the United Colours of Africa
The sound of Cape Town and the launch pad of the Cape Town sound
Wondergigs 1999 - 2003: Music for the sake of music
Music is pure joy and purpose and it is sustainable. In collaboration with SABC staff members, the Wondergigs rolled out January 17 2001 to Nov 17 2002. Many musicians recorded over 250 live, in front of a live audience and together with a live on air broadcast. We marked a period of time with pure effort and love.
Laurence Mitchell, SABC WC (Western Cape) CEO, had a vision to celebrate Cape Town music. Laurence was at that time at the pinnacle of his career of thirty years with the SABC. Laurence had served in the Eastern Cape before relocating to the Western Cape.
SABC Western Cape has the Beach Rd studios, flash, swank, 50's style sound recording gear with a 250 seater auditorium with direct links to several radio stations. The concept to full this venue was live recordings. Music collaborations would actively seek the sound of Cape Town bringing in artists such as Mac MacKenzie, Robbie Jansen, Alex Van Heerden and Khoi Khoilektif. Our concept was: “Music for the sake of music.”
The wondergigs was about a new precedent and together with SABC we brokered a new form of contract whereby the artists received ownership of their work and the SABC in collaboration with afribeat received third party rights. Artists receiving ownership of their work became a draw card to attract the best in music and gave the best back to music.
The music could have a free road to join the internet revolution of release on demand if the artists chose it. The wondergigs cast of about 150 musicians reached out to a very wide audience with the live recordings, radio broadcasts and newspaper coverage.
Star performances were recorded: Ernestine Deane sung some of her compositions and 'Amazing Grace,' solo. Kesevan Naidoo performed his composition ‘Eclipse' with Tribe. Jimmy Dludlu created ‘The Shape of Strings to Come,' with his teacher Alvin Dyers and Richard Caeser. Robbie Jansen featured two pianists Hotep Galeta to play ‘Cape After Midnight,' and other classic jazz numbers and Hilton Schilder to play ‘Slow Slow,' and other goema numbers. Alex Van Heerden and Derek Grippe created a duo composition project with Brydon Bolton called ‘Sagtevlei.' The Khoi Khoinextion evolved into a Khoilektif and birthed the Goema Princess V Monica B and Mac MacKenzie with Hilton Schilder and Alex Van Heerden created the Goema Captains of Cape Town. The Cape Town musicians and community gave their all to this project.
The wondergigs was built on the philosophy of ‘immaculate expansion' whereby a star was to become a cluster and then to become a universe. Whereby a spark of inspiration was to ignite an entire scene and pick it up from the bootlaces. Those stars were Mac Mackenzie and the Goema Captains of Cape Town featuring Hilton Schilder and Alex Van Heerden.
SKY 189 PRESENTS : Emile YX? Ray Skillz Thee Angelo Rob Nel Michael Horn Michael Bester David Poole Carla Diamonde The Slowboat Assassin SOS Daniel Multinational Institution Fungus The Mutated Lung Self Frank Talk Nike Jimmy Grinnith Ray Skillz Caramel Animal Chin Judah Bionic Biscuit Mr Pitt Scalywag Brian de Goede Brydon Bolton Wayne Scholts Mizchif Captain my Captive Devious
It was our goal to see the story of Cape Town music united in its culture and heritage and to see the many wonderful colors that make up its diverse population; in a jazz kind of way, whereby music picks up the fragmented pieces of diversity in gathering and creates an urban language from it.
The intention was change! Laurence had a vision to celebrate Cape Town music. Laurence was at that time at the pinnacle of his career of thirty years with the SABC. Laurence had served in the Eastern Cape before relocating to the Western Cape. SABC Western Cape has the Beach Rd studios, flash, swank, 50's style sound recording gear with a 250 seater auditorium with direct links to several radio stations.
Together with the SABC we brokered a new form of contract whereby the artists received ownership of their work and the SABC in collaboration with afribeat received third party writes on which the artists received fixed royalties. This was a business revolution. The music could have a free road to join the internet revolution of release on demand if the artists so chose. Artists receive ownership on their work was a draw card to attract the best in music.
We were therefore given an open mandate to create music. It felt as if there was an alignment of stars. Laurence knew about music and illustrated a truly Cape Town yearning to hear a truly Cape Town sound. The idea was collaborative Cape music searching for a unique Cape sound.
In 2002 we recorded live concerts at the SABC for thirteen consecutive weeks. These recording tok us firmly in the direction of defining the sound of Cape Town in that year. There were capacity auditoriums, classic live broadcasts, high quality of musicianship and a general atmosphere of joy and harmony. This is evident on the recordings.
The wondergigs collected musicians across the city and region, bringing them into studio for inspired recording sessions. These sessions were largely collaborative. We marked a period of time with pure effort and love.
With thanks to the Wondergigs, Laurence, Estelle, Bianca, Madoda, Reynaud , Jacques, family Harris and a beautiful family of friends featuring: BLK SONSHINE : Neo Muyanga Masauko Chipembere Jimmy Dludlu TRIBE : Buddy Wells Mark Fransman Charles Lazaar Kesevan Naidoo Derek Gripper & Alex Van Heerden featuring Brydon Bolton Kerryn Bailey Fiona Greyer GOLLIWOG : Rob Nel Kesevan Naidoo Lee Thomson Farrell Adams Leyton Smith Nick le Roux Gorm Espen Helfjord Daniel 3 GUITARS : Jimmy Dludlu Richard Caesar Alvin Dyers Denver Furness Tony Paco Frank Paco John Hassan Lucas Khumalo Eddie Jooste Alistair Andrews Andrew Ford Ivan Bell Andre Peterson ROBBIE JANSEN & THE SONS OF TABLE MOUNTAIN : Robbie Jansen Hotep Galeta Hilton Schilder Allou April Alex Van Heerden Spencer Mbadu Tony Paco THE ERNESTINE DEANE QUARTET : Ernestine Deane Brydon Bolton Wayne Scholts Ricardo Moretti MIKANIC : Mike Rennie Nick Turner Sylvia Mdunyelwa Ernestine Deane Mike Hardy Lee Thomson Jamie Cloete Schalk Joubert Riaan van Rensburg MOODPHASE 5IVE : Ernestine Deane D-Form Ricardo Moretti Brian de Goede Doglas Armstrong EJ von Lyric Burnie Shane MAC MCKENZIE AND THE GOEMA CAPTAINS OF CAPE TOWN Mac Mckenzie, Hilton Schilder, Abubakar Davids, Abdullah Davids Riedwaan Astrud Braaf Alex Van Heerden Liz Brouckaert Kurt Diederichs DJ Hamma THE KHOI KHOILEKTIV : Jethro Louw Robbie Rudolf Loit Sols V Monica B Lesley Javan DJ Hamma SKY 189 PRESENTS : Emile YX? Ray Skillz Thee Angelo Rob Nel Michael Horn Michael Bester David Poole Carla Diamonde The Slowboat Assassin SOS Daniel Multinational Institution Fungus The Mutated Lung Self Frank Talk Nike Jimmy Grinnith Ray Skillz Caramel Animal Chin Judah Bionic Biscuit Mr Pitt Scalywag Brian de Goede Brydon Bolton Wayne Scholts Mizchif Captain my Captive Devious
We felt we could spread this magic endlessly with multimedia collaborative music festivals. Laurence had an extensive vision of this. At first we would travel without, we would go from Cape Town to Maputo and then Cape Town to Cuba, Cape Town to the Caribbean and so on and then we would go within, Cape Town to Table Mountain, Cape Town to the Cape Flats, Cape Town to the Carnival, and so on, always expressed through staged musical performance, live recording and collaboration, such as the wondergigs philosophy had illustrated.
We created the first of these festivals and it was staged at the OudeLibertas amphitheatre. It was the Cape Town Maputo festival in 2003. Zolani Maholo performed intimately alongside Isaq Matuz, the blind blues man from Xai Xai. Matuz had not spoken before as he did not speak English, and never ever left Xai Xai before, but after the sound-check he spoke. He said, “It is like performing with Miriam Makeba.” After the show we could not contain his excitement. We were all staying together, about twenty people in the warehouse, and we slept that night with the sound of Matuz singing, ‘Halleluiah.'
