Home to the Story of South African Jazz
Interview Rashid Lanie
Organisations are not really interested in the culture and developing it. They are just interested in the money and getting paid for the position that they hold. But they are not interested in promoting the culture of jazz none of them.
They say they are doing workshops. The concept of workshops came from people like me and the organization I represent SAMA South African Musicians Alliance.
There is nothing wrong with being a capitalist but standing behind this socialist paradigm where you are not helping people but just using them as a front to show them how good you are, is selfish.
SAMA was dissolved in favor of MUSA and then MUSA was dissolved into CWUSA, a home for musicians and a resource centre. Now we have MASA. It is at least more proactive. But a union can only be as effective as their membership.
Jazz is in serious trouble because what is happening is that twenty years ago jazz used to occupy 20% of the music market, and now it is only occupying 1% worldwide. Can you imagine the level of competition that musicians are engaged in to get a record deal from Concord? These are big record labels. When Miles and them were doing jazz they were on CBS records, Atlantic Records, Verve was the big one and Blue Note and those don't exist. From a corporate financial perspective jazz is dying a painful death. But, there is a huge interest level. One of my students just left for Berkeley about a week ago and he writes back and tells about the young musicians, teenagers playing jazz music like you can't believe. That tells you that there is a strong demand for students to learn this music.
Jazz is like classical music, it holds capacity with youngsters because it is such an honorable ambition to have to be learning this great music of the masters, both classical and jazz. But, the market place is bad. In Pretoria there are two jazz institutions a jazz school and a jazz tech, but not one jazz club. How can you make sense of that?
Today clubs are monopolized. The Orbit for example has the same bands playing over and over. A lot of foreigners go to Orbit and the food is good. On the weekend that place is always full. There are a lot of people complaining and saying why are we listening to the same band when there are so many other jazz musicians in town? What is going on?
And there is no form of jazz like South African jazz anywhere in the world. SA jazz is totally unique. It offers new ways of perceiving jazz which people think is American. I remember years ago when I was in Washington and I was playing with Victor Masondo at the Duke Ellington Jazz festival and we were playing with the United Nations Jazz Orchestra and there were guys asking us, Do you know Winston Mankunku? They said, Yeah we been listening to that brother for years. Our music is making in-roads internationally and we don't even know about it. Unless we have an avenue to funnel the music internationally nothing is going to happen.
I went to Miriam Makeba's funeral held in the Coca Cola dome. It was a last minute decision by the ANC to get the dome to honor her. Because of her the ANC was able to land on a foundation overseas because of what she had done for that. The place was half full with people who loved Miriam. Our politicians have this thing about taking care of our artists. They gave R10 million to our legends but only a select few. There are legends all over the country from PE to CT DBN JHB.
If you don't honour the culture of your music, dance or acting you are slowly knocking the nails into the coffin that will bury that art form.
Safro Jazz or local jazz does not have any support. This is unique music. I am talking about a new music something our government should be grabbing with both arms. Lets promote this and get the practitioners of this music at the forefront and support them. Let them be ambassadors and pay them to go on tour all over the world with the SA flag. This is our music.
Bossa Nova means New Beat. So Danco Samba sings the jazz and samba the jazz and samba. The chorus goes Jet from Rio nonstop USA. This new sound came one day and it is clear that it is here to stay. They are celebrating the fusion of jazz and samba. Bossa Nova is a samba music but it is a slower samba!
Jobim basically fused the jazz of America with Brazilian rhythms that came from Angola and Mozambique. That is where you have the salsa style of music called Mozambiqu é !
When you have Minister Mthethwa trying to suck up to legends then there is something seriously wrong with our Minister of Arts and Culture. He wants to introduce a Sollywood to South Africa which is based on Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood. Seriously? There is no historical dimension to the words he offers. He wants to suck up to the legends so that he is sitting in favor with them and they don't question his credentials as Minister of Arts and Culture. A wand was carved out of the wood of the magical Holly tree. and the tree is a magical tree so the wand is a magical wand wood from the Holly tree creates the Hollywood and the wand creates the magic that is why it was called Hollywood. What magic comes from Sollywood it sounds more like Silly Wood. And the same with Nolly and even Bollywood. They are riffing off the word Hollywood, but they have no idea where it comes from. You totally dilute the meaning of why Hollywood is caused Hollywood.
If you don't have a Minister of Arts and Culture that creates art policies to identify arts in our country that have a very unique stamp like for example Ladysmith Black Mambazo. All the African countries are rooted in strong unique vocal music. That is something you want to support and export worldwide. But, we also have jazz music in our country. Why are we not supporting promoting and creating ambassadors of this music to go all over the world and create the same thing that LBM are doing.
