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

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

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

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

Album cover: “Guy Buttery”

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

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

Nibs van der Spuy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                       On loop pedal

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

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

Lumanyano ‘Unity’ Mzi: courtesy Gregory Franz

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

Delph singer Adelia Dou

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

Cameroun drummer Brice Wassy

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

UNITY Band

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

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

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

           Sibusiso Mashiloane

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

Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay, Capetown

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

Bassist Dalisu Ndlazi

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

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

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

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

Bheki Mseleku – courtesy GettyImages

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

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

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

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WHERE IS SOUTH AFRICAN JAZZ HEADING?

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

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

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

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

Bongani Sotshononda at Native Yards

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

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

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

         Ramon Alexander album

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

Muriel Marco

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

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

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PART II: WHAT TO EXPECT TO HEAR AT MJF!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Masque Theatre is at 37 Main Road, Muizenberg.

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

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

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

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

Smaller festivals can facilitate so many reactions and outcomes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PRIMORDIAL AND POLYRHYTHMIC ‘ANCIENT AGENTS’ is a PERCUSSION DELIGHT

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

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

Ancients concert at Nassau 16 September 2017: credit Gregory Franz

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

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

Fredrik Gille & frame drum

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

Ronan Skillen & metal didgeridoo

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

frank paco at drums

 

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

New Horizons FP walking

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

Frank Paco Art Ensemble New Horizons

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

02 Zoe Modiga with guitarist Keenan Ahrends

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

Nelson Malela

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

Nelson Malela

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

Sylvain Beloubeta; photo Rob Piper

Sylvain Beloubeta; photo Rob Piper

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

FP portrait

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

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

FP at FoyerSessions Masque

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

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

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

Ernestine Deane; photo by Gregory Franz

Ernestine Deane; photo by Gregory Franz

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

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

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

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

Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane; photo by Nikki Froneman

Nobuhle Ashanti Mazinyane; photo by Nikki Froneman

Tiana Marwanqana ; photo by Olga Callige

Tiana Marwanqana ; photo by Olga Callige

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

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

Terryl Bell

     Terryl Bell

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

At Kwa Sec Gugulethu; photo by Mncedisi Siza

At Kwa Sec Gugulethu; photo by Mncedisi Siza

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

Claire de Kock

Claire de Kock

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

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

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

CD Cover

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

Marc-206

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc-421

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

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

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

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

Slow Life logo

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

Olympia Bakery frontage

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

CD Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Errol Dyers: Your Music made even dogs dance!

Dear Errol,

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

ErrolDyersb

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

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

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

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

With love and great respect,

All Jazz Radio team of presenters and fans

30 July 2017

Sonesta -web

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Classical Indian sitarist Niladri Kumar explores  musical boundaries

'Path Bender' sitarist Niladri Kumar

‘Path Bender’ sitarist Niladri Kumar

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.

Training orphan girls to play sitar

Training orphan girls to play sitar

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

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.

Kumar with John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain & Eric Harland

Kumar with John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain & Eric Harland

* * * * * *

Ronan-Feature1

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.

NK:  Exactly

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.

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COSY VENUES for LIVE JAZZ make Capetown winters hummmm

‘Jazz in the Native Yards’ series offers pleasant Sunday afternoon outings to hear the best of South Africa’s live music performed in Capetown communities’s back yards. Hosted by jazz-entrepreneurs, Koko Kalashe and Luvuyo Kakaza, residents in Gugulethu just outside of the Capetown business district, Sunday concerts feature some of the finest local musicians who pull in visiting international partners where available to join in the festive gigs.

Luvuyo Kakaza & Koko Kalashe run Jazz in the Native Yards series of concerts

Luvuyo Kakaza & Koko Kalashe run Jazz in the Native Yards series of concerts

The two men and their funding partners envision the best for both artists and live music buffs – provide platforms for up and coming artists which bring talents and entertainment directly into local appreciative communities.

Guga S’Thebe Community Center is one of these venues, just off the N2 national highway on the Langa turnoff.

