence and tragic fatalities of young leaders. There are suitcases of people leaving, portrayed in ‘Umagoduka’ (always leaving); “people visit you, then quickly say they’re leaving now, suddenly. The door means we are going now, we are leaving now.” Little circles on the cover design depict the communality of people.

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Stylistic texture comes across, for example, from Bheki Khosa’s guitar in the bouncy ‘Sabela Uyabizwa’: “Bheki makes you respond to a call, like when your Mom calls you, you don’t hesitate to come inside to her!” Similarly, his guitar maintains that intimate rapport with Khaya Mahlangu’s tenor sax in ‘Between You & Me’. Mash’s wish is that the younger ones must listen carefully to the older musicians, like Bheki and Khaya. “I draw a lot on experience, like visiting a village. I want to visit Goema music and hear it. What is that ‘bokaap’ sound? In Europe, I want to hear how they hear our South African music. During my visit to the Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar, the most beautiful thing for me was to listen to a variety of musicians from the African continent. In my album, there’s lots of bass rhythm motion which is what I picked up from those African guys. Like in ‘African Communal’, you can hear the African rhythms in it.”

Mash’s doctoral studies, like for many actively engaged musicians, are challenging his energy levels. “Researching is at the expense of the music; there’s no time to align with playing music. When I write, this one [playing music] stops. While I was in full time research for several weeks, when I went to the piano, I made so many mistakes in my playing!! My notes slip. I got worried! A B flat became a B,” he moaned.

Are they mistakes, though? “It took me long time to get my ankle rhythm [wearing ankle shakes] and my hand rhythm just right. I’m afraid to lose that.” Mash’s honesty and trepidation perhaps makes him the fine teacher he is, as witnessed in some interesting videos he occasionally posts, and his passion to groom younger players.

Mashiloane will touch down in Cape Town the weekend of February 17, 2022 for more concerts to promote his brand of music from his people. Check his Facebook page! The album is available on all digital platforms and in CD format.

Sibu Mash –  piano/synth/composition/production; Mawande Kunene  –  Rhodes; Qhubekani Mthethwa –  Electric bass; Shaun Johannes  –  Double Bass; Bheki Khoza and Keenan Ahrends  –  guitars; Xolisa Roro Dlamini, Nomthandazo Madiya and Wandithanda Makhandula  –  vocals; Thabo Sikhakhane  –  Trumpet; Thembinkosi Khumalo  –  trombone; Khaya  Mahlangu, Buddy Wells and Linda Sikhakhane  –  Tenor Saxophones; Tseleng Mkhatla  –  flute; *Tlale Makhene  –  percussion; Billy Williams and Siya Xulu –  drums;

Mix and Mastering by Jonathan Eato, Deep Bit Audio. Recorded:  Unlockedkeys Studio. Overdubs by Moyasound, subflora studio and Maltre Productions. Artwork direction by Mzwandile Ntsele. Design by Elashna Amruthlal

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Bassist Herbie Tsoaeli Minces African Timing with Ancestral Voicings

Self-taught bassist, Herbie Tsoaeli, hails from Nyanga East, a Cape Town Location, where he grew up trying to find musical instruments that suited his ‘sound’ needs. He studied at music schools in Cape Town, like Nyanga Art Center, MAPP and at the Merton Barrow Jazz Workshop. Much experience was gained from the 1990s onwards as part of the Live at the Market Band with the late Sibongile Khumalo, Khaya Mahlangu, Themba Mkhize, Prince Lengoasa, & Vusi Khumalo. Other bands included Mahube with Steve Dyer.

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His ancestral calling resonates around musical concepts of ‘African Time’, his debut album by the same name winning him a SAMA award for best jazz album in 2013. This recent album just launched, At This Point in Time: Voices in Volumes (2021) strikes lyrical cords as he laces his compositions with pentatonics, ballads, a bit of bebop, then some swing here and there, all seemingly spirit-driven with ancestral overtones. He talks to All Jazz Radio Internet Radio about his concepts of Time and the Now, influenced by some Covid Lockdown blues with contemplation on how to voice hope for the future. It’s a very thoughtful and appealing album for those who enjoy the ‘jazz’ genre with improvisational character and changing time signatures.

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The album opens with ‘Wozani nonke Sizothandaza’ (‘Come all we will pray’) with a distinct drum accompaniment of Ayanda Sikade’s drums, Tsoaeli’s bass solo, all layered with his raspy vocals, and horn harmonies carrying the tune. One can forgive Tsoaeli’s sometimes off-tune vocals which adds emotion to his different voicings.

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Ayanda Sikade-courtesy: Music in Africa

Voicings and timing go together. We talked about the ‘art of slow’ which Tsoaeli immediately could identify with. “We all struggle with our voices as we go thru the Lockdowns. Lockdown is just a continuation of my African timing, coming to your Art of Slow, telling us to just slow down! Some people say, ugh man, you’re just old, slowing down anyway. But yes, wise move.” In the album notes, he talks about voicing against societal malfunctioning: “inequality, unemployment, gender-based violence and mismanagement”.

The tenor saxophone genius of Sisonke Xonti shines as he gives visual movement to the amorphous concept of ‘timing’. In ‘Alone on Your Own’, he seems to depict a child softly skipping along, not in any hurry. Then the sax becomes frantic as though life is too slow. Time to catch up…. The song ends with the bass and drum having a boppish tete-a-tete sealed with the sax approval.

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Sisonke Xonti

The Samba beat appears on several songs, like in ‘Abadala Baholo’ (‘elders’), which bring out tight three horn harmonies, with men’s voices giving an “appreciative gesture to elders who shepherd young ones away from criminality and gangsterism in located areas” (album notes).

Tsoaeli likes free jazz. But what is it in the African context? “Free jazz is the same as avant-garde. African time has its own timing. When I was young, I was dabbling in all genres of music – rock, pop, TV hip, etc. It’s what I call the 3Gs – ‘Genres Generic Genes’; there’s pop and rock elements in my ‘African time’. The 3Gs is my blood heart & soul as I have apprenticed with so many different sounds.” Here is an example of why writer Attiyah Khan calls Tsoaeli a “neologist’, someone who creates new words or concepts. “There’s structure. I tell my students they must learn structure when learning music. “ One hears those chordal structure changes in ‘Umntu’, for example. A free improvisational piano of Yonela Mnana in ‘Palama’ (‘come, let’s leave’) speaks to our hurry to get in that idling car after spending hours visiting family or friends, and then saying the goodbyes. The impetuousness of contemporary life. Then, there’s that sometimes frantic but impressive command from Xonti’s sax in ‘Backyard Background’.

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Yonela Mnana

So, are no filters that harness the essence of a ‘free’ jazz? “All my songs are composed randomly, but I know what notes to give out. I like that – doing things on the spot – composing ‘improvisingly’. When meeting my band members for a rehearsal, I call it ESSMG: Energy Scanning Screening Meeting Gathering – but without instruments. Just a few notes.” (Neologically said.)

Compositional Creativity
“I don’t write scores anymore. I used to.” So how does Tsoaeli teach structure with his students? It’s about African Time: “African Time is from the garden, the soil. After planting those carrots, in time, they will mature and become something useful, like to eat. You gather your hands in the soil and pull out that carrot. That’s the way I teach my students.” But then one remembers that the younger ones are in a hurry, and aren’t interested in the art of slow. Computer software is there to quickly compose, edit, transcribe, etc They don’t want to take time to grow that flower, or carrot, right? “I told my son recently to take a picture of that building that housed the Jazz Workshop where Milton Barrow gave me free lessons. That building had a particular time structure to it, during apartheid, as I was finding my way with music.”

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Herbie Tsoaeli at Blue Room, CapeTown Dec 2021

Young Tsoaeli grew up frustrated that he couldn’t learn saxophone, or play guitar like Grant Green or Wes Montgomery. Then he found the upright bass. “I remember with my uncle, we used to listen to all the Blue Notes, the Stanley Turrentines, the Brotherhood of Breath, the trumpeter Blue Mitchell , and that sound of Jimmy Smith on organ. Then mix that with the Mbaqanga in that house. The sound then escalates with my neighbours who were church people, and then there was the Zion church, and in the back were the traditional healers. On Friday and Saturday were burial stuff, and sounds that go with that.”

This mixture of influences with tight horn trios comes through in Mbaqanga-styled ‘East Gugs Skomline to Khaltsha’ about a commuter train route through Cape Town’s townships that leaves many passengers behind. This song remembers township residents being bypassed during Apartheid – for housing, or left on the tracks, or lined up in job queues. This song cries out for healing.

Ancestral Healing with Hope
One hears in several songs a low register male repetitive chant followed by higher register vocals, such as in ‘Palama’. But could not ancestralism have bad blood as well? “For me, when I do music, people are talking spirituality. I don’t say I’m a spiritual healer, so people can’t say that I am a spiritual musician. People may find it in my music, but I never pronounce it on paper that I am spiritual. I’m just making music for my inner healing. That’s beautiful, if it also heals others. My sounds come from different formats; they may be coming from the rock, or from the swing, or from the mbaqanga.” One result can be enjoyed in the contemplative ‘Woza Moya’ (‘At this point in time’) which portrays a sense of joy and purpose.

Yet, there’s a yearning hope in ‘Siwa Sivuka’ (‘straight to the point’), a song meant to convey how our human Spirit can rise and triumph. Tsoaeli demonstrates his compositional interplay with bass, horns, and piano announcing a better future through soft female vocals. One just sings along, gleefully.

‘Siyabulela’ (‘thank you’) concludes the album very peacefully, with female vocals closing out the volumes of voices that puncture Time. Yet, the volume of voices still need to protest against the immediate injustices and other society ills inflicted on the marginalized. One hopes it won’t take another ten years to hear Tsoaeli’s next album message, no doubt, geared to Youth. …….Speaking of the Art of Slow…….

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Avant-garde violinist Elinor Speirs ‘makes it up on the spot’ as classical meets jazz

This 2021Jazz and Classical Encounters Festival No. 3 taking place on 4 December at the Spier Wine Farm Amphitheatre in Stellenbosch boasts five bands which present the unusual in musical styles as well as heartfelt tributes to icons who have passed on.  A sonic tasting of some of South Africa’s best awaits. One star is hard-to-describe jazz violinist Elinor Speirs…. Or is it classical?

Getting caught in S Africa during Covid lockdown, unable to return to her New York home where she continued to pay rent for several months, South African violinist Elinor Speirs ended up staying with her family in Cape Town, instead.  Having packed for a planned three-week visit with family in March 2020, her wardrobe and jewelry became quite stretched, as did her musicality, jazz studies, and need to perform under challenging closed-venue times.

Elinor was fortunate to find like-minded musicians and artists in Cape Town such as avant-garde saxophonist, Ntshuks Bonga, up-and-coming jazz pianist, Brathew van Schalkwyk, stellar improvising dancer Gita Galina, and phenomenal spoken word artist, Kitso Seti. Academically accomplished, Elinor holds a BMus(hons) degree in classical violin from London’s Royal Academy of Music, a master’s in jazz performance from NYU, and a Doctorate in jazz performance from New England Conservatory of Music, Boston. van Schalkwyk-credit Gregory Franz

When Speirs first got to New York she thought it would take about a year to transition from classical to jazz violin: “I had a typical western classical mindset that said if you can play classical, you can play anything. But I learned that that is certainly not the case. Jazz is a complicated, beautiful, multi-layered art form. It requires a huge amount of musicianship and training and I think people should be made aware of those realities… through education.. and through the media. Speirs wrote her doctoral thesis on John Coltrane’s album Ascension (1965), a watershed moment in Coltrane’s musical journey and career that saw him transitioning to free and avant-garde jazz. This work in combination with her revelatory performances and recordings with renowned free music guitarist, Joe Morris, has solidified her appreciation for and dedication towards avant-garde jazz: “I love avant-garde jazz as I am able to bring all that I am musically to the table: all my classical techniques, all my jazz understanding of rhythm and harmony, all my work with contemporary classical extended techniques, all my structural ideas as composer… it really is a demanding genre, for the player and for the listener, but the rewards are endless for both.”  

Working with her newly formed South Africa-based quintet, she has extended the invitation to use multiple styles and skills to all the members of her band. One such skill, comprovising, or improvising a spontaneously composed idea, is extended in this setting so that all members are required to work together to build a tapestry that is at once spontaneous and structured. Speirs’ quintet is made up of seasoned jazz musicians, each with considerable performance and compositional skills of their own. 

Her Cape Town-based quintet which will perform at Saturday’s Festival:  Brydon Bolton on bass, Brathew van Schalkwyk on piano, Jonno Sweetman on drums and Mark Fransman on saxophone.   A daring lot, all seasoned to venture into refreshing new vistas with Speirs’ three musical styles of classical, jazz, and avant-garde.  During hard lockdown Speirs recorded her first solo improvised album, Carbon Fibre, which can be streamed on Bandcamp. She has an enormous array of videos online, however, from performances in New York, Boston, Copenhagen, Cape Town, and South Korea which can be found here: Her most recent video, a completely improvised duo, was broadcast on South Africa’s SABC TV live Expresso Morning show with pianist van Schalkwyk.

“We were going to play Brasaffa!, one of my original tunes that combines Brazilian and South African jazz idioms, but we realized it wasn’t going to work without a rhythm section. I love taking risks and I was so excited about the idea of upping the ante, heightening that risk by improvising with no parameters, live on national television! Initially, the idea was not very warmly received but in the end I think everyone in the studio that day loved that piece the most!

The violin isn’t the most common instrument in jazz and it is only with more recent developments in string amplification that this instrument can be heard in this combination. Considering that the saxophone became popular due to its timbrel proximity to the violin (not to mention its cheaper cost) it is almost fitting that the violin should reclaim its place – as one of the founding voices of New Orleans jazz.  

Growing up in Cape Town and schooled at Westerford High School, Speirs rose to the peak of her classical performance career in London, but upon returning home to South Africa, found herself migrating to other musical genres including klezmer with Matthew Reid and Flamenco with Saudiq Khan.  Almost eight years in the USA crystalized her taste for all things improvisation, which one will hear soon.

See her website at   Her videos can be viewed on YouTube:

‘Throwback’ with Brathew van Schalkwyk 

On Tour with the Mina Cho Jazz Quintet,  Simply Love You – Mina Cho – Once in a Blue Moon – Seoul

Bach Partita No.3 in E Major – Recomprovised

What to expect at the Spier 2021 Festival?  Inspired by John Coltrane’s multi-movement album, A Love Supreme, Elinor Speirs’ Suite for Jazz Quintet consists of four self-contained movements, ThrowbackBounceTwelve Apostles and Four. Each is an original composition that strives to combine classical, jazz and avant-garde jazz idioms in new and fresh ways. 

The Spier Program starts with a first act at 12.30pm. The last act starts 7.45pm.  Festival tickets:  R565 –one ticket; R1790 – for two tickets and includes picnic 

Festival and accommodation tickets: R 3450 – for two – in a signature room at Spier Hotel – includes breakfast, picnic basket and festival tickets
Booking links: or

(Thanks to the virtuoso, Elinor, for editing with worthy additions and clarity about her favorite subject)

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by Struan Douglas,

=========== [Further adapted from by Struan Douglas,] ==============

In 1980 Barney and Elizabeth Rachabane had their last-born child – Octavia Rachabane. Their first born child was already out of school, and the other two were strong achievers. However life in Pimville, Soweto, had been very difficult during the 1960s and 70s for musicians, in particular. Barney had opened a curtain business and a corner spa shop just to ensure his children had shoes for school.

Octavia was a blessing. Her dad, born in 1946, was a virtuoso saxophone player that despite the difficulties of the period, had played regularly throughout the 60s and 70s with many bands in Cape Town and Johannesburg. He was with the Rockets in Cape Town, and a classic photo exists of him performing at the Market Theatre alongside Bheki Mseleku and Allen Kwela.

Barney’s long-time collaborator throughout this era was Dennis Mpale, the legendary trumpeter. Together they formed the Jazz Disciples, The Soul Giants and the Count Wellington Jazz Band. Barney also had his own project, The Sound Proofs. 

Saxman Rachabane with Jazz Disciples: credit Ian Bruce Huntley

In 1982, Octavia had her first taste of the travelling life of the musician when she travelled with her mom and dad for the TechnoBush project with Hugh Masekela in Botswana.  Hugh was in exile, living in New York since the 60s. Barney never went into exile. He stayed at home. But regardless of the path musicians took, they were all united by the common reality of livelihood.

Apartheid in South Africa had already been examined through the 1976 youth uprising in Soweto. And Paul Simon’s Graceland recordings in 1985-6 eventually broke the cultural boycott and started what would become the musical march to freedom. And he built it around the music of mbaqanga, or what he called “the reggae of South Africa.”  Barney, himself a mbaqanga jazz pioneer, had joined the Graceland project which also included Joseph Shabalala and Ray Phiri.  Together, they formed a life-long friendship with Paul Simon as seen in a telling photograph which hangs in Barney’s lounge of them playing together on his stoep around 2012. 

B Rachabane with Yonela Manana Dec 2019

Graceland also brought in much money for the family (“briefcases,” Barney said), and gave Barney the opportunity to add a second storey to his family home.  However, money and the music business was touch and go since Barney went professional at the age of 9 in 1956. This was the age of the “Pennywhistle Jive” or the “Kwela Craze.” Barney was already very hip and earned a bit through his pennywhistle busking on the street corners of Johannesburg.  Born into the pennywhistle hotspot of Alexandra Township, near Sandton Johannesburg, in 1946, he joined with many penny-whistle players, like Ntemi Piliso who formed the African Jazz Pioneers, Spokes Mashiyane  who started the Alexandra Dead End Kids, and Lemmy ’Special’ Mabaso who had the Alexandra Junior Bright Boys. Barney Rachabane started the Alexandra Junior All Stars who made their first hit, called the politically incorrect ‘Piccanini” in 1957 with an independent record company called Jive.  Not much is known about the role Jive records played in exploiting South African music but it grew to become the largest independent record company in 2000. Barney never saw any royalties.

Barney Rachabane, 10 years old, Jan 1959: Bailey Archives

Barney “Bunny” Rachabane hit the news when his Alexandra Junior All Stars were stranded in Cape Town after appearing in Lofty Adam’s ‘Africa Sings!’ The Union of Southern African Artists came to the rescue and sent the boys money to come home to the Rand. Immediately they were back they were plunged right into the ‘Township Jazz,’ wrote Drum Magazine.

Barney and Lemmy’s penywhistle comradery reached a turning point when Barney’s role as the pennywhistler in the musical, ‘Kong Kong’ was given to Lemmy Mabaso. Barney’s mum had said her son was too young for a musical that was scheduled to go to London. It may have been a bitter pill for Barney to swallow at that tender age, but it was for the best and perhaps the very first indication of what Barney means when he says, “I walk with God.”

Those years at home became the seminal moulding period for Barney Rachabane. He started building for his future, met his future wife at age 16 in 1962, and started a family.  Dorkay House, where Barney learned to read music, was abuzz with the stars of that era, jazz singers Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and Letta Mbulu, music educators such as Phineas Phetoe and the finest saxophonists Zakes Nkosi, Mackay Davashe and Kippie Moeketsi.  Soon, Barney joined ranks as an alto saxophonist and shared the stage in 1963 with the Chris McGregor’s Castle Lager Big Band. By age 19, Barney had his baptism of fire in African Jazz, recording with the all saxophone section of Kippie Moeketsi, Dudu Pukwana, Mackay Davashe and Christopher “Mra” Nguckana, impressing one international producer with his “attack and swing”.   Pianist Rashid Lanie describes: “Bra Barney was able to fuse elements of Bebop Jazz with Kwela and Mbaqanga like no other. His fearless approach to his improvisations and compositions were world class all the while fingering those iconic Barney Rachabane screaming cry-licks he was so well known for. And lest I forget, his sneaky humour too.”

By the 1980s Barney was known as “the most soulful saxophone player in the world,” according to Paul Simon.  He performed at festivals and events on all 5 continents, particularly with Graceland, and he recorded two solo albums in London produced by Hugh Masekela.  Barney’s only son Leonard studied saxophone at the UKZN jazz department directed by Darius Brubeck. This was a golden period for jazz in Durban with two generations of musicians sharing the bandstand at the Rainbow Restaurant in Pinetown under the banner “Jazz for the struggle and the struggle for jazz.” Other  young students of the day, like bass player Lex Futshane, and trumpeter Feya Faku, performed with the veterans, including Barney and Winston Mankunku, on a regular basis and in a manifestation of how the baton is passed from one generation to the next.  As veteran trumpeter Prince Lengoasa says, “It is the divinity and godliness in us that makes us care for others as we care for ourselves. UBUNTU in practice.”  Some highlights of this era were recorded by Melt2000, ‘Darius Brubeck Live in New Orleans’.  

The Children

Barney faced family complexities.  Son Leonard was a rising star on the UKZN jazz scene.  It was through Leonard’s band that his sister, Octavia, still at school, had her first break as a singer.  Leonard’s death was sudden and a shock to the Rachabane family as was the puzzle around his unborn child.  After his death, records in South Africa showed that his girlfriend had given the child up for adoption, destination unknown. Miraculously, one teenage violinist from a wonderful home in Australia uncovered from adoption records of a ‘David Webster’.  David was reunited with his grandparents in 2014 and with cousins, like born saxophonist Oscar Rachabane.

(L-R) Struan Douglas, Octavia, Barney, David, Oscar at home-Dec 2019

Oscar grew up on the penny-whistle, but fell prey to substance abuse.  Barney never understood what happened to Oscar, but were expecting his return from rehabilitation soon.  Barney knew so well the downfalls musicians can face, having to himself overcome a drinking problem. Many of his colleagues never did.

Wife Elizabeth and daughter Octavia were planning their second visit to Australia when Elizabeth died suddenly on the 31st of July 2021. She was 73. She and Barney were together 57 years.  This author had first met Barney in 2012 at the Grahamstown National Arts and Jazz Festival when the three Rachabane’s –  Octavia, Barney, and Oscar – performed in one of the most exciting family bands I had seen.  After journeying with them for another 9 years, I learned on August 1 this year of Elizabeth’s passing from his fretful phone call to me.   I visited him for what became the last time then, and as I drove away from the family home in Pimville, he sat on the stoep with his arm raised in power. The image he gave me was of the indestructible beat of Soweto. Barney died three months after his wife on 13 November 2021.

Octavia had burst onto the South African jazz scene whilst still a student. She was lead singer in Louis Moholo’s Dedication Orchestra at the age of 19. Her sheer beauty, together with a real knowledge of this jazz music was invigorating.  Her musical dedication was always to her father. Over the last twenty years of his career, they performed together at various venues around Johannesburg and travelled together for festivals and sessions, including a Graceland Reunion in 2016 in Scotland.

Oscar played with such an infectious joy and seems to be making a comeback. He took a break from rehabilitation to perform at Barney’s Memorial, blowing his sax alongside Khaya Mahlangu and Mthunzi Mvubhu with that typical Oscar confidence.

“I walk with God,” Barney describes his life-journey. And this was abundantly clear at the funeral service, where a Department of Sports Arts and Culture police escort led a wake including some of the finest Johannesburg musicians of all generations right into Heroes Acre in WestPark .  Here, the great man was laid to rest among some of our other jazz heroes like Bra Hugh and Bra Victor Ntoni.     

Legacy was important to Barney. Today we have a generation of young lions that have learnt from the greats. In 2015 Barney played in the Mzansi Music Ensemble, an orchestra playing Victor Ntoni’s music with over 50 years age -difference between oldest and youngest performers. As the musical director of the show said, “The South African Alto is in great hands. The proverbial baton has been passed to Mthunzi and Moses and Nhlanhla.” 

Some of Barney’s unfinished dreams include the completion of his biography by Octavia, the release of his last solo recording, Upstairs on the Township, and a book of solos. Khaya Mahlangu mentioned at the memorial the need for a Barney Rachabane bursary for up-coming saxophonists.

Upstairs in the Township is re-compiled and edited from an unfinished session recorded around 2010. Barney produced, arranged, composed and performed.  No other details are named. This album is currently being remastered for release hopefully in December 2021. More information:

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Siphiwe Mhlambi sees soul, not just beauty, in music

Those who have an addiction to jazz understand how a photographer, like Pretoria-based Siphiwe Mhlambi, has a life-long addiction to, and passion for, jazz photography.

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His childhood was rough and homeless. When a lady took him in at age 9, and gave him a small camera which took him two years to learn, the healing began. At age 13, he started schooling, walking some 25 kms between school and home.

“Every day I faced bullying and had fights at least four times a day, just to get to school. I would offer my bullies a cigarette just to avoid fights. When my father was released from prison in 1988, I asked him when I was born. He couldn’t remember. I had no ID, no ID number. I didn’t exist.”

Years later, young Siphiwe was taking pictures of Nelson Mandela leaving prison. His hard upbringing is unabashedly explained in his TEDx Talk:

“Colour can distract, but black and white photos can capture.” Hence, Mhlambi’s love affair with black/white photos which zoom in on contorted facial expressions, the subject’s muscular movements, the handling of the often shiny musical instrument, the emotional breakdowns of mothers losing their sons to gun violence. “I don’t want to see beauty. I want to see the soul.”

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His debut jazz solo exhibition in 2008 displayed his archives from 1990 with 90 pieces in A zero and E1 formats. With an expanding archive of 28 years under his belt, Mhlambi launched his second Exhibition in 2020 called “Expressions”, and the third one in October 2021 which was accompanied by live stage performances of six of his chosen jazz bands at the National School of Arts in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Musicians comment about how Mhlambi displays a rare sensitivity to their playing and to audience reactions as he tries, in a non-conspicuous way, to click that best shot that highlights what the musician is feeling.

“I shoot in an artistic way. It’s not a spectacle. I see beauty when I hear the song. In the past 30 years, I’ve learnt to read the artist, how he’s feeling when playing, if he has problems at home, etc.”

Singer Ziza Muftic says of Mhlambi, “Just when I feel drained from coming off the stage, to see the photographer gives me energy. I was smiling to someone across the street, and Siphiwe just snapped a photo of my profile and captured my feeling at the time.”

Trumpeter Prince Lengoasa: “His way of photographing – he’s less obstructive in his approach. He goes under pianos, but doesn’t interfere with the stage. I ask him, ‘Where were you when you took that picture?’ He’s very sensitive towards the stage band and audience.” Legendary reed man McCoy Mrubata applauds Mhlambi: “He’s highly regarded as one of the best. He knows how to capture artists.”

Bassist Concord Nkabinde: “As independent artists, we don’t always have all the resources to capture and package what we do well, so Siphiwe has come through so many times doing photo shoots and helping us prepare. He captures new and established artists, and is a passionate story teller. So when he was honoured at the SBJJ (Standard Bank Joy of Jazz) 2019, we felt it was long time coming. We love him for his passion.”

So, how does a professional photographer survive during these pandemic times? Mhlambi sighs:

“It’s tough. I started as a commercial photographer, made contacts, have a few retainers with corporates, like Anglo American portraits. I engage them, not just stick a light in front of them and click. They like that.”

Mhlambi also mentors young photographers, and supports those important arts resources, like the National School of the Arts, by hosting concerts and exhibitions. “I do what government and corporates should be doing. This is my third exhibition and concert lineup with no sponsor. I print my own works for display as well.”

When the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz 2019 gave Mhlambi an award for his “support through the lens that captured jazz icons”, musicians, in turn, heaped much appreciation for his passion and honesty.

See more: SAJE South African Jazz Stories Episode 1: Expressions: (September 2020)

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Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini’s voice speaks ‘Ntu’ through the fires of discontent

In preparation for his two live concerts in Cape Town on 1 and 2 October at Norval Foundation, maestro Nduduzo Makhathini spoke with All Jazz Radio about how ‘Ntu’ can address current fires of discontent facing youth in South Africa.

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A philosopher and healer himself, Makhathini’s illustrious background as a composer, arranger, and music producer has gained him award accolades, a sign-on to the notable U.S. jazz label, Blue Note, and academic growth that propels his style of improvisation further into the musical portals of African spirituality. See the 38 minute conversation recording below.

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In the backdrop of colonialism and slavery, with vestiges still existing today, Makhathini journeys into African cosmology to uncover that Spirit of Ntu which he draws from his immediate Zulu culture. In the context of the riots and killings recently in South Africa, the notion of burning fires which appears as a code for reacting against injustices from apartheid days, still continue in the society. “In my previous album (Letters from the Underworld), this regular burning was presented in the track ‘Umlotha’ (ashes) as a query about what is left from the post-colonial period. The ashes represent the things we refuse to erase from our memory.”

Regarding the recent burnings and looting in parts of South Africa, travel by members of the Standard Bank Youth Band to East London for practice was greatly disrupted. “So I talked to them about what sounds would come out of burning fires. I realized that we need to actually go into those fires to elicit the appropriate sounds they make! And to find the voice that speaks through these fires.”

To Makhathini, the post-colonial South Africa is an illusion, anyway. “We need to question what it means to live in a post-colonial Africa. The fires are symptomatic of people’s tiredness, people being promised post-1994 free education, free health care, housing… without these promises being fulfilled.”

We query: Why has humanity lost its sensitivity to people’s anger and frustrations ? One answer: “Ntu is about a restoration, about what vibration can be in our sound that seeks to restore our humanness.”

It’s like music therapy, addressed towards mental health issues and strong anxieties. There’s confused social and political messaging from youth who are desperate. The trick is: How does Ntu deal with the therapeutic aspects? How does the sound become therapeutic?

“Everything in the universe operates under some sort of logic or equation. Ntu is found in 4 areas of human endeavor: the people – the environment – in time and space – and in aesthetics, like music. These four conventions of Ntu represent the energy, that vital force that connects everything in the sound. A ritual is always toward a unifying energy. For me, it’s how the composer or sound producer deliberately aligns this vibration of Ntu which people can experience. Find a way of harnessing this sound in the way we channel our prayers.”

The sound. Thinking of jazz as an improvisational format, how would this sound, which acts as a vibration as well as a pleasant melody or rhythm, enter the body and change the listener’s mood, for instance? Think of First Peoples who combine sound with dance, rhythm.

“Ntu is a way of determining the essence of all things. So at the core of any composition or any manifestation are the same elements. Sounds and form are driven by a similar vibration. Bodies are listening for that tuning into center, for that vibration. Some sounds help us learn and know our essence. The intention in the sound is for people to go deeper within themselves, to a memory of our own essence. Sound assists this process because sound is the closest to the compositional vibration of any material. Take liquid. There are many experiments on how sound affects the movement or behavior of water . Those sounds are created from intention, and if musicians spend time seeking this clarity, then we end up living in this frequency of Ntu . Positive intention would have positive effects, so our relationship with intentionality is important.”

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courtesy: Jazziz

So take traditional forms of music, specifically the role of chants and chanting. When you’re trying to create vibration, is chant entering into your Ntu vocabulary?

“Absolutely. Sounds are reaching this point of resonance, of agreement. If you go to a traditional healer, particularly in the Zulu tradition, when they are divining, they keep chanting. If you are seeking help, you chant back in surrendering. So healing is that moment when we allow ourselves to tap into this vortex of energy that the musicians create. Chanting is beautiful – there’s a sense in which the planet chants, and everything around us is in a constant chant. It’s like with the chakras of the body – certain vibrations open up these energy points. Certain sounds trigger these chakras.”

Thinking practically, what about this disconnect young people are experiencing globally? There’s a cultural disconnect. How do you restore his or her membership, how do you restore his or her essence, by this creative force called ‘Ntu’? How does that work?

“We forget. When we were kids, we might act wrongly, and are reminded of this all the time. This essence of Ntu is part of the coding we all have – we define it in different ways, but might call it ‘conscience’. We say in Zulu, “I am because of the others.” At my University, a student is killed. Unbelievably negative things are happening around us. Why? Because we have forgotten our communal essence of being. Our (younger) generation is forgetting our core values; there’s a forgetfulness amongst us, at different levels – society, community, family levels.”

Perhaps because of a lack of compassion in our lives? A lack of harmony among us?

“Harmony is built into our being. We can see beauty, yet nature can be aggressive. We need to remember how to exercise compassion, forgiveness, and love. That’s our pure state. Rituals were for alignment when we go off-tune, which is why our ancestors set up all these rituals that were aimed at bringing harmony back to ourselves, environment, and communities. And sound can take us to that place of memory, to surrender, or re-member, and help us tune in to vibrational states that heal.”

All Jazz Radio flashed: Since we live in a digital age, your work might migrate to developing a ‘Ntu’ app for cellphones, so that we can tune in to good vibrations (laughter). So that youth could be mesmerized and absorbed by these sounds and vibrations! “I’ve been thinking about this technology and what it means to show up on these digital platforms as a sangoma, or healer, and wait for people to come to me. We need to reimagine the field as well. There’s a sense that we (healers) need to speak the current language.”

Regarding his concert coming up over the weekend, Makhathini was asked to speak about what he would like to accomplish, and about choosing his fellow musicians from Cape Town for the band. “ It’s always tough to select the music, but 80% will be taken from my upcoming album, ‘In the Spirit of Ntu’. It’s a new music, but some songs will come from my previous albums, like Listening to the Ground and Letters from the UnderWorld, since I see the continuum of songs and stories that culminate into my current work. Also, I’m playing with these young musicians, some at UCT school of music, with whom I’ve recorded. Mine is one long project, don’t you think?

