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: https://www.facebook.com/gregory.franz.92
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Live Performance Reviews
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 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. https://www.facebook.com/muratiewine/posts/10157322701560458
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?
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.
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’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg5JliynDQM&feature=emb_logo and various other performances on the cruise ship in 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swZ6Q6O-eak&feature=emb_logo
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: https://www.facebook.com/Lumkiles-Book-Joint-100902251589038.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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!!
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:
“JAZZ IN THE THEATRE” FEATURING: MUNEEB HERMANS at 44 ON LONG (PTY) LTD
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!
FROM MAKHANDA TO KOFIFI: MAJOR DUO
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!
“JAZZ IN THE THEATRE” FEATURING: CHADLEIGH GOWAR at 44 ON LONG (PTY) LTD
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.
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: THE IRRESISTIBLE URGE TO DANCE – A VIEW ON CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN MUSIC
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.
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!
OTHER MUSIC FROM AROUND SOUTH AFRICA
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.
VUKAZITHATHE (MASKANDI DOCUMENTARY)
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.
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’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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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!
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!
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. https://zoom.us/w/98231447712?tk=vXofdPzw0WruUqkmFs0a8jHfgy4A5RVF75Ath0PQlVI.DQIAAAAW3wzwoBZiSW15Ui1QZlJiT0lGTkc0bk8yWFJRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA&pwd=cllwK29FSzJOWC94UlFHM1VQT25DZz09&uuid=WN_dJ6qx_n_Sjubb7hXXCKTow
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: https://bit.ly/3b1HFfL
****LET’S HEAR MORE ABOUT THE ‘HELLABY SOUND’ JOURNEY****
(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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOC8ToQJyVw 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. https://www.facebook.com/gregory.truter.9/videos/471048573576848/
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……….
Visiting Italian jazz pianist, Giovanni Guidi, sent highly improvised sonic waves through Cape Town’s jazz centers recently, leaving in his path networks, some confusion among listeners, but deep respect for choosing stellar musicians to accompany his journey.
Youngblood Cultural Center in central Cape Town came alive again as Guidi soloed through his first set, and settled listeners into his style. His is more than a sonic journey; he transports, through a matrix of emotional jolts, intellectual explorations, reality checks, and rhythmic changes, to land back on terra firma of the familiar kind.
This 35-year old has achieved enormous successes, having performed and mentored with some of the great jazz musicians of Europe, notably with Italian trumpet aficionado, Enrico Rava, to name a few. Guidi’s style is hard to describe – he leaves chordal harmonies aside to evoke emotions of disturbance, then resolve. With body swaying over the keys, Guidi connects his sonic messages from lower register rumblings to treble crescendos, crashing into a more subtle tone of a familiar tune which leads the way. His take on such standards as ‘My Funny Valentine’, or ‘Over the Rainbow’, morph out of a cloud of delusion into gentler refrains, thus bringing some relief to the ears. Like silence after a heavy tropical downpour.
In the second set, fellow musicians admirably plucked to Guidi’s free style intros to familiar tunes. Each artist had freedoms to solo and explore: Dutch bassist and Cape Town resident, Hein van der Geyn, could occasionally lead and add percussive beats; Rus Nerwich’s tenor sax could squeak and squeal; Lee Thompson’s trumpet had permission to run away; and drummer Jonno Sweetman whispered and enunciated multiple rhythms, depending on the band’s mood. The piano was not always easy to listen to, but the complementarity of other instruments brought sense back to purpose.
Likewise, an unusual duo concert with legendary Brotherhood of Breath drummer, Louis Moholo-Moholo, now approaching age 80, brought respecting listeners to Langa’s Guga S’Thebe cultural center. Understandably, Guidi had been influenced in his early years by this South African band-in-exile and the improvised styles of pianist Chris McGregor during their 1970s-80s hay days. But the aging Moholo struggled to keep up with the zesty Guidi piano this time, with sounds merging more into a monotonous clackety-clack routine. Still, Guidi’s piano held its own with familiar standards fading in and out of chordal outbursts.
It seems this young, talented pianist wants to explore more….with South African artists…. and find out what makes the South African sound so special. While his Italian Cultural tour was brief this trip, Guidi hopes to spend longer time on South Africa’s soil in the near future and possibly record with his favourite artists, many identified so far
Guidi’s latest recording, Avec Le Temps, exemplifies where he is taking his music with his jazzahead! 2019 quintet:
Take the wall paintings and sculptures made from metal, wire, and wood, and put together the sound of a solo baby grand piano and what do you get? Visual art meets musical vibrations producing a soulful push that is once meditative, and gently soothing in this creative space. Then add an able drummer, bass guitar and amplification and the whole sonic experience crumbles. High ceilings of this otherwise delightful gallery simply do not permit loud percussive instruments to work. Framed visual art pieces can survive on well painted or brick walls with some clever lighting effects, but sounds depend on spacial air to carry the vibrations which is why wind instruments and human voices resonate kindly in cathedrals and in lofty no-ceiling structures.
Youngblood Arts and Cultural Development Gallery on Bree Street in central Cape Town, while a space for experiencing awe and wonderment at the visuals on display, finds it challenging to provide a decent sound for a variety of instruments. Pianist Zoe Molelekwa handled his solos delicately on the baby grand piano, so rarely available for concerts in public places. Thank you, Gallery, for this. His repetitive phrasing, almost chant-like, and soft touch of chords splitting apart into runs made for easy and thoughtful music to the ears.
When his capable band members chimed in, the upped volume with bass amplification drowned out both piano and bass guitar. Buddy Well’s enduring saxophone could rise above the cacophony of sounds and carry the tune well. High ceilings simply don’t do justice to the music. Then again, why amplify so loudly in such a small space as the Youngblood’s foyer?
Also, musician training – to talk clearly and loudly into the microphone when introducing a song or message – requires attention of the artist to mic deficiencies. It was such a pity that one heard little this evening inspite of this aspiring young musician’s attempts to present his hard-worked compositions.
A pleasant arrangement of tables and chairs by the bar provided nourishment and a cosy atmosphere for diners to view the stage just before the show started. But the coffee grinding machine humming during a solo piano just doesn’t work; the meditative mood set by the pianist was shattered as wine glasses or cutlery falls. Bars near the seated audience need to shut their noise, not shut down, during an act. Simple.
In contrast, Guga S’thebe Cultural Center in Langa provided, again, a pleasant, sound-perfect experience when young Molelekwa and his band took the stage last Sunday. Molelekwa’s piano solos were delicate, almost Pythagorean in healing , as head hung low , he massaged the keys with a depth of soul, even longing, as he ended his afternoon concert playing one of his late father’s songs. We could hear his microphone introductions clearly, in spite of his somewhat timid, perhaps shy, voice timber.
Molelekwa and his drummer Bonolo Nkoane, his bassist Grant van Royen, and saxman Buddy Wells warrant applause for presenting the soulful compositions of young Molelekwa who seems to be well on his way to emulating his late father Moses Molelekwa’s creative jazz-bending styles. Caution, therefore, is required in choosing the right sound system for spaces unable to cushion those floating vibrations that easily distort.
An evening at Rootspring, a tall house originally built for an opera singer, just meters to Muizenberg’s False Bay beach, is guaranteed to swallow patrons into a vortex of known and unknown musical originality – wedding the traditional with improvisation that produce acoustically pleasing and sometimes surprising sounds. There’s also an experience to be had as the nontraditional seating ranges from movable chairs and large stuffed cushions on a bouncy floor made for dancing, to pillows on the stairwell to enhance the view onto the stage as well as the sound – in last Saturday’s case – of the five-piece Amathongo group.
Hidden away on the razed wing of the large main room is a wooden stove firing much welcomed heat on this wet wintry Cape Town night. Patrons arrive early to chat with friends and peg their seats, and perhaps open that bottle of wine they’ve brought and hope the cork doesn’t break into the bottle. When the gig starts sharp at 7pm, a hushed silence welcomes the incredible sounds and rhythms that break out for the first set.
Amathongo, an ethnically diverse group of musicians, entices you to connect with ‘ancestral spirits’, which is the isiZulu meaning. In keeping with Rootspring’s philosophy of promoting musical creativity, Amathongo describes itself as an evolving world music project, unique, South African and original. Its use of improvisation is also deeply rooted in traditional African styles. The sound strongly features traditional Southern African musical bows and other traditional African Instruments made popular by singer Madosini with her varieties of Uhade bows, and Pedro Espi-Sanchis on traditional flute. Get ready for a journey that beckons the listeners to explore their own ancestral roots!
What makes a concert exciting is to see how each musician projects sounds within a classical musical scoring that allows for free flow solos. Pianist Hilton Schilder, known for his allegorical stories around the Cape ghoema music, most recently on his album, Alter Native, brings a spirituality to his piano. Coming from the legendary Cape Town musical Schilder family, Hilton has mastered traditional instruments that are home to the khoi/san roots of the Cape.
The keeper of the ancestral soul of Amathongo is Madosini on Xhosa bows, who centers the musically emotive storytelling within the group. All add their vocals to her isiXhosa praising and healing chants. Madosini is also the comic, with body language and facial expressions that jerk suddenly, waking up the otherwise meditative audience. https://youtu.be/Gemr9gru72U
Madosini’s fellow singer and percussionist, Lungiswa Plaatjies, adds vocals and rhythms which enchant. Seasoned by her uncle, Dizu Plaatjies, professor of African indigenous music at University of Cape Town, ‘Lulu’ as she is called, became lead female vocalist of South Africa’s famous Amampondo group with her uncle. Their album, Ekhaya, became a popular eclectic, Xhosa-language version of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues. Lulu has also reached music heights by being the first South African female musician to play the imbira and incorporate it into her compositions. https://sarafinamagazine.com/2019/05/14/a-conversation-with-lungiswa-plaatjies/
One of Rootspring’s visionaries, guitarist Johnny Blundell, adds strings and box percussion that makes Amathongo sound eclectic with raps of folk and jazz.
But the eyes stare at the antics of Pedro Espi-Sanchis, known as ‘Pedro the Music Man’ from his long-running children’s television series in the 1990s. Rarely seen with Amathongo lately, Pedro proudly presents his kelp pipe flute, stringed guitar on tortoise shell, and a gourd-cased mbira. https://youtu.be/XUFgqiCIYDk
Born in Spain and raised in France, Pedro has pleased audiences in South Africa for over 30 years through performances, education with young audiences, and storytelling. He can leave kids (and adults) spellbound as he shows how found objects can make music – paw-paw leaves, kudu horns, cow-bells, calabashes, seaweed, and more. It was the latter that he played on this inspiring Amathongo evening at Rootspring that excited – a Lekgodilo flute made from kelp pipe. Go down to your friendly Cape Town beach and find some black rubbery kelp pipe, cut it properly, and start blowing! Pedro shows how https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=89&v=AN1OAXyjf9c
According to this instructive vimeo, the flute produces a lydian scale which becomes chromatic after the 6th degree. It is here where the roots of Jazz, i.e. improvisation, started from early times. https://vimeo.com/8274470
Johnny Blundell, who also comes from an illustrious musical family in Cape Town, has visions and supports to make Rootspring one of the most eclectic, original, and progressive musical venues in greater Cape Town. Well-marketed with its newsy email Newsletter, it tells well in advance the types of bands booked for the month ahead. Sign up! http://www.rootspring.co.za Become a Rootspringer!
Tickets are at www.quicket.co.za and include a pensioner price as well as pre-booked dinner wraps as a meal for those wanting a munch during the concert interval. Glasses are provided for your bring-your-own drinks or wines.
A wintry, rainy, cold August night in Cape Town is totally forgotten as 51 patrons fill the intimate Alma Café in Rosebank to capacity, to enjoy an unusual fanfare of music, plus a burger meal with dessert. It’s not every day one can hear Cape Town’s musicians perform unique compositions in different formats of sound reflecting their genre preferences. The Cafe’s family-run business on a tiny slip of road called Alma Road boasts two guitar-playing musicians – country folk guitarist father Richard Tait, known for his creative trouser patchworks and monitoring the sound system, and guitarist son Jono Tait – and mother Raita managing a kitchen which very efficiently delivers meals before the gig begins. After enjoying the first course meal, the stage takes over.
The Café listens to the stage, but allows for plenty of talk time before and during the gig intervals when the dessert is served. The patrons have come out to enjoy the eclectic music from ‘Alternative Folk’ in this small venue with no loud, blaring amplification, or need for ear plugs to protect sensitive ears. One’s bring-your-own-bottle of wine on the table, with corkage fee, kept most comfortably warm.
Jono has chosen one of South Africa’s top percussionists, Ronan Skillen on tabla and shakes, to present an Eastern flavour to Jono’s own folk guitar. It’s not often a musician presents his intimate health issues on stage, but Jono unabashedly introduced one of his songs which is based on his dealing with depression challenges brought on by his own Bipolar Disorder. The song asks us to learn how to ‘slow down’ from the pressures we face in life. This moving piece leaves the listener quite spellbound at such honesty from a sometimes troubled musician. As a comrade in support, Ronan accompanied his guitarist in style and various rhythms that never overpowered.
The colleagues cracked jokes with each other while tuning up their instruments for the next song, allowing the audience to chime in. Musicians are known to feel at ease at Alma, often rapping a bit with the audience who return the joviality.
This set the stage for the next half, after a serving of dessert and coffee, as part of the meal offerings. Another ‘alternative folk’ takes over – a lady duo, both illustrious in their musical journeys. Singer/guitarist/educator Nicky Schrire has explored all sorts of musical genre, from her jazz studies at University of Cape Town to contemporary folk, singing her songs about Paris and back home, ‘Love Letter’ about Cape Town.
She and her childhood friend, cellist Ariella Caira, known for her sterling band membership with the all-female string band, Sterling EQ, combine their musical DNA and present soulful and inspirational ballads in expert unison. Their synchronicity reflects their individual journeys around the world, both performing and studying, in the worlds of jazz, classical, folk, and ‘alternative’ sounds in music. Nicky made the point that “love songs have already been taken care of which is why I focus on things, items, and not necessarily ‘love’ “. Her five years living in New York, plus collaborations with a multitude of domestic and international artists, has helped her combine her original jazz exposure with innovative sonic realms touching on a bit of Celtic and folk, embodied in her own compositions as well as interpretations of other’s works, such as the Beatenberg pop song, “Never Let Me Go” and her “Ingrid Yonker Suite” which blends folk, cinematic and art song genres. Also, think Joni Mitchell.
With a voice that can move from emotion to theatrics, Nicky describes herself as “trained in jazz but a troubadour by choice”. Besides an engaging stage presence, she projects humour, wit, an assertive personality, and storytelling abilities (both verbal and written) that are educative and highly entertaining. Her marketing skills cleverly explore the visual, using for instance the popular Woodstock-based Popsicle Studios’ video productions in Cape Town. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJbm3No_4qA Even Cape Talk radio’s John Maytham Show produced an interesting podcast discussion with Jono and Nicky about the nature of ‘Alternative Folk’, which also highlighted the types of venues artists prefer to perform in. http://www.capetalk.co.za/podcasts/144/the-john-maytham-show/235674/alternative-folk-at-the-alma-cafe
This evening ended with all four ‘Alternatives’ joining their sonic spirits to delight and haunt our understandings about our contemporary music-scape! https://youtu.be/d9Vs5sP2r3M
While many venues face fluctuations in patronage among cash-strapped fans, an intimate and friendly venue like Alma Café hopes to draw all those daring to venture into different sonic worlds for an affordable evening’s experience, rain or shine. Their listings can be seen on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/The-Alma-Cafe-159089414146612/
Percussionist John Hassan Revives the Moses Molelekwa legacy through another Jazz in the Native Yard Experience
In February 2001, the South African music world was shocked suddenly: a young brilliant pianist, Moses Molelekwa, and his manager wife, Flo, were found dead in their central Johannesburg office. The Cape Town fans and musicians held an unforgetable mourning gathering at Good Hope Center to mark this untimely passing of an unusually talented artist at age 27. Last Sunday, 28 July in 2019, a day after a national public Memorial for another extraordinary Legend, Johnny Clegg, the Cape Town community came together to honour Molelekwa’s legacy, with an added delightful feature of Molelekwa’s son, Zoe, at piano.
The Tribute, conceived by percussionist-composer John Hassan of the South African Afro-Latin band, Hassan’adas, revived appreciation for a notable period in South Africa’s jazz history when young guns moved their artistry through the 1980s apartheid hurtles into the 1990s new political dawn.
Moses was there, fired up by both family supports and the times to ‘find himself’ as his first 1994 album, Finding One’s Self, suggested. At age 22, his mastery and level of maturity with improvisation and technique were shaking heads. By the time he released his second album, Genes and Spirits in 1999, Moses had toured and mentored with other legends, such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Cuba’s own Chucho Valdes. Then, dead at age 27.
There will be more to applaud about Moses and his musical legacy when the very tall son Zoe returns to perform in Cape Town next month. His parents’ deaths left 6 year old Zoe to the care of Moses’ musically innovative father, Jerry ‘Bra Monk’, who made sure little grandson Zoe would grow up in the finest of musical traditions through the Moses Molelekwa Foundation, established to provide learning opportunities to young musicians. Remarkable stories abound.
A Jazzy experience before the concert: Traditional beer, beaded watch bands, and books for sale
It needs to be mentioned, again, that events sponsored by Jazz in the Native Yards aim at giving patrons an experience of jazz which which they will marvel at for days/weeks after. Always get to a JiNY concert early . This Moses Molelekwa Tribute concert on Sunday was held at the popular Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center in Langa township, 15 minutes from Cape Town’s CBD.
As you walk into the Center, wall paintings, murals, and a wide range of hand-made beaded and sculptured items meet the eye, splashing colourful artistry that seems authentic and honest. Tables are lined up with these artistic varieties seeking to not just welcome patrons to the musical event, but engage them in tasting, viewing, and maybe even buying some of the enticing offerings coming from the township artisans. This is how ‘the experience” begins: The delectable smell of Waga’s Fries draws one into conversation about how a ‘special’ variety of potato can be turned into a healthy snack; it’s grown as a project at the Cape Town University of Technology Belville campus garden by horticulturalist, Wanga Ncise.
Taste the fry, slightly brown and crisp, and coated with tasty herbs and bread crumbs, and you’ll see why a potato can be transformed before your very eyes! Snack in hand with this crunchy fry, the eye feast continues through the tables: beautifully beaded watch bands with red watch faces to die for; cloth earrings and jewelry. I liked the traditional beer keg on the second-hand books table! Now that entices one to read, neh?
Finally, entering the open courtyard of Guga with its mural walls and drinks ‘n snacks kiosk beckoning, one finds another table of home–made curry stew with rice and salad. If the weather did not call for sprinkles, more artists’ tables would distract and beckon from this courtyard.
The music starts. Hassan has rightly provided a space for two young musicians to kick off the event: Pianist Nobhule Ashanti and trumpeter Keitumetsi ‘Tumi’ Pheko.