Guga S'Thebe Langa auditorium offering outdoor snacks

Guga S’Thebe Langa auditorium offering outdoor snacks

Centered in Langa, the oldest Black community and one nearest to central Capetown city, its auditorium is well equipped with a sound system, and even a first floor room where a radio station, like the community station Fine Music Radio (101.3FM) can broadcast live shows. Drinks catering is permitted, too.

Drummer Dominic Egli

Drummer Dominic Egli

This happened when the inventive Swiss drummer, Dominic Egli, joined by his fellow Swiss bassist and saxophonist, and South African trumpeter/flugelhornist Feya Faku, a firebrand at improvisation, hit the stage in this cozy venue on Sunday, 9 July 2017.  Excerpts from their ‘Pluralism’ series of three CDs, the latest entitled “More Fufu!”, rocked the stage for two exhilarating hours.

Pluralism quartet. Credit: Atiyyah Khan

Pluralism quartet. Credit: Atiyyah Khan

The local crowd intermixed with other suburbanites from outside of Langa listened quietly with discerning ears and exploded their enthusiasm during breaks with cheerful talks, selfies and group photos with the musicians, and a little wine on hand to warm already bustling hearts. Supported by the Swiss fundor, Prohelvetia, this Pluralism quartet recently completed their six night South African tour, certainly with a bang at Guga SThebe.

Their usually sold-out gigs consist of a variety of African rhythms and sounds ranging from West African ‘high life’, aka ‘fufu’, to Sahelian Mali tuareg, to Afro-Peruvian, to local South African ghoema. Egli can open a song about Mali playing the mbira, and then swing into a very explicit African drumming sequence. His versatility is heightened by equally versatile fellow Swiss players who hover sonically around Faku’s horn which punctuates with rhythmic detail. ‘Fufu’, in French slang, means ‘crazy’. But as a common West African dish, often served with a slimy, chillied ochre soup, ‘Fufu’ connotes symbolically food for the soul that sustains. The latest Pluralism CD, ‘More Fufu!’ admirably follows through the Afro and fusion themes started in the previous two albums. It seems Egli and his group simply cannot run out of songs for us!

 

More Fufu! Album cover

More Fufu! Album cover

Faku had met Dominic in Basel, Switzerland. Out of their ensuing friendship came a song, “The River Crosses the Path” played on Faku’s endearing fugelhorn. You couldn’t hear a pin drop in the hall, as all were spellbound by his gripping delivery. The song had a gospel flavour, pensive, telling a story. You could hear the emotion. Egli then presented his first ghoema composition. Inevitably, the gig had to come to an end, but not without a standing ovation, an ovation applauding the pluralistic and interactive characteristics of this truly Euro-African band. By the end of this Sunday’s gig, the audience is vibey, greets each other, even if strangers, and one leaves this community center having made a friend or two.

Jazz in the Native Yards has hit the eager pulse for live jazz close to home.  All look forward to their offerings, come rain or come shine!

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LISTENING VENUES SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC ARTS- Rootspring at Novalis Ubuntu Institute, Wynberg, Capetown

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.

Intimate staging at Novalis Ubuntu Institute

Intimate staging at Novalis Ubuntu Institute

Singer Indwe

                        Singer Indwe in cave

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  Intone percussion instruments

Ronan Skillan & dirigidoo in cave

   Skillen exploring dirigidoo sounds in cave

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/

3-in-a-cave

                              3-in-a-cave

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.

James van Minnen & Ronan Skillan outside their cave

James van Minnen & Ronan Skillen outside their cave

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

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SAMA 2017 winner Nduduzo Makhathini’s ‘Inner Dimensions’ (2017): Reflections & Prayer

Nduduzo Makhathini receiving SAMA 2017 for Best Jazz Album

Nduduzo Makhathini receiving SAMA 2017 for Best Jazz Album

SAMA 2017 rewards another son of the African soil with Best Jazz Album (‘Inner Dimensions”), but this isn’t about ‘jazz’ only. Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini’s 7th album to date continues to haunt us with the inner workings of what our soul journey to higher, spiritual dimensions should look like. He seems to know, in a deeply ancestral and real life, way. [See my interview with him below.]

