Me: I see you as a renaissance man. I mean, you do everything.
Him: (In his hoarse voice,he bursts into laughter nearly falling off his chair)
He is Abdul Milazi. A former reporter and editor, now an avid full time painter and an eccentric life coach.
I’m at his Randburg home to sit with the man. He is quite an extraordinary individual in that he was at the helm of South Africa’s biggest tabloid print publication, the Sunday World when its sales rocketed from 138 000 copies a week to 200 000 in less than two years. While his artistic inclination is second to none- he published a book of his poetry collection in 2015 and creates music on a daily at his home and performs around Joburg regularly-and does this without inner conflict, looking at the hats he wears.
“…that’s the beauty of African languages, they are richer than Western languages. The only other languages I’ve come across that are as rich, are Arabic, Latin American languages…abo English and what what are too shallow.”
“Bongi, mina I never have conflict. You can give me any task, if I don’t understand it I’ll ask you to fill me in, and then I’ll give you the best of what you want. I use to joke with people and say the subject is irrelevant, you could give me Framer’s Weekly [to be editor] and I’ll give you the best Farmer’s Weekly ever,” says Milazi.
He fell in-love with art at a young age, like any other kid beginning with simple drawings. But growing up, he’s struggled with what the Western world defined as art. The West’s insistence on not giving credit to African Cultural artists when they do work steeped in African traditions, on things such as ukhamba.
“Most of the time, they are never recognized by the West. They’ll say ‘it’s clay pot or whatever’ but when they do pottery, they call it art…it’s the same thing. How is it, that one is not [art] and this one is. That’s a struggle I’ve had all my life,” says Milazi.
“It kinda worries me, when people are left behind when I move because when I move, I want us to move together so we can celebrate together…”
When he was 16 years-old, he use to visit his English teacher who was also painter. She introduced him to painting and the young Milazi used to hound her with questions about this hypocritical stance that the West has on African art. “[Black] people use to draw on rocks, using simplistic drawings to tell stories…art is an expression, it doesn’t matter what medium. It’s an expression. Why do people isolate other expressions?”
He says we’ll only witness true expression once artists stop excluding certain people from expressing themselves. “Even the ladies who do amacansi or ama duvet…how do you then isolate that, and say ‘no, that is not art’”
His paintings are laden all over his abode. I was welcomed by a gripping landscape painting he did of Joburg City as I walked into the house. The paintings are simple but all have a different feel to it-there’s work I would buy but also work that my mother would also gravitate towards.
The paintings have been a mainstay at the Zoo Lake’s Art At The Zoo, since he first started exhibiting work last November. “The same white people who’ve been buying there, say [to me] ‘you’ve brought something different…it’s modern and not this old arty farty work’”
He admits that he also started out painting in that dull style- landscapes, portraits, etc. “Until I got bored because all I’m doing is photocopying and there are photocopying machines, right? So if I want a landscape, I can bring a camera and shoot it. Mina I want to paint emotions uyabo, make people happy. If you see all of them [my paintings] you won’t find morbid ones. When you get my painting, and you put it up your wall, it should make you happy when you enter your home. I wana do pieces that will make people’s home feel home-it’s your escape from all the crap outside.”
Milazi’s work-be it the painting, music, poetry, or his life coaching- is primarily inspired by people and their stories. “Some stories make me wana cry. But I don’t wana paint sadness, I wana take the positives. If you tell me your family is not treating you right, but tell me you’re still carrying on…Mina I take the still carrying on part, not the cutting down. I capture your strength. It’ll emphasize your resilience.”
He’s had an illustrious career as a journalist, but fell into it by default. “I asked my English teacher, where will I do the most writing, she said Journalism-I said that’s where I’ll go. But I never romanticised journalism-but I ended up in it. I just wanted to write books. But I wanted to write books as early as 10 years-old.”
At that young age, he was an ardent reader of comics. From there, he grew into reading novels, going to book exchange shops, where he would get a load of books by trading with the store the stuff he’d already read.
