Hugh Masekela

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8min720

“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.

A touch of Xhosa at the Orbit: Jessica Mlangeni with Dumza Maswana enjoying their time on stage together. Photo by Sip The Snapper

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.

Bassist Temba Ncetani. Photo by Simphiwe photography

“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.”

Thandi Ntuli at The Orbit. Photo by Siphiwe Mhlambi

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.”


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10min840

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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10min701

What was a simple interview at a local radio station for Robert Glasper, has made headlines on publications all over the world because of Lauryn Hill’s response. But rightfully so, these are two black giants of modern music.

But Hill’s response to Glasper does little to address longstanding perceptions about her.

Ever since 1998 when New Ark, the group of musicians who helped Lauryn Hill put together Miseducation, sued her for not properly crediting them for the work they did on the classic album, there’s been a cloud of suspicion hanging over Hill and that album.

“The Miseducation was the first time I worked with musicians outside of the Fugees who’s report and working relationship was clear. In an effort to create the same level of comfort, I may not have established the necessary boundaries and may have been more inviting than I should have been. In hindsight, I would have handled it differently for the removal of any confusion. And I have handled it differently since, I’m clear and I make clear before someone walks in the door what I am and am not looking for. I may have been inclusive, but these are my songs,” Hill writes in her letter.

The lawsuit was settled out of court in February 2001, for a reported $5 million

Hill’s weakness in punctuality and prima donna antics are well reported. In 2012, when she was in the country for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, she disappointed with her performance, not because she’s wack a performer but it was down to her insistence on wanting to change how the sound was set-up by the organisers who know the venue very well and are experienced at catering for each artist on the line-up. Before her performance on the Kippies stage, Hugh Masekela had killed it in his tribute to Miriam Makeba which featured Thandiswa Mazwai, Vusi Mahlasela and Freshly Ground frontwoman Zolani Mahola. Hill was not audible enough and resigned to walking off stage. While just last month in Toronto, while in Canada for the 20 year anniversary of Miseducation tour, she arrived an hour late for her performance.

Hence I was baffled when she made an excuse for her late coming in the letter. “Me being late to shows isn’t because I don’t respect my fans or their time, but the contrary, It can be argued that I care too much, and insist on things being right. I like to switch my show up regularly, change arrangements, add new songs, etc. This often leads to long sound checks, which leads to doors opening late, which leads to the show getting a late start. This element of perfectionism is about wanting the audience to experience the very best and most authentic musical experience they can from what I do.”

It’s one thing to be a perfectionist and it’s just plain ill-mannered not to honour ardent fans and disrespect qualified sound technicians.

If anything, this comes-off as being unprepared. I mean people buy tickets, using their hard-earned cash to see you at a specific time-by virtue of being on the line-up for that particular performance, means an artist agrees with all the prerequisites.

I don’t remember anyone questioning her undeniable talent and palpable influence she’s had in the industry. Ever. So she’s very much correct to say “I was also a member of the Fugees, another ground-breaking, multi-platinum selling group, who bridged social and cultural gaps, and were ambassadors of hip-hop all around this planet. We laid important groundwork upon which an entire generation of artists and musicians still stand. We broke through conventions and challenged limited world views every time we played.”

To add to that, she was an integral part of the Fugees, I personally think the fellas would’ve been another bar-spitting average clique, had she not been part of the group. She’s an impeccable emcee with beautiful vocals. The original rap singer.  But it’s her attitude that’s always been questioned- even by former group members, Pras and Wyclef Jean.

What I found particularly interesting in the letter, was not really her responding to Glasper’s statement, but addressing a bigger issue: misogyny and patriarchy in the industry when she said “And yes, Ms. Hill was absolutely a requirement. I was young, Black and female. Not everyone can work for and give the appropriate respect to a person in that package and in charge. It was important, especially then, for that to be revealed early. I adore Stevie, and honor [sic] Herbie and Quincy, who are our forebears, but they’re not women. Men often can say ‘I want it done like this’ and not be challenged. The same rules don’t always apply for women who may be met with resistance. When this happens you replace that player with someone who respects you and the office you hold.”

If we wake up tomorrow and someone like Priddy Ugly says, he wants be called King Priddy from now on, reluctant as society might be at first, they’ll eventually heed that call. And it would totally be a different story if a Gigi Lamayne, associated herself with royalty. Her artistry would be questioned.

It was like reading useless Facebook posts about people who brag about being older, to those born in the new millennium, when Hill wrote “Most people are probably just hearing your name for the first time because you dropped MINE in an interview, controversially. Taking nothing away from your talent, but this is a fact.”