When 24 year old Zoe sits down at the piano for a few songs, a deafening silence spreads through the audience of some 110 patrons, with photographers slowly inching close to the stage like cautious chameleons to get that careful shot of Zoe’s head hung low over the keys, his dreadlocks obscuring his good looks. His rendition of his father’s classic “Spirit of Thembisa” stayed true to form.
Hassan’s band then explodes into Latin and Molelekwa tunes, with several songs taken from Hassan’s own Afro-Jazz repertoire with Hassan also playing guitar. Stellar musicians make up his band: Lucas Khumalo (bass guitar), Trevino Isaacs (piano), Nathan Carolus (guitar), and the cream of Cape Town’s jazz scene comprising of drummer Kevin Gibson, and saxophonist Buddy Wells (saxophone). Hassan tells how he and Moses were once flatmates in Johannesburg which is why Hassan is passionate about remembering his dear friend’s legacy.
“We are starting with one show in Cape Town and hope to take the show to other provinces in time. The idea is to bring Moses’ son Zoe and musicians from the Moses Molelekwa Foundation to join us in future performances.”
Tributes are usually to the artist in passing, but they allow for the sponsoring promoter, Hassan, to also promote his own music. “The object of this project is to celebrate Moses’ music. It is not a benefit concert but rather a tribute to Moses Molelekwa” says Hassan.
Criticism might be cast as to the balance between a tribute and self-promotion, but Hassan’s contributions and passion certainly got the audience enthused, appreciative, and dancing with his bouncy reggae “Peace and Love”!! He has educated and re-engaged listeners to be aware of the unusual, yet forever resounding sounds of the genes and spirits of Moses Molelekwa, an artistic gift to South Africa’s musical and cultural legacy. Such awareness raising will continue with Zoe Molelekwa’s upcoming tour which will focus more on his father’s music and on Zoe’s own growing library of compositions and favourites. Stay tuned for more on the Molelekwas!
Zoe Molelekwa Trio performs at several venues in Cape Town, hosted by Jazz in the Native Yards (all gigs are R100):
Wed 28 August: 7.30 pm. Youngblood, 70-74 Bree Street
Frid 30 August: 7.30 pm. Alliance Francaise, 155 Loop Street
Sunday 1 September: 4pm. Guga S’thebe, King Langalibalele Dr, Langa.
Jazz Sessions has scheduled the Masque Theater, Muizenberg, on Sunday, 25 August, 2019, 18:30 hours. Tickets R120. Information: 021-788-1898 or https://www.facebook.com/UllaJazzSessions/
There’s a slight warmth in this winter air as one enters the outdoor patio where the band is set up, with listeners seated in the garage space looking onto the patio. This is No 52, NY138 named ‘Kwa Sec’ in Gugulethu, a ‘township’ outside of Cape Town center.
People are buzzing with loud chatter which drowns out the MC with the mic, who is trying to introduce the band and settle the crowd. If one hops quickly inside the house, more buzzing and smell of freshly brewing coffee meets the senses as ‘Thaps’ (Thapelo Mahloane) churns out cappuccinos or hot chocolates at his Kofififee mobile kiosk.
The eyes wonder onto a bucket of ice at the ‘Wine Shaq’ table which offers a variety of independently produced and distributed wines from the Cape Winelands/Stellenbosch area – always ‘local is lekker’ in attitude and taste, says its wine connoisseur, Nomhle Zondani. Hailing from Langa, Zondani travels the various routes of this promoter based at Kwa Sec, Jazz in the Native Yards, pleasing pallets thirsty for high quality but lesser known wines.
One carefully nurtured wineglass will last through the first set as patrons take their seats. The band numbers five well-seasoned musicians. A hush falls as the gig begins… or rather, the Experience continues…..
It’s 4 o’clock on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Saxophonist Sisonke Xonti and his illustrious and long time band members, are bringing the music back to the ‘hood’. The Natives are at home! The patrons are also multi-cultural, coming from various demographics of the wider municipality – radio and media journalists, fellow musicians, regular fans, local leaders, and foreigners working in Cape Town.
During the set break, raucous joviality explodes as old friends chat about nothing, or strangers are introduced. Some patrons who announce this is their first visit to Kwa Sec are immediately embraced and coached on why they should come more often. The energy in the space becomes electric. Ubuntu is speaking. There are no barriers here – colour, nationality, profession, status in life – it doesn’t matter. It’s the pumping rhythms in song that brings hearts and spirits together, laughing and just enjoying life and being there.
Home legends are being acknowledged by this youthful band as it swings into songs of late jazz dons, like Zim Ngqawana and Gugulethu’s own, Ezra Ngcukana. It’s Youth Day in South Africa, June 16, a national holiday celebrating how Black youth uprisings in 1976 against the then apartheid government’s attempts to enforce the teaching of Afrikaans in their schools changed the course of history. But sordid memories seemed subdued amidst the joyous celebration and networking around song and artistry.
Jazz in the Native Yards, while proudly endorsing the otherwise demeaning apartheid address for township communities resident in ‘NY’ numbered streets, is enthusiastically spreading its philosophy of taking those ‘hood musical styles to other ‘hoods. After all, Cape jazz and South African jazz emanated and developed their unique sounds from many back yards during apartheid restrictions on township residents’ movements. In turn, this provided relief – comic and musical – for both artists and patrons in weathering the debilitating effects of racial, economic, and political separation from the country’s wealth and opportunities.
Jazz in the Native Yards traces its ancestral footprints to the 1960s when impromptu live jazz sessions took place every weekend in Cape Town’s townships and elsewhere. Back then, jazz enthusiasts listened to Joshua Sithole who made the penny whistle famous in kwela jazz, even on street corners of major cities. The Nofemele brothers played The Manhattan Brothers covers with unsurpassed flair. The Ngcukana brothers from Gugulethu performed with their father Mra and the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim, and became a regular feature in the community yards.
Then, a change in access evolved: Post-apartheid jazz clubs moved more to town centers, requiring enthusiasts to leave their home areas, and find often expensive means of transport to evening events which also charged fees higher than what true jazz fans from marginalised communities could afford. This restrictive gap in access to the quality legendary music has now been revealed: many arts and culture promoters no longer wish to dominate live jazz through another form of exclusionary, middle class opportunity to hear quality music.
Ironically, as these town ‘clubs’ started closing down for various management and financial reasons in the past 10 years, the call from communities became loud and clear: ‘We want the music here, with us!” Thus, live jazz started brewing again in Native Yards and communities throughout Cape Town’s metropolis; in restaurants, in a bakery, at an artisan ginnery and beer brewery, at cultural centers , like Langa’s Guga S’Thebe, and even in musicians’ homes. Those opportunities to preserve the proven legacies of jazz giants like Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Robbie Jansen and Cups Nkanuka, were taking hold, partly thanks to appreciative and discerning younger musicians who saw value and integrity in preserving musical histories. These well-trained musicians also wanted live platforms to strut their stuff.
In contemporary times, Jazz in the Native Yards seeks to avoid a downward spiral caused by gangsterism, drug peddling and alcoholism. One answer is to groom human creativity, especially among the youth from marginalised communities. Its projects were born in 2015 and JiNY developed a social movement that encourages the use of live jazz performances as platforms for diverse musical voices to be heard and seen. Young and older musicians can ‘meet and greet’ each other on these platforms.
For instance, Marimba specialist, Bongani Shotsoananda (from Nyanga) and trumpeter Blacki Tempi (from Gugulethu), often come to afternoon concerts at the homey ‘Kwa Sec’ house where weekend gigs feature a variety of South African and international bands.
Another legendary jazz pianist, Tete Mbambisa, and Langa singer Ncediwe Sylvia Mdunyelwa, pop in to see what the younger ones are doing. Koko Nkalashe, YiNY’s co-founder, says, “Thanks to ConcertSA we have also managed to bring more established musicians to our stages and the mix with overseas traveling musicians creates a beautiful mix of musical stories.”
It’s about ‘Experience’, says Nkalashe. “We want to create spaces and opportunities for more social cohesion for Western Cape residents, a positive ambiance of backyard performance venues for residents and visitors alike to get to know and understand South Africa’s diversity, rather than just focus on its marginalised communities. “ These spaces, safe but simple, grow paying audiences who thereby offer opportunities whereby artists can actually earn an income rather than rely on free or sponsored concerts.
So where does one ‘catch’ these audiences?
JiNY has ‘Routes’: musicians can perform at cultural centers and NGO spaces which have sizeable data bases of patrons, and at festivals, like the annual Stellenbosch Woordfeest as part of the musical program; then a Sunday afternoon at the Delheim Wine Estate pulling in residents from Franschoek and surroundings; then continue on to the Khaylitsha’s Isivivana Center, an NGO space ; then on to Mitchells Plain Alliance Francaise Cultural Center (still in progress). That’s the ‘Eastern Route’. Patrons and fans who live along the way can catch quality performances and be able to afford paying for the experience.
The ‘Central Route’ comprises of Gugulethu’s Kwa Sec for smaller crowds; then to Nyanga Arts Center (still in progress) which receives supports from the Belgium government….. then on to Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center for larger crowds, and continue on to the Alliance Francaise in central Cape Town CBD or to an arts and culture gallery on Bree Street.
All of these routes seek to “cook up the vibe”: engage the moneyed class, suburbia folk and tourists, and the less economically endowed residents in experiencing together the fruits of musical achievements of the younger and older legends coming from these communities. Adding to the Experience are people’s video snippets on social media, selfies with musicians, and other pictorial stories which show patrons’ excitement. Clinking wine glasses, rattling coffee cups, audience members dancing, and an inside fire roaring to keyboard runs – people experience joyful fun and amusement in the vibey arena. And when the experience is good, you sure will want to return and find your new-found friends at the next gig….and on and on it goes. Socializing, appreciating, learning, seeing, asking questions, understanding, liking, tasting, telling others – the experiences expand.
Performing in ‘Native Yards’ does not benefit just local musicians and local patrons. Word spreads, rippling through social media, radio, print media outlets, and country Embassies. When South African musicians work on projects overseas, namely in Europe, international visitors, musicians, and music business promoters hear about the ‘hood happenings, and know where to go. Fundors like ConcertsSA, the Italian Consulate, Swiss promoters like ProHelvetia, and others, enable music students and their teachers to collaborate and spread music in the ‘Hoods.
Indeed, the Legends listen from their ancestral heights in pure delight! The ‘hoods are back!!
They flew in and wowed the crowd at Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center with their authentic fusion of African, Creole, Euro-pop, and Afro-soul . Sitting on his box drum, renowned French percussionist Mino Cinelu rattled his various arsenal of sonic weapons, standing and emoting over his hand-held triangle when he wasn’t furiously tapping out a myriad of beats on his 25 year old plus wave drum.
Keeper of melodies, Swiss-Angolan singer Florence Chitacumbi, and leader of this Reunion Tour in Southern Africa, added soulful and jazzy tunes which come from several of her albums with Cinelu. This duo, along with the versatile Swiss Guitarist Christophe Bovet, were ‘encountering the other’ as they shared their musicality with South African and Lesotho audiences during their intensive one week tour to conclude a dazzling International Jazz Month of April. Multiple thanks go to local organizers, Jazz in the Native Yards and the South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE), for these April performances.
The last concert on May 4 was properly framed in Cape Town’s beautiful Peninsula suburb of Kalk Bay which reaches another local area known for its artistry, Navy home, and calm waters facing a circle of mountains. Again, the Olympia Bakery shoved its machines to the side and made concert room for the trio, this time with an additional two South African guests: jazz pianist Nduduzo Makhatini based in Port Elizabeth; the other, Cape Town’s own legend, accordion/traditional bow/guitarist Tony Cedras who worked with percussionist Cinelu back in those 1980s New York City days. Another story! The beauty of spontaneity in the moment meant that Cinelu could invite Cedras to the reunion at the last minute.
Both South Africans added flavour and transformed the Chitacumbi/Cinelu Afro and Creole rhythms with their own jazz subtleties, the likes of Bheki Mseleku, Nina Simone, and a host of others.
The colourful, sold-out concert saw people still inching into the venue, even sitting on the piled up flour bags ready for use by the Bakery the next day.
Chitacumbi, who led the band, boasted a wide repertoire of music, thanks to Cinelu’s rhythms that included Congolese soukous, Portuguese Fado (folk music) , West African influences, funk, blues, and jazz Standards. She has toured with a host of notables and cut three albums featuring well-known African and European artists seeking to build those sonic bridges between the two continents. But it was former Weather Report’s (and Miles Davis, and Sting) master percussionist, Paris-born Mino Cinelu, whom the whistling audience eyed non-stop. Cinelu was also reuniting with his old pal, Tony Cedras, known for his exiled days in New York arranging songs and touring with Paul Simon’s Graceland album. This visiting duo maintained an exciting and vibrant stage presence right to the standing applause end.
Thanks go to the people involved in promoting/producing and sponsoring this concert, namely Arte Viva Management, Slow Life Music Promotion, Pro Helvetia, Ville de Neuchatel in Switzerland, Foundation SUISA, and Loterie Romande without whom the show and its success would not have been guaranteed.
Several histories were revealed in my interview (CM) with Florence Chitacumbi (FC) and Mino Cinelu (MC). Both have fathers from Africa or the Diaspora, and both were raised in Francophone/European cultures which explains Cinelu’s love for the Fado folk music of Portugal where his grandmother’s roots lay. Also, his interesting explanation on why the drum and percussion reigned more in Francophone Africa/Diaspora – read more below:
CM: Tell me how you guys linked up as a duo, since you both had lots of experience with other bands and tours over the decades.
FC: Yes, I had a band while living in Paris and I gradually felt there was still something missing. I knew Mino and liked his musical approach and rhythms, so I called him. We started collaborating in 2005 and we produced and album, Regard Croises.
MC: I’ve performed with many artists so feel at ease in both seats – with duos and larger collaborations. I just try to keep an open mind when meeting a new collaboration. And now Florence and I have a duo project that we were looking for.
CM: With South African jazz, what is so different to you personally compared to other African influences, such as the music of Francophone northern Africa?
FC: In Senegal, you find a lot of percussion or guitar, and in Cameroun, you find a good bass player, but not so much the piano or saxophone. But here [South Africa] , there’s a jazz tradition which mixes American jazz with their own sounds – the rhythm , the patterns, the scales, and different types of melody.
MC: Also, as you go north from here, there was less of the English influence which had strict rules about the use of the drum, but the French ex-colonial areas of central and west Africa allowed for the indigenous beats and rhythms and harmonies of those singers . In South Africa, the Africans under colonialism found a way to preserve their music, for example, in the boot dance of the miners. The same in Trinidad under the English when the people developed the steel pan and rhythms to go with it. So in the ex-British areas, the drums are not that well developed but there’s something else. So the non ex-English areas were allowed to develop the drums, and the singing, and other expressions.
FC: I find South African jazz really inspiring; they have something special – the melody, the styles of Bheki Mseleku, and Hugh Masakela… I saw Mkize and Washington’s gig in Langa yesterday, and I like the way they play that scale… it’s unique to South African jazz here.
CM: ….then you get to the Western Cape with the ghoema, and the Malay rhythms, and the Khoi instruments. … I wish the South African students could hear you, perhaps on your next tour here….
FC: It seems that maybe they are afraid of knowing their culture and roots….
CM: There is a trauma…. A psychological stress and anti-colonial phase students are going through presently, often not well understood by them. Whereas, African countries have been independent for long…
MC: People find a way to eventually express themselves…..
CM: You both have lots of African influences in your musical approaches, but you haven’t experienced much collaboration with Africans as such on the African continent, I mean in terms of performances. Why is that?
MC: You can hear in my first album many songs from Ivory Coast and Senegal. You have the talking drum, and the udu from Nigeria – I was the first to bring this instrument into rock music in Europe. I was music director for Saif Khaita, and was the drummer with Chris McGregor in Paris where I also met Dudu Pukoane.
FC: I was in Burkino Faso and Senegal, and last year I was at Jazz a Ouaga in Burkino Faso. Then we came here to South Africa last year….
MC: After touring with Sting, I just took the first plane out of New York, and spent one and a half months in Senegal and played with the drummers every Sunday. Just jamming. There was no TV at the time, or Internet…. I also went to the Ivory Coast to see the top guys there, and we started to jam a lot…
CM: We are more global and digital now so we don’t always have to be physically ‘there’ to collaborate. Yet you are doing a ‘reconnection tour’, not just with yourselves, but as you said in another interview, you (to FC) want to “encounter the other”. So, this means you want to be there physically, right?
FC: Yeah, one can’t stay in their comfort zone in home areas all the time. But when I say ‘meet the other’, I also mean to bring one’s own music to another audience, or another culture. We need to make the unknown interesting. When I meet up and work with Nduduzo [Makhatini] , I look forward to sharing our music with him.
CM: Why have you chosen Nduduzo? Of all the South African artists…
FC: I had met several artists, of course, like Zenzile Makeba. Then, last year I began talking on Facebook with Nduduzo and watching his page, and that’s when I contacted him about collaborating. I also know Afrika Mkhize very well… Then in 2004, I had contacted Darius Brubeck…
CM: Let’s talk about your audiences. What did you think of the audience yesterday [in Langa]? Their reaction was so different between your performance and Mkhize’s. You are perhaps used to revving up European and American audiences. What did you feel was different with the Langa crowd?
MC: Nice. People came out. It was good. People share the same passion and they were very thankful that we came. We don’t take that lightly or for granted. That humbles us. They were really listening and hearing something different. I like that. They didn’t want to miss anything. Our band was different to what they hear – we had no bass or piano, just a guitar, singer, and beat. In ours, there’s no safety net, no frills, just acoustic….
CM: [To MC] There are so many sounds from your percussion toys…. Back in the days of Miles Davis, the technology was different from now with a range of electronica…particularly the wave drum….Any comments?
MC: My wave drum is over 25 years old. I wish they still made this model, because the newer one is smaller and doesn’t fit my style as well. Zawinul [of Weather Report] asked me to join his new project and I was happy to be able to play with Weather Report, and to play with drummer Omar Hakim before the group broke up. Also, I have to rent my percussion instruments when I travel. I’ve got some made of wood – hard to find – to give that sound – like the shoe clogs people used to wear in Holland, or the stomping on wooden floors of verandas in old houses in the American South.
CM: Often, visiting musicians are flown in and out again, giving little time for making important connections with local artists and cultures. How could this be improved so that you are given time to workshop with students and others, and share your skills?
MC: It’s often the case. Promoters don’t realize that the hardest part for a musician is not the playing, but the traveling. Sometimes my conferences take a long time, and I go very deep in the discussions. This is all tiring. You have to open to people and cultures you’re visiting. I like to immerse myself into others’ cultures as much as possible when I’m visiting a place. We have to share our music with musicians we visit. This takes time.
FC: Definitely. At home in Switzerland, I teach at a music school in Geneva called ETM which is part of the government program – students can choose music as a subject with ETM . We also have a professional section for 3 years. Students study a 1st and 2nd instrument.