Indeed, yes. The album, Listening to the Ground, was a pioneering work in 2015 that has maintained a continuum of that same spiritual theme in his music. But in terms of reaching the listener, some of his music is highly improvisational, and may not contain ‘nice melodies’. Some of it is discordant.

“But that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be hairy fairy nice music. That’s why I move between all of these things with a sense of wholeness, while tapping into all of these frequencies that are available to us. While there are songs I like that are coming from ancient times, I see them as codes which the ancestors wanted us to use to align with the cosmology. “

Maybe we need to talk about the ‘Ntu Swing’….. (laughter)


For the future, Makhathini plans to tour the European Shenghen countries next month, and tour in New York and USA in 2022, playing the same concert about Ntu in those places. No doubt, the Ntu ‘swing’ will predominate and become another important signature in South African jazz!

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Jazz provides prayers for peace in hard times: Dinga Sikwebu reflects

All Jazz Radio publishes excerpts presented by unionist, social activist, and jazz lover, Dinga Sikwebu* on his Facebook page of 18 July 2021 which he entitled, ‘Umthandazo weJazz ‘ (Jazz Prayer for Peace) and from his article published in Amandla Online Issue 77, August 2021 On 18 July 2021, Dinga Sikwebu spoke to a gathering at eDikeni restaurant in Sandton, Johannesburg, in response to the recent violence in South Africa’s two Provinces and covid-related deaths. Jazzmen Yonela Mnana and Sisonki Xonti expressed concern about what musicians could do to bring more peace to the Nation. Sikwebu’s talk was also meant to mobilise support for Abahlai base Mjondolo, including the community of their national spokesperson, Thapelo Mohapi.

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Dinga Sikwebu – credit


Let me first extend my gratitude to the organisers: The events of the last 8-days, and the death of 212 people have opened gaping wounds in our society. There is too much pain around us.

Ray Phiri

As Ray Phiri & Nana Coyote said in their popular 1986 Stimela song, ‘Whispers in the Deep’:

We are all tributaries of that great river of pain
Flowing into one ocean
There is only one ocean
All our pain flowing into it

Music, and jazz in particular are historically allied to mourning and commemoration. If one takes, for instance, Stanley Cowell’s ‘Prayer for Peace’ in his album, Musa, (starts at minute 8.51) written in the middle of the Vietnam war, we can see that what you have organised today is part of the jazz tradition. As a response to the Sharpeville massacre, US drummer Max Roach recorded ‘Tears for Johannesburg’ in his album, We Insist! Freedom Now Suite in August 1960. ‘Our Prayer’ is a song recorded by Chris McGregor’s trio with Barre Phillips on bass and Louis Moholo on drums in 1969. Zim Ngqawana has his ‘Umthandazo (Prayer)’ in his album, Zimology. Pianist Thandi Ntuli turns to ‘umthandazo’ (prayer) in her 2014 recording, The Offering.

Jazz is a great contributor to a sub-genre called ‘musical retrospection’ rooted in prayer, commemoration and mourning. On example is Sisonke Xonti’s composition ‘Minneapolis’, in his album uGaba the Migration, – starts in minute 34:08) which was written in response to the killing in May 2020 of George Floyd by a white police officer from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Sisonke Xonti

Sikwebu goes on to thank the people gathered at eDikeni: Many of us are longing for fellowship, being with people we love or share common interests with. Connectedness between people is being dismembered daily. Not spared is even connectedness to ourselves. Relations between people are being severed all round. Zoom connections and MS Teams meetings are unable to replace traditional ways of connecting.

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Thanks go to Yonela Mnana’s Trio and its saxophonist guest, Sisonke Xonti, for closing the first set of ‘Umthandazo we Jazz’ with John Coltrane’s ‘Lonnie’s Lament’. Known for his reluctance to vocalise his political views, Coltrane took to his horn to record ‘Alabama’ and to express his anger triggered by the death of four girls who were killed when white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in September 1963, a church that served as a venue for civil rights mass meetings in that city.

Dismembering Connectedness:

There are many causes to the butchering of human connections. Firstly, the pandemic and associated lockdowns are barring what humans have done throughout their existence; that is to connect and gather. Secondly, in a world where personal relations are highly monetized, the absence of income and loss of jobs are a further strain to relations between people. As we all know, watching and listening to live music as opposed to hearing a recording is very much part of the whole musical experience. Unfortunately, the pandemic has robbed us of this experience. Here, I am not referring to the so-called jazz festivals which are mainly not about music but pilgrimages bathed in corporate pomp and commercial showmanship driven by sponsor demands. What the pandemic has taken away from us are gatherings that normally occur when jazz appreciators meet on Sundays to share music. As the slogan of these jazz appreciation societies reminds us “ijazz ayinamona (jazz jettisons jealousy), ayinanzondo (grudge does not propel jazz) and ayifuni okunakwayo kodwa (jazz does not promote individualism). Jazz appreciators know: “Don’t listen alone. Jazz is to be shared”. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made difficult, if not impossible, these gatherings where we can share music. In addition to being unable to gather, there is also too much death and loss around us. Just this morning, we woke up to the news of guitarist Lawrence Matshiza’s passing.

But it is not only jazz lovers who are experiencing loss and are unable to gather. People cannot go to their stokvels and societies to connect. People cannot worship together. We cannot bury those who abruptly and without notice leave us forever. We are also unable to comfort each other in times of bereavement. The inability to connect is leading to anxieties. We are definitely living in an ‘age of uncertainties’.

The events of the last few days have led to many people in the affected communities not being able to buy bread. Even those with money have been unable to withdraw cash because of the destruction of ATMs and closed banks. I hope through this ‘Umthandazo we Jazz’, we can figure out how to deal with the situation that is causing anxiety and uncertainty.

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We have to find ways to get out of political and economic morass that led to the explosion that hit us last week. Serious thinking of how to get out of the socio-economic rut and the deep racialised furrows that we are in, is required. If we don’t find a map out, we will see a repeat of the volcano that engulfed us in the last 8-days.

The need for ‘an aesthetics of hope’

I suggest that ONE of the things we desperately need is what Sophia A. McClennen calls ‘an aesthetics of hope’. Based on a study of the work of Chilean activist and literary giant, Ariel Dorfman, McClennen defines ‘an aesthetics of hope’ as artistic expressions and literary practices “dedicated to the conviction that art plays an essential role in how we remember the past and imagine the future”.

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Dr. Sophia McClennen

McClennen identifies these core features:

• A belief that hope brings together desire and expectation, and that both these phenomena are products of past and present experiences. Because hope emerges out of individual and communal experiences, it is therefore not some airy-fairy notion. It is concrete and real.
• An approach that sees art as having the ability to reach back to the past, give a diagnosis of the present and project a future, and connect them.
• Hope is based on both reason/rationality and emotion, and sees no binaries between knowledge and feelings, and between mental and sensual.
• Hope enables us to “imagine the impossible, to see beyond the given, and to propose concrete alternatives visions”. This utopian nature of ‘an aesthetics of hope’ is necessary for resistance, struggle and political agency.
• Hope is not just a solitary or individual desire, but requires a collective agency. “An aesthetics of hope speaks to an individual within a collective”.
• Hope does not eliminate doubt, questioning and scepticism. There are therefore, differences between hope and ‘banal or blind optimism’.
• Art inspired by ‘an aesthetics of hope’ is not some form of individual and mental catharsis. Rather, that art seeks collective solutions to social dilemmas and “depends on the intersection of the self, an external reality and imagination”. Again, there is no separation between mind and body.
• Art must forge provocative connections with audiences, eschew the aesthetic of individualism, and support the association of the individual and the community.
• ‘An aesthetics of hope’ assumes an allied relationship between art and social rebellion. Art that is framed by ‘an aesthetic of hope’ orientates to protest and struggle.
• This art must all the time reflect on both “brutal reality and a hopeful future”.

Centring hope in the period that we are going through is vital. It is my strong belief that however justifiable and necessary anger is, rage is inherently unable to sustain an emancipatory project. Rage-centred politics may be powerful in its critique of the present but is weak on sketching an alternative future. We need HOPE that tomorrow will be better than today.

As it is always said from the pulpit: Indlala nentshutshiso yakaloku nje, azinakuthelekiswa nentlutha ezayo (Today’s misery, hunger and persecution must not take away our ability to dream of possibilities to reap bountifully in the future). We need to tell oppressors and exploiters as well as their hangers-on that we refuse to let them rob us of our ability to dream about freedom, emancipation and an alternative future, like what inspired slaves to resist enslavement, to revolt in plantations and seek refuge in maroon settlements. The ‘dreams of a better future’ gave colonised people an appreciation of their power to change oppressive conditions.

South African Jazz provides ‘an aesthetics of hope’

As an activist, I can identify moments where jazz provided ‘an aesthetics of hope’. The first example involves Abdullah Ibrahim’s tune, ‘Soweto is where it’s at’, on the pianist’s 1975 African Herbs LP and features bassist Sipho Gumede, drummer Peter Morake, alto saxophonist Barney Rachabane, tenor saxophonist Basil Coetzee, saxophonist Duku Makasi and trumpeter Dennis Mpale. When the album came out, it was an era of ‘bum dance’ and I suspect that by releasing the recording, Rashid Vally’s As-Shams/The Sun recording company was keen to capitalise on the commercial success of an earlier release, ‘Mannenberg’ in 1974. In an interview with one of that era’s musicians, I was made aware that after that release, every jazz artist tried to come up with a long enough tune that could get a party going, sustain the get-together, and keep the ‘bum dancers’ on the floor throughout the night. ‘Soweto is where it’s at’ was not different to the songs of the time, until June 16 Youth Day exploded in violence. That track title proved prophetic.

June 16, 1976 Youth uprising- Credit: Sam Nzima

But to us activists of the time, what is interesting is how the initial ‘bum dance’ tune became a song to not forget about the 1976 uprising. I recall ‘Soweto is where it’s at’ being played in commemoration services in 1977 and thereafter. With the tune in the background, a young Fitzroy Ngcukana recited Oswald Mtshali ‘s poem ‘Sounds of a Cowhide Drum’ and read Langston Hughes’ verses from the poem, Dreams:

Dreams Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

The second example on the value of ‘an aesthetics of hope’ is when Hugh Masekela’s Give it up/District Six album landed in the country in 1980. This was a year of nationwide schools boycott and intensifying workers’ struggles on the shopfloor. Like Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Mannenberg’ , Masekela’s tunes, ‘Where It’s Happening’ and ‘African Herbs’, could keep a party going. Other songs were ‘Give it up’ by Masekela and Leo Chesson’s, and ‘District Six’ composed by the late Cape Town-born pianist Hotep Galeta when he and Masekela were in exile in the USA .

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Triggering Galeta to write the song were bulldozers which moved into District Six, flattened the multi-racial settlement in line with the segregationist Group Areas Act and moved more than 60 000 people to townships far away from the city centre. The chants ‘Sibuyele District Six’ in the song, in addition to reminding us of the callousness of demolishing of District Six, expressed the longing and hope to return one day to the site where the demolished settlement once stood. In August 1977, the government bulldozed a camp called Modderdam and other informal settlements in Cape Town as it tightened influx control measures. These threats of demolishment, like in Crossroads throughout the late 1970s, and the resistance to them, gave the song ‘District Six’ currency and immediate relevance.

‘Khawuphinde mzala’ and the urgency of repeated takes

I know that in jazz, recording a tune in ‘one take’ is a sign of originality and ingenuity. Dealing with inequality in our country is not going to be easy as the musical arrangements of the spiritual, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ suggests. To deal with the deep levels of poverty and economic marginalisation that drove the multitude of people to raid the malls last week which, in turn, made them vulnerable to manipulation by those with nefarious agendas, requires not ‘one take’ but ‘repeated takes’. Take the cue from Stimela’s tune, ‘Whispers in the Deep’, which the SABC immediately banned from the airwaves in 1986 just as the army occupied townships and detained some 26 000 people, the chorus, ‘Khawuphinde Mzala’ (keep repeating) became a call to activists to keep at it despite the odds.

To deal with the present situation, those who are interested in a different and better future must be prepared to make their contributions through different and ‘repeated takes’. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts! While supporting the call for ‘an aesthetics of hope’, we must avoid overburdening the arts and think that artistic expressions and practices can solve all our problems. The Palestinian activist and public intellectual Edward Said, himself a pianist in the Western classical tradition, recognised that we must appreciate the deeper paradox of music which he described as “an art of expression without the capacity to say denotatively and concretely what is being expressed”. Efforts to engender ‘a politics of hope’ and build ‘a praxis of hope’ must accompany and complement calls for ‘an aesthetics of hope’. Without a broader movement driven by hope, ‘an aesthetics of hope’ will fail to deal with the challenges that we face.

I don’t think that there is a better way to conclude these reflections than to play the chorus in Stimela’s ‘Whispers in the deep’ (3.00-3.47) and share with you the lyrics of the song:

Sleep right in your eye
This is tasty food for rat and flies
Call me angry, call me mad
Soul whispers in the deep
The echo!
All throughout the land
Reaches out to find, a head
But finds an amputated stomp
That tells the strong of the lonely
And beats the rhythm of the flame
I’m inspired
I cannot understand hate
(Khawuphinde, Khawuphinde mzala)
Whose songs are as truthful?
As dream flows as steady as a stream
A stream of knowledge and of pain
Of one whose stance begin to wane
Allow the sleep to retire
Because their love blows out the fire
I can see you pointed finger
Your eyes binoculars
Whispers in the deep

We are all tributaries of that great of river of pain
Flowing into one ocean
There is only one ocean
All our pain flowing into it
But it did spill over
Spill over the wonders of love
Into one nation of love
Before we recognise that all the oceans
All the oceans are one
Khawuphinde mzala hmmm
Khawuphinde mzala hee!!
Khawuphinde mzala hmmm
Khawuphinde mzala whololo
Speak your mind
Don’t be afraid
Don’t whisper in the deep
Speak out your mind
Stand up! Wake up!
There’s still sleep right in your eye
Call me angry, call me mad
A soul that Whispers in the deep
I’m inspired
But I can’t understand hate
I’m inspired if I can’t understand it

*Dinga Sikwebu is a trade unionist based at the head office of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa). Dinga considers himself as a follower and appreciator of jazz music. Previously, he has written on jazz in publications such as Uhuru, Creative Feel, City Press, Business Day and Sunday Independent.

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Filed under Carol's Musings, History of Jazz in Africa

R.I.P. Pianist Andre Petersen: Penny Lane Memorial Haunts Fans with Memories

One ironically uplifting outcome from Covid deaths has been the opportunity for fans to get to know their deceased artist better as the Spirit lives on. And the spirit of music lives on, or whatever that dear one managed to ‘put out there’ in this world of struggles and successes. For jazz and music fans, a few but not insignificant deaths from Covid-related illnesses have added to the continuing series of Lockdowns, all which have hit the music and hospitality industry in monumental ways. But let the music live on as in the recent loss of several favourite artists in the Cape Town arena, namely a local bassist Alistair Andrews and a more internationally exposed pianist, Andre Joseph Petersen. Both musicians were peaking in their career goals, with new albums being recorded and new professional vistas enriching their talents.

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Of note was the Penny Lane Memorial for Petersen (1978-2021) held at CapeTown’s famous landmark, St. George’s Cathedral, on 31 July 2021. The three-hour service can be viewed at All Jazz Radio Internet Radio wishes to honour this beautiful tribute to Petersen, or ‘Dre’ as he was affectionately known, and carry forward Dre’s Spirit to grow his brand of South African jazz to heights still unknown. His planned study and residence in the United States starting in September was, instead, abruptly curtailed with his hospitalisation and passing in July 2021. To add to family woes, Andre’s brother, Denzil, had also succumbed to the Covid virus and died a few weeks before Andre’s own transition.

A devout Christian, Andre sparked many memories from those who had also walked with him. For most, Andre lived his favourite biblical verse in Romans 8, verse 28 which ran thematically throughout the Memorial: “We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.”

The Memorial started with soul singer, Heinreich Frans, and three singers presenting a moving gospel rendition of “Life is in Your Hands” and “Jesus is Right With My Soul”. The somber piano tones of Mark Fransman , the tenor saxophone reflections of Zeke le Grange, and the soft whispy drums of Clement Benny portrayed the spiritual likeness of musicians who had grown up with or been mentored by Andre. The four singers, led by Frans, further enhanced how gospel and soul styles marked the solemnity of the service, just as Andre would have wanted. The Memorial ended with the band’s addition of a sad Jonathan Rubain, a Ghoema guitarist, who just wanted to burst out loud and play Ghoema in joy and dance, to lead his mentor and friend to that heavenly home. “Andre took me overseas for the first time to perform”, he commented as a favourite psalm was played.

Various pre-recorded YouTube videos were screened, showing how Andre had creatively explored his musicality, migrating faithfully from his early classical music training at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music to ‘discovering’ what was to him a peculiar sound, called ‘jazz’. This writer [Carol Martin] met Andre in the late 1990s when he was teaching children in an after-school program in Athlone. We discussed his interest in perhaps teaching in other youth music programs that were starting to pop up, albeit in very small capacities, in various townships. One in particular had been started by the late jazz pianist, Hotep Galeta, at Turfhall Primary School. Galeta’s children were attending this school which was equipped with both music teachers and some instruments. He called the program, ‘Turfhall Jazz Music Project’ or ‘Turfjamp’. When I approached Andre to see if he could join this program, I recall his excitement, but which was punctuated with a bit of humility: “You know, I’m only now starting to learn more about jazz, and occasionally go to Hotep’s house for some tips.” Andre then invited me to one of his classical music recitals at the school he was teaching in, and I became convinced that, indeed, he was very skilled in his classical repertoire. His jazz came later, but with a burst of unstoppable energy as we have seen!

I had always taken delight in watching Andre move his preferences to jazz styles, only now to learn from the Memorial presentation that Andre’s father would not accept Andre pursuing jazz at College. Andre was, indeed, a consummate classics buff, and made his mark by supporting and cultivating local Choirs in his Bridgetown area of Cape Town as well.

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Mixed with music videos about Andre over the years, and live performances by fellow jazz artists, like Mark Fransman, and some other family member, eulogies were spoken by family members and pastors about Andre’s Christian loyalty to family and society, in general.

DOWNTOWN JAZZ – Andre Peterson Quartet; May 28, 2019

Andre Petersen & Bokani Dyer in concert @ House on the Hill; Premiered May 27, 2021

Older brother, Winston Petersen, reminisced about how Andre could fit into a size 8 shoe box, literally, when he was born in 1978. “He didn’t choose music; music chose him,” Winston remembered. “In Grade 4, Dad took Andre to UCT for a music aptitude test (with Nancy Hoffmayer) which he passed. Andre loved working with his hands also, and the teachers were so impressed with an ashtray and match box holder Andre made from wood (it was actually made by me!).” Andre was a perfectionist: “If you believe in God, you can go anywhere!” Winston recalled Andre’s joyful hope.

One telling story proved his craftiness: “Andre became so enamored with jazz that he would sneak out of the house when his father went to bed (around 9.30pm), push the family car out of the driveway so as to make little noise, and drive to the Monday night jazz jam at Swingers nearby. Upon returning home, Andre pushed the car quietly back into the driveway… “…so Dad never knew.

Dr. Michael Rossi, Professor at UCT College of Music spoke about how he befriended Andre over 20 years ago upon Rossi’s arrival to teach at UKZN and through the years often asked Andre to join his live tours and recording sessions. “Andre had profound piano abilities, and more notably, an ability to swing.” Rossi mentioned that even American jazz pianist, Kenny Barron, referenced Andre as a “swing” master during Andre’s tours in USA.

Dr. Andile Khumalo of the University of Witswatersrand (WITS) coached Andre during his PhD studies. “Andre asked students to get to know classical music and become familiar with the jazz masters. I saw an embodiment of kindness in Andre….he believed that kindness would enable one to hear and see better.” Other academics, like Professor Brett Pyper, Head of the School of Arts at WITS, spoke highly about Andre’s PhD research which Pyper had co-supervised.

A number of collaborating musicians shared tender stories: When 14 year old Darren English, a Capetownian and now multi-instrumental musician, met Andre who remained an important mentor and friend. Legendary trumpeter, Feya Faku, remarked that Andre “had such a great soul…. And cherished classical music so much.” Norwegian saxophonist, Morton Halle, a long time collaborator, remarked how Andre was an “important figure on the international jazz scene….an uncompromising artist….having his own voice but with influences from the whole wide world of music.”

Of note, South African classical pianist, Dr. Kathleen Tagg, based in New York, had met jazzman Andre in 1996, but only started working with him in 2014 as a duo team wedding the classical (which Andre adored) with jazz styles.
They had performed on three continents, at various concerts, small and big, and as she recalled, “No phone call ever lasted less than an hour.” They had big plans ahead: “I was super excited to know I would be joining Andre in a few weeks’ time in the USA for a collaboration. His kindness and brilliant intellect were always deeply rooted in humanity, always present in the moment, his musicianship and technique being his spiritual guide… a consentient gentleman.” Her accolades were non-ending.

Dr. Maxwell Holland, spiritual mentor to Andre and senior pastor at Kingdom Life Ministries in Johannesburg where the family did fellowship, said of Andre: “He wore Jesus so well… I’ve seen Jesus walk this Earth…. We don’t need a tombstone for this man because all of his music and life is in our hearts…Andre was going to move to the USA, but instead, he has moved his music to the heavens, for all of us.”

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Courtesy Gregory Franz

Mercia Isaacs, Chairperson of the Vuya Foundation which sponsored some costs for Andre’s Masters Degree studies in Belgium, told ‘a little South African miracle story’ about meeting Andre in November 2011 who needed money to courrier his studies application to Belgium, believing in his wishes to complete his Masters Degree in Belgium, and appreciating his staying in communication with her. Andre had continued to shower her with great thanks for her assistance. She continued, “One morning, he called me to say, ‘I have received my Masters’”…. Up to this May, he would call me every month to check on me, as I suffer from a health condition.”

Tributes were made briefly by other pastors and family members, notably Andre’s father in law, Denville Willie, who had just lost his own mother to Covid a week earlier. Denville and Andre had discussed earlier: Why bad things happen to good people. Denville reflects: “I now know… To the end, you held on to God with integrity…We will take care of your wife and Zion, until we meet again.”

Sister to wife Chantal, Denay Willie read Chantal and daughter Zion’s letter to Andre, about “our timeless walk together…your love was deeply honourable… your perfect peace and my perfect plan for you….You will always be our Papa.”

Child Zion could not hold back her tears, as with the rest of us.

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Andre Petersen, his jazz bassist wife, Chantal Willie, and singer sister, Denay Willie, are known in Cape Town for their undying support for youth jazz education as well as growing South African jazz styles, ever mindful of the musical legends, living and late, who have laid solid musical foundations. Andre’s future with Chantal in academia and performance looked very bright. As educators, Chantal and sister Denay have spearhead the Rainbow Academy from some ten years ago to offer a range of arts development for youth.

Courtesy: Urban Craft Magazine

See Andre and Chantal’s  short-lived November-December 2014 ‘Talk Tones Sessions’ held at the District Six Museum’s Homecoming Center on Saturday mornings provided exposure for young musicians to meet, listen to and interact with, leading jazz musicians in their town.  See my article in Amandla! Issue No 37/38, December 2014, entitled “Talk Tones Sessions: An Initiative to grow youth artistry”.  Such programs need more funding and arts supports if youth are to ‘grow’ the music as part of their own livelihoods.

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At NAF 2021: Melvin Peters, Bokani Dyer, Siya Charles, Justin-Lee Schultz, Guilherme Ribeiro, Chadleigh Gowar

This year’s Standard Bank National Arts Festival, like in 2020, is exciting, full of new entertainment from growing and seasoned artists, and yes, virtual, waiting for that pandemic to disappear so that we can have a decent fun-filled social and interactive Festival like in past days. I honed in on the Jazz Festival, and found these worthy delights, from both our local stock as well as international contributions. Accessible viewing until July 31, most of these recordings are available at any time, and at reasonable costs. Check these out at

Melvin Peters Trio

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Pianist Melvin Peters, now retired from years teaching at University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban and at the University of Pretoria, offers twists and turns on familiar favourites as well as his own compositions. A splash of the melodic Standard, ‘Secret Love’, hits this hour’s performance running as Peters launches his ambitious piano styles which are full of surprises. Being sure to mix the offerings, Peters’ own songs make sure to honour some of the pains of the day. His ‘Joy Comes in the Morning’ speaks to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. It is a beautiful rendition of scenes of mixed sorrow and joy, perhaps that life continues elsewhere. Bassist Trevor Donjeany solos with emotion and purpose, leading the piano to continue the melodious theme. Peters confidently solos in another favourite Standard, ‘All the Things You Are’, starting with a Bach-ish style that morphs into jazzy improv. Then a mellow R&B tune by Donjeany reveals just what expertise blesses the major South African city. Always appreciative of his able band members, Peters ends with a piece in swing by drummer Bruce Baker, rounding out this delightful repertoire of improvisational wizardry.

Bokani Dyer – Kelenosi

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Courtesy: All About Jazz

During his jazz studies at the UCT College of Music over ten years ago, pianist Bokani Dyer was selected for the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band which toured Sweden, after which he released his debut album in 2010, and subsequently received top awards for scholarships which spun him into vast jazz worlds. Now, a new and different Dyer presents a NAF program with funky beats and bluesy lyrics, his vocals included. The Setswana title of his recent album, Kelenosi, which means ‘alone’ or ‘on my own’, suggests there’s a new-found freedom which is absorbing and intertwining all those past experiences to make some surprisingly new styles: a bit of rap, some hiphop thrown in along with improvised R&B, even a touch of classical music. Written and recorded over two months during the extended lockdown period imposed on South African in 2020, songs in this album present Dyer’s dexterous tendencies to please.

Songs include ‘Quarantine’ with characteristic Dyer upper register runs, clean and distinct. His vocals follow with a moaning for wanting-it-all – Nectar and waterfalls – while scatting along with his piano accompaniment. In ‘Goofy’, Dyer retains his chordal jazz improv, and then switches into a slow, meditative mood portraying a 13th Century Sufi poet introduced with a spoken word voice-over. Dyer sings, raps fast, trying to pitch his at times wobbly voice to the complicated scales he harvests. About 39 minutes into this creative program, Dyer joins keyboardist Clement Carr in a solo duo that reveals a pleasantly agile conversation between the two instruments taking turns unfolding and articulating the melody according to mood. Carr’s staccato taps on his synthesizer keys add character to the piano runs and plucking which Dyer enjoys doing directly on the piano strings.

An interesting attempt at Nigerian highlife and pigeon English, in tribute to musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, provided some humourous vibes with the popular song, ‘She Go Say I Be Lady-O’, with Carr’s synthesizing pulses mimicking that highlife beat. This NAF presentation certainly peeks into Dyer’s windows of changing shades and styles of jazz as he mixes electronic dance music, R&B, rap, salsa and even classical music in his evolving repertoire.

Siya Charles Sextet

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Trombonist and composer Siya Charles performed for the National Arts Festival 2021 at Gallery 44 on Long Street in Cape Town on 20 June 2021 to a very small audience in the otherwise very adequate auditorium at the Gallery which in olden days was a Cinema and Theater. Her recorded concert is now virtual in the SB Jazz Festival offerings and not to be missed.

Her sextet, composed of some of the best Cape Town-based jazz musicians, come with the musical DNA from the University of Cape Town’s College of Music; hence, the tight, orderly sound of the three horns: Zeke le Grange on tenor sax, Shaw Komori on trumpet, and Siya Charles on trombone; then Damian Kamineth on percussion and drums, Sibusiso Matsimela on double and electric bass, and the indomitable Blake Hellaby on keyboard.

This bebop lady has class, swing, melody, and versatility, caroling her band through mbaqanga, ghoema, and contemporary jazz beats, including swing and post-bop. After a few South African local beats, her sextet swung into Andrew Lilly’s “Education” and from then on, her love for swing and bebop took off. “I love the sextet because of the horns,” she explained as she confidently introduced her songs and band members’ solos. Young Komori’s trumpet offered clean runs while Matsimela beboped his way determinedly. Hellaby enjoyed his right hand rustles through the treble range. From African grooves to jazz swing, this was a concert that deserves an album which, hopefully, is soon in its making. The horizon looks sunny!

Oh boy! Bob James and Jonathan Butler – move over! Here comes 14 year old pianist, scatter and talk-boxer, Justin-Lee Schultz, with a whopping portrayal of smooth, funky, and scatty vocals with piano that ring familiar, yet surprise with some chordal twists and turns. An ambitious band leader, Justin commands his keyboards and talk-box like a pro, and obviously enjoys modulating the vocal frequencies into various moods. Even his falsetto young male voice takes some wandering scat scales to clean heights, again like a pro. Known more in the USA, even though born and raised in Johannesburg until his family moved to Minneapolis, young Justin can top the charts, as did his debut album, Gruv Kid, in 2020. About 28 minutes in, saxman Gerald Albright enters to play a familiar tune….. Consistently, young Justin , who stood and played throughout his set, maintains clear, flawless upper register runs that simply made the piano sing. The use of moving digital images as a stage backdrop for visual effects, and controlled by Justin on his techy machines, tended to visually overpower the otherwise gentle smooth jazzy renditions of this group. A simpler and less techy background presentation would have suited just fine as the viewer watched the captivating highlights of the Schultz youth. Those distractions aside, Justin produced, along with Dad Julius on guitar and 16 year old sister Jamie-Lee on drums, a one hour musical heist worth every Rand penny (R50).

Guilherme Ribeiro

Playing in what appears a lush, tropical garden, this 7minute 19 second video shows closeups of Brazilian Guilherme Ribeiro on piano and accordion along with a cellist, drummer, and box drummer. Several scenes depict road signs as one travels through this Brazilian countryside, thereby making this engaging visual experience also enticing with the sonorous whims of nature. It’s a meditation, a reflective moment, to stop any actions or thoughts, and just try to ‘be’ for those seven plus minutes.

Chadleigh Gowar, bassist. ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’… at The Fringe

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While joyous and hopeful, the spirit behind Chadleigh Gowar’s moving presentation pointedly aimed to engage our hearts and understanding about how artists, too, faced vast difficulties during the Covid pandemic grasp on lives near and dear. Gowar’s tributes to loved ones who passed during this time (like ‘Uncle Neville’ and others close and far) were both enticing and melodic, pushing boundaries of mourning into gospel and ballad modes. His band members musically produced a tight sound pleasing, yet saddening, as they portrayed what loss sounds like. Unfortunately, the band members’ names were not listed in the program, but one could see the soft drumming of Damien Kamineth and a yearning wail of trumpeter Jo Kunnuji. Written tributes and sentiments were also presented from Granville Skippers as well as from Gowar himself. Between songs, Gowar told his stories and included one guest, Wendy Julius, who sang her own tribute song and shared how her religious strength brought her through hard family losses. One could appreciate the realities of death these artists were facing, but which moved them to create and sing….. that gone is not to be forgotten.

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Reedman Salim Washington: Decolonise and Fund Jazz Education, Please

During his recent Afrika Love concert tour in Cape Town, reed and wind instrumentalist, Professor Salim Washington came with a purpose and message about the jazz art form. As head of the Performing Arts Department at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) in Durban, American-born Washington was bidding farewell to South Africa for a year to create and teach at Columbia University in his former home of New York City.

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Respecting both African and African-American traditions, he wanted to pay tribute to one of CapeTown’s leading jazz legends, Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi, who lived and thrived in Gugulethu’s jazz culture during Apartheid days. Winston would have turned 78 this year, had he lived. Thanks to Winston’s brother, Thuli Ngozi, who continues to keep Winston’s tenor saxophone under safe cover, Washington was able to perform his Kwa Sec concert in Gugulethu with that precious saxophone to the fans’ delight.

Respecting the life of such elders, Washington laid flowers at Winston’s grave in the huge Gugulethu cemetery; this seemed to spur Washington to eloquently reverberate through that saxophone Winston’s living Spirit in such songs as the ever popular ‘Yakhal’ Inkomo’.

Besides several recent albums (Dogon Revisited (2018) and Sankofa (2017), plus his composition in The Alchemy Project entitled, ‘Afrika Love’, honouring his ever loyal pianist, Afrika Mkize, Washington continues to focus on the importance of jazz education that heralds past legacies as well as current new themes. This importance attracted All Jazz Radio (and others) to pursue with Washington what his strategies are for promoting both formal and non-formal jazz education. Courting wisdom from decades of political activism, writing and composing, performing, and raising four children in New York, Washington was earlier drawn to South Africa’s experiences in dismantling institutional Apartheid, as well as the contemporary currents running through its jazz culture. A Fulbright Scholarship landed him at Durban’s UKZN in 2009 after which he continued his fascinating journey from 2013 to cultivate South African jazz talents, musicality, and the contributions of transatlantic and Pan-African jazz culture.

Critical Issues Facing South African Jazz

Washington admits that South Africa has one of the finest jazz cultures in the world. However, he sees two burning issues facing the jazz scene in South Africa: One is the lack of official support for the art form, and secondly, the notion of credentialing for lecturers at tertiary and secondary education levels needs reform.

