Zoë Modiga is such a fine collaborator, you’d be pardoned for forgetting she has a respectable body of work as a solo artist. She rectified that, with a release of her single Lengoma.
The catchy track’s West African feel is helped by vocals from Tubatsi Mpho Moloi of Urban Village. It’s heavily percussion-driven, with the opening sequence remnant to that of Pebbles’ Emandulo. But Zoë doesn’t get swallowed by the drums, she actually has room to flex her vocal skills albeit in a chant-like style.
Lengoma is different from the smooth, jazzy head-bopping offerings she’s done with Seba Kaapstad, a cosmopolitan collective that Zoë is part of. Seba Kaapstad, made up of Ndumiso Manana, Sebastian Schuster, Phillip Scheibel, released their project Thina earlier this year. The clique is signed under Mellow Music Group.
Lengoma sounds worlds apart from Zoë’s 2017 album Yellow: The Novel. There’s more maturity in the music, which comes off in the simplicity of the song. One of Zoë’s trump cards is her unpredictability as a creator, which makes her art more luring.
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.
AFRO Punk released the line-up for this year instalment of the festival, to a mixed reaction from South Africans who have a couple of names they also would like to add to the bill.
The three day festival returns after it made its debut on the mother land last year in Joburg. This year’s AP will be headlined by The Internet, Flying Lotus, Kaytranada, Thandiswa Mazwai, Thundercat and iconic rap clique Public Enemy. More artists will be announced as we get closer to the festival.
“The Internet, Kaytranada and Thundercat is reason enough for me to go…but my expectations were very high,” said Psykaytic Ròes on Facebook. While Thabang Magodielo said she was expecting singing sensation H.E.R, Solange, SZA and Tom Misch, but was happy with some of the artists on the line-up.
Last year’s AP took a huge knock, when headline act Solange said she wouldn’t make it to South Africa for the festival due to health reasons. AP organisers together with Solange then promised to have the Don’t Touch My Hair singer for this year’s instalment. But dololo Solange.
Moonchild, who has taken the country by storm is also on the line-up. Her name though, brought confusion for some people as they thought it was the international group, not our very own modern Brenda Fassie. There was an air of disappointment from some people that it’s not the Los Angeles trio on the line-up. “Moonchild Sanelly? Andizi Jonga, Andizi,”said Lesia Obiwan-Kenobi Kalane.
The inclusion of Public Enemy left me a tad puzzled. Although the group last released an album in 2017 (Nothing Is Quick in the Desert), I’m a bit sceptical about the old guys pulling a strong performance.
I was expecting to see names of Zoë Modiga, Samthing Soweto and at least Ikati Esengxoweni on this year’s line-up. While The Brother Moves On’s performance last year was one of the stand-outs, having them back wouldn’t have ruined anything.
Other names that excited people were Youngsta CPT, Soweto band BCUC and the younger Mazwai sister, Nomisupasta who was the host at the final of Battle of the Bands final, in Tembisa last year.
People had been eagerly waiting for this line-up to come out, that early bird tickets were sold out instantly after AP made the announcement.
Unlike other brands that come to the country to make a quick buck, AP made a commitment to be in the city for at least five years, so this is just the second episode of AP Joburg and this one promises to be a step-up from last year’s. Hopefully there won’t be any last minute cancellations from the artist’ part, the people would infuriated.
Her voice is delicious. With the vocal dexterity of a matured singer, you will find yourself in silence and voluntarily opening up your soul for soothing to Zoë Modiga’s singing when you listen to her music.
“For as long as I’ve known it to be, music has been a source of life to me,” the 24 year-old says. “It has been a friend, a passion, a healer and a true sense of something beyond me.”
Modiga is what you get when raw talent is nurtured from an early age.
“I am a classically and jazz trained vocalist with very many musical influences. Having had as much influence and worked on my voice as an instrument has allowed and opened up the sonic world to me.” She’s a National School of the Arts alumni.
I’ve been lucky enough to see her on stage with the witty but highly musical band Bombshelter Beast. The band’s sound has the astuteness of jazz, the bravado of rap, with vigour of electro and dub-step and creates the kind of atmosphere only a funfair can match, and some. So when Modiga is on stage with the band she’ll show her super energetic side by dancing and jumping in entertainment.
But she maintains the same stage presence when she alone, stationary behind the microphone belting out Shake The World from her 2017 debut album Yellow: The Novel. “I absolutely adore the stage. Erykah Badu says that performing is creating a moment and I really feel like I live to create moments with the audience that watches my shows.”
“A big misconception is that I am a jazz singer. I am a singer that has been heavily influenced by jazz music and gratefully so. Jazz is the godfather of a lot of modern music and it is quite exciting to hear the influences it has had on all music. I have been appreciated in the jazz scene very early on in my career however, I consider myself a musician. I thrive in versatility when it comes to the musical experience and want to be remembered for that. All music is music to me.”
“I consider myself a musician. I thrive in versatility when it comes to the musical experience and want to be remembered for that. All music is music to me.”- Zoë Modiga
Modiga has been in the industry for over a decade now and although she only released her first album last year, she’s gained a lot of knowledge from the galaxy of stars she’s worked with. “Although I have not shared a stage with this legendary musician, I did learn a lot while playing at his festival. He was a phenomenal human being just as he was a transcendent musician,” she says of the late Hugh Masekela.
“I would like to be a beautiful human being through music and especially through interactions with people.”
While she learnt about being an honest artist from the now retired Johnny Clegg. “Music has feelings that can’t really be explained and I believe that those feelings are a higher power communication and people that access that through their honest expression really move me.”
Her honesty comes out strong in her debut album, more so because she’s a songwriter and that the songs have more meaning to her. “I draw great inspiration for the human experience and I am from the school of thought that art imitates life, and beautifully so. I love reflecting the human experience back to people and showing them how divine the human experience is,” says the KZN-born vocalist.
Yellow: The Novel was released independently and has received a good reception as a number of radio stations play her music. The album also bagged a couple of nominations for the 24th South African Music Awards to be held in June.
And why is the colour yellow so special to her?
“Yellow is bold, unmistakable happy, energetic. Everything I want to embody.”