Towards the Peace on Earth
                                                                                                   
Mabi Thobejane:

 

“With music, everyday try,” says Mabi. “And pray!”

Mabi is a world traveller with music, all the way since 1965. He lived in Harlem between '72 and '77 and travelled all over America. Like a resident director he can stay behind his drum kit for hours on end. 5,6 hours he says. This is the trance of the music. Mabi is master of the trance and at last he is home. Perhaps there is no irony that the surname of Robert, Trunz sounds like trance? Because Mabi and Robert have become best of friends, business partbers and brothers …

 

Mabi says,

We don't read music, but I am starting now with scales. Scales is the one that builds the music. You have to know your key. From scales you get the chord and from the chords, then you can make a song. Maybe somewhere you want a minor and you put the minor. Maybe you want a sharp, you put a sharp. I am learning now. I am not going to use the book, only to be right. To know this chord, how many key notes are there. Now I am practicing. They say it is never too late to learn. That is why I have got books. Simphiwe is the guy who helped me. He was playing piano, trumpet, percussion and marimba. He told me, ‘You want to know how to play piano, I can see.' I say okay lets go and buy books and we bought books and now I am reading those books. I am far because I am in the music. I know 3/4 4/4 6/4 6/8. I want to get in and then I will sing something with the piano.

Robert says,

Because piano is a percussion instrument. That is the sort of thing, remember Moses when he did Genes and Spirits, he used to ask you (Mabi). Moses did a lot of research, even in studios, you see that in some of the videos, when in the studio and everybody was hanging around with him and he was trying to play the rhythms with his hands.

Mabi says,

And he used to come to me and then he say please can you play those things with the sticks and then he tries it with the piano and he gets it right. He says, ‘Ja Ja no, this thing is here'. He was not jealous. His wife was jealous.

Robert says,

He wanted to know so much knowledge. He loved to have all these people around because he learnt. A lot of the things he did on Genes and Spirits is because he was around. They were recording at EC1 studios of Juno Reactor in London. There was Mabi and Amampondo guys travelling with Juno Reactor. He was learning from them all the different rhythms. I think that is the beauty of the label, the fact that you could get together. We don't have that anymore. I hope that somebody at some stage will see the value of a farm like this, to make a school or a place where young musicians and young artists can access the knowledge of these people around. Mabi can teach.

Mabi says,

Aisha, I just show her a simple rhythm. And she played it and I left her alone to play it. She told herself and she played it. A simple beat but it can mean a lot.

Robert says,

In a school like this you can have different seminars, different weeks in the period where there are school holidays where you can take in younger children 12 – 15.

Mabi says,

I like them from 11 because I started at 11. You are already there. You can take things and put them in your head and come back and remember them. 13, they start jiving. Girls, they like boys and boys they like girls by 13. It is the first time they start to see this thing. They go and concentrate on it and they don't care about school. Most kids at 13 they start to fail.

Robert says,

Schooling on a farm will also be nice, even for a month, the whole vegetable things; the sustainability of a place, and then go back to a normal school and carry something over there. You can't change the world by doing things that are not practical. This is a very practical place.

The thing that I don't want to leave is this thing of poultry because this thing of poultry is going to help a lot of kids and it is going to help the future of the kids to know how to hatch the eggs.

You know what? When I pray for my ancestors I kill chickens. Those chickens open my road. Those chickens they help me to talk to my ancestors and my ancestors can join me quicker. I slaughter at all times.

The thing is I don't stay in one place and my wife goes to church and the kids are very rough. Kids nowadays don't want to do nothing. You can't tell them to do that thing, they will never do it. Now I say because I am travelling, if I had chickens they would die because they don't care about them.

Robert says,

That happened to you before.

Mabi says,

Yes I had about 100 chickens.

Robert says,

My investment was gone, 100 chickens.

Mabi says,

It was my stepbrother and his friend. I borrowed them the incubator. I don't want family in my business, no more.

Robert says,

You were as lucky with business partners as I have been.

Does trance music bare similarity to the traditional African music?

Mabi says, despite Roberts interruptions

Rob changed me to techno music. We were going to the studio, recording and Ben was there from England. Robert said Mabi what about drinking tea or coffee. I said Ja that is a good idea and we went. Robert said Mabi come here, there is a guy in here called Ben in England, come and listen to what is going on. I get in there and listen and say Rob, this is the kind of music that I like. Who is this? He says it is Ben. He says Mabi, can you do something with him now. I said okay, ‘let's do it'.

Robert comes in,

It became the first trance track with African rhythms and the track was called Conga Fury and it made it into films and all kinds of stuff. There was a series of cartoons that came with the Matrix film, and there like everywhere they were playing it. Here Moyo, they used his track in their music. You must go little back. There is another step missing here. Ben, his wife Norma in 1994, came to the studios here and I don't know if you knew Norma before that? After that I invited them to come to the desert, to the Bushmen expedition, so Ben and Norma came. Norma was filming and Ben was recording with me. Ben is quite a spacy character. Whatever music he does you can actually see a sequence of a film in it. His music is very easy to use on films. He writes scripts. Maybe one day he will make his own film. He was doing music for a very famous cartoonist. They sell millions all over the world. Ben is highly known. There was a time when they were touring with Moby, after Moby, the whole thing started to take off. I heard that the people who came for Moby were more into Juno Reactor so that got June Reactor their own tours in United States and all over the place, and especially Japan.

Mabi says,

Finland, Budapest, all over, Zurich, Washington, you name any city… For Juno it was every city.

Robert says,

Mabi used to go around with a High 8 camera, he was filming all this funky, weird shit. I got those cassettes somewhere. When you look at some of the stuff that Mabi filmed over the years it is hilarious, you can make something out of it. A really important, amazing story about Mabi filming his own shit. Do you remember the film about Rowan Atkinson, Mr Bean. You (Mabi) are the closest to that. I must find the cassettes.

What you and Madala do without the computers seems to be trance?

Mabi says,

Ja …

Robert says,

But, but you can't say it is also another kind of trance. It is the origin from which the kids have taken the techno and that style because it is a repetitive thing which actually goes on which actually puts you in to trance without actually having to take drugs. The misconception of techno, even in Durban, the whole doof doof is you have to take drugs. But if you have trance on the level then the repetitiveness is still there but the intensity is different. It is the energy level that is worked up. You can't work it up in the same way with drugs. There is a time when they played and very often I had the most beautiful experiences when Mabi played with Amampondo. With all these people on stage, and there were times with Bruce Wassy and Changuito, Airto, and all these guys together in one big room with nothing else just percussion; the hair stands up. Then you feel this energy that is there. That is the trance music, like when you go to a sangoma gathering or whatever, it is nice.

Mabi says,

In trance you go out, away, nobody can talk to you, only the music will carry you. When that music stops, coming back is like dropping down.

What about the painting? (Mabi paints himself before performing)

Sometimes I thought about changing. Ben said yes. From there, Mandla is a Xhosa guy and he knows how to paint. I said Mandla I want white in there and black in there and a stripe and Mandla did that (pointing to his face). And from there I went on doing that and then I decided I want to be a black and white leopard and then I started painting dots on me. And then I said now I am right now. Without that, I am not Mabi playing. That is where I get into trance, when I painted myself like that and I am wearing the African clothes. Immediately when I wear those clothes and I am on stage I am in trance, I am gone. I come back later. The only way to play in that cave, because when you are in that cave, you don't see nobody, you just listen to what you are doing and that is it. You don't have to look at nobody, you can close your eyes and just go. When I am with Madala it happens every time like that, all the time the same.

You can use trance to communicate with the ancestors instead of killing chickens?

No I communicate with them, I just talk to them, just like I am talking to you. I say now I am slaughtering this for you people to enjoy yourselves. And I am going to dance so help me, dancing on stage and help me in the show I am going to that it must be successful.

Is Madala slaughtering chickens?

He is not slaughtering chickens. Madala is lighting Mpepu. In Durban they have got medicines to light. Me I use chicken. The African healers, every healer I ask they say, ‘you, white chickens'. There is another one that told me, ‘your heart has lots of chickens, what do you want to do with the chickens?' I say. ‘no to sell'. He says ‘you are right'. If you do that you will be alright. That was how I started and there were plenty. We sold others and ate others. If you talk to your ancestors and somebody does a wrong thing behind you, the ancestors can see, they are going to hit that guy.

How is Robert addressing African customs?

Mabi says,

Although he is white, he knows because he has been with Africans. He knows everything. Robert I think of him like a family brother. When I want Robert I ask one person Madala where is Robert and he will tell me where Robert is.


Interview Byron who made Spirit of the Drum album about Mabi Thobejane

Byron says,

When I met Mabi I had a studio already for about ten years and I was writing mainly dance music and one of the things that got me into dance music was the Juno Reactor stuff on Blue Room. I remember Mabi's face on the front of cover, one side black, one side white.

Mabi says,

Black and white piano, black and white keys.

Byron says,

I heard a lot of stuff before that inspired me but when I heard the stuff with Mabi I felt there was something African with real rhythm and heart, the motherland speaking back to us. It felt very good for me at that stage because the psychedelic scene was only really born in '96. It came from Goa and that is where electronic music became spiritual again. Because electronic music had lost that in the 80's. It became about money and sex and those kinds of things. And people searching through techno. But when it went outdoor in India; that is where it went spiritual again. It is in the East. Electronic music had moved to the East and found its spirit. It hadn't really moved much to the West yet. And then it started to move West and I find that Africa is right in the middle of the two. It is like the two different lobes in the brain; the male and the female. And the planets, move like that for me. It is like the nose in-between. The long vibration, it knows. It is balanced. Somehow it felt like music needed to come out of Africa. Because that is where the rhythm has always been. The strong flow of rhythm. If you look at African people dancing. Six months old and that little guy has got rhythm. Mabi really inspired me to keep writing to keep in the scene. And then I met Mabi through Robert and Lianne. Me and Mabi clicked straight away. And I would have loved to write a lot of music with Mabi. At the time, he was working overseas.

Mabi says,

We were working everywhere. If we do America we do America to the see. And if we do Japan, it is Japan at the Fuji Mountain. People will come with the escalator, a lot of people, but they don't see the one that goes down, you see only the one that comes up. That is okay. When Juno is in the trance and the African dance; they like that all over the world. We have been all over, Finland, Iceland, Ukraine…

Byron says,

Wherever Mabi goes he sparks a fire in the people's bellies, they want to move. I have seen Mabi at some events.

(He says to Mabi)

Remember that time we were at the earth dance and I had to stand at the door. Those other ladies were coming and talking to you.

I took Mabi to an Earthdance and he played. It was electronic music and people were dancing and having a good time. And then Mabi was on stage just by himself and the music stopped and just Mabi played with the drums and people danced. He called people from the back with the drums. He would see the people standing and play one type of rhythm that would get the people moving. And he would reel them all in until the people were dancing. He is fire.

Mabi says,

If you use this beat, it is alright for them to dance. Because you don't go faster, you don't go slow, you go just there, just like you walk. It is where they start dancing. Donga toka donga tooka … You saw that in Durban? That is the dance. In Juno the electronics they produce is what we record. Me I am playing with that. It becomes nice because I can twist the people. That music we did you can't twist the people so I have to twist the people live. Show them the way. It is like magic. That is what Juno Reactor is about.

Byron says,

Dancing is like medicine, it is like a spiritual process that people go through to dance and that is how it has always been since the beginning of time. It was not because people wanted to look flashy at a club, it is spiritual, they want to heal themselves; they want to celebrate. It is something that came from inside. And Mabi taps into that, the real humanness, the real soul and heart of it and that is how he gets people moving. He uses that energy; that flow. And then I felt that this is what music is lacking; this kind of fire, this kind of inspirational energy that is so human to us and then I searched all over for music like that and samples like that and artists like that, that I could mix into my music. I searched into sample CD's worldwide and no one had done samples on proper African rhythms because I wanted to put that in my music and Mabi was busy and all over the place. And there was a gap and I felt we needed to document Mabi and get him out there and get it into all the studios. People can start feeling that real rhythm, that rhythm that has got heart and soul in it. At that time Mabi was really busy he did the music for the second Matrix movie in the part where there was that big party…

Mabi says,

Matrix the first one there is a song there, Conga Fury, we played with Ben. And then Reloaded; we made percussion there. On Reloaded we put every percussion there, the whole percussion is me and Ben. And then the big band, the orchestra of Los Angeles, the guy Doug, he was there also when we do that thing. He puts some things there, some percussion, other music and the orchestra. It was so nice for me to experience. My bass drum, when it says goom; they have another thing that says goom. They were asking me who made this drum. I say ‘I made that drum.' They say, ‘no man that drum' … Because I can play that big drum here, you will hear it at the gate if there is a big sound system. When I play goom ta ta tak goom ta ta tak, people they move and that is the right thing.

Byron says,

Mabi was busy working on the music for Matrix. He was coming back and was going to be here for a short while, I had a little gap so I said Mabi I am booking you as soon as he came back. He booked on the flight, he was back for one or two days, so we went into the studio for one or two days, just recording all the rhythms, documenting each one. And then I spent months cutting them up so they can fit on the samplers, packs for different samplers. I spent about six months working on that. There are lots of rhythms, separate mics on different drums. And then I recorded Mabi doing different rhythms with the voice. Even when Mabi is talking to us, he says it is like this daga doo. It is his voice already, it is coming from inside, he doesn't even need drums. Just that is beautiful. We documented that and I was in Cape Town, I had been promised by one of the sample people that they were going to take the project. They are pretty much the only company in South Africa that distributes samples and had the monopoly on the market. At that time you couldn't really get much downloaded stuff, you had to buy disks for your studio. I didn't get a contract with them but they said of I print that amount, they would take it all. After I went back to them, I went with the boxes in the car. And they said to me we are not going to take this project, it is in competition with the project we are about to bring out. Bastards! I had given them the idea and they made an African sample disk. At the time I had put all my money into printing the disks. Also I had another project I had just released. A DVD of all the visuals I had made in combinations with the sounds. #D landscapes that were moving to the sounds. I played at Vortex down in Cape Town, the first guy to play his own visuals and DVD's together in front of a crowd. I ran out of money and there was nothing I could do. I decided I need to get a farm because I always wanted to live outside of the city and get settled. I was never really relaxed, I was always trying to write music and make money and all this kind of stuff. I moved up to Joburg and it took me four years to get a farm. I am living in a big tent. I have started to buy equipment again.

Drum Spirit DVD

It is called Drum Spirit. It is still very useable information. It is ancient new rhythms, a part of who we are. They will always be relevant.

Can you convert it to education?

Yes I would love to take it further and work with Mabi. I wouldn't know where to go right now. My head has been in making money. I have only just bought equipment again, and now I am sitting next to Mabi. It is like a full circle that has come back again.

Mabi says,

The wheel goes that way. It is round. When you start here, you come back there again.

What is the spirit of the drum?

Mabi says,

From the ancestors, they are the ones who drive you, because when I am on stage, it is like somebody is on this side and somebody is on that side. When I look at it, it is like there are people next to me and that feeling makes me comfortable and to play and listen to whatever we do. And even when I drop in, drop out, sometimes I am afraid of getting in. By then I will be helping myself just to tighten the rhythm, with the whole body. Not one foot, but the whole body. The soul is the dance the from the ancestors. They keep me moving. Tiki Tiki doom doom, katika doom doom. You see the change. The ancestors are putting me into there. Sometimes I ask myself how did I play that by the show, I don't know. I say the show was nice, but which song was the right one. I don't know. It means I was in trance. They put me in and they left me there. So I must look for my place, whdere am I, oh I am on the drum. Sometimes it is like I am watching. I believe in the ancestors. And they like to dance. If I play my drums, they dance with me. That is how I get into trance to be with them, to connect with them. And the people are dance, holding each other, like the show at the Rainbow. People go like a train. It is funny, they start from this side and then they look at the door and then from there they go round. They didn't want to leave. They enjoy it. I don't know how many pictures they took because I was with the African attire.

Byron how did you get with Robert?

I had some CD's from the Blue Room label and they were one of the pioneering labels from the underground dance scene, but not just the techno scene, but the scene that had some magic in it. To meet him was amazing to me, it felt like a really good connection. He is a beautiful man.

Mabi says,

Robert means a lot. More than what he is. He collected me from, I was going to die if Robert was not there. Robert was my fan first. He liked me too much. Meeting me we connected just like a nail and a finger. Robert took me, I was sick in Durban. He took me to England to go and meet Dr Michael. They fix me nice nice. That guy got me right. Until everything was fine, even my temperature was down. Everybody wanted Robert. Now I said me I will stay with you, just to feel him. Robert I take him like a, let's forget him about the culture, but I take him as my younger brother who is clever and I believe in him. I can see a light. And now he came with other people and now I am learning from them. It is the beginning of the right thing. Which is good. We can meet each other and share sounds together. I feel very good, more stronger. Lets do it together, because together we can make it. If I am not there and you are not there, who is there? There is nobody there. So, we must all go in there and check what is happening. I thank God. If God can help Robert this second time. Let him make this second time, first time. It must look like it is the first time not the second time.

 

 

 

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