Jazz in South Africa gets more support from the Nordic countries than from government. In KZN, this government gives millions of Rands to support the Philharmonic Orchestra, which is lovely to have, but maskandi musicians don’t get millions of Rands, jazz musicians don’t get millions of Rands. We’re supposed to be decolonial, post-colonial, but the European art form is supported in a way that jazz can’t dream of receiving such support. So that’s a big concern to me.

Regarding the credentialing for lecturers of music, there are jazz experts who have not pursued graduate and post-graduate degrees, but get their expertise from the bandstand. Their lifestyle and mentoring with others makes them jazz masters. But these masters are not allowed to teach jazz in the formal way, in schools! It is a concern of mine because somebody like Winston Mankunku Ngozi could not teach saxophone!

Winston Mankunku with Mike Perry: Credit Mike Perry Images

So we have a whole generation of students who are learning from teachers who may be experientially removed from this lifestyle jazz culture. Yet, these people are called ‘experts’. The real experts are sometimes languishing in peculiar situations, [poverty, lack of opportunities, etc] when they could be called on to teach the younger generations. I’ve noticed there are a lot of great players emerging who are also consulting with those legendary musicians out there to learn more. So I’m not afraid of these seasoned musicians’ contributions dying out.

Schools can tend to be elitist, yes, and young musicians, like Sisonki Xonti and others from the area townships schools, could have benefited from a Winston in the classroom – a win-win for both, giving employment to the jazz master. Yet, in the past twenty years, UCT has churned out teachers of music who are teaching at secondary and tertiary levels, which are producing more and more trained musicians. Then there are the smaller music programs, like IMAD (Institute for Music and Indigenous Arts Development), the Cape Town Music Academy, and The Little Giants, that are training youth and offering performance venues.

And that’s a great thing. I just wish we had it in the other provinces. KZN schools in townships don’t have music programs, even extracurricular activities at all. This is one of the stronger points about the Western Cape, though.


In my own way, in my own teaching and as head of the Department of the Performing Arts at UKZN, I’m trying to introduce mentoring. This means there’s a pedagogical distinction which brings different results from a ‘schooled’ candidate. In a school, the candidate is chosen to be mentored. Even though I’m entrenched in the formal school system, I try to bring the nonformal aspects into learning as well.

So what does that look like?

I didn’t learn jazz in school. In fact, I dropped out of school; that wasn’t the place where I would learn the music that I wanted to play. And the opportunities to join a big band were dwindling so a young person is almost forced to go into a school to learn. I think we need to know how to transform the conservatory for the purpose of jazz, because its pedagogy is set up on this 19th Century conservatory model, which has its virtues, but there are other virtues to bring to the music perspective.

Regarding mentoring, the South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE) had funded a mentorship program called Sisters in Sound, more or less patterned on the USA program of Sisters in Jazz. As happens in the arts, the funding ran out – for both programs. Washington thinks such mentoring is extremely important for young females and should be revived.

That would be a beautiful thing. Jazz has been a boys’ club for too long a time. It’s time to expand. Female teachers are important. Women have been instrumental as teachers and as models – the black female voice is the sound of jazz. Young girls’ working conditions are horrible and, unfortunately, they are sexually molested, so they give up. We need to bring to account these men who abuse women as this might help increase females to enter and stay in the industry. I have talented women who underperform, and I expect there are things they’re not telling me because I’m a man. Maybe more female educators would help that. In the US , there are a number of scandals in the tertiary institutions, so there may be more scandals outside of the schools that affect women negatively.

Back to New York – What Next

In September, Washington becomes an international visiting professor for the academic year with Columbia University’s newly minted African American and African Diasporic Studies Department.

I’m super excited about that. I will be teaching two classes which I think will center around either South African jazz literature or South African practices. I’m still formulating it all in my mind. I also plan to teach a seminar on John Coltrane who formed the body of my earlier PhD research. I plan to use this seminar to help me write a book about him and his music. Teaching at Columbia will require a lot of preparation…. And I’ll be performing in New York as well. I raised my 4 children there. We lived in Harlem before it became gentrified.

Albums and Lockdown

Two albums were produced during Washington’s tenure with South African music: Dogon Revisited (2018) preceded by Sankofa, released in 2017.

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Sankofa (2017) represented my experiences in living in South Africa and the influences South African music had on me. The Sankofa bird is a Ghanaian symbol of the return of Diasporic Africans to the motherland. The idea is that you keep your eye on the past while moving forward with the wisdom of the past. So all that embodies my personal journey which means ‘ Sankofa’ as I had returned to the Motherland. I brought together South African musicians whom I felt shared my sentiments about music and life.

Dogon was recorded earlier but released in 2018. It was supposed to be a recording when I knew I would be moving to South Africa to do my Fulbright in Durban. So it is emblematic of what it was like for me to be a New York jazz musician.

The lockdown period since March 2020 proved fruitful for Washington as he could complete eight orchestral scores.

I’ve had this dream for a decade, and now, these compositions are finally being finished. I want a jazz ensemble, a philharmonic orchestra, a choir – either an African American or South African choir – I think a South African choir, and a 3-person percussion ensemble that could play African, South African, Brazilian and Cuban styles. I’d also like to have a female and a male poet to bridge between the semantic content and music, and give vent to direct social commentary to compliment the music.

This process started with the Sankofa album and will continue during his USA residence.

An earlier album, Harlem Homecoming (2006), was the result of the songs that grew up on the bandstand during my New York performance days. At that time we were recording live at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem and we were also recording me with strings. So this was an earlier attempt to get to this grand vision I had to perform with strings. I was dabbling, trying to get my chops together.

The Alchemy Project with ‘Afrika Love’

Another current project Washington will enjoy contributing to is The Alchemy Project involving 5 musicians who come together from different parts of USA (and Washington’s South Africa) to perform and record each other’s compositions. Washington’s ‘Afrika Love’ song offers an endearing and memorable tribute to a favourite South African pianist, Afrika Mkize, who, one day, just phoned Washington to say ‘I love you’. Musicians include Salim Washington (tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet, oboe), Erica Lindsay (tenor sax, clarinet, alto flute), Samantha Bashnack (trumpet), Michael Ventoso (trombone), Sumi Tonooka (piano), David Arend (double bass), and Chad Taylor (drums).

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We have two grants from the Chamber Music of America to perform and record new works. Erica Lindsay and Sumi Tonooka are the grant holders but our work together was interrupted by Covid so we couldn’t meet up and perform. But we start work for 2021/2022 with rehearsals as soon as I get to New York. It’s a great group and has really helped me to grow as a composer. And I’ll be in the company of other seasoned, adventurous, intelligent composers.

No doubt, his exploits in USA will enrich his pedagogical baggage when he arrives back in Durban in 2022. As long as he doesn’t get too lost in his favourite city of New York which he considers the cultural capitol of planet Earth!

New York was my golden period, particularly in the 1970s with pop music. I thought that was how music was supposed to sound. Now, when I hear the current music, I realize that that was a golden era! Like when I was performing at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem, it was an extraordinary time, and I said to myself, let me enjoy it while it’s happening.

Washington’s albums are available on all major digital platforms.

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Abavuki Celebrates a Brotherhood of Afro Fusion marimba/brass style

“Wake up and let’s go!!” motto determines how a 20 year old brotherhood-in-music reacts to its artistic challenges of the day. This Xhosa-speaking group, calling themselves ‘Abavuki’, from Cape Town’s oldest ‘township’ community of Langa, have lived and supported each other’s musical growth with undying loyalty. Let’s just say, they are Brothers at heart and mind!

Abavuki concert at 44 Gallery on Long, CapeTown, 12 June 2021

Abavuki say their style is unique, in that they play the traditional African instruments (drums, percussion & marimbas) along with brass (trumpet, saxophone and trombone) , vocal harmonies, and the occasional dance jive, that Abavuki ‘shuffle’. Infectiously energetic, these young men, now in their mid 30s, present a vibrant and contemporary Mzansi sound that is also mixed with kwaito, jazz and Latin American rhythms.

A viral pandemic has not reduced their vigor honed by a past decade of overseas tours performing in music festivals in some 13 countries including China, Algeria, and Germany. Even a two month cruise gig in 2010 as the Resident band on the Viking Line ferry operating between Sweden and Finland. These multi-instrumentalists and multi-award recipients have journeyed from busking as young teenagers at Cape Town’s popular V&A Waterfront (sometimes without a permit) to full time musicianship joining other bands as the professional career and financial needs called for their individual participation.

Coming from some rough neighbourhoods of Langa, all was not easy to make some survival money as a young teen. “Some of us started playing informally with local bands, such as The Little Giants, and Jika. We were first African drums, brass plus vocals and took to the streets with this unique sound. As we got booked more and more, we added dance, then marimbas,” explains Sabu Jiyana who went on to study traditional African music at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music. “We had fun busking and made a lot of money at the Waterfront, like one hundred bucks (Rands) a day for each of us was a lot of money at age 13/14!”

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Sabu Jiyana – credit

So how did they afford to get their marimbas and these brass instruments as teenagers? Luck found them: A marimba-maker, Andile, in Langa needed to test out his marimbas before delivering to the customers. So he gave some to the teens who profited with busking on streets and at the Waterfront.

“Andile organized gigs for us, but didn’t pay us, but said we would eventually get our instruments. We called ourselves ‘Abavuki’ which means ‘wake up early’ and go busking, which is what we guys loved doing! Andile called us one Sunday saying he had a gig for us for R700 at the Switching On the Lights in downtown Adderley Street as part of the Christmas celebrations. At that point, we kids had never played together with marimbas. So we all frantically rehearsed together in the Railway Station toilets! We were given only 10 minutes to perform, at the corner of Wale and Adderley.”

That was in 2001. Their luck continued to grow.

“That’s when we met Beverley who lived nearby and heard us playing. She offered to stick with us and help us get gigs from then on. We were 13/14 year old kids, and we thought everyone would take us to London and other places, like what happened with Amapondo who were famous at that point.”

Beverley Gough managed Abavuki from that time until she passed away in 2019, much to the sadness and loss felt by the group who called her a Mother to them. In 2002, the group met a couple from USA who tape recorded them. “We still were ‘borrowing’ Andile’s marimbas until one day, after the recordings and when we had the CDs in hand to sell at our gigs, Andile took our marimbas away. We couldn’t gig or sell the CDs!! “

Never deterred but always driven, Sabu explained how they would find marimbas and ‘steal’ them, make some money from them, and then pay the owners for the instruments. “We had just reassured the owners that we were ‘borrowing’ the marimbas!”

So what is so unique or special about Abavuki? It’s their style, they explained.

“ There are marimba ‘groups’, but we call ourselves a band because we are a brotherhood, like family, we’re brothers. At the time, there were only two bands that played marimbas with brass, one of them was Amapondo. We came along and changed the game… We made a decision to not be ‘a marimba band’, but a band that uses marimbas. So you would think someone is playing a bass guitar when he would be playing a marimba using 3 sticks. When Kim plays soprano marimba, it will be highlights or cues for the brass to play, for instance, while the tenor marimba will carry a melody.”

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Kim Masala (left); Sabu Jiyana (right) on 12 June 2021

This certainly seems to bring out the versatility of this wooden marimba. “Instead of playing chord progressions and your own thing, you’ll play an actual melody on the bass marimba or tenor marimba while mixing rhythms.” So far, according to spokesperson, Sabu, the Abavuki songs have not been scored or archived for younger players to study. Why not?

“We found that if a teenager listens to the music and really catches on to it, he or she will learn it. Some local projects for kids eventually disappear, money disappears due to corruption, etc. Some kids join for the wrong reason, maybe to get money quickly. But our young man who has joined us was serious about learning our music, so we have taken him on. Covid has interrupted a lot of what teaching we wanted to do in the schools in Langa, like Thambani Primary School and Langa High School. And not everyone takes African music seriously – they like their kwaito and stuff. But we’re on a mission…..”

The ‘mission’ has been tough during COVID lockdown, now a year and one month without playing together as a brotherhood, just surviving with individual gigs here and there. Some South African musicians have used this period ‘off’ to compose more songs for later recordings and concerts. Has Abavuki?

When we started as a 14 piece band, we had three fundamental goals to achieve: getting instruments; recording albums; and traveling internationally. We’ve achieved these and continue to develop these goals with more instruments. We’ll do a different album than previous tours. Regarding developing songs, a band member will throw out an idea and we’ll all work on it together. Noone dominates.”

But then COVID hit!

“Covid became frustrating because we were used to being together and making music together. We would get rusty on our instruments. However, we would share ideas, but get discouraged by the whole environment. It’s been tough. The idea of our 20th anniversary launch tomorrow [12 June 2021] is to say to organizers that ‘we are still here’. “

And Yes, they are here! The future sees these jolly musicians push forward with more exciting compositions and local and world tours, COVID-permitted. It’s simply amazing how they have stayed as closely knit together as the audience witnessed on that June 12 evening of 20 years celebration! In all their credits, they never fail to give tribute to their deceased band members: Gaz Matsila and Thulani Mtyi. And always to Beverley Gough, their band manager (2001-2019).

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Abavuki in 2019; credit: Paul Reichle

View Abavuki in action here, and check out that Abavuki dance shuffle that is their signature act!

Albums ‘Decade’ and ‘Africa Got Soul’ and other Abavuki albums are on Spotify, Soundcloud, and other digital platforms. See their Facebook page:

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Reedman McCoy Mrubata – a life with jazz accents made visual

Petite in stature, but ferociously melodic on stage, he blasts a soprano saxophone entry with his able quartet, then mellows into a tenor sax ballad, switching adeptly into a flute solo that rounds out his first set. By the end of the evening, the audience would have danced to a mbaqanga jive or a ghoema ditty, all very South African in tone and intent.

McCoy Mrubata, a son of the Cape Town soil, never fails to deliver what rhythms and sonic pulses have grown in his bones for almost 60 years, as he turns a youthful 62 in June. And he’s videotaping just that!

“I drink green tea, always, in the morning with slices of ginger, some honey and lemon in my cup,” he smiles, proud of this steady ritual, which (he says) helps tone down some hand arthritis creeping in. One would certainly not suspect such an affront to his seasoned dexterity.

Based in Johannesburg for most of his life, and raising four children there, McCoy greets multitudes of fans when he travels to perform in Cape Town. Sometimes, hiding is in order! Thanks to hosting by Jazz in the Native Yards, his three performances end of May brought the hordes: to the cozy (but far too small for this gentle giant) basement whiskey bar of the Athletic Club & Social and the Alliance Francaise, both in central Cape Town, and then to the outdoor Sunday afternoon hustle at Gugulethu’s popular Kwa Sec. Indeed, maintaining Covid-19 protocols were strained amidst the lack of larger economical venues, but fans will be fans. “I am very careful with the protocols for myself,” McCoy admits, “and I encourage others to do so.” His quartet swung, soloed, and supported with amazing facility, delivering some of the best and tightly executed performances for many: the improvising wizardry of pianist Lonwabo Mafani excited many; the energetic ‘talking drums’ of Tefo Mahola cast spells; and Wesley Rustin’s expert plucking on double bass – all well synced with this wind and reed man.

Pianist Lonwabo Mafani at Alliance Francaise May 2021

But what is jazz to McCoy? See his interview with John Perlman at

McCoy boasts a large repertoire of his own jazz compositions performed over the decades, beginning with his early days growing up in Langa learning the flute, and then saxophone, under the tutelage of Madoda Gxabeka, the Ngcukanas brothers, Winston Ngozi Mankunku, and many other Langa musicians. “It’s important to always include songs by our earlier jazz legends where I grew up. You see, I was just a few blocks from Ezra Nqcukana, then down the road was Winston’s house, and over there lived Louis Maholo!

Living under Apartheid and faced by the 1976 uprisings in the country, McCoy made music his passion and traveled to Johannesburg to join the other early greats during the 1980s, forming his own bands, like the Brotherhood in 1989 with guitarist Jimmy Dludlu and the now late pianist, Moses Molelekwa. In 1992 he began touring with Hugh Masekela’s Lerapo band and formed a decades long friendship with pianist Paul Hanmer with whom many recordings have emerged. Other stints with Norwegian groups, residencies in Switzerland and tours elsewhere produced a list of albums. In 2015 Brasskap Sessions Volume 2 won the SAMA’s best Jazz Album category.

That same year, his stint in Switzerland with three different bands resulted in a double CD recording in Basel: McCoy Mrubata Live At the Bird’s Eye. Gobble up McCoy’s experiences at

McCoy’s cultural philosophy focuses on intergenerational learning, in society, family environs, and with his musical collaborators. The Brasskap sessions series is a platform for the young, the old and the legends to interact musically and draw positive energies from one another. When asked how Brasskap Vol 3 differs with Volumes 1 and 2, McCoy replied, “Not much different. I don’t want to dig around to try to find something else new. I didn’t want to go the Marrabenta route of music from Mozambique in the song, ‘Xhai Xhai’, for example, but preferred to add a Caribbean twist with Andy Narell on steel pans playing that song with South African young musicians. “

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How does he filter acceptable quality from the many young musicians coming out in the last decade? How does he choose whom to groom, to capture? “So many are coming to me! Brasskap 2 featured Sisonke on baritone sax, then Vol 3 with Mthunzi Mvubu on saxes and flute. Then, when I heard drummer Lumanyano Mzi, who heads his Unity Band, he knocked me out! My producer Luyanda said yes, get him on! I love Lumanyano, he’s a great band leader, has a wonderful sound, and is very proficient to work with.”

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McCoy Mrubata with Unity Band 2017

Baritone saxophonist Gareth Harvey is another young gun McCoy employs to arrange his compositions occasionally to ensure excellence in output. “When I was recording in Cape Town with his Unity Band earlier in 2018, I asked Gareth to arrange my songs as well as Unity’s compositions. It worked out well.”


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These days, one can see McCoy more often with a Sony video camera on a tripod than with a saxophone. He’s making his own documentary, a selfie, with a self-taught approach including learning and using Final Cut Pro, his editing tool. “The purpose is to show my upbringing in an urban township of Cape Town, even though my ancestry comes from Heuwu village in the Cala area of the Eastern Cape. Then explain the musical journey I’ve had, again focusing on intergenerational relationships.” For instance, during his recent studio recording session in Cape Town with the legendary ‘Mama Kaap’ singer, Sylvia Mdunyelwa, also a long time resident in Langa, he filmed her with his tripod setup. “It was so emotional: she was crying as she sang, because the lyrics of my song were written by her own son who works with me!”

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – 1997: Nelson Mandela singing and dancing with South African jazz singer Sylvia Mdunyelwa at his staff party at Green Dolphin Restaurant, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive/Getty Images)

Inspired by recent tours within the United States, McCoy was able to share his music as therapy. In 2018, he told this writer: “Paul Hanmer and I are finishing 30 years celebration of working together, touring USA just as a duo for 3 weeks in different cities. We did a live recording in Princeton which includes a video and DVD and produced it on Paul’s and my respective labels. We, also, gave short courses, workshops, and master classes. “

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Paul Hanmer and McCoy Mrubata

McCoy returned to Philadelphia in 2019 to contribute to a conference on music and trauma. He admits he was writing his story of how he grew up, the trauma of the 1976 uprisings and violence during the Apartheid era. “My songs are with spoken word and instrumentals. Also, while at Berklee, we were doing music therapy sessions.” Other tours have taken McCoy to Kuwait (in 2019) and Algeria with Greg Georgiades, a South African who comes from eastern Europe and plays the oud and different guitars. A master performance with other South Africans brought McCoy together with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York in September 2019 which kicked off with a composition by trumpeter Feya Faku followed by other South Africa Songbook specials.

Back home, his project with bassist Lex Muchana, called ‘The Summit’ operates in Soweto to bring ‘home-grown’ sounds into various communities, homes, centers, and local venues. “We host ticketed concerts in our houses.” This strikes a similar cord in what Cape Town’s own Jazz in the Native Yards is trying to do in communities to reach various audiences around this large city. Another local project McCoy started to support youth musical development is the “Strings Attached” program involving young string players from Daveyton, a quartet of 1st and 2nd violins, viola, and cello playing with a backline. Currently, he is an ambassador for a number of youth development causes, including the Kasi Angels Foundation which provides shoes for children and youth and other items that encourage learners to attend school.

“I will continue to record in video form my performances with musicians, record my travels, workshops, how I and my family live, my neighborhood, and my life in general, so as to educate people about my passion for music and its role in inspiring a wholesome personal development.”

This major musical Legend has loads ahead to offer. Stay tuned at

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Are ‘jazz jams’ about Community? and are they worthy?

New in town? Want to meet the jazz ma/fraternity? Think venues abuse jammers? Are jazz jammers only learners on ego trip? Help audience development? Nurture talents?

There’s a mystical, vibey world of sounds out there which grabs musicians and patrons alike, causing a migration of smiles in anticipation of ‘something different’. What do you do / where do you go… after an eventful weekend of festivities, lunches, brawly evening braais, or just reading a good book? And you just want to chill but don’t want the music to stop?

The Monday night jazz jam!

In Cape Town, the jam has remained popular and busy, bringing eager young and less young musicians and patrons together for informal interactions, networking, and general camaraderie. Travelling to large cities worldwide, and you’ll find a musician’s jam on some day of the week, without fail. But finding a suitable home at a cozy venue for CapeTown jazz jams has proved problematic, for whatever reasons, as venues keep changing, or closing down, or……..

A recent Facebook discussion among jazz enthusiasts and musicians has been addressing the ‘worthiness’ of the jazz jams, thanks to jazz photographer, Gregory Franz, who posed the key question on his FB page posted on 3 May, 2021:

We know that music jams are not for financial gains on the day but
what are your honest opinions/experiences about music jams???

A little history: In the 1990s, Cape Town’s jazz jam was at Val’s in Athlone (in daytime a coffee shop run by the entrepreneurial lady, Val); it closed and the jam moved not too far away to Swingers, a daytime gambling joint and nighttime restaurant and other music club + the slot machines. Here, for over a decade, many happy Monday night musical jams groomed the jazz students who eagerly took to the stage with the seasoned greats from both South African and international jazz communities. But Swingers decided it wanted something different, so the jam moved again, blessing several venues with shorter stints: at Lyra’s, a restaurant/bar on Rondebosch’s Main Rd close to the University of Cape Town and accessible for students; then at another restaurant/bar on Claremont’s Main Road, albeit short-lived. The popular Mowbray Sports Club brought hordes of students nearby. A few venues had popular night jams, like Long Street’s vibey Carnival Court, and Athlone’s Blue Chip. After a long lull, the V&A Waterfront’s Comedy Club generously reserved its Monday evenings just for live jazz. However, it was too far and expensive (transport) for students to travel. Then, Covid shut this down!

When the Covid pandemic’s strict lockdowns hit, patrons visited the YouTube programs from home, or just sat pouting, trying to adapt to the impersonal world of the digital sonic entertainment. After a year of that misery (or joy for many), musician Dan Shout and his supporters put an end to the silence, and found Fat Harry’s restaurant in Kenilworth pleasing and accommodating for Monday night jazz jams. It follows strict covid protocols for distancing, but is booked out each Monday several weeks in advance.

Now to the question above:::::::: Responses varied. Here are a few quotes.

Business Aspects

Mr. T: I think the state should subsidise them in a similar fashion that it does higher education. Venue owners currently have to deal with “small” things such as where musos will sit, what they will eat/drink that won’t compromise the experience of paying patrons. As much as I understand the frustrations of cultural workers who have given up on the state, I still do think we have a chance with the state.

Mr. G: Jam sessions are often poorly organised and chaotic. If there was more structure as I’ve seen done overseas and musicians make the effort to entertain their paying audience with a proper performance, then it can work. Jam sessions are hugely important to the development of a musician but now that it’s also used as a commercial vehicle, it’s often disingenuous and rarely serves the audience well.

Mr. G: To answer the question directly – it’s a good way for players of improvised music to get together to exchange ideas informally while playing together. This was after all how all music anywhere in the world started and evolved. It would be fair for the proprietor of the establishment to expect to make some money by selling food and drink but, to expect people to pay a gate fee when the jammers are playing for free isn’t so cool.

Jam sessions have their place in the music scene as long as the musicians are not exploited. Abdullah Ebrahim has repeatedly said that there is a need for our local musicians to take care of business. A pat on the back, the transitory approval of the crowd and the fact that you have a following isn’t good enough. The level of success obtained by jazz musicians wasn’t built on the fact that they attended jazz jams. We know that crowds are fickle.

Quality Filters

Mr. T: Jam sessions are where we grow, get better, where we are told we need to get better…they are Quality Filters. I always think of the story of Charlie Parker getting a cymbal thrown at him. Traumatic, but a learning experience. Having said that, I think the jam sessions in CPT are too neat and cordial. Perhaps it’s a generational issue. But some of us need to be told AT A JAM if we’re playing crap.

Mr. B: The jam scene in CT is pretty much useless. As is the music scene in general. Too much ego, too much competition. I’m referring to jams in general.. .I often find them a bit frustrating. I prefer strawberry jam.

Mr. M: Is there a place for impromptu type stuff in jam sessions? Where one musician starts something on the top of his head and other jammers follow? I enjoy this vibe but i never see it happening. A few years ago I attended a jam session where this happened, but it was ended abruptly to switch to jammers doing standards. I questioned the owner about why they stopped the impromptu vibe and the owner and her clique took major offence, even mocking me. But ya, according to our experience, can this unrehearsed impromptu jams work?

Nurturing Talent

Ms. M: Jam sessions are extremely important for the development of young artists. They allow us to find our voices and personalities within the music. They also push us to become better artists as we try to keep up with our peers. However, because they are so central to our growth, they can also become a toxic space for cultural identity. Things like elitism and patriarchy easily manifest in these spaces and set a tone for the jazz community in which they exist. So it’s really important that we fundamentally cultivate these spaces as learning grounds in all aspects, knowing they will influence the art much further than initially expected.

Mr. G: I’d rather hear a set from a band playing their own thing or a rehearsed set of something original – covers I don’t mind, but played by the regular booked band. I do however 100% acknowledge how important jam nights are for the nurturing of talent.

Mr. S: Without jam sessions you don’t have a true jazz culture.
Mr. G: What do you regard as being the true jazz culture?
Mr. S: I am not sure I can put such a description as one particular thing. But I do believe that a place where musicians congregate off the clock to experiment and test themselves against their peers is an essential part of it.

Mr. D: As a classical musician who swapped over to jazz, Alvin Dyers’ jam sessions were a hugely important step in my musical development. That jam, along with the ones I’ve attended at Smalls and Smoke in NYC, influenced the way that I have run my jams at Lyra’s and now Fat Harry’s Reloaded on a Monday night. I prefer a very structured approach, which means jammers may only get to play one tune, however they have an enjoyable experience doing that. The rhythm section also isn’t punished by having every second sax player jump up to jam on a blues or Cantaloupe Island for 30 mins, which also gets boring for the audience. The fact that I’m seeing a greater number of high school kids attending my jam than ever before, I believe, shows how comfortable and safe they feel to take their first steps in front of a live audience without rehearsal or often even having met the players before. I find the pros and university students very patient and welcoming with no egos at all. There is also some incredible, young university talent coming through.

Mr. J: Jam sessions had and always will be a platform for up and coming, even seasoned, musicians. It’s about choices, and if musicians feel they want to move on, they had the stepping stone. Many of our jammers had moved on to greater heights musically; many of us know who they are. It’s been rewarding to see how those musicians had grown to be examples to others. Yes I do know some venues had abused these sessions, but in the main our objective was to give the musicians a chance and I will encourage this type of program if it is conducted in a structured way as Dan Shout has indicated.

Mr. D: You nailed it! If one doesn’t like the way a jam session is run, go to another one. If you feel you’re being exploited, then you can choose not to attend. I do find it ironic that often, those who complain about not having work don’t attend jam sessions. You have to play, to play!


Mr. J: Jam sessions are a great way to experience playing blues or jazz, learn new tunes etc and it’s fantastic to be able to jam with people who you don’t usually play with as well. I stopped going to them when I felt my playing was moving in another direction. I wanted to spend time working on a more electronic, psychedelic sound with electric guitar and to experiment with loops with acoustic guitar. But I encourage my students to go to the jams and to learn and absorb the experience of playing with more experienced musicians. The Sunday night meetings at Carnival Court were some of the best jams…There were some like-minded non purist elements there that made those ones special. You could really express yourself there.

Mr. G: Jam sessions don’t really help to build your career, but in a limited sense, it’s a good way if you are new in town to make yourself known to fellow musicians. Quite often jam sessions are used as a vehicle for abusing musicians by getting them to perform for free. The same goes for talent contests. Jam sessions do not pertain only to jazz. In my teens living in Silvertown, there were many aspiring guitarists, pianists, drummers, singers, saxophone players, etc who visited our house on a Friday night, some coming from Surrey Estate, Wetton, Wynberg, Guguletu, etc. Many who brought their instruments with them were invited to play. This was the spirit of the jam session. Most of these chaps were never heard from again after they entered their twenties. I formed a long-lasting musical relationship with some of them, although I was essentially a music hobbyist.

Mr. L: I’m on a quest for the endless jam.

Mr. K: Jam sessions are great. Amazing you can get a bunch of people and play without rehearsing …great music. Also gives the young ones a stage experience.

Social Interaction/Networking

Mr. R: It was great back a few years…it’s good for nurturing new talent or for music students to get heard… Now, most of the jammers are gigging musos who come after their paid gig to make a noise and show off, sometimes intimidating the youngsters who come on stage to sing a song. There is no real performance…seems they come coz they don’t wanna go home yet.

Mr. G: Mr. R, that is jamming! In our twenties after a gig the chaps used to look for parties where there would be jamming musicians. That’s when I met all the Schilder Brothers, the Moses Brothers, Aubrey Kinnes, Billie Dollie, Monty Weber, Ben Masinga, Winston Manunku, Danai Dhlovu, Victor Ntoni, Richard Tembo, Jimmy Adams and a host of other musicians. It was loads of fun but as we got older and got married we got into trouble and started cooling down.

Mr. D: But ABOVE ALL (and I’m truly amazed that no one has mentioned this yet in this thread), jam session are about a sense of COMMUNITY. When I started my jam again, I felt like I was back with my jazz family again and I realised how much I missed everyone during lockdown. Fat Harry’s has been fully booked days in advance for 2 months now, so there are definitely some people who still appreciate a well-run jazz jam!

Mr. D: I’m not sure if I speak for everyone, but have a strange tendency to book people I’ve heard play before, checked out their style, vibe and chops. In my case, this is from jam sessions.

Mr. G: Ben Sidran in his book “Black Talk”, if I remember correctly, makes the point that people from West Africa didn’t have a literary tradition. There wasn’t a written notation system for their music. It was therefore important that everyone be heard. There would of course be some who were better than others at expressing themselves. This tradition carried on among the slaves in America. People would get together and make music often on makeshift instruments socially. Anyone could join in the music making with those not being up to scratch falling out along the way. These sessions were the fledgling moments of jazz and jam sessions. Eventually this music migrated to a formal environment with orchestral instruments becoming available after the civil war. The banjo which has its roots in Africa was already in use. Jam sessions are part and parcel of the jazz scene but there has been a tendency by some to intellectualise about them.

Ms. M: yes! So true. Unfortunately, the institutionalization of jazz has taken away from its Africaness rooted in community and learning. I’m hoping as we reintegrate into a decolonized society, we can begin moving back to the true art form.

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Filed under Carol's Musings, Live Performance Reviews

UKZN Jazz Pianist Neil Gonsalves Celebrates Authenticity in Blessings and Blues (2021)

Style and melody characterize jazz pianist Neil Gonsalves’ recent album, Blessings and Blues, which journeys through memorable soundscapes and landscapes in his native South Africa and elsewhere.

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His temperament was celebratory upon turning 50 years in 2019 with a determination to cast compositions in a joyful and authentic light.

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Neil Gonsalves – credit Doub Mostert (UKVibe)

Then the COVID pandemic hit! Rightfully, this sensitive composer tweaked songs in order to counteract the negativities emerging from that year-long+ viral safari. For instance, he overlaid some songs with a synthesizer meant to create a mood, perhaps an upliftment from the bluesy sounds. Here is where Gonsalves meets his authenticity. As he reveals on his website, it’s time to recenter, refocus, rejuvenate, repent, remember and return to ourselves. For Gonsalves, the album improvises a journey within. It’s time to reconnect in a changing world.

Stylistically, the songs begin with phrases which return back to close the song. Look at a row of boxes; they have a similar form and shape and contain and hold their contents. But once you open a box and rummage inside, all sorts of items pop out with life’s textures, colours, shapes, impressionistic whims, free flowing beats, and judgmental sounds. Close the box up and it returns to its foundational purpose – to contain and preserve. Similarly, Blessings and Blues takes the listener inside multi-textured melodies and rhythms ranging from a bit of hymnal, to blues, to bebop improvisation, to African Cape ghoema, to some gyrating hop, and some Zulu cadences.