His first gig as a journalist came right after he completed his matric, at the South Coast Herald in January 1987. “Because I was black, they thought I was applying to be a messenger. And I told them that no, I want to be a reporter- I think the editor was amused because I had been writing for school magazines and newspapers,” says Milazi. He adds that, those publications in the schools he went to were brainchildren of his.
Currently, he writes a column for Ilanga Newspaper. “I’m actually having loads of fun. It’s forcing me to go back and reacquaint myself with the language [isiZulu]. After writing three columns, I was laughing to myself ngoba ngathi ng’se high school futhi. It’s beautiful…that’s the beauty of African languages, they are richer than Western languages. The only other languages I’ve come across that are as rich, are Arabic, Latin American languages…abo English and what what are too shallow.”
His career has seen him in newsrooms such as the Financial Mail, Business Day, The Star, The Sunday Times and The Times.
He is one of those confident individuals who aren’t shy to tell you about their achievements, but without making you inferior. While sharing his success stories which include horrid times, he will, in a slick way make sure you also benefit from it, in whatever manner.
It’s his life coaching coming into effect.
“I’ve helped colleagues I started out with, to keep focus…without knowing it was life coaching. Ku mina, I still love to see all of us succeeding. It kinda worries me, when people are left behind when I move because when I move, I want us to move together so we can celebrate together-if it’s only me moving, it poses a question to me ‘Am I a good friend’ ,” he calmly utters the rhetorical question.
He began his life coaching studies while at the Witness Newspaper in 2012 and got his certificate in 2013. “As a life coach, I help you. I don’t decide things for you. I give you clarity on things you want and together we work towards achieving those things. But every decision will be made by you, not by me.”
Necessity is the mother of invention and it because of the necessity of a good guitarist when performing his poetry, that he ended up teaching himself to play. “Most session musicians are drug addicts and are unreliable- they would dump me on the day of the fucken show. So I said to myself, ‘let me learn how to play one instrument’. I bought an acoustic guitar, bought a book and taught myself how to play. ”
A month after purchasing the book, he composed his first track with three chords. “Now, I’ve taught people how to play…”
His music is all over Soundcloud now and he’s worked with a number of young artists. Before I left his home, Milazi jammed some of his tracks on his guitar that he named Maruapula. The music serenaded the bottle of whisky we had that afternoon so smoothly.
THERE’S something sacred about being welcomed into the working space of an artist. It’s where they immerse themselves in their creative catharsis. It’s akin to being received in someone’s home.
It’s in the evening of Nelson Mandela day and the faceless Suzie on the GPS of my phone has led me to the suburbs of Waterkloof. This is where PG13 has worked on their debut project, He’kaya. Upon hearing the title of the EP, my Nguni brain, thought it fitting that I come to their abode in Pretoria, to have a listen to the project right where it was recorded.
But He’kaya is Swahili, meaning legend. The four track EP will be launched this Saturday at Tembisa Lifestyle where the band was formed late 2015. “It’s where it started. The reason we chose Swahili, is because it’s the oldest African language,” says poet Angela Mthembu.
“Legends as in folktale and ‘legends’ as in legendary human beings. Our journey has been blessed by those who came before us, that’s why we always do To The Ones Who Came Before Us first[when performing live],”Mthembu says. The track is also known as Dlozi and is on the EP.
Paying homage is a serious thing for them. So much that they open their performances with ToThe Ones Who Came Before Us, and if not sung well, there are irreversible consequences. “It’s really important that, that song goes well. But if it doesn’t, we’ll play a great set but everyone’s mood [in the band] will change,” says drummer Steven Bosman. Mthembu chips in to say “…You guys won’t hear it. But certain weird things happen when that song goes wrong- either Wanda bursts an amp or I forget my lyrics in the next piece. ”
The song is their prayer, to those above and below them. And they have strong belief that if they aren’t earnest about the music and being on that stage, a bad set is guaranteed.
For their launch party they would like to pay homage to the late Phillip Tabane and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, vicariously through the descendants of these icons. “The idea is to collaborate with the offspring of legends that have shaped our music. So Thabang Tabane and Zoe Molelekwa- we’re hoping Zoe will be in Joburg on the 18th so he can come have a jam with us,” an excited Mthembu tells me.