Album cover of "Inner Dimensions"

Album cover of “Inner Dimensions”

This 11-track album, recorded in Switzerland in May 2016 with Swiss colleagues (the Umgidi Trio) Fabien Iannone on double bass and drummer Dominic Egli, along with a 7-person choir (the One Voice Vocal Ensemble), exudes innovative techniques meant “to go deep within the inner realms of our souls and find those melodies that bring about harmony, healing and hope for all people,” according to one of Makhathini’s YouTube interviews. By reaching the inner, we can than reach the outer universe everywhere else.

To do all this, Makhathini and his cohorts have developed artistic styles to accompany his sometimes contemplative, zesty, and freely unconfined runs on the piano. The range of styles include early South African jazz motifs, contemporary gospel and jazz choral, funky liturgical, accopella harmonies, indigenous African chants to Spirit, and freeflow improvisation.

What is different from his previous albums is the inventive use of vocals and choral orchestration alongside acoustic improvisation of his trio. These styles have successfully pushed ‘jazz’ to another level, what Makhathini calls God’s hand touching every soul that encounters this music. Appreciation of Spirit is tantamount, as in ‘At Your Feet Oh Lord’, a prayerful beckoning for blessings, which starts the album, and ‘Mama Africa”, pronouncing deference to Mother Africa’s ancestors. In “Sobantu”, referencing live jazz oozing from a vibey township near his Pietermaritzberg home as he was growing up, Makhathini displays his vast understanding of chord structures and changes as the same tune is repeated but in different 5ths and 7ths. As he deconstructs chords into singular runs that regroup back into chords, this song becomes reminiscent of early South African jazz styles of the Sophiatown era. Here, like legendary pianist Tete Mbambisa on his ‘Black Heroes’ album, Makhathini wants to guard and retain these sounds proudly produced by earlier maestros of township jazz during the apartheid era. Choral and gospel arrangements are diligently presented in “Lift Those Voices”, and in “Alphinah” where choral harmonies morf into a solemn, moving liturgical presentation backed by the trio’s playful jazz style in ¾ time, almost as a sing-along jaunt with a gospel twist. The album ends with three very differently styled Movements: I – about Compassion with English lyrics sung by the chorus which flows directly into Movement II that features the melodic mbira, traditional chants, and KhoiSan sounds emanating from this inventive concoction of voices and percussion.

Drummer Dominic Egli

Drummer Dominic Egli

Surprisingly, this second piece was composed by drummer Egli, a European who has captured superbly the dynamics of traditional South African sounds of the soil. The third Movement called ‘Freedom Chants’ breaks from traditional beats into a ‘free jazz’ vocal and trio mix. One is moved into another ethereal realm, maybe the final ‘nirvana’ in attaining spiritual awakening.
Thus, the most inner of all dimensions of our human existence is touched and elevated.

My clear assessment is that Makhathini’s ancestors are not angry; rather, they keep pushing their son’s consciousness one step further, something we can look forward with his subsequent recordings.

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

I chatted with Makhathini about his album and his reflections on winning the SAMA award:

CM: Does your SAMA award put pressure on you now to do other things in promoting music, etc?
NM: It’s great that one can be recognized in that kind of way; but some of these awards mostly belong to the record label, and not necessarily to the artist. So I went to the SAMAs more as a record label owner as I own my own private label, Gundu Entertainment, co-owned with my wife.

CM: When you become an award winner, you may be asked to do various things, like lead a band, or give workshops and master classes, etc. How do you feel about that? Wouldn’t these activities detract from what you want to do creatively, like write and perform your music?

06 NMakhathini

NM: That whole development thing has always been with me. Even now, in my teaching at Tshwane University, I’ve been putting an emphasis on mentorship beyond the classroom, and how lecturers can inspire students further who feel they don’t have opportunities. For instance, I always thought I came from an insignificant city of Pietermaritzburg and wanted people who could mentor me. So if I can contribute to mentoring others in any way, I’m willing to stretch beyond playing the music . I recently did a TED talk, and am presenting papers at different universities on different subjects in order to expand beyond the piano. But it gives me more inspiration when I play my music – when I have more to say through my compositions, or just as an improviser. Then there’s a lot more I can project in the music as opposed to just playing the instrument. It’s great when we all can contribute to this communal consciousness and create something beautiful out of it!