Jazz in America was a reaction to the status quo of the American system. It started in the Cotton Fields when they were singing bluesy melodies influenced by the music of West Africa, Nigeria, Senegal and so forth. People were singing their sorrows through the influence of music they brought from West Africa. The blues as it was called the basic melodies were then used to express our black people expressed their exploitation. They were so oppressed the music allowed them to breath and exhale.
Jazz started in brothels. There were brothel houses and they needed entertainment for visitors that would come there. A lot of the black musicians were taught by missionaries. They would go to the churches to pick up the instruments. The Western instruments merely became a conduit or a vessel for them to still express the pain. Now they were using the bluesy melodies on a Western instrument and that was the beginning of jazz. It was more an expression of oppression, pain and God Hear us. People are speaking through their pain to free them from the tyranny of the environment they find themselves. That was a reaction to the environment.
Salsa and Mbaqanga have the same meaning a stew. You jam together and create a melody.
These things need to be taught in the jazz universities but they are teaching them the jazz of America which is unbelievable. This is where the SAJE maddens me. You can talk about American jazz because we were influenced by that. But first sweep your own back yard. We have to look at the foundation of this music and offer it to our young musicians. Here is an incredible resource of music this is how the chords and melodies work but let's see how you can take his into nirvana a whole new different direction. But, if we are not thinking like that from our minister of arts and culture to our schools we are constantly going to be copying and following, being treated by the promoters like second rate vagrants and beggars. Because there is no infrastructure to access support. Culture is a part of who we are.
Estudio were great Robbie Jansen, Tony Cedras and a white guy on violin and Russel Herman as well. They played a mixture of jazz, classical and local music. It was amazing and not written down. It was sad that nothing ever came and they never recorded. Their concerts were like an ECM concert in the style of Jan Garbarek. And Keith Jarrett.
I always tell young musicians to focus on their own music. One of my students was Moses Molelekwa. And he wanted to go to Berkeley. And I told him I think Berkeley is great but if you go to Berkeley you are just going to become another sausage factory of Berkeley but you have got so much talent and you can work with the music that is here at home. He got a scholarship to go to Berkeley and he turned it down. Look what beautiful work he started making here through his own genius. Sadly his life was cut short but the way forward is for this to understand.
Robert had a great idea. He was supporting local music. He saw the talent in Moses. The danger when you set foot into an industry like music or culture and you only think of a person instead of actually thinking about the culture, when that person is gone you are gone. You can use this person as an ambassador but we have to think of the big picture.
If you think how we impact on each other when we do what we do. Anybody can play fast and millions of people can play jazz and they are ten years old. So if you have an attitude thinking that you graduated from school with a degree and that paper gives you the right to be arrogant you have a long road ahead of you and a big revelation to hit you on the head soon. And one of those things is the economy in this country. Jazz is not supported at all economically. There are no clubs, it is not mentioned on our radio stations Minister does not talk about jazz as a cultural heritage. There is a decades long history of it. And there are not promoters event organizers championing the cause of local music. We need the support of the official governmental promotional levels of our society as well.
They are captured by greed and self aggrandizement that is why they are killing our music. We have had giants of our music that have died Duke Makasi, I grew up playing with him. When he died he was pennyless, I created concerts and festivals so he could have money to be buried. I also created money for his family to feed themselves for three months after his death so they could find a way. The Minister hears these stories and he says Shame and chooses a few to individuals to give R10 M to, but he does not realize he is dealing with a culture.
There is a culture of people who have all suffered under this oppression. Because he is choosing individuals the culture continues to exist. You have to change that culture and that whole paradigm so that no legends or musicians would suffer under those conditions.
Par for course in our country right now is musicians being robbed for works they have done. Many people are not getting monies from these Legend hand-outs. But still you cant do hand-outs. You have to create some system that will allow the culture to find its feat and create a foundation and build something on it. Hand-out is band aid on a sore and they cause of the industry is never dealt with.
The very culture of gyspy is nomadic. It is in their very nature to find ways to exist and survive.
We have to change education to effect Sa jazz styles. We have to have our musicians playing SA music. We have to find some sense of connection. Where is the connecting point?
Right now we have SA jazz music we can play but we are living in environment where we are doing other kinds of music to survive. I have a Zulu influenced piece of music and I have to sustain myself in order to out that out there. It is a delicate balance musicians are not getting support from the government, they are not getting support from promoters. NGOs and organizations that recognize the value of local music and pushing local music and putting their money where their mouth is.
Do you know Barry Harris he is one of the last living legends of Bebop. A hard-nosed bebop jazz lover and purist of that era. He critics all the universities in America in teaching jazz with no soul. He was taught through mentorship and learning on the bandstand. He created a jazz club in the 80s. And he listens to those guys playing funk or fusion. And he says to them pack up your instruments get them out of here. He chased them out of the club. This is a jazz establishment. If you don't know how to play jazz don't come and mess up don't this stage.