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Ildo Nandja

Gonsalves doesn’t skimp on feeling; his left hand likes some heavy chordal emphasis to energize his versatile trio of double bass and drums that navigate with their own peculiar depth. He allows them, former KZN University students, this wonderful space to explore: Mozambiquan double bassist Ildo Nanja, presently studying in The Netherlands, brings surprises with his solo fingering and bowing, creating the right moods. Durban-based drummer Riley Giandhari adds a gelling synchronicity through conversations with piano and bass that add meaning. Together, the ensemble depict how blessings received are founded on blues experienced.

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Riley Giandhari

The opening piece, “The Calling”, sets up the stylistic themes of the album. It is hymnal, but not typically, juxtaposing free drumming, and then strange moody guitar sounds “overlaying things from my different experiences”, and ending with traditional African ululating expressions. Gonsalves says, “The hymn aspect of this song is basically a set up for the second piece.” Gonsalves’ keyboard creates a quieter, meditative mood in “Let’s Do It Again”. Such songs activate the listeners’ memories of some fondness, joy, or shadow of past uncertainties.

The song that seems to stand out from what social platform listeners have stated – you know, that melody that vibrates in the head for days – is ‘Southern Migration’. The remarkable haunting melody jumps around in that box, being repeated, while the bass soothingly rocks back and forth with the theme, not afraid to jump into solo flights with the glee. To Gonsalves, the prominence of today’s human migrations elicits universal concern and hopes for soft landings. Another piece that rings in the head for its bounciness is “African Time”. Here, Nandja skillfully bows his double bass which opens the song followed by a melodic, energetic piano with, again, a heavy chordal lower register. Once in, an abrupt change of pace might indicate some confusion and restlessness. Then back to the root theme. The haunting melody reminds the listener of that soundtrack theme in the 1993 Academy Award film, The Piano.

Another example of the piano’s heavy bass is in “The Breadmaker’s Blues” with a frantic attitude of drums complimented by the bowed bass which sustains the main sound energy. Gonsalves had visited a bread maker with his brother outside of London. Is there trepidation that the dough won’t rise well, as the piano fingers out a ditty about the chemical performance, followed by the bowed bass which seems to give instructions to correct the situation?

As the album is wrapped in textures, the whispering drum refrains in the opening song, “The Calling” are repeated, closing the album as the last song, “Qantani” ends. This clever resolve of story perhaps indicates new beginnings? This beautiful composition was inspired by watching scenery changes in the Maluti mountains as hikers and trekkers in the Golden Gate National Park of the northern Drakensberg range absorb these natural beauties. Watch this rendition:

This and his previous releases are available on Bandcamp and other digital platforms.

I wanted to dig a bit deeper into what Lecturer Gonsalves thought about where South African jazz is going, how it is being taught, and indigenizing jazz.

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CM: Quo vadis? Where is the South African jazz sound going?
NG: There’s more focus being given on uncovering and developing indigenous sounds, thanks to musicians like Nduduzo Makhathini, who has become a flag bearer for this growing platform and trust that is very rooted within South African culture and knowledge systems. His working group is building. Followers may not be so ethnocentric but they portray themselves as being on this side of the ‘Black Atlantic’, around Black Lives Matter issues. The Orbit jazz club in Johannesburg was a home for this, to offer a sense of how the South African jazz styles were growing, with that spiritual aspect of endeavor.

CM: I’m trying to understand how to describe, at least in English, this ‘indigenous’ sound and feeling in our jazz. One can listen to ‘indigenous music in jazz’ people, like Sibu Mashiloane, Nduduzo Makhathini, Hilton Schilder in the Cape, Blake Hellaby, etc. and the younger musicians from UCT combining hip hop and other modalities. Are they being properly heard?

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Capetown-based Hilton Schilder

NG: My fear is that some of these things can become marginalized. For instance, Nduduzo has had a lot of exposure to this music and knows how this game is played, and how to engage social media. And other South African jazz sounds out there are not any less credible or worthy. In terms of musicianship, craft, or authenticity, there’s an amazingly diverse kind of musician that should be getting more press and media coverage, but they’re not.

CM: Agreed. Given this plethora of sounds and ethnicities, when you’re teaching at tertiary level, how do you decide what to teach as jazz? What does the curriculum look like?
NG: My focus tends to be on craft, to get a student from point A to point B. Students come with little formal background, from a pentecostal church background, and already have a sense of the blues feel, have a great ear for music and natural feel for music. This is a typical South African trait, being rooted in this pentacostal environment, whereas other continental Africans come from more traditional musical backgrounds.

Decolonizing South African Jazz

CM: So, this leads to the ‘decolonizing’ of our jazz curriculum as musicians, like what Nduduzo and others are trying to do in an indigenizing way. True, you have the church–oriented people carrying a culture of music. Many of our hymns come from Western hymns, like organ music. How does this link with the art of messaging, of indigenizing?
NG: As a musician, I’m not looking to judge these aspects that link up the sounds or have a political perspective. What I love about jazz is that it expresses freedom, and for me, can help deal with issues of resistance. I grew up Catholic so the religious hymnal kinds of songs are a bit rigidly structured, in musical terms, but I still love hymns which are part of my music making. So in my freedom, I can use a structure to relocate the song, open it up, and infiltrate it with something else. We deal with what we have – a history of colonization. We resist it but we also absorb it. Look at how we have absorbed American TV. We need to work with these colonizations.

This idea of ‘decolonization’ – I try to make sense of it in my teaching. In my own background I’ve had lots of different influences, lots of African, Zulu music , Indian music etc. However, recently, teaching practice has changed in that I’m teaching more of my own music, and my repertoire and songs are starting to filter into my students’ exam repertoire. My teaching practice and my practice as a musician are not two separate activities.

I teach jazz. For me, jazz is not a way of playing music, per se, but a passing down of its tradition on to young students, in a jazzy sort of way. It’s an oral tradition – we learn by listening and watching. It’s more authentic for me to pass things on in the first person. Yes, I still teach about Coltrane and the past masters because that’s all part of the tradition. But if I’m teaching about myself, then I’m giving my students an experience of getting the information first-hand. This is similar to what Miles, and Coltrane and others did because we all come from the same tradition, and have the same aspirations because we are jazz people. This is tied to decolonization because I am feeling much more confident in my story, having grown up under apartheid, under colonial rule. I was made to feel a second class citizen, not good enough, plus being an introvert . Now, I’m growing much more into myself , not just as a performer, but also as a teacher. This reveals what I mean by decolonial thinking.

CM: I like that. It’s a subject that seems to be a heady issue among artists.
NG: What’s disturbing, though, about this decolonial thinking is that it puts people off balance. Not that that is a bad thing, but it means you’ve got to make a move to come back into balance. People can only operate fully, functionally and authentically if they’re working out of confidence, and not uncertainty. People want to do the right thing, but they’re not sure what the right thing to do is. They just have to find something which is authentic for themselves, and engage with their environment and the people around them.

Lack of Women Representation in Jazz

But for me, the main issue for jazz is not the decolonization issue, but the lack of women in jazz, their lack of representation. You don’t see that in Indian classical music, or Western art music or in African traditional music. You see those women artists at international competitions; but when it comes to the jazz category…. It’s just full of guys.

In terms of patriarchy in South African culture as an indigenous culture, it’s interesting to see those jazz musicians who are rooting their music in the indigenous culture and traditions (which has female participation). But if you look at South African jazz, women are still underrepresented. So, I wonder how musicians are trying to offset this imbalance, finding that male and female temperament?

CM: Yes, that’s ironic because there tends to be a balance of female/male students at tertiary level in jazz, but fewer women entering the performance arena after they graduate. If they become teachers, that’s great. But doing live performance?
NG: I’m thinking of that typical live jazz scenario of the late night club setup – like a boy’s club… In South Africa, we really have to change this situation.

The Pandemic Effects

CM: Regarding the Covid pandemic affects on artists, I’m trying to understand what a viral depression would sound like musically, other than the blues. Is there a certain type of chord, or run, that depicts depression?
NG: The album was recorded in Dec 2019, so Covid wasn’t a consideration when I composed the songs. During Covid, I just added the synthesizer to some parts as I had additional time to do this. I was fortunate to have a paid day job, yet time to work on productions, also. It was actually during this 2020 Covid pause that I recorded another album, Concert for One, that reflects my experience with the pandemic.

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That’s a completely improvised album, trying to make sense of this new life – with lockdown, staying at home, staying away from friends, and behaving in this anti-social way. I think we, as musicians, don’t think of chords or runs as a direct representation of something you can put into words. So, when I turned 50, Blessings and Blues was a celebration of stuff in my life with no Covid.

CM: Yes, you are sounding celebratory –
NG: The pandemic brings about questioning and a feeling of discomfort. There’s also this duality that as we retreat from these blues, other opportunities present themselves more. So I don’t think a pandemic album could be completely divorced from some joy or light shining…..


CM: What’s in the future? Where are you going next, musically?
NG: I’ve never taken too seriously before about promoting my albums, so I’m spending more time now figuring out how to promote this latest album, how to put it on playlists and use social media. I compose music all the time, on my iPad, so I have lots stored on that. I’ll hope to release another album maybe later this year or next…

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Yonela Mnana’s piano is the people’s instrument!

The piano, throughout its history, has remained a social instrument, a means of convening purpose, beauty, and message around it, from its European origins to South African townships. A pragmatist in curating his musical realities, jazz pianist Yonela Mnana exudes a profound confidence as he proves that piano harmonies and song can move listeners from quiet reflections to bursts of joy. His recent live concert at Gugulethu’s Kwa Sec jazz venue outside of Cape Town did just that as previously locked down fans welcomed his not-too-frequent visits to their village.

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A member of Sisonke Xonti’s band at Kwa Sec, Gugulethu, March 2021

Blind at birth, Mnana has molded his delicate fingers to express musically what freedom means to him. Well versed in South Africa’s apartheid history and how the piano played a role in developing the Black township sound of marabi, principally in the mining communities of Johannesburg and surroundings, Mnana continues to seek outlets of expression with his chosen instruments – his piano and voice, particularly in pursuing his PhD degree at Johannesburg’s Wits University in South African Solo Jazz Pianism where we can expect further clarity about this captivating instrument.

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With trombonist/singer Siya Makuzeni at 2019 Capetown International Jazz Festival

Born in the Transkei 37 years ago, Mnana schooled at Polokwane’s Siloe missionary boarding school for the blind, and furthered his life skills in Pretoria’s Mamelodi, absorbing a wealth of different linguistic and cultural influences along the way. Adding exposure to African and Western choral styles of music, kwaito, R&B, soul, and other popular music, Mnana’s grooming for local and international stages had found purpose. Currently, he navigates the Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban jazz club circuit with fellow musicians and friends such as Ariel Zamonsky, Sphiwe Shiburi, Sisonke Xonti, Mthunzi Mvubu, Nhlnhla Mahlangu, Lindiwe Maxolo, etc.

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With Sax legend Barney Rachebane at Roving Bantu, December 2019

Besides some collaborations with overseas groups, Mnana continues to perform, compose and teach choral works with various youth groups, including Soultee, the South African School Choral Esteadford and with Ezibeleni’s Vivacious sounds at its school for special needs in Katlehong . Baba was his first album released in 2016 to wide acclaim with mixtures of various soul, gospel, and jazz styles learned over time.

Following his journey, one discovers his admirable traits: his love for the common person, the grassroots, and the power of choral works to inspire the social collective to care and find identity. Careful focus on solo jazz piano, the subject of his current doctoral research, also indicates his curiosity with improvisation, but in a very personal way, attending to honest fundamentals attached to the South African musical idioms. Just as Chopin dared to take the elitism of the piano of his day out of the higher echelons of European society and into the more social salons of the serious listener and commoner, Mnana’s piano explains its arrival in the shebeen raves of South Africa’s townships where song and dance flourished along with whiskey and other antics. The piano became ‘the people’s’ instrument, moving from the Euro-centric Grahamstown of newly arrived settlers in the 1830s to mining communities of African workers in the early 1900s who sought a collective musical release from the drudgeries of underpaid and often dangerous work.

I wanted to know more…. about what makes Mnana tick…… We chatted during his brief concert tour in CapeTown end of March 2021…..

CM: Why ‘jazz’ ??
YM: Freedom is struggle. Improvisation or jazz wants to free us from the establishment, that which holds us from moving. So jazz is about struggle; it is freedom.

CM: How does piano contribute to this freedom struggle?
YM: A century after settlers carted their pianos to Grahamstown, the piano became the proponent of marabi music in the 1930s in South African townships where it became a household item and personalized as a means for entertainment in the most radical version. We have given it, rather, a purpose which reaches the ordinary person, I think. The other thing is that people like Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton , the way they used the piano in the bars in America, is the same way we use it with marabi.

CM: Yes, the boogie woogie and marabi were similar, weren’t they, in how they grew up?
YM: Not only in the corporate business but, in fact, these players were the hosts. The pianist was closer to the shebeen Queen who could hook you up to a drink or any other delicacy you wanted. Just the placement of a piano in the ordinary house, and the wretchedness surrounding it, was like a pilgrimage, trying to get back to our older self in a way. As students, there is a tendency to look first to the American music, those DVDs and CDs, and study those documentaries, rather than taking that music as a barometer of good music. They might mislead themselves by holding that American music as a standard, rather than looking inward, or being interested in our own people close to us, that have walked in those spaces where we have walked. They become colonized in their thinking, are taught ways of thinking about the content, and end up judging themselves as less competent against those foreign standards. So, we have to change these lenses and perceptions of ourselves through our teachings.

But, in contrast, the piano is a geographical thing, and not like a wind instrument that is very mobile. The piano is something you go TO …. In the same way you would go to the temple, or to the bedroom. There’s a specific psychology which you have to assume when you sit at the piano. You can pick up your wind instrument and blow any time. But for me, ‘going TO’ is a way of adapting because you get to play different pianos in different spaces, while remaining as the same person. You improvise, not because you play the same notes but because you have to find and be comfortable with whoever you are. For South Africans, there is the intent to cope with whatever comes their way, in whatever regime is happening. I’ve been to other Universities and theaters with different pianos and I like to reimagine other persons that have gone through that vibe. So pianists have to go where the piano is. There’s a wrestling, a battling, a desire to own it and make it ours.

CM: That’s an interesting way to look at it. But doesn’t the piano seem a bit elitist, restrictive as to who can go to it? Is it really social?
YM: I think we’ve taken away the elitism and brought the piano back to the people, like into their houses and communities… I don’t even think our houses were solid at that time. We had been taught that piano was something people had to learn in school. But for it to be played in the marabi shebeens was like a DJ going with his CDs and playing in these houses.

The piano became the instrument of the people!

CM: Talk more about this social aspect, and in the African context …
YM: I’m curious to hear more stories around that because we can begin to understand the kind of identity we’ve always had versus the hope we might have with this piano. The pianists now are trying to craft their way forward …. The old cliché: You can navigate when you know what happened in the past.

CM: Along that line, the social nature of the piano, you’ve done a lot of choral work with choirs, and even human rights and struggles involving women’s issues. Let’s just talk about the choral. How do you see the piano enhancing choral work in the African context?
YM: You know, the voice is the oldest instrument of all time. Choralism comes from our ceremonies, although the kind of humanity that subsumes it now is not the same as in the past, so it becomes another version of ourselves.

We’ve always had choral groups throughout time. But there a distinction – taking the themes of Black Mambazo – between a ‘vocal group’ and a ‘choir’. I know my harmonic understanding stems from my being in a choir during school. I’ve been a voice WITHIN those voices. If you think in terms of harmony, playing with chords on the piano, it’s all about voicing. So it’s harder to separate the piano from the voice, or voices, and choir. Abdullah Ibrahim took the harmony from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and played it as it is, without having to do all those voicings that Americans tend to do. It was like hearing the Church in the piano. So it was dualism between the piano and choir. A ‘vocal group’ is separate from that.

CM: Like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney’s Ebony and Ivory ‘live together in perfect harmony’…… and the piano has the advantage of not just playing one note, but two plus.
YM: Yeah. Choirs plus piano equals harmony. That’s the common factor, really. And because most pianists tend to be composers, that’s why they tend to voice on the piano and voice for the choir. That’s just one dimension I can talk about.

A second point is that some choirs tend to sing a lot of Western stuff, with orchestration. So now, I prefer to re-orchestrate, that is through a kind of ‘reductionism’ of the piano. Most of the choirs here in South Africa that I have worked with get to hear just the piano, meaning they rehearse just with the piano chords. But when they rehearse with the orchestra, they wonder, what is this strange sound? So when I accompany the choir with my piano, I get to better hear the person singing, even if singing off key, and concentrate on helping that person rather than disappointing them. So now that I get to know the music, it’s easier for me to try to transpose and voice with them. Drum magazine journalist, Todd Matshikiza, of ‘King Kong’ fame in London was always being commissioned to write choral music, even a piece for Queen Victoria when she visited the then Rhodesia. Gideon Nxumalo and Chris McGregor also wrote for other instrumentations. I think for me, the choir is much more available to me then other instruments whereas other artists maybe found inspiration in writing for different instruments.

CM: I was wondering about your use of the term, ‘solo’ piano, because I think of the piano as being a social instrument where you play harmonies WITH others. The ‘solo’ again strikes me as being for your upper echelon of society in the European context where one plays for certain Nobility, etc.
YM: You say you studied piano privately, right? Alone. I see playing piano solo is the highest form of communicating with yourself; it’s a testing point of destiny. So it’s 360; we start by playing for ourselves, in the public which is the hardest, because you become exposed. Like with the marabi pianist, he never played with a lot of instruments; he played with himself. Like with the choir, when you play by yourself, you’ve got a lot of sounds on your hand. You have time to consider, and the chance to harmonize, to use your range, and you have the chance to be as silent or as loud as you wish. Without having to work towards specifics, like ‘We’re going to retard the music now” or “we’re stopping briefly here”, or…… Solo gives a carte blanche , like an open blank canvas, presenting a big big challenge. But this time, instead of playing for the King, we play for ourselves. I think with solo, it’s the best way of re-appropriating ourselves, to find our identities, to say “Today, I’m going to give myself my own time, my own freedom!”

CM: It’s often said that pianos cannot ‘bend’ the sound, like a guitar or other stringed instruments can. But when you played on the keyboard – now I’m shifting to digital – you could bend a sound electronically like you did yesterday at the Kwa Sec performance. What’s your take on digital or electronic music and what it can do, keeping to your love of the original sound of the piano?

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YM: For me, it’s really more of experimentation than anything else. I’m not a ‘piano perfectionist’ or purist in that sense. We South Africans don’t really have the luxury of choosing. But we have the ability to adapt to the situation we have. So, if the keyboard is in front of you, just see how far you can go!! For me, it’s a question of experience.

CM: So do you see hope for the keyboard? Would you like to experiment more with it?
YM: I haven’t thought about it like that. We’re forced to deal with what we have. For instance, some say we don’t provide our children with good nutrition. But our parents don’t buy lousy food because they wanted to kill us. They buy what is available at a cost they can afford. And yet, we still live on!

CM: I’m thinking of piano and dance, like when pianist Sibusiso Mashiloane dances or stomps with his feet, giving rhythmic beats when playing the piano. Do you dance when you play?
YM: I don’t think of it that way. There’s a thing with the pianist and their bodies. What happens with the body is….there’s no specification… but there’s an unfolding relationship with the piano as we play it all the time. There’s times when you’re quiet; other times when you really have to move. I saw that with Bra Andile (Yenana) and can hear it with Art Tatum because they play by themselves. That tapping is also another kind of freedom – not only the freedom to harmonize but the freedom to dance with it, stomp, bend your body. I mean, what Keith Jarrett does with his body is amazing! It’s beyond playing. You come to understand how you feel by looking at your body. So you find watching the pianist moving lends credibility to what the pianist is playing.

CM: You said you enjoy teaching children in the township.
YM: At the school I was with, the students are mostly singers. So I had to get them to see there’s more to music than just singing, and give them opportunities to explore musical styles, scales, etc. Many had finished school and were active in their Churches, singing more as a stylistic living and less as an art form. Already, these students are great observers, so I show them the status quo, the basics, and try to inspire. I think my presence is enough and the way I play. You have to be clear – you can’t teach people something you don’t know. But they tend to believe you better when you’re on the stage performing.

CM: When you finish your doctorate, you’ll continue performing, but will you be teaching at tertiary level?
YM: You know, I prefer to stay at school level. University students are chasing their own degrees, are arrogant (chuckle!)….whereas at school level, in the township, students concentrate more because they are limited in what they have to work with. They’re not privileged. So I have to enrich them with what they have. I wouldn’t mind having one or two lectures at University level as a staff member – I might have to go there because I need the money!

CM: Actually, I can’t see you there either. I see you more working and enjoying the grassroots level.
YM: Yeah yeah, I like it there! You see, the system – at tertiary…. You’ve got 45 minutes, and you’ve got to sign the register…..and go to staff meetings! No no no. I prefer teaching in the townships…..

CM: Where is this school?
YM: Outside of Alberton, in Katlehong. The schools around us come for instruction in afternoons. Our space offers much more a sense of community rather than an ‘academic’ environment as we encourage students to learn more from each other than with a top-down kind of education.

CM: Your social causes, particularly work with women and gender-based violence, have featured in your activism. What about the need to work with men around these GBV issues?
YM: For me, it’s not the issue of working with men per se. Rather, we work on important issues with the male students informally, outside of classes. We talk and laugh, then challenge, like “If you must fight, then why not fight among yourselves, rather than beat a person less stronger than yourself?” Practical stuff. At my school, we try to be less ‘top down’ in our communications; there is less of this ‘othering’ among students, meaning the way they relate to each other in the two genders. I think it’s much more balanced than what happens in society. If we can just foster these good behaviours, it might spread to others. Instead of being political and spewing manifestos, you know? We are encouraging the students to rise to their best levels of themselves because many come from squatter camps and from other horrible conditions. They learn to relate to each other as fellow humans and less as coming from different levels of society. Music brings a type of cohesion – like Ebony and Ivory, standing side by side!

CM: But a lot of that has died off, unfortunately….society is very different now….
YM: Yeah, but I think consumerism has caused that. You have a desire to be successful for yourself, to be higher than someone else. To have something that someone else doesn’t have. So these are the causes – we’ve lost that communal aspect of surviving and growing with each other. And even praying for each other.

As I thanked my musician friend for his time and thoughts, he concluded gleefully: “We can now use the hybrid chat by phone…and even go “beyond the masked” conditions facing us! Indeed, there will be the beyond…..

Last December 2020, Mnana premiered his newly composed children’s mass with his Vivacious Sounds choir in their concert, Regenesis: A New Beginning at Soweto’s Morris Isaacson Center for Music for children. Here, he offers how a bebop and swing solo piano in a R&B vein can enhance African choral harmonies.

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Jo Kunnuji Mentors on YouTube “African Music Conversations” and fuses Jazz with Ogu traditions in Avale album

The COVID pandemic has not stopped some artists from ‘performing’. Beginning 2021 with aplomb, Nigerian trumpeter, story teller and composer, Jo Kunnuji, has developed some fascinating informational videos about African music through his African Music Conversations YouTube channel. He confidently proves that jazz can fuse with some traditional music he grew up with in southern Nigeria.

In his 14 minute introductory video, Kunnuji asks ten questions about what ‘African music’ is all about: These include such areas as how to describe the differences and similarities of musical instruments in the Southern African region, how people changed their musical practices over the past centuries, and the early writings on African musical traditions. He cautions, and rightly so, that early interpretations of African musicality tended to be Euro-centric, but that scholarship now, including his recent ethnomusicology studies about his own Ogu music of southern Nigeria, is under covering key rudiments of African musical traditions apart from Western thinking. His present post-doctoral research, particularly with musician practitioners, as seen in these Conversations, deals with reimagining African musical traditions, while considering the marginality of ethnic minorities and its implications for their music.

About six years ago, I sat down with the then Masters degree student, Kunnuji, to discover his love for ethnic appreciation of one’s cultural expression.

Now, his continued research at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music, and occasional trips back home to work with Ogu music, have molded his abilities to adeptly interpret just what constitutes “African Music” as he journeys through the rich polyrhythmic styles fusing the traditional with contemporary improvisation. His eagerness to teach and share his findings has resulted in clearly articulated and informative YouTube videos which could well excite high school and college students in South Africa and beyond to look further, as cultural curricula become more and more ‘decolonized’. He’s honest, factual, and determined; indeed, one goes away with a better understanding about the deeper aspects of the diverse African musical landscape.

Kunnuji’s motivation for presenting his Conversations channel on YouTube is explained in his Intro video #1 at and Intro video #2

A riveting conversation with trumpeter and lyricist, Mandisi Dyantyis, talks about music and identity. (14 min) This is followed up with a second video with Dyantyis at (21 min 33 sec) which speaks to: “Music is for communicating. How are we going to communicate without music? It’s about language.”

Thabisa Dinga, a professional musician and dancer, shares instructions and performance about how to play the Xhosa musical bow, Umrhubhe. (12 min 15 sec).

Zinzi Nogavu narrates how she discovered her African voice and, more specifically, umonbelo, a Xhosa traditional singing style. (15 min 15 sec) Having grown up in Cape Town and studied at UCT, she admits to her lack of exposure to culture and African instruments which she has had to discover for herself.

Kunnuji’s 2019 album, Avale, attests to his expertise in how to fuse jazz improvisation with more traditional Nigerian musical styles. ‘The Jo Kunnuji Experiment’ is an impressive array of musicians from diverse musical backgrounds, including an indigenous Ogu band (Gogoke) from Badagry in Lagos on mainly percussion and vocals, and seven South Africans making up the horn section with jazz harmony.

Songs fuse Ogu beats with vocals, jazz improvisation, gospel, pop, and soul, making this album very listenable and certainly danceable in the tradition of African movements to sound. Kunnuji uses video effectively where possible. Watch his album promotional video:

Kunnuji describes Avale as combining familiar modern jazz practices with polyrhythmic turns, percussive undertones, syncopated instrumentation and enchanting vocals.

The beginning track, ‘Avale’, sets the pace for the rest of the album with a melodic fusion of improvised sax and vocals backed with mixed percussion and the trusted Ogu rhythm. ‘Pentho’ presents female vocal harmonies backed by an improvised trumpet and keyboard solo complemented with traditional horn harmonies. ‘Mautin Adokun’ is a contemporary ballad lead by Kunnuji’s melodic trumpet and enhanced with soft piano and drum accompaniment. A vast contrast with the West African sounds and rhythms – a reprieve in the album so one can catch one’s breath. The piece strikes of a memorial to that which was… the late Adokun Mautin was the Secretary of the Gogoke Band.

In ‘Adura Fun Afrika’, South African vocalist, Thandeka Dladla, sings the Lord’s Prayer in both English and an African language. In the background, Kunnuji’s trumpet improvises with blues, giving this song a gospel feel. He is reflecting about the need for peace and stability in African regions torn by gender-based violence, femicide, and xenophobia. Lastly, back to some West African percussive styles, an improvised baritone sax brings syncopation in ‘Awa dagbe’. Clear fusion. It’s all about pleasant melody, vocal messaging, beats which urge movement, and honest interpretation that the traditional styles can combine with contemporary jazz and soul in profoundly moving ways. A gem of an album!

The Avale album is available on Spotify.

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Sibusiso Mashiloane’s Solo Piano Unveils Native Hymns about Origins

Unlike his previous four albums, jazz pianist Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane’s new album, iHubo Labomdabu (released this January 2021 by his own record label, Unlockedkeys Records ), exhibits how solo piano can pull out layers of rootedness as he explores what nativeness means musically. This exploration continues his journey articulating stories of ‘home’, following themes begun in Closer to Home (2018), his third album, which was nominated for a SAMA Award for Best Jazz Album in 2019. Mash seeks to understand the rudiments of South African musical identities in order to decolonialize his own (and certainly the listener’s) mind about Africanness. For this, his current Ph.D. study focuses on ‘ home’ music, and what constitutes the fundamental roots of musical expression in his African context. It’s about soul, rhythm, and emotion rippling through a divine connection.

The album cover suggests this connection by showing Mash sitting with other dark figures, but all highlighted with yellow halos around their heads, presumably realizing their human meaning and purpose blessed by the Divine. His pursuit of nativeness falls also during the now globally recognized annual Black History Month of February celebrations which incorporate not only the historical realities of the early American slave societies but from this, the emerging global call to address all forms of Black colonialization and liberation still operating in our contemporary world.

Solo piano often means pure ‘heart’ playing, configuring sounds driven by feelings in the ‘now’, often reflective and whimsical, but always ‘ in the present moment’. To Mash, therefore, no song can be repeated in quite the same way. Which makes this album very textural and even ephemeral, each song touching the listener’s soul and emotions directly, like a contemplative oracle.

The tracks in the album cause spikes of alertness, calm, care, and wonderment, about that daunting wilderness we all face at times, and particularly in the time of the COVID pandemic.

‘Sabela Uyabizwe’ starts off the album with an aggressive, repetitive left hand phrasing that holds tight the somewhat auspicious undertones expressed by right hand chords that fall into each other. This is not something subtle but alerts to what is to come. Like the post-romantic impressionist painters Monet and Renoir, who experimented with form and colour, Mashiloane paints his songs through the senses, with textures familiar to such impressionist composers like Saint-Saens or Debussy who would please at his rhythmic African twist. One hears in his songs a tidy wind, the forest of chirps, rain cascading on rocks, or sees a foggy window obstructing nature’s beauty, or the stumbling of people wearing torn shoes (reminiscent of his days witnessing township living). There’s images of child’s play or dance (in “Ihubo Lasekhaya”) and dissonance ( in “Uthando Olunameva”) to arrive at my favourite piece on the whole album, “Colour of Peace”, a masterful song, so thoughtful, with calculated notes, and a highly meditative and soothing progression of chords and runs. Here, one can see how Mash considers himself multi-ethnic in the African sense, having grown up with influences from different parts of South Africa. That Peace is universal.

In “World of the Free”, there’s a familiar liberatory message as Mash starts and ends with a harmonic melody, but in between is a restless piano scurrying in and out of discordant runs, accompanied with a bluesy attitude. All resolves into “Choices of Life” as the album ends with caution, returning to that left hand which fingers a query: Is there hope imbedded in Mash’s future, one wonders? He winks a ‘ yes’……

Without knowing the songs’ translations into English, one can simply hear and imagine, with eyes wide closed, how sound connects with the visceral, with rootedness, and then with Spirit which is Beauty. Mash intended this. He speaks to a spirituality he is experiencing through his sometime one-note finger play on the keys. He is known to carry this spiritual thread into his teaching and mentoring, namely at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban.

Clearly, such mastery on the keys can only continue his climb to musical gianthood.

His album can be bought on all digital platforms. Follow his journey at
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Pianist Thembelihle Dunjana dreams in debut double album, Intyatyambo

When young musicians issue their debut albums onto the fan stage as a double album, they speak certainty and confidence. How ambitious is that?!

For pianist, vocalist, composer, and teacher Thembelihle Dunjana, her December 2020 released album entitled Intyatyambo showcases songs composed and recorded diligently over a 12 month period, but sometimes awkwardly during the COVID pandemic. Her ‘home’ band of fellow colleagues from university days at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music all stuck together in musical solidarity, patient to allow this enthusiastic pianist/vocalist creative space to cast her sonic spell. It’s one of those oxymoronic expressions that the horrible blessings of the viral curse during year 2020 allowed time and [enforced] spacial lockdown for quiet, methodical song writing, collective revisions with loyal band members, and recordings at various Cape Town studios.

Grant Van Rooyen (left), T. Dunjana, Tefo Mahola (rt)

Influenced by kwaito and hip hop, as a complement to her love for the more traditional jazz styles of South Africa’s improvisations and other influencers, such as American pianist McCoy Tyner, her double album seeks this confluence, through vocals and instrumentals. Album #1 deals with R&B and Soul, expressed through harmonic overlays of her vocals accompanied by her trio of zealots including drummer Tefo Mahola and electric bassist Grant Van Rooyen. Album #2 resonates with South African instrumental styles of improvisation, with the characteristic ‘jazz’ heard in the 4th and 5th chords in the lower scale register, or what Dunjana calls ‘trading fourths’.

I preferred Album #2, an instrumental album, which showcases Dunjana’s journey with chords, rhythms, and piano runs, all which allow her four band members to express their own wizardry, including two seasoned soloists of note: Tshegofatso Matlou on a lilting alto saxophone and Muneeb Hermans on trumpet.

Muneeb Hermans

A wandering bluesy expression in Dunjana’s piano meets a neat and clean concordance with her fellow actors. Her two takes of “Ngexesha” display this along with Mahola’s ‘talking drum’ sizzling with drum rolls which characterize his artistic vigour. In the first take, Hermans’ trumpet leads the tune, with some effective muted overdubbing, whereas in the alternate take which ends the album, Dunjana’s piano runs take over with a sax introduction and more of a ‘traditional’ jazz feel. Either way, Dunjana’s compositional skills display different horn and piano textures, all which thrill drummer Mahola to react accordingly. “Emlanjeni” has abit of an emotional crescendo affair between piano and drums that drops into a pleasant bebop with melody and some distinct blues sounds. One can tell Mahola and Dunjana have a ‘thing’, having grown up with tight coordination in reading each other’s soul vibe. This lovely composition of 10 minutes left me understanding better….