CM: You’re producing many albums now. How is this?
NM: You know, it’s because I see in this country a great need for healing, and I talk about it. People think talk about healing is boring, so I try to push it to a less superficial level. This idea of democracy was initially a pre-mature wish here, even with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other events that centred around these notions of freedom. But I think of this freedom and truth at three different levels:

One, the physical level of physical brutality when people were beaten up and shot. Then there is the brutality of the mind which conditions you how you think about yourself, where you think less of yourself, feel you don’t belong, or don’t have a voice or say in anything. Then there is this third level, and more dangerous one, what bra Zim Ngqawana called the ‘vandalism of the soul’. If you’ve been brutalized by the first two, then it’s necessary that the soul be in a safe place to help correct or survive from these brutalities.

So in the work that I do, we think of our ancestors as souls, and they are often angry at having died not being fulfilled on earth, or not loving themselves. ‘Inner Dimensions’ was trying to tap into who we are. Even in pre-colonial times, did we have a name as Africans? What was our story? Now, our identity is trying not only to capitalise on the idea of ‘blackness’, but also on the idea that if you contribute to yourself, then you contribute better to the pages of consciousness, and towards this new idea of a humanity with a collective consciousness. But sometimes we forget that the building blocks for a healthy society are focusing on the inner way enabling us to make contributions to ourselves, our families, and communities and expand to become the universal message. So look at these small building blocks of consciousness in order to think in more universal contexts.

CM: Do you think this album is your best so far? And which album is your favourite at this point?
NM: I don’t have a favourite album. Each album has a special narrative; they become like different chapters with messages which are connected. No album is ‘better’ than another. ‘Inner Dimensions’ is one of the few albums where I use vocals and choir orchestration. It was also recorded in Basel in Europe which meant I had to connect with my ancestry in a different way. We believe in the African soil, so from a foreign land, trying to make those spiritual connections in a deep way meant I had to do a lot of meditation to make sure I was connecting to what I believe in.

At Native Yards in Gugulethu/Capetown April 2017

At Native Yards in Gugulethu/Capetown April 2017

From the album liner notes, Makhathini’s prayer calls to God: “…may your beauty be found in every space in-between the notes….” and “….may your invisible hand touch your people as they experience each theme on this record.”

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Zoe Modiga’s “Yellow the Novel”, a story about self-awakening: a CD Review

'Yellow the Novel' album cover

          ‘Yellow the Novel’ album cover

Twenty-three year old songstress, Zoe Modiga who hails from KZN, South Africa, has launched her debut album containing an ambitious and seriously orchestrated series of her compositions which highlight her sense of self-awareness and being-true-to-oneself. We are ever-changing, as portrayed in nature’s Four Seasons, about which her band members eagerly chat on brief tracks, sparing about their favourite colours.

Often on South African stages with various other jazz bands and notable artists,  Modiga has absorbed multiple influences that have now enabled her to branch out with her own band, which include these notables, most recently heard on the Capetown International Jazz Festival stage in March 2017. It is therefore no surprise, yet still remarkable that she has chosen to market her talents in this introductory album with two disks containing 23 tracks, all but a few being her own compositions. There’s much to talk about in her ‘Yellow’ album, yellow being her favourite colour, which connotes peace and love for her. One clearly hears these messages as band members participate in various playful banter which confirms more their comradery and joy in this music project, rather than any meaningful messaging. It’s not clear, however, why her two discs have these verbal breaks which, for me, broke the flow of the increasingly engaging musical mood and temperaments which the songs offered.