MC: I mostly have private students. I’d like to do more masterclasses in different countries, but I just don’t have the time. A dear friend of mine, Tony Gray, a bassist who is nephew of John McLauglin, and I are working on a collaboration to do a video program so I can share that as much as possible.
Catch both artists on a number of YouTube videos!
This is a story, a collage of charming impressions about Miriam Makeba’s own life in song and politics-in-exile which have resonated with the young singer and song writer Simangele Mashazi’s own life journey, particularly after 1994 when Makeba could return to South Africa.
‘Sima’, raised in Newcastle, KZN, learned her vocals and groomed her talents firstly during her church choir years with strong gospel roots. She followed up with private classical vocal training sessions, but only studied music in a Ministry school when she moved to Stellenbosch. After experience on stage providing backing vocals to South African and European artists during European tours, her breakthrough came when casted to play the then late Miriam Makeba in the popular musical Mama Africa, a collaboration between the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the University of Missouri (USA). A stage career was developing.
The bug had bitten her: Sima became inspired, if not spellbound, by the wealth of talents and history Makeba passed down, and in particular, how Makeba spoke truth through her lyrics. However, in 2017, Sima chose to leave the cast to pursue teaching and further studies at Stellenbosch University in Linguistics. But this hasn’t stopped her musicality. She delved into replicating that truth-through-lyrics by starting to compose My Story which introduces her as a songwriter and storyteller. It also enabled her to write her own songs which are performed in the show: ‘Bashadile ‘ (Zulu for “They are married”) and ‘Still Miss You’, along with other known gems like ‘Phatha Phatha’, to lesser known popular songs, like ‘Suliram’, an Indonesian lullaby. For ‘Bashadile’, Sima says she was inspired by a childhood game where children would all stand in a circle, and then children in the centre would pick a partner to “marry”. “The ones left in the circle would then sing ‘Kusele mina ngedwa nje’, which means ‘I am the only one left, “Bonke bashadile” – they are all married.” The song wants to take you on a journey and let you fall in love with life.
Her backing band excels as one of the Cape’s most popular jazz bands, made up of Ramon Alexander on piano, Annemie Nel on drums, Bradley Prince on guitars, Chadleigh Gower on bass, and Muneeb Hermans on trumpet. Some might query why she chose a Cape jazz band, even though highly successful on the local scene, but which is ethnically removed from the type of music Makeba wrote.
Sima had known the band-leader and pianist, composer, and producer Ramon Alexander, also living in Stellenbosch, for some ten years, and experienced not only mentorship from him, but the band’s versatility with genres of music. Together with Ramon, Sima could comfortably mastermind her next passion: to produce her own show, ‘My Miriam Makeba Story’, about Makeba but from her own perspective. It worked. Both she and Alexander received the award for Best Music Production at the recent 2019 Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK).
Preparing the show became essentially a learning journey for this stage-seasoned singer about an icon’s struggle with politics and life, in general. As a student of Linguistics, Sima had learned in Mama Africa how language is a symbol of power, and how Makeba in exile spoke truth to power. In this regard, Sima’s humour and engagement with the audience started early in her performance, when she asked what was the name of the song she had just sung (the ‘click song’). Soft clucking sounds buzzed around the Artscape’s sound-perfect auditorium, imitating click sounds found particularly in isiXhosa. It seemed so natural; this was an African audience who understood these linguistic dynamics, at least functionally, and why Makeba sung the ‘click song’ to European audiences while she was in exile. Sima’s background in Linguistics enabled her to point out the differences between her isiZulu clicks and isiXhosa ones, making this aspect of her presentation quite entertaining. The music became a background to her story, however.
“We must re-imagine a multi language society and view multi-lingualism as a norm in South Africa,” Sima emphatically stated in our interview. ”Ideologies are attached to language which is why I’m eager to study Linguistics and understand the power of language for social change. This is why I liked the way Makeba spoke her truth. I can do also. She used her voice to instigate social change.”
For example, during her performance, Sima did not shy away from the pain of loss which Makeba had experienced, the latter unable to visit her dying mother because apartheid barriers would not allow Makeba to return to South Africa from exile. Sima had also suffered loss, of her two sisters, and was inspired to sing her own tribute song to that, honestly and reflectively. Also, in keeping with the themes of carrying the South African ‘sound’ to world corners, she honoured the renowned Capetownian musician, Tony Cedras, (who had sculptured and arranged Paul Simon’s songs before and during their Gracelands album tour) and his efforts to spread the Cape musical histories far and wide.
Sima says she’s not a social activist per se, or a jazz artist, but she believes in the power of the message and entertaining through musical stories. Audiences won’t find intricate musicality and technique in My Story, but a melodic voice well controlled, at times spicy, and one that can emote and engage feeling about her sonic journey. Be prepared to have an intimate evening of relaxing moods tainted with a storytelling charm.
On 11 June, 2019, the show will run at the Fynarts Festival in Hermanus http://www.hermanusfynarts.co.za; in Pretoria at the Pierneef Teater on 13 July and in Johannesburg at the Foxwood House & Theatre) on 14 July. In September, the show will run at the Aardklop National Arts Festival in Potchefstroom.
Is there festival fatigue?
Cape Town became festival city as the month of April, worldwide set as ‘International Jazz Month’, wound its way around major holiday periods of Easter, South Africa’s Freedom Day, and May Day celebrations. It started with the annual popular and globally applauded Cape Town International Jazz Festival at end March which brought in a myriad of talents and music genres, including exploring jazz styles outside of the conservative mainstream box. Then the Marathons – for bicyclers and runners – through the beauties of the Cape Peninsula terrain. The announcement that UNESCO has designated Cape Town as the site for next year’s ‘Global International Jazz Day 2020’ events brought awe to key stakeholders who were invited to start thinking about their events, alongside empathetic supports (but no money, yet) from the South African Department of Arts and Culture and Department of Tourism. The 2020 Global Host City event theme befittingly applies to an African city like Cape Town: “Tracing the Roots and Routes of African Jazz.”
But it was this past week in April: Cape Town, which is fast becoming a traffic jammed, stadium-attired, marathon- mania hub on Africa’s culturally rich continent, exploded with jazz talents: some international, some returnees, some surprises, and many stalwart locals who hold the jazz fort . The main issue at stake, in order to please and cater to the varieties of music lovers, is getting the live performance schedules out into the public awareness so that lovers can choose. Other than social media platforms used by artists and their promoters alike, the Cape Town Jazz Gig Guide https://www.facebook.com/capetownjazzgigguide/ tells pretty much what’s happening in and around town. The caveat is that artists and promoters must send in their listings for publication….. but many simply do not. Scheduled clashes occurred, especially when the annual South African Association for Jazz Education (SAJE) Jazz Festival was scheduled way in advance – for scholars and public alike. Stunning lineups happened; but with shockingly poor turnouts. Has Mania turned to Burn Out of public ears and wallet pockets, one wonder? Or was it the venue….at a Boy’s High School which some might think underrates the quality of the artists presenting, or…..?
Who’s On Top?
Promoters such as Jazz in the Native Yards (JiNY), Slow Life, Iluminar Productions, Arte Viva Management, SAJE, small schools of music, venue presenters, and radio presenters on community and internet stations, such as Bush Radio, Fine Music Radio, All Jazz Radio, and MetroFM, and many others, all have vested and honest sympathies to ‘spread the music’ to the wide varieties of patrons in this growing city and globally. Everyone is in the same boat, scrounging around for funding and venues; there’s no hierarchy amongst us; we all must work together! But sometimes, artists ‘pop up’ in our midst, at the last minute, without proper forewarning or marketing, for whatever reasons.
It makes sense that Artists in town for, let’s say one week, are slotted into various venues over the time period to avoid date clashes. A case in point was a gig at The Alma Café, centrally located in Rondebosch and popular for presenting a variety of live music through the week. Thursdays host its jazz night. The scheduled band of Muneem Hermans generously accommodated, at the last minute, a visiting artist, singer Ziza Muftic and her two other musicians, as it added uniqueness to hear this remarkable Johannesburg-based Croatian singer and South African-schooled artist launch songs from her just-released album, Shining Hour. That is a true collaboration in giving space —but where was the audience for this very worthy double-bill?
What Jazz lovers might have missed….
SAJE’s annual festival kicked off at the Reeler Theatre, a centrally located pleasantly acoustic space at the Rondebosch Boys High School, with a fantastic evening double-bill of musicians who would normally draw large crowds both domestically and overseas.
The Paul Hanmer (piano) and McCoy Mrubata (saxophones), both originally from Cape Town, are celebrating their 30+ years of friendship and jazz.
Seems hardly fair to enjoy only 1 hour of their vast repertoire, but their workshop interview about their brotherhood in jazz the following day tantalized one to run out and listen to their songs, at least digitally.
The Friday double-bill then featured a more international set of visiting Italian saxophonist, Emanuele Cisi, performing with Capetown-based Dutch bassist, Hein van de Geyn, and local wizards, David Leadbetter on piano, and Jono Sweetman, all expertly following Cisi’s own compositions, with a few Standards thrown in. How powerful is that for quality jazz? The patronage turnout was shockingly dismal.
Saturday evening at Reeler found music lovers swooning to some popular jazz Standards performed by the American duo of Darius Brubeck (piano) and Mike Rossi (saxophone). But it was that last song which Brubeck eloquently introduced: when he and the legend, Winston Mankunku, played in Durban in the 1980s during apartheid years, Mankunku chose to play the African-American spiritual song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, a commentary on what he, himself, was living through, his musicality cut off by discriminating elements of the day. Brubeck was remembering.
Their moving tributes were followed by a higher tempo of saxophonist Salim Washington’s Quartet which swung into zesty South African tunes and highly emotional piano chordal flings of the otherwise shy Afrika Mkhize, himself a popular subject for the portrait photographers. Since the day, 27 April, celebrated Freedom Day in South Africa, it was appropriate to play Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” with spoken word reminders by Washington that Freedom has to reign amongst all.
A Township Venue Comes Alive
This concert was one fine example of collaboration between SAJE and the JiNY who handled the Washington Quartet’s travel arrangements to the Jazz Festival as well as offered one of its venues. They performed again on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the SAJE Jazz Festival, their sounds resounding with an eager foot-stomping, whistling and whooing crowd of enthusiasts at the popular Guga S’Thebe Cultural Center in Cape Town’s oldest Township of Langa.
Rhythms sang throughout this packed hall, starting with the Afro-European group led by vocalist Florence Chitacumbi, with her percussionist supreme, Mino Cinelu, excelling on his wave drum, and French guitarist, Christophe Bovet. That double-bill requires its own separate entry, including this writer’s interview with Chitacumbi and Cinelu to follow. The afternoon went into evening, closing after 7pm with the Washington/Mkhize band rapturing the crowd for two sets. Happy patrons wobbled home exhausted, imbibed with such unique fanfare of sounds of that day.
One wonders if afternoon performances bring more patrons closer to jazz than evening concerts. It’s a mystery. Yet Saturday evening, May 4, sees Chitacumbi’s trio perform with South African pianist, Nduduzo Makhatini, at Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay thanks to another willing collaborator, Slow Life. One expects there will be a full house of locals stalking these different Afro-soul and rhythmically gifted musicians to wallow in their eclectic mix of African jazz. Tickets at quicket.co.za for Saturday, May 4, 2019; 8pm or contact 082-892-0350 (Paul Kahanowitz).
Thursday 17 January 2019 – By Eric Alan
The intimate venue proved to be the right locale for the extraordinary performances we have so far experienced at the Deep South Distillery. Each of the three performance evenings has been totally diverse and unique which bodes well for South African Jazz Blues, Latin and World Jazzat this intimate venue. Best of all it combines well, very well with the inimitable artisanal products available at each of the evenings.
The Gin and Jazz Session with Buddy Wells, saxophone and Reza Khota, guitar at the Deep South Distillery in Kommetjie last night was sublime expression and a lesson in the fine art of the duo performance. It was an evening of a few totally re-imagined standards, both South African and International, as well as a number of ama-zing original works by both musicians.It was truly a night to remember because each of the pieces played will never be repeated the same way again. Buddy and Reza are remarkable musicians going to places where many would fear to go, and their rapport showed throughout the performance. I believe they really enjoyed performing for the assembled audience who in turn gave them huge respect with enthusiastic applause. Thanks goodness the evening was recorded for later broadcast on All Jazz Radioonce quality checks have been done.
The gin, Deep South Cape Dry and Ruby cocktails were a taste sensation and enjoyed by one and all, but the best kept secret, now no longer a secret was the Marula Madness, developed and expertly mixed by Sandy, and is in all honesty, extremely moreish. I hope it will be added to the growing list of cocktail recipes in the Deep South Distillery’s Secret Alchemists Book of Mysterious & Ancient Mixology,which can then be experienced and enjoyed by all who visit the distillery over the millennia.
The distinctive Cape Cola, which tastes like no other cola product along with the refreshing Lemi-lemi, which is an incomparable slightly sparkling lemon with a tinge of ginger soft drink, yummolicious. Lasses’ passion shines thought when talking about his products.
Chef Rochelle and Andre Coetzee of AndRoc’S Mobile Kitchen & Catering trailer menu was well received. I say that I really enjoyed the Roll me a Boerie served in a tortilla with a scrumcious piece of great boerewors, with a dollop of excellent homemade chilli relish, rocket and some crumbled Blue Cheese, totally lip-smackin’ good. The Pizza Sandwich, which is another name for a Quesadilla, made with two tortilla flatbreads pressed together filled with a creamy mozzarella cheese, homemade tomato relish and drizzled with homemade basil pesto. I did not try it but those who did were extremely happy. The dessert, a Berry Cream donut which was a new addition to the menu was particularly decedent in a um, ar, er lovely / way depending on ones view, and yet tasty.
Where: Deep South Distillery, Heron Park, Wildevoelvlei Rd, Kommetjie Directions: Take the Kommetjie Road south – drive past Masiphumelele (on the right) – look out for Fish Eagle Park (on the right) – Heron Park is next on the right. Turn right and take the first left into Wildevoelvlei Road. Deep South Distillery is at the end of the cul-de-sac.
Below are the details for the next performance to be held at The Deep South Distillery in Kommetjie
February 2019 Performance Dates
Wed 06th Dave Ledbetter Guitar/Vocals & Ronan Skillen – Percussion – duo is known as Deep South
Wed 20th Hilton and Eldred Schilder – Piano & Bass
March 2019 Performance Dates
Wed 06th Tony Cedras Duo – Multiple instruments (Guitar, Vocals, Flute, Trumpet, Accordian, Piano, Percussion)
Wed 20th Thembelihle Dunjana Duo – Piano, & Percussion
See y’all on Wed 06th February
Why visit an artisanal gin distillery on a Wednesday evening in Heron Park in the sleepy Cape Peninsula village of Kommetjie?
Entertainment, gin tasting, and …. a different experience for a change. Why not? Deep South Distillery in partnership with All Jazz Radio is hosting delightful ‘Jazz and Gin’ Wednesdays (two per month for now) this 2019 featuring musicians in duos playing their acoustic oriGINal compositions for a listening audience eager to also sip away on a welcoming cocktail.
This ginnery converts its tasting room by day into a quality and intimate music venue by night – and quality it was. The room is decked out with a variety of gin bottles using different botanicals accompanied with colourful garnishes including juniper berries, dried orange slices, almost transparent cucumber slivers, and bottles of rum which is becoming a popular commodity as well.
Last Wednesday, 2 January, kicked in the New Year with style: The duo of guitarist James Kibby who thrives on Rhythm ‘n Blues, and the zany let-your-hair-fling vocalist Charles Summerfield who crosses over everyone from Sting to Marley to…..well, the list is long. Their presentations and tempo stayed true to the name they call themselves – The Outlaws. Since they started bending musical rules in 2012 in Capetown, The Outlaws incorporate spontaneous composition during their performances, something akin to Theatre Sports or the TV show, ‘ Whose Line Is It Anyway’.
Charles enjoys surprising listeners with his lyrical gymnastics that are twisty and spontaneous, a technique which he has used also with his animal rights awareness projects, particularly regarding rhino conservation. Those messages are serious, but this Wednesday eve, his style was playful and teasing, keeping pace with the audience’s mood. James brings his own magic, creating exciting musical composition groove combinations on his guitar and loop station, while creatively driving the rhythms. The duo played two sets, with intervals to allow listeners time to explore the different drinks at the cash bar, or munch on an affordable smoked rib or burger sliders from the Hungry Bear food truck parked outside. Deep South plans to showcase local craft food and beverages, the latter which offered delicious tastings from the Ginny Fowl Gin varieties and creative sodas made by Cape Cola.
The Outlaws’ music touches on acoustic disco, a bit of jazz, and Manu Chao style World Music, all mostly improvised. They continue to grow their oriGINal material in wild and wonderful ways for audiences in the Cape area, and will be welcomed to return again to Deep South in another six months.
Upcoming duos will feature:
16 January: Buddy Wells Saxophone Duo
6 February: Dave Ledbetter (Guitar/Vocals) & Ronan Skillen (Percussion) from Deep South
20 February: Hilton and Eldred Schilder Piano & Bass
For bookings, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 (0)76 900 3171
Arrive 6.30pm for a bite to eat; music 7-9pm.
For R170 entry which includes a welcome cocktail and the music, this is a Wednesday evening of rare experience, a unique and intimate vibe, creative libations, and inventive sonic concoctions. Stay tuned on the Jazz Connection or All Jazz Radio Facebook pages.
Or just visit Deep South Distillery at 53 Heron Park, Wildevoelvlei Road, Kommetjie; Contact +27 (0)21 783 0129 or email@example.com or https://www.deepsouthdistillery.co.za/
53 Heron Park, Wildevoelvlei Road, Kommetjie
Contact: 021 783 0129 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A week of not-the-usual-fare of musical offerings from bands which consider themselves of ‘mixed’ influences kicked off with the launch of Mike Rossi’s ‘Journey’ album, The World, rather, seemed to be depicted sonorously and joyfully by all groups that followed their musical themes throughout the week.
Rossi started the live band wagon with local musicians, some who had featured on his chatty album, like trombonist William Haubrich, drummer Kevin Gibson, and pianist bop artist, Andrew Ford along with Rossi’s multiple instruments, saxes and flute.
But it was the performance of young former-Delft Big Band, Lorenzo Blignaut, on flugelhorn that stole the show. His grooming by former Band leader and trumpeter, Ian Smith, has payed off handsomely from teenage years; Blignaut is dedicated and largely self-taught, mentored of course by the greats. Had the lighting effects been better, photographers would have flocked to this popular bakery-cum-jazz venue to catch various band wizards which Slow Life brings in, consistently and faithfully, in order to grow jazz and its various forms in this peninsular community.
Mid-week, Ancient Agents, a poly-rhythmic, multi-percussive group, performed at the vibey Café Roux’s Capetown branch on Shortmarket Street, before their travel to Madagascar for a popular music Festival.