T. Dunjana – credit Gregory Franz

There’s a story line to the brief Interlude of “I Wonder Where” with lyrics followed by the longer instrumental Suite which seems to question. It speaks of a freedom. Mahola’s drums chat away and seem to know things. This seems to be his song.

In the trio’s video discussion about making this double album Mahola admits he tries to include “that soft, warm 1-4-5 chordal texture” which, to him, pervades South African music. Van Rooyen likes the simplicity of South African jazz sounds which allows the listener to think about what they’re hearing. One can obviously hear on the albums how both colleagues appreciate working in “Tembe’s classroom” – learning and growing together. Band members concur that in Dunjana’s teaching, mentorship, and performances, she is truly living her dream. This double album certainly confirms just that.

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Songstress Adelia Douw Hits High Notes in European Musical Theater

There’s a secret to musical success, and it’s sometimes called ‘talent’. The natural kind. From the table-decorated patio of a wine estate restaurant, breathing fresh breezes under small sun-blocking umbrellas, one hears the rich, clean tones of a female vocalist supported by a mentoring trumpet and backline players. Sounds follow the eye’s gaze piercing the rich green hills of South Africa’s ‘Wine District’, renowned for its gorgeous mountains and abundance of wine estates boasting various items of attraction, such as cheese production, live wild game viewing, etc. That afternoon, of 12 December 2020, the Muratie Wine Estate outside of Stellenbosch hosted a stunning afternoon of jazz with ‘Adelia and Ian’, accompanied with delectable offerings of the Estate’s Melck wines and a whopping menu of culinary fancies, not to mention the great weather.

Adelia Douw Quintet with Ian Smith (trumpet) at Muratie Wine Estate 12 December 2020

Adorned in colourful African dress, Adelia took to the stage with flare in what one could only describe as a ‘wow’ two sets of impressive vocal pitch and control. She and her band of equally capable musicians (Blake Hellaby on piano, Sean Sanby on bass, Kevin Gibson on drums) led by trumpeter Ian Smith, swung through South African tunes and jazz Standards which clearly delighted the maskless audience celebrating a break from COVID haunts. But it’s when Adelia slinked into Nina Simone’s tender, ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’, this writer perked up her ears, enthralled that this beautiful young singer could hit those very high notes. Where did all that vocal control come from?

On the cruise ship in 2019

Young singer Adelia Douw, now 27 years old, grew up in one of Cape Town’s more dour, crime-rough townships of Delft, joined the Delft Big Band of teenage and maturing musicians being groomed by master trumpet man, Ian Smith (Virtual Jazz Reality band), and flew her musically endowed wings onto various world stages.

Ian Smith’s Virtual Jazz Reality Band

All Jazz Radio caught up with Adelia before the concert:


Starting at age 3, Adelia Douw’s vocal chords entertained. She grew her talents by joining the church choir and participating in school concerts, church plays and community activities. As a teenager lead singer with the Delft Big Band, under Ian Smith’s tutelage, she performed both domestically and overseas, gradually migrating into a residence with smaller quartets and trios on the jazz scene with the likes of Smith, pianist Andrew Ford and other jazz legends. No one musical genre characterises this charismatic songstress; rather, this past decade has groomed her to sing, act, and dance through jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop musical theatre.

Her CV reads like a delicious tapas menu of successful performances, from winning the Capetown International Jazz Festival’s youth scholarship in 2014 to study at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College Summer Program, to attending various jazz festivals in Europe, to two 6-month contracts leading musical productions on a German cruise liner in 2018 and 2019.

My first contract was around the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. The second took me to India, Dubai, and around southeast Asia – Hong Kong, Vietnam. My work involved theater production, all in German, which meant spending two months in Berlin learning the material and language, then working for six months on the cruise performing. I was a lead vocalist in the theater shows with a cast of 20 people – 8 singers, then dancers and acrobats. These were quite big German productions! All this gave me lots of experience, gave me chops, I learned a new language – German – and lots about musical theater.

We joked that she was becoming a German.

I fell in love with Germany. I think Europe is just gorgeous. I never liked America… it’s too much like South Africa….with so much American influence here!! I love the old history and buildings of Europe. And Europeans love South Africans, too. The entertainment Director on the cruise I worked with was amazed with my solo performances ….. He, an American, asked me: “How do you get these Germans to do these things without you even speaking German that well? …….. You’ve got such a stage presence I’ve never seen on any of these ships …. We’re very much lucky to have you here….but please, don’t stay here forever!”

Any young creative seeks guidance, or at least, a ‘wing’ to hover under while learning the ropes. Besides her ever-mindful and faithful mentor, Ian Smith, and several fellow musicians, like Blake Hellaby and bassist Shane Cooper, Adelia made friends and found mentors during her European tours and residences. Who nourished her talents there?

I worked closely with my musical leader on the German cruises – Tobias Cosler – who is a well known pianist in Germany. He wrote a song for me and I added the lyrics, in his album, ‘Without Control but Free’. Also, I wrote a song with Ian Smith.

Her very busy schedule these past six years has left Adelia with not only voluminous amounts of materials and experience in singing, acting, and dancing on large stages, but also with a zest for the quiet, for listening to the body, for just resting up. The COVID-19 pandemic curtailed her movements considerably, keeping her home in Cape Town, but was Adelia affected negatively by this?

I saw my fellow musicians writing. But for me, I am creative when I am busy on projects. During the lockdowns, I just welcomed the time to not do anything under pressure, and just rest up. On cruise ships, every day is a performance, and you’re always busy, smiling, on stage, rehearsing, etc. So I could just relax at home and do nothing – just read, meditate, and exercise. I asked myself: “Why am I forcing myself to write?” I’m just going to listen to my body, avoid any stress, and take it day by day.

Adelia was honest. She could afford to be, and just wait out this pandemic period until she could return to a German home which awaits her. Finding live gigs within South Africa, in the meantime, has been like a celebration, to be able to play again with her band. Has she composed her own songs at all?

I do compose, but I haven’t performed my original music yet. I am my biggest critique, and sometimes don’t complete a song. Even my friend, bassist Shane [Cooper], encourages me. I’ve done a lot of collaborations, like with my pianist Blade Hellaby….and have been writing in all genres. But for now, I’m focusing more on R&B and jazz vibes, but that will move on. I want people to listen to my music for years to come.

So what will year 2021 look like for this well seasoned diva on the European stages?

I’m planning on moving to Germany as the State Theater in Hamburg is very interested in me. I’d like to get established in the live theater scene in Hamburg, use it like a ‘Broadway’ base, and then go around the world with musical theater from there.

Well, there’s musical theater and there’s musical theater. Adelia has her preferences, and will continue to audition for roles as opportunities emerge. What are those preferences?

I like ‘The Colour Purple’, that Quincy Jones musical produced by Oprah. Also, ‘Hamilton’, and the ‘Tina Musical’ in Hamburg – the story of Tina Turner. I auditioned for that Hamburg production, but because I was lockdowned in South Africa, I couldn’t travel back to Germany. Last July, I was going to fly to the UK to audition for West End, but that theater got cancelled. So, I’m very into the musical scene.

See Adelia Douw live at the Artscape Youth Jazz Festival 2015 singing ‘Good Morning Heartache’ and various other performances on the cruise ship in 2019

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Pianist/Composer Dave Brubeck’s Centennial TIME OUT TAKES of unheard 1959 recordings

In celebration of the late jazz piano master, Dave Brubeck, who would have turned 100 years old on December 6, 2020, his family and promoters have launched unreleased recordings from his 1959 studio sessions for the Columbia Record album, Time Out, which was the first jazz album ever to sell a million copies. The alternate takes on seven songs, now issued by the new Brubeck Editions record label, give the listener familiar with Brubeck’s music, a joy ride through these timeless and memorable compositions…which is why this newly released album is entitled Time Out Takes. Enhancing the CD album are the extensive liner notes written by Brubeck’s children (the males all being musicians) and commentators, such as Professor of History and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Douglas Brinkley , and multi-Grammy winning producer, Kabir Sehgal.

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Brinkley gives anecdotal stories quoting the then President Bill Clinton’s chat with Brubeck who was so surprised to learn that “Blue Rondo a la Turk” was his favourite song on the Time Out album, that he challenged the President to ‘hum the bridge’ which was in 9/8 time. Apparently, Clinton hummed it correctly!

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Sehgal remarks about the 40-minute recording session of “Take Five”: “There were many takes of this song, as the band struggled to gel over the 5/4 meter. The song was supposed to stand on its own as a drum feature. Little did they know it would become on the most celebrated anthems of jazz and American culture.”

A highlight of these alternate recordings is the band members’ chatter as they arrange and rearrange songs in the first three recording sessions. Listening to the last track, “Band Banter”, steers one’s curiosity to understand how these four men created, explored, and even became frustrated and impatient over just getting it right – the sound, the rhythm meters, the technique – but always with Brubeck’s gentle coaching. This is a fascinating 4 minutes 35 seconds of aural exploration.

The polyrhythms in unusual meters as 5/4 (like in “Take Five”), 9/8 (like in “Blue Rondo a la Turk) and 6/4 time (like in “Three to Get Ready”) are all there in characteristic Brubeck style with his famous quartet of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, the drummer Joe Morello, and the bassist Eugene Wright, who was Black and challenged to move with the band in those apartheid spots of southern United States practicing racism and segregation towards people of colour. Brubeck conscientiously refused to perform there.

As multi-instrumentalist son Chris Brubeck has said, “These newly discovered recordings feature wonderful performances that are every bit as compelling as their famous counterparts!” ‘Family Insights’ in the album’s Liner Notes reveal their deep love for the musicians:

“Throughout our lives, these honorary uncles encouraged us and were an important part of our extended family…, the melodic lyricism of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, the intense swing and technical brilliance of drummer Joe Morello, the deep, dependable bass grooves laid down by bassist Gene Wright and the undeniable inventiveness of our father’s piano prowess — polytonal, polyrhythmic, swinging and playful. His compositions were fresh, the odd time signatures “game-changing”, and his tunes served as a springboard for innovative solos.”

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Joe Morello-courtesy Jazz Times

Pianist son Darius Brubeck remarks in the Liner Notes that his father
“could invent rhythms that hadn’t been used in jazz. ‘Three to Get Ready,’ with two bars of 3 /4 followed by two bars of 4/4, is an alternation of waltz and swing that implies a humorous dialogue between styles…. I would have chosen this version of ‘Three To Get Ready’ even then because Dave’s solo is so adventurous and compositionally advanced. The ‘dialogue’ becomes an ‘argument’ with overlaps and interruptions and flashes of virtuosity leading to reconciliation.”

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Darius Brubeck

Remarking about Dave’s composition, ‘Strange Meadowlark’, cellist son Matt Brubeck recalls: “I recall my father listening to birdsong and pointing out little scraps of tunes to me as we took walks together when I was young.”

Drummer son Dan Brubeck says he fell in love with drummer Joe Morella’s ‘Take Five’ with its” 5/4 Krupa-like drum solo, while showing off some of Joe’s incomparable left hand and bass drum technique. Daughter Cathy Brubeck Yaghsizian’s dance antics during her brothers’ and Dave’s rehearsals won her cudos in father Dave’s heart, and a song named after her, ‘Cathy’s Waltz’.

The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended some, but not all, well-intentioned centennial live concerts, events, symposia and exhibitions planned to mark Brubeck’s legacy during 2020 and 2021. Check them at Darius writes about a dazzling start to year 2020 in establishing the Brubeck Living Legacy, a family-run charitable trust, and setting up an exhibition of Dave’s works in the legendary birthplace of jazz, New Orleans.

Siblings Darius and Dan had even contracted a bad case of the COVID-19 virus while performing Brubecks Play Brubeck concerts in the U.K. (at Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club). However, the Brubeck siblings, who are scattered between Canada, Connecticut (USA) and England, worked closely with two authors, details at : about Philip Clark’s new biography, Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, and Stephen Crist’s Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, focusing on this significant and popular jazz LP of all time. It was Crist who informed the Brubeck family that he had discovered outtakes from the Time Out sessions while researching archives for his book. Besides the new Brubeck Editions recording label being established, it has produced two albums in 2020: the Time Out Takes album, and Brubeck’s last studio album, Lullabies, recorded for his grandchildren.

What will some Brubecks be doing to celebrate December 6? Chris and wife Tish will be listening to Dave’s orchestral and jazz recordings along with reviewing other music associated with Dave’s career for consideration as next releases for the new Brubeck Editions label. Darius writes:

“If this year hadn’t been so crazy we would have planned a party at my parents’ wonderful house in Wilton Connecticut but we’ll have to settle for a family toast across continents, oceans and time-zones to Dave’s 100th on Sunday.”

Available for purchase and download from major platforms: http://Time OutTakes ( including Amazon, and MVD Entertainment Group for CD, LP, and Digital. Follow the twitter news on Dave Brubeck http://@TheDaveBrubeck) / Twitter.

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Bongani Sotshononda’s Marimba & Indigenous Orchestra Meets Jazz: Live in Cape Town

There’s something light, playful, and pleasantly swinging about the xylophone….or should one say, the African chromatic marimba which plays both black and white keys.

Bongani Sotshononda is reputably one of the very few in South Africa who has mastered his marimba, custom-made to his own specification by a manufacturer in Grahamstown. Sotshononda was encouraged, or in his own words, ‘forced’ by his then manager, Henry Shields, who ran the Marimba Restaurant at Cape Town’s International Convention Center back in the early 2000s, to acquire and master a chromatic marimba.

This second album with his Indigenous Orchestra, Live in Cape Town, just released, attests to this mastery, resonating joy, Africanness, swing, and soft ballads with an honest intent to please the ear, heart, and soul. Some up-and-coming stars, like the self-taught Stephen Sokuyeka on trombone, and Mpumelelo Mnyanana on saxophone display a daring creativity, effectively mixing their solos with some otherwise intricate rhythms from the percussions. Watch this riveting YouTube of his Artscape concert In October 2020:

All songs presented are composed by Sotshononda except for two songs with Hebrew lyrics inspired by Shields and arranged by Sotshononda. For instance, ‘Malacha Hayam’ offers a soft Middle Eastern sonic lift held together by the horns, marimba and Ricky Kleinsmith’s piano. The steel pans and African drum add that Caribbean and West African rhythmic ting with freshness and innovativeness, as in ‘Alvinu Malchenu’. This being the longest song on the album showcases the tight expressions of all instrumentalists.

Besides his 10-piece instrumental orchestra, lead singer Fancy Galada faithfully carries longing, joy, and emotion, thanks to her deep, broad vocal style that soothes. Her rendition of ‘Bulelwa’, a song Sotshononda wrote for his sister, the last born after four brothers, is both beautiful and lilting in tone accompanied by the soft ballad rings of Dave Reynold’s steel pans.

What’s the message in this album, I asked?

“Music is not about where you are based. It’s about all the different backgrounds, combining sounds and techniques so as to come out with something different. The western influence, along with African and Arabic influences, and others, are all combined for exciting arrangements. I was always fascinated by the Arabic scales when practicing. Track 8 has a lot of Arabic influence.”

The album sings to a ‘new day’, full of lessons to be learned. Sotshononda writes on his album cover: “Decision was mine…Let the lesson be mine”, an ominous suggestion to always be aware and upbeat about what’s happening. Ironically, after these uplifting songs, the album ends with warnings about the ineptitudes and failures of government to attend to its people, in “Ubulala” (You Killing the People). Lessons are indeed to be learned. And who says the classical Harp can’t fit with African indigenous sounds?

Dave Reynolds

All Jazz Radio had a chat with Bongani Sotshononda about his album and beyond.

CM/AJR: This year of the COVID has really hit you creatives hard, hasn’t it? How have you treated the year?
BS: For me, it has been a time to be creative and compose. I got to record this second album, for instance. We have to think outside the box now and find outlets for our music. I wasn’t particularly happy with my first album – it wasn’t really a professional product and I wasn’t mature enough to see some shortcomings.

CM: So times of stress, like happenings this year, perhaps pushed you to produce?
BS: Yes, there were different levels of stress during this pandemic. I also realized that being married to someone who was not an artist was a blessing! My wife could work full time as she is in marketing.

CM: Talk about how and why you chose the marimba and vibraphone as your main instruments.
BS: My schooling at St. Mary’s here allowed me to start with a music program, followed by high School in Bokaap, then two years at UCT and music tuition at MAPP. I loved the mallets and the traditional marimba, but it was diatonic and limited to only two key scales. This meant I couldn’t play diverse sounds with other instruments, so I moved to the chromatic marimba, similar to the xylophone, with all the other keys. So my marimba was custom made by someone in Grahamstown. Growing up, I listened a lot to mostly American vibraphonists, like Milt Jackson, and Bobby Hutchinson. Also, Dizu Plaatjies was a huge influence on me with his Amapondo band and his encyclopedia of traditional instruments. Then playing with the Phambili Marimba and Brass Ensemble. I was also fortunate enough to work with our local musicians like Basil Coetzee, Robby Jansen, Hotep Galeta, Lulu Gontzana, and Rene McLean at the Waterfront, early 2000s!

CM: You have modern instruments in your band, including the classical harp, the horns, all mixed with other indigenous instruments, like the marimbas, African harp or kora.
BS: Yes, I’m working on getting more flutes, too – modern ones, like what Buddy Wells plays and also traditional flutes.

CM: Maybe the flute made from seaweed….? Let’s talk about where you are fitting into the jazz or improvisation genre with your instruments?
BS: It’s world music so I travel with my instruments and I’m always influenced by other people’s traditional instruments. I end up melding different musical traditions and rhythms. For instance, I have mixed up the lyrics: in the second track of my album, ‘Anozarwa’ is chanted in Shona language of Zimbabwe and means a baby is born. In tracks 7 and 8, Henry Shields inspired me and introduced me to a Gaza musician and activist, Hair Dalal, so I learned a lot about Jewish and Arab music. I just gave them an African touch. Also, I’ve chosen singer Fancy Galada because we have worked together since the 90s, and I like her very strong vocal technique, and skills in arranging from my lyrics.

Fancy Galada

CM: This seems to confirm your ‘indigenous’ orchestra which absorbs ethnic expressions. So where do you see your instruments moving African jazz?
BS: In South Africa, I think I’m one of the few using the chromatic marimba in jazz. I have a project with guitarist Jean Pierre ‘JAV’Josefinn from Reunion Island, our first album being Trapdanza with musicians also from Madagascar and Mozambique. JAV has produced two more albums: Baladiroots, which includes Jean Pierre and other musicians from Reunion. The other album has no name yet, but includes the same musicians as in Trapdanza album. Then, I am collaborating now with retired UCT professor, Mike Campbell’s Big Band, which also brings together Jean Pierre’s JAV band with Reunion influences which are mixed sounds from the south west Indian Ocean peoples. It’s a nice partnership to bring our two bands together, with singer Nonfundo Xalala, to produce Southern Indian Ocean sounds in jazz.

CM: What musicians would you like to collaborate with… within the jazz tribes in this country: the Joburgers? The Port Elizabeth/Capetown types? Or the Durbanites? What about a possible working relationship with Nduduzo Makhathini?
BS: It will happen. I like the way he thinks – out of the box. More South Africans need to do this. A mix of unusual combinations is needed. And Sibu Mashiloane – He’s another one. Those guys are more indigenous jazz. Moses Molelekwa started that revolution. I saw him in 1997, in France, performing for the first time live.

Next year, I want to do a lot of concerts in this project (Indigenous Orchestra). I can put together an 8 piece band to perform at Kwa Sec on a low budget. The thinking here is let’s share our music and be happy with a small remuneration.

CM: What about live streaming as some platforms and artists are doing these days? I’m thinking of people like Leonardo Fortuin and Blake Hellaby who are pushing the music virtually – a positive side of COVID. Or check out the Urban Sessions organized by Aymeric. What do you think?
BS: South Africa will take a while to get into this. It’s good, though, to give people a month of a ticket so that people can watch streams at their own time.

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Jazz Meets the Political: Women instrumentalists Seek Harmony in 2020

Regina Carter, Nubya Garcia, and Lakecia Benjamin speak political swing, Afro-European identity, and social healing as bandleader instrumentalists moving musical boundaries during the turbulent year of 2020.

Regina Carter’s Swing States: Harmony in the Battleground (Tiger Tune/eOne, 2020) talks Jazz and Social Justice

BeBop and Swing meet demographic shifts as jazz violinist Regina Carter playfully addresses the 2020 American political theatrics. Her Freedom Band eloquently splashes humour, remorse, and hope onto the palette of electoral uncertainties as a few States vie to ‘win the election’. It’s a screamingly awkward political process – with that complicated Electoral College determinant. But Carter presents a bouncy album, with pride, choosing well-known American songs to match with a State, such as Colorado (‘Rocky Mountain High’), Louisiana (‘You Are My Sunshine’), and Kansas (‘Home on the Range’). Other songs merely portray a ‘Pennsylvania’ or ‘Wisconsin’ temperament.

Her excellently placed band members, who represent their State on the album, play in ‘swing’ style that jazzes up the current reality. New Orleans pianist, Jon Batiste, adds his flavour of cat-calls, and ‘do ya dig it’ quips that liven up the album as do the masterful John Daversa on trumpet and flugelhorn (talks about his Florida Everglades), Harvey Mason on drums (on Kansas), Kabir Sehgal on bass and percussion, and Alexis Cuadrado on double bass.

The opening piece, ‘Welcome’, layers a patriotic ‘America the Beautiful’ over Carter’s narrative plea of appreciation for the ethnic and cultural diversity she grew up with her in her native Detroit. The rest of the album swings with hope – as long as you VOTE! Her rendition of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ mesmerises. ‘On Wisconsin’ expresses at first a carnival bounce and moves to a more remorseful tone, then resolve, with the violin mimicking the band laughing. Cynicism? Lost hope? Carter ends with ‘Faygo’ after her favourite faygo pop snack at her corner store.

Carter first gained attention with her Straight Ahead, an all-female jazz quintet, some 25 years ago. Her career has spiraled with inspiration for many female jazz artists as she has taught, performed, won awards, and composed and arranged her works with a multitude of colleagues. This is a fun album: occasionally carnival in tempo, sometimes serious in ballad, but always reverent to that fabric in a democracy – the VOTE!

She and her drummer husband, Alvester Garnett, are using this time of 2020 lockdown to explore their creative musical juices together. See: Noted for her instructional capabilities, she shows how improvisation works during her Kennedy Center performance, with Cuba-born percussionist, Mayra Casales: The National Jazz Museum in Harlem hosted an interesting discussion in September 2020 about Carter’s album and voting challenges:
“Jazz and Social Justice: Regina Carter: Swing States, and Getting Out the Vote” at

Nubya Garcia explores her roots in Source (Concord Jazz August 2020)

Out of London’s young and exciting jazz scene comes saxophonist Nubya Garcia with her debut album, Source, which journeys through her family histories, folklore, afro-diasporic connections, and global outlooks where she calls home: from London to Bogota to British West Indies. The album speaks to our capacity to overcome challenges, both individual and collective, in our modern day realities. Her trio of Joe Armon-Jones on keys, Daniel Casimir on bass, and Sam Jones on drums, with several vocalists, faithfully carry her sonic messages through the moving themes and heartfelt stories she seeks to evoke.

The title track, ‘Source’, being the longest on the album, gives evidence to Garcia’s mood and tones, quiet to fiery, as she moves between reggae, soul, and improvisation. She talks of family in the soft ballad, ‘Together is a Beautiful Place to Be’, recalling her dear late stepfather. In ‘Stand with Each Other’, three vocalists accompany various reggae rhythms and celebrate their collectivism – a female solidarity in the wider community. Latin rhythms in ‘Inner Game’ pleasantly move her temperament into ‘La cumbia me está llamando” to celebrate her abstractions from Columbia’s traditional music, chants and rhythms. Still excavating family histories, ‘Before Us: In Demerara & Caura’ presents an emotional longing for understanding Caribbean sources.

Born of a Guyanese mother and Trinidadian father, Nubya Garcia completed her studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in the UK, and has explored musical horizons widely with the contemporary septet, Nerija. Even her 2017 debut EP vinyl, NUBYA’s 5IVE sold out on vinyl within 24 hours. Presently, Garcia also boasts DJ skills through her popular radio residency on NTS, and continues to play a growing number of live sets across Europe. See: (10 min 57 sec) at New York City’s Winter Jazzfest 2018.

Lakecia Benjamin pursues the mystical healing of the Coltranes

Lakecia Benjamin’s latest album, Pursuance: The Coltranes (March 2020) boasts an impressive array of musicians who complement Benjamin’s sizzling alto saxophone. These include bassist Lonnie Plaxico and trumpeter Keyon Harrold, the bass clarinet of Marcus Strickland, singer/guitarist Me’Shell NdegeOcello, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater’s scats, and violinist Regina Carter. The song presentations alternate between compositions of John and Alice, giving an audio feel of how these two masterful legends seemed to influence each other. Watch her trailer:

While saxophonist John Coltrane needs no introduction, his wife, Alice Coltrane, born in 1937 in Detroit, was one of the few harpists in jazz history, along with her remarkable proficiency on keyboard and organ. She recorded many albums as a bandleader, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s for Impulse! and other major record labels. She replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist with the John Coltrane quartet, married John in 1965, and continued to play and record with the band until John’s death in 1967 which left her raising their four young children. Always experiencing a strong connection with the Higher Being, she journeyed a spiritual life in India, adopting her name as Turiyasangitananda (Transcendental Lord’s highest song of Bliss). As Founder and Director of The Vedantic Center in 1975, she later established a spiritual community in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. She passed away in 2007.

The Coltranes’ respective compositions were chosen by Benjamin to express a common spirituality readily adaptable to our present day healing needs. Apparently, Benjamin listened to Alice Coltrane first while at school. Notable of Alice’s chosen songs are: ‘Walk with Me’ with a gospel tone set by violinist Regina Carter; ‘Going Home’, a classical slow gospel ballad mellowed by Strickland’s bass clarinet and Brandee Younger’s harp, perhaps as Alice would have played it; ‘Om Shanti’ moves with backing vocals in a smooth groove of soul searching bordering on rock with expressive chops of bassist Me’Shell NdegeOcello.

John Coltrane’s songs include: ‘Central Park West’ with the scatting vocals of Jazzmeia Horn; the swinging bebop ‘Seedya’s Song Flute’ featuring Ron Carter on bass and Keyon Harrold on trumpet; ‘Spiral’ with its samba upbeat chats between Benjamin’s and Steve Wilson saxes; ‘Alabama’ which follows Alice’s ‘Om Shanti’ in similar soul pursuits. Here, Benjamin’s concept of ‘Pursuance’ with the fast-paced bass of Jonathan Michel comes to fruition as both composers become one and end the album with acknowledging that to find God is to find Him, and subsequent healing in Oneness, in sound. Watch the band’s concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center in March 2020:

The listener should have reached the edges of Nirvana blessings if he/she made it to the end of this album. It’s a fulfilling journey in sound, resounding, uplifting in spirit, and deeply respectful of two sonic-breakers of earlier years. Benjamin’s interpretations and delivery with fellow resonators excels.

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Singing jazz violinists: a journey with Johanna Burnheart, Yilian Canizares and Iva Bittova

German-born Johanna Burnheart and Cuban-born Yilian Canizares are two jazz violinists who sing along with their strokes, a whiley combination of both visual and audio sensations that have been pleasing their audiences far and wide. Czeck violin folklorist and vocal improviser, Iva Bittova, wows audiences with imaginative tones, textures, and temperaments mixed with many musical genres. Listening to their offerings makes for a dizzying journey in sound and emotion.

Techno Meets Improvisation ala London Scene

Johanna Burnheart’s childhood classical training in violin allowed her to tour European countries with an orchestra, honing her musical skills to make her eligible for further training in her native Berlin. There, she fused its techno club and house sounds with the electronic scene which explains how she has approached her instrument using jazz improvisation. Her musical influences have come more from horn players, singers and the mix of jazz and electronics, all which lead her to join the London jazz scene. London and Berlin remain her chosen havens for composing and performing with other notables in the electro-jazz milieu. Her debut album, simply titled Burnheart, contains 8 tracks with Burnheart also on synthesizer, David Swan on Wurlitzer/synthesizer, Jonny Wickham on double bass, and Boz Martin-Jones on drums/shaker.

The album is an exciting mix of rhythm, percussion, rings and bells, and soft electronica, all overlaid with an expressive violin that skillfully complements with syncopation: in ‘Mensch’ with a bit of wailing and sad, discordant questioning. Emotion exudes with a nervous violin, off-key at times, overlapping textures between the synthesizer, drum wisps, and double bass. This is a beautifully constructed piece. In ‘Forever Dance’, the syncopation between violin, bass and synthesizer runs create a bouncy, danceable samba feel. Her voice overs harmonize mournfully in an interesting re-arrangement of the classic Jay Livingston’s, ‘Never Let Me Go’. She scats in ‘Silence is Golden’ along with syncopated rhythms between voice, clapping and percussion. This song is full of different textures, electronic whistles and calls, like the rest of the album which is sure to please.

Its upcoming launch on October 30 on social media platforms is on November 30 at the EFG London Jazz Festival. Stellar performances can be viewed on YouTube videos, recommended for getting a better taste of what this young up and coming musician is producing in the London world of musical fusions. At the Ropeadope Festival:

Plucking violin and scatting with singer, Appolonie:


Modern Pride Calls out African Ancestry

Hailed as one of the impressive virtuosos from Cuba, violinist/singer/composer Yilian Cañizares brings zest and sonic modernity to a content-laden album that reflects her pride in her African ancestry. Now a Swiss citizen, her roots remain strong, as portrayed in her November 2019 released album, Erzulie.

Erzulie, the goddess of love, came to Canizares in a dream and steered her spirit to produce music that honoured her Haitian/African/Cuban heritage. She evokes the legacy of ‘Cimarron’, the runaway slave, while acknowledging the oneness of the human and divine that runs in her veins. The album pulls the listener into her story of African survival, from suffrage to liberation in colonial worlds. She seems to look at contradictions between slave and European culture in ‘Contradicciones’ which starts off with a distinct Gaelic dance rhythm and moves into a bluesy query with African percussive beats. Spirit whispers pervade her piece, ‘Erzulie’, as Canizares adopts a contemplative tone in her vocals which are multiplied. Perhaps she is receiving the message.

Her violin is earthy and often slides into an electronic rock style, like in ‘Cimarron’, a fast paced percussive piece where Canizares’s scat holds the rhythm with African overtones as she honours the slave longings for freedom. A rock guitar is heard in the background. ‘Gloria mia’ evokes a spiritual tone with soft slow vocals with a meditative Cuban percussion sound.

The song tracks seem to move into a celebratory mood in ‘Libertad’ with highly effusive and happy vocals, spoken word, and fast percussion as freedom is announced, followed by ‘Yeye’ which speaks for itself. Canizares has crafted an emotionally pleasing but truthful musical story about her realities, both with her vocals and lyrics, which predominate on the album, and her violin which seems to play a supportive backdrop. Even the master of Cuban music, Chucho Valdes, took Canizares under his wing of discovery and support as has Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, a frequent musical collaborator. Canizares can best be viewed in exciting videos of her various performances with Sosa: And with Haitian guitarist Paul Beaubrun:


A Study in the Art of Tones, Textures, and Temperaments melded with Imagination

Another violinist, singer, and composer, from Moravia, Czech Republic, is the indomitable Iva Bittova who combines folklore, jazz, rock, and opera through an emotional, expressive violin and vocal wizardry, the latter which includes moans, chirps, yelps, and deep throat noises. Her mission is to wed sounds of nature with cultural expressions including Moravian folk songs. Having recorded 8 solo albums, her repertoire of singing while playing violin focuses on a vast compendium of improvised rhythms and various vocal tones, textures, and theatrics: (5.58 minutes)

Hers is not a ‘traditional’ singing voice, and hardly mellifluous, but a ballsy, high pitched quivery expression, sometimes employing a weird mask-wearing, or clicks and howls. Her violin plucks while the horn section provides melody, resulting in a bouncy improvisation with voice blurbs and screams: (6.58 minutes). It was during a ten year period (1970-1980) when she put her violin away to study drama and play roles in film, that she learned how to use her voice in different ways.

The now 62-year old Bittova had settled in 2007 in upper New York State where she continues to compose. In January 2008, she and her sister, also a professional musician, performed their first concert together to sold out crowds in Prague to celebrate their love of music. Bittova’s classical loves include the aria of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni as well as Janacek and Bartok for their inspiration in folk music. Hers is a unique, nameless, yet recognizable sound, and a magnificent study in the art of tones, textures, and temperaments melded with imagination. Check her website for details: including her Filmography credits and an extensive Discography.