PG13 includes vocalists Thando Msiza and Bongiwe Nkobi, Harry Thibedi and Zelizwe Mthembu on guitars with Wandisile Boyce on bass. The clique started out as three females- Mthembu, Nkobi and Towela Tembo- and has morphed into what we know today as the band. The PG represents Parental Guidance, but the 13 has a strong significant modest element to it. “13 is the beginning of teenhood and that’s the element where you as a child need the most guidance from your parents. It represents innocence. But it also represents us entering into this world and we’re starting to learn what it means to be a human verses what it means to be a child or an adult,” Mthembu says.
The band has performed on a decent number of stages which include the Smoking Dragon New Year’s Eve music festival, The Dawn, U the Space, Tembisa Street Food Market, Afrikan Freedom Station and Soweto Arts and Craft to mention a few. On He’kaya are songs their ardent followers have heard them perform on these various platforms. “The people who’ve followed us from the beginning, actually most these songs are relatively new to them because they knew us with Jack and Jill. Moving from a band that just had guitar to a full seven piece band, the sound shifts altogether- so even if you say ‘I’ve heard these songs’ you get a different flavour and taste from them,”Mthembu says. The tracks were recorded sporadically over a period of months,close to a year and were mixed and mastered by Bosman and Jamie Van Niekerk.
Speaking as Ndoda serenades our conversation in the background, Bosman says “With this track, the guitars were recorded last year, the drums were recorded this afternoon and six months back was two vocals. So it’s been little steps trying to mould a song.”
The version of Ndoda on the EP that we’re listening to in their studio is a tad different to an older version they recorded a while ago. On the older version Mthembu’s poetry comes off as lambasting all men, but her tone on the He’kaya version is a softer and a more conversational tone with the male species. Her poetry comfortably falls on Nkobi’s warm backing vocals in the backdrop. While in her verse, Nkobi charges boys to heed the call to be the men that are needed. But her vocal dexterity tones down this charge, sounding like it’s your mother singing you into your manhood asking to wake up and be idnoda! Bosman’s drumming is sharp, punctual and in sync with the vocals.
I wouldn’t have guessed they recorded in the process in which they did, had I not asked because it sounds as though they were all in studio at the same time. A mark of good sound engineering and says a lot about their chemistry as a clique. “The challenge as well has been, not knowing what someone else is doing, which was also exciting. Because a few members will pitch up and be like ‘what! I didn’t know the song was gonna sound like this’ one day I wasn’t here for the vocals, and I never thought our vocalists would do something like that, that they came up with a completely different concept for the chorus and completely changed the song,” says Bosman. He quips that, Monday nights in a tiny smoky room is chemistry. “It’s like a new perspective, every day with different ears-if you do it all together at one point, everybody hears the same thing. When it’s changing, you start to get some cooler stuff,” adds engineer Van Niekerk.
“The chemistry moves from the physical…like I gel with Steven and I start to like, gel with Steven’s drum. So when I hear Steven’s drum in my ears, that’s the chemistry that’s transferred,” Mthembu says.
If done wrong, the cocktail of music and poetry in a band can go south pretty quickly. A group that mastered this was Kwani Experience, so good was the blend that is wasn’t evident to the ear-the music just captured you.
PG13 also has that busyness. The chemistry, especially between Nkobi, Msiza and Mthembu makes the whole set digestible. On Jack and Jill Nkobi and Msiza beautifully go back and forth on vocals, requiring you to pay close attention. Their music doesn’t only borrow from Jazz and African music elements, but also has unmissable rock sounds.
Jack and Jill came out on Women’s day as their first single and is available on Soundcloud. The band has a tour planned after the He’kaya launch in Tembisa. “We’re doing three provinces-KZN, which is the longest leg of the tour, we’re gonna play about six venues there. A festival in Rustenburg and about two shows in Joburg,”Mthembu says. The tour is named After Skul is Afta Skul: He’Kaya.
