Thabo Mbeki

Clement Gama08/30/2019
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The reason folk are saddened by death is because they are directly affected by the upshot of someone’s demise. But others are what I call fundamental sympathisers, so much that they’re able to put themselves in the shoes of the deceased or loved ones of the late. Regardless of how much they knew the dead person.

They’ll be those whose stomachs flipped and were overcome by a dark heaviness at the news of BOSASA boss Gavin Watson dying in a car accident this week. While others couldn’t give a rat’s ass about his passing because of the alleged corruption he was involved in while alive. And then there’s the rest of us who think Mr. Watson isn’t dead, but somewhere on an island sipping Piña Coladas after staging his timely passing.

The fact is, death affects us in different ways and people have their varied methods of grieving. Take for instance how some people would choose to only speak about the good side of a person at the funeral, despite how despicable that person probably was.

But it’s also not a good look bashing a someone who can’t defend themselves, despite overwhelming evidence that they were a vile human being who deserve to rot in hell. It’s better to rather not say anything about the deceased, in public at least. Like former President Thabo Mbeki’s unfavourable comments about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the wake of her passing, to which Madikizela-Mandela clearly couldn’t defend.

Forcing yourself into other people’s shoes, especially at the passing of a celebrity or a popular individual only because it’s the latest craze to hashtag RIP XYZ and replace your DP with a photo of the dead person is simply faking the funk. We saw it a few months ago after Nipsey Hussle’s murder, where timelines were littered with condolence messages from individuals whose knowledge of Nipsey is cringe-worthier than a Hlaudi Motsoeneng interview. Posing as a genuine sympathiser defeats the point of it all.

Lacking the societal emotional response seems to make one look like a bad person. It would obviously be wicked to rejoice at someone’s death, but the passing of a person you didn’t particularly get along with often leaves you questioning whether you’re an evil person or not.

A fella I went to Primary and High School with died in a horrific car crash a few years ago. He was the rambunctious, conceited typa dude. I didn’t like the guy. But learning of his accident had me interrogating myself. I thought ‘gee, what an awful way to go…but it is what it is.’ I didn’t have much remorse really, mainly because his death doesn’t erase the douchebag he was and for the mere fact that his passing has no impact on me. But I can’t imagine the pain it left on his loved ones, and sadly am not allowing myself to step in their shoes.

The psychological reaction that occurs in response to perceived attack or threat to our survival is ‘the fight or flight’ response. But when death occurs in our lives, there are a myriad emotional responses and ways of grieving, it seems.

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THE face of relief I had, standing in front of the urinal turned into bewilderment while in the lavatory of a pub this past weekend.

Thanks to aggressive marketing, which has advertisements in our faces even when we’re having a moment with our bodies. What had me confused was the flyer of the Tembisa Jazz festival.

From the artists on the line-up, it would’ve been better to name it an Afro-soul festival. Sjava, Zahara and Selaelo Selota are the main acts on the bill. Only the latter is a jazz artist. Sjava and Zahara are as far from being jazz artists as Joburg is to Abuja, by foot.

Understand this, this isn’t about the artists but event organisers who come up with these shows which disguise themselves as festivals. This isn’t a unique problem to the Ekurhuleni Township; there was a similar and more cringing case in Soweto during the youth month at the splendid Soweto Theatre.

Dubbed the Soweto Jazz International Festival, their line-up included the likes of rapper Nasty C, Sho Madjozi, Deborah Cox, Lady Zamar and Mi Casa.

Let that sink in.

Is this a case of the suits calling all the shots, instead of having knowledgeable individuals in these crucial positions? What puzzles me is why there’s this incessant obsession with jazz, when what you’re presenting to attendees ain’t jazz. It’s blatant misleading of patrons who actually appreciate jazz, but more than that it’s an unfathomable mind fuck on black people in the township who walk out of those events really believing that Loliwe is a jazz joint. Like how many people still think Kenny G is a jazz artist.

But in the defence of these kasi events, I also blame the inevitable growth of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. What started out strictly as a jazz festival in 2000 under the name North Sea Jazz Festival- for five years, the festival was known by that name as part of the contract between the Netherlands festival and local events management company espAfrika.

From 2005 onwards, not only did the name change to what we know today as Cape Town International Jazz Festival, so too have the artists we saw on the bill. Artists who aren’t jazz kats, but whose music has elements of jazz that satisfy the genre’s aficionados like a 340ml, crept into the line-up.

As the festival grew, it was clear that it was morphing into a music festival for pure songs lovers- the BLK JKS, HHP, Zola, Louie Vega and many more other random artists have performed at the Cape Town event, even Lauryn Hill. But with their growth, the festival somehow manages to keep ardent jazz listeners satisfied each year, with a line-up that prioritizes jazz.

The Joy of Jazz still maintains its status as purely jazz festival, but over the years they have bent the rules, in a slick manner. Vocalist Bilal is one of their headline acts for this weekend’s instalment of the festival- but Bilal’s vocal dexterity just doesn’t permit you to box him anywhere, which allows the festival to get away with having him on the line-up. I was in the audience with former President Thabo Mbeki, enjoying music by Gregory Porter in 2014- he too, Porter not Mbeki, is one you can’t box. But in the same year, they had Billie Ocean on the line-up, which is the equivalent of having R. Kelly at a jazz festival.

As a millennial I know very well that the world is no longer as black and white as many people thought. There isn’t a person who is interested in the same thing, all the time. Human beings’ personalities have become more nuanced with time, largely due to the advancement of technology which exposes people to more than what is in their little village.

So the same person from Seshego in Polokwane who enjoys listening to Phuzekhemisi, also happens to be a fan of Mcoy Mrubata and knows Pharoahe Monch’s lyrics back-to-back. Having said that, organisers shouldn’t be thoughtless when naming festivals, in the name of pulling in a certain LSM- this is derived from the stigma around jazz which suggests that, the only people who enjoy the genre are the wealthy and sophisticated. There are many people in the swankiest places in our country who are ardent listeners of Zahara and Lady Zamar.

If your event doesn’t have a slew of jazz artists, don’t name it a jazz festival because it’s not, otherwise you’ll have us peeing on ourselves thanks to the shocking line-ups you have at these gigs.

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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.

Miles Mosley_Photo cred Aaron Woolf Haxton

“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.


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