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A Cultural/Knowledge/Arts & Music Hub in Gugulethu: Lumkile’s Book Joint

A knowledge hub is flourishing in Gugulethu, a community outside of Cape Town, and it’s filling up with books and other excitements! Lumkile’s Book Joint welcomes literary and arts enthusiasts to enjoy the various events now being planned (yet not launched officially until January 2021) and advertised on their Facebook page:

Blacks Tempi (left), Zami Mdinga, Lumkile Mzukwa (right)

His three car garage attached to his house has become an indoor living room that breathes books on limited wall shelves; more books are in storage. Upon arriving at NY22, House No 32, one parks on the sidewalk of this narrow residential street. Lumkile greets me with hands caked with flour. The smell of scones baking is soon followed by their steaming hot presentation with coffee as we sit down to chat. Lumkile Mzukwa, otherwise a senior manager during the day with PRASA inter-city railways, exhibits his enthusiasm for creating a cultural renaissance, the likes to which he references “The Harlem Renaissance” which was a telling intellectual, social, and artistic explosion of African-American culture centred in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, during the 1920s. A long table with benches is surrounded by couches for reading or discussions or meetings that may emerge. Two year old son, Ziniti, runs his toy car along the book shelves, passing notable titles of books that could fit on the ‘twenty best’ or the ‘ten best’ books of the year somewhere or sometime ago.

Twenty eight years ago, the young Lumkile started collecting books, buying his first new book for Rands 35 in 1991, The Theory and Practice of Black Resistance to Apartheid: A social-ethical analysis, by Mokgethi Motlhabi.

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Fast forward to our past decade, Lumkile wants to ‘burst the bubble’ around formidable individual libraries. One immediately sees how his impressive collection has focused on content and knowledge about important, ground-breaking events, people and leaders, histories, and political domestic and international issues of note. These are timeless books, appropriate resources as references and for analyses in any discussions about weighted issues of the day.

“This is the kind of library you would get in Obama’s or Clinton’s house, or Christopher Kitchen’s home. Captains of Industry would have this type of library. So my Book Joint is an example of quality collections, not just the ordinary. It gives an example of what Black people can aspire to, and collect, and get excited about, seeing one of their own with such a passion. Now, we have a tangible example of what it means to collect books and to make your own personal library. It’s something we will forever talk about in terms of relating to our children and each other as individuals”…..

How will this cultural hub unfold in Cape Town’s Gugulethu post COVID-19? On one Friday evening recently, I enjoyed a ‘Tiny Desk’ sort of musical concert with home-grown Gugulethu jazz trumpeter Blacks Tempi and his quintet. That next day, the Book Joint sponsored a book sale.

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We talked about the high cost of buying books. Why would someone buy a book when The Book Joint has it? How could books be shared? This would be a perfect opportunity for a book club. Many ideas were flung about. But it’s a private book collection.

“My Initial concern is that books get stolen. People who enter this space get excited and want to take a book to borrow. And if borrowed, the book would be misused. I have stories of losing my books. Practically 95% of them were bought from the second hand shops, like CAFDA.”

So what activities would work to promote a culture of reading and cultivating knowledge? A book club? Reading sessions? Theme days? Musical events? Vinyl discussion evenings? Afternoon jazz and wine sessions? Talks and presentations with various leaders and intellectuals?

“Yes, the list is long. These activities are innovative and impressive. But for now, it’s planning and ideas in the making that preoccupy my team and me.”

And what about the sustainability of the Book Joint?

“I need accountability, and am happy to take donations. But I still want this private. I want to build a top story to expand the space, but I don’t have an NGO mindset yet for the Book Joint. We are planning now: There will be daily activities, like a Monday business talk, Tuesday Book Joint tunes with something like creative art and paintings, Wednesday Black lecturers’ night, Thursday Taste of Jazz; Friday for eating meat/braai and socializing to include inviting a leader for a chat, like Thabo Mbeki, or a Friday food fair to taste various foods displayed by people. Saturday a book sale. Maybe Sunday afternoon live jazz and wine or listening to the old jazz vinyls. The jazz events could take a life of their own with partnership with Jazz in the Native Yards.”

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As Lumkile talked, my thinking kept coming back to how that Elon Musk book on the shelf could be used with, let’s say, five people, without the book having to leave the premises. How do you work with a book?

“Yeh, I think part of it is to think about what does this space mean to the people looking from inside in, so whatever we do , we tune it right, so that we cater to what people want to see. Do you want people to see this space as a formidable club for sharing a book, or do you want them to see the Book Joint as a diverse space, to play tunes, buy books, talk and hold discussions with important people? On the top floor, I envision, for instance, a bean bag corner and a coffee depot where small groups can to chew and chill on a book. It becomes a social, cultural, intellectual space working all the time, oozing impressions: book sale, book review, live music, vinyl listening, certain people known to come around.”

The Future?

“I hope to have a Book Joint movement across the country to promoter affordable book sales and reading culture. We have started with hosting book fairs right here. Our second sale day last week was bigger than the first one, and this shows interest is growing for books. All events are listed on our Facebook page, and we’ll have another sale at end of October. CAFDA and other book sellers bring their books for sale. I want to be able to present “100 best books” in X, Y, Z themes. Books today are written referencing what is already known from past writings. There’s nothing new. But I want my daughter or son who is coming off of matric, for instance, to be able to access the writer of a contemporary book, to be exposed to his or her insights. But for somebody like me who is well read, Nadine Gordimer is enough in terms of the whole South African landscape.”

“We will officially function when we launch the Book Joint – in Jan 2021. Our team wants to make sure we have ongoing activities now till then which government can see, as a build up to the launch. A Brochure will give details about how to enjoy the Book Joint – day activities, talks in the evening, etc. How to pay for these activities and have a membership – all this information will be there.”
More questions remain than answers as we watch this space grow, exciting the locals and visitors with a myriad of activities in this truly African hub. Check the Lumkile Book Joint Facebook page. And just maybe Lumkile will have a self-published version of his 39+ poems for sale!!

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SanDance! A vibrant journey into Africa’s original dance culture

The recent (and still ongoing until August 31) Encounters Documentary Film Festival, only available virtually within South African internet borders, featured SanDance!, an remarkable film about San culture and dance in Southern Africa. Read excerpts of Michael Britton’s review and interview with Director Richard Wicksteed. Then read Carol Martin’s reflections about the film. Your free ticket at and film trailer at

I praise the dance!
By Michael Britton

Photo credits: Kevin Rack
Full article at

SanDance! is billed as a journey to the heart of Africa’s original dance culture, but it’s much more than that. It opens a door onto a segment of African culture that is in danger of dying out. Music and dance are combined, adding to the overall level of enjoyment of this film. In the film music score, two of South Africa’s most versatile musicians, Pops Mohamed and Dave Reynolds, play an array of instruments, from ancient African to functionally contemporary. The soundtrack is too beautiful to ignore, but very easy to overlook when you get caught up in the stories.

The film’s voice-over tells you that 130,000 San people live in tiny communities scattered across six vast southern African countries, speak about 12 different click languages, and keep themselves culturally strong through one of humanities oldest and most universal passions – dancing.
Vibrant San dancers and healers are seen preparing for the annual Kuru Dance Festival, which is always held at the time of the August full moon, at Dqae Qare San Lodge, outside Ghanzi, in Botswana. San groups from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa come together here to celebrate and share their cultural heritage of storytelling, song and dance.

SanDance! touches briefly on tragedy and injustice, and hints at past genocide in doing so. The hunting parties of the colonialists, both in the Cape and in then German South West Africa, where the hunted were the San, remain an untreated and festering sore in colonial history. Writer and film director Richard Wicksteed says,

“In the 1970s, the South African military forces, operating in Namibia and Angola, needed trackers in their war against the liberation movements. Thousands of Namibian and Angolan San were forced to leave their hunting grounds and settle in military bases. The men were conscripted as trackers and forced to fight, and sometimes die, under white officers.”

That the San and their culture have survived, and still survive despite families and communities being torn apart by forced removals and war, is testimony to their resilience.

Richard Wicksteed with San dancers

Richard Wicksteed has spent decades filming and working with the San, making at least 10 films of varying length. With a level of acceptance and trust from the San, Richard makes no political judgements and points no fingers. However, successive governments of SADC States have dismally failed the First People of this region and neglected their historical and cultural heritage. However, what lies at the heart of this beautiful film is the future and the importance of the dancing and healing.

Richards asks, “What happens if the dancing goes?” Elder dancer Letshogo Ikaegeng replies,

“Our history will be over. If our children don’t learn … if we don’t maintain the culture in our life, we may as well be dead. If we don’t continue to dance, our spirits will not travel to the spirit world and we will be condemned for denying our ancestors.”

The ancient truths are universal, so it did not surprise me to find that a technique shown to me decades ago by a Buddhist Qi Gong instructor, is echoed in San culture. In the film, a San healer says:

“The spirits they come and they tell you, there is a light coming! You must catch it, pour it into your eyes, you must catch it, pour it into your eyes because you can start seeing everything.”

As he says this, he scoops a handful of air first into one eye, then into the other eye, in much the same way I learnt in that Qi Gong lesson.

The trance healing dances are key in the film. Says one elder, “You must dance these songs. If you don’t, then people in your village may get sick. If you do the healing dance, the village will be good.” With only three days to the full moon, Richard explains the rehearsal intensity of the Xuu-Khwe-II dance group. Later that night, for the important and powerful lion healing dance, they decide to rehearse deep in the wilderness, close to the wildlife, close to their ancestral spirits. As Boemo Vivian Pekenene says:

“This song is for the lion, we repeat its lion name because we worship lions for our ancestors. As San, we live in the bush with lions. When I start to sing, my body temperature rises, I can feel shocks and vibrations in my body, and I will connect with the spiritual world. When I start dancing, I will be filled with happiness”.

The next morning, the dancers discover paw prints from seven lions in the dance area that night. Did they hear the call of the dancers?

When I interviewed Richard Wicksteed, I asked him about the highlights of the years spent making the film. He spoke about the power of the trance healing dances, before adding,

After the Mababe group had done the lion healing dance, I left a couple of the guys at the fire to do a bit of yoga to help me sleep. Then I heard a sound, like something jumping down to the ground. I had a powerful torch, so shone it around. And there was a lioness. Not quite between me and the camp, but I’d have to pass uncomfortably close to her.”

Which he did, shining the torch on her the entire time. The next day, an elder told him “The lion was not there to eat you. She was there to thank you, for bringing us together to dance.”

The stories don’t stop. The film is a rich source of powerful insights, often told with a playful or mischievous smile. But most of all, it enlightens those with the heart to hear, and uplifts those with the soul to see. Like this. “Inside our eyes, we have two spirit eyes. And then two on our nose. The eyes on the nose communicate with the upper eyes, then we travel with the spirit wind.”

Watch SanDance! – for the dance – for the music – for the story – for the pleasure.

***** Carol Martin’s Reflections *****

I don’t think it’s about ‘survival’ of culture, but about changes, transforming in newer realities, adapting to earth shifts (like climate changes) and administrative protocols. The San’s spirituality, if true to self, should carry through these transformations, and I think the film portrayed this well, particularly for educating our more globalized world. Yes, the San will ‘survive’ but present us with totally different voices that build on their past histories. The real issue is: are the children learning about these past histories, or are the histories silently archived? Or perhaps a better question would be: HOW are the children now retaining worthy values imbedded in past histories and applying them to their present realities? Dance certainly can do that…. But …. Will / can the dance of the San, alone, impart solid values and customs which have held their societies together? And HOW do we know that the San groups’ spirituality is actually being transmitted to the young dancing children?

I prefer to get away from this dichotomist thinking, of thinking about ‘loss’ of culture, or ‘gain’ of something else, but look at a human continuum of thinking and behaving that allows a people to come even close to surviving and ruling over their collective needs. I refer to some Native American First Peoples, like the Navaho Indians, who have ‘lost’ so much of their original lifestyles, but have managed to establish a lifestyle that avoids the State from [continuing to] trampling on their land. Case in point: Some USA States allow for tribal ownership of lands. Arizona State has a law that requires permission from a First People’s tribe if a developer wants to build a hotel on lands under tribal ownership. The tribe then reaps the financial benefits of that enterprise. So, much of those ‘gains’ are from casinos and tourist spots, for instance. Trick is: Have those worthy values and customs of Navaho ‘culture’ been retained and transmitted? In some places of the Navaho areas, community radios broadcast in Navaho language! (I made some recordings as I drove through those areas of northern Arizona/southeastern Utah).

I don’t know the answers unless I research. At least, I know the questions to ask!

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Every Month is for Women Jazz Musicians: the South African case

A number of young, world-traveled, South African women musicians have been emerging and tuning our ears to a decade of exploratory sounds and beats that excite what ‘South African jazz’ is becoming. Thanks to current recording technologies and available studios, the 2020 Covid-19 Lockdown has been able to fortunately convert some of those unemployment blues faced by artists without paying audiences into albums, some debut, and some not so bluesy but innovative. Women artists continue to be faced, also, with recurring themes in their industry of sexist portrayal, male hierarchical displays, and even gender-based violence issues. Let’s see what some leading South African women jazz artists are doing or saying….

Thandi Ntuli
After her successful Exile album (2018), and debut album in 2014, The Offering, (see pianist Thandi Ntuli has followed up with Live at Jazzwerkstatt recorded and produced in Switzerland and released in March 2020. During her residency with jazz artists in Switzerland, Ntuli was able to gain more intercultural experience by navigating her new Swiss colleagues’ sounds, particularly with a string quartet that she had barely played with while in Switzerland. This album is a bit of a surprise, combining different genres of Spoken Word, Electronic and World Music along with pointed lyrics. Her story talks about Exile, Black Love and its disappointments, but also a New Way, and Rainbows. Her bold exploration of orchestral arrangements augers well for what South Africans can envision and execute on popular stages. Watch

Here, she is discovering and applying a classical feel with strings, horns, and woodwinds performed by her European colleagues. But South African bassist, Shane Cooper, revs up the spirit with his bass slaps and beats, adding Afro-rhythms for the eager clapping hands of the young audience at that recording. Reworking songs from her Exile album, this compendium of orchestral jive does convince that Ntuli has been well on her way to compositional heights and meaningful collaborations.

Siya Makuzeni
Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2016, singer and trombonist, Siya Makuzeni, pulls on board a seasoned sextet in her 2016 released Out of This World album which includes the Bank’s 2017 winner for Jazz, Thandi Ntuli, on piano and keyboard . Besides playing trombone, Maluzeni also uses her vocal lyrics pedal to loop, sing and scat, portraying often wild, emoting sounds from her six compositions. A seventh song is Bheki Mseleku’s ‘Through the Years’, arranged by another Standard Bank winner, Afrika Mkhize. Makuzeni has been known for her vocal acrobatics ranging from howls and high pitched whines to mellow, lower register yowls which fuse her Xhosa sounds with some basic other roots of bebop and improvisational contemporary jazz. Watch: And her journeys…….

Amanda Tiffin
Singer, pianist, educator Amanda Tiffin’s Facing South album haunts with lyrical, thoughtful ballads meant to storytell and warm the ear with soft Latin and South African rhythms and tones. Songs are collaborative: Brazilian Guilherme Ribeiro on piano, accordion, vocal/body percussion and Dutch double bassist, Hein Van De Heyn, now homed in Cape Town, contribute their specific wizardries to guitarist David Leadbettter and Tiffin’s mix of lyrics and harmonies. Opening with ‘Peregrino’ , a Latin clap percussion with guitar/piano harmonies sets the stage for this delightful mix of the musicians’ own compositions. A syncronicity between Tiffin’s vocals and Ribeiro’s accordion in ‘Akkerman’ and ‘Hermato’ proves how expert these musicians can join their sounds at the right pitch and with believable emotions. The Tiffin/Leadbetter collaborations span over decades in Cape Town as one can hear in “Waiting for Stillness’and ‘Desert Road’. Watch: And the delightful Portuguese lyrics with piano and guitar in ‘Pes na Areia’ (footprints in the sand) solidified with a subtle samba spark. This is a perfect album for any Lockdown – or liberation of spirit!

Shannon Mowday
Norway-based South African saxophonist, Shannon Mowday, gives an honest expose of what a female musician faces in the industry. Watch this 14 minute video:, courtesy of the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA)( Capetonian Mowday specialises in saxophones and woodwinds as well as being a composer, director, educator and a mom. In her 4th of 5 very personal and insightful videos produced by CTMA, she talks about some frustrations and stumbling blocks she has experienced being a woman in the world of jazz when all she wanted to do was to play music. As Mowday was researching album covers of lead female saxophonists and musicians, she discovered the fantasy-orientated, sexist, and pictorial vulgarities of women posing (sometimes in compromising positions) with their respective instruments.

She wrote recently on her Facebook page on June 18, 2020:
“I’m working on my album cover and just for fun searched up some images of ‘saxophone covers’ from yester-year. WOW!!!!!!….and one ‘wonders’ why there are so many connotations of female saxophone players or how many ‘battles’ we have to fight before we have played a note…. Really??????? Whilst the ‘giants’ of jazz were doing their thing and being all creative and such and setting the ‘blueprint’ for jazz -this was the ‘image’ created for a woman with a saxophone….Yeah!! let’s have that ‘Me Too’ discussion again!!!! This is a really special site with so many more of all these horrors……..

Check out another CTMA video referred to by Mowday, with Amanda Tiffin talking about “Gender Dynamics in the Music Industry” (CTMA Moments with Masters).

For more info on Shannon Mowday: and follow her on Facebook

Francesca Bioncoli

Italian-born singer Francesca Bioncoli who has made Cape Town her home, presents her debut album, Ikigai, which rings out mellow and lyrical expressions in her love-lorn messages. “Everything changes and evolves, I am the ocean that crashes on the rock” in Hunter; Bioncoli’s voice overs in most songs offers vocal conversations: “when the wind is blowing, it is hard to breathe” in Wind. This album is listenable, casting a pop-ish sound, but with little change of rhythm. …… Listen on Spotify.

Others….. to follow….. Stay tuned!

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eFringe Song and Dance at NAF2020: PART IV

As performance access ends today, July 16, a final wrap-up sees more varieties of music and a bit of physical theater. It really has been a joy, even if ‘virtual’, to witness new talents, youthful zest in the arts, and heady contemporary themes in this year’s National Arts Festival 2020. Here are a few brief reviews:

A favourite Cape Town-based jazz band treats the ear to original compositions from band members, under trumpeter Muneeb Hermans’ direction. Hermans has made his way around several countries performing, including gracing the prestigious Carnegie Hall, and has a lot to show us. Saxman Justin Bellairs stuns with his runs; pianist Blake Hellaby, a master at improvisation, always creates that mood, particular a classical-Ravel sound in his 3 ½ minute solo (at 07.50 minutes); Hermans’ trumpet spills forth influences far and wide as this capable musician controls but doesn’t dominate his entourage. It’s a pity that, somehow, the sound amplification of bassist Steve de Souza did not do justice to his solo playing. Nevertheless, this recording is a good example of how the Theater on 44 Long run by music/arts-lover, Esra Overberg, has become a popular central venue in Cape Town’s art hub, and will thrill future audiences, if covid-allowed!

Yolisa Ngcola (left); Asive Ngcebetsha (rt)

Who would have thought two teenage school girls with violins, swinging out familiar songs of South Africa’s 1950s, would add zest with classical African sonic twists? Asive Ngcebetsha and Yolisa Ngcola, music students at the Diocesan School for Girls in Makhanda, present a delightful mix of Tsaba-Tsaba and Kwela rhythms of Sophia Town days. One cannot just sit and listen – the gals allow for lots of body movement in this 20 minute session. For sure, their engagements will feature prominently in future Festivals and other schools events in the country!

Here’s another gem of a “Jazz in the Theatre” concert at 44 on Long in Cape Town featuring bassist Chadleigh Gowar and his very youthful band. Gowar has gone far in deploying lots of rhythm and harmony in his compositions which are rich in Cape jazz songs ranging from the indigenous ghoema to Afro-soul with that gospel influence to other bouncy improvisational styles. The staccato guitar of Lee Ludolf kicks off this set with Gowar’s obvious talent on his electric bass. These are happy musicians, smiling and hearing each other with an eagerness to please. With two keyboards, not commonly seen in jazz bands, which include a synth and organ, the band produces a versatility of sounds, mostly in the upper registers. Even the production crew can be heard singing to refrains which, ‘normally’, an audience would engage in. Gowar is a favourite rising Cape star, having played with a slew of musicians of note. Watch for more!

Dancer Smangaliso Siphesihle Ngwenya is a videographer, editor, writer, and choreographer who makes a profound statement in his Fragmented Scribbles that haunts our virus-ridden world at the moment. He presents a solemn solo dance in a narrow empty kitchen choreographed to convey a sense of emptiness, a void, that becomes body-talk. Ngwenya’s sleek moves in a confined space capture moments of endless embodied conversations that occur in one’s body, mind and spirit. One hears the primeval: indigenous sounds brought out by a dirigidoo, steady beats of Native Americans stomping, chanting. This is body-talk, or what the artist calls ‘embodied language’, with conversations made by various contortions of the body. Ngwenya has embarked on an illustrious arts career, from journalism to physical theatre, with different dance groups, like Vuyani Dance Theatre. His freelance art and writing are, indeed, begging for more audience conversations.

NOWHERE PEOPLE with the KINSMEN and featuring guitarist Vuma Levin
Indian classical, mainstream jazz, avant-garde, World fusion and South African Jazz come together in a far too short performance by the Kinsmen. Sitarist Dhruv Sodha holds this performance together with Tabla player Shailesh Pillay. The saxophone output of Muhammad Dawjee could have been either upgraded or eliminated, with harmonies sounding more like scales practice. Having the extraordinary talents of guitarist Vuma Levin, who featured ever so briefly, hardly elevated the group, whose style seemed to be, indeed, experimental and ….. going….. nowhere. Even Levin seemed to struggle with theme and purpose. I’m afraid, the group’s event was appropriately named.

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Musical Electronica, Alternative & Film at 2020 National Arts Festival (NAF): PART III

These selections below mark how this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) is promoting an understanding of how electronica and film/drama is influencing contemporary (aka ‘urban’) African music and South African and African jazz and musical drama.

FUTURE NOSTALGIA SOUNDSYSTEM with ATIYYAH KHAN AKA EL CORAZON These series of video and audio recordings by music and arts journalist and DJ, Atiyyah Khan (El Corazon) and her co-producer visual artist Grant Jurius (Futurist), explore new ways of listening to music using various technologies, including reviving the vinyls of old and electronica. Eight themes, each around 1 hour 20 minutes long, explore Black Music in South Africa, Decolonisation, Islam and North African music, Futurism, and Beats and Global Sound systems. Through regular events over the past seven years in Cape Town, they have aimed to create safe spaces not only for black artists but for black audiences as well. This duo presents the unusual and the often misunderstood, covering an impressive variety of sounds, instruments, and styles from African countries. I found these themes particularly moving:

ROTATIONS OF BISMILLAH by El Corazon: This session explores and deconstructs what is meant by ‘African’ music and connects deeply to the Islamic musical traditions on the continent. Tracks include various field recordings and records from Gabon, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Niger, Guinea, Gambia and more. This zine with 24 tracks brings archival material (assembled from collaged record covers) and poetry, with Khan telling her story about why she has sought, as an independent journalist, to deconstruct this music into an understandable form. Throughout the session themes, the tracks are labeled at which minute they start in the audio tape. This makes it easy to follow and know what is playing.

BLACK MUSIC UNDER APARTHEID by El Corazon: Sixteen tracks present the historical gambit of how musicians expressed their music during struggles under Apartheid, and include key recordings from Legends such as Kippie Moeketsi, Tete Mbambisa, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Dudu Pukwana, and others. Khan is thinking realistically in her presentations how the after-effects of Apartheid still continue to this day.

In the SHADES OF JAZZ session, co producer Grant Jurius, aka Futurist, narrates how he has been influenced to bring his love of hip-hop together with jazz. He shares the music of home musicians, such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Robbie Jansen, Sethima Bea Benjamin, Moses Molelekwa, and the UK/South African collaboration of Shabaka & The Ancestors. Watch paintings emerge of these legends as the music is presented.

Nyege Nyege Festival 2019


Music “ incubators” gather some fascinating mixes of African musical traditions, from Islamic histories to dancing themes to contemporary electronic and digital sounds inspired by both rural and urban spaces. These are listening sessions (each about 30 min) and also videos of the various artists from around Africa who belong to Nyege Nyege, a collective based in Kampala, Uganda. You’ll hear “psychotomimetic appeal” as electronics take over speeds, melodies, and rhythms experienced in the Singeli scene of Dar es Salaam, or the Nairobi-based GENGETONE. ACHOLITRONIX of northern Uganda is hypnotic and engaging, thanks to its producer and DJ, Leo Palayeng, along with curator, Otim Alpha, who arranges the dance music for ceremonies. Malian DJ Diaki’s style of balani awakens the spirits from the dead, using laptop, mic and drum machines. Moving to the videos, Duma presents sounds from Nairobi’s flourishing underground metal scene with the duo music makers pushing the boundaries of grind, metal, electronica and industrial through their own experimentation. Harsh tones of frustration, if not anger, emerge as the rapper stomps over corrugated iron sheets. Lady Kenyan rapper, MC Yallah, based in Uganda delivers a fast-paced performance enhanced with her over-sized Afro hair and red eye glasses, and three sassy, energetic female dancers with attitude. Then enter HHY & THE KAMPALA UNIT with a masked, synthetic percussionist dressed in Covid-19 protective gear, accompanied by a trumpeter, all making polyrhythmic Ugandan futuristic music. This is a whopping inside view of Africa’s urban youth expressing themselves and warning about the future.

Stacey van Schalkwyk

Point of Humanness, a Fringe offering with the NAF, is a visual worthy of pure uninterrupted focus as ‘humanness’ unfolds: in dark moods (ashes), watching a paper boat float on nature’s stream (drifting), an adult engaging in child’s play, time-lapse photography watching nature update itself, and movement in dance being the catalyst for healing. The viewer is asked to reflect on what humanness means in each of these visual moments. Be ready to engage on the Point of Humanness Facebook page!

Music composer and flutist, Stacey van Schalkwyk, wrote some of the narratives which carry visual moods, humour, and wonderment as these five videos tell stories about how earth and humans can create joy and channel connections that establish more loving community. Poems were written and performed by Kizito Mukasa and Chantal Snyman. Van Schalkwyk’s son, Yashin Naidoo, adds value through his cinematographic choreographies and rhythmic percussion. Camera shots of dramatic flora (colorful autumn leaves) or wild fauna (a wolf face, a hopping toad) pull the viewer into familiar realities of what we earthlings can experience, appreciate, and protect in nature for mutual healing. Dance is seen as strength in movement, making humanness invincible and able to break out into a unique freedom of purpose. Even poets and musicians in this performance recorded their respective sounds on their cell phones during this age of Covid virus-produced social distancing. Point of Humanness is a poignant reminder of how fragile yet sustainable our physical universe is if we just stay aware of all the healing modalities around us.

The Silence of Texture – Cara Stacey
This is a visually sonic treat as we watch visual artist, Mzwandile Buthelezi, draw to indigenous sounds of Cara Stacey’s nyungwe-nyungwe, umrhubhe, and umtshingo instruments, while guitarist Keenan Ahrends plucks out both indigenous musical styles and jazz improvisation. Some melodic, some less harmonic, but all songs produce a texture translated onto the painting-in-process. Buthelezi doesn’t skimp on form; rather, unidentifiable shapes and movements fill the easel’s paper. It’s gentle and solemn. The sound of his charcoal crayon moving on the paper is like breathing onto the musical instruments. Ahrends makes some effective impressionistic runs as Stacey’s instruments stay contained, including modernistic piano classical strains that surprise. The music finishes; the painting takes shape. This is another multi-media artistic gem for the festival!


Sindiwe Magona, center

The delightful Kwathi ke Kaloku (Once Upon a Time), presented by the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA) in the eFringe lineup, is a celebration of Xhosa children’s literature and indigenous music by award-winning author and storyteller, Sindiwe Magona, and renowned local musician, Bongani Sotshononda and his United Nations of Africa band. Kwathi ke Kaloku presents two of Magona’s well-known children’s tales, “The best meal ever!” and “Stronger than lion” to the live soundtrack of enchanting instruments, like Sotshononda’s marimba, young percussionist SISONKE GODLO’s kora and kudu horns. English subtitles are shown in the video. Two dramatists act out animal characters as well as both child and adult characters who struggle with realities of poverty, abandonment, and the exigencies of power. Stories of struggles in the animal kingdom are told, like a mouse confronting and overcoming the challenges of the lion, so that the children can fall asleep hoping their mother will return with food when they awake. Written by Mogona, who also guides the narrative aurally, these stories unfold lessons in hope and bravery, touching to all that view it. This is certainly a top-listed offering of this year’s eFringe musical dramas.

Pleasant enough, fast-rising Afro-soul star, Ami Faku, from the Eastern Cape, boasts a number of awards and spotlights as she combines traditional Afro soul sensibilities with modern pop. Her delivery of soft ballads and upbeat pop swing with a pleasantly husky voice expressed believable emotion. Faku introduces each song with an explanation of the why’s and what’s – very helpful to those who do not understand isiXhosa. Hers is something to watch, and her debut album, Imali, worthy of acclaim.

Nthato Mokgata (aka Spoek Mathambo)

Do those Maskandi kicks in the comforts of your own home, but don’t scare the cat! Get a visual feast of the South African landscape in this film as Nthato Mokgata (aka Spoek Mathambo), Standard Bank’s Young Artist for Music, narrates the history of Maskandi music from his home area in KwaZulu Natal. While the Cape has its Ghoema, KZN has another very danceable expression which, Mokgata says, heals himself and others, not just medically but spiritually. In this film, he has now risen up with a new energy and spiritual purpose, joining forces with fellow maskandi artist, Bhekisenzo ‘Vukazithathe’Cele. The film follows these two Nguni artists of two different generations, cultures and musical traditions, Mokgata considering himself not only a filmmaker in this case, but also an alternative hip-hop musician. They are seen joyfully bantering about life and music, in general. It’s a delightful romp through beautiful rolling hills, life stories, and the power of healing.

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More exciting ‘virtual’ stage and video performances are still offered, up until July 16 with your ticket/s. Here’s a few more that rocked my boat!

Ziza Muftic album My Shining Hour

Ziza Muftic’s Shining Hour concert was just that – shining with her clear, crisp vocals and lyrics, speaking of stories from her Balkan past and South African present where she has lived for several decades now. Folk tunes turned into vocal scatting, or what some would call ‘jazz’, have influenced her own style of compositions that mark Muftic as inventive, thoughtful, and impressionistic. Taking from her second album, My Shining Hour, this performance highlights her various musical influences, like Johnny Mercer and Chick Corea and others who borrowed from other musical cultures. Muftic skillfully flavours her own compositions with twists of Eastern European folk mixed with South African jazz styles. For instance, ‘Kwela Gontsana’, composed by saxophonist Sydney Mnisi in memory of a beloved late musician, was given a lyrics interpretation by Muftic about her own Bosnian upbringing. The bluesy ‘Love is the Drug’, a take from the 60s’ rock version, finds Muftic’s broad lower register voice slinking through these darker toned messages reminiscent of the sassy Billie Holiday or an angry Nina Simone. In ‘Unfinished Story’, Muftic inserts compelling bossa rhythms that accompany her intricate scats which, at times, seemed to lose their melodies, but which found resolve with intensive piano runs of Roland Moses. An abrupt finish of the song said it all. Her album is available on all digital platforms.

Loyiso Bala, singer, Swing City

For a type of Rat Pack swing and blues of the 50s and 60s, the entertaining Swing City with three vocalists, Loyiso Bala, Nathan Ro, and Graeme Watkins, and a Nigerian bassist, Amaeshi Ikechi, along with three horns, added musical value to the ‘jazz’ lineup. These dapper and well-suited-and –tied musicians on stage, with their shiny black and white shoes, exuded the flashy dress code of ‘that era’, and the attitudes that went with it. Their narratives were not without the occasional sexist gibe: ‘Guys, wearing a suit on stage now is like…..a woman not wearing a bra….”. Another quip followed, keeping to what boys do….

Their dooWA dooWA gave a charming rendition of what the ‘swing’ era sounded like, mixed with their joking around. Clearly these swingers were having fun, and would get you off your couch; “Dirty boogie” gets you jitter buggin’, shoes or no shoes. “Fly Me to the Moon”…. That sailing song beyond the seas…. ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ . It became a sing-along. The vocalists rather humourous, yet natural, ad lib banter in between songs kept interest levels and smiles high. Their theatrics improved into the program, now that the audience was used to the boyish antics. Great for a rainy day! They even added a maskandi beat to an oldie, and sang an Afrikaans song which swung into ‘De Alabama’ klopse. Thanking the non-audience for listening: ”And thank you all from the heart of my bottom.”

Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Sisonke Xonti, presented a Part II performance for this year’s Jazz Festival which featured another slew of first-class band members. Blind pianist and vocalist, Yonela Mnana, who is studying for his Ph.D. in music, stole this show! Mnana’s obvious emotional connection between fellow musicians and his piano helped him to sound out images that supported Xonti’s, at times, wailing sax and at other times, his softer improvisations. Xonti doesn’t ‘do’ smooth jazz or Standards. He believes in giving his musicians space to play their own compositions as well as his own. Just listen to percussionist Tlale Makhene at the finale with Mnana’s chants…. It’s like a send-off to another joyous world! Pure unadulterated improvisation!