The ubiquity of rap singers over the past few years has changed how people see the Hip Hop genre. The era before this was one that vilified a kat for being in-tune with his emotions. Labelling it gay, soft, weirdo or butt-check music.
Andre 3000 was one of the first male rappers, who was comfortable in his own skin. His courage has influenced a generation of the rappers who can hold a note and spit some bars. Had Three Stacks not did what he did, I doubt we would have the same Chance The Rapper, GoldLink, Smino, Kyle or Aminé. All these boys are undeniably influenced by R&B, Neo Soul and have the make-up of a Hip Hop artist.
Buddy is no exception. The Los Angeles rapper released his debut album, Harlan & Alondra last month. Through the 12 tracks on the album, you get the life-story of the L. A artist. Given that he was singed under Pharrell’s company, i Am OTHER, for the longest of time I expected the album to be on point sonically. And so it was. Buddy’s singing is good on the ear and doesn’t come off as an obligatory effort. You can tell he started out as a singer, and then picked up the rapping along the way, because his singing stronger than his bars on some of the joints.
It’s songs like Speechless, which make me visualize artists in studio recording. The track is sexy, smooth with a punch funk. Trouble On Central takes us to his neighbourhood in Compton, where he paints a picture of his troubled adolescence and hopes of moving out of the hood. While Shine is delightful blend of his raps and singing.
The flow on Shameless is a nod to the Migos. It was a genius idea to get Guapdad 4000 to spit his verse first on the song. Although he’s the featured artist, he sets the tone with his slick verse. Buddy’s verse, juxtaposed the recurring theme on Trouble On Central, highlights the progress he’s made in the last few years as an artist and a person. His EP with virtuoso producer and DJ Kaytranada, Ocean & Montana which came out a year ago, changed the trajectory of his career in a good way. It was through that EP, that I got introduced to Buddy. I don’t think he has particularly grown since the release of that project, as an artist, but Harlan & Alondra is a fuller body of work. You get more of who he is. His other work include 2015 mixtape Idle Time, and EP, Magnolia which came out last year.
Like his former boss Pharrell, Buddy has appreciation of different genres and other artists’ crafts. He’s features were very calculated and the song with Snoop Dogg, The Blue, gives Snoop liberty to be himself and add that to the song, which makes it doper. I never would’ve imaged Buddy working with A$AP Ferg, who spat one of the dopest verses on the whole album. I really hope to see the two performing this joint at one of the big award shows. The lyrics are heavy, but thankfully the beat is so sick, the shit doesn’t sound preachy.
Find Me 2 is a good song and as you might guess, there will be inevitable comparisons to Find Me which was on Ocean & Montana and the more upbeat first version has a special place in my heart. Like a teenage Bonginkosi, I’ll have to wait for the new version to grow on me, like pubic hair.
The album has definite replay value. Songs like Real Life S**t and Trippin’ give it legs to be in people’s faces and ears for a long time. It’s difficult getting an album with bad production and this album has good beats that capture the essence of the song. I’m excited for Buddy’s growth. I genuinely think more dopeness is gonna come from this kid as he grows as a lyricist and an overall artist
For actress Nompumelelo Mayiyane, giving Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, better known Khwezi, a voice and face beyond her grave was what lured her into playing the role of the deceased in the play, KHWEZI…Say (my) her name, which opens tonight at the State Theatre.
“I was drawn by the desire to find true resolve with the story beyond the court room. I loved that the story speaks to the person Fezekile was and not just a specific event in her life,” Mayiyane says.
The play is written and directed by playwright Napo Masheane. It’s an adaptation of Redi Tlhabi’s KHWEZI…The remarkable story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo. “I connect with her artistic nature, her joyous spirit despite various events in her life. Her bravery, I love that vulnerability is not a fear for her,” says Mayiyane of her connection to Kuzwayo.
The actress is an accomplished thespian in her own right, having been part of productions such as Africa Umoja, Songs of Jazz town, Too much punch for Judy, Rock of ages, Mad buddies and Little one.
