GOOGLE an Aries’ traits and you will find that they are; Creative, independent, spontaneous and quite stylish.
Hugh Masekela, who died today a year ago was an Aries, born on April 4th. The jazz legend was an obvious creative, a staunch independent man while his travels showed his spontaneity and had he a penchant for fine apparel.
Maybe it might be hard to think of him as independent, looking at the rate at which he collaborated with other artists throughout his career. But his independence shone brighter under the cloud of collaboration in the slew of bands he was part of. Masekela, together with Dollar Brand (now known as Abdul Ibrahim), Kippie Moeketsi, Makhaya Ntshoko and Jonny Gertze make-up the first African jazz ensemble, Jazz Epistles, to record an LP in 1959.
They sold out shows in different parts of the country, but he understood that he couldn’t stay in South Africa because of dump-ass apartheid system. With lyrics swelling of anti-government chants, he left the country for London but soon moved from the UK after meeting Harry Belafonte and became a student at New York’s Manhattan School of Music. Despite spending a large part of his time in the US and other parts of the world, Masekela never discarded his South African pride, languages and cultures. He was an independent thinker who understood his role.
His style isn’t the culture-defining kinda stuff that a Bob Marley made look seamless in his Adidas tracksuits. But Masekela was savvy enough to dress himself in adequate class and eight times out of 10, you’d see the old man rocking his newsboy cap that he was very fond of with a dashiki to mark his pride and love for Africa. Whatever he wore, he manged to partake in the day’s fashion, remain true to himself and be comfortable on stage.
He always had the juice. Not only was he an astute jazz musician who composed some of the greatest music of our time, Masekela also knew how to use that music into other spheres in the art spaces for education, entertainment and activism. Together with comedian Kagiso Lediga, Maskela created late night talk show The Bantu Hour.
Built around the most famous boxing match in history, the Muhammed Ali vs George Foreman fight, Masekela with close friend Stewart Levine, organised a music festival, Zaire 74 in Kinshasa.
He ingeniously managed to fuse different styles of music to create something new- another reason for his longevity. In 1985 he founded the Botswana International School of Music, which still exists today.
Nelson Mandela wrote him a warm birthday letter while the former statesman was still in prison. In response and out of the blue at a party, Hugh went to the piano and began singing what we know today as Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) which became an instant hit.
He travelled and lived in different parts of the world for numerous reasons. His discography paints a picture of how natural he was at creating music. After spending a lot of time in the US and Europe, he came back to Africa and worked with West African band from Ghana, Hedzoleh Soundz to make some Afro-beat inspired tunes.
But around the mid-80s he was based in Botswana where he made music inspired by Southern sounds such as Mbaqanga. He sporadically changed sounds; it’s as though he knew what sound was right for his audience at the time. Because of his spontaneity, his music organically reflected the times.
IN A move that was expected in at least three years, Riky Rick has heeded the call for a big scale event that will take over from Hip Hop festival Back To The City after Ritual Media announced last year that the international festival would come to an end in 2021.
Social media was flooded with news of Riky Rick’s curated music festival next month which is to celebrate music and fashion, as he released a line-up of South African Hip Hop acts who are established and those who aren’t in the mainstream.
“Mainly set to showcase the diversity while fusing the gaps within various Hip Hop sounds and local movements, the Cotton Fest will not only bring together and unite over 80 unique acts divided over two stages, but will celebrate fashion in its various spheres,” read the statement.
The long list of performers and the space for fashion is very much similar to what BTTC did for over a decade now on every Freedom Day. BTTC was founded by Osmic Menoe and Dominique Soma in 2007 and has been an institution of the Hip Hop culture in its entirety. With B-Boys, Graffiti artists, fashion designers, skaters and ballers-everyone involved in the culture was catered for.
But a lot of dissatisfaction from fans with BTTC was with how Osmic and his team never brought an international act which was current and popular among with the youth, i.e a GoldLink or Mick Jenkins. In an interview in 2014, when they had brought old school rapper Jeru The Damaja to the country, Osmic the founder of Ritual Media said the reason for bringing old school kats was a way of giving the old heads in attendance something to enjoy as well, as the line-up is dominated by new generation of emcees.
It’s to be seen whether the Cotton Fest has observed that plea from the people to not bring has-been artists to South Africa. There will be a surprise act on the day; whether that act is an international performer or not, it will be seen on February second.
The inaugural BTTC was held on the corner of Bree and Henry Nxumalo Streets under the bridge, attracting 3500 people and has grown over the years to numbers above 20 000 and is hosted at Mary Fitzgerald Square.