Black Lives Matter themes

One of the most powerful messaging about contemporary (and past) issues of racism came with Making Grace Amazing, a mix of film, music, and performance art portraying slave histories. This engaging 30 minute visual is curated by Neo Muyanga, a musician and installation artist known to traverse African idiom and voices, Jazz improvisation and new opera. Various impressionistic props are shown to depict a slaver’s ship – with sounds of water drops, oars rowing, seagulls squawking as a ship enters the harbor; then an artists’ picture of young black descendants of slaves. The ships’ journeys are plotted on a world map; blood red lines between Europe and both Americas; sounds of a steady one note stroke on a cello with clinking of chains, and a trumpet. Black youth march through a huge empty concrete structure and characterless spiraling staircase. Neo’s own vocals are superimposed over the gentle playing of a euphonium and trumpet as the troupe march back and forth. The instruments play the popular gospel song, ‘Amazing Grace’, while the troupe sing another song, walking chained to each other. Angola to Rio. One dramatic scene looks out to the wide ocean, then a photo is superimposed of the inside of a Christian cathedral with Christ on the cross at its center. A gospel choir sings over the calls of seagulls, again. Opera singer, Tina Mene, and the Brazilian multidisciplinary troupe, Legitima Defesa, exquisitely map out challenges to contemporary racism, sexism and class in societies of today.

With vocalist/rapper, J’Something and three horns, Mi Casa has stormed South African audiences with their urban house band boasting lively dance beats and important lyrics. Black Lives Matter chants and messages were delivered seriously and in timely fashion, considering the issues of the day.

East Londoner violinist and vocalist, Siseko Pame, delivered important social justice messages: When he picked up his violin with a soulful and impulsive energy, one could understand why gender-based and sexual violence, and neglectful attention to human rights issues drove his musical emotions. A 2018 SAMA award winner for Best African Adult Album, Pame shows guts and avoids a silence of complicity. Singing in isiXhosa, along with vocal backups, and a backline, his emotions are convincing as are his facial expressions seen through the close up camera lens, a special feature of this year’s video recordings at NAF. Truly a front row seat! Pame confirms today’s difficulties, and urges all to stop spreading the Covid-19 virus, as in his song “Prayer Works for Me”. His tribute to Jabu Khanyile’s popular song “Mmalo We’, a danceable and melodious hit, offered a reminder of other songbirds, like Vusi Mahlesela.

KoraX, led by vocalist, guitarist, and flutist, Bongani Tulwana, another melodically gifted band, messaged joy and hope in these uncertain times. Few jazz musicians play flute, or at least feature the flute as a prime instrument. Just when I get excited with a lovely flute (my bias) ballad introduction on a song about hope, Tulwana switches to acoustic guitar. But that’s OK….His music stresses harmony and story telling with a gentility and empathy for those stressed and challenged with life. His facial expressions, again thanks to up close camera shots, confirms these emotions about others’ sufferings. One hears the styles of the late Zim Ngqawana, and the very prominent Feya Faku, with whom ‘KoraX’ Tulwana has performed, and such influences have certainly rubbed off on him, creating his own sound that moves and endears.

Vinnie Mak, aka Xola Vincent Makeleni from Gauteng, is a soul and blues singer from an early age. His powerful vocals are full of emotion, with chilling wails and cries dramatically captured on his sometimes contorted face and body. Limping along through his set, Mak hustles his husky voice into convincing refrains of sadness, guilt, and abandonment. After 18 minutes of this set, it became hard to listen to….as the pain and anguish seemed all too real.


As part of the Eastern Cape Jazz Showcase series, vocalist Vuyolwethu Nyangwa approaches her music with zest and pride in delivering Ubuntu messages in keeping with her traditional African identity. Her performance was convincing and spirited, her deep broad voice chanting, bemoaning, and emoting in moving ways. Camera closeup shots effectively showed the determined facial responses of her band members, full of feeling. It’s not just the instrumental music, but the dance and body movements and storytelling that round out the sound and message.

Another offering in the Eastern Cape Jazz Showcase is bassist Mlungisi Gegana who features a just-met young pianist, Chester Summerton, and drummer, Thulani Funeka. Playing from his second album, I am Who Am I, this self-made bassist proudly exhibited confidence and mellowness in his songs without overreactions or too many subtleties. Basically, a very pleasant listenable set full of rhythms and melodies.

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Couch festival? Digital watching ‘live’ jazz, dance, curated theatrical videos? What? Fans of South Africa’s annual National Arts Festival (June 25 – July 5, 2020) might have given up on this year’s ‘festival’, brought digitally to our homes by COVID-19 sponsorship. COVID is saying: think creatively, out of the ‘norm’, see and react differently when emotions, anxieties, and uncertainties take over self-worth. Same for the Arts. Watching a variety of offerings this June/July, with an eagerness to figure out ‘how did they do that’ or find a particular awe in the lighting effects accompanying a dancing figure, I resolved to just let it happen….and this is what I discovered!

(Inspite of the streaming issues which the NAF techies had to iron out fast, which plagued viewers like myself from the start of the Festival presentations.)

Did I need the social solidarity of festival crowds whistling their appreciation? Or rubbing shoulders with the artists during a break, or rushing to an event with ticket since it was a once-off viewing? Digital viewing on a television or computer screen certainly didn’t provide these, but did surprise with other advantages:
* That camera close-up capturing the emotion on that pianist’s face when soloing, or how those bandaged fingers of the double bassist didn’t alter delivery;
* Being able to get up and dance to a performance, even spilling the popcorn far and wide, and not worry about kicking the seat in front of you;
* Viewing a performance after it went live, in case you missed it because you took an important phone call about a sick aunty in Mpumalanga (tickets allow viewing anytime up to July 16)
* Seeing LOCAL and highly talented South African artist’s creativity spread worldwide, thanks to wobbly w.w. streaming, and knowing cousin John and family in New York are also watching.
* Listening to stories of South African life and seeing hills and valleys and homes and people working and enjoying cultural ceremonies and…..
* Being moved by the mixed media: using music, photographs, video tapes of movements and interviews, and interesting lighting effects – all brought interesting angles to stories or musical pieces otherwise hard to pull off at a live gathering.

So, here’s what made me very content with this digital festive wizardry…and what I highly recommend for viewing (up to July 16). Let’s start with…. JAZZ REIMAGINED…brought to us by the Standard Bank Jazz Festival of NAF….

Sisonke Xonti (sax) & Shane Cooper (bass)

Tenor saxophonist, Sisonke Xonti, the 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, shines with delight with his debut album, Iyonde. After a solemn beginning, Xonti’s performance with his seasoned band of close friends jumped into the core of improvisation with pomp, clarity, and purpose. ’15 Sandile Str’ song displayed his compositional skills, also mastered by Shane Cooper’s double bass solo and Keenan Ahrends’ guitar. Xonti’s rise to jazz heights has been tempered by study, exploration, and determination to find identity and joy in music. He allowed his fellow musicians freedom to interpret, as could be heard with Ahrends’ soulful guitar solos. Watch Xonti’s exquisite solo around minute 40 of the video. Vocals by Keorapetse Kolwane take the listener on another journey; hers is crisp, steady, hitting her notes exactly. The perfect piano accompaniment of Bokani Dyer, with shades of the late, great Bheki Mseleku whose style has influenced these band members, reigned throughout. We await Xonti’s next album for sure.

Ibrahim Khalil Shihab (left) with Ramon Alexander

Pianist Ramon Alexander’s quartet with Byron Abrahams on tenor and alto saxes, Valentino Europa on bass, and Annemie Nel on drums took us on a very pleasant sonic journey through Alexander’s beautiful compositions with lilting harmonies complemented with Cape Ghoema rhythms, soulful balads, and thoughtful nuances of Cape Jazz.

Alexander offered tributes to his late brother, to his active mentor and musical guru of Cape Jazz, Ibrahim Khalil Shihab, and to several other late Cape jazz musicians, including saxophonist Robbie Jansen. His compositions spoke history and touched notably on local influences, funk, gospel, and bluesy elements. Abrams and Alexander each soloed effortlessly, diligently supported by the whispy drums of long-time collaborator, Annemie Nel, knowing full well they could capture any audience to join their rocks and swings anywhere.

Zango (left) with Mashiloane (right)

South Africa meets Mozambique presented a stunning duo between Durban-based pianist, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, and multi-instrumentalist Mozambiquan Cândido Salomão Zango, (aka ‘Matchume’), known for perfecting the style of the Timbila, a marimba-style instrument. Mashiloane’s body becomes a barefoot ankle shaker tapping on his ancestral spirits who, by the way, are listening. The performance consisted of a pre-recorded video of each artist telling their stories of growing up within cultures which they found seemingly similar. They then shared those sonic commonalities – and here’s when you could get off your couch and stomp with them. A gem of a performance!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Linda-Sikhakhane-SBYJF-2018-scaled.jpg

LINDA SIKHAKHANE’S ISAMBULO (revelation) performance was a highlight of this festival that showcased just what solid hard work and collegial friendships can produce. Young Umlazi-born Sikhakhane, playing soprano and tenor saxophones, with a tight band of loyal musicians, delivered emotion, surprise, and rich texture in his compositions. It was breathtaking, thanks to Ndabo Zulu on trumpet, the fiery Afrika Mkhize on piano, the thoughtful Benjamin Jephta on double bass, the energetic Sphelelo Mazibuko on drums, and the steady Gontse Makhene on percussion.

In the introductory song, ‘Cause of Life’, Sikhakhane expertly controlled his soprano sax’s long notes with a calming vibrato that did not sound like wailing. Then, the energy erupted with drummer Mazibuko’s aggressive style and pianist Mkhize at one point jumping off his seat with cataclysmic runs. The percussionist Makhene slowed things down to end the piece. What an introduction, followed by a melodic song with Sikhakhane on tenor sax accompanied by trumpeter Zulu holding the sonic reigns. Bandaged fingers didn’t stop bassist Jephta from delivering some soulful solos, further supported by the rich togetherness from the sax and trumpet duo. Sikhakhane understands what improvisation is all about, even admitting that during the time of COVID, one must improvise and be flexible with one’s life and purpose, while faced down by the vagaries of pandemics. The last song, written for the band’s name, ISAMBULO, which means ‘revelation’, revealed each musicians’ talent for mastery, insightfulness to sound and feeling, and general all-round enthusiasm to deliver the best. I’m going to watch this concert again!

van Wyk (left), Motuba (center), Mogorosi (right)

One of the most moving and conceptual projects in the NAF’s jazz offerings is The Wretched, a sonic interpretation of the psychologist and revolutionary intellectual, Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. Jazz vocalist Gabi Motuba along with drummer and scholar Tumi Mogorosi and avant-garde sound-scape artist Andrei van Wyk take the listener on a roller coaster sound journey, with an interesting mix of voice overs and spoken word muffles of historical contexts between the oppressed and the oppressor. Electronica leads this performance thanks to van Wyk’s psychedelic interventions with haunting rumbles, whines, choral wails, and politicians’ quotes made inarticulate, if not inconsequential. Any resultant cacophony is understandable. It’s about injustice. Focusing on the paintings of ‘the wretched’, enslaved, infringed humans – in crowds and as portraits – elicited sad, if not angered, emotions in the viewer. One remembers Franz Fanon’s own words: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” This performance was mostly engaging for its chilling revolutionary energy that the wretched of the earth will rise and find justice. On the technical delivery side, however, some spoken narratives were recorded way too faintly requiring increasing the computer’s volume considerably. When the instruments accompanied, the spoken word became drowned out. Yet, this unsettling performance masterfully portrayed Fanon’s own sense that neglect of the past follows into contemporary themes: ”This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.”

If you’ve arrived ‘late’ to the Festival, you can still catch a live webinar this Saturday, 4 July, at 8PM with Moderator, Dean Flanagan, who zooms in with Sisonke Xonti, Michael Bester, Lana Crowster, and J-Something. Click on this URL to join.

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Jazz from Denmark, China, Ivory Coast, Korea and U.S. Speak diversity: CD Reviews

on the tender spot of every calloused moment by Ambrose Akinmusire (2020)

A timely release by Blue Note Records, considering the racial unrest that has exploded visibly world-wide, American jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire voices complexities of black life in America, unpacking it and breathing through his trumpet some beautiful, shape-shifting art to the ear. This album is a stunner, boasting 11 new original compositions on this, his fifth Blue Note album. It unpacks the feelings of ‘otherness’ in a racially distraught America , but, unlike the seething emotions that underlie his previous albums, this one simmers as he examines the past “with pondering eyes and not a furrowed brow”. This is a study of blues in a contemporary context, with songs that celebrate while admitting defeats, as in ‘Reset’, and the chilling ‘Blues’ and ‘Hooded procession’ which ends the album with a depiction of names of those who have suffered from racial injustices. Released as a CD in May 2020, the album will be available on digital platforms and on vinyl in August 2020. Hear some tracks on Spotify.

Peace in the World (2020) with Guo Gan (China) & Aly Keita (Ivory Coast)

This album is a gem. Well-known Guo Gan, thought to be the ‘grand Master’of the Chinese Erhu (a two stringed instrument), had studied in France in the early 2000s obtaining his Master’s degree from the National Music School of Fresnes in Paris. Recognized world over, he has performed with key orchestras, and casts his “sonic perfume” on classical music, jazz, ballet, opera, and contemporary soundtracks. Teamed up with Aly Keita from Ivory Coast, a seasoned player of the West African balafon, a musical ancestor of the xylophone and marimba, the melodic and dreamy sounds, soft and contemplative, will enthral and spin the listener into peaceful depths which the world needs now. Keita uses different sized calabash resonators to produce special sounds. Both Guo Gan and Aly Keita learned their instruments from their fathers. The Keita family practiced the griot profession (an art of storytelling) through their balafons and singing.
Peace in the World, first issued in 2016 is re-issued now for obvious reasons. It’s sure to help pacify the otherwise stressful social and political upheavals emerging in this infamous year of 2020. The album is released by Felway Records, Italy.

Racing A Butterfly (2020) by Anne Mette Iversen Quartet +1

Danish bassist/composer/bandleader Anne Mette Iversen had a touching encounter with a butterfly while jogging in southern France. “It was the fun, the enjoyment, the playfulness and lightness that was so beautiful and which nature displayed so naturally, that made me feel that I really ought to celebrate those sides of life more than I have previously done in my music.” A New Yorker since 1998, her well-established band of John Ellis (tenor saxophone), Peter Dahlgren (trombone), Danny Grissett (piano), and Otis Brown III (drums & cymbals) playfully maneuver themes always tilting toward that flitting butterfly, gently and melodically. The horns mesmerize with their chats, faithful to the composer’s wishes, sometimes exchanging opposite runs, sometimes joining in “parallel flying” along with this silent insect. This album will mellow, soothe, and even amuse. Just listen to the butterfly’s silence!

Iversen has eleven recordings available as a bandleader, including one as composer and artistic director for the Norrbotten Big Band with whom she served as Composer in Residence in 2016. She tours regularly in Europe and the U.S., and is active with the musician’s organization, Brooklyn Jazz Underground, in New York, also the name of her recording label which has released this album. Check Spotify and muse with Iversen’s butterfly!

Lion’s Den III: Arium by South Korean Rhy Dongju (2020)

Growing up in South Korea with a classical pianist mother, Dongju moved his ear and musical awareness from classical to traditional Korean to contemporary performance art to different genres of jazz, rock, blues, and World. His guitar training took hold, as did many opportunities to travel, compose, join orchestras, and hone his own styles which cross cultural, racial, and religious borders.

He started Lions Den Records to do just that, Arium being his third album on the label. His compositions depict personalities and art forms, such as ‘Picasso’, then rocking in ‘Elvis’, and a dramatic ‘Rachmaninoff’ with a bit of orchestral samba lift-off. As he says about his Label, “We promote different styles of music (Progressive, Contemporary, Classical, Jazz, Rock/Metal and World Music) with over 30,000 radio stations and more than 2,000 music magazines, reviewers, DJs and internet radio station / potcasts through our contact network system.” Ambitious as young Dungju is, he’s definitely someone to watch. Listen to track excerpts from:

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Latest jazz albums for your Lockdown walks

Listen to some hearty jazzy funk and blues, if you’re down with the COVID lock, and find joy in spotifying or youtubing a few of these artists, local and worldwide. All Jazz Radio receives loads of albums sent for broadcasting, so here are a few briefly reviewed for your tastes – some Japanese, Croatian sentiments, choral harmonies, South Africans crossing African boundaries…. Don’t get locked down!!

Don Laka PASSION (2020)
Away from making music for some 8 years, jazz pianist Don Laka is back with his album, Passion, which is filled with rhythm and melody. At age 60, it’s like a new turn for Laka’s creative bent, reflecting on nostalgias of old, soft and thoughtful, like in “Passion”, along with a contemporary smooth style in newer materials, like in “Take My Hand, I Will Walk With You”. Laka has let his South African rhythms spill out in the ghoema-styled “Domans Dance” and jivey sounds in “Thula Mabota”. You might find yourself dancing by the seaside on this one, during your Lockdown walks!!
[Buy on Raru: ]

Shunzo Ohno RUNNER (2020)
Renowned Japanese trumpeter and composer, Shunzo Ohno’s 18th album as leader promises orchestral-like delights within a short 30 minutes. His four piece “Epic” uses trumpet, clarinet, and cello which paints dramatic moods and soft colourful visions of universality. This is followed by a stunning title track with electronic guitar, two bassists, drums, and clavinet as an ode to the perseverance of marathon runners. The final piece sounds out a duo of trumpet and bassoon – all unusual configurations for a jazz album.

Ohno is no stranger to collaborations with key American jazz musicians from the 1970s, and brings to this album colourful musical landscapes. Because of his own bout with physical damage to lips and a throat cancer that left him having to improvise ways to play trumpet, a documentary was made about is journey, Never Defeated: The Shunzo Ohno Story , available on YouTube. When the 2011Tohoku Earthquake devastated Northern Japan, Ohno focused on helping to revive music programs for children affected. His story and music reeks of perseverance we all need to get us through this present pandemic.

Thana Alexa ONA (2020
This self-produced album expresses what it means to be a woman. Croatian-American Thana Alexa discovers the wild woman spirit in her and tells us how she sets it free. “Ona” means “she” in Alexa’s native Croatian tongue and that title track begins the album with choral chanting, drumming and foot stomping that feel primordial and real. Her lyrics are carefully logical and assertive; some spoken, some sung, all bellowed with convincing honesty. Her contralto voice is persuasive, aggressive, determined, with powerful political messages in “The Resistance” , suggesting we revolutionize our minds, and then rise up in the dramatic “Pachamama” featuring violinist Regina Carter. Thirteen vocalists feature on the various songs, along with guitar, piano, bass and drums, the latter played by her multi-Grammy husband, Antonio Sanchez. Her musical moods rarely settle down because the subject matter is serious. Her interesting vocalizing in “Teardrop” explodes with a spirt of twangy electric guitar blues that repeats that assertiveness. The album ends with a satirical resolve in having fought the worthy battle to gain that freedom so elusive in “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. The control and tightness of musical output is impressive and nothing short of bold as Alexa uncovers the truth of life. Watch her YouTube videos looping her vocals with multiple Grammy-awardee drummer husband, Antonio Sanchez.

Simphiwe Dana  BAMAKO

Here is a gem for some jazzy swing, pop, choral chanting, and joyful lyrics.  Like with Thana Alexa’s female chorus, South African Simphiwe Dana has crafted songs that carry conversations, often witty as in “Bye Bye Naughty Baby”.  Soft beats from West Africa with cora runs soothe the soul with Bamako vocal inflections in “Masibambaneni” between a male and several women vocalists.  Here, Dana has crossed African sonic borders.  Her album starts with “Usikhonzile” which sets a stage of gentle, chatty messaging which thematically runs throughout.  Rhythmic lulls with lullabies hum about Dana’s own convictions as she stereophonically massages the listener’s ears and heart. 

Dana’s intended exit from the music industry bodes sadness for fans who will find solace in this, Dana’s last recorded album.  She says her popular single, “Uzokhala”, is exactly what the doctor ordered in these depressing Covid-19 times.  As a single mother, Dana will look for other outlets that treat talents better than musicians are treated, she is reported as lamenting.  Catch this album fast for its delightfully melodic, if not melodramically lyrical, resonance with Xhosa and West African musical styles.  Bamako is sure to give ear and mind health during these strange Corona virus lockdown protocols.

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Singer Maya Spector Knows the Honey and the Heartache: A CD Review

Need soothing sounds during a Lockdown walk by the sea? Or a lullaby during visual contemplation on a red apple? Maybe you’re considering distancing (and not socially this time) from a relationship that hurts. Or just turning off all radios and TVs and listening to your soul sing through someone else’s pulses. Honey & Heartache just might be for you.

This debut album by Capetownian singer and song-writer, Maya Spector, will resurrect memories of a poignant experience you once had with someone, or just remind you about the quirky randomness of life.

Spector voices experience with life’s challenges, having grown up with rich international opportunities for wide travels and country residences, thanks to her American diplomat father and musically endowed Capetownian mother. Spector mingles Jazz with Soul, if such labels can be adequately justified, and tells her stories, sometimes intimately, about loves and painful separations. Her earlier hit single, “Eyes for You”, made waves among fans, hinting at more heart-throbbing songs to come on this album.

And heart-felt they are, thanks to Spector’s glassy clear vocals and careful pitch that doesn’t pierce, but rather convinces one that her stories are true. Hers is a pleasant duo of engaging melody with emotive lyrics that feel, search for, and exude pain and resolve, all carefully controlled by sometimes happy, sometimes sassy, sometimes bluesy inflections in her voicings.

Her official video entices. Like the album, it pulls you into her light-heartedness with a mellow swing and then moves into darker passages as her voice makes melancholic pitches, straining to hold back tears.

As the album reaches ïts middle with “Anchors Away”, she queries: Do I stay or go? Am I loosing love and drifting? What is the sky saying? I’m floating. Then, a “Bittersweet” goodby. One hears trumpeter, Tumi Pheko, wail in the breakup. The album ends with a formidable vocalizing of the popular South African lullaby, “Thula Baba”, based on the children’s story, “Goodnight Moon”, which seems to resolve Spector’s quest for who she is.

Band members are well known session artists from Cape Town’s music arena. Graham Ward (worked with Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, and Ray Charles, among others) on drums and percussion proudly did the digital mixing through his Wardwide Music. The young pianist Nobuhle Ashanti and versatile bassist/pianist Nick Williams take turns at keyboard, with Williams mostly on bass. The rare appearance of master teacher and Cape guitarist, Alvin Dyer, is welcomed, although not obvious on the songs as Spector and her own backup vocals carry this album’s weight.

As a global citizen, Spector has also performed in musical theatre, with notable performances in ‘Langarm’, ‘Rent!’, ‘The Silence of the Music’, ‘The Man of La Mancha’, ‘Jimbo’ and ‘My Fair Lady’. Her lyricist talents certainly developed there, as did her exposure to other political and cultural societies in Asia, the United States, and in South Africa.

Her catchy, sing-along tunes will linger on after a seaside walk.  Tune up to her album release soon on the various digital music platforms.  You won’t regret one second of sound!

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Kristjan Randalu and Dave Liebman Revisit Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: CD Review

Fans of classical/jazz fusions, who also might like Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, will love this album. Remember his Pictures at an Exhibition , written in 1874 for artist and architect, Victor Hartmann, who died a year before? Or, if not a fan, but an enthusiast of interpretive music, the listener will experience the sonically versatile choreography of two masterful musicians reshaping Mussorgsky’s piece. Estonian-born pianist Kristjan Randalu, and American soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman of jazz note, plunge unabashedly into musical theatrics. Imagine these two wandering at night through an empty gallery, aurally revisiting and rebrushing the works of art with sound textures and discordant and harmonic rhythms according to the light changes cast on the pictures.

Mussorgsky Pictures Revisited, released recently by Budapest Music Center Records (BMC), offers reworked gems of Mussorgsky’s originals, while holding true to his stories. Five ‘Promenades’ with different key scales are interspersed to provide a continuity of themes, while breaking up the moods and lyrical textures of the musical interpretation. Slow, methodic and careful styles feature in the first five tracks of this duo’s exploits, but in the sixth track, ‘Les Tuileries’ (Parisian gardens), melodies become abstract with a wandering piano, punctuated by a free improvisation of the saxophone. While a bit chaotic amidst a social order, this sets the tone for the rest of the album. Imagine viewing pictures of characters and scenes in Paris depicting life, fantasy, ballet, Parisian catacombs, castles, and competitive women at the market.

Then, gentility enters. Liebman pitches his soprano sax high enough to sound like a lilting medieval wooden flute as in ‘Promenade IV’ after which the sax morphs into a frantic and amusing self-explanatory run in “Ballet of the Unhatched Chickens’. Where did that come from, one wonders? Keeping to the Parisian bustles, the duo sonically paints women hustling in the market for gains in ‘Limoges – The Market’, and a solemn visit to the catacombs casts a dark lighting change in ‘Catracombae’. The album ends with one of the longer pieces, ‘The Heroic Gate’, depicting victory, finality, even relief. The music has burst out of the frames.

The 42 year old Randalu , known to break some rules, but with humble precision, hails as one of Europe’s stellar talents of improvisation, and boasts various awards: Jazz Album of the Year at the 2012 Estonian Music Awards, the 2007 Jazz Award of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the 2014 Music Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia, and the 2020 National Culture Prize in Estonia.

Liebman, well known in improv circles for some five decades, starting in the 1970s with various bands including Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, has built his career around teaching, writing, composing, and performing. His autobiography, What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist, covers his fascinating career, which also includes founding and acting as the Artistic Director of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) existing since 1989.

The stylistic genius of this duo makes this album undeniably a collector’s item.

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Nduduzo Makhatini joins Blue Note Label album and thrills Saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane

Modes of Communication – Letters from the Under World, soon to be released on 3 April 2020, is probably one of the more unusual offerings by this new Blue Note Label composer, producer, and pianist, Nduduzo Makhathini, who proudly becomes Africa’s and South Africa’s second jazz artist to sign on to this oldest running New York-based American jazz record label.  The first artist was our own Mama Kaap, Sylvia Ncediwe Mdunyelwa who signed on in 1999 under Blue Note South Africa label for EMI Records. 

Having listened to his previous 8 albums, produced in South Africa, I excitedly but delicately tuned my ears, in anticipation for that something ‘new ‘ in sound and tempo. Makhathini had already explained his spiritual purpose in bridging the trans-Atlantic cultural realms of music, and specifically jazz, between African spiritual traditions and the African-American musical experiences.    This purpose had brought him and other South Africans to launch the ‘South African Songbook’ with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra in September of 2019.

This album enraptures. A thoughtfully crafted synchronicity of horns holds together choral harmonies without sounding big band-ish; each horn is allowed an individual freedom to express a song’s theme in solo improvisation. The three saxophones and one trumpet, when playing together, or rather sometimes digitally mixed together, are actually having a conversation, sometimes in 4/6 time; sometimes in a lilting ¾ time. This is when we hear saxophonist, Linda Sikhakhane, on his tenor and soprano saxes with trumpeter, Ndabo Zulu, not far away.

Logan Richardson

They are embellished by the very seasoned American alto saxophonist, Logan Richardson, who claims an impressive list of recordings on the Blue Note Label with other illustrious Grammy awardees, such as Pat Matheny, Max Roach, and a host of post-bop and some newer-age artists.

The young Logan had studied at the New School for Social Research in New York City where much later, in 2019, the young Sikhakhane completed his Bachelors degree in Music, thanks to a SAMRO Overseas scholarship and transfer of his University of KwaZulu Natal credits towards the USA Bachelors.

See him perform at age 22 years before traveling to USA: ( ) which won him his SAMRO scholarship. Now, five years later, Sikhakhane has returned to his South African home to perform and rub off his talents onto his peer masters, as well as reflect and figure out what’s next. Even in 2017 during his studies, he managed to have his debut album, Two Sides One Mirror, produced by Nduduzo Makhatini’s label.

Makhathini’s journey of discovering and composing African ancestral themes means he is taking other young musicians along who have a like-minded spiritual bent on what guides and enables us. Besides Sikhakhane, drummer Ayanda Sikade shines in this album, with fast rhythms in undercurrents that scurry around Makhathini’s lower register piano chords which in themselves sound quite daunting. The opening track, ‘Yehlisan’umoya’ sets the mood, with Makhathini’s wife’s vocals, with calls to the ancestors:

It’s a long journey that we have to walk
Help shine your light
You who live in our dreams
Send us your guiding stars
Open all doors
To relieve us from all sicknesses
And our spirit can reach a hiding place

This happens to be Sikhakhane’s favourite song on the album. The horns have a masterful synergy, thanks to the composition style of Makhathini, in ‘Unyazi’ and ‘Umlotha’. One hears the distinct style of Richardson in the discordant ‘Umyalez’oPhuthumayo’ which matches a restless piano. ‘Úmlotha’(ashes) is one of the most moving pieces on the album which features trumpeter Ndabo Zulu showing his metallic expressions. ‘Beneath the Earth’ features Makhathini’s praise vocals followed by a chorus of wife Omagugu and their three children. Vocalist and co-author, Asanda Msaki , adds feminine texture to this Spirit-calling piece. The album’s notes say that the tune is also based on the musical style amahubo, an art form found in Zulu praise and lament songs, or ‘Zulu hymns’ as it is sometimes described.

Catching up with saxophonist, Linda Sikhakhane , before the album release, we remembered our chats in the then Grahamstown in 2018 when he was performing at the National Arts Festival’s Youth Jazz Festival. His days with that popular jazz education annual retreat go back to 2007 when he was a very young teenager. His ride with music explains his joyful nature.

Linda Sikhakhane at NAF 2018

“My family comes from northern KwaZulu Natal, so the reason I was attracted to the modern Jazz, like the music of John Coltrane, was because our traditional music is parallel to what modern music brings to the table. That’s why the music of Madala Kunene, for instance, is also so relevant to my ears.”

This album is special to the young Sikhakhane; he considers himself very fortunate :

“It really connects America and South Africa, especially to have Logan Richardson from USA play with us. Being on the Blue Note Label is special for us in Africa. It’s time for us to shine. This album is like a bridge for many of us. The whole world can now see what’s happening in South Africa and hear the roots of jazz coming from the likes of our past legends, like Ezra Nqkukana and Bheki Mseleku and many others. We have an important archive with so many important recordings, so we see the afterlife of the music itself as a way of healing through these sonic energies. That’s our contribution to the Blue Note Label, I think.”

And what’s in the future for this young man?

“I was accepted for a Masters program at the New School, but the plan was rather to come back home and figure out how to finance such schooling. It’s a Masters in Arts Management and Entrepreneurship. But since I’ve come back, I need time to reflect on what I’ve achieved so far.”

When the Corona virus safari ends its own journey, Sikhakhane and his peers will be able to get back to financing their art with live concerts. In the meantime, he has been writing film scores with a design company, Pacinamix, which had also assisted him with his New York finances. As a result of his past collaboration with the UK’s Shabaka Hutchings, he was scheduled to perform at a Hutchings-curated music festival in the UK recently. But worldly pursuits for this eager young saxophonist will have to wait for now, but will certainly find their place in a new world after Corona. Just watch!

Download his album, Two Sides One Mirror (2017) at CD Baby and Amazon. It features: Sakhile Simani on trumpet & flugelhorn ,Sanele Phakathi on piano, Nhlanhla Radebe on bass ,Omagugu Makhathini on vocals ,Sphelelo Mazibuko on drums ,El Hadji Ndong on percussion.

Producer : Nduduzo Makhathini
Engineer : Peter Auret & Luyanda Molao
Mastering : Oyvind Die Berg

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Drummer Clement Benny slithers with octopus grace in his debut album By Way of Introduction

Drumming takes skeleton control as homo sapiens moves stiffly, sometimes in contorted ways, to carefully maneuver sounds across the drum set. However, jazz artist, Clement Benny, wants to do it differently, and his debut album, By Way of Introduction, presents his own sound with a fluidity and grace that pleases.

Born and bred in the Eastern Cape, Benny arrived in Cape Town just in time to join the independent music school, MAPP, for several years to obtain an initial musical footing, after which he joined the growing UCT Jazz Studies crowd in the mid 1990s. Exciting times brought Benny in contact with a set of musicians now renowned for their 20 years plus experience in transforming South Africa’s jazz music. Hence, his choice for his album of pianist Hilton Schilder with whom Benny toured Reunion Island, and who remains a vast influence on his life; saxman Buddy Wells whom Benny first met through a music competition in 1997 and whom he continued to play with through UCT study days. Others on the album, double bassist Dave Ridgeway and guitarist Allou April were all emerging dons during that early era. His studies under Cuban percussionist, Efrain Toro at UCT, sustained his undying thirst to learn more and more about the drumming craft. Very humbly, Benny admits this as his future mission… to keep on learning.

We talked more deeply about his musical vision and his album.

CM: You’ve got 9 tracks on your album with interesting mixtures: some ghoema, some mainstream be-bop, lovely ballads, some lamentations, a little bit of minor keys. What‘s the album all about?

