Cape Town Jazz Festival

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IT WAS Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said the key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.

The artist we know today as Selema Writes, is an individual whose shown consistent consciousness of himself in each juncture of his life which has allowed him to embrace change that comes his way.

It’s commonplace  for artists to change or minimally alter their stage names as a sign of growth or introducing fans to their alter ego. Tumi, of the Volume is currently doing this using moniker, Stogie T-a nod to his affection for cigars and his personal growth in the game. Mos Def switched to his Muslim name Yasiin Bey originally in 1999 but was publically known as Bey six years ago. Each individual has reasons for why they do this; even the absence of ‘Lil’ from some rappers’ names has poignant meaning. Just maybe.

Selema Writes, who last week shared lengthy posts on Facebook chronicling his life story was doing so as a way of reintroducing himself to his fans. He came into the game as Sledge Lee, a name which many know him of. But in 2014, right after winning the End of the Weak international freestyle competition in Uganda, he developed a sense of detachment to the name.

“I realized that I had achieved everything I ever dreamed of for Slege Lee. I had no more hunger to prove that I was the illest. I had a new hunger. A hunger to speak from the heart and tell my story. Everything that motivated Slege was no longer there,” Selema tells me. Sledge was the grimy nigger who was about the streets, cliques and the beefs that comes with it.

“My perspective was different but I still wanted to rap. I still wanted to express myself through Hip Hop but my consciousness was rising and I couldn’t be the kat I used to be anymore.”

Without a moniker, Selema had to find a name which would accommodate this experimental phase he was going through.  It’s ironic that he went with Dice Mak, because he gambled on his look and sound which people knew him of in the past. “During this period I formed a band with my peoples Tha Cutt and Bonibass, I rocked suits on stage and I even experimented with trap music,” he says. The ‘Mak’ in his name was a gesture to his father’s surname, Makgothi. “It was only after some time that I saw that even Dice Mak is still an Americanization. Hip Hop is already so American and for me to have a name that sounds American on top of that was too much for me.”

The harsh realization of the inequality in society, the rise of the EFF, dialogs about land and even movements such Fees Must Fall and Black Lives Matter in the US and other things have made home in the black psyche, which result in a growing sense of pro blackness in most Africans, on the continent and in the diaspora.  “Pan-Africanism and Afro-consciousness are two ideologies that I believe in strongly since I was very young. The difference is that when I was younger, getting respect in the streets was more important so that is what I focused on. Now that I’m grown, speaking for Africa and lifting up the children of Africa’s future is more important to me. And this was also a common theme with Bra Hugh. So I was inspired to be myself, an African. Not just in my beliefs but in my name too. With the hope that this will inspire other young Africans to embrace who they are as opposed to just parroting what we see from Americans.”

Selema Writes. Photo Supplied

The mention of Bra Hugh was not just in passing, but Selema’s final evolution as Selema Writes is connected to him being part of the Hugh Masekela Jazz Band. Many aren’t aware of this but the late Masekela, was Selema’s uncle. “But as quite a proud individual I vowed that I would never use his name to get me anywhere. So all along I never told a single soul about my relationship with the great legend. Upon his passing all of that changed as I was asked by my family to represent in honour of his memory.”

Selema sings in the band which travels and honours the legacy of Bra Hugh with their unique tribute shows. “So far, I have been tasked to focus on the legendary song, Stimela. We’ve had several performances this year. Most notably at the Cape Town Jazz Festival and last month at the Joy of Jazz Festival.”

Yesterday the artist released a dopely executed video for his track Toothache, which introduces him to the world. Directed by Tazna Slater and Selema himself, the video is set in a scrapyard where Selema roams around the vicinity by spitting bars with the ferocity or Slege Lee, the swag of Dice Mak and alla that in Selema’s authenticity. Mark Anthony Duckitt was the creative director. The shots and editing were neatly done.

The track is a remix of a song by a UK artist Jaykae, which Selema heard while watching series. The track basically talks about his story which involves the changes he’s gone through over the years. “This song was something I wanted to give the people after a long time of not hearing from me. It’s a way of showing my evolution from both a lyrical standpoint but also from a content and sound standpoint. I’m quite proud of it.”

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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.

Miles Mosley_Photo cred Aaron Woolf Haxton

“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.


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