But she says this will be her first time working with Masheane. “I’ve known her since I was 13 years-old. We travelled to America in a cultural exchange in the arts together. She was a mentor on the project and I was one of the 12 African children selected for the project.”
Another novelty, is her potrayal of a rape victim on stage or camera and say preparing for the role hasn’t been problematic. “Unfortunately preparing for such a role in South Africa is not hard because rape is a reality for so many women here, it surrounds us. We all know at least one or two people in our intimate setting, who have experienced this trauma.”
“I think the challenge and greater responsibility for me is displaying the women beyond these events in her life. So, she’s remembered for who she is, not just a rape victim.”
Given that they are on the microphone and talking directly to the audience, soloists will be the ones hogging the attention. While the bassist, who has the thankless job of carrying the music, is relegated to the background.
History has placed Oliver Tambo’s crucial role in the struggle in that precarious position, while an individual is upheld as the messiah of a movement.
In a year swamped with centenary celebrations for the late Nelson Mandela, South African and USA artists plus their politicians will pay homage to the life of Tambo through a double disc album titled Voices On OR- a musical tribute to Tambo.
“To me, movements are always about more than just the person who is sort of the leader or spearhead of it,” says L.A bassist Miles Mosely.
“That person is very important, we know for the freedom fighters, that the work [Nelson] Mandela did is something that the entire world celebrates. But for me, as a bass player who is often times behind the soloist, to me studying the story of Tambo allowed me to understand that he was this foundational character. Somebody who was the kind of earth of the movement and had to explain complicated ideas to the rest of the world- I really connected with that idea. Oliver Tambo was the bass player of the freedom fighters, you know,” says Mosely, laughing.
The Upright bassists talks to Tha Bravado about his his involvement in the project. The vocalist, producer, composer and arranger was asked to be part of Voices On OR after his performance at the Cape Town Jazz Festival last year.
Mosely is an accomplished musician that has worked with Mos Def, India Arie, Lauryn Hill, Terrence Howard and also played on three tracks on Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly.
He also worked on three songs on Voices On OR, one of the songs I got a chance to listen to at the Downtown Studios where the recording takes place, was Roving Ambassador, which has an unmistakable African sound that captures continent’s warmth and enthusiasm.
“Unfortunately my lineage was thrown in the ocean. So I don’t know what specific cultures, tribes and traditions I come from. So I try to celebrate as many as I can and I try to understand as many as I can. Some of them ring in my heart and come out on my bass or the piano, a bit truer. That feeling and that sound for that song, is something that resonates deeply with me in my heart.”
He credits this to his time at UCLA, where he studied Ethnomusicology, learning music of the world. “All music, as far as I’m concerned, starts and stops in Africa and African traditions. Everybody says that and keeps it moving. But I really wanted to make sure that it was an inescapable part of it, not something that’s to be modernised or changed.”
The double album is musically directed by renowned singer Gloria Bosman while seasoned saxophonist McCoy Mrubata is tasked with the role of producing. Among others, the project will include Jonathan Butler, Tsepo Tshola, Mandisa Dlanga, Jabu Magubane, Herbie Tsoaeli and Steve Dyer. Performances in the recording will be characterized by interpretations of musical themes based on events around OR’s life. Included will be a composition titled Tambo’s Dance – a song inspired by an event in 1963 where Tambo got so excited by the contents of a document for Operation Mayibuye, that he leapt out of his chair and did a jubilant dance.
Crossing the Limpopo with Father Tambo – blends poetry by Mongane “Wally” Serote, narration by former President Thabo Mbeki and singing by Ladysmith Black Mambazo with music accompaniment from the Beda Hall Double Quartet Band. The band is named after Tambo’s band at Fort Hare, to which Tambo was vocalist.
Forming part of today’s Quartet is Paul Hanmer, Ayanda Sikade, Khaya Ceza, Shane Cooper, Tlale Makhene and Feya Faku.
The US is represented by R&B singer Eric Bennet, rapper Javier Starks and former US president Barack Obama who will be narrating some of Tambo’s life. The project is funded by the National Lotteries Commission and should be out in October.