Ms. Modiga hails from Kwa Zulu Natal, and completed her Jazz studies at Capetown’s South African School of Music. Other successes found her 8th in The Voice SA competitions, a winner of the 2015 SAMRO Overseas Scholarship Competition for singing (Jazz); and a vocal score in the Oscar nominated movie, Noem My Skollie, scored by her highly talented pianist, Kyle Shepherd. Other band members, like bassist Benjamin Jephta (Standard Bank’s 2017 Young Artist in Jazz) and pianist Bokani Dyer (Standard Bank 2011 Young Artist Award for Jazz, and recipient of the Samro Overseas Scholarship prize in 2013) feature in ‘Yellow’.

 With guitarest Keenan Ahrends

With guitarest Keenan Ahrends

‘Yellow the Novel’ is just that – a musical story with careful lyrics full of information, set to jazzy and melodic tunes. The listener is beckoned to listen carefully. Modiga sets the pace in Disk 1 with a lovely short African ballad, ‘Balele’, and then swings into the upbeat poppish ‘Abounding Within’ about our hidden peace morphing into jubilation. Yes, calls for peace feature abundantly in her two discs, in spite of low points. The song resolves into a slow meditative mood with the horns’ repetitious long notes. One learns how her sextet, with thirteen alternating musicians, eagerly follows her mood and direction without overpowering.

 

The novel unfolds musically, like a dramatic story, with forceful lyrics that advocate confidence, persistence, and hope. Modiga uses voice-overs and loops effectively to mimic a chorus. This is why her Disk 1 is uplifting; musically, she touches on a variety of improvisational styles, allowing the band to explore their own reaches. They introduce Track 8’s ‘Autumn’, again, with a carefree cacophony of mostly incoherent chats about their favourite colours. One muses, hearing the various South African accents from these mainly Capetown-based musicians.

03 Zoe_Modiga

Modiga occasionally falls into a vocal scat which calls out to the spiritual, such as in the melodic “Healer”, not requiring heavy messaging of a social nature like in her other songs. The power of God’s love is again recognised, as in the haunting “Love (Yahaweh)”, when the world seems hopeless. This love translates into how Modiga loves different kinds of people in “Would They” (get along well?). Recorded voice overs are effective here as the song queries if, in fact, saints and sinners, who are just ordinary people, could ever get along well with each other. A song for thought, indeed. An inspiring guitar carries this tune well. She is not ‘Alone’ as she takes chances, like everyone else, echoing her vocals through loops and repetitions, sometimes sarcastically because the world is asleep. This message returns at the end of Disc 1 with ‘Shake the World’ and a plea to get into your lane and wake up! This appropriately ends a winter season as the listener awaits for Spring to arrive in Disk 2.

Modiga breaks from English lyrics to pay tribute to the vernacular, particularly, to the legendary Winston Mankunku in his song, “Yakhalinkomo”, in a lovely arrangement with the guitar effectively adding a ballad mood. Sensuality and emotion punctuate other vernacular songs, like the moving “Inganekwane” referring to fairy tales and myths we live with. “Nantsi Ntsepe” offers lots of vocal chorus characteristic of morabi with a beautiful sax solo.

04 Zoe

*(*(*(*(*(*(*(*

Not all is rosy as a novel enters conflict zones. Disc 2 opens with a mournful philosophical bent about our worldly delusions and the life-is-not-rosy confusions we live with, hiding our inner tears, in “And so it goes”. Lyrics again dominate the musical novel , with Winter having seemingly carried stories of woes and depression, like in “One Litre Deep”, a folksy satire, maybe about what dark winters can do to spirit. Hope resurrects, however. Spring explodes yellow flowers, like in “Dandelion” which, as a relief, doesn’t echo opinionated words of caution, but rather soft scat vocalisations by the singer in a childlike, carefree manner. Modiga ambitiously tries a wide range in her vocals, sometimes wandering erratically ‘off key’, as if dazzled by the emotions evoked by this intricate song. One wonders, should dandelions be that complex? Answers come in the last track,“Yellow”, which now explains what self-realization means, after hard work, an awakening of confidence hummed nicely by trumpet and piano, bringing the ear back to the spiritual and calm. It is a breath taking piece!