Still being prepared : ALBUM THREE Mother City Love Songs : Music from Cape Town
Still being prepared : ALBUM FOUR Cape Town's Hip Hop
Album Review: NICK TURNER – Home and Secure
After a host of recent projects and from New York to Cape Town, Sons of Trout founder member Nick Turner has gone back to his dub reggae rock best. He is currently touring South Africa in various musical collaborations sharing, 'Home and Secure,' which is enough of a collection to show that this musician is in the starlight of his career, and he is moving and shaking with the stamina of a long distance runner.
Check out the killer single ‘Everywhere,' Written about the perennial favourite, ‘unrequitted love' and given a spark of bourgeoisie by the delicious muted trumpet playing and French accent. But maybe you are more into this big up front reggae back beats that lead out tunes like “Seasons”, “Getting Hotter” (The Sounds of Trout hit), “Norman,” (The Mikanic hit) and “Same world?” The combination of hot horn lines with, tight reggae jams and great vocals is universal, vibey and natural. And as the trumpet rasps in the distance, one knows that this sound will travel!
Nick is well supported by bass and drums, Schalk Joubert and Riaan Van Rensburg (not on album), both performers gel alongside the band leader like a sole well glued to a shoe. In fact the trio is so tight that their reputation precedes them! Adrian Brand adds superb trumpet throughout the album sparking Cape Town, Balkan reggae vibrations with a clean tone and adventurous style.
Turner's vocals are solid and well-crafted into a soothing sometimes stinging delivery. The lyrics are witty and profound in their simplicity. It is Nicks' heart for inclusion community togetherness and friendship that comes through in the album. “We all look up and see the same moon,” he sings on same world.
There are delightful cameos like Nick's many musical brothers and sisters such as Mike Rennie (violin) and Zolani Mahola (vocals) who each add their own flavour to the potjie pot music.
The opening song on the album is called “anomaly.” Turner is of English heritage, but is South African for many generations, over 100 years. Thus, he sings in Afrikaans to reach the majority of the market in the region he lives – the Western Cape, and there are enough Afrikaans tunes to keep the home fires burning. The composition, “Roos” by Leslie Javan gives a raucus rural and humourous goema vastrap Cape flavour to the music.
Another anomaly is that Nick spent a five year stint in New York as a waiter in an African bistro restaurant. A number of songs refer to this, such as “Cuffed in my Kitchen” and the title track “Home and Secure,” drawing a link between New York and Cape Town.
Interview Emile YX
Last week we recorded a track for Dr. Neville Alexander, the academic. He was on Robben Island. He lived there in Lotus River. They are doing a memorial now at the end of October and they were looking for someone to do a song. Black Pearl, the singer from Afri-kaaps, the two of us put something together. That type of thing is something to remember what he contributed, it happened very organically.
Who was Neville Alexander
Neville Alexander was with Mandela and them on Robben Island. He was there for ten years. He was essentially an academic. He was a teacher. He did a huge amount of things for the liberation struggle. He started so many organisations and played a huge role for the education on the island around socialism, communism, new ways of thinking of trying to solve the situation. When he came out he focused on workers union and stuff like that. A lot of young people around him started realizing what the fight had become so they spent much more time on re-thinking how education is done. His focus was education in the country needed to change in order for the mindset of the country to change. We can't have the same education that we unfortunately still have, so he had this organization, PRAESA for alternative education that was based at UCT for a long time. He is one of those unsung heroes of the country and contributed majorly to a lot of things. One of the things they say in the Western Cape was when Steve Biko was caught he was on his way back from Neville, he went to meet Neville because he was trying to unify the country, it was one of his missions to try and unify the movements, the black consciousness. Neville did not want to see him, because he was part of an organization and didn't want to speak individually on behalf of the organization, they needed to be present. So, he said I can't meet you until they give me the go ahead. That's when he left. That's when they caught Steve Biko.
When Mandela came out of prison he met with Neville as well to because he realized the mobilization of so called coloured people isn't the illusion that they had that we are all black, and that it is a black struggle, because obviously it was being manipulated racially. He met with Neville and asked Neville to work within the ANC to change the coloured mindset to vote for the ANC. He refused because he was a very staunch believer that what we have today is a franchise. It is not the freedom they spoke about but they bought into the occupation of Southern Africa by big business in the manner that they negotiated with so called freedom. I lot of people didn't like what he was saying, just before the election his house was bombed. He is quite a prolific figure. He wrote quite a few books. A lot of what he said is coming to fruition.
What is a ‘so called coloured.'
The people who are from the community don't like the term so they use the term so called coloured. Essentially it is mixed race people. The problem is they are socialised in this box created by apartheid. There are a lot of things that the community itself doesn't realize it has in common because of the history of their interaction as a community. I have heard that from people from elsewhere who come to Cape Town. I thought it was a joke when someone said this group of people are culturally different because of the way they have acted collectively, and in its own mind it has seen itself as a separate group of people. In reality there is no such thing. Racism is one of the biggest manipulating concepts and illusions. But, within the context of South Africa that illusion is also marketed to the extreme every day. Bearing that in mind there are huge amounts of people who see themselves as coloured. You can't go and have a conversation about being black because it isn't in their mind and lived reality and the mind of the country. The first thing they do when they see them is associate certain things with them like that Vodacom add where at the end the guy says, “Hey Atiep, los my bru!” This is a box that the SABC has created mentally with the coloured community, the stereotype of that community. It is extremely racist but it is allowed and marketed to the extreme. They will never market Trevor Manuel as a version of coloured, actually most people think he is Portuguese ironically, but he is from the so-called coloured community. I think for this community it is a huge fight for that sense of identity. Before, during apartheid and now in the so called liberated South Africa. There is a huge group of the community trying to get out of the stigma of the label and on the other hand there is a huge part of the community trying to grab onto it as an identity so they can change the situation. Irrespective of them not wanting to be identified as such they are. Within the Western Cape especially it is beneficial for the status quo to keep manifesting that illusion. The DA needs to keep that mass of people under its control. It plays them against each other. It plays the race card of the black against the Xhosa against the coloured and the white community so that it has a divided mass. It is always easier to handle than a collective mass. And even the ANC as well. Politics needs to keep people divided. What is scary for them is a mass of South Africans saying ‘Fuck this we have had enough of this bullshit.'
For the people from the community, within the community there is so much divides; there is economics, there is look, there is heritage, there is language, suiwe Afrikaans speakers, the English speakers. It is extremely divided within itself as well. You have people from the outside looking in on it. It is a very divided and a very hurt community. In my view the pain from before and when I say before I mean before before: before the ANC's history, which is a very hegemonic idea of history. When the ANC came into power that is when the story begins or when they speak of Zulu or Xhosa that is when the story begins. But, for the people who are so called coloured, the history actually begins prior to 1652. A lot of their genetic history goes back to the KhoiKhoi. They are fighting a battle from before the illusion of history in 1652 in South Africa. This country never ever speaks of the 1 st of March 1510. That date is extremely important because it is the first time the KhoiKhoi people won a documented battle against the Portuguese and drove them out of Cape Town. They killed 56 of them on the beach in Salt River and they left and they never came back for 100 years because the word spread how militant the resistance is. 1510 is a long while before most people understand the history of South Africa. That is the history of a lot of people here. There is a huge reclamation of Khoi Khoi heritage for a lot of people here, including speaking NAMA. There is a bra actually from Zimbabwe who is teaching Nama at The Castle, of all places. He is teaching Nama every Saturday to whoever comes. For me that lack of understanding of history is also what is affecting the gang activity. And that, combined with the lack of business opportunities. Vicious gangsters have brilliant mentality to be the best businessmen. In any other society they would be the leading businessmen to take advantage of the masses of people. That is essentially what they do with the drug movement and drug usage. Buying and selling, the usage of territory, distribution, all those things is related to business that they would have been able to access if they weren't in this box going to and from jail.
There are all these underlying things that most people don't realize are happening. On the one hand there is the liberation concept amongst the people like the KhoiKhoi uprising happening all over the Western Cape. Then there is the silent movement of academics, with the Neville Alexander's and that group of people trying to work separately from the system, outside of the election and then there are the ones that work within that system, buying into the system and not actually solving problems. All of these activities are part of the illusion of what people perceive coloureds are. This is taking place in Cape Town. That rich history with the Khoi and the San, and whatever other people are here, for example Afrikaans being the outcome of that mixture of people, is unfortunately stifled, because the same thing happens in prison.
