HE coyly strides to stage with a notebook in hand, scribed on the pad’s cover is a quote of Psalm 46:10. He walks as though attempting to hide himself from the eager intimate audience that’s gathered to see him perform. Scrawny and with a scruffy nerdy look, he gets behind the mic and belts out Molweni, the excitement that was in the audience just moments ago bursts- and the guy was merely greeting us. Right there and then, I see that Mandisi Dyantyis is a conduit of this music.
“For me, it’s umm…very surreal, I can never get used to that concept. It’s not just Joburg, we went to Grahamstown for instance, the reception as just amazing. And I kid you not, when we start playing this project, just as a matter of playing the music you know, I felt bad that I was not playing the music, some of the the songs are old and I had gone into theatre, writing for theatre. But I love it [the audience’s reaction],” Dyantyis tells me.
Mandisi is one of the most slept on talents in South Africa, and we have plenty of those la e Mzansi, today. His album Somandla was released nearly a year ago, but the SAMA nominated project has slowly grown on South Africans. “I do feel that way, but I’m sorta enjoying it because I have people who’ve known me for a very long time and every day you get someone who says ‘I was put on your music by this person or I was at this house and I heard you music’. So for me that’s the natural progression of something that’s for everyone. People catch on it at their own time, for instance the album has been out from October last year and still today, you have people who are saying ‘why didn’t I know this’ and for me that’s amazing. Because also, you must understand that this is all done by us- we don’t have a PR team doing things….we haven’t been on TV and radio stations don’t play us. It’s understandable but I like it,” he says without grain of despondency in his tone.
Dyantyis performed at the Sophiatown The Mix in Johannesburg last month to onlookers of probably no more than a 100. His show had the spiritual and musical astuteness you’d find at a Nduduzo Makhathini gig. This without denying himself and his audience the indulgence of a fun evening of love through song and childlike vulnerability- the stuff of Ringo Madlingozi or a Vusi Nova. His show had two sessions, which catered for the jazz enthusiast and one for the singer along fanatic-a balance he flexed on his album.
“The song is a story whether personal or not, and every time I tell them [the stories] I need to be honest in the way I tell the story. I can never short change the story because that’s what people have connected with. Even with Olwethu, a song that doesn’t have words but people cry when they listen to it- these are people who don’t necessarily listen to wordless music.”
“Some of the songs at the top of the show require that sort of sensitivity you know. I never kinda plan it, but I was telling someone that I think I wana get through those songs because they mess me up. But also, you have to be cognisant of the fact that you don’t necessarily have all jazz people, they can wait for their songs. But that’s what we are as a people, we don’t have one side in us, we all have different sides.”
Dyantyis’ control of the stage allows him to take his audience on an emotional and spiritual trip, at times oblivious to the audience itself. Far from the fella that looked shy before opening his mouth or playing his trumpet. It’s palpable that when he sings about love, patrons blush together with him and immediately become contemplative in the somber section of the show- Of course it helps that his fans are sitting with bottles of wine adjacent. But Dyantyis is in charge, without being bossy.
“That’s why people, when they come out of the show, they go ‘Mandisi we cried, we laughed, we fell in love and our hearts were broke’ in the same evening and for me that’s always a good compliment. In that whole evening, people feel like they’re in a traditional ceremony, they feel like they’re in church in all of these spaces in one evening- and people are like, ‘how are you able to do this?’ but aren’t we all like that…don’t you wake up from a night of clubbing and go to church? We need to embrace what we are, we are a full people.”
Dyantyis jets off to Australia in a few weeks and then he’ll spend eight weeks in the United Sates. “Writing music for theatre and doing musical direction for theatre takes up most of my time. The band hasn’t started touring abroad yet, I’m taking other [theatre] shows abroad. A lot of people from overseas have come, saying they haven’t heard something like this in a while so, all those invites are starting to come and next year looks promising.”
He played some of his unknown ditties on the night and says they might or might not be part of his next album, whenever that project comes out. “I think in the same way Somandla decided when it wanted to be recorded, the next album will be the same. Until then I’ll keep on playing and playing. But in terms of recording, I’ll wait.”
He will wait, for Dyantyis knows and understands that Somandla is God.
I’M of the strong belief that the location in which one choses to consume music at, has an effect on how the songs are received. But specifically listening to an artist’s album, in a place where they were born sorta gives you a high-definition experience of the body of work.
This realisation came as I listened to Mandisi Dyantyis’s album Somandla, while in Port Elizabeth,his place of birth. I’ve had the 12-track album on my playlist for well over a month now; it’s a great body of work. But struu no lie, being eBhayi just for a few days, I would say gave me an unfiltered understanding of Somandla. This could also be a strong placebo effect. But ag, the latter fits well with me story.
The opening track Molweni is poignant in how it not only welcomes you with a warm greeting to this 59 minute journey, but it’s the only joint on the album without instruments. Dyantyis choses to sing this ditty in acapella, as if offering his true self first, to the listener. The acapella jogged my memory to The Soil, pre-Samthing Soweto-exit.
Dyantyis’s experience in music is ever present on the album, managing to genuinely cater for the hard jazz cat and also for the lover of soul, who enjoys sweet melodies and harmonies. Dyantyis works a lot in theatre, as a composer and arranger for plays and movies while he’s also been a church choir conductor and also played in a band.
The vivacity of the way the instruments are played and arranged on Kuse Kude, it can trip you into thinking the song is a jovial one, but a closer listen to the lyrics, you pick-up the irony. He talks about how far we are from getting it right as human beings, if we still live in a world where youth rapes their elderly and kids are sexually assaulted by adults.
I first came across Dyantyis through the title track of the album, Somandla with the well-shot video a few months ago. Made sense why the album has the said title. Most of the songs have an air of melancholy and are like a long conversation with the Creator, a dialogue which at times is without words.
The song Olwethu is a case in point. You need not get the backstory to feel the song’s sadness. Olwethu is Dyantyis’s late younger brother, whose passing hit the musician hardest. “I had lost some people before, but losing him, I could not deal with it because, for me he was a young life full of potential,” Dyantyis said in his EPK.
Kode Kube Nini is the kinda track I can play for most people-be it a struggling artist, a mother praying for their child to get off drugs or a damsel waiting for marriage- because it carries a universal question, ‘how much longer should I wait till things go right?’ The song talks to one’s patience and endurance.
I appreciated the slight change of mood in the latter stages of the album, with songs like Molo Sisi and Ndimthanda. Dyantyis has a beautiful voice, but the latter stands out as his best singing performance on the album. It allowed him to show off some dexterity and it’s also a dope joint of a fella simply macking on an attractive female. Ndimthanda also celebrates love and the beauty of attraction’s simplicity, even for a couple that’s been together for a long time.
This album has been nominated in the South African Music Awards in the Best Jazz category alongside Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane’s Closer to Home, Exile by Thandi Ntuli, Bokani Dyer Trio’s Neo Native and Tune Recreation Committee’s Afrika Grooves with the Tune Recreation Committee. He stands next to some renowned names in that category, but if Dyantyis doesn’t walk away with it, I advise the judges drive down to Port Elizabeth and listen to Somandla. They’ll get it.