CB: I’m not much of a composer, but I’ve worked with these young composers at the forefront of what jazz is about. And also with Khaya Mahlangu and Africa Mkize – these incredible musicians. But I didn’t want this to sound like a drummer’s album, because I’m still busy practicing. I’m glad I did the last track on the album, ‘Drum Speak’, as you will hear my solo with me falling over my own self and making ‘mistakes’, although Miles Davis said there is nothing like a mistake in jazz! The nice part of the album was that the tracks were all recorded basically live in studio and once. My band members were simply happy with the spontaneity of our collaboration and sound. The only edited track was the Spoken Word one, ‘There I Were’, which featured an amazing influence in my life, the Reverend Robert Steiner whom I had met in my favourite sports bar, and he became my good friend. He being part Italian, I asked him to write me a poem about what it means to become a God. That’s what that song is about – There I Were – which is also a play on words leading to the title of my album, By Way of Introduction, where I’m introducing myself as a digital debutante!

CM: That Track, ‘There I Were’ …. it sounds like a lamentation, it’s sort of funereal, yet sounds celebratory in a melodic sort of way.

CB: Well, it’s a bit of intellectual music because it’s inside me, and we hear music in beats of 3s as waltzes, and in beats of 4, and then the counterpoint between the bass and the sax searching for the beginning of this song. I didn’t mean the song to be confusing, but I trusted the band would find a solution. And if you meet the Reverend Steiner, you will find him a very relaxed, approachable man. He’s very serious about being the best version of oneself.

CM: Yes, it’s a very moving piece. I also found your album cover rather intriguing with a drummer, arms flying about, but in the shape of an octopus. And then a written form “@seven of nine”. What was that all about?

CB: The seventh daughter of nine refers to a character on Star Trek, and I thought a name like “Seven of Nine” was an unusual way to call someone. And then, when I was studying with Efrain Toro, he made reference to the 9 colours of the rainbow, that we can only see seven primary colours, but not the other two. He told me a rhythm is only up to 9 beats and homo sapiens really doesn’t function beyond that, just as we have 88 keys on the piano, but we actually only consciously hear two. This is how playing divisions of 7 inside a metre of 9 becomes actually 7 bars. So to me, it’s really an intellectual reference to how I came up with the Seven in Nine on the album cover. Again, a play on words….a bit of math… At a time when musicians talk about technical terms like ‘reharmonization’ and ‘modulations’ and ‘inversions’ ….. For me on drums, I can understand the 7 of 9 rhythms where musicians on other instruments may not know these rhythms. It’s like your body rhythms are ordered, are like the planets: they don’t crash into each other, but rather carry a rhythm!

CM: (chuckle)…..OK! You’ve also got on your album cover an octopus figure. I’m beginning to see between your Seven of Nine and having been influenced by Star Trek, maybe there’s an octopus message in all of this! It’s an interesting design but what were you thinking? What reference does it have to your music?

CB: I remember as a kid walking on the beach in East London on very jagged rocks, and I’d see a little octopus in the water, then it would just disappear before I could catch it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animal move that gracefully and when you see it in water, it’s like watching a beautiful ballet, a beautiful dance, so serene. I was thinking of how can I sit at the drum set, thinking of that slithering octopus, and try to get my bones, my skeleton, more liquid. I mean an octopus doesn’t have a skeleton like ours, does it? Yet it holds itself together. I was imagining how to move, to be more liquid, more fluid, and graceful behind the drum set. When I approached my dear friend, Terence Visagie…… He knew I was a Salvador Dali fan. I told him I needed something abstract and silly with a poignant message. That we should all try to move like that.

Clement Benny-courtesy Milestone Studios

CM: So Terence did the design of the cover?
CB: Yes. I told him I wanted it to be very colourful, with purple and orange to be the theme, with an octopus playing the drum set. You take a drummer like Virgil Donati who plays like an octopus. At the end of the day, and after watching a lot of YouTubes of musicians, you have to find who you are and explore, is it enough what you’re doing. There are ten year old kids who are playing drums more than I could ever imagine of myself. So I have to have that feeling that I’m OK, and that I have to do what I have to do. And always learn more.

CM: You’ve summed up the temperament of this album with this liquidity, this graceful serene dancing. It certainly comes through when you’re drumming. In fact, I was amazed, from a sound standpoint, at how subdued your drumming was. It makes sense now, because of the flowing melodic nature of the songs in the album. Anything else about the album? Any other album to come out in the near future?

CB: You know that I’m a reluctant band leader, so am not hopeful about having another album out soon. To be honest, there was a group of people who approached me to help fund an album, but I must calculate what that means. I’m still having a debt to pay off for this present album which is why I haven’t gone out to make hard copies of it yet. So money is playing a big role. But I also think the next album I would want to do would be more of a concert album.

CM: You mean an album recorded in a live concert?

CB: I’m talking personnel, configuration, orchestration. I’m also thinking of how the drum set could be presented in a more musically creative way. I remember walking into one of my first classes with Efrain Toro and playing what I thought were complex, four way Cuban rhythms for him. And he says, but where’s the gravity? What brings everything you’re playing back to the center, back to its core? I really didn’t know the answer, and so ….. Well, I love playing music and whatever people want to hear. But, I do gravitate away from that music where the drum set is there to be just a wall paper, I suppose.

CM: Yes, well, that was certainly fulfilled in your Tune Recreation Committee work , and in Marcus Wyatt’s Language 12, and very differently in Abraham Mennen’s album, ‘The…..Story’….

CB: I remember what a privilege it was to play at the then Mahogany Room in Cape Town with these incredible young guys, like Mandla Mlangeni and Nicolas Williams, and others. How fortunate I was to be able to play with musicians as old as my Dad and as young as my son! Those days! In my next project, it’s still a mixed secret for me to unravel, but that will come if I keep studying, and practicing and be open to learning from others. And then the next idea makes up your mind for you.

CM: As you say, you allow your bones to wrap around that fluidity, in that caring environment, or spirit, to help you produce what you should be producing; what comes from within, from your talents. This album is a nice beginning.

CB: One thing I would like to change about my approach is to work more with commercial musicians. I wonder, can I do pop work now? I grew up playing pop /funk music, and didn’t really know what ‘jazz’ was until I met these other jazz musicians, like Errol Dyers, Fred Kuit, other musicians at UCT jazz studies. Then listening to Coltrane and Monk and others. But still, there’s so much to learn, even on my principal instrument!

CM: Where do we buy your album?
CB: Streaming on line. I haven’t made hard copies. You can find the album on Spotify, Apple Music, and You Tube.

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Bassist Sean Sanby’s steps out of the candlelight into creative spaces: an album review

As viral clouds permeate our unsuspecting Sapien world, a sonic light of hope shines into our being. Bassist Sean Sanby wants us to realise our own potentials in his ambitious debut album, Out of the Candlelight.

“Most of the songs were written in high school, like in ‘Take Me Somewhere’, and during and after College,” he says during our chat.

“I had just gotten my driver’s license and was studying for those stressful exams; I just wanted to escape to somewhere, even though Cape Town where I come from is such a beautiful place. You know, in High School you rise in the food chain, but then when you enter College, you get knocked down to the bottom of that food chain and have to make your way up again. Like being thrown into the deep end, and needing to go somewhere…”

This song certainly took this listener off into ghoema beats and Moses Molelekwa influences. It appropriately ends this story-filled album.

After graduating from the University of Cape Town School of Music in jazz studies, and touring a bit with his band, even venturing to China for an 18 month tour with Matilda the Musical, Sanby became excited to find an explosion of original music in Cape Town among his peers. It was time to crack open his many compositions for public consumption. His sound is influenced not only by the great pianists, Molelekwa as well as Bheki Mseleku, but by Sanby’s childhood romps around South Africa with his family, camping as ‘Starscrapers’, a song describing a fairy-like twinkling of stars in open spaces. Other influences touched Sanby as he performed in various festivals like Italy’s Achevia Jazz Festival where he wrote ‘Letters Home’, a slow, whimsical nostalgia of missing home. This piece, as well as ‘Take Me Somewhere’, showcases the close synergy between Muneeb Hermans’ trumpet and Jesse Jullies’ tenor saxophone, both swinging with Cape rhythms and styles.

Other young musicians featured on the album have their time to shine: Bradley Prince on guitar, Brathew van Schalkwyk on piano as in ‘Give Me Time’, and Damian Kamineth on drums. They all grew up with Sanby as a Cape brotherhood that has allowed for collaborative experimentation over the years as they share their musical thoughts. “Dreamers” which enters half way in the album opens a waltzy dreamy temperament as the musicians dream up big ideas that might happen. Sanby believes in dreams; it’s part of pursuing that light of progress from the candlelight. “Rise and Fall” seems to give space to the musicians who effectively take turns at exploring that timidity that comes from moving in and out of sonic opportunities. A well-composed piece.

He gives about equal play time on the electric and acoustic bass. “I prefer to play acoustic bass on those African-inspired songs, like ‘Out of the Candlelight’, ‘Letters Home’, and ‘Take me Somewhere’. The acoustic bass has that natural sound, a wooden, weighted African sound and feel to it. The electric bass is more agile and allows me to paint more colours. You can get away with a lot more.” For instance, there was more chordal playing in ‘Starscrapers’ which, he felt, was not suitable for the double bass.

“I find it’s fun to adapt songs to either the double bass or electric bass. I sometimes bring to a live gig one of my basses to see how the song might come out differently because the instrument changes the feel and flow of the song. I explore what is the best way for the song to sound.”

The album was recorded and mixed in a few days, and as expected, has a different feel from his live gig launch where drummer Kamineth shows his soft and aggressive approach to the sonic life, as in the bouncy ‘Give Me Time’. Sanby’s upcoming album has songs already plugged in for “a more focused album”, he says. It will include more musicians collaborating, and should be a must-hear for fans wanting more from this spirited group of Cape Town friends.

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Guitarist Michael Bester pulls tension in debut album, Now Not Yet

Bluesy and jazzy guitar moods of Cape Town-based guitarist and composer, Michael Bester, delight the discriminating ears in his debut album released late 2019.

This guitarist, songwriter, composer, arranger and musical director, as well as proud new Dad and frisbee enthusiast, has made Cape Town his home where he cultivates his growing creative bents. After completing Jazz Studies at Cape Town’s UCT School of Music in mid 2000s, Bester took time off to travel and perform in UK, China, and the USA. One hears in the album with its zingy title, “Now, Not Yet”, various influences from these past times as well as a mix-and-match of emotions and separation from family to pursue wider sonic exposures. He calls it ‘tension’.

Michael Bester, guitar; Stephen de Souza bass; live album launch 27 Feb 2020

Hard work pays off. Thanks to winning the 2008 SAMRO Overseas Scholarship for Instrumentalists, Bester could study in New York and perform as a session guitarist. Before that, and now, Bester has recorded and performed with several other bands, like Mango Groove, and with various individual artists at musical festivals, such as with Lira and Loyiso Bala. In 2013 he won a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Award) for Best Film Soundtrack for ‘Semi-Soet’, along with co-composer Andrew Baird.

Creative leanings found a turning point: After completing his Masters Degree in Contemporary Music Performance and Production at the Berklee satellite campus in Valencia, Spain, in 2017, Bester has concentrated on writing and performing on home soil. That year in Valencia changed his game:

This year in Spain had a profound impact on my artistic identity and my
composition process and much of the inspiration for the writing of the
music on the album is thanks to that experience.

The album presents very listenable pieces with mixed ballads, bebop, improvisational chord runs, and contemporary blues. Yet, as the title hints, there is a tension in his compositions that depicts how things are and how they could be, if we could just grasp those things that we are constantly striving to possess or achieve. One hears how Bester might be tempted to swing into a grungy twang and loud rock with his electric guitar, as he has in others’ albums, like in Blake Hellaby’s latest #Not Jazz, but he harnesses that.

I feel that the compositions on the album represent where I am at in my own growth and development. I am equally inspired both by very simple and very complex music, and can find great beauty in both. My goal is to write music that is beautiful and accessible on the surface, but complex underneath.

Talented band musicians on the album are: Zeke le Grange (saxophone), another SAMRO awardee Kingsley Buitendag (piano), the ever steady Stephen de Souza (upright and electric bass), and the beat man himself, Lumanyano “Unity” Mzi on drums. The opening song, “Twenty Four”, gives all musicians a chance to dissect and be heard, followed by two slow thoughtful ballads: the self-explanatory ‘’Until I see you again’’, and ‘’Born Again’’ with lots of guitar conversation in single notes and clear, clean runs from le Grange’s sax. Tempos change as more blues make statements in ‘’R-Train Blues’’, a memory of a bad trip on New York City’s R-Train, with de Souza’s boppish acoustic bass plunk plunks up the scales. ‘’Influence’’ carries Buitendag’s repetitious piano with haunting undercurrents of mood and blues while Bester’s bluesy twanging guitar tells another story. Again, that tension. Breaking up melancholic chords, Bester introduces another mood, slowly and carefully, in ‘’A Different View’’, which bordered on monotony, in high contrast to the punky, almost rock, of the previous song. But this did not distract from the important finales in ‘’Family Matters’’ where the mood picks up with le Grange’s talkative sax, and the bass and drum bebop nicely, keeping pace.

Bester ends his album with ‘’The Way Forward’’, a piece with mood and time changes, in keeping with the album’s title, perhaps, signalling what tension will ride the waves as we continue our search for meaning. All instruments go on high alert with a surprise ending.

This album should go far in alerting us to what stories may come from this talented guitarist in South Africa’s contemporary jazz. It is available for purchase on

Bester features in Luna Paige’s Iluminar production of ‘Her Blues’, a wonderful musical stage story of early African American blues…with a female twist. It was a sold out and popular offering during the 2019 Woordfees festival in Stellenbosch, and in high demand currently for its originality in portraying African American women jazz artists of those early 1900s smoky blues houses.

Her Blues Trio plays on Friday, 28 February 2020 at Stellenbosch’s Drostdy Theatre and in other venues during March, and features vocalist Luna Paige, Simon Orange & Michael Bester on guitar. Tickets at Computicket.

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Pianist Blake Hellaby doesn’t want to cheat the listener with long solos: His #Not Jazz album (2020)

“I play what I feel, not like with formal jazz,” warns pianist Blake Hellaby, as he explains to his album launch audience which packed Cape Town’s Waterfront Radisson Red hotel concert room. Just released album, # Not Jazz, explores its title’s irony about asking listeners to just chill out: “Zone out and chill; just allow the groove of the music to sway you!” We did this night, as we explored what is becoming a ‘Hellaby sound’ of note.

Composer, writer, and producer from Cape Town, Hellaby has diligently navigated through domestic musical idioms with South African bands (Standard Bank Schools Big Band), musicals (King Kong: A Jazz Opera), and festivals (National Arts Youth Jazz Festival), and to international sites (Oslo Jazz Festival, Berlin’s Young Euro Classic Festival). During his youth, playing in church and at community events, he sometimes faced a criticism from schoolmates of playing what they considered less serious soft, ‘smooth’ jazz. His live gig brought smiles and laughter at this reference; yet, the band’s execution of Hellaby’s version of ‘jazz’ awakened listeners to his skillful use of hard core funk, be-bop, grungy blues (thanks to Michael Bester’s guitar solos), and rock, all loosely packaged in a soulful improvisational style which Hellaby is making his own. His album, he notes, is “an attempt to find the fun and lighter side of jazz and instrumental music.”

And that’s the truth – Songs played live or digitally take the listener on Hellaby’s musical journey. The digital album is mostly instrumental, whereas his live performance on Thursday, 30 January, contained vocals, including his singing wife, Leigh-Ann, with whom he cut his debut album in 2016, New Beginnings, and vocalist Jesse Julies. “I wanted to add that contemporary element, to have the lyrics resonate with the pop music.”

In fact, Hellaby cut two digital albums – one instrumental, one with lyrics – and he intentionally mixed the two approaches during the live concert to give variation to what pop-jazz can sound like. Often, album song productions do not match live performances which unearth those sonic vibrations in one’s seat, live concerts risking an overabundance of amplified sound compared to the soft and easy-listening reverberations in a digital album. A sound engineer is challenged if Hellaby wants that easy, chill-out, yet funky sound at a live gig. Again, drums can overpower. Just a reminder.

The story line to the album reveals Hellaby’s playfulness: “A bunch of guys get together from Thursday to Sunday. The songs tease out their late night experiences and move into a chill on Sunday afternoon. “

This is a very listenable album producing a mindful, relaxing chill, particularly suitable for go-slow traffic jams. All the band members stand out: saxophonist Zeke Le Grange, currently studying in USA, shines with consistent clarity of runs and expression, particularly in “S.Y.B. (Shake Your Booty)” as does Ryan Truter’s guitar solo. Michael Bester’s bluesy guitar provides tone, feeling, and sense of purpose as he slides from bop to blues to slow rock. Listen to his twanging “Call-In” gospel blues. Stephen De Souza’s bass guitar and Lumanyano Mzi’s drums keep the various rhythms steady with mellow, yet strong supports. The advantages of digital mixing, as heard on Hellaby’s various keyboards in “Come Over” with organ, piano, and synth improvisations, is that percussion can be controlled. Mzi’s energetic drumming eloquently exhibits his enthusiasm in live performances, but becomes pleasantly subdued in the album, while driving the beats. In this, the album excels for its effective balancing of musicians’ techniques and styles to produce even outputs of melody and message.

Hellaby’s mixing of piano, keyboard, and synthesizer offers sly, whimsical, and bouncy sound journeys, particularly in “Trippy” and “Sunday Chillin“. He starts and ends the album with pleasantly punchy but brief groovy solos, stating his storyline honestly and purposefully. Songs in between speak of emotional conflicts, realisations, and maybe, better clarity, as after a long weekend party. ‘Jazz’ is a chill, a soulful experience that should relax our weary selves in this age of conflicting noise and message so that we can live and love a bit better. Hopefully, the listener will have been changed a bit.

The album is available on these links:



(An interview with AJR Carol Martin)

CM: Explain your sound. You’ve got synths and piano overlays…. And much more.
BH: All piano sounds were coming from my computer. Then I played a piano on top of the computer sounds…. I had connected both keyboards via MIDI into my computer, and assigned them to a patch, so that I could control from my laptop. I have a 500 GIG library of samples patches of sounds on my external hard drive which can give a much better sound than what my keyboards can give. For this live gig project, I wanted to set a tone standard of the sounds I wanted. It’s the smaller things that make a big difference. So I had a synthesizer, Rhodes, organ – all coming from my laptop. It was a practice in coordination!

CM: So you seem to be benefiting from the technology out there while adding your own techniques.
BH: It’s not that I’m trying to do something new, but no one is doing it in South Africa, outside of the pop music. There’s lots of this in pop music in Johannesburg, particularly among the pianists. These musicians are so good at it, they study sound design, and make a lot of money, too. Look at guitarists – they spend so much money on pedals and this and that to get the right sound – but I’m simply inventing, just adding backtracks onto the sound.

CM: It’s an interesting concept, about #Not Jazz.
HB: The Title #Not Jazz doesn’t connote a negativity, but a search for a different sound. Like Reza [Khota] is looking for a physical sound on his guitar. For me, it’s preparing backtracks that give that live feeling, along with real bass and drums. A live performance without those backtracks is empty. If you go see Beyoncé perform, it’s insane – her performance is filled with backtracks…and the fans go wild!  I’m trying to get that overall experience of sound along with the visuals on the big screen.

CM: Some of your songs talk about your childhood and youth growing up with music… A picture of you in your childhood projected on the screen would have been interesting….
BH: I wanted to do this, but ran out of time. I first wanted to make sure my backtracks worked, and the band worked, and that I got the right sound….for the live performance. That took a lot of tweaking.

CM: ‘Jazz’ is a funny term. It conjures up all sorts of ideas and opinions, depending on one’s ethnic and locational background. What aspects of contemporary ‘jazz’ were you trying to avoid?
BH: Three things: First, elongated solos: Do I really want to listen to long drawn out solos after melodic band presentations in a song? A 12 minute solo? Gosh, my drive in town is only 15 minutes! My listening hours are usually when I’m driving, or late at night when everyone has retired for the night. You take someone like Bob James who, on one album, his band’s solos are usually only 16 bars, but the song might take up to 8 minutes. His arrangements are beautiful. I just didn’t want my solos to wander off into something else…like over a 12 minute period. Just too long!

The second thing I wanted to avoid was…..the way I designed the album was to leave you wanting more. Like a bait. Some songs are just introductions and short, so they can be expanded upon in a live concert. Then the third thing was what I learned from Bruno Mars’ album, 24K Magic, which blew me away. It just caught me, it was so cleverly done, and musically capturing. But there were no solos! I don’t watch his videos, but just listen. He’s so alive, his band is like a bunch of Berklee College students! They’re super talented and arrange the songs. It hit me there were no solos in his album. With jazz, we do the intros to the song, then break up into solos. I didn’t want to do that!! I didn’t want to cheat the listener from hearing the whole band, with short solos, and a unity of sound. I felt that the way we are trained as jazz musicians, we get away with reducing a song to a bunch of solos. This is cheating!

CM: So you think there’s too much solo improv……
BH: It’s not the solo per se, but I wanted to put together short snippets like Bob James does. The really good producers, the guys that dive into mixing the albums in pop music, the huge amount of effort they put into this……… So I’m respecting this craft in a completely new way. This has challenged me to arrange songs that bring out a unified band, and not rely on long solos.

CM: I notice that your songs bring out the talents of each musician.
BH: That’s why I wrote everything down that I wanted the musicians to play, so that it would allow for each musician to do short solos.

CM: In telling your story on the album, why did you order the songs as you did?
BH: It’s a story from a Thursday to a Sunday, with a group of friends starting off grooving on a Thursday with “Retro-duction”, which is an old-school R&B sound. Then I moved into “Trippy” which goes from hard core to smooth jazz. I was influenced by one of my favourite songs, “Tonight is the Night” because it has that old-school happy beat. The idea is that on the weekend, the guys have too many drinks and then start to mellow out. Then “High Road” is like moments of change during the night’s activities, then a wake up to “Shake Your Booty” which is also old-school that leads into “Funk Your Life”, again an awakening. The break comes with “2-1” and “Hodge” which gives a transition into Sunday to just chill. Hodge is the official change of mood and is a dedication to bassist Derrick Hodge.

CM: Why Hodge?
BH: I had been transcribing songs to include backtracks for a friend musician, Lwanda Godwana. I had never done anything this hard before. Then I took a look at Hodge’s Dances with Ancestors album and song  which used jazz improvisations that didn’t sound like jazz. There was so much overlaying – double bass, electric bass, and a sub bass, with an overlaying of drums. This was so welcome to hear. I thought, wow, this is what jazz could be. It was a confirmation of the journey I was about to embark on. So I took this technique using a guitar for ambient sounds, then bass pedals adding more ambient sound, and the drums were recorded once. The drums had about 12 effects creating chords and streams coming in and out.

So that transcription started me to do this more and more, not asking what chords were the musicians playing, but what were they doing? Trying to rebuild synthesizers. That’s what I tried to do in my own song “Hodge” with layers – it’s the longest song on the album and the most jazzy track.

CM: So back to the album story…”Searching, Found, Forgetting” is in the middle. What was that all about?
BH: That was written as part of a Suite which is a classical, gospel Suite not yet produced. This particular song came out as a pop song as I was writing. I was feeling poetic at the time. It was dedicated to people who craft, yet are not accepting who they are. We search and think we’ve found what we want. Then we keep searching, forgetting what it is that we are searching for! And this cycle of searching continues, and we still forget what we learnt. That’s why there are overlapping melodies in the song.

Then songs “1-2” and “Hodge” provide a break. That moment goes and we lead into “Come Over” which means come over to the house, like on a Sunday, and let’s party with some smooth grooves. That’s where the album ends with “Sunday Chillin’”. You know, have some jazz on in the background, and that’s the story. That’s it!

CM: So, what’s next in your projects? How are you going to market your ‘Hellaby sound’?
BH: There’s another digital album with more pop lyrics which we did simultaneously. People can buy these on Apple Music, etc.  We are doing videos for marketing to create awareness, but not to make money, yet. One video is for a pop song; another video is for a jazz song. I feel the albums need to create awareness on as many platforms as possible, first, so that listeners are ready for the live gigs. This instrumental album is on line to buy, but I probably won’t print the CD until if we travel and need CDs for marketing. If we can get the videos out on mass media, TV, etc., they will create the awareness we need.

CM: Any teaching? Further studies in the future?
BH: I love teaching, and had one class at UCT last year. I prefer the University level as I can talk to my level. I want to do my Masters and eventually a doctorate so I can lecture. I don’t want to do this for the paper, but to learn more, to push myself more.

CM: What would you study? Who are your musical ‘gurus’?
BH: I want to study jazz piano, particularly George Duke, Kenny Kirkland, and Bob James. Each of them have something I want. Kirkland has that cool, smooth groove, and James is such a cool, calm piano player. I get caught up with my piano playing too much sometimes and rumble on! James plays softly, with so few notes. My favourite pianist here in South Africa has been Bheki Mseleku who’s like an African Joe Sample to me. I’ve only listened to his album, Coming Home. Then there’s Moses Molelekwa……….

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Breaking Bread with peer duo: Keenan Ahrends and Sisonke Xonti

Mankind has always explored ways to bring people (e.g. strangers) together for amusements, discourse, and perhaps wallowing in mystery. From amphitheaters of the early Greeks, to jousts which hurt, to musical bands on a stage with glittering lights and fake smoke jets to wow the audience – all achieve one motive: to make people ‘feel good’ and escape from some horrors of everyday life!

On a more positive note, one could say that ‘breaking bread’ connotes a kinder, more compassionate way of interacting with one’s fellow sapiens, that feeding one another food for nourishing body and mind sustains integrity and societal cohesion.

That happens at a smallish house, at 373 Koeberg Road in Rugby, a suburb of Cape Town: The open plan kitchen becomes the social hub with its fridge packed full of beer and stove top covered with pots full of ‘traditional’ African dishes. That’s for the hungry, at R80 a plate, after the first set of the musical duo of Standard Bank Young Artists guitarist Keenan Ahrends and 2020 awardee saxophonist Sisonke Xondi, both graduates of the University of Cape Town’s School of Music, Jazz Studies.

Both young men played songs from their respective albums: Ahrends Narratives (2017) which is a delightful mix of home-grown Cape ghoema, grungy blues rock, free jazz, and bits of traditional South African music. Xondi’s Iyonde album (2018) presents layers of emotion and discourse about some of his life experiences. Both musicians are featured on each other’s album.

Back to breaking bread… It’s about having the experience. One must pass through this sociable kitchen in order to get to the listening venue, a long oblong space with cushions (no chairs) and one couch for the elders with unbendable knees. It’s a cozy, meditative space that leads to a patio where the ‘stage’ faces more cushion seating. No amplification, strictly acoustic sounds pleasantly passing over heads silently awed by this improvising duo. During the long break between sets, one engages in vibrant conversations, meeting new people, and chatting with the cooks-owners of the venue, all animated with spirits flowing (both liquid and heartfelt) as the DJ plays his choice of vinyls that complement the human vibrations of the evening. I watched the men hosts take our drinks, while the ladies dished out generous plates of samp and beans topped with pulled, roasted brisket of meat, red cabbage and grilled zucchini. Thobile Ndenze, one of the managers of these Sunday evening events, explained how it all worked: food, live acoustic music, informalities, with an intergenerational buzz and relaxed, appreciative patrons – all produces a contagious vibe.

A graduate of the University of Capetown’s College of Music, Ahrends has immersed himself in musical open markets for absorbing jazz expressions, particularly from Norway where he studied at its Academy of Music and collaborated with those artists, and from parts of South Africa through his peer friendships. Similarly, but on a different musical course, Xonti veered from his study of law to pursue jazz more seriously – “musicians seemed to be happier people than lawyers”, he was quoted as saying in one interview.

Xonti was named Standard Bank’s Young Artist in Jazz 2020 and is seen collaborating with various bands both in Cape Town and in Johannesburg where he has spent a long residence. Influenced by John Coltrane and the late South African legend, Ezra Ngcukana, from his home area, Xonti mixes fast, clean improvisational runs with textures of emotions, from wailing to soft slower ballads, carefully adapting to his feel of the now.

I think I made several friends at Breaking Bread, a wonderful venue for intimate house concerts, and the music certainly nourished my weary soul on this Sunday night, making the week ahead sure to succeed.

Stay tuned to Breaking Bread’s Sunday eve activities at:
tel: 079 601 1313;

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Journalist Struan Douglas explains The Story of South African Jazz, Vol 2 (2019): A Book Review

This is a journey through musical histories of South Africa’s eras of social, political, and even spiritual changes. One’s fellow passengers are the musicians as the ride runs through various urban and peri-urban African communities to mega-cities, like Johannesburg with its surrounding mines which absorbed a myriad of African dance and musical expressions from miners. The passengers chat loudly and excitedly, remembering days gone past.

eThekwini-born writer, freelance journalist, and musician Struan Douglas

This Volume 2 of journalist Struan Douglas’ three book series entitled “The Story of South African Jazz”, self-published by his website, takes us on a slightly different wagon train: It’s not just about Douglas’s own personal interviews with musicians and arts promoters, found also in Volume 1; Volume 2 has musicians talking about other musicians, eras, and influences. These include memorable and humourous experiences at joint gigs, having to defy the Apartheid police enforcing the Group Areas Act as musicians dodged road blocks on their way home in early mornings; stylistic musical joys that older jazz legends brought to young enthusiasts; sorrows upon reflecting on the pauper status of dying musicians; humour ….. tragedy…..Life itself of a musician.

According to Douglas, the Story of South African Jazz Book Series in three volumes responds to one of the real tragedies around the time of the deaths of rising star,  Moses Molelekwa and his wife, in 2002, when an unfortunate lack of communication existed between the different sectors of the jazz industry. The fall away of the record industry from about 2004 started to open up and integrate other professions such as writing, technology and film into the industry. Volume 3 is currently being written.

Albeit, in this 357 page Vol.2, Douglas can give only brief snippets of mini-stories, anecdotes, and quotes about the lives of a myriad list of musicians. Fascinating unknowns are given: When Alice Coltrane met Bheki Mseleku  at the Newport International Jazz Festival, she gave him her husband, John’s, saxophone mouthpiece; When Mark Fransman talks about how Zim Ngqawana cast a healing spell on him one night at Zim’s gig, causing Mark to vomit out an emotional repression he was carrying. 

Laced with anecdotal narratives about collaborations, the book presents the chronological eras of South African jazz when artists searched for creative spaces touched by the spirit of their times. From an inherited colonial landscape and the soundscape that went with it, to the alienation brought about by resulting raw social, economic, political, and spiritual divisions, to finding some sort of rewarding cohesion in rootedness, South African jazz boasts colourful remembrances that ooze into contemporary and very youthful styles of expression. This book explains that, as in the author’s Prelude (p.8)::

“The power of jazz is typically a journey through loneliness, sadness, pain and broken-ness to that place of acceptance, forgiveness and realisation.”

Douglas’s jazz is African and multi-cultural, displayed in musical cycles, or rays – from 1950s swing to inxiles and exiles of the 1960s, to anti-apartheid liberation movements of the 1970s, which also saw departments of music open jazz doors in educational institutions. Democracy fomented mindful consciousness for change as Mandela’s era took hold and morphed into what we hear now – from Khoi, Malay, Afrikaans and carnival sounds of Kyle Shepherd’s diverse Cape to the visionary, electronic improvisations of bassist Carlo Mombelli.

Volume 2 is about lives telling about lives. “Life is one long composition” says Cape musician Mac Mckenzie, and is echoed by other ghoema ‘captains’, like Hilton Schilder, whose ancestral accounts explain their natural gifts and accompanying pains which slave histories have thrown their way. Pianists Abdullah Ibrahim and Kyle Shepherd echo the dance music of the Bushman. The Langa-based Ngcukana family dynasty form meaningful bands with the Kippie Moeketsi’s of the Johannesburg jazz scene.

Jazz has movement. Douglas traces musical migrations: how Mozambique’s marrabenta style absorbed into Johannesburg’s marabi music; how the mines, a backyard to South African flourishing musical styles, produced dancing miners. Douglas shows how music moves culturally into the foods and other arts, as the Roving Bantu of Brixton, Johannesburg, is trying to do with its African cuisine and visual arts. The playful, carnivalesque Balkanology of Marcus Wyatt’s Bombshelter Beast exudes a gypsy freedom of expression. Excelling talents wander from Cape Town or Johannesburg roots to Berklee in USA or to the popular Bird’s Eye Club in Switzerland or to Oslo’s Music Conservatory for further jazz training and networking. Sonic messages from abroad fuse with a rootedness of South African jazz; bonds are made which go international as well as intergenerational.

Douglas moves his African narratives into the final moments of the book: leave ancestral rooted-ness behind, and meet the business market and wallow in the challenging and sometimes cut-throat industry of the Copyright Law, Labels, Recording contracts, and royalty deals. The reader feels like it’s been a very long musical journey, hipcupping along the way, occasionally surprised or at awe, sad yet happy to see a musician’s resolve to continue. South Africa has run a jazz marathon which continues to expand and speed up, if the music industry allows it.

Volume 3 just might have an answer to that……

A Listening Session takes place on Thursday 5 December prior to Vol 2 book launch which happens in Durban on 6 December at Curiosity, hosted by Durban Jazz Xpression.

In Johannesburg, the launch is on 12 December at the Brixton Roving Bantu Kitchen. Cape Town dates in 2020 to coincide with the 30 April International Jazz Day 2020.

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