They created Sabela, the language in prison because it is a group of people who needed to communicate. In the mines they did the same thing, they created Fanagalo for people to communicate. Those are the original things that South Africa can create given the opportunity to get together. We are not thinking collectively. We are different historically, let us try and find a commonality. We are always speaking about our diversity and differences instead of speaking about our commonalities and what is similar within capitalist democracy to keep people separated. I think the opportunity for that to take place lies in the so-called coloured community because there is already a group of people who come from a history understanding that they are mixed. A bigger portion of the population understands that we are actually all from that history. We can all be traced back to the first people, which the San are a part of or the closest relative to. It is a global phenomenon that everyone has a connection to that first humanity. I think that is strong in the so-called coloured community. There is an understanding that I am not in this box considered pure. It makes it easier if you look at the Xenophobic / Afrophobic attacks that happened in the country. A lot of the people moved to Cape Town because there is a group of people that also feel expelled from the idea of being African. When people come from the rest of Africa who have been shunned you find them all over Cape Town in their own little niche trying to create an existence. For me that box is both a problem and a powerful solution of you could find a way to get more people to realize that you are not the box and that you have the potential to be anything really.
If you look at my history, part of my father's lineage goes to Southern India. I have been there and I have learnt some of the words and what is from there. I did research on Afrikaans and in Afrikaans the way we speak is so fast that if we look at Malayalam from South India, the way it is spoken is very fluid and fast so you wonder all the slaves that came from there to Southern Africa how did that influence the way we speak Afrikaans or even some of the words, like the bushmen words in Afrikaans like eina , and gogga , k wagga , buchu , dagga ; those are all Nama words that are in Afrikaans. The same as piesang , blatjang , those are all Indonesian influenced within the language. There is this language that is almost representative of the peoples mixture. That has the power to make us; and not only us even the Boers that live in Southern Africa have that lineage, have the Bushmen influence. Otherwise they would have spoken Dutch! For me that is the power that it could have if people see beyond the limitation of what apartheid said are so called coloureds.
Mac said that within the coloured group there are three definitions, the Malay who never came as slaves, who were traders and scribes, the Cape coloured, and the rural coloured, which he says he falls into. He says within that same group there are divisions. He used the word Haram to describe the way that jazz music is being pushed out of areas like Bridgetown and so on. Is there division within the division as well?
The irony of it when you look at the bigger picture is that jazz is an innovative melting pot of sounds. If you take for example the way that it is restructured and re-manipulated like Cape Jazz, of course it is gong to find a home here, because you have that freedom to not be in a box. It is not like this is the only way you can play it. There is a constant movement of how it can be done. So, those types of things become extremely intriguing for people who have a mixed heritage. Finding a different sound is the search for finding self.
For me when people talk about history it is also about the division within the division of the so-called coloured community. Like, my example of my mum and my dad. My mum is from Grassy Park. I grew up in Grassy Park and spoke like a more suiwe version of Afrikaans. It was my first language. My dad grew up in Bo Kaap, first language English. His Afrikaans is Bo Kaap Afrikaans. Very broken, called ‘Gamala Gamtaal.' Within my family, when I spoke like my dad my mum used to complain and say speak properly. There is always this in my mind until I learn the history of Afrikaans I will be damn, I can speak it the way I want to, because it gives you that freedom to speak it the way you want to. And that's what makes it constantly growing, constantly changing. It is the most vibrant language in Cape Town because there are always new words being created on the Cape Flats.
There is this long debate amongst the academics in Pretoria and Stellenbosch, “Will Afrikaans die?” Their fear is because they stifled its growth, they made this language look more ‘white', so they took out all the creative kombuis. The kombuis is where the spice is. Of course it is going to be bland if you don't include the kombuis version because that is where it was born. So yes, it sounds if it is going to die because even their children are finding it hard that they are not being allowed to innovate the language, change the language. Language changes all the time. That is the nature of the language. All languages do. If you put it in the context of jazz music in Cape Town, the people who are the most rebellious musically and mentally, and constantly searching. You will find that they are the most innovative practitioners. If you look at Kyle Shepherd he left UCT because they tried to enforce their version of what they think jazz is. The box is very difficult for creative artists to fit into. And the same with Mac, I see him as one of the most innovative practitioners of the goema style in Cape Town. And I shouldn't put him in that box because he is just fucking amazing. At the same time that history and how we have taken on the baton of the boxes, it is also just an illusion. No matter where you go, no group of people is the same. The kicking out of Cape jazz from Bridgetown is actually the kicking out from everywhere. He may have been innovative and promoting it there but at the same time on TV and everywhere else, that isn't happening. So, he is one person trying to share something with people who every day of their lives is bombarded with radio playing other shit. It is not necessarily them kicking us out but the system that is not encouraging innovation and original music from the community.
I have spoken to Robbie when he was still alive and I said can't we just get together with the elders and get some MC's just to hear this. The days of your father having his own collection of records or even cassettes, those days are gone. For them, music is short lived. Life span is less than a month sometimes. So, you don't have a kid going home and his dad is playing old jazz records from before. I still have my dads old BB King, even the Genuines album is there, because of that idea of collecting a variety of music. Whereas now, I am just into hip hop. What is the latest American hip hop? The older guys don't realize what they are fighting against is a mentality that is really really sneaky. It has an agenda. It wants to get kids to fit into a box, so it plays them the same track over and over, to get them to be more capitalistic in their way, to get them to think that if this track is never on radio, then why should I do it. A lot of kids when I speak to them and say why don't you use sounds from here, they say it will never get played. So it is not about being creative, it is about trying to fit into that box that sells the illusion that you can be famous. And that is a lot of kids. So, I can just imagine the likes of Hilton Schilder and even Kyle, gets it. He is part of the Afri-kaaps and we do a performance. The kids, their attention span is so short that they are not even listening to the intricacy of the music of what is playing. They just want to party and the chorus is call and response where he is trying to get them to listen to how it is played. I see that when we come off stage. For the rest of us who are into hip hop, we are like that shit rocked and he is like they didn't even take that opportunity to listen. The music has been shifted to the background and the illusion of how famous and amazingly skilled the MC's are is pushed to the forefront. That is how they perceive music. Music is the stuff at the back. The breaking down and the technicality of each instrument in that process, doesn't even factor in, because they don't even hear it in that manner. I sit with a group of kids and say listen to this music and then I say can you separate in your mind those instruments? That will be like the first time that they will be ‘oh shit, that is different instruments playing.' That is not happening in school so I can just imagine Mac being confronted by a whole community who doesn't care about the musicality. They are not even seeing a band when they go anywhere. They are just hearing this track playing. So much music is created on computer. I see kids the first time they see a live band, ‘oh shit, that is the drums, that is the base…' Their introduction to music isn't that. I feel that that is put into a realm of exclusivity because on the Cape Flats there may be a church for example where you can see instrumentation as that is the only association they have, but again you have a preacher in front and singers at the back. There isn't that with jazz where you can have a drummer that goes off and for that moment they can hear what that is. It is a whole new mentality amongst young people that I don't think artists are realizing. For example when Jitsvinger comes and performs with a guitar kids don't give him the time of the day. He is playing and rapping. They will say that is boring because there are maybe no beats in the background. Only the older guys will be like that was fucking nice, rapping over just a guitar. The realm of people who are like performers will acknowledge that but the masses will be ‘come on get done.' It is not catchy. They are not used to it. A lot of the elders are not seeing what is happening politically and the attempt to push that to the side in so many ways. With the number of devices you can listen to music on, nobody is buying CD's, nobody is buying music so you have to perform. But when you try to perform and this is what a lot of MC's don't know, is, you need a band; for instance if you want to do Oppikoppi. So, they are excluded because they are not performing with live instrumentation. There may be one rapper on the bill because he has got like a DJ. But if you say lets get a group of ouens together and make a band, they are like ‘ah you know, we have already got one rapper on the show.' That is an introduction to a band. There are not a lot of opportunities for young people to see, ‘this is a band!' Music isn't prominent in the school system any longer and those who are introduced to it are these little geeks in the minds of the majority. The majority are all the people listening to the club sounds. For them the doof doof is actually based on music but they don't make that association on their frooty loops. Everybody has their frooty loops at home so I don't think Mac and the older ouens are seeing the reasons behind it. For me it is extremely political. You are trying to get people to fit into a box and for Mac and them they are ouens that don't fit into a box. It is actually threatening to the status quo to have people like Mac with the youth, because it is extremely rebellious to be you, to find you and present you to the world.