Ronan Skillan’s hand-made slide metal didgeridoo expertly accompanied by Swedish cajon box beater and frame drum specialist, Fredrik Gille, brought eerie ancient and earthy sounds that made drinks rattle. Schalk Joubert’s electric bass foundations often echoed Reza Khota’s guitar conversations, making this evening’s event electric, different, and fulfilling. http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2017/09/20/primordial-and-polyrhythmic-ancient-agents-is-a-percussion-delight/
Musicians enjoy Café Roux – it’s obvious. Eat some yummy pizza or light dishes first before the show, then relax back to a sound quality experience and dreamy decorum with an appreciative audience. Although Ancient Agents musicians focus on ‘jazz’, their improvisations cut across ancestral and traditional folk lines that are always pleasing. As is the venue! Oh, and yes, the venue introduces the band, and softly reminds the patrons to keep chatting volumes low in order to appreciate the musical offerings. Woe to the many other venues who simply don’t care about the music!
By Friday, another Slow Life-sponsored group hit town: SULP* (Swiss Urban Landler Passion) intrigued music students and fans at a College of Music concert with their enigmatic sounds that draw out folk life in an increasingly urbanizing Switzerland, yet stay true to tradition, the ‘Landler’ folk music. Featuring the concertina instrument, with its diatonic buttons on one side, and chromatic buttons on the other side, and a 4 metre long ‘Alp Horn’ blown, or rather breath-caressed like a didgeridoo with a French horn twist, and several other more ‘modern’ instruments, like the saxophone and double bass, SULP swung into rapturous waltzes and polka moods, reminiscent of music played in the popular film, ‘Sound of Music’. The alpine terrain comes to life, as did this recital hall with students looking for the familiar. Homegrown South Africans, Trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, and guitarist Derek Gripper added their individual mixes of African and a bit of Nordic influences. As SULP says, “Swiss folk music, in its contemporary form, did not emerge in the countryside but was invented by industrial workers in the fast growing urban centers re-imagining their rural origins in the rapidly changing world.”
SULP play at 4 other venues this weekend.
*Simon Dettwiler (conertina), Matthias Gubler (saxophone) and Hannes Fankhauser (Alp Horn, double bass)
They looked oddly rested after 25 flight hours, landing in Cape Town a few hours before their sound check for the evening’s concert at Kalk Bay’s popular Olympia Bakery-turned-jazz –club-at-night. The Toronto-based AVATAAR sextet arrived for their first African performance, which should not be their last.
Coming from ethnically seasoned backgrounds, including southern India and Italy, these Canadians presented a rare treat of sounds for this peninsula community, a mix of tabla-inspired blues cooked with a sometimes acid-rock guitar groove, then a Coltrane-influenced alto sax complemented with Indian scat of vocalist, Suba Sankaran.
Their jazz fused improvisation with varieties of world sonic motifs, playing off the compositions of sax/flute band leader, Sundar Viswanathan’s debut album, Petal (2015). Named for flowers that show their beautiful bloom for a short time, then disappear; thus the ephemeral nature of existence, impermanence.
The generous 100 minute performance was electric – a sitar-sounding guitarist, Michael Occhipinti who carries Sicilian accents of heritage wedded so perfectly with the raga nuances provided by Ravi Naimpally’s tabla and Haiku speaking bassist, George Koller. While one often associates Indian classical music with spirituality, the divine touch heard on this night felt more like a sitar-rock meeting contemporary jazz styles with cross-overs into funk and melodic ballads. These eclectic band members each boast musical accolades and awards across the Canadian music spectrum, and deservedly, needed to visit the finest of South Africa’s jazz traditions coincidentally during Heritage celebrations. Or was it a coincidence? Their three-city tour this week (September 22-30, 2018) takes them to other heritage sites of Durban and Pretoria, besides Capetown.
Befittingly, talking about ‘heritage’, AVATAAR’s performance cleverly highlighted some of the immigrant musical backgrounds of the musicians, thanks to Viswanathan’s Tamil influences. Such compositions from Petal include reference to South Asian contexts like tsunamis in “Banda Aceh” with staccato taka taka vocals of Naimpally, or storms in “Monsoon”. Long influenced by Brazil’s Antonio Carlos Jobim, Viswanathan infuses Brazilian rhythms for effect, and has even mastered Portugese in order to explore wider cultural circles.
But unlike the ending song on the album, “Petal (emphemerata)” with spoken word philosophies about the purpose of existence supported by one’s spirituality, AVATAAR chose to honour a South African jazz legend’s composition, Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Mannenberg”. What ensued was a frolicking jazz rock heightened by tabla and drums as the familiar song swung through its cadences and rhythms in true South African style. Now that was a highlight of the evening! https://www.facebook.com/neil.frye.71/videos/10156676818712152/
Their South African tour was made possible by Canada’s Council for the Arts and Paul Bothner music providing the baseline instruments. Event manager Paul Kahanowitz had met Viswanathan a year ago, and managed to pull this group to our shores. Applause to all.
Further information from Sundar Viswanathan at email@example.com; +1-416 994 0758
Spirit lifting, head turning, chuckles and smiles….. are utterances from the lively audiences exposed to the Durban-ladies-meet-Capetown-ladies, under the band name of “Heels Over Head”, a Durban-based all-female jazz pop band that started in 2008. And uplifting they were as they nestled us inside Gugulethu’s Kwa Sec house with a roaring fire and hard-to-find independent wines on sale. Three Durban gals linked up with Capetownians Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane on piano and keys, Tracey Johannes on bass guitar, and guitarist Arianna Carini who started with the Durban group and is presently studying classical Flamenco at the University of Capetown’s School of Music.
HOH’s tour through SA Concerts from their Durban base is a collaboration seeking to mentor and develop the talents of other female jazz and blues artists. This echos the band members’ own upbringings in musical families and youth orchestras.
Theirs is a special sound: funky blues with Carini’s killer guitar which adds the pop/rock feel; vocalist and HOH founder Thulile Zama, throws soulful ballads with a vocal control that speaks to ten years plus experience leading the Durban band.
Drummer Rebekah Doty. offers subtle rhythms that don’t overpower; Doty has also served in a military band before resuming her HOH link. The youngest member of this collaboration, Mazinyane’s keys are gentle and melodic. Her hands have matured; she plays with ease.
Their albums also feature pianists Taryn Kasaval and Lindi Ngonelo, bassist Tebogo Sedumedi, and a hot guitarist, Chillie, who ensures the flame endures in the band’s sonic fusion. Their first album in 2010, Could It Be, contains haunting African jazzics, such as ‘Pata Pata, with very danceable rhythms, melting smooth jazz as in ‘Betrayed’, the lively soul pop of the album’s title, ‘Could It Be’, and the upbeat drum ‘n bass funk remix of ‘Girlfriend’. This album exudes emotion, purpose, and message, all which has spiraled these ‘girls’ into a limelight of recognition.
Besides performing in various festivals, like Moshito, and at the 2017 Essence Festival in New
Orleans, USA, the group was nominated in 2011 for MTN SAMA AWARDS in the Contemporary Jazz category.
Their 2013 album, Sondela, presents a slower groove through the seasoned vocals of the musicians entwined in soft ballad harmonies, as in the popular ‘Ntilo Ntilo’ and in ‘Ngiyak’ Phica Phica’. Slow smooth jazz in a blues style around love themes, with the occasional mood setting of a trumpet, characterises this album quite differently to the 2010 album. If I had to choose between the two, Could It Be explains why the group was SAMA nominated in 2011.
Vocalist and founder, Thulile Zama, explains how HOH members managed to stay together for 10 years: “Few bands have survived over the years. We have worked for many years to create opportunities for ourselves. It has been a great experience, both enriching and humbling, and we will continue to offer platforms for female musicians.”
Drummer Rebekah Doty adds: “We want to be an example to other female musicians and show them that everything is possible. We have performed for so many different audiences throughout the years. Still being together after 10 years is a great motivation to keep the band going.”
The style of the Heels Over Head gals, both on and off the stage, reveals how these well-dressed ladies approach their art seriously but with glee and pizzaz, seeking to musically entertain and make us all feel good….and perhaps ready for more wine and chats! See the following links:
You Tube: www.youtube.com/isupportdoyou
Capetownian guitarist, Keenan Ahrends, is exuding maturity and clarity in his musical journey by honestly divulging his experiences with the joys and mistrusts in life.
To a question put to him during the press conference at Capetown’s recent International Jazz Festival, the youthful Ahrends, explains how and why he narrates his stories musically:
“Music has emotions, sometimes through words and pictures. I use tools of texture, emotion, and colour so that my sounds come naturally, maybe not always consciously. Through improvisation, you can allow yourself to play that emotion.”
Simply put, Ahrends seems to know where and how he’s headed with his craft, a delightful mix of home-grown Cape ghoema, grungy blues rock, free jazz, and bits of traditional South African music. 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.
When asked what influences have helped him to move jazz boundaries, his quaint reply humbly referred to those legends who have pushed the music forward, and the new experimental sounds emerging from ‘world’ influences, like trumpeter Christian Scott’s guitarist, Matthew Stevens, whose voicings led to “Scott’s Move” on Ahrends’ album. Then, there are also his peers:
“I don’t feel I have to break a barrier or produce a completely different sound, but to respect and admire what my peers are composing. Along with the old, and the new, my peers help me to have a goal in mind, a level to reach, such as a new audience to reach, and unconsciously try to cross genres . Yah, the new, the old, and my peers.”
Ahrends clearly admits that it is connecting and playing with his friends that satisfies him the most because these are the few very good players that influence him.
Another journalist question this: But doesn’t this run the danger of producing too much of the same sound if you only play with your friends? Ahrends says not really, only if a new guy comes along and tries to convince the group about styling and interpretation, and you silently comply.
A thoughtful question was posed by another: In the 1950s and 60s, there was a collective of jazz artists looking after each other with a common expression of long sought-out freedom. Now, there tends to be a lot of individualism with musicians leading bands and jamming together, and members changing roles. So, is there still a space for integrating that kind of jazz approach of collectivism and sharing?
“I think we do, in a different way today. We have a friendship amongst peers where we can interact and, as a band leader, invite others to play with me. I enjoy that; a lot of playing in each other’s projects, with a collective drive to push the music forward. For instance, the initial composer would invite other players to contribute to the writing process. So, yes, I feel that because we have strong bonds with each other, we’re not that separated. I’m not clear on how get a collective consciousness per se, but we’re all individually going in the same way. “
While studying in Norway in 2009, Ahrends suffered a culture shock, but got over it.
“We from South Africa come with our jazz language and B-Pop lines, but the improvisation class was like digging into sound and texture and free improvisation and harmony. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed this free improvisation, of making something complex simple. But I thought at times, ‘what is going on here?’ I enjoyed it.”
The Album, released in 2017, narrates Ahrends’ experiences with a reflective and honest approach. He has chosen his quintet members well, each providing their unique twist to his stories. Nicholas Williams’ piano brings a melodic tenderness to ‘Silent Mistrust’, a composition that echos Ahrends’ past disappointments. “This song conveys how I felt when my trust was broken ; I endured it, first, silently, then loudly. Through that composition, I could reflect, because there was something inside me; I had to be tender with myself.” Through his guitar improvisation, he could “tear things apart”.
Double bassist, Romy Brauteseth, adds reflective texture on her solos in “Stories Behind Expressions” and “Inevitability”. The breathy wails of Sisonke Xonti’s tenor sax replicate maskandi sounds unique to South Africa. Further textures and moods are layered by drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko as in “Brotherhood” and the energetic “Untitled in 5”. The band is tight; they know each other very well.
But it’s the guitar that carries the story line: “All” swings from a contemplative ballad into an acid rock style which screams help, giving a sense of urgency, but then dips into resolve at the end. A moving piece. “Untitled in 5” has mixed rhythms reminiscent of South African ancestral Khoisan dance with an effective and tight duo between guitar and sax only interrupted with a robust Mazibuko drum solo. Ahrends wrote this piece while camping with his family, but couldn’t find a suitable title. Same for “Untitled in 3”.
“It comes from listening to traditional South African jazz music . The chordal placement parts go into a 6/8 time with a harmonically South African tonality. I just liked the sound of ‘untitled in’!!”
Ahrends expresses emotional whirlwinds from life experiences, and shakes them off in “Here We Go Again”, a careful slow ballad that builds a story in a pure, soulful way. Then the song erupts; the energetic drum and the emphatic grungy guitar pronounce that life IS hard – but get over it. This well-constructed song sighs in desperation, but with a beauty and release that lingers.
Grungy rock marks these stories; Ahrends stylistically switches from grunge to subtle South African sounds as in “Past” and “Stories Behind Expressions”. This is why ‘Narrative’ is listenable and reflectively memorable.
The Indian classical sitar comes to Capetown’s Baxter Theater 29 July and to Johannesburg’s Lyric Theater on 30 July straight from Niladri Kumar’s home of Mumbai, India. These ‘Raga Ecstasy’ concerts are possible thanks to Inner Circle Entertainment which produces Indian Classical Music concerts in South Africa. As one of India’s premier classical sitarists, Kumar is not so much eager to collect sitars or sit on their glory, but to highlight how the instrument can benefit others.
Coming from a prestigious musical family of means, his heart seemed always in tune with those less fortunate. During the International Year of the Girl Child in 2013, he and his team trained orphan girls to play sitar and to perform. He auctioned off a nearly 100-year old sitar he grew up with in order to raise funds for underprivileged musical prodigies in his midst.
PHOTO With grandfather & father
Playing sitar from age 4, under the tutelage of his father (who was also a disciple of the famous sitarist, Ravi Shankar), Kumar remained loyal to his five-generations family history of sitar playing, while feeling his contemporary world demanding flexibility and change. Kumar, thus, created the ‘zitar’, an electronic version of the traditional sitar.
Kumar playing with grandfather and father
“The scope of an instrument is never decided by the music.” Kumar refers to the sitar’s range of use in Hindi film music. Musicians’ sensibilities change, thus affecting how the instrument complements particular themes. The ‘Z’ in zitar connotes the zany, edginess. Hence, the electronic sitar evolves to a five string fusion of Indian classical with a contemporary international flavour. Some traditionalists queried this upstart. But these how-dare-you sentiments were gradually subterfuged by the encroaching young global fusions of sounds, rhythms, and message.
While respecting tradition, Kumar admits that Indian classical music ‘needs a boost’. What awaits our raga listening ear on 29 July at the Baxter Concert Hall promises to be awe-inspiring and highly entertaining musical feast.
* * * * * *
This writer (CM) and tabla/dirigidoo musician Ronan Skillen (RS) from Capetown had an awesome opportunity to Skype chat with Kumar, prior to his travels to South Africa end of this month. Skillen provided an ideal complement to our discussions since he specializes in various ethnic percussion instruments, and has, himself, studied in India under the tutelage of a notable tabla musician. Kumar will be performing with the renowned tabla player, Vijay Ghate, who is widely acknowledged for his forays into fusion with well-known artists including the Jethro Tull band, George Duke, Al Jarreau , and Ravi Coltrane. Ghate has lectured at Codarts University of Arts at Rotterdam as well as formed a trust called Taalchakra, which provides a platform to young and upcoming artists and supports for musicians in financial need.
Kumar says he will just be playing the sitar in his South African concerts, and will explore with the audiences the world of Indian classical raga melodies and different rhythmic time signatures, or Talas.
CM: Here in South Africa, we hear lots of other types of music. Do you fuse your classical with other forms of music?
NK; Yes, we explore these fusions, particularly in Mumbai which supports musicians collaborating with jazz and other kinds of non-Indian music. This has been going on for at least 60 years now. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve played in unfamiliar territory of art other than the comfort of just having the tabla. So it’s no longer ‘unique’ to explore these other sounds and rhythms.
CM: OK, then maybe we’ll hear a little bit of jazz from you… (laughter).
NK: The thing is, I don’t know jazz music. I’ll explain with this short story. I was preparing for an English essay exam and the preparation I did was to write an essay on the river. The river is like classical music for me. But at the exam, I was supposed to write about the elephant. I know what the contours of the elephant looks like, what it eats, and what it does. So I explained what the elephant looks like and how I walked it in the forest while it munches on the vegetation. Then the elephant arrives at the river to drink, it falls into the river. Then, I write the essay about the river which is what I prepared for! So that’s how I play jazz, and that’s how jazz musicians play classical music. So if you’re expecting jazz music from me, you’re in the wrong place!! We tend to play what we know most about!
CM: (laughter) I’ll hand you over to Ronan whose home wifi username is – guess what? ‘Elephant’!
NK: Oh, my goodness!!
RK: You know, it’s so bizarre! That story you just told. I was just re-watching the making of the “Industrial Zen” album which features guitarist John McLaughlin and he told that same story on that DVD. You had told it to him. That’s so funny.
NK: Because people tend to ask the same question….about playing jazz….. (laughter).
RK: That’s a good answer because most people know that Indian classical music is improvised …
NK: I think improvisation is more in the thought process, but not necessarily in the music, because it comes from so many different cultures and in that sense, it can only smell and feel different in different parts of the world. But at the same time, it’s a valid question and a good answer, so we still have to deal with those 7 notes in our universe. And imagine that every emotion needs to be expressed through those 7 notes. This narrowed down connection with musicians all over the world is amazing. I don’t think any other trade can do that, to pinpoint such a connection.
RK: You’re right. Because it’s like having guidelines – within that context (7 key notes) you’ve got to express what you want to say. And it’s amazing. You take the sitar, with its 19 strings, but you’re only really playing one string. You’re exploring a contemporary version of something very ancient. It’s also interesting how you bring in chordal progressions – wit those long reaches ….. and I can see on the fretboard that you’re struggling to get them!
NK: Yes, those chords. In 1995, I was playing a concert in Mumbai at a very traditional music place. All the traditional greats have performed there, even my father. I was in my early 20’s and that was the first time I played chords. The next day, a big article made the newspaper saying how sacrilegious it was for me to play chords because I had come from a great musical tradition of my father, so much more was expected of me. This got me thinking because I had played a 2 ½ hour concert; yet, the chords had lasted not more than 30 – 45 seconds. The writer’s critique of this small percentage of the concert took up over half the article! So maybe I should increase the chord playing time in order to get an important front-page article from my concerts! (laughter)
This is our Indian music – we have to go through all these stages of exploring sounds and techniques on our instruments to appeal to the younger generation. So, the journey of exploring boundaries has to continue, even in traditional music.
CM: About that exploring boundaries….. Some people say that the sitar is always so romantic and so sad at the same time. How do you take this sadness out of the sitar sound?
NK: You don’t have to. Why would you take an emotion away? Our music revolves around the nine emotions which we call ‘navaras’. Melancholy or sadness is one of these moods, or emotions, the feeling of having lost something, or missed out on whatever. This is very much part of our musical evolution. We are fortunate to be able to explore these diverse emotions, from happiness to actually making someone cry in sadness. It’s wonderful . Not many instruments have that range.
