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.”
Who would have thought that something so good as South African jazz would be born from the dark days of apartheid?
Well the likes of ntate Hugh Masekela, ntate Abdullah Ibrahim, and mama Dolly Rathebe, and mama Miriam Makeba, didn’t let what the apartheid government and its oppressing laws silent their voices.
One can’t begin to tell the story of Jazz icons or its history without going back to the past, a place which most of us are comfortable with it being erased from our minds.
Jazz music in South Africa came at a time when the then government was really making life difficult for many black, coloured, and Indian citizens. It was a nightmare for artists to freely express their minds and talk about how things were in South Africa. There were oppressive laws that made it hard for omama Dorothy Masuka and obaba Jonas Gwangwa to paint pictures of what was happening in the townships.
I had the privilege to meet ntate Sipho ‘Hotsix’ Mabuse where he spoke at the Democracy Works Foundation discussion that was held at the Constitution Hill about the impact Jazz music had in people’s lives.
Many musicians during those years sang songs that portrayed apartheid in bad light, which seek to highlight black people’s hard and traumatic experiences under that government, something which the then regime didn’t want to happen.
Some of these artists like mama Makeba spoke out against the evil acts that were done against people of colour, especially black South Africans, including police brutality, racial segregation and unfair policies that kept many black people under oppression.
“Musicians, visual, performing, spoken word artists used their talents to weaken and topple the apartheid government in South Africa but the government wouldn’t back down easily,” Mabuse said.
Harsh punishment like banning of their work would be made possible by the officials, who would later banish some of these artists who were not willing to keep their mouths shut.
They didn’t fear persecution and prosecution, even if it meant having their homes petrol-bombed or being killed.
Mabuse said throughout his music life, all he wanted was to change people’s lives through music, which he and the old school school generation managed to do so well.
PASSING ON THE BATON
Ntate Masekela, who was affectionately known as Bra Hugh, collaborated with many young South African musicians, including a track with Thandiswa Mazwai, which speaks about violence perpetrated on non-South Africans by locals, a topic that is currently grabbing news headlines in the country.
Bra Hugh believed in mentoring young people and we can see young musicians like Bokani Dyer, Mandla Mlangeni, the late Lulu Dikana, Nomfundo Xaluva following in the footsteps of those who came before them. The baton has surely been passed on as we are seeing more and more young musicians like Zoë Modiga, Langa Mavuso, Ami Faku and Kesivan Naidoo contributing to new school Jazz that IS sometimes referred to as Afro soul or Afro-Jazz.
Even though we are fighting new battles as a country, old ones like racism and crime are still making us turn against each instead of being unified as tata Mandela wanted.
JAZZ LIVES ON
Through initiatives like the annual Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, which starts tomorrow, Jazz artists and producers have been supported for the past 21 years, many of them are gaining international recognition just by performing at the stage.
New notable voices in the jazz scene are given a platform to showcase their talents at the Showcase Stage.
The Showcase stage has been unearthing new and raw talent for the past few years, while the On the Road to the official Joy of Jazz Festival also looks at shinning the spotlight on new jazz artists like the Karabo Mohlala Quartet, Thabang Tabane Quartet, Zano, aus’ Tebza, Sobantwana and Nelisiwe.
Some of these artists have been in the music scene for years now, but it would be the first time for them to perform at the festival. This would introduce them to new audiences, who would be traveling from countries overseas to attend the event.