A cheap shot, really. Glasper is a multi-award winning genius artist that has paid his dues, she knows very well that he’s a pianist that only came to the fore in the popular music scene just over a decade ago.

But fortunately there was no malicious speech between the two artists, it was honest criticism and a simple difference in opinion, which both creatives respected.Or so it seems.


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4min460

It had nearly been a decade since Miriam Makeba released any project, when she gave the world her classic album Sangoma in 1988.

Mama Africa, as she was known throughout the world, was a superstar of note. She is credited, alongside Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita and Hugh Masekela and others, for being the first globally recognized African musicians.

Sangoma was as a follow up to Comme une Symphonie d’amour that came out in 1979. She was the first world superstar to come from Mzansi, who never lost touch with her Africaness, regardless of where in the world she was.

During her time in exile, after being banned by the South African government, a number of countries became an abode for her. She was issued passports by Algeria, Guinea, Belgium and Ghana. She held nine passports and was granted honorary citizenship by at least 10 countries.

True to her moniker Mama Africa, she was the only performer invited by Halie Selassie to perform at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity (what it today known as the African Union) in 1963. A book could be written on her life as a political activist, alone. She was married to Stokely Carmichael, who was a prominent member of the Black Panther Party, and was very vocal against the apartheid system in South Africa, from wherever she was in the world.

In her Grammy award winning album with Harry Belafonte in 1966,one of the stand-out songs there was Ndodemnyama Verwoerd! which lambasted one of the architects of the oppressive system.

She had style, poise yet at the same time, abrasive when it came to things she was passionate about. Often misunderstood, much like her friend Nina Simone, she left a legacy that a lot of African artists live off today.

Her influence couldn’t be captured in one article.  But as Sangoma celebrates 30 years since its release, here are some of the songs that came with the album.

BAXEBENE OXAMU

 

EMABHECENI

ANGILALANGA

NGINANI NA

UNGAKANANI

 


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5min6370

He isn’t the first and sadly not the last, but eMtee’s fall off stage this past weekend highlights the toxic relationship artists have with drugs and alcohol.

Emtee was performing in front of hundreds of fans at the fifth annual Lephalale Black And White festival in Limpopo. Throughout the performance, the Roll Up hit maker is seen struggling perform, let alone stand, as he staggered on stage looking drunk and basically out of sorts.

It’s really sad seeing another talented South African artist battling drugs, in front of  our eyes for us to see. The likes of Brenda Fassie, Hugh Masekela and Kabelo Mabalane are some renowned musicians that have had their addiction battles in the public eye. Mabalane is fortunate to have seeked help before it got too late. Now a pastor, he once admitted to spending a million rand on drugs. The likes of Kelly Khumalo, Riky Rick and Trevor Gumbi have also admitted to their addictions.

The prevalence and ubiquity of drugs in the industry is scary. Some people come into the industry not having tried any drugs in their life, then fold to the pressure of being around those who are steeped in that life. Some get into drugs because they’re trying to fight off depression and anxieties that stem from industry pressures or simply, life.

In an interview on Metro FM with DJ Fresh on his breakfast show last year, comedian John Vlismas spoke about this epidemic problem in the media and creative space. “We have been hardwired to think that we are working hard in media, we don’t really. Going down a mine is working hard. Being a domestic, and working for people who are ungrateful is very hard. We think we work hard, therefore we should play hard and we have been raised in a society where this is permissive.” Vlismas himself, had issues with drug addiction before changing his lifestyle because of near-death experiences.

Unusually seen as a passageway to godly avant garde creative juices, drugs have destroyed so many talented souls. That Fassie died at 39 years of age is a scary fact which should serve as a lesson to those who come after her; to treasure and respect their gift and careers. The most common drugs are heroin, cocaine, alcohol, codeine (lean) and marijuana.

In a tweet last night as the eMtee video was trending, rapper Cassper Nyovest, gave advice to Emtee and fellow artists in the industry.  “Sometimes we are hated for trying to show niggas the light. God gave us a chance to make something of ourselves. We got families to feed niggas. Let’s not play with the gifts. Let’s not laugh at each other as well. Let’s help each other. That cool shit is done. Drop the drugs!!!” the tweet read.

I really hope eMtee’s record company, Ambitious Records will help the young artist before it’s too late. It’s one thing to embarrass yourself in front of everyone, but something else letting your child grow up without a parent.



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