It also depends on the musician, which areas he wants to explore that day, whether the song is to be happy, or sad. This is essential. I see young people listening to music and dancing to it, finding it very groovy, and letting their hair down. What about having a dance within you? Without having to actually get onto the dance floor? That dance within needs to have a range of emotions.
CM: That brings me to another point. Given your various generations of listeners in India, which groups tend to like your music, and which groups question what you’re doing with your contemporary music?
NK: The senior groups tend to question, like your teachers as they technically know more and will always question you. On the other hand, if the listener doesn’t question why I’m playing in such a way, then that listener is stagnant and thinks you’re not moving anything. If someone in a comfort zone asks why, that means you have shifted something which is not the usual. If that shift doesn’t happen in any form of music, then it’s not music any more.
CM: Well, I look forward to hearing your ‘shift’ at your concert…….
NK: Please don’t get stuck on the ‘shift’, because the usual is also good enough! (laughter)
RK: Can I say you’re from a younger generation?
NK: You’re very kind, Ronan. I’m in my early 40’s.
RK: Just listening to why you do what you do, I feel that in this modern world, to try to keep such a culturally diverse form of music alive, like with classical Indian music, is a difficult thing. I’ve been exposed to a lot of this music, and I love it, as abstract and as difficult as it can be to listen to …. You can have an interpretation of whichever raga you hear one night, and the next night you can hear the same raga performed by somebody else, and it’s completely different.
RK: …and in terms of India as a country with a culture so intact…. I haven’t seen it anywhere else in the world where music is being taken to such a level.
NK: It’s also because such music has evolved over thousands of years …..
RK: What I’m saying is it’s great to see someone as enlightened as you, taking from all the different ways and walks of life, and putting it into something that is currently contemporary music.
NK: The light switched on my head from my musical family. (laughter)
RK: Sometimes, I have also found how Indian classical music can be quite one-sided and closed off as well where you don’t access the tradition …. This is how it’s done, and this is the tradition…period.
NK:: But I would consider this necessary, where some form simply doesn’t change. This is essential if you have to have your base in some form of tradition.
RS: ….yes, to preserve it. But what I’m getting at is the question Carol raised about the younger generation, that the more you’re able to draw upon the lineage and respect for the teachers and all who have distilled the music into what you know, and if you’re able to portray it in such a way that it’s going to reach everyone, and specifically the younger generation, that’s the key. In today’s world, like you were saying, that dance inside….instead of the quick fix… And listening to how you play and operate, in an interactive way on stage, I think you’re on that track. It’s great!
NK: I don’t do things which I don’t believe in. The problem lies when you try to form someone upon somebody else’s success. That’s where the passion and commitment get nullified. You can’t copy. Everyone has to have their own path. The only thing about Indian classical music is that sometimes it can become a bit preachy, that you’re telling the audience that this is the tradition, and this is how you do it, this way or the highway! But I think rather than become preachy, let this music become a form for communicating with the audience.
CM: You’ve given us a lot of food for thought, Niladri, and we thank you very much….
NK: Oh, I’m so sorry about that! Everybody’s on a diet nowadays!
CM: We wish you could be longer with us as we would take you to a cave for recordings. This is what Ronan and two other colleagues did recently, and recorded an album in a cave in their ‘Cave Project’.
NK: Incredible. You’ve got certain acoustic enhancements right there, like delays, all free of cost! I’ve always wanted to play a concert in a church, and did so in a chapel in France. The acoustics are incredible, you have to alter your playing. The sustain is so much longer and so different.
CM: Well, we have lots of churches here, so you may want to change your schedule a bit! And I also look forward to crying a lot at your Baxter concert!
NK: Oh Oh! (laughter) But that’s how a musician’s schedule is. Nobody want to keep us so we’re shoved onto the first available flight back home!
This interview will broadcast LIVE on www.alljazzradio.co.za pm Friday, 21 July 2017, at 9pm Central African Time, and repeats on Sunday 23 July at 5am CAT and on Monday 24 July at 1pm CAT.
Computicket: tickets for Niladri Kumar and Vijay Ghate concert are available for 29 July at the Baxter in Capetown and on 30 July in Johannesburg.
Rootspring presented at Novalis Ubuntu Institute on 8 July, 2017, a dramatic full moon concert of serenity featuring singer Indwe on traditional Xhosa- bow, with an exciting percussion duo, ‘Intone’ made up of tabla and dirigidoo player, Ronan Skillen, and James van Minnen on skin and box drums and other percussion.
Van Minnen’s thesis is that lower-frequency instruments producing sounds of earth and nature are soothing to babies in utero and outside the womb, and to pregnant women.
The two gentlemen came together recently to revive their 17-year history exploring similar soundscape interests: van Minnen invited Skillen to come and play in a coastal cave north of Capetown. Not surprisingly, given the spiritual yin-yang balance of these two men, their musical purpose was to honour motherhood and femininity.
Intone percussion instruments
Supported by neurological research, he says such sounds would favourably activate the baby’s brain waves with pleasant resonance from the cave space and acoustic instruments. The two-CD album, called The Cave Project: Meditations and Lullabies, was thus recorded over a three-day period in this found cave. Fascinating and explicit photos and videos on the making of this unusual sound project are worth digesting, at http://rootspring.co.za/the-cave-project-lullabies-meditations/
The music is about human connections, meditatively explored from the roots of our being. The Novalis evening was choreographed with standing candles lighting the prepared round stage in the middle of this oval interior. The audience seating completed this roundness. The building’s dome facilitated the excellent acoustic sounds from voice, bow, and percussion instruments with minimal amplification. To enable a cave decorum, pre-recorded sounds from inside the cave – birds chirping, bats flying, water rustling – accompanied the live performance, creating an extraordinary ambiance of serenity.
The Institute is known as being a quiet, meditative space for courses and workshops of a developmental nature, hosted by various NGOs and community groups. This writer has enjoyed many full-moon evening meditations in this spiritually uplifting space. This full moon evening on 9 July was nothing short of magical.
Rootspring Conscious Music is the brain-child of its Producer, the well-known musician, Jonny Blundell, whose music label promotes ‘world music’ by local South African musicians with ethnic bents. He was drawn to The Cave Project because “it features musicians playing instruments that are generally traditional ethnic instruments. It also appealed to us because of the unusual combination of musicians and certainly because of the unusual location! Recording in a cave was a first for us.”
The Cave Project: Meditations & Lullabies is available from www.rootspring.co.za
The recent Capetown International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) was given a special treat – a resurrection of grandmaster Astor Piazolla’s ‘New Tango’ with a special twist by grandson Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazolla who loves the Afro-Caribbean claves rhythms set to a Tango mood.
Grandfather Astor Piazolla has been considered as Argentina’s most celebrated composer and bandoneonist of the ‘New Tango’ which did not include a singer, but wedded improvisational jazz and classical music together. Two generations later, grandson Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazolla and his merry Escalandrum sextet band have put aside the traditional bandoneon and violin of former tango years, and added singer, Elena Roger, and a three-horn section plus drum kit.
Their intention is to promote the sounds of their city, Buenos Aires, which reigns with the tango, but continue to fuse the delightful urban swing with some complicated improvisation techniques, particularly using the sonorous, multi-ranged bass clarinet, a rarity in contemporary jazz. Pipi says his grandfather hated the dancing that went with his-day tango. “People should listen, not dance, to tango,” Pipi agrees.
They love their city of Buenos Aires as well as sharks. “Escalandrún” is the Argentinian name for a sand shark, the favourite marine animal of the Piazolla family who fish sharks. One song performed at the Jazz Festival was composed by drummer Pipi to honour sharks. It was a stunningly haunting piece with the bass clarinet making sonic images of whale and dolphin calls, low rumbles conveying feelings of dark sea depths, and other primordial sounds, even imitating the dirigidoo.
Their performance at CTIJF this year was their first on African soil. ‘Pipi’ felt there were so many similarities between African rhythms and the tango that they hope to continue more collaborations as Escalandrum perfects their own new age tango improvisations.
During my interview with the sextet of large and well-built men, Pipi explained that in 2001, when a crisis in Argentina caused many to leave the country, he and his merry men stayed (his musical buddies formed Escalandrum in 1999); they felt the pressure to change the folkloric tango and offer uplifting music for their depressed fellow citizens. Hence, an emphasis on the milonga 5/4 odd meter beats. “We were more socially inspired than political because the country wasn’t stable. We searched in ourselves; our ages influenced us: when young we just wanted to play bebop, but as we grew older the mind opened up to other inspiring rhythms. Everybody was running away, but we wanted to stay here.”
We talked about why Escalandrum was fusing more with Afro-Cuban music. “The Latin milongas go well with our own folkloric traditions in Argentina: the chacarera and malambo rhythms in 6/8, the sambo in ¾, and as jazz musicians, we love rhythms.” Then, why did they move away from the accordion? “The bandoneon is more difficult to adapt to the improvisational jazz approach which we want to move forward. In Argentina and particularly in Buenos Aires, we are a melting pot of cultures so we don’t stick to one traditional sound, but branch out and absorb others which have influenced us – like African, North American, and Cuban music. The bandoneon has actually saved our music, and made it original, but there is other original music we can continue to produce. “
And what was that about Mozart, I asked? “A festival producer wanted us to bring our interpretation of Mozart in Piazolla form to a festival, as an art form. Those people interested in classical music were willing to let us be free with our presentations, which is good. We brought on one of our best classical musicians who also was our teacher and also taught my grandfather, and we performed with only two microphones – very stereophonic. It was one recording with no mixing, and is available. It was quite a challenge, however, to play Mozart and Piazolla together!
Escalandrum’s Latin Grammy-winning album, “Piazolla Plays Piazolla”, explains so eloquently and sonorously the dimensions and styles which their contemporary music is using. Produced in 2011, the album is excitingly polyrhythmic, thanks to the many clave beats grounded in Afro-Cuban/Caribbean varieties. Each band member has composed songs and infused his own sounds to make this album multi-spirited and innovative.
‘Tanguedia 1” sounds like an angry retort against the flimsy tango dancing people, unsupported by Escalandrum’s style of tango. “Fuga 9” implants a classical flare which contorts into horn-pronounced resolution, followed by a boppish piano trio which seeks to calm down the protesting horns. This is a well improvised piece, full of jazzic twists that return to the fundamental Piazolla beat.
“Romance del Diablo” starts with low key bass clarinet paired with melodic saxes morphing into a surprising ballad honouring the devil. Here, the horns spell diabolic images romancing themselves, a winner!
It’s this fusion of the at-times cacophonic improvisation (as in ‘Buenos Aires Hora Cero’), mellow ballad moods, and standard jazz bop, which permits the re-entry of that notorious tango rhythm into the sonicsphere, that keeps one’s ears eagerly plugged to the band’s conversations. “Adios Nonino” does this nicely, resolving into a beautiful, almost mournful, song.
One learns the wide range of the bass clarinet, so expertly played by Martin Pantyrer, which successfully establishes frameworks for both mood and message.
The beats keep changing between 5-4 time, then the clave 3-2 time, and so on, but the fundamental 4/4 time sounds come from Pipi’s clave, that five-stroke pattern that is at the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms. The album ends with a stunning drum solo by Pipi in ‘Libertango’ that fuses, again, with the basic tango sound and seems to heal and free up the spirit.
Pipi explains what influences him: “The Uruguayan–African influences have molded the Milongo and malambo mixtures which are heard, such as the 5/4 time. Also, every night I watch YouTube music videos to find something new and interesting. Then in the morning, I try to practice what I heard and explore different sounds.” Pianist Nicholas Guerschberg says he tries to find new music and ideas and styles so he can play different originals. The latest project is to combine Mozart with our tango!” Escalandrum’s latest album, “SesionesION:Obras de Mozart y Ginastera”, recorded in mid-2016, was released January 4, 2017.
They do sound like friends who have hung out together since youth, who decided to put their talents together into a band in 1999. Escalandrum has traveled extensively since, winning awards as they merge the Argentinian rhythmic styles more and more with the Afro-Caribbean Latin influences. Hence, sounds of conga, son, mambo, and salsa spice up their forward-sounding tango and other globally-influenced rhythms. This is rhythmic excitement at its best!
Love wine? Love it more: pair it with that food for the soul – jazz – complemented with a good dose of belly-shaking comedy, all which works up the appetite for that 3-course delectable meal from award-winning chefs where different wines are paired with the different dishes on offer.
MmWHaaaa! Now that’s an afternoon to follow the annual Capetown International Jazz Festival as festive spirits literally spilled over into Sunday jazz brunches, wine tastings, and the like.
It’s not just about that wine bottle, or that particular jazz band, or about that colourful starter at table. It’s about experiencing, moving the culinary and emotional juices to realize what wholesome healing can take place and what wonderful memories can endure into the week ahead.
Sip by Sip does just that by creating opportunities for marketing South Africa’s finest wines and addressing the ‘new age’ needs of various wine aficionados who wish to combine taste experiences. Not just good taste in the culinary, but in music and entertainment. “A voyage to enchanting places, and encounter with remarkable people, and the delight of good food and cultural experiences,” is Sip by Sip’s visionary purpose, and delightful it is.
Thanks to Sip by Sip’s event, “Sunday in the Vines”, I was honoured the experience of imbibing wines from Italian cultivars with my 3-course meal at the Da Capo wine estate, high up in the Hottentot Holland mountains of Sir Lowry’s Pass in Somerset West, Western Cape. This event ‘paired’ with the annual Jazz Festival, particularly for those who couldn’t attend the festival but could benefit from one of Capetown’s finest jazz band, on this day being “Hassan’adas”, a vibrant combination of Mozambiquan and South African musicians of the highest quality. Da Capo is owned and run by the Bottega family of Italian descent, hence the marketing of fine Italian wines of the Idiom brand.
After winding up through some 4 kilometres of mountain scenery on a tarred road, one arrives at the estate’s restaurant which boasts almost 360 degrees of luscious mountain and sea views. Da Capo is the most southern winery in the Western Cape, with high exposures to wind, rain, and sun, all which have created a certain ambiance for the Sip by Sip event. I walk into the event hearing the high-pitched soothing contralto voice of the band’s lead singer, Jaco Maria, ringing magically in the air back by an inviting percussion. I am handed a glass of the bubbly, a carbonated white wine (champagne?).
After the performance, the entourage of invited guests and others, coming from corporate, business, and individual worlds, go to the ‘comedy’ hall for a genuinely funny 20 minute celebration delivered by comedian, Ndumiso Lindi (aka Roosta). He certainly offered well-heeled and slick digs at current political and ethnic struggles in the country which didn’t depress, but rather elevated one’s tummy to overall shakes and gaffaws – a delightful pre-lunch appetite booster.
Upstairs in the Idiom Restaurant, our palates received delightfully succulent dishes paired with the Da Capo varieties. And fine they were: the Whalehaven Pinotage Rose served with my beetroot salad starter,
then the white Sangiovese 2013 served with the elegant mushroom filled ravioli.
Mushroom ravioli with goat cheese & hazelnut
Succulence continued with an Amaretto Coffee Tiramisu for dessert, followed by wine tastings downstairs.
Sip by Sip plans to focus on South African wines as it manages events that promote also the other talents of the Cape, namely jazz, chefs, and of course, comedy. But plan for a whole afternoon out with friends or family, as the entertainment flows through the hours. Besides offering quality-sourced wines and accessories, and a wide range of other services, Sip by Sip events are designed to create memorable experiences through wine tours and tastings, and wine, food and culture pairings.
What a wonderful way to showcase the quality and authenticity of South African creative talents. Even if you don’t or can’t drink wine or alcohol, the events are sure to entertain through multi-dimensional experiences with the culinary and the cultural.
On Saturday evening, 14 January 2017, the Sea Point/Capetown SABC Studios came alive, even with few people, fans, robust jazz fanatics, family members – to hear and watch the gentle, yet extraordinary, person of trumpeter and drummer, Darren English. Born and bred in Capetown, this now Atlanta-based young music wizard followed his organizational mentor, radio broadcaster Shado Twala, to present a two-nighter of his music before he returns to USA next week, and showcase his Capetown band which offered equally awesome gifts to us listeners.
Soft-spoken Darren, dressed in tie and jacket, looked reassured and in control as he swung his band through careful improvisations on some jazz Standards as well as his own compositions featured in his first CD with Hot Shoe Records, entitled ‘Imagine Nation’.
Even though Darren cut his album in the USA (2016) with American musicians, he allowed his stage mates to shine their talents throughout, never dominating the conversations. This humility seems one of his stellar characteristics as a team player….to bring out the best in others.
The thoughtful and expressive piano of Mark Fransman was immersed throughout. Double bassist, Benjamin Jephta, highlighted his own presence by vocal scatting his scales with precision. A stunner was drummer, Clement Benny, who just wouldn’t give up. I felt his drums were too aggressive in the 2nd song of the gig, but his handling of a basic drum kit was quite riveting, generally. In one song, Clement joins in a quiet gospel-ish ballad by tapping with an empty plastic water bottle on his symbols. Now there’s another soundscape!
Darren’s own trumpet stayed mainstream and managed to hide impulses to shimmy into fast runs heard on his CD, which was a studio recording. Fortunately, live gigs like this one offer other ways to showcase songs, musicians, and musical emotions.
A welcomed short break to digest the first hour’s arousing offerings prepared us for an exciting and different second set. A trio emerged for the first few songs, this time with Darren on drums with a highly improvising piano and adjoining double bass. Darren enjoys this new physicality, one can hear, as he showcased his other talent, drumming being his early start at home as a pre-teen.
The evening displayed not just how young talent can grow with multiple types of musical experiences as Darren has witnessed from his jaunts through many States of USA, but how other seasoned local musicians can add value and loyalty through peer growth. Such events also show fan and friend loyalties when people like jazz festival organizer,
Rashid Lombard (of ESPafrika), and Twala, the event organizer, and former teachers and mentors Professor Mike Rossi and Fred Kuit, show up …. At least on this Saturday evening.
With the scarcity of regular jazz ‘clubs’ in Capetown, the SABC Studios with its excellent sound system and comfortable seating should be used more often to support jazz and music culture which so many of us are thirsty for. Thanks to Shado Twala, who works in the building, for organizing this event!!
Overflowing crowds packed CapeTown’s venerable jazz venue, Straight No Chaser, this January to imbibe a new year dose of jazz improvisation from four distinguished musicians across several age ranges. Quirky free jazz Capetownian pianist, Kyle Shepherd, elder drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, and bassist Byron Bolton, brought together British/Caribbean tenor saxophonist, Shabaka Hutchings, for several evenings of unusual performances during the hot week of 13-16 January 2016.
I walk in late. Moholo’s frantic drums are spitting away. Kyle taps away on piano keys influenced by various objects strewn across the piano strings, like wooden sticks and cardboard. Nice harpsichord effect amidst an intense melody-absent improvisation. This foursome chatters, talks about important things, expresses emotion through various thumps, instrumental grunts, plucks and wails.