I get so pissed off when I go to these talks about music and making it in the music industry and Mac or Hilton is not there because this is what they have been dong. And that is the majority of the artists. The majority of the artists isn't this ou they brought in who is famous. The majority of artists is how do I put food on the table, how do I survive, how do I make ends meet? But, that conversation is never had. The big music exchanges are catering for the privileged few. How can you be part of the privileged few. It is all these producers, record labels and famous artists. Okay this guy has been a musician for the last 55 years and he signed a deal at some stage and he survived and he signed another deal and he survived, and that person is never on the bill. For me that shows where the agenda lies.
So, when Mac says, they don't see the divisions in each of these three boxes he pointed out in the coloured community. There is a reason we don't see it. We are not raised to see the commonality in those three groups and it is actually less visible then we assume. If you look at my mom and my dad, people would put us in the realm of a middle class coloured community because we are living in Grassy Park. That is not Cape Flats and the struggle. But, when I grew up my dad worked three jobs, my mom did more than one just to make ends meet. And when I go to Bonteheuwel to my family, we were taught not to labour our shit or accumulate debt. When I go to my grandfather you can see yourselves as sturdy coloureds, ones who are better off. When you look they all have the latest Adidas and the latest sneakers. There isn't a question that I am actually putting myself in debt, perpetuating the problem. When I hear that, I often actually have a conversation with each of those people because I don't believe that those boxes are the way they are. Because, there are people who are actually from the farm originally and they speak with a bray when they came here. And their struggle is more similar to that community than the people who assume the struggle is rural. Sometimes these boxes are us looking in on ourselves and assuming instead than having conversations amongst ourselves. I don't want to perpetuate the division of the so-called coloured community and the same with the Muslim community who come from that heritage of, ‘you don't get involved with a guy with kinky hair'. But if you look historically at the Muslim community that came here they were extremely mixed wit the Bushmen community as well. They also understood the mixture.
There are things in Cape Town like the festival of Orange with the orange leaves. That is actually a Hindu tradition. It is absorbed within Islam. Those are the blendings of culture and history. Even Ratiep where they put that metal through their body, I actually used to go and watch those festivals with my dad because he is from Bo Kaap. That isn't Islamic, it is actually more Hindu. Because people were so mixed in Cape Town, people were more lenient. You tell any Cape Tonian some shit that Obama would say about Muslims and they know it is bullshit because they have families who are Muslim. You see this tolerance, because it is family. And that is what we sometimes overlook. We so easily adopt the colonisers mentality of; those are the coloureds who have, those are the coloureds who don't have, those are the English speaking coloureds, those are the coloureds from the rural areas. So, I am very careful about how I continue that perception. Even the way we speak, I was raised by my mom to say that that version of Afrikaans is gamtaal and we are not meant to speak like that but when I did the research, I found that that is the original version of the language and suiwe Afrikaans is a colonial enforcement on what the language is. So now, when I go to Lavender Hill and I am speaking to the lighties, and they are using innovative language, I am in awe of the linguistic wordplay that comes from the original version, versus going to the Afrikaans community where they are all speaking this static version of the language that is not flowing and free to do whatever it wants to do. I am worried about how we have adopted that. If you listen to someone speaking gamtaal and you can't take them seriously because they are from the gang community and then everything else that goes with it, you don't think you can trust him, you can't give him a job, you think he's going to rob you, that has been enforced on us from outside.
And now with that jazz festival and that guy with the music academy, Camillo Lombard; for all intense and purposes it gives kids something to strive towards. The jazz bands from the different schools involved, when I see them perform, that tradition is coming back but it is not enforced by the education department. These are guys that love jazz music, but unfortunately it falls within the realm of the box of what jazz is perceived to be. They are singing all this international jazz. Yes it is an introduction but my question is where is Mac and Hilton in this whole equation. How are they excluded on taking them on the journey that is more localized?
From the number of years I am involved it has made me look at things from a very analytic manner. What is the real agenda here? It is the same with hip hop. Hip Hop in Cape Town used to be with POC. That was ideal for the introduction because POC in the media gave people a Cape Town version with the goema sound in the background mixed with the hip hop sound. Even that first song, Dala Flat, POC had no idea that that was going to be one of the biggest hits ever. In their mind, they were, ‘lets just do this gamtaal song and see what happens'. A kid came to me last night and said, ‘do you remember POC's ‘Kyk hier my bru, al lyk dinges moet jy los'. I was like shit, this is a grown assed man with his lighties and he remembers every lyric that Shaheen and Ready D wrote. I don't think most people realize that hip hop is a mixture in the same way that jazz is and shouldn't be boxed in. I did a song now with a guy with a sax. There is one with a goema beat. There is one with a traditional Zulu sound called Mixed Mense. I used English Afrikaans, Zulu and Nama. For me I am revisiting what POC initiated back in the day, for the ear to be beyond what is coming from the US. And I think Mac and them need to look at where the lighties are and then take them from where they are on their journey, and don't wait for funders. I know they work on their own for years. I don't think that it is going to come from outside. Government is not going to give you money to get you to be more innovative. They take whatever they see and then keep it in that box, because it works in the US, it works in capitalism. It is their main agenda. We always hear about the economy of the country. Whose money is that? We are not getting a cent from that. It is the same people's money. My feeling from that statement Mac made is the elders, and I include myself in that from a hip hop perspective need to spend the time with the youth, even if you just get three or four or five of them. They are lucky because the jazz has quite a lot of lighties who are willing.
Talking about Cape Town as a refugee city, were the first nation refugees? Added to that I see one of your projects is the silent revolution, is that pulling the boxes apart? And is goema a box, but a useful box? As a positive side to the illusory box is that it can be a school for finding your identity…
When I hear someone like Abdullah Ibrahim and when I hear Kyle speak about the influence of the Bushmen, I use the term Bushmen because they rather use that then the Khoi and the San according to meeting a lot of the community that is still around. The timing of the music and the way that the music is played has extreme historic significance in the way that music has been played here in Africa since time immemorial. The three count, the cyclic loops; and the cyclic loops are connected to hip hop today. Da k aka … And if you listen to the vocal sounds, a he hay hay … it is a loop. It is repeated the whole time. And the whole circle idea is embedded in the Bushmen trance dance idea. And if some of the instruments when you listen to them, like listening to the way that Kyle and them speak about their influence on how they play, how it lets them go and do whatever and in the background it remains. And they will travel in almost trance state. That metronome is internalized and they wander and ultimately return to that metronome. I hear it a lot when I listen to Abdullah Ibrahim the way he plays piano. Din din din ding, and then he gets lost, he goes off and then he comes back to that din din din ding. So, for me, it has always been there. And when we are speaking about finding ourselves, the idea of a refugee is a manufactured concept by colonialism and slavery to diminish your worth, your understanding of your worth, your knowledge of your worth, to the extent of driving it out of you completely. But, it is there. What the oppressor doesn't realize is who he is, is because of that. Me finding the Bushmen in Afrikaans is almost like a friend of mine once said from the US, if you take one step towards your ancestors, they will take three steps towards you. That is why I say sometimes it is two or three kids and I give them the information and when they leap in that direction, those things find you. And it will constantly remind you that that is part of what you need to learn. My first experience with hip hop when I first went to step into the circle, because I started as a break-dancer, was that there was something familiar. I have been here. It feels so familiar, why does it feel so familiar? But in my mind, this is from the US, this is from the States, and with time I am like ya. I remember the first time I actually jammed in Joburg with a group of guys playing marimba and they said go into the circle and finally because of the action in my mind I realized the circle is from here, the live music… you don't realize when the music is played to you through a system. It is pretty static. But when someone is playing live there is the human element of the intensity and the interaction. As soon as they see you speeding up, they also travel with you, so there is this conversation between the music and the dance. I didn't realize that until I was actually in that circle.
