It was in May of 2016 that then SABC Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, temerariously declared that all the national broadcaster’s radio stations playlists will be dominated by home-grown ditties. The infamous 90% local music quota.
Motsoeneng was like the uncle who in his inebriated state at a family gathering, announced that the whole family should come to his house the following weekend for another get-together where there would be an ubiquity of food and beverages, without discussing it with his frugal wife.
The redundant radio station managers who never seem to sheath their appetite for payola, being the stingy wife in the analogy.
Although the move evinced Motsoeneng’s strange benign for artists, he never thought through the execution of such a catalytic move. In an interview with Nicky B on Kaya FM’s World Show around the same time, Nakhane Touré said one of the problems with the ratio is that listeners won’t be introduced to new music by radio stations. “Instead of hearing one Mafikizolo song a day, we’ll now hear two or three,” said Touré. Of course the Fog singer was making a mere example (he did say he loves the dance duo) but his point was clearer than a pair of new specs.
Of the countless utterances we’ve had to endure from Motsoeneng, I’m pondering particularly on this very one during the Covid-19 lockdown, because I’ve been immersed in South African music of different kinds for the last few weeks and I imagine how South Africa would be sounding like, had Motsoeneng’s wish been carefully granted.
To be more specific, it’s the Siya Makuzeni Sextet album, Out Of This World that has had me imagining a world where South Africans are exposed to their finest talent.
Siya Mukuzeni is an insanely talented artist who delivers her craft with ingenuity, ubuntu, vigour and in what looks seamlessness. The trombonist who also belts out notes has been in the industry for over 15 years now, playing in some of the biggest bands with fine musicians on world stages. She was part of Carlo Mombelli’s Prisoners of Strange ensemble between 2002 and 2011. She was also in the Blue Notes Tribute Ochestra where she played with the likes of Marcus Wyatt, Johnny Dyani and Chris McGregor. Together with another unique ensemble of equally talented artists, collectively known as Spaza, she released an album of the same name a year ago.
With the Siya Makuzeni Sextet, she put together some of her favourite musicians who she enjoys to play with to create a body of work that I believe more South Africans need to hear. The sextet comprises of Thandi Ntuli on piano, Ayanda Sikade on the drums, the trumpet being blown by Sakhile Simani, Sisonke Xoti playing the saxophone and Benjamin Japhta on bass.
There’s often the juxtaposition to bassist Esperanza Spalding because they both are female, sing and play an instrument. They’ll always be comparisons of females, especially in an industry without women in the forefront. Although the groove in their music is undeniable, Siya’s got the juice. That unfiltered African juice form the wells of the Eastern Cape.
Like on the title track, Out Of This World which teems with traditional Xhosa music from the first second, this while embracing modern sounds. Her voice is undeniably infectious as Stevie Wonder’s or Thandiswa Mazwai’s. The song New Age is a reiteration of a sought-out truth, while landing somewhat as a lament. Say Sibusile Xaba’s Uyahlupha. The joint has swing and it serves its purpose.
The seven track album has a fair balance for the padentic jazz ear that prefers songs without vocals, only the sound of instruments dancing. Another one composed by Makuzeni on the album, a Brazen Dream is a good introduction to Jazz for someone new to the abyss that is the genre.
I’m a sucker for great vocals accompanied by some dope show-don’t-tell typa lyrics which take the role of a travel tour guide, when listening to the music. Imagine a congregation singing Moya Oyingcwele in unison, truly in the spirit. It slaps umoya.
I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence each time I listen to this song-I’m overwhelmed with questions of how this song was conceived. With churches being open now, I believe choir conductors/worship leaders should introduce Moya Oyingcwele emasontweni, if they haven’t.
Out Of This World is just one of many great projects by a South African artist. People need to hear more of this and many other albums. To enjoy them, while simultaneously putting some randelas in the artists’ pockets. True “proudly South African” shit.
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.