Now, what are they all talking about? Pianist Kyle then picks up a drum mallet, and starts hitting the piano strings, with purpose, not randomly, it seems. Double bassist Bolton eyes drummer Moholo as they share secret things behind their tapping, bow strumming, and pitter patters. They dance together, not necessarily in rhythmic harmony. There is no ¾ time. There is no time, just presence, the now! Shabaka’s sax offers undertones and subtle nods as a wrestling match ensues. Who’s refereeing this road race? All four of them! It’s intense, and after 25 minutes, I’m exhausted. Time for applause as one watches the two ceiling fans seriously pushing warm breezes in this packed venue. We are all seeking relief from a January heat wave.
This cozy venue of Cape Town’s Straight No Chaser needs to be five times bigger to hold offerings by, simply put, The 4Blokes, who performed additional nights due to popular demand. And still the music fans keep coming to these sold-out shows. The band simply advertise themselves as: “A pioneering free jazz drummer. An award-winning British saxophonist. A virtuoso young pianist. A bowing bass maverick. Four band leaders. 4 Blokes” .
The visiting tall lean Londoner saxophonist, Shabaka Hutchings (http://www.shabakahutchings.com/) has a number of impressive awards and experiences with notable bands. His second Sons of Kemet album was released in September 2015 as he continues his research on the musical influences amongst the Caribbean diaspora in Britain. Back to his Cape Town concerts, he survived the ring matches with drummer extraordinaire, 77 year old Louis Moholo, who has absorbed every worldly influence on jazz improvisation since his early beginnings with Chris McGregor’s The Blue Notes, and then the Brotherhood of Breath in the 1960s/70s. Moholo doesn’t age; he just gets better. One doesn’t just ‘listen’ to him; one watches him. He’s very much engaged with his percussive instrument which becomes an extension of his own humanoid discussive personality.
Likewise, the enigmatic bowing bassman, Brydon Bolton, shows prowess when his bowed strings wrestle with the group’s improvisational quackery. He’s another watchable performer bordering on the classical traditions and jazz improve, as manifested in his electro-acoustic band, Benguela.
All four ‘blokes’ are composers with propensities for ‘free jazz’, the experimental, and home ethnics. Theirs is hardly conventional, even though several songs in their recent gigs were traditional bebop jazz of another era. There lies their inexorably creative improvisational talents!
The final mega-festival of the jazz year, the Johannesburg Standard Bank Joy of Jazz (JoJ), opens on Thursday (24th Sept 2015) (http://www.joyofjazz.co.za/lineup.php).
In programming terms, JoJ finally seems to be learning how to balance the tastes of those wanting a good-time jol and familiar tunes, with those of the seekers after fresh and thought-provoking music. Let’s hope the event also sustains last year’s decent timekeeping, and adds rather more respect for conditions of reception – by, for example, eliminating those intrusive in-hall bars, and requesting audiences to turn off phones and postpone noisy conversations until the playing concludes. (Rather than during a contemplative bass solo, as seems to be the South African norm.)
The jazz festival scene in South Africa is clearly maturing: each of the Big Three – Cape Town, Grahamstown and Johannesburg – now attracts a comfortable audience and each is developing a distinctive character. That maturation ought to start us thinking about alternatives – because while there is much that a mega-festival can do; there is more that it cannot.
A mega-festival is about entertainment, audience passivity, and music as commodity. Rarely has a setting been more appropriate than the Sandton Convention Centre hosting JoJ. It is sealed within a glittering fortress of consumerism where fools pay absurd prices for imported luxuries under the wary eye of uniformed flunkies. JoJ patrons must spend R500 (for the Thursday gala); R750 (for one day) or R1250 (for two days), plus whatever they have left for food, drink and memorabilia. If you don’t drive – and I don’t – the Convention Centre can be accessed on foot from the Gautrain, provided you can reach a station and afford a ticket. Leaving after midnight is much harder: the Gautrain has stopped running, and even Uber drivers in fancy cars may have problems running the gauntlet of access barriers. These may seem small irritations but they represent significant added costs. The message is clear: jazz is a brand for the affluent only – those equipped to purchase all the other brands that use the music for piggy-back marketing.
Newtown, the festival’s old home, was never an ideal venue in terms of size, sound or distance between stages. But it was a significantly more egalitarian setting in terms of transport access. Even the lousy, leaking sound contributed, allowing those who could not afford tickets to loiter at the edges and hear something. And by its presence, Joy of Jazz affirmed the inner city and the people who live in it.
All that is old history. Jazz can, like any other art-form, be appropriated easily by the smug and comfortable. That does not negate the music’s power in other settings, and with other audiences. It’s time to consider starting some alternative celebrations.
Smaller events earn smaller revenue – but they also require fewer resources. Take over a club for a couple of days – as the Johannesburg International Comedy Festival will do with the Orbit Jazz Club in November – and you need to attract an audience of 400 each night, as opposed to 40 000. Because you are serving a niche, rather than Brand Generic Jazz, you don’t need “stars” – local or overseas – whose relationship to improvised creativity is tenuous or nonexistent. (But there’s always the option of crowd-funding for a relevant airfare or two.) Contexts can be created where South African players – and perhaps visual artists and dancers too – come together in new combinations, and devise new experiences, live, for an audience. Make some spaces where people can talk about what they’re doing and why – because too often we criticize or interpret without listening to the creators themselves. Teach. Take the whole thing to some location where the dinosaur festivals never venture.
Genre labels are always a burden, even when they serve as convenient shorthand. An “improvised music festival”, for example, might run the gamut from baroque concerti with the cadenzas restored to electronica – but it would certainly have plenty of space for the music many listeners call jazz.
None of these is a new idea – it is, for heavens’ sake, where JoJ was born, in the living rooms of the Mamelodi jazz appreciators. That festival and others like it have, as the businessmen say, now “gone to scale”. Big ticket prices and big marketing underline their commodification; the money-men are risk-averse, and those who can afford to attend and enjoy don’t worry much about those who can’t.
Those who can’t, meanwhile, are the majority of the population: the communities that historically nurtured the music’s best players and were its most astute listeners. School education is still not spreading access to good music teaching fairly; affordability still keeps many young people out of colleges, while we’ve all but lost the universities of the streets. Important spaces are empty at the small-event end of the spectrum, where creativity should be getting its first chances to flower and take risks.
Spring/summer IS coming, warming our hearts again with a Wednesday night jazz jam open to all!
Joe Schaffers and guitarist Alvin Dyers are at it again! Making sure there are weekly jams where musicians, fans, visitors, and students can come and enjoy an evening of sounds from some of Cape Town’s great musicians! Since several ‘Monday night’ jam venues were closed during my 19 year period of frequenting them (namely, Val’s Cafe and Swingers, both in Wetton), homes have been sought to sustain a regular excitement. The newer ‘Mannenburgs’ housed on Strand Street in an historic building had to be vacated late last year due to renovations and other factors.
There’s a new kid on the block now – at least for good live jazz! Central to Cape Town and just one block from its vibrant Green Market Square is a pub called O’Driscolls Irish Pub at 38 Hout St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8001 Phone:021 424 7453, open till 2am so they say on their website.
On Wednesday nights, you can sit back at a table or the bar, and down a pint of Guinness while tapping to the music and catch a bite to eat from the affordable menu, offering salad instead of chips for the weight-watchers.
Last Wednesday, 19 August 2015, I popped in as I wanted to commune again with trumpeter Darren English, now based in USA teaching at Atlanta’s Georgia State University Music Department. Darren, originally from Muizenberg, started his childhood live performance career at a tender age of 15. Couched in a beetles-style hair cut, Darren blew his trumpet to admiring crowds at the Swingers Monday Night jazz jams in Wetton. His busy father was adamant and loyal about exposing his gifted son to the elements, and accompanied under-aged Darren to this bar/restaurant night club every Monday.
Other notables at last Wednesday’s jazz were singer songbird Emily Bruce who, at age 35, is deciding whether to pursue her Doctorate in music or another degree in Marketing, the latter to serve as a ‘real’ income. Mark Fransman, a whiz musician who excels on both piano and saxophones made his appearance as well. He and Emily were also young guns on the Monday Night jazz jam stages when they had no other platforms to practice their live arts. Guitarist Johnny Russell, another young Swingers hopeful jammed with all of the above.
MC for these jams, Joe Schaffers, himself an old fixture at the live community jazz gigs and faithful supporter of youth in music, has served with several NGOs in the Cape Flats and Cape Town area serving music educational needs in communities. As he sings with guitarist Alvin Dyers who kept the jazz jams going for several decades, I could only smile and reminisce how these walk-in and enjoy-yourself jams lightened the end of a day, and afforded musicians and patrons alike opportunities to ‘talk music’ and interact during the evening hours.
Who will appear next Wednesday is anyone’s guess! Pop in between 8 – 11pm for a dose!
“The greatest moments are when you can’t tell the difference between the piano, or the bass, or the drum, but rather when there’s one wave of sound…… This is consciousness, becoming one with the environment.”
I felt somehow connected with ancestral energies as I drove this youthful bearded jazz pianist to CapeTown’s airport after his weekend gigs with trumpeter, Feya Faku, and local musicians. His performance with Faku’s album launch, “Le Ngoma”, at CapeTown’s popular Straight No Chaser jazz club was a subdued low key presentation of his wider talents. Johannesburg-based Nduduzo Makhathini, originally from Kwa Zulu Natal, is still on a high from being granted Standard Bank Young Artist 2015 award in the Jazz category. I asked him about his philosophy, messages, and what he meant by ‘identity politics’ which he has adopted.
NM: Mine is spiritual, wedded with cultural. I was introduced to music in its religious mode, and later to the business side of music. I grew up as a Christian, going to churches, etc. but I don’t subscribe to any of them. Music moved me into a more spiritual groove. In my youth, I would visit up to four churches on a Sunday just for the music. I loved the gospel messages and sounds. I would leave when the sermons started!
CM: Who else has influenced you besides Zim and Bheki Mseleku?
NM: My mom is my greatest inspiration, and my first piano teacher. I also grew up with the traditional isicathamiya ensembles, or male acopella, like Black Mambazo. I love harmonies which is why this singing drew me to the piano where I can make harmonies myself. I also love harmony in life, which is why I became so close to Bheki who focused on harmonizing things in life. Andre Petersen is also one of my favourites as he expresses inspiration also with Mseleku.
CM: Your three kids are also part of your music journey, aren’t they?
NM: Wow, I have three kids. What a responsibility now! What can I put out there for them? What is left for me by my forefathers, and for them? So my album, “Sketches of Tomorrow” is for my kids. I fused the Western with the traditional African since I have to deal with both cultures, which meet on this album. And they do too.
CM: You talk about healing others. What about healing yourself?
NM: I always feel that the music I play has a message sent through me. Sometimes I don’t understand these messages. So healing goes through me, my system. It tries to heal the space that we’re in, our environment where everyone operates. There are different forms of healing, but I concentrate on the traditional kind in my Zulu culture. I want my family to learn that each and every individual has a role to play on earth, and we need to find out what that is. That’s my ‘politics’, that everyone, equally, has a contribution to offer. We are passing the shacks now [along Cape Town’s N2 highway on route to airport]. Without those people here, this process of honouring each other cannot be complete unless we continue the legacy. That’s why I care for everyone, the kids and people on the streets, and even the more fortunate in the suburbs. These people in shacks barely have the basics for living. My music speaks to them more because these people need healing.
My grandmother was a healer who would have water and pray on it. I asked people to bring water to my gigs, and just have it there in their possession. My music, I believe, then allows the water to capture the healing, and this water has the power of coding certain messages. Mbeki and I used to go to these temples and learn how the spiritual energies were moved by earth elements, and I learned from this. Together, we explored healing as a gift through the language of ingoma or our musicianship.
CM: Regarding your still-to-be launched album, “Listening to the Ground”, I’m curious why you have pulled in the Swedish tenor saxophonist, Karl Martin Almquist, one of my very favourites from northern Europe?
NM: I found him on YouTube, had never met him, but loved his sound. I sent him an email a few years ago, and invited him to join in my latest album. He said, Yes!
CM: Tell me about your album, “Listening to the Ground”.
NM: This is for my ancestors. It’s about the African soil, and African environment, which has so much energy and sounds in it. How deep is the African ground, and how deep is the African soul? In spite of slavery, African people continue to smile, continue to have hope, and till the soil.
CM: Your music you say comes from an ‘external’ force. If you mean a higher Spirit (let’s call it ‘God’), then why can’t this powerful force be ‘internal’ as well? Your project seems to have integral components working together.
NM: Yes, right. I see God as a holistic view of consciousness. It means ‘God’ is a complete picture, both internal and external. The deeper you get into the internal mode of self, the more you can go outside yourself. Like those who had ‘out of body’ experience….. they went so deep inside themselves that they could actually come out of that experience.
CM: You’d make a good Buddhist!
NM: Oh, hah hah! I read and listen alot to Osho? On Sundays, with my family in our house, we listen to Osho teachings and alot of music, and learn and discuss. Osho leaves things open for us to look for conclusion. For instance, he observes the cycle of water with this story: There was a stream that flowed for so many years, but then runs into a desert. Osho then panicks wondering how he’s going to find water in this dry desert. But he had another thought: If I become one with the desert and dissolve in it, then I’ll be OK. It then began to rain in a different place and saved his desert. His message was that sometimes, we must dissolve and not take ourselves so seriously. And this is what the exercise of music teaches. I can just let go and not become so absorbed in my individuality. The greatest moments are when you can’t tell the difference between the piano, or the bass, or the drum, but rather when there’s one wave of sound…… This is consciousness, becoming one with the environment.
CM: Are you interested in teaching about this consciousness, environmental holistic healing, and ways to save us all!
NM: It’s always there indirectly. The music is our greatest teaching. My music is universal, always a means to a destiny. Music has a power, something deeper, for people to reach for. I’ve been writing alot, in social media, about what inspires my music. Many people who resonate with my music and its ingoma (musical healing) are not necessarily jazz lovers.
CM: You’re on a journey….particularly with your family. With your mom….And your wife?
NM: My Mom’s very special, supports me 100%, even though she doesn’t have my belief systems. My wife, Nomagugu, is on all my albums. She’s one of my favourite singers. I’ve got my daughter on ‘Mother Tongue’. The three children and my wife finish the last track on “Sketches of Tomorrow”, with my children ending the song: “Oh Nothing; Oh Nothing Again”. I thought what a beautiful message as it came from them listening to the woes about Zimbabwe daughters there, about “Africa’s daughters are without names,” with a loss of identity. So I think it’s amazing how kids can spark this energy in the music we play in the house. In terms of healing the space, the kids and my wife heal that house space which becomes charged with so much energy.
CM: What an experience for the kids! You talked about your Sunday gigs just for the three of them.
Do you record your family sessions?
NM: Oh Oh. No. What an idea! I should record them, you know. We would talk about the gigs, about what is God and existence, and about what they feel in the music, and how the music connects to God, etc. Other kids would tell them about their church experience, but my kids would tell their friends about the music: “Our Dad does gigs for us!” and explain what we played at home that morning.
CM: So your journey continues….
NM: Like Bheki Mseleku who said he never knew how or where to finish a tune, it just kept going and going, with no real ending…… So I think I love the same kind of thing, where music never ends. Durban is a center for guitar harmonies, too, which I love. My father played guitar, so I have been inspired by those traditional sounds . I portray this in the song,“From an Old Bag of Umkhumbane”. I recently discovered that my paternal grandfather came from this town of Umkhumbane which, like Sophiatown, became a melting pot for jazz and music. There was a whole tradition of guitar culture. This is why I like to explore how to express this guitar on the piano.
I’ll be doing my masters at Stellenbosch University through York University partnership. I’ll focus on oral tradition and jazz, and how music has been taught without written music. Similarly, how stories in a song have been orally presented, not written. Written scores present different interpretations, like Winston’s Yakhal’ Inkomo which he authored in a different time. Likewise, I’m dealing with certain things now, but how do I make that song relevant and how do we push this music forward for it to make sense with the generations to come which don’t know much about the history of South Africa? But in this music, certain things can be coded and documented, of history and music.
CM: The coding of music……
At this point, Nduduzo had only half hour to check in for his flight. Our chat could have continued forever….. It will.
One is Slovakian, the other Italian, all high vibe, fun, and humorous, bringing period jazz dance music of 1920-30s alive under our festival tent. What a relief to have concerts with no loud electronic amplification. It didn’t exist back then! Both bands used only one mic. Bratislava`s 19 musicians presented a mix of Ellington Cotton Club songs current in that Harlem community, then moved us across the Atlantic to Slovakian tango and middle European dance music.
The age range of patrons attending this gig was hardly a curve, but rather a flat graph, my honest projection being about 85% of ages 60 plus. The sea of white heads and beards nicely matched the all- male band members` period black-tie costumes, lacquered hair styles, and manicured moustaches. Even the `girls`, the Hot Serenader Sisters who sang their rehearsed harmonies, standing close-faced at the one mic, added imagery to this period `live` documentary. It was indeed fun to watch what my parents had babbled about during my early growth years. The band unadornably played my favorites: Blue Moon, Moon Indigo, and Body and Soul.
With horns, reeds, piano, 3 violins, tuba and banjo all in firey sync, singers took turns at the one mic, sometimes thoughtfully pointing it towards instrumental soloists. I was waiting for them to break out into a Charlestown foot dance!
London`s BBC Dance Orchestra songs also featured. The very humorous renditions of the famous `The Broken Record` and the trumpeter MC`s `Hot Lips` left one laughing into Edinburgh`s rainy evening.
BANDAKADABRA provided a carnival atmosphere of 12 Italian brass, reeds, and drum players rumbling about the stage. Their slapstick humor mixed with period blues between the World Wars made for comic proportions as they banged out Balkan blues and Mediterranean marches. In white ruffled shirts, they acted out ineffective cat calls to the ladies unfortunate enough to sit in the front rows. These rumbling vagabonds truly awakened the kid in all of us without losing any authentic skills in delivering this timeless music.
These groups were such fun! I would go see them again anywhere.
You don’t have to walk much for exercise at this Jazz and Blues Festival – there’s enough knee-jerk, foot-stompin` moves provided by the likes of these groovy Swamp Donkeys who very authentically play classic New Orleans early `jass`.
Young Japanese trombonist, Haruka Kikuchi, and newest member of the live band, settled in NO 1/12 years ago because: “I love the NO style of jazz”! Well, and could this beauty deliver one heck of a raspy bone slide with her new- found love, the Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band. “Not many Asians like to play this type of music,” she explained in her broken English, “but I love it”! Well, isn’t diversity fun?
There’s nothing mimicking about the Donkeys. It’s as though they arose fresh out of the oil-soaked waters of NO`s Louisiana coastline. They don’t play, they speak, and converse: tuba to banjo, to trumpet, to soprano sax, to that swanky sliding bone, so sassy! Trumpeter James Williams, who sings a girgly Satchmo very well (even his speaking voice sounds a natural Louis Armstrong), recently performed with DeeDee Bridgewater at Capetown`s international jazz festival last March. I think this youthful band should apply for next year’s 2016 CTIJF, and I told manager Oren Krinsky just that.