Coming back to this enforced perception of being an outsider, is that the oppressor is more lost than the slave or the person they are manipulating; most of the time. Their anger at being confused or lost tries to drive it out of this person who seems to be more grounded, more at home and with time that community itself has to a huge extent been removed from its history. And what is sold to that community is this version is right, bringing the church, bringing religion, making it seem like what you are doing is savage and what they are doing is civilized, the drive to being civilized. But at some point that will all break because the more you go in that direction, the more you will realize that most of the shit they are talking about is leading nowhere. It is not leading to a sustainable and humane existence on the planet, because it removed its foundations, it is completely oblivious to its foundations. This version of what is sold as civilized is not. It is extremely barbaric because it is not grounded at all. It is not holistic. Its outcome is the destruction of the very place that we are from. At some point that person is going to connect with our history and see this is bullshit, this is not beneficial. I am traveling in the wrong direction, I am chasing after goods and products and shit and I am loosing myself in the process. A lot of young kids in hip hop use the terminology that this is the lost generation. These kids are not lost. They are intelligent. They are saying why am I doing this, why am I going to school and why would I work for a system for 60 years so they can give me a fucking watch? Am I living? Or am I just paying the bills? I am essentially a slave. You hear them say why would I do this. And then people say ‘ ja but you are laying at home not doing anything.' But they are finding themselves. You hear more kids say I am taking a gap year. And some of them are just doing nothing but in the nothingness and the silence, there is more learning, then if they were busy in the busyness, the business. Because, a lot of those kids get lost in the business chasing after it, and loosing themselves in the process. So, for me the first people exist in us all because we are descendent of the first people. When I go to !Khwattu or when I was in Platfontein with David Kruiper, his family up in the Karoo, in the Kalahari red sand and realizing that this is how it has always been. The first people are the most oppressed people on the planet. It is so sad, we haven't evolved in any way to give respect to elders to acknowledge that history within ourselves. It is more that we have shunned that. For me taking the kids from Lavender Hill to the Kalahari is more powerful than me having a million conversations about what I just said. They are amazing. I tell them stories how to be a man you have to go and hunt and I say, ‘think what is that similar to on the Cape Flats'. ‘Can it be that we are now hunting each other because there are no animals? Like animals we are hunting each other to be men, to get the nommer and end up in jail like a man for your initiation'. When they say that to themselves; I come from an educational background, for me it is almost like mission accomplished. They are unblocking that truth in their own mind. Another thing we were speaking about is how prominent tik is. If you think historically with the colonisers, abroad was alcohol. It is a false trance. For people who understand trance and need to go into trance to heal themselves, you sell them this virtual trance. There is the dop system and then there is tik. And who knows what shit is next and how these are manufactured in this community who are the descendants of this first people, that they tried to remove from themselves, successfully. For me, there is an awakening, and it is a silent revolution amongst young people. There is a hunger to know more. The problem is the number of elders who are understanding of that need. I am one of the elders who gets involved in the Nama culture or the Bushmen tradition to get land. When the government was giving back land to people, like that whole restitution idea, it is not honest of the bigger agenda, the bigger need we have. There is a looking for the connection, the history. They are looking for stories that tie them to where they are from. And I don't believe there are enough elders who don't have a political or capitalistic agenda. There are very few. A lot of elders are hurt. They are badly scarred by colonialism and apartheid and whatever else, like neo-colonialism for that matter. You hear it everywhere like that recent article about the guy in charge of the ANC in Oudsthoorn and how much bribery and shit has gone on there. There is a huge group of young kids there who are involved in the Nama culture, Khoisan heritage and Outeniqua community. There is no one to support. There are very few elders who will usher in a new way of thinking. All the elders are very racist. I mean we all are racist in this country, but there is an extreme racism happening with a lot of people in the illusion of the Bushmen community. I say illusion because just because you have genetic historic connections there is actually those communities who do exist that should benefit from whatever is happening first. And these ones that claim they are 100% Nama are suddenly Bushmen. Everyone needs to read more about their history. I even saw one of the heavy gang leaders who is now a Khoisan chief. When I spoke to him he made sense, he said if he knew this information when he was younger he wouldn't have done what he dd. I even saw a documentary with one Staggie brother, Cape of Fear, who was saying if you look historically Jan Van Riebeck was one of the biggest thieves or gangsters that you can imagine which is on point with the truth. I was impressed. This was deep. He thought about this carefully and he is stuck in Mannenberg and he is like why should I not do this, this is how they did it and I am doing exactly how they did it, so fuck it! You have people who are trying to make this work who are seen as the problem. And then you have people who are legal who will own 80% of Cape Towns land illegally and are allowed to illegally occupy first people land who are not seen as criminals. When they speak they make so much fucking sense but just because the way they speak and where they are from, they don't know what they are talking about and what you are doing is illegal. The legal framework is biased to the occupier of the land. They put the law in after they stole the land. They put the law of what is the 1913 land act into effect but if you look historically you will find Bushmen paintings everywhere. If that is not proof enough that the land belongs to them then what will be. It is edged in rock. There are all these conversations amongst people on the Cape Flats. I think we are getting to a point where there is a sense of hopelessness amongst the youth. My fear is that the hopelessness can escalate into violent, unplanned revolution, which is always to the detriment of the person. The amount of violence you can inflict on a historically and economically violent controller, colonial power, is minimum because they have national economic access and international support globally to eliminate if needs be. That is what I see happening. I will give you an example to explain what I want to say, Isaac Mutant just did a song called ‘lanie jou poes,' and in the video he had ouens running through the farms burning down the farms. One of the choruses is farmer Abrahams, so he makes a connection to the farm uprisings. Afri-forum is trying to take him to court for inciting violence. The irony that people aren't seeing is that it took Damian, another liberal white guy, for Isaac to get heard, which is fucked up. I know the lyrics of the song for a long time. It is extremely intelligent. He makes reference to the fact that Jan Van Riebeck was a thief and what exactly Ernie Lastag, this gangster did. But why is Van Riebeck now a hero within the context of South Africa? And as long as that is perpetuated, nothing is going to change.
To come back to your conversation it is all of this that you are contending with to get heard, to just even speak your truth. What I think now to what I thought ten yeas ago is extremely different. Give me my process of learning. I can't shut up just so other people are satisfied with the version of what I am saying and my process. And hopefully ten years from now my growth and process will be completely different but if you stifle me at the point where I am still learning I am not going to develop a new idea and a new perception and actually you are stopping yourself by analyzing what I am saying and why I am saying it. I am with people of colour, black people on the planet. The content of what they speak and what they think is often looked down upon because of this and for me it is a weird position to be in. And to come back to the Bushmen here is people who contributed to civilization. They were the first doctors, even though they may be considered witchdoctors, but that is weird since they found the herbs to create medicine. They were the first people to create medicine, so they were the first doctors. They also applied that medicine in the percentages that were needed to heal. They were the first people to navigate by the stars. They were the first people to make fire, to control fire, to melt certain objects. They were the first ones to cut the design of a bow and arrow to go hunting, which essentially was able to keep us alive. I mean there is the story of Blombos cave which was the last 600 humans on the planet who spread from there to the rest of the world and this is right here by us in Southern Africa. There is all this information that falls into the realm of uncivilized. Every society, even today the Americans try to patent Rooibos, Hoodia, but those are first people concepts. They wrongly use it because the Bushmen only used Hoodia to suppress their appetite when going through the desert. And now they want to use it everyday so they can loose weight so obviously they are going to get ill from it because you are not supposed to. These are rich inventions of first people that are completely dispelled, to this day. And when I was with them in the desert with the kids from Lavender, they said if this is how they treat the very first people of colour, our ancestors, the first humans , how will it ever change? This is exactly how they still treat them, like they are not human. And that actually was really profound. One of the kids comes out of his flat in Lavender Hill. He is jamming with the kids everyday to keep them busy in some way or another. It sounds small but maybe there are ten or eleven lighties there who are not gong to be drawn in by what is happening beyond that point.
Trevor Manuel says, it is right to forgive the past. Mac was not impressed to hear that idea. We know that the past is wrong. Mark suggested we accept. So I want to ask you about acceptance in the concept of the idea of first people. Also, is it now that the Cape Town people are the first people.
Forgiving and moving on is a personal thing. It has been sold that all of us need to process this. There needs to be a TRC or some shit like that. It was very hurtful to the sufferers watching the TRC. It did not do what they wanted it to do. There is nothing you can do about people forgiving themselves and part of the process of forgiveness is to put back the amount that was taken. It is about contributing to the healing. People are so quick to judge, ‘you did this, you did that, your ancestors did whatever'. Ultimately it is for the person to realize that there can't be a balance unless they do something to change it.
The example of Storms Delta where the farm is broken up 50 / 50 and is run by the people and the one half benefits the family that runs the farm who are descendants of the Khoisan. And then the guy is still running the other half of it. The problem is that the interaction is still a boss and worker. The context when I was there, the idea of white superiority is still prominent. So the conversations around Khoisan heritage and the contribution to who we all are, is not necessarily happening.
