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Start with the Heart

I couldn't, I wouldn't, I shouldn't but I will, I must, I can. AND I DID —for the me that resonates in you.

Our Story of Southern African jazz' is a story that IS because it is a story that has become its writer. I was awakened by the patience, understanding, tolerance and forgiveness of many jazz musicians, jazz ambassadors, jazz warriors and jazz professors. I address you as a jazz messenger and a jazz disciple undergoing my own transformation into a jazz musician. As much as my life has been formed and shaped by SA Jazz, SA Jazz has been formed and shaped by different lives lived in every multi coloured shade of human experience. There is truth, acceptance, warmth, generosity and transformation in this music. SA Jazz is built on the foundation of her musicians, her champions, brothers, sisters, comrades and friends. SA Jazz's open heart welcomes so many searching youths from all walks of life, as in this company, one can really find oneself.

Jim Bailey was an African adventurer. Right at the end of his life he befriended me and made a massive impact. He was the first to introduce me to great friendships with African people. He showed me some of the incredible mysteries of our ancient history, the great jewels of learning that lie in African travel, the power of music to transform one, the unity that exists in diversity and the way to present it to the media so as to bring about an increase in consciousness and awareness. His influence rubbed off on me. Jim had an incredible appreciation for the street theatre of life and particularly the unique life of an African City.

The jazz world opened its arms to me in Cape Town 1999. There was an ad on the radio for a jazz gig happening at the 'Kraal' in Gugulethu. The Kraal was a large venue in the township with a very long and well stocked bar. It used to be known as the Yellow Door. It holds a mythological status in the history of Southern African and Cape jazz for what lies beyond the Yellow Door was often a baptism of jazz.

Winston Mankunku Ngozi and his big band were playing South African jazz. They kept a giant hall packed with jazz lovers, totally entertained, totally enthused, totally liberated. Where there is liberation, there is freedom. All barriers are broken. This fun filled and freewheeling sound caught me, like a bear catching a salmon. Winston Mankunku was playing alongside his brother Thulie Ngozi (trumpet). They enjoyed an ego-free zone, which is the essence of Winston's music. Other musicians would shine and sparkle in his presence, such as Tete Mbambisa (piano) and Spencer Mbadu (bass). Mankunku was a very prolific composer and performer. After seeing him perform once I dedicated my career to jazz journalism. The jazz music that Winston Mankunku and the big band had played that night out at the Kraal had given me a sense of purpose. The tool I had at my disposal was a pen. South African jazz is intuitive. I began searching on the net for jazz journalism. The first jazz word I learnt was ‘free-wheeling.’ Together with Iain Harris we began a monthly series of columns for the Big Issue Magazine in Cape Town. Not knowing too much about the music, we studied the hats at first. We wrote...

Since its beginning, jazz has worn the panama hats of big-band swing, the stetsons and afro-berets of bebop, the inverted-Andy-caps of fusion, the colour-blaze brim of African, and the bandanas of smooth. And SA jazz follows this trend! Many musicians wear many different hats. Some of the horn players wear the peaks and dambuza's, some of the pianists wear fez's and 'sportis,' some of the bass players have got brimmed hats, some drummers floppy hats and others have no hat.

What does that prove? SA jazz learns, morphs, changes and remains fresh, always building on what has come before. Many new jazz names and albums popped up.

Winston Mankunku’s album 'Molo Africa' won the SAMA award for best traditional album. And Jonas Gwangwa continues with his golden touch. Multi-instrumentalist Zim Ngqawana touched our hearts with his wild and adventurous jazz, Hugh Masekela’s 1997 album 'Black to the Future' shows a glorification of the popular music of youth culture, mixing up the old and the new, mbaqanga, jazz and kwaito and McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Moses Molelekwa and Marcus Wyatt all ignited the scene with fresh and often funky interpretations of old styles with new sounds, acknowledging the past and experimenting with the cutting edge...

From the profound melodies to the wild and free playing, swift syncopation and raging expression of virtuosos with a furious edge and enthusiasm for improvisation; this music is heard, lived and loved. The South African sound brings all these influences together with its own individuality, its own style, its own invention. There is one foot in the roots and the other in the passion; creating this everlasting raw, fresh and innovative sound of African jazz

 

 

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I got so deep into the story I had to go all the way. The learning of music is the learning of living with and loving of self. This like the musical instrument may be a lifelong dedication. 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. When I picked the trumpet up, it picked me up. Once you turn to the light you can never turn back. 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 one finally becomes present, on the path straight to awareness!’In every love lies the seed of our growth.

On Valentines Day 2009, the day of Syd Kitchens only ever wedding, Madala spoke to me. He said, 'What do you need?' I said, 'I need a trumpet teacher.' He said, 'Do you have a trumpet?' I said, 'Yes.' He took me to Eric Duma at 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 well used. At Stable Theatre there are many master entertainers, Thabani Mohlobo has been there since the beginning. He gave me a grand welcome. He said, 'This is your temple.' Stable Theatre has been a temple for many. With a history dating back to Kesi Govender, Stables breathes music. 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. I sat with Eric at Stable Theatre for lessons on trumpet. Eric Duma is resident teacher of trumpet. Eric is in the army band and performs locally with Just Friends, uMkhumbane and Madala Kunene, He performs alongside saxophonist S'thembiso Ntuli. Eric taught me trumpet in the African way. What is the stature of the music educator? It is a vocation. I have come to see the SA jazz musicians as a great family, a brother and sisterhood. I see this great family as a soul cluster of light and love warriors making available and passing on the keys of our SA jazz language.

 

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