Cross-legged Williams wallops an astoundingly convincing rendition of 1920s and 1930s-40s southern American Charlestown-style swing as you imagine your own bones dancing away. The banjo and lady trombone conversed in `My Rosetta`, followed by a drunken drawl as Williams` Armstrong-strained vocals told a sad sad story.
The Donkeys insisted on audience participation as we all staggered about, pretending an early morning inebriation with sound, if not with magical liquids.
But it was the soprano sax that grabbed me with his wails, coos, and hip-smacking swing from someone who resembled a teenage apprentice with lots of musical ancestry of the era. This youthful energy could teach the ole timers a thing or two, it seems.
The Donkeys ended their set with their signature tune, `Swamp Donkeys`, sung by all musos, leaving us hip-smackers smiling all the way to the next exhausting concert.
She was a heartland of blues, pounded out with such elegant style and timing. A seasoned wheelchair-bound Naomi Shelton and her Gospel band with bassist/bandleader Fred Thomas (of James Brown band of 1970s) and her 3 Queens delighted her warm standing ovation audience at this year’s Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. She sang off her latest album, Cold War, thanks to Daptone Records (2014).
I was taken back to the Alabama blues groove native to Shelton, based in New York city for the past half century. Shelton knows the stage, and her Gospel team, along with her husky voice, knows how to reach your soul and tell you “what you done wrong”, like in her visionary `Sinner`song. Her messages that evening of 17 July painted the demise of humanity and human betrayal in our contemporary world.
Edinburgh`s horseshoe shaped St Andrews Square venue provided cramped seating typical of vibey festivals like this one, but gave choice for tables and a bar in the back for the serious listeners/drinkers. At first, the sound system whined, drowning out Shelton`s voice, but got sorted in the end. Shelton was relentless, belting out an Etta James song, `Love Come Along`, which brought lip movements from head bobbing listeners. The `Child is Hungry` remembered the funky beats of the early James Brown.
She moved us to another level, breaking out into a clapping high tempo 4/4 time gospel. The audience moved.
Her finale got the Euro audience on their feet with the funky gospel swing in `Lord, I’m Your Child`.
There was compassion, and revival, and hope as she smiles and throws her kisses reassuringly to us unworthy listeners. Ninety minutes of Shelton pushes you to church in a still redemptive Baptist gospel tradition, yet with secular respect. It was hard to hear anything else that night, other than wanting more of this sanctifying blues!
As light rain falls in the middle of Cape Town’s dry winter, Straight No Chaser is the place to be, a manageable venue that handles what warmth seekers want to hear – good live jazz. I walked in on last night’s well advertised gig featuring our own pianist Bokani Dyer who presented his band of seasoned Swiss musicians having musical ties to South Africa. Together, on a country wide tour, his Swiss Quintet performed Bokani’s own ‘dyertribe’ compositions, some from his latest album, ‘World Music’.
I arrived for the second set, as the first group of patrons were leaving. Entering this small but cozy venue from the chilly wet outside, my eye glasses immediately fogged up. The sauna of human breath was inviting, indeed, and I quickly warmed up as these five musicians took to the stage, thanks to their sponsor, Prohelvetia.
Being a Bheki Mseleku fan (as I am), Bokani performed his own version of Mseleku’s “Cycle” which featured a stunning double bass solo from Stephan Kurmann, followed by a piano duet which sounded very much like the late great Mseleku we knew. Trumpeter Mattias Spillmann started the next song rustling an A4 paper as the bass punctuated. Bokani plucked his piano strings. Drummer Norbert Pfammatter fell in with a steady funky beat. Then, Spillmann put his hat on his trumpet to act like a muffler, another innovative ‘hat trick’! I called this ‘trumpet ruffles while hat muffles’ as the song’s name wasn’t announced.
The final song, “Fanfare”, struck off with a familiar South African beat – again a Mseleku sound – with an extraordinary saxophone solo by Donat Fisch followed by an equally competitive one by the trumpet. It was a finale making any outside inclement weather little to care about.
The Bokani I knew from the past was shining, as usual. But he has lost his dredlocks. His shaved head grown out a little bit connotes him as avant-garde, plain, older, but simpler. I guess a Bokani in the raw!! I grew up with big Afro -black-is-beautiful heads. OK, I’m outdated….
Bokani’s set perked me up. Mind you, at 10.20pm, on a rainy chilly night at the bottom of this hemisphere, I could have dealt with bed. Easily. The trek out was worth it! And why the Swiss four? In May 2014, Bokani did a residency in Basel at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club where he performed with his Swiss comrades who, individually, carry a wealth of experience with worldly views, including performing with notable South African musicians like Abdullah Ibrahim, Feya Faku, Marcus Wyatt, etc.
I now look forward to digesting his new CD, ‘World Music’, which Bokani recorded with South Africans he has grown up with. The 12 songs promise another dyertribe special, I’m sure!
Somi at Straight No Chaser on Wed, 6 May 2014
This pan-African singer, who proudly hails from Ugandan and Rwandan parentage, pleased too few listeners on Wednesday evening, 6 May, at one of Capetown’s premier jazz clubs, Straight No Chaser, on Beitankant Street. II first saw her at Johannesburg’s Joy of Jazz a few years ago, and was blown away!
Her New York- based band of international artists shared her planetary space on the small stage as she swung through a repertoire of African- and Arab-influenced contemporary jazz songs. Her influences have recently accumulated from an 18 month study and research stay in Lagos, Nigeria, where she could compose songs that highlight the pop, soul, and jazz of that cosmopolitan African city and beyond. Her latest album, released last year, “The Lagos Music Solon”, speaks to that.
Somi is straight, elegant, and humble in her demeanor. On stage she breathes the African way, and swings her body in rhythm the African way. Her first piece was taken from singer/pianist Nina Simone. Somi shimmers with body emotion which exudes short rhythmic breaths, characteristic in African dance. I watched her guitarist who grooved as he sight-read the score. Nevertheless, he offered some splendid runs. Then her Japanese pianist took over, adding further excitement to Somi’s stage gyrations.
The electrifying drummer presented his steady taps in “I’m Still Your Girl” . Then, the bassist of Greek origin broke out with a southern Indian scat which fit the rhythm of the drums. His Tamil scat accompanied by his own bass added further electric energy which you don’t hear here in Cape Town! A third song, introduced with a drum solo, featured Somi singing in the African idiom as the band strummed out a reggie beat. The guitar wails its answer and talks with the singer. And more mesmerizing songs kept coming…..
As Somi thanked the crowd for their presence, she folded into a melodic Africa-south-of-the-Sahara –meets-north-Africa-Arabian twist and explained how her Ugandan and Rwandan ancestry gave rise to her breath scat, which she repeated in a drum duet. We were all spellbound with this ancestral sounding of presence and purpose – Proud to be African. In her last song of the evening, she displayed what seemed like a synopsis of the hour’s set: ziggy ziggy stage movements with her body, slinking sideways, then forward, then sideways again, her voice following the panic of guitars and drums making their crescendos before the solo piano finally takes us all away.
Among several notable positions held, as both an artist and scholar, Somi has been a TED Senior Fellow, and has performed at a major United Nations Memorial event. She has studied both African and Arab jazz traditions, and in 2015, serves as Artist-in-Residence at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and The Robert Rauschenberg Foundaton.
It is no wonder that Somi is completing a jazz opera about South African singer Miriam Makeba, her life and legacy. Somi performs again on Thursday, 7 May 2015 at the Straight No Chaser club at 8.30pm and 10pm. On 8 and 9 May, she appears at Johannesburg’s The Orbit jazz club. Not to be missed!! And if you can’t make those gigs, see her at www.somimusic.com.
Kyle Shepherd and his merry bassist Shane Cooper and eclectic drummer Jono Sweetman offered another ‘Kyle special’ at Straight No Chaser Club on Friday and Saturday, 20 – 21 March. In fact, I went twice!!
Both nights seemed completely different in Kyle’s offerings:
On Friday, I heard new compositions, one using daunting loops of electronica for all instruments. This is Kyle’s ‘other worldly haunts’, as I would call them, as he brings his audience into a less melodic, highly improvisational, but not less emotional soundscape of electronic whispers, cries, and groans. His other pieces brought us back to the acoustic world of reality as we know it, a lovely fusion of his Cape ghoema rhythms in that key of C major which he delivers so well.
On Saturday night, I must confess I had just come from the Kunnuji Experiment concert at the College of Music, where I was inundated with West African sounds. Perhaps I should not have ‘dropped by’ SNC as my mind could not adequately grasp those Kyle compositions, again new to my ears, as it should. What I did note from this eve’s gig was the inexhaustible skill which bassist Cooper displays in his solo runs, plunks, and percussive hits as he adds beats complementing drummer Jono. The latter excels in tempering his delivery according to the emotion of the minute. The moral of the story is: clear your head, first, before embarking on an evening with Kyle’s trio. They require utter and full attention as they continue their creative journeys…..which seem endless, so far. Catch Kyle at this weekend’s Jazz Festival !!
South African College of Music comes alive with West African jazz reviewed by AJR Webitor Carol Martin
I’ve already interviewed Nigerian trumpeter Jo Kunnuji (http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/2014/11/10/carol-martin-interviews-nigerian-jazz-trumpeter-jo-lanre-kunnuji/ – posted 10 November 2014) but this time had a chance to hear his latest ‘Jo Kunnuji Experiment’ album-in-the-making live at the South African College of Music’s recital hall at the University of Cape Town. His tight band of four horns with backline presented a small paying audience with his impressive compositions which improvised on sounds from his own southern Nigerian community and from South African influences. His songs speak proudly about his small minority Badagry group near the Benin border with Nigeria. As happens with minorities, the leviathan of larger groups gobble up remnants of culture into a fused mix of behaviours, expressions, and – in this case – sounds with percussive rhythms of the dominant group, the Yoruba. Still, the songs Kunnuji was able to craft explore a new ‘high life’ of West African melodies and beats as this young gun forges a history of salvaging Ogun expressions.
I enjoyed the clear and well-arranged harmonies of the horns played by fellow jazz studies students (Robin Fassie Kock on flugel horn, Tristan Weitkamp on Tenor sax, Georgie Jones on Baritone sax, along with his trumpet). These instrumentalists were tightly in tune with each other, accompanied by clean piano runs of Blake Hellaby. The rhythm section added depth and included Graham Strickland on bass and Cameron Claassen on drums. Kunnuji badly needed a larger bongo or African drum player to bring out the traditional West African percussion flavours; he had to hold his trumpet under his arm as he played two hands on his small but soft Bongos, barely audible. A highlight of the generously offered two set program was singer Zoe Modiga with her crisp youthful voice. She will gain hoots and whistles for sure at this weekend’s CapeTown International Jazz Festival when she opens the Moses Molelekwa stage on Friday evening as well as performs at the Wednesday evening CTIJF free concert at Greenmarket Square.
The Kunnuji Experiment upcoming album promises to be a refreshingly new twist to ‘Afro jazz’ while showing off Kunnuji’s improvisational skills, a product no less seasoned by hard work and serious creative intentions he has pursued during his stay with us in South Africa.
What does one do on a Monday night after a weekend of watching various sports on the goggle box or pushing the peddles along the cycle routes, or running up hills and dales or just for that matter just drinking beer or Pinotage and chomping braai chops or potjie kos. What’s done is done neh!. The choice of going to hear some jazz is generally the right thing to do, that’s according to rule 17 on my daily rules of living in Cape Town. I was called by Cape Town Crooner and genial gentle man Joe Schaffers who gave the phone on introducing me to Robert Rodrigues who is here for the CTIJF for the Jazzizz magazine, the festival looms large, with that in view I suggested we meet at Straight No Chaser to catch Benguela in performance. I informed the AJR Weditor Carol Martin of the arrangement and we duly met at the venue. After the introductions I decided it was beer ‘or clock so got a bottle of liquid chilled golden craft elixir and settled down for the nights entertainment.
Now, I’d not been to hear Benguela for quite a while so was filled with excited anticipation. The band is Alex Bozas (guitar, foot peddle gizmos) Brydon Bolton (electric bass and a box of foot operated thingies), Ross Campbell (drums and his inbuilt eclectic rhythm mixer), he must be part human and part robot, sjoe!
The three minstrels masters of mind blowing sonic improvisational experimental spatial exploration got the evening started and was soon joined by the evening’s guest performer, Juliana Venter who was to showcase her remarkable vocal instrument. It was my first exposure to her powerful vocal athletics. She took one to unimagined places where many others would fear to go soaring into the sonic stratosphere with her explorative collaborator’s then down into the depths of an anguished soul.
The primordial scream of freedom seldom heard on any performance platform other than S.N.C. Her voice like naked dervishes dancing around a sacrificial, cleansing fire swept to life by the cacophony of sonic wind fuelling sounds of pain and pleasure, exposed, raw and vulnerable, Not for the fainthearted, yet still something to be heard. The performance reminded me of an early Bjork mixed with a little of Die Antwoord’s Yolandi without any of the theatrics, which was a good thing. Powerful interplay between all of the instrumentalist’s captured the attention of the small devoted audience, which I’m told is growing, and offers a Monday nights escape from the boredom of everyday life, Benguela Mondays are a foil to that boredom where one can roam free in a sonic tide of experimental independence. No need to be afraid, go listen to Benguela, their weekly guests and keep the mind open to endless possibilities.
Lyra Restaurant Monday Night Jazz Jam, Monday, 9 March 2015, with visiting sax/vocalist AJ Brown by Carol Martin
I usually just ‘pop in’ to Lyra’s in Rondebosch to check out Dan Shout’s band which introduces so eloquently the jam that is to follow with visiting musicians and students who hover about. This time I decided to eat…..and why not? Lyra’s boasts a delectable menu of chops which nicely accompany the musical chops offered. I chose the Fettuccine Alfredo, one of my favourite pasta dishes, at least when cooked right. And it was. Also at my table was All Jazz Radio’s Klutz in the Kitchen, Eric Alan, who agreed that this restaurant deserved his four-star rating. Eric’s own posting about the restaurant’s food offering that evening alerted the grandson of my dish’s creator (Mr. Alfredo di Lelio), who tells the story about just how this dish came to be at Rome’s ‘Alfredo’ restaurant in 1914. It’s fun reading in ‘comments’ at http://www.alljazzradio.co.za/wp-admin/edit-comments.php .
Now the music: an eclectic group of local musos including pianist Andrew Ford and double bassist Romy Brauteseth accompanied a visiting British saxophonist and vocalist, AJ Brown, who toured the CapeTown venues for several weeks with packed out audiences. Here, AJ could shine for the students who flocked to watch him. I heard a skilful crooner, scatter, adding swing wherever possible, as he romped through well-known standards. I felt alive with the band. But it was his sexy sax that grabbed me, with Parker-like runs and wails that could even compete with Dan Shout’s accomplishments. But here was no competition; just plain camaraderie, fun, and sharing, as he joined other musicians in song. Thanks to Dan, AJ was invited to bless us with his intimate renditions of romantic, popular, and funky standards, a true crooner who holds his notes and random beats very well. You can hear his songs on his website: http://www.aj-brown.co.uk. Travel well, AJ, and please come back to us!
This is what makes Lyra’s Monday Night Jazz Jams a feast of sounds, eats, and fun. Highly recommended, particularly that tall Windhoek draft!
As part of the Music Exchange, Red Bull Studios, and SA Concerts collaboration, two extraordinary music specialists in African traditional instruments came together in Cape Town on 7 March 2015 for a workshop with an audience involved in the music industry. Pops Mohamed specializes in a variety of African instruments, but on this day, he showcased the wonders of the Mbira Kalimba, or ‘thumb piano’, and the African mouth bow and kora instruments. His partner in crime, Dave Reynolds reigned in his steel pans which offered historical juxtapositions with African xylophone sounds and rhythms. Their exchange was part of a wider concert performance schedule that reached the public in Cape Town with not only eclectic traditional African sounds, but messages from histories of how such instruments emerged.
Such was the focus of this Saturday workshop – to have the music industry give more serious thought to supporting a future which continues to preserve these cultural artefacts and their history as well as their application to our contemporary musical world. Reynolds, an award-winning South African composer and multi-instrumentalist, gave an impressive background to his and Mohamed’s enthusiasm for their cause: He cited the ‘father of African ethnomusicology’, Hugh Tracey, who, for some 40 years until his death in 1977, travelled widely in southern Africa recording music of the various societies, and learning some 20 African languages in the meantime. His son, Professor Andrew Tracey, born in 1936 in Durban, continued his father’s legacy. Together, they had founded Kwanongoma College of African Music in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1960. Andrew continued to research southern African music focusing on the various sounds in the mbira and xylophone families of traditional instruments. This explains Andrew’s passion for steel pan instruments, which also explains why Pops Mohamed and Dave Reynolds are a natural duo to perform such traditions.
“The business of music involves learning the future”, said Reynolds. This implies preservation. One way to do this is to NOT see culture in an instrument: “I deliver my own identify, what is me, when I play the pans,” he says. He explained that the steel pans are a hybrid percussion developed in the Caribbean islands amongst slaves who were not permitted to make drums of skins. So you see an instrument for what it can deliver, and in this way, that instrument can travel and combine with other sounds. It’s not only rooted to a ‘culture’.
Pops Mohamed, who grew up in Benoni and is known for his wide range of musical styles, has led the struggle to bring cultural music history of African peoples to the present and beyond. He cited an interesting history of how the hand piano Kalimba was popularized by the American pop group, ‘Earth Wind and Fire’, back in the 1960s-70s, and had bought rights to the Kalimba’s symbol which originally was produced by Dr. Hugh Tracey! But it was Mohamed’s own time period of growing up that molded his appreciation and eventual collaboration with the great South Africans of the 1960s struggle against apartheid. Hanging out with his Dad at shebeens back then, or making a home-made guitar and playing it in the high school bands, and jamming with the penny whistlers – all remained as memories, such fun never recorded. It was in 1996 that Mohamed committed to a mission to protect and preserve this ‘cattle music’, as the apartheidists called it, the music of the indigenous. In London, the drum ‘n bass platform of DJs became an opportunity for Mohamed to expose young people to African indigenous sounds. “Go with your signature – tell people about your instrument as a viable South African technique. Then mix it will all the other styles and modes of music, the pop, funk, classical, and jazz, in helping to appreciate how such sounds can produce authentic compositions. And be proudly South African about it.”
Besides delving into the instruments’ roots, the duo added flavour by performing their pieces. It’s when Afrikaans vernacular hip-hop artist and rapper, Jitsvinger (alias Quintin Goliath), joined in a jam to add the traditional Khoi spoken word to the duo’s presentations that the indigenous mixtures bubbled harmoniously. The versatility of Mohamed’s exchange between the mouth bow with attached gourd, alternating with his mbira and kora and bird whistle, also highlighted the occasion. The audience not only listened, but also participated by passing around rattles made from metal keys and bamboo and bean shakes which added soft percussive rhythms.
