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.