He gives workshops and shows you the logical relationship of how scales work and how you can play a scale using two chords. It is so musical he shows you how to go from one melody and smoothly to the next and be a player without actually needing any other players around you because you understand the relationship of music and melody and form.
Feya says, Universities they teach you scales and all that stuff but they don't teach you how to apply them. The unsung heroes : In SA it is very bad.
A comparable situation in SA is Barry Harris because there are universities and institutions supporting jazz in America. But here it is falling short because a lot of American Jazz is loosing an important organic element to how the jazz is created. One of the pianists is Fred Hersch. He wrote an autobiography of how he grew up playing jazz. He was taught on stage, he wasn't taught going to university and College and he decries the same thing Barry Harris is talking about learning with people shouting at him telling him he is playing the wrong version, and the way he learnt. His biggest hero in jazz was Jacky Beard. Fred Hirsch is playing solo piano because of Jacky Beard and Jacky Beard was a crazy Einstein professor kind of person all over the place, but brilliant genius. Fred plays solo because of him.
Look at Herbie Hancock his mentor was Donald Byrd. He would talk to Herbie and tell him to go there and even told him to buy a sports-car.
Lex continues the story, Herbie wanted to buy a station wagon and Donald told him to go for a sports car. Donald Byrd told him when he recorded Watermelon Man, don't let them take your publishing. That's where they make a lot of money. When Herbie spoke about standing on the shoulders of giants he was talking about people like Donald Byrd. Chick Corea was saying the same thing about Thelonious Monk.
How do these guys get to sound the way they sound?
Cyrus Chestnut tells a story. Sarah Vaughan comes to give a workshop and says I need a pianist. And everyone says Cyrus. He is sitting there and Sarah Vaughan says everyone talks very highly of you.' He says thank you Ms Vaughan. She says do you know Stellar by Starlight, and we will do it in Db! He said he knew he was in trouble but thought it would come to him. He was crashing like nobody's business. I don't think she did it to expose him. For a lot of musicians who read out the reel book. They don't even know that it is in Bb major. They think it is E min7 flat 5. The reel book culture has distorted a lot of the jazz culture. Cyrus was lost. So she said to him what song do you know? He chose one and they did it. She stopped in the middle of the solo and said to him can you play your own solo. Cyrus had played the solo that Jimmy Rawls had played on her 1967 version of the song. Sarah Vaughn is a pianist herself. You don't mess with Sarah. Can you imagine the singer telling you play your own solo. Cylis said he was so embarrassed and it totally leveled him and it was the last day he carried any arrogance about who he was. We are suffering today under the arrogance of young musicians.
Feya says, I don't go out I am better off at home.
We were in a jam and Randy Brecker was playing in the jam. After he played, this young lighty an 18 year old from college came there and he wanted to play. And he played beautifully he knew the changes and when he was done who looked at Randy for approval. Randy called him and took him to the room next door and started talking to him and giving him a mentoring workshop right there. When he came out he was beaming. But that kid was so respectful to Randy already that for Randy he was I want to help that kid as much as I can.
Today they are competing with the elders the one that have gone before they don't know what life struggles we have had to deal with. Bernard Shaw said youth is wasted on the young and this is what is happening here. Youth is being wasted on them because they are not seeing a golden opportunity to connect and hook up with elders that can show them things that are beyond playing.
There is another reason why there is a disconnect. Our arts and culture has no real understanding he doesn't speak about arts in our country like an artist or someone who understands about art. This is ridiculous. They should start teaching about the history of SA jazz music.
Feya says, Bheki said the problem is that politicians are looking over arts and culture and it should be the other way round.
Our politicians are celebrities. Did you hear about this politicians ?? Politicians are the celebrities in our country and where does it leave artists trying to eek out a living playing music we love and expressing the going on of our society.
I am talking about recognition of your achievement in the arts and not about the toys that you have got. I taught in the LA Unified district for three years and I see the level of respect young musicians have for their elders. You see these great musicians but they start somewhere.
There is this New York guy who lives on Long Island. In the basement and he has got all these instruments fender Rhodes and vintage synthesizers and he is a tenor saxophone player. He practices seven days a week eighteen hours a day. He met Bhakiti in the super music and asked to come and play with him. That guy was insanely good. His whole approach was honoring something new that he heard and seeing the practitioners, his whole approach was civilized humane and humble but when he took out his horn he became again. We lack that here in our country - a certain humility. There is an arrogance in our youth that is so toxic that it makes you sick in your stomach. And then you have people who are promoting certain young musicians to play at certain clubs because they have certain agenda's. They have access to the money and access to the venue but they only hire certain young musicians. All the musicians who have been living here for decades are side-lined and that hurts this whole culture of jazz and live performance. And needless to say we also have eth competition of Djs and is a major reason why live music is dying. The Americans always think ahead. A lot of young musicians they go to Berkeley and are live musicians and are learning how to be their own Djs. People are dancing and they are playing jazz over the DJ.