Time ran out, after this two hour session, with listeners eager to talk more, considering what stimulation they would take home with them that day. Similar workshops are being conducted by Pops and Dave this week at other Capetown venues, and more concerts have been added. More is yet to come from this inventive and inspirational duo in the future…..which is what preservation is all about.
“You all know what black duck tape is used for, right?” And your “DI box” and “comset” should be working OK. “Oh, and don’t forget to check the jack-to-jack and the plug strip,” says the facilitator. If this sounds like music babble, that’s exactly right. “And you artists need to know terms used when stage managers and sound engineers are producing YOUR show!”
This was how the final of four workshops ended an impressive “Sustainable Training and Development” program during February 2015 at the Cape Town International Convention Center. For the past four years, the South Atlantic Arts and Culture Trust (SAACT) and ESPAfrika, with supports from the Western Cape Education Department, has sponsored these educational events for a variety of school bands from all economic zones of the municipality. Seven Cape Town high school bands were represented as the ‘focus’ schools for this year’s training program, and their bands will perform at Artscape for the public on Sunday afternoon, 22 March before the CapeTown International Jazz Festival starts that Friday, the 27th. Topics of the workshops included festival overview, marketing, hospitality and logistics, safety overviews, and technical stage overview.
Charl Babyboy Pilwan, age 31, was the guest artist and spoke to the awed youth audience on this Saturday, 28 February. His illustrious life and work in various countries since arriving in London in 1998 to school there landed him big-name contracts with principally Asian bands as their singer. Cape Flats-born Charl has finally returned to his original home of Cape Town. Here he hopes to work more with youth, and be a model for those aspiring youth bands and artists, particularly helping them understand the whacky world of the music business. He offered worthy advice for the teenage initiates: “Be humble, stay grounded and proud of where you come from, and work hard. Be nice to people, particularly the production companies AND engineers who record you. Don’t burn bridges, but be open and receptive to your colleagues. Start at home and get your supports, if at all possible, from family and friends.” Oh, and ‘branding’ yourself is also important.
Charl’s own journey wasn’t easy in terms of supports, as he started his foreign experience living on the streets of London – a dark hole in his youth – but ended up with his own production company, a branch which he is opening in Cape Town. He knows how to talk to youth: “I had to learn to cut my own hair ‘cuz Chinese people don’t know how to cut black people’s hair,” he recounted about his time working on the Chinese island of Macau. He is also proudly South Africa, boasting a big South African flag tattoo on his arm. “Finish your education,” he also implores youth.
But it was the indefatigable Camillo Lombard, an extraordinary operator from the heart, who always wins the kids’ respect. His advice is: ‘Be ready! Manage your band! Know the songs well beforehand so that it’s easy to step into rehearsals with a thorough familiarity of the songs. Practice, and stay humble.” Interesting how the term ‘humble’ keeps popping up when speaking to youth. “Your attitude translates to your aptitude. Fly high!
Did the youth audience understand all this? I talked with some of the students: “It sounds like alot of work.” “Ya, it’s important to have good band members who are your friends.” Many commented on how helpful the “Skills Transfer Manual” was; the Manual covered the four workshops plus offered homework and skills practice during the week. I asked how they felt about Charl’s comment that musicians need to get to know each other, and did these youth do this during the workshops? “Well, there wasn’t really time to mix. The program was quite full.” So, I’m wondering how, in the future, bands at workshops can interact more personally, rather than just in rehearsals or on stage.
I asked the girls why there weren’t more females in the bands. “There’s quite a few of us, but we don’t easily get a chance to practice.” Several girls had asked questions during the plenary, but were not seen at stage demonstrations during this workshop. Questions revolved around how to start a production company and technical aspects of producing the right sound for a particular venue.
I wonder if host, Craig Parks of ESPAfrika, and his other facilitators (all male) could have tried a bit harder to encourage that public exposure of girl instrumentalists on stage. There’s always female singers, but I witnessed the girl’s instrument bags shoved under their tables while the guys licked their reeds, readying for a sound demonstration. At lunchtime, I managed to be entertained by the Chris Hani High School’s male acapella choir humming through their full mouths.
The bands came from these high schools: Chris Hani, Elsies River, Heathfield, Langa (Music Project), Pinelands, Settlers, and Wynberg. Follow-up mentoring at each school by Lombard and others will prepare the bands for their Festival stage performances, again, thanks to the WCED.
And what a fantastic gig it was! Buddy and group at their best, with some enthusiastic new material.
Trevor Wells says it perfectly on FB:
“Tight, Tight. Tight. Great rhythm section. Great duets on the horns. Brilliant solos by all. Harmonics and overtoning on sax takes this into an art form beyond what has been heard anywhere in the world. Intonation superb. At times pythogorean, At times mean toned. Tension contrasted by relaxation in both the harmonies and the rhythms moves this group into the realms of performance art top class groups all over the world aspire to attain. Well Done. It’s About Time.”
Watch these young guns: Nick Williams (bass), Keenan Ahrends (guitar), Jonno Sweetman (drums) and Steven Sokuyeka (trombone) as they plod through original compositions having a strong traditional South African jazz and folk lore.
by Carol Martin
The Alliance Francaise on Loop Street in Cape Town came alive last Friday evening with its special music-backed cuisine offering Brittany crepes and candle-lit tables (no, there was no load-shedding that night, and who needs that for candlelight, anyway??). Thanks to songbird Titilayo Adedokun who helped organize the event, three illustrious jazz musicians were again brought together to announce their profound appreciation for the indigenous sounds of the Cape’s ‘first people’s’. The concert featured notable tastes of the Khoi songs and other improvisational styles of ‘Rukma Vimana’, a trio of multi-instrumentalist Hilton Schilder (mouth and regular piano, mouth bow, and guitar), his cousin double bassist Eldrid Schilder, and youth drummer upstart, Claude Cozens (who last year launched his first eclectic CD scoring points on his own jazz idiom ala ghoema, bebop, gospel, and funk). These Cape Flat musicians carry weight when it comes to producing authentic sounds of the local soil, with rhythms that also get you jumpin’. Titilayo’s series of monthly concerts planned for the future are appropriately called “Jazz Rendez-vous @ Alliance Francaise”. This is a fun way to combine local with French, and indeed, the evening was worth the minimal costs incurred.
Each trio member had a chance to solo, or in a New Orleans dialect, we’d say, “strut your stuff”! All felt comfortable with their own space and sound. They specialize in their own way in these sounds and ghoema rhythms. But it was Hilton who varied the concert repertoire to include his own soft, melodic, and soulful solos which tell stories of their own. The accordion-like mouth piano added a bit of ‘French’ sound to an otherwise local South African song, and the San mouth bow gave its moments. The audience had to listen. And it did with applause. Hilton’s own compositions featured prominently, too. I particularly liked his tribute to Jai Reddy’s rather unusual flying visions and patented products pertaining to planes and insects, in “Flying High”.
Which leads me to understand why the trio is called ‘Rukma Vimana’ – after Reddy’s own aeronautical skills, or rather from an ancient Indian experience of manufacturing a pear-shaped type of aircraft with unusual ducts and fans for airlift….. Well, let’s rest with the other types of fans who will easily lift off as this group replicates the free flying aura of sound-with-soul, combined with emotion and storytelling, of a local type.
Last night (Friday) I headed to Cape Town’s best and only real jazz club, Straight No Chaser. The venue offers unbridled joy of listening to the great music and musicians in performance without the din and clatter of waiter service. Pure jazz all the way, how it should be served to the audience. This night it was the debut of The Lee Thomson Experience, led so ably by the very busy and highly underrated trumpeter, naturally yep you guessed it, Lee Thomson, trumpet, flugel horn and instrument not often seen on the stages of Cape Town, (the pocket trumpet). Band leader Thomson was joined on stage by vocalist Bonj Mpanza, pianist Nick Williams, incredible rhythm master drummer Kesivan Naidoo and incomparable bassist Romy Brauteseth whose task it was to re-imagine the repertoire of traditional and contemporary jazz standards from Miriam Makeba and Duke Ellington to Beyonce and beyond.
Thomson has yet, after all these years to release an album of his own. Here he has the right vehicle to do so, a great combination of musicians to make sure of an awesome debut album. Something I have been on at him for years, I do hope it will be much sooner than later.
I was looking forward to hearing vocalist Bonj Mpanza, whom I’d not heard before. When she alighted the stage after an introduction by Thomson she told us she was going to start off with Allan Mzamo Silinga’s beautiful and so well known tune Ntjilo Ntjilo. In doing so she was paying tribute to the late Miriam Makeba. Pianist Williams rose to the occasion with his intro to the song which was just truly sublime, then Mpanza’s voice rang out like the clarion bells of the close by St Georges Cathedral, big and powerful. I thought we were all in for a real treat; she then went on with Mackay Davashe’s Lakutshon’ilanga and followed that with Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s Give Peace a Chance. By this time I was not really enjoying her performance because of her continued use of a delayed echo foot peddle. It was annoying and terrible with words and voice colliding into one another; she was doing battle with herself creating an unpleasant cacophony, oh, why did she choose to spoil her magnificent instrument with the totally unneeded electronic gadgetry. There may be a time and place to use such things perhaps, but most of the time during the set it was not. The few times she did not use the infernal thing she really show what a classy voice she has. Other than that The Lee Thomson Quintet was on point and showed huge potential as a unit to really watch out for, the future is bright for The Lee Thomson Experience. It was a huge privilege to be a part of the listening audience. When next they perform make sure to not miss the event.
TABLE MOUNTAIN BLUES SUMMIT 2014
6 & 7 December, Hillcrest Quarry, Durbanville.
“Blues is a natural fact, it is something that a fellow lives.” Big Bill Broonzy.
South Africa’s Premier Blues Music Festival returns to Hillcrest Quarry in Durbanville, Cape Town on the 6th and 7th of December 2014. Hosting 20 of the country’s top Blues Rock Artists over 2 days, the 2014 concert is proudly presented and brought to you by local main sponsor COMBUSTION TECHNOLOGY and also with great sponsor support by PAUL BOTHNER MUSIC and FENDER SA.
So friends and fans, all you need is a ticket and them’ blue suede shoes (whether real or imaginary) to come and enjoy the finest music making by the following phenomenal local artists:
Dan Patlansky, Albert Frost Trio, Boulevard Blues, The Blues Broers, Gerald Clark and the Deadmen, Pebbleman, Ann Jangle, Dave Ferguson, Mean Black Mamba, Natasha Meister, Crimson House, Basson Loubscher & Violent Free Piece, The Wayne Pauli Trio, Patrick Canovi’s ‘Kiss the Sky’, Piet Botha and Akkedis, The Parlor Vinyls, Charlie King Band, Nhoza Sitsholwana, Riaan & Nick, Fake Leather Blues Band and Sven Blumer.
This year the Blues Summit rocks on a Saturday and a Sunday. Organizer Richard Pryor says: “Ain’t the Blues just too good on a Sunday? We moved the Friday night to a Sunday so that it is easier to bring your whole family for an awesome day out.”
What you can look forward to on the Blues Menu for the Summit:
- 20 top Bands over 2 days.
- Top class quality 30000 watt outdoor sound rig! The best rig ever !!!
- Huge Lighting and a huge LED screen.
- Hillcrest Quarry is one of the finest outdoor venues in SA
- Vibrant food and refreshment stalls and plenty of outside bars
- Plenty of free and secure off street parking
- Fender Guitar Giveaway and the Combustion Technology Cash Prizes R1500
- Free entrance for children under 10 (must present some form of ID)
- Limited camping tickets for sale on Computicket (Camping costs R150 -separate to festival ticket)
Phone and book at Computicket on 0861 9158000 or visit
www.computicket.com for your piece of the Blues Rock action: Tickets R200 – R340.
Make sure you land at Hillcrest Quarry on the 6th and 7th of December and we’ll give you a musical thrill that’s going to groove your Soul and move your Body!
What is it with customer service and worst of all call centres it was my luck to have two problems on the same day.
I trundled off to The Five Rooms Restaurant at the Alphen Hotel in Constantia on Thursday night to listen to visiting expat Capetonian composer and saxophonist Mark Ginsberg, who’d let me know he was to be playing at the venue, a place I’d not visited in ages. On arrival I was greeted with a warm, friendly smile by the hostess who asked where I’d like to be seated, as I was alone I said the bar
would do fine. The atmosphere was warm and was busy. After a while I finally got the bar persons attention to get a beer to slake my thirst, but was disappointed to see the only beer on tap was Castle or Pironi, not being a Castle fan of long standing, there was little choice as when I’m in a pub I always like to enjoy a draft. It’s a real shame being forced forced to settle on the Pironi rather than the Castle or bottled beer. I would have thought the Alphen Hotel would have had a couple of Craft beers on tap at such an lovely “Olde World” pub.
The band started off and what a band it was, Mark blowing the sax with Andrew Lilly playing the keyboard Mike Campbell plucking the electric bass with Kevin Gibson keeping the beat behind his drum kit, all well season jazz musicians, and the standard showed in the they music
played. The standout tune of the first set for me was Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s Yakhal’ Inkomo,
Mark seemed to have been channelling the late Winston, it is a sublime rendition to my way of thinking as memories flooded back of hearing and interacting with the impish Mankunku so many times in the living years, there was even a tear brought to my eye. The band played as if they’d been playing together for years.
I looked at both of the menus and settled on what I wanted to order from the Lounge Menu, in the meanwhile I was seat smack dang in the middle of a busy thoughrafarewith waiters and the manager sculling all over the place and not one asked if I needed assistance. The lounge area and other rooms were where all the attention was focused. I don’t for a minute believe any of the staff didn’t see that my intention was to order. Musically I enjoyed the evening and with two drafts down, I was hungry so decided to head home and on the way, stop off at the
Steers at the Engen Service Station close to home in Claremont, another huge mistake. On arriving at the service counter the staff were milling around nattering away to one another taking no notice of me as a customer. After a good 7 minutes or so one of the counter servers finally decided to take my order on a Hero Roll medium rare with Chips, second mistake. Then another crowd of staff arrived and yep you guessed it another round of story telling. Waiting patiently for my order and not a manager in sight I eventually the food, and headed home. On the way home I munched on the hot chips and arrival I plated the
Hero and remainder of the Chips. The Hero was a soggy mess so sauce laden, the roll just fell to pieces on being picked up with the steak, lettuce and tomato going all over the place. Then got a Knife and Fork to try to eat the thing after washing all the sauce off my hands. The steak was very overcooked and like cardboard which I could not eat and in disgust disposed of. Steers claim to have the best chips of all burger joints by using real potatoes but they tasted rancid like the oil had been used 4 or 5 times too long. A horrendous night out and on a really terrible rainy night of which I think the rain and the jazz was the best thing.
I complained to both organisations managements and have not heard much from the Alphen Hotel, the restaurant manager who I called the day after to register my dissatisfaction did not even bother to say that they’d get back to me with an update on the status of my complaint, all she said was she hoped that I would give them a try again. After a really torrid time in trying to get the contact details first from the Steers Call Centre, I finally managed to find the phone number of the regional Steers office from the Steers corporate website, note, not the actual Steers website and left a message for someone to call me. That happened around two hours later the management person was sympathetic and helpful and said the regional manager would call
me to update me on the status of my complaint. That was Thursday evening, a night to remember and to forget. that jazz was really try good and the only redeeming thing of a wasted night, I look forward to the weekend rain and all, and will get the Klutz In The Kitchen to make a huge pot of to keep on hand so as to have something nutritious handy when something of the nature occurs again.
Following the success of the inaugural De Waal Park Summer Concerts in 2011/2012 the Friends of De Waal Park and Re/MAX Living are once again going to bring great music to the Park in Oranjezicht.
And the 2012/2013 line-up is bigger and better than ever with some of South Africa’s best, and most popular, musicians and bands in the line-up.
Jimmy Dludlu, The Rudimentals, Mark Haze, Robin Levetan, Arno Carstens, Saudiq Kahn, Karen Zoid, The Glenn Robertson Jazz Band, Steve Louw and Big Sky, Robin Auld, and Hot Water. One of them will be performing every second Sunday from November 4 until March 17. (See programme schedule below)
The concerts are being held on Sunday afternoons in order to be as accessible as possible for the local community, and ensuring that parents with younger children have the opportunity to attend too. Dog are always welcome.
The Friends of De Waal Park was formed in 2008 by group of volunteers, comprised of individuals who live in the area, to assist the city maintain and improve the park for its citizens. They pay for the pond to be cleaned, for some gardening in the park and for the all important ‘pooh packets’ for the dog walkers! They have repaired benches and arranged for the for the toilet block to remain open after hours. They have upgraded the children’s play area and arranged for additional tables and benches to be placed in the park.
The Summer Concerts will be staged in the original Edwardian bandstand which was manufactured by Messrs Walter McFarlane & Co of Glasgow and presented to ‘the corporation’ in Cape Town by the Traders-Market & Exhibition Ltd. London in 1904. It was moved from the original exhibition space in Green Point to De Waal Park some years later.
‘We are privileged to have an Edwardian bandstand and what is a bandstand for if not for music?’ Said Mike Bosazza, Chairman of FoDWP. ‘We get pleasure by bringing music back into the city bowl for the whole community, and we like to encourage people to use and enjoy our wonderful park.
‘ We are also proud that Cape Town is once again right up-to-date with European trends’ Mike continued ‘As, In the past decade, over a hundred bandstands have been restored in England. Plus October is World Architecture Month so it is the perfect time to celebrate our old structures and buildings.’ he said.
The Summer Concerts, which are free to the public, would not have been possible without the generous support of RE/MAX Living.
Gerlinde Moser of RE/MAX Living says, ‘It’s our way of giving back to the community, after all we don’t just work here, we live here too! It is gratifying for us to see the growing support we are getting from the City Bowl homeowners in response to our neighbourhood support policy. Our agents are proud to be supporters of what will be the largest annual community event in the area.
‘And what better way to say this than with a series of outdoor concerts?’ Music brings joy to everybody, regardless of age, and spending quality time with your family in a beautiful and peaceful park, on a blanket with a picnic, is a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon?’ Gerlinde said.
CONCERT DATES & FEATURED ARTISTS.
November 4th 3pm RUDIMENTALS
November 18th 3pm MARK HAZE
December 2nd 4pm ROBIN LEVETAN
Decembe 16th 4pm JIMMY DLUDLU AND SAUDIQ KAHN (THE MAYOR’S CHRISTMAS CONCERT)
January 6th 4pm KAREN ZOID
January 20th 4pm THE GLENN ROBERTSON JAZZ BAND
February 3rd 4pm STEVE LOUW AND BIG SKY
February 17th 4pm ROBIN AULD
March 3rd 3pm ARNO CARSTENS
March 17th 3pm HOT WATER
For more information visit the De Waal Park website: www.dewaalpark.co.za
Written by Marilyn Thompson and distributed by Marilyn Thompson and Martin Myers
For interviews and photographs contact Martin Myers : 021 4248850,
083 4484475 or firstname.lastname@example.org