There were four guys in Lavender Hill. Two of them couldn't, they needed 9 to 5's to pay bills. This artistic thing was very difficult. Which was part of the reason I did it so they can realize that the overnight fame thing is bullshit, we need to work. There are now two guys, one is part time, one is fulltime. The lesson for me is you can only help people who want to be helped. People first need to acknowledge that they need help. Ultimately your help needs to be accepted. Essentially when I was teaching, if the kids don't want to learn, you can head-spin, do whatever you want but they are not gong to learn. The same with healing. It is a personal thing. I have no control over anyone else. I need to heal myself in the process. That is all I have power over. We are so far from that because of the guilt and the anger. Trevor Manuel saying something like moving on, it doesn't matter what people say, it is a personal thing. Making that statement to people who are still struggling is a hellova rude statement to make. Shit didn't change at all. Economics is in the same hands. Yes you can go to any beach but if you don't have money for transport you can't. You can go to any club but if you don't have money to get in, or look the part because mentally nothing has changed, you are still a gangster from the Cape Flats that is the first impression they get when they see you. It isn't equal. I think that statement is naïve. The same as Mandela saying, ‘Never ever again.' It is extremely naïve to say that because actually it is like it was, there is no change to that extent. The people's enemy has just become subliminal; the economics that is forced on people, the struggle for electricity, the struggle to put food on the table.
The one guy who is with me part time he goes and finds scrap metal to sell during the day because even though we got him a job where he got paid he left because he did not want that. I can't force him to stay but that again is the healing he has to undertake and he has to process his own way of solving it. I took him at the beginning of the year to Washington DC and we performed at Kennedy Centre, all these things that people say are genius, they don't mean shit unless that person can use it on their CV to get more work. How does this make me grow? We were in DC hanging out with the guys I know there, and then he was Yo, he didn't know how to handle being around there so he said, ‘let me go to Baltimore', and wow this was like Lavender Hill. I mean really, ‘you came all the way to the States because you want to be in a place that looks like Lavender Hill'. It is hard. That is the ghetto. There is nothing you can do. That is that persons development and growth. You have no control over it and for me that is the lesson that I learnt. You can't just move on. Even an alcoholic must first admit, “I am an alcoholic.” You have to admit that there is a problem.
Here in this country we are injured historically and mentally. We need healing, we need to heal ourselves. Until we are ready to admit, I am fucked up I need to get healing for this, what information will help change the way I think about myself, my sense of self worth, those types of questions I have to ask myself and then try and find solutions. For we as South Africans, there isn't even a South African. There are all these race groups and there is no attempt for there to be a South African.
We were forced apart and you know in physics when a force is travelling in one direction you need an equal and opposite force to bring it to a stop and here is absolutely no equal and opposite force to apartheid or racism in South Africa. It is just traveling free flowing on its merry way and we expect it to stop organically. But, this was forced on us in a brutal way by a brutal regime so if we don't in some way apply an equal and opposite force, I don't mean a militant force, but it will become militant of we don't deal with it right now, because this force will carry on in its own direction. But, there needs to be a healing that takes place. It can be a mass healing within itself. Someone needs to share that information.
It is not right for you to have 300 Biillion Rand and you come from that struggle, how the hell is that okay? Your immediate community is living in Lavender Hill or your immediate community is living in Alexandria. How in your mind does that make sense, how does it fit into the struggle? Same with the mines here, it is the domination of those entities who have occupied our wealth. And Julius is right, it is not supposed to be in the hands of corporate powers, it needs to be in the hands of the people from the country because that is what we fought for, the freedom charter, the mineral wealth will be in the hands of the people from the country. All that is wrong, but before that can happen there needs to be a mental shift. It is not about picking up arms, we don't have the military might to do that. There is Anglo American and there is a reason why they are called Anglo American, it is British and American. They don't take no shit, they will wipe people out here. For me the alternative is for the information to trickle amongst the people, so people can do what they did at Storms Delta and people can do what I am doing. I am not privileged but I see that I am benefitted historically from the knowledge that I have accumulated so the best I can do is share it with lighties from Lavender Hill and whoever else wants to learn. The problem with my situation is I am not seen as a success. So, you don't have a mass of kids who are into rap coming and saying ‘hey', because I am going to tell them, ‘as long as you are happy my bra', and nobody wants to hear that shit. They want to know how to get paid and again they are looking for the American version of living. They don't make the connection that you have in the community someone who will try and take that shit from you. So, you move out. And if you have that in the community and you are able to help people then at some point people are all benefitting from this guy, achieving what they are achieving and suddenly we are all living an okay life because we are not chasing that bullshit anymore to be the next Tokyo Sexwale, because they are setting a bad example.
Who we had on the pedestal before is not who we need on the pedestal now. For me Neville Alexander was an example of someone who …. On the weekends he would read under the tree to some kid, get them to learn to read, and that is extremely powerful. Your time! Sometimes people don't want your money. They just want your time. They want you to show an interest. The kids that have been through those sessions to read and they themselves are at UWC and UCT and that for me is the power of it. You pass on what skill you have for people in turn to do the same. There is no reason people should have too much, for the sake of humanity. It doesn't make any sense. At some point that mass of people you are trying to subdue, take the shit from you. For me the words that Manuel said, are just words. For me, be a leader that leads by example. Be a part of the community and actually live with the people. And realize what the people are. You are saying forgive and move on, and the guy is trying to put a loaf of bread on the table. There are a lot of kids who are gathering copper so they can have R50 for bread and milk. It is that fucked up. Three out of Five South Africans are starving. And that is fucking sad in a country with so much wealth. And that bothers me that people will speak that because then you don't know what is going on with he average person in South Africa.
My days of voting are over, I don't vote anymore. I don't believe this is a democracy. If you have a mass of people who vote according to their race or according to their cultural belief, then no thought went into, ‘are you really helping us are you really doing what you supposed to'. They look like me, they speak the same language, okay I will vote for you. How is that a democracy? I will go to the pole and fuck up the ballet, but I am not voting.
Cape Tonian Musician Derek Gripper
Derek Gripper is a Cape Town born classically trained musician who has been undefinable in his approach to music since. His working protocol is: “working from recordings and creating versions that work fabulously on guitar.”
‘One Night on Earth' performs compositions from Malian musicians Toumani Diabate, Ali Farka Toure, Ballake Sissoke and Vincent Segal. The incredible technical sacrifice and performance discipline to perform the music from a 21 string instrument, the kora on a six string guitar impressed the public no end. When people listened to One Night on Earth, they listened to the music of a man overcoming limitation through music.
One Night on Earth by Derek Gripper is a live recording take that happened on one night on earth in a church in Kysna late at night after the traffic sound had died down. On that night Derek Gripper played solo guitar for his sound team and the rest of the world. On this album he has taken the compositions of Malian musicians.
The album begins with a composition titled Chamber Music composed by Ballakke Sissoko. Derek describes the album from which its title track was transcribed as “simply one of the most elegant and beautiful recordings of ‘world music' in recent years.”
On Track 2 Derek delves deep into a delightfully adventurous composition with the performance of an Ali Farke Toure piece called '56. As the liner notes say courtesy of a Lucy Duran interview: “In 1956 during his travels Ali saw a performance of the National Ballet of Guinnea featuring Malinke guitarist Keita Fodeba. Ali began to play using borrowed guitars and found it easy to translate his traditional guitar technique.”
This song depicts a great joy that captures the flailing dance and colourful actions of the Guinnea dancers.
Derek's rendition of this song is relaxed and pleasurable to the maximum and there are moments where you feel the musician himself has handed himself over to the power of the music. We float along.
For me, this opening songs were a lovely introduction, but from Track 3 the musical journey that represents a great breakthrough for Derek truly begins. At once we hear a far more intricate tapesty of sounds. The deep base, the light dancing melody, the two note ostinato's, the groove as light at the flight of a bird and on top of this an almost eastern scalar improvisation,
From track three to seven we hear the musical transcriptions that imitate so convinvingly the music of Mali. Track 3 to 7 are compositions by Toumani Dianete. Derek transcribed his compositions from Kora instrument to guitar and thereby re-created Malian music (note for note) from the musical recording alone. It's a fantastic and daring work.
On this album, we hear music that has travelled from the 21 stringed KORA instrument of the a 72 nd generation GRIOT in MALI to the six stringed GUITAR of the MUSICIAN in CAPE TOWN.
