The infatuation this generation has with spirituality is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Be it heeding the calling yok’thwasa, the obsession with astrology or numerology- the youngins need their chakras activated. So it’s more imperative to have spiritually astute artists like Sibusile Xaba now, than any other time. Much like in the 1960s and ’70s when the world was politically charged; the role of a Fela Kuthi and a Bob Marley was quite significant during that period.
“Ku balulekile to connect with the Creator. For me that’s the ultimate. Even ukuthwasa and the vibe that’s in the air right now, it’s a sign that people are trying to find themselves,” says Xaba.
For him, people are tracing back steps of who they are, beyond religion, faith or belief but to a time when spirituality was the way of living. “…it’s before things were documented or before the human race was separated into nations, there was a way of living which didn’t necessarily have a set process of connecting to the Creator. There wasn’t a need to go to church and connect with a middle man, be it Jesus Christ or Muhammad or anyone, to get closer to Umdali. We were one with the Creator. The disconnection and confusion came about when the mind was activated; that you must believe or have faith in something, and no longer your will. It’s now a process justified by names that mould it,” the KwaZulu-Natal, artist says.
Xaba is pleased with this generation’s insistence on connecting to the Creator and believes this will help remove divisions brought by tribes, nations and race. “The Zulu nation will say they are the greatest in the South, in Mali they’ll also says they are the greatest, in Egypt, in Ethiopia they’ll say the same thing…so there’s something amiss here…and even when you come to spirituality, you find that some people think they are superior or more gifted than others but the Creator gave us all gifts and they’re all the same. You have the gift to heal self because you’re connected to the Creator. Whether it’s telepathy, prophesy all those things. Now they just have words, but before it was the way,” the artists says.
Alone in a Braamfontein bookstore, The Commune, Sibusile Xaba and I sit post his intimate performance at The Forge just a few minutes ago. The performance was to promote his new album Ngiwu Shwabada which was released the day before, on Valentine’s Day.
He looks a normal civilian now with his locks down, wearing chino pants and a simple black T-shit and a pair of sneakers- as oppose to minutes ago on stage when he had ankle shakers above his mbatata sandals, with his lower body covered only by cloth and had a dashiki on, dreads tied back, with guitar in hand. It’s akin to seeing Superman without his suite and cape, uClark Kent nje. But there’s a difference. Sibusile Xaba doesn’t have a moniker to hide behind and despite the apparel, he remains Sibusile Xaba with the same message as that fellas on stage. His underlying message? 1Luv.
“…let’s practice uku thandana, uku bambana, ukuxhasana, it’ll go a long way. I know you’re thinking ‘ai lo mjita udlala isiginci, maku nguye ngabo one love, one love…but no, it’s the power we have inside, we have forgotten what we have within and if we were to take that out, the world would transform,” says Xaba, calmly sharing his philosophy with the audience between his performance.
The one love phrase is a simple one, but it’s the ultimate truth in that we’re all creation made by the Creator- it is truth that he stands on, which helps cut through bullshit that polarizes humanity. Despite the assortment of energies in his audience, the effect of Sibusile’s music is the same, it’s calming. “Ah we’re just messengers mfowethu, it’s not us, and we’re just here to share what we hear, with a pure heart,” he humbly says. Sibusile shared the stage with Naftali, who he says contributed to his current album.
It’s puzzling that he only has two projects, the first one being Open Letter to Adoniah which came to him through dreams. “It was just so natural and so peaceful you know…eDNA yayo didn’t have any negativity, so I just welcomed it.”
He speaks casually about how music from his previous album came about. “Kodwa why is it a thing, because we dream always. I think for creatives that happens a lot, even for you as a writer I’m sure things happen subliminally or things might feel like déjà vu or a vision. For me it was quite normal, the only thing I didn’t understand was that it happened izintsuku z’landelana.”
Ngiwu Shwabada is a continuation of the same modus operandi. “I was telling usista daar ku Jazzuary ukuthi now that I practice this [receiving music through dreams] I get different dreams saying different things and it’s not like now yonke into eng’zwayo ngi zoyenza ingoma, you understand. Le ye ngoma iyazisho. It’s like someone whispers into my ear.”
He tells me he’s delved deeper in this project, than he did with Open Letter to Adoniah. “I understand ukuthi you have to connect to the universe and listen. By being still you can listen and hear things that the polluted ear wouldn’t necessarily hear.”
The sophomore 12 track album was recorded last year in Paris, France. It’s a beautiful body of work that takes one to so many places, all at once. The last track on the album is an 18 minute collaboration with Shabaka Hutchings, titled Phefumla. His scatting on the track is like a conversation between him and Hutchings’s saxophone. There’s also a song paying homage to his mentor, Madala Kunene. “Ai mfwethu I was so scared to play that song,” he tells me cracking in laughter. “..I played it for him and he’s like ‘hai, yaz mina ang’yizwa le ngoma’ and he’s so honest about it,” says Xaba, of Kunene’s response to Tribute to Bafo.
Sibusile is part of a growing community of black creatives who share ideas, who seem to be conscious of those who came before them and who understand the importance of unity among black creatives, from all around the world. The likes of Thandi Ntuli, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Thabang Tabane, Musa Mashiane, Nduduzo Makhatini and plenty others. “There’s a serious community of Africans across the globe and it’s beautiful bra wami. Kats are so united man, stretching themselves, working together and sharing contacts. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than being selfish and keeping everything to yourself. It’s powerful.”
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.
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.
“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.