The Cotton Fest will be hosted at The Station near Nelson Mandela Bridge and the one-priced tickets will be limited to only 5000 attendees. Just like BTTC, one can foresee Cotton Fest growing in numbers and heading to Mary Fitzgerald Square in a few years, which will complete the transition of the guard in Newtown and Hip Hop.
PRIOR to jetting out the country last week for the NYC Winter JazzFest, Nduduzo Makhathini likened the festival to umsamu, where the spirits of Jazz greats who’ve inspired him and continue to do so, dwell. And one spirit that continues to inspire him, is that of the late Zim Ngqawana who Makhathini was part of his Zimology Quartet the last time he played at the NYC Winter JazzFest in 2008 at the Knitting Factory.
Sharing knowledge with the audience during his performance at The Blue Note Jazz Club, Makhathini said “Thank you so much…there’s so many things that one could say, but I think what I have in my heart now is just one word, gratitude. I think there’s something special that happens, especially towards redefining what the anthology or cosmology of what an African people is about. And what I find to be very essential, is the idea or gathering, rituals or the coming together. We believe that when we come together, our ancestors are sort of with us and are enticed in that way .”
Makhathini played Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds Project at the iconic Jazz Club last night, alongside a fine ensemble of musicians who complimented him. He had Burniss Travis on Double Bass, Nasheet Waits on the drums, Aaron Burnett on Tenor Sax, Logan Richardson on Alto Sax and New York based South African Trumpeter Lesedi Ntsane. The latter three made up the horn section in the centre of the stage on Monday night in New York.
The ensemble only had their first rehearsal on Sunday, literally a day before taking to stage, but from the videos shared on social media, their chemistry was on par with their musicality. They performed before husband and wife duo, The Baylor Project.
The JazzFest is a weeklong festival which takes place in several locations around New York. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the festival attracts some of the finest musicians from around the globe to the Big Apple, all in the love of Jazz. Makhathini is also in New York with members of the Kaya FM team that includes station boss Greg Maloka, hosts Brenda Sisane and Collin Kgari.
The Blue Note Jazz Club is an abode of Jazz because of its rich history. It first opened its doors in 1981, hosting the genre’s masters; The likes of Sarah Vaughan, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles and Lionel Hampton are some prominent names which often frequented the club.
Makhathini’s appearance at the Blue Note Jazz Club received praise from his industry peers, including percussionists Azah and Tumi Mogorosi, writer Natalia Molebatsi, fashion designer Bathini Kowane and his life partner, singer songwriter Omagugu Makhathini.
“Jazz is dying in South Africa, in fact in the whole entire world and The Orbit made sure young Jazz South African musicians had a place to grow in the performance arts…” These are words of bassist Temba Ncetani, as he reflects on yesterday’s announcement of The Orbit Live Music & Bistro’s closure.
In a statement released on the Jazz club’s social media accounts, Kevin Naidoo, who is the Director of the venue shared the news that shook the art industry. “We have unfortunately not been able to overcome the financial constraints we have found with running a live music venue like The Orbit. We had hoped to attract more investment but has proven difficult with the type of business that we are and the current financial realities in the country,” read the statement.
Last year The Orbit embarked on a fundraising campaign, Save The Orbit which seemed to be making some ground, but those efforts proved insufficient. “We’ve always received emails from Kevin, he told us last year about it, he tried to raise funds but it didn’t work. I was so disappointed to learn the iconic jazz restaurant is closing. I never saw it coming. For me it was impossible, it was not going to happen.” vocalist Dumza Maswana says. Maswana has performed at The Orbit numerous times in a space of just two and a half years- he had four shows last year alone. “I believe that our South African government should intervene,” Ncetani says.
The Orbit was launched in March 2014, to much appreciation from jazz lovers all over. It is the brainchild of Aymeric Péguillan, Dan Sermand and Naidoo. The likes of Hugh Masekela, McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Siya Makuzeni, Nduduzo Makhathini, Shabaka and The Ancestors, Bombshelter Beast and a slew of musicians who are among the best in the world, have graced the warm stage. “Its closure is going to leave a big hole for not only the musicians, the jazz lovers but the university students who are studying music as well. It was the kind of environment where you could experience great music intimately, and also a place where we met as the jazz community. Out there there’s absolutely no place that offers what The Orbit gave us,” Maswana shares.
Nceteni believes more should’ve been done to keep the lights on in the young but iconic venue. “This actually means Jazz will die definitely because not so many places want to uphold the true essence of Jazz music in this country. There aren’t many Bistros in Johannesburg with in-house sound equipment with a grand Piano except your Market Theatre and other places like The State Theatre, it’s really a pain for musicians to carry sound equipment before performing. This ordeal also means there are sound engineers who have lost jobs as well as the other stuff members,” says the Port Elizabeth based musician.