And he has done an amazing job, so much so that the notion that you can only play Malian music if you are from Mali is merely a notion. It is a musical language that Derek has learnt to speak.
And it is such a beautiful language that when he plays these seven songs, they flow together with such meaning that one feels the spirit of Malian music, the holistic values of the griot in the North West of Africa has travelled with the compositions. Derek has both captured the music and feeling of Mali.
The delicate musical nuances of this music so fantastically reproduced on guitar transports ONE on the wings of an eagle to the scenery where this music originated tens of thousands of years ago in one of the most ancient sites of human mythology and habitation. Where the scenery of Mali is marked by desertous and semi desert terrain, the humanity is an example of a transcendental human spirit. There, where there is music there is an abundantly colourful dress, there is theatre, puppetry, wildly exhibitive dance and the enigmatic voices of soaring splendour or guttural relief. Where there is the music of the GRIOT, KORA and MALI, there is a great expressive relief that transcends the musician and his her music speaks directly to the hearts, dreams and souls of the community. The GRIOT, is the SHAMAN, BRAHMAN, the sharer of music and sharer of life, light and love with the community.
On a musical level, Derek Gripper did what many music reviewers and journalists all over the world believe to be impossible, however there is no mystery in what Derek has done and his beautiful written liner notes together with scores and a very helpful website assists anybody to follow his music making process.
In transcribing the compositions of Toumani Diabate, Derek heard “an intricate interplay of themes, cycles and ornamentation.” He heard “an unbelievable wealth of melodic and thematic development.” Derek found that the Malian musicians execution of counterpoint harmony has led to an illusion that there are multiple musical voices in operation when there may only be one voice, the kora.
“The first thing I noticed was how the simple rhythmic counterpoint created the illusion of multiple voices and rhythmic freedom between voices. The nature of the interlocking rhythms between a low and a high part gave the listener the impression of total freedom between voices. This effect was highlighted in pieces like Kaira and Jarabi by the swinging rhythm and the placing of important melodic ideas on the off-beats of swinging rhythms. So while all the parts fitted together in a seamless rhythmic whole, the overall effect was one of the independence of individual lines. This in the language of classical composition, is true counterpoint, and it is this perfection of counterpoint which had drawn me, and many others, to Diabate's work in the first place. This counterpoint is the effect which has made Toumani Diabate seem like a magician in musical circles. His work takes us back to a time when composer, performer and improviser were not such distinct terms.”
Taking prominence in Diabate's composition are “kubengo's.” The kubengo is an ostinato.
“The kubengo is a cyclical phrase which provides the rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment to the melodic phrases of the singer or second kora player. These cycles are juxtaposed with what is called birmintingo or ‘improvisation.'
There is no mystery this is simply the performance of a high art of music making that has its origin in Mali. When a young musician from Cape Town decoded the musical language of Mali he broke the long held taboos of musical superiority and exposed the compositions of Mali as angelic. ‘The music speaks for itself.' ‘One night on earth' has the capacity to transcend its genre.
Derek writes as much in the liner notes:
“A musical work from the European classical canon is referred to as a ‘composition' while a musical work from an oral tradition from, for example, Africa, is ‘folk music' or ‘traditional music,' and it is this that allows us to create the distinction between CLASSICAL MUSIC and WORLD MUSIC. Do we obscure this dilemma by referring to AFRICAN CLASSICAL MUSIC? Or do we get closer to a point where we can drop the first two words and arrive back again at the important one: MUSIC.”
The Sound of Water release by Derek Gripper (8 / 10)
On his album the Sound of Water Derek begins an extended project to transcribe the works of Egberto Gismonti for guitar. He calls this the “Gismonti Project.”
Derek was first introduced to the music of Gismonti by late South African trumpeter and accordionist Alex van Heerden.
“Alex and I worked together for a little over ten years, and during this time our inspiration was both the music of South Africa, especially the Western Cape, and the innovations of Naná and Egberto who reminded us that our local traditions could inspire a deeply personal music; a music without boundaries. Most of our earlier compositions, from Sagtevlei onwards, were very influenced by Gismonti and Vasconcelos - they were like a guiding light to me and Alex - an example of what could be made of "traditional" music.”
Derek Gripper has studied Egberto Gismonti's music extensively over the last ten years leading him to a full scale vision of a transcription, recording and performance project for Gismonti's music. He describes the ‘Gismonti project' as a statement on what the power of the guitar can be (when thought of as a small piano). After Derek had completed 15 transcriptions of Gismonti compositions he recorded five of them to include on his album. The success of this album propelled Derek completely out of the acoustic SA guitarist mould into the category of ‘world musician.'
The inter relationship between the folk music of South Africa and South America, and Cape Town, the land where our first Nation (the bushmen people) settled is displayed. For example on the composition O Trenzinho do Caipira (by Villa-Lobos)
“I am intrigued by this composition's similarity to the Cape koortjie, a cyclical musical song sung and played in churches in the Western Cape of South Africa; a meeting point of European Christianity and African trance dance.”
I asked Derek how these transcription and imitations of Gismonti, assisted him in developing his own voice and releasing his own expression and thus becoming an influence to other musicians?
“I think we all copy. Language, for example, is learnt through imitation. Then we utter our own stories; music too. I think musicians are scared of imitation these days because of copyright being so engraved in our minds. There is a value placed on originality to the extent that we are terrified even to play something that has been played before. I am not sure that this is so in other cultures.
“Improvisation can happen on so many different levels. One can improvise with an existing composition (say Bach) just by nuance. The performance can be different every time and the result totally original and totally free, like Glenn Gould playing Bach. And, some so-called improvisers are totally derivative. While they may be playing a new series of notes every time, they always sound the same. So, I think the copying or not copying of notes is not the issue. The question is, is the spirit free, to delve into the moment, to accept the moment, to be fresh, to feel and to explore; explore an existing work, explore an instrument or a scale, it doesn't matter. A composition, like an instrument, is simply a vehicle. Each performer must bring it alive and that is the juice.
“Gismonti, for example: once he has written a piece - like Frevo; he plays it over and over again. In this sense his performance of Frevo and my performance of Frevo (if I played it) would be no different in terms of potential. Both of us are playing an existing work. Both of us could become dry and boring and stuck and mechanical in playing this work… and both of us could constantly find new ideas and nuance.
“Lately I don't perform much of Gismonti's compositions, but I have learnt a lot from him and his playing has effected, or inspired, my own style. Sometimes I think that other musicians give us permission to do what we really wanted to do anyway.
“I had an interesting experience with Carlo Dominiconi in Turkey. He is a classical guitar composer in his sixties now, but he has really treaded his own way and his playing is very free; very Gismonti even in his own way with the same qualities of dirtiness and texture and all. It was wonderful. We improvised together three pieces at the end of our double bill concert to 500 people in an ancient quarry. Afterwards he said: ‘Y ou have the capacity to improvise maybe better then you know yourself. On stage I was feeling very relaxed with you.... and it happened exactly like it should be... just in the moment.' This made me smile.
“Moments of pure originality can come in many ways, even when playing Bach, but for me I think the path is somewhere more free and open, beyond kora compositions and Gismonti and classical music and even Cape music. I pick up influences like vocabulary. Playing with Dizu this week gave me a new vocabulary. It all goes in and slowly it all starts to come out. But I am a pedant sometimes too (Nietzsche: "sometimes proud of tables of categories") and get caught in catalogues of existing works and creating a kora style on guitar or transcribing Gismonti's complete works. It all goes in, and someday it all will come out. The music is going in the direction of a totally free space where individual works and styles and genres and continents melt away.
“The idea is to get Gismonti's permission to publish a book on his music. Maybe even with text and images - a really beautiful exploration of the music and its stories. I would like to visit him and talk about his compositions and discuss the arrangements, perhaps even get input on them from him. My idea is to move from African Classical Music (which you hear on One Night on Earth (his latest album) ) to a contemporary global African Classical music, to expand the tonal, harmonic, timbral and textural palette of (our music) in order to evolve a new form of African composition or ‘re-composition'.”
Maestro Gismonti's South African Visit :
The Music of Egberto Gismonti : Egberto Gismonti visit to Johannesburg September 7 th 2013
There are musicians that have a massive influence on the rest of the world through the recordings they make. Egberto Gismonti's visit to Johannesburg in 2013 as part of the Arts Alive festival on September 7 th 2013 created an unexpected experience of a great blossoming of truth and transformation.
