“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.”
THE premise of Ubuntu is sharing and understanding that I can’t be, if you’re not. On a night themed Celebrating African Song, Dumza Maswana was guided by Ubuntu sharing the stage with other talented artists.
“I like sharing my platform. The people I called on stage are my friends in the industry. Before I’m an artist, I’m a fan of the music,” says Maswana. His show took place at the Orbit in Johannesburg on Friday night. The theme was inspired by African indigenous music. “Our music is still relatively very strong, but it weakening daily, as we lose or ignore the older expert musicians. As a young artist myself I feel we should expose this music to our people, make it fashionable,” says Maswana.
Speaking to The Bravado, Maswana says the invitation to artists who were there to support and enjoy his music, was impromptu. Poet Jessica Mabngeni was called to stage by Maswana during the first half of his performance. “Jessica Mbangeni is an ever ready artist, she has the heart and love I have for traditional music. I knew I can call her any time and she’d kill it, she’s also one of my best friends.” True to her preparedness, Maswana joked that Mbangeni was gonna recite two more poems, had he not taken the mic from her during her time on stage which the audience enjoyed.
It was during the performance of crowd favourite Molo which Maswana unleashed his plethora of talented friends on stage. They were all given a chance to flex and show their vocal dexterity, but former Idols SA contestant Thami Shobede not only sang but also displayed some skill by mimicking the harmonica with the mic. “I love these guys, they deserve to be seen. It’s a way of showing my appreciation for always supporting me. Also I am never in competition, we are all gifted differently, there’s space for all of us.”
Guided by one of the waiters to the stage after a short interval, visually impaired pianist Yonela Mnana showed why Maswana enjoys working with him. He reluctantly but superbly sang on Molo too. “I enjoy working with the pianist Yonela Mnana, it appears we have the same heart for music. I have done a lot of shows with Thembinkosi Mavimbela, the double bassist, worked with the drummer Lungile Kunene for 10 years now. It was my first time working with the guitarist Keenan Ahrends. I’ve always wanted to play with him, he’s an amazing musician.”
The night’s special guest was grade 11 pupil Vuyolomzi Solundwana, who serenaded the audience with Maswana’s heartfelt composition The Letter. The young lanky singer had eyebrows raised literally from the moment he opened his mouth to sing. “He is still finding his voice, his groove and learning. I’m glad he chose me to mentor him. Our voices are similar, but he’s smoother and jazzier. He’s very much inspired by Jazz, he likes scatting and all. I knew people were gonna fall in love with him, and I was happy.”
“I will lend him the microphone whenever I can but he’s still in high school, I told him to focus on his studies more for now. He has a bright future ahead of him,” Maswana says.
The Jazz club allows for intimacy between the performer and the audience, who are just a hand stretch away from the stage. The sound of utensils on plates wrestling with food, chatter among those fortunate enough to have a table and countless bursts of laughter were the order of the night between Maswana’s performances as he entertained not just through his music but with his wit. “Friday shows must be fun, also I must show that side of me on stage because people think I’m too serious, in reality sometimes it’s just nerves but not seriousness. I have so much respect for my audience, I’d never take that platform for granted. I also think the repertoire was a bit light and fun.”
The club was packed, with some people subjected to enjoying the show on their feet. “Every time I’m at the Orbit I perform for a full house. The feedback I’m getting from the audience is that my shows are unpredictable, different all the time, so they always look forward to my shows.”
Maswana recently recorded his first ever live DVD & CD and that project is currently in post-production. He is currently working on a project with genius musician Nduduzo Makhathini.