“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.”
Given that they are on the microphone and talking directly to the audience, soloists will be the ones hogging the attention. While the bassist, who has the thankless job of carrying the music, is relegated to the background.
History has placed Oliver Tambo’s crucial role in the struggle in that precarious position, while an individual is upheld as the messiah of a movement.
In a year swamped with centenary celebrations for the late Nelson Mandela, South African and USA artists plus their politicians will pay homage to the life of Tambo through a double disc album titled Voices On OR- a musical tribute to Tambo.
“To me, movements are always about more than just the person who is sort of the leader or spearhead of it,” says L.A bassist Miles Mosely.
“That person is very important, we know for the freedom fighters, that the work [Nelson] Mandela did is something that the entire world celebrates. But for me, as a bass player who is often times behind the soloist, to me studying the story of Tambo allowed me to understand that he was this foundational character. Somebody who was the kind of earth of the movement and had to explain complicated ideas to the rest of the world- I really connected with that idea. Oliver Tambo was the bass player of the freedom fighters, you know,” says Mosely, laughing.
The Upright bassists talks to Tha Bravado about his his involvement in the project. The vocalist, producer, composer and arranger was asked to be part of Voices On OR after his performance at the Cape Town Jazz Festival last year.
Mosely is an accomplished musician that has worked with Mos Def, India Arie, Lauryn Hill, Terrence Howard and also played on three tracks on Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly.
He also worked on three songs on Voices On OR, one of the songs I got a chance to listen to at the Downtown Studios where the recording takes place, was Roving Ambassador, which has an unmistakable African sound that captures continent’s warmth and enthusiasm.
“Unfortunately my lineage was thrown in the ocean. So I don’t know what specific cultures, tribes and traditions I come from. So I try to celebrate as many as I can and I try to understand as many as I can. Some of them ring in my heart and come out on my bass or the piano, a bit truer. That feeling and that sound for that song, is something that resonates deeply with me in my heart.”
He credits this to his time at UCLA, where he studied Ethnomusicology, learning music of the world. “All music, as far as I’m concerned, starts and stops in Africa and African traditions. Everybody says that and keeps it moving. But I really wanted to make sure that it was an inescapable part of it, not something that’s to be modernised or changed.”
The double album is musically directed by renowned singer Gloria Bosman while seasoned saxophonist McCoy Mrubata is tasked with the role of producing. Among others, the project will include Jonathan Butler, Tsepo Tshola, Mandisa Dlanga, Jabu Magubane, Herbie Tsoaeli and Steve Dyer. Performances in the recording will be characterized by interpretations of musical themes based on events around OR’s life. Included will be a composition titled Tambo’s Dance – a song inspired by an event in 1963 where Tambo got so excited by the contents of a document for Operation Mayibuye, that he leapt out of his chair and did a jubilant dance.
Crossing the Limpopo with Father Tambo – blends poetry by Mongane “Wally” Serote, narration by former President Thabo Mbeki and singing by Ladysmith Black Mambazo with music accompaniment from the Beda Hall Double Quartet Band. The band is named after Tambo’s band at Fort Hare, to which Tambo was vocalist.
Forming part of today’s Quartet is Paul Hanmer, Ayanda Sikade, Khaya Ceza, Shane Cooper, Tlale Makhene and Feya Faku.
The US is represented by R&B singer Eric Bennet, rapper Javier Starks and former US president Barack Obama who will be narrating some of Tambo’s life. The project is funded by the National Lotteries Commission and should be out in October.