The organisers paying lip service to BRICS billed Gismonti's visit as ‘South meets South.'
At a production level, Arts Alive was handled in a controversial manner. The city of Johannesburg handed out a tender to run the Arts Alive budget and contract for three years. A conglomerate of entrepreneurs tailor-made to receive this budget was formed and won the three year tender. Their purpose is economic. Thus for our best performers / creators to reach the stage is a maize through the pitfalls of greed, lust and mind control of modern economics. However we still do it.
Maestro Gismonti is a musician from Brazil who has broken through to share his light. Gismonti's performance was like nothing we had ever seen before. He was absolutely himself. And he was challenged.
There was no coincidence that Gismonti's ten string guitar had been damaged in transit giving it a scratchy and very soft sound. He played it however for a few minutes only and picked out an intuitive and poetic guitar phrase which he did not complete. He allowed the sound to hang into an unexpected silence whereupon the sound of a flugal horn from backstage was heard. Hugh Masekela, an apartheid era hero, a man levelled by addiction, was warming up his flugal horn.
With typical Brazilian flare Gismonti had stood up the organisers at the press conference the day before the big show by insisting the driver drop him in Soweto. And then during his performance when the misplaced sound of the flugal horn players' lack of discipline born of an inability to listen filtered onto stage, Gismonti threw up an arm and with his wrist slightly bent like a matador who had avoided the charge of a mad bull, he called upon the audience to stop, listen and interpret. In a moment we were educated.
South Africa has been accused of having an audience listening problem but now it is clear to see that this is a conspiracy of promotion. After this interesting cameo, Masekela's leather hat was seen moving at the side of the stage as he relocated. Gismonti stopped his song and put his guitar down. He said, “I cannot play with this noise I am going to play piano now.”
Gismonti is equally as proficient on piano as guitar. He is a master pianist. He tacked the ivories with the certainty of a great healer reviving a dying body. He pressed all the important pressure points on the piano, using rhythm to go beyond time and using improvisation to bring a sense of miracle. He played the piano as if it were an extension of his body. Driving rhythms were met with melodic refrains, whilst on all occasions he picked out specific notes and chords with the speed and dexterity of a hunter pulling a fish from the river with his bare hands. The overall impression was of frequency. And in the extraordinary healing capacity of his music the philosophical vision of the great Russian composer Scriabin was felt. It was as if a great whirlpool of colour arose from the open top of the grand piano and listening to this music was like looking through a kaleidoscope where we the listeners were transported into that space of creativity.
After the controversial performance of Gismonti in South Africa, Derek Gripper wrote these words to Gismonti :
“You are Brazilian but you have the heritage of Lithuania and Italy. Here you might be considered an immigrant - not a real South African. But yet you make some of your country's most important music! We need to realise that a nation is created by those who share a sense of place. Simple.
“You represent for us a culture of plurality: Egberto Gismonti is a musician we can learn a lot from! You are somebody who can show us how to use the riches of our own country; How to embrace our pluralism; How to use the forms of jazz and classical music to be a vehicle for our own culture; How to innovate; How to celebrate.
“We have not got to a point like in Brazil where we can accept each other as "South Africans" in all our diversity! Especially now, our idea of The Rainbow Nation is not as strong as it was 15 years ago under Mandela's leadership. The apartheid government really destroyed too much of our culture. It separated communities and created a deep wound of inferiority - a complex of inferiority. My experience has been that we as a country (if you can generalise) struggle to evaluate our own culture and music unless it has been endorsed by outsiders. And we have the added problem that the raw materials of our music are largely silenced and scattered. There are only small memories left.
“You are right that we have exchanged a race ideology for an economic one. Or that the racial separation persists because of economic separation. And they worry about safety and economy, but in the words of Churchill: "If we cut funding in the arts then what are we fighting for?" paraphrased.
Gismonti says to Gillman in an online interview EG = mc² : :
“Basically, I'm a piano player that plays guitar. Because of the piano's range I have tuned my ears to bigger intervals than the guitar's intervals. That's the main reason I use more strings. The tunings are different for each guitar, but all of them have high strings on the 7th and 9th.”
“Choro represents the foundation of our music. To play, to understand, to be, to think Brazilian music, everyone must cross by the concept and the music of choro .”
Gillman writes: “Accustomed to the wider range of the piano and constricted by the conventional six string instrument, Gismonti designed guitars with 8, 10, 12, and 14 strings, thereby expanding the intervalic and harmonic potential of the instrument. Approaching the fretboard as if it were a keyboard, Gismonti gives listeners the impression that there is more than a single guitar player .”
“ As a young musician Gismonti taught himself how to play guitar by listening to the solo recordings of Baden Powell and by transcribing sections of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier .'
Derek Gripper writes:
“Gismonti is one of those musicians that is at one and the same time a shining light in the music of one particular country, and the music of a totally original human being who defies nationalistic categorisation. In many respects his music is quintessentially Brazilian, but at the same time it reaches so much further than the music of one nation or history possibly could.
“Beyond the stylistic realm of nation, genres and musical forms, the polar extremes of Gismonti the musician seem to be represented in his two principle instruments: piano and ten-string guitar. His piano playing begins as pristine serenity, but moves towards rolling thunder and expansive improvisation. His guitar playing begins as a raw and untamed explosion, but reduces itself to impossible fragility.
“Gismonti's music is a modern answer to Villa Lobos' guitar music. Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos created a style of guitar music that revolutionised the language of classical guitar. He did this by exploiting the individual characteristics of the guitar in ways that had not been done before. Gismonti's work incorporates the same Brazilian folk influence and guitaristic devices as Villa Lobos, but he adds to this the language of avant garde classical music, minimalism, contemporary jazz, rock, and the guitaristic pyrotechnics of Django Reinhrardt and Jimmy Hendrix.
“Gismonti's music is an example of contemporary African music. Much of Brazilian music is connected to Africa - like his composition Lundu. Lundu was a Brazilian dance that has originated as far South of Africa as Angola. This dance had travelled to Brazil and become its first national dance, later morphing into the Choro and Samba .”
“My approach has been to explore his music as an interpreter - like one would do with Bach etc. My approach has been to use sound and instrument as the means to explore music, and to leave behind abstract theory as much as possible. So I explore the music by ear, on the instrument. I have found that it is easier to get to the heart of the compositions and how they can be translated by just working with the raw sound. The recording has taken the place of the musical score: both as a means to reach audiences, and as a means to learn from and play the music of other musicians. Most of my transcriptions of his work are in rough scores, using a special tablature for guitar due to his use of many different tunings.”
“ Gismonti's primary innovation seems to have been the addition of one or two high strings to the bass side of the instrument. This made it possible for rhythmic drones to be played as low bass notes or as high notes, all by the thumb, leaving the fingers free to play the harmonic or melodic movements. Salvador is a great example of this, played on Solo with an eight-string guitar with treble g string tuned up to A sitting below the usual bass E string. Then another bass string, tuned to low A below this. This configuration was later extended on the ten-string guitar to include a treble g string below the lower bass A and a lower bass string below that (tuned mostly to F or G). The strings are tuned something like this for many of his later ten-string guitar compositions (and arrangements of earlier works): G g A aEADgbe (where bold is low bass string, upper case is normal bass string and lower case is normal treble string).”
When I asked music how deep the Gismonti music went, this is how he answered:
“The music has more texture and fire - more Hendrix than Mozart. Most classical guitarists play in a very different way to Gismonti - very clean - influenced by the piano. His is more visceral and he really uses the sounds and possibilities of the guitar.”
The transcendental qualities of Gismonti's music are evident in any of his over 60 albums. The composition Ruth from his 1996 Alma album is wistful and swirling with imagination. The combined compositions of Maracatú, Sapo, Queimada & Grilo from his No Caipira album is splendid as it moves with gentle horns through an invigorating dance of the soul. On the Rarum collection, Gismonti's guitar playing is exposed in this joyful collection of sound and experience brought to life by the gentle chants of content voices.
Gismonti has helped us move this mountain of perception. This is an invitation to Gismonti to give us another chance. We have the capacity to listen in this land. We have the capacity to transform in this land. The only problem is apartheid never died it simply exchanged its race ideology for an economic ideology. And great musicians, originators or saints create transformation by sharing their truth.
The musical language of truth, harmony, unity, expression and beauty will not be overcome by the dance-whores and Americanisation of modern promoters.
Important Gismonti links provided by Gripper: