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Music Education The African Jazz Way

A presentation to improve composition and performance

South African jazz took me on the journey of 'Finding Oneself'. 'Finding Oneself' was the prophetic title of Moses Molelekwa's debut album. At some point I followed my calling. I began the journey of learning to play music. I started with a trumpet. When I picked the trumpet up, it picked me up. Once you turn to the light you can never turn back. It has been my experience that anger is the manifestation of neglected potential. Fulfilment on the other hand is realising potential. Music is a beautiful meditation. It manifests self worth. Awareness leads to transformation. It is as simple as that. They key to South African jazz music is South African Jazz musicians and those that have mastered their instruments.

Music provides the means and the medium to being one's authentic and sovereign self. Sovereignty can mean‘knowing yourself and being yourself.' It is an international ideology that is the foundation of entire generations of thought. In Southern African the ancient Bushmen philosophy of XARO and the indigenous African philosophy of uBuntu encourage individuals to have the space of ‘becoming.' You will see this trend in French existentialism, the urban movement of jazz, the hippies, new age, self help, ancient Eastern religions, modern day mysticism and 'living in the now'.

Music is a medium of expression, and a medium of mindful expression at that. Music breaks into silence with sound. Music goes beyond art and beyond geometry. It is a channel to the most high. Making music is a powerful technique in the ‘journey to becoming oneself.'

Like in ‘knowing myself,' in music there is only truth. It cannot be faked. As we let go of being right we allow ourselves to be wrong and it is there we experience education. Achieving our fullest human potential has a holistic effect of activating a harmonic universal vibration that is in sacred proportion to all of creation we see around us.

Music is a channel of change: thus through music we are not only able to change ourselves, we are able to change our relations with others and send ripples of change through the vast interconnected fabric of our existence.

When I picked the trumpet up, it picked me up. Once you turn to the light you can never turn back. It has been my experience that anger is the manifestation of neglected potential. Fulfillment on the other hand is realising potential. Music is a beautiful meditation. It manifests self worth. I have experienced the light of love bursting through the cloud cover of the ‘ego' and or ‘the pain body' and the noise of the mind, self-defeating thoughts, regrets, and negativity… and through music I have finally become present, on the path straight to awareness!'

Change is the only constant in life, and one way to be that change is by activating your potential through music. The powers of music can be experienced at every level. Take for example the music of nature. Listen to the sound of the wind chime, singing its improvised song to the tune of nature, hear the silences between the sounds and perhaps even a bird call in the tree. The true powers of music can only be experienced at the level of one-ness, whereby the part becomes an aspect of the whole . As an example to sing like a bird in the tree I cannot overpower the sound of the wind rushing through the leaves of the branches.

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Durban Stable Theatre: The Stable Theatre is a converted fire station that looks like a church. It is wedged between highways and railways, semi circled by a crescent moon of fever trees. It is in the epi-centre of Durban's City. Musicians, actors, dancers and artists sit and practice in all locations around the theatre, and in the rehearsal rooms. There is a ballroom dance floor overlooking the railway line. It is / was / and always will be well used. Stable theatre has been a temple for many. With a history dating back to Kesi Govender, Stables breathes music. Thabani Mohlobo has been there since the beginning. Thabani Mohlobo does sign painting to make a living. He is a great guitarist and vocalist. He is also a renowned actor, author, play-write and story teller and keeps the musicians amused on many occasions.

uKusa Durban school of music: ukuSa is translated to mean 'dawn.' Founding creator of ukuSa Professor Betsy Oehrle has said, “Over the past 26 years there have been many well known musicians who not only gained their first teaching experience at ukuSa, but always enjoyed the opportunity of sharing their music in the ukuSa concerts.” Some of these students include Johnny Mekoa, Zim Ngqawana, Prince Kupi, Feya Faku, Nishlyn Romanna, Natalie Rungen, Mageshan Naidoo, Phelelani Mnomiya, Debbie and George Mari, Shiyani Ngcobo, Roland Moses, Sazi Dlamini, Lex Futshane, Bongani Sokhela ... and the list goes on

Saxophonist and UKZN Professor, Doctor Jeff Robinson is a member of the ukuSa board. He gives of his time freely to teach in this outreach programme. He has taught at the universities of Zululand and KwaZulu Natal. He has worked with the peacekeeping troupes during KZN’s unrest of the mid 90’s. He has documented his thoughts regarding the evolution of ideas in music into a published a PHD. He is in the final years of his career in South Africa.

Professor Betsy Oehrle is a singer and founder of the ukuSa music school.

In an interview on 09/10/09, she said:

Education has always been my interest. It is the field I have my greatest enthusiasm. If music education is presented in a creative way and makes use of composition and improvisation and performance it can be extremely affirming to the people involved.

All people have an innate sense of creativity. Once creativity is allowed to develop and progress then the person will be a more developed person. It is a way of developing a more holistic person tapping in to their creativity and encouraging development.

I think we should be used to the word ‘musics' and start to get used to the fact that there are many kinds of ‘musics' in the world. Western educators primarily talk about classical because that is what they came through, but there are many kinds of music. They are all different languages. Music is not a universal language. William Wordsworth Longfellow put that in a romantic poem a few years back. And they picked that up and put that in music history text. I used to read that and feel very good about that. What is universal is the musical behavior.

Learning through compositions: Compositions profound a basis for the jazz standard. I graduated from uKusa with 5 years of cetrification with two legends, both saxophone players from the old school. Makasonkhe was powerful. He is an elder and his saxophone playing is of the fine tradition. He is strong on his instrument, he improvises freely and has a warm and loving tone. He keeps a steady tap and has performed on the professional stage. Brotherton Khuzwayo hails from Chesterville. Brotherton's style comes from an earlier African swing period, he is fantastic at improvising to African swing music. He is a living example of how in jazz,we never stop learning. Brotherton has preserved a uniquely African way of entertaining on the alto saxophone. The speed with which he can rise and fall on the keys is of high quality. Brotherton's saxophone is kept together by prestik and sticky tape. Sometimes it doesn't play at all and sometimes it honks out the most unexpected of sounds and that is why every Saturday in class Dr Robinson lends Brotherton his spare axe. Brotherton holds a players history of South African jazz with such enthusiasm and humility that it is remarkable. When the horns blow together in class, they blow together over South African Jazz standards. The standards have included Skokiaan, Crossroads, Mannenberg is where it is at, Tsakwe, Yakhal' Inkomo to name a few.


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