Kippies, Moses Molelekwa, Mankunku, Lulu Masilela, Pat Phasha, Mongezi Feza, Pat Matshikiza, my father’s discarded collection of vinyls, or just maybe an incessant search to justify the emotions I love Ikageng invokes. The panic and ease that happens with most of Molelekwa’s whimsical melodic sounds, proving that jazz is not just technical, Molelekwa often is the instrument in his renditions relaying what lies within him, leaving one completely immersed in the sound, the pauses and the underlying stories of just but a symphony.
The term “jazz”, carries so much more than a word is meant to carry; love, freedom and resilience. Jazz strips you naked, anything akin to pride is forgotten as soon as the mourning horns of Yakhal’ inkomo lend on the ear. That is jazz, the ability to make the unimaginable clear, the knack to put feelings to sound, and sound to words without necessarily speaking.
Although the influence of jazz might be in doubt in a densely pop art influenced South Africa, regardless there is a new wave of different fusions and characterization of what jazz is to the present times. The definitive voice of Nono Nkoane, Nduduzo Makhathini’s keys, Feya Faku, the amazing lyricism of Nkoto Malebyane comes to mind. In jazz there has always been tragedy as much as there is triumph. The apartheid regime had almost done away with jazz at realising its transformative impact. Today jazz suffers at the hand of current pop sounds all the while experiencing an immense change of tone. The impressive and magical factor of jazz is the capacity to remain, to transform, adapt and survive-comparable to black people.
Musicians have always spoken truth where lies subjugate the world, Simphiwe Dana’s Bantu Biko street comes to mind. The living conditions of the black majority in a now democratic South Africa can easily harden the heart, and that is where jazz comes in, in such times a song is a respite. One can always be swallowed by a song even in the chaos of black tax and financial seclusion on institutions.
That is jazz everything that has been, is and more.
CONVERSATIONS around Club27 are tailed by names of Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. But the Grim Reaper also hovered over fine South African artists, who were at the age of 27.
Insanely talented and at times, misunderstood individuals make-up the club and no one can pinpoint exactly what led to their ultimate untimely deaths. This is a list of just five artists who shared their genius, then left after serving their purpose.
Moses Taiwa Molelekwa
Tembisa’s finest export, the gentle jazz kat shook the world of music when he came on the scene professionally in the 80s. Nicknamed ‘Monk’ by his father, for his understanding of great US pianist Thelonious Monk, Molelekwa was a mastermind musician who gained respected for his virtuosity on keys and for his compositions. He played with the likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and other international artists. Stories around his death were all over the media in 2001, after he and his wife, Florence “Flo” Mtoba, were found in their downtown Joburg offices, lifeless. Gone, but the scene still has tremors from his talent.
Oupa ‘Makhendlas’ Mafokate
The musician from Soweto died a fatal death, taking his own life in 1998 as he was gaining star status in the South African music scene. Till this day, his track Emenwe (phezulu) remains a favourite in most townships all over the country. The young brother of King of Kwaito, Arthur Mafokate, Makhendlas was found dead after he shot himself.
Tsakani ‘TK’ Mhinga
With a voice smooth as fine wine and an infectious smile that was completed by her overall beauty, it came as a shock to many when her body was discovered at a hotel, understood to have died of a drug overdose in early 2006. Her sound was of international standard. I remember first hearing her and assuming she was from abroad, but was stunned to discover that she’s South African.
Nkululeko ‘Nkush’ Mthembu
A broad-based artist who found South African and internationally recognised art collective and band, The Brother Moves On (TBMO) passed away in 2013 right before the release of their debut album-the cause of death was never released. Often in the background, Nkush was an integral part of TBMO’s visual art and performance presentation, which together with the music, grips one’s senses and challenges your reasoning. Fortunately the band remains active and maintains this element of visual art. As an ode to Nkush and their best way of grieving him, TBMO had an exhibition Hlabelela: It’s a New Mourning Nkush, at the Goodman Art Gallery in 2016.
Tebogo ‘Zombo’ Ndlovu
The Kwaito artist who was also part of 999’s music group, Abashante, was also a producer and a vocalist. In 2003, as a solo artist he was nominated in the Rap Album of the year in the South African Music Awards. His hit Zombo was bumping everywhere when it came out, with kids in the hood chanting his name. But his career dwindled in his last years, as he was reported to be living in poverty and in 2008 died of AIDS-related disease.