“There were jam sessions facilitated by my good friend Banda Banda (a fellow bassist) now all that will be in vain. There are also regular patrons who are jazz lovers who supported the establishment and the artists.”
Nceteni’s first experience of The Orbit was in 2017 when tenor saxophonist Sisonke Xonti launched his debut album, Iyonde. “We stayed till the AMs and I got to meet my biggest inspiration as a Double Bassist, Mr Herbie Tsoaelie. We jammed till like 4AM.”
In a Facebook post, renowned musician Thandi Ntuli shared a photo of herself, stationed behind the piano with a heartfelt message that read “One of my fav [sic] images taken at The Orbit ’cause it’s reflective of all the great times I had both on and off stage there. So sad to hear that your doors will not open again. Thank you for being a great home to our art and to all the amazing souls who worked there, much love.”
Maswana’s fondest memory at The Orbit was when he launched his album Molo “…People had to be turned away because it was packed. Also seeing Anele Mdoda in the audience. I developed confidence on that stage, I made friends there.”
VINCE STAPLES reminds me of those singers who have impeccable, unfathomable voices and energy, which remain on par live as on their records. I’m talking the likes of D’Angelo, Thandiswa Mazwai and The Brother Moves On.
Over the last week and a half I’ve been listening to Staples’ third studio album FM! and during that period, I was fortunate enough to see the 25 year-old from North Long Beach, California performing at Soweto’s Zone 6 for the Capsule Festival. I’m always fascinated by album titles and covers, in my first interaction with a musician’s project, before delving into the tracks. Often the name of the album and its art make sense as I listen to the music. Like pieces of a puzzle, it all comes together with each track.
FM! is themed as a takeover of LA radio station show, Big Boy’s Neighbourhood, hosted by Big Boy. It opens with Feels Like Summer which ironically is meant to celebrate how Long Beach always feels like summer, but Vince paints a picture of the dangers in his hood in the verses. He pulls from personal experiences, where he lost a friend at 15 years-old while they were just playing ball. I was slightly surprised to learn that Don’t Get Chipped where he features Jay Rock, is the first song where the two West Coast kats share the mic. I enjoyed the track, particularly the first verse where he raps…
Can’t wait ’til I’m rich, I’m finna buy a whole Crate of guns, for my naughty Crips, Shit I really come from the slum Time to represent, let me see you bang, where you from? Don’t be acting spooked, I’m a troop, I don’t give a fuck, I just wana live it up, use to make ’em give it up, Flockin’ is for hoes, I’ma take somebody soul, If he don’t give me what he own, now I’m getting what I’m owed, You ain’t seen me at a show? Oh, you missing out, Swear I bring the realest out, Everybody know me who’s somebody to know (Who somebody to know) Watch me mind my business my business while I’m counting my dough (Counting my dough) Stay away from citches who would clown me before (Would clown me before) On the road to riches, they gon’step on your toes Sammy told me that a change gon’come (Gon’come) I’m not going if my gang won’t come (won’t come) If you see me pull that thang, don’t run (Don’t run) Playing ball, if I swing home run
I can’t say I’m a Staples fan, I appreciate some of his joints. But more than that, I’ve always respected how he thinks and delivers his ideas and thoughts, on beats that can get any party started. He is quite dark, largely because of gang activity he witnessed growing up on the West Coast. But he merges that eerie side of him with the music, which makes for good art. The effect this contrast has on an audience when he’s performing, is good on the eye. Like when he performed Lift Me Up from his Summertime ’06 project, just before the end of his set at Zone 6, most of the club was in a jump.
His set at Capsule Festival was after midnight, with most of us tired and just waiting to see Staples on stage. He played tracks from his previous work from Big Fish Theory, Summertime ’06 and even invited Yugen Blakrok on stage to perform the Opps they did together for the Kendrick Lamar curated Black Panther soundtrack.
Vince’s fans in Soweto had familiarised themselves with his new album, that as soon as Outside! came on, the atmosphere in the club became feverish. Standing on the second floor, I could see the crowd’s unfiltered reaction.
“We didn’t expect this many people and I didn’t expect this much love, so thank you, thank you, thank you. But before I get out of here…shhhhh! I just need one thing, everybody repeat after me, ‘Oh yea, oh yea, oh year right…” said the rapper interacting with his fans, just before playing crowd favourite Yea Right.