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.
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 artist from KwaZulu-Natal 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-shirt 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 fella 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 the 2017 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. Sibusile’s 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 on the album. “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.”
“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.”