Disc 2 lyrics are softer, less contentious than those in Disc 1, implying that out of struggle comes yellow, aka peace and love. Modiga strongly believes in perseverance, and lives it, building her talents through festivals, working with distinguished musicians in South Africa, and meticulously studying her art.

05 Zoe

Having blessed a prestigious CTIJFstage recently, and slated for the upcoming National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in June 2017, Modiga is well on her way to extending her yellow hopes and loves that can impact on the South Africa’s jazz music industry. It’s rewarding to see her perform live; her songs speak directly to the audience with slinky, individualistic projections of who Zoe is. And her yellow cape is truly stunning!

Musicians that feature in the two-disk album are: Benjamin Jephta; Bokani Dyer; Claude Cozens; Frank Paco; Keenan Ahrends; Kyle Shepherd; Ludwe Danxa; Marlon Witbooi; Revan October; Robin Fassie Kock; Romy Brauteseth; Ruby Crowie; and Tim Mosh.

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Resonance for Peace in ‘Tales of Life’ by Etuk Ubong: A CD review

Tales of Life seems taller than life. Nigerian jazz trumpeter Etuk Ubong’s thoughtful album of his compositions speaks to not only Nigerian ancestral spirits, but also to the beauty of peace which our world could promote better through our humanity. Ubong’s ambition is to bring truth to music, sonic storytelling being one way. Young Ubong does just this, and exceeds expectations as he ambitiously, even conservatively, continues to explore reflective soundscapes and rhythms, in this, his second album, released in February 2017.

Tales of Life Album Cover

Tales of Life Album Cover

The opening piece, “Battle for Peace”,  honours hope, love, and peace. The drums speak with eagerness and forward-thinking, even coercion as the three horns introduce the theme of this album. All seem to cry for peace. It’s an energetic beginning, honouring what’s good.

Etuk Ubong - media

  Etuk Ubong – media

Ubong plays a staccato trumpet with a breathiness reminiscent of the early Miles Davis whom he emulates. His revealing solo in “Drawing Room” gives testimony to the serious practice he has undergone faithfully over these years of performing and perfecting his instrument along with the moods and emotions that can go with it.  Likewise, he pairs nicely with the piano of Timothy Ogunbiyi with the off-beat drums of Benjamin James, as in “Genesis”, a piece that displays obvious talents of Ubong’s bassline.

His provocative sounds are clear, simple and thoughtful, improvising to be understood. In ‘Story’, he continues his telling, like a yoga massage.  The drum silhouettes with a steady undercurrent, and the piano ends this story the way it began, pronouncing that the healing has been done.

In ‘Suddenly’, midway through the album, Ubong continues to unfold his tales with the same haunting off-beat drum and announcing piano that enters/exits, then re-enters, changing tempos and moods. This arrangement allows for a special layout by drummer James that charms. But when Ogunbiyi’s piano takes over, things become meditative and wondering. There are sudden outbursts of hyped up tempo and emotions, like questioning the purpose of life, then a whimsical return to the basic theme. This is a beautiful reflective piece, and my favourite on the album, as well as the longest song.

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This questioning leads to the boppish ‘Tales of Life’, again with Ogunbiyi’s punctured piano treble runs. The long notes of Ubong’s horn are unwavering, bringing out the melancholic undertones which characterises this album. Some notes deliberately go off-kilter, synonymous with life’s sometimes erratic journey. As in life, one must learn to listen attentively.  “The Earth Meditation” brings the listener back to reflection with the soothing near-silence of Ubong’s fugelhorn.

Ending the album, and befitting a son whose mother passed away too early, ‘Uyai Mi Margaret’ is a beautifully orchestrated song honouring Ubong’s mother, Margaret, as well as all women of this world. It’s a soulful vocal chant that adds meaning to this wonderfully inspiring album.

‘Tales of Life’ displays obvious growth of Ubong’s talents as he journeys his music far and wide, between South Africa, Nigeria (where this album was produced), and soon-to-be other worlds. Stay tuned as this innovative jazz trumpeter brings his African influences to his intriguing improvisational styles.

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Filed under CD & Gig Reviews, Interviews with Carol Martin