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Rainmakers : A Music without borders...


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Interview Baenz Oester 04/12/2014

I have been twice to Grahamstown festival, 2011. That is where I met Afrika and Ayanda. I spent a great time there getting to know the major young jazz musicians from South Africa. We came back with the Rainmakers this year and both of them were really great experiences. Great players and great beings, so that is lovely. Nowadays there are quite a few collaborations going on, also through the initiative of the Birds Eye jazz club in Basel and one person from the African Institute of the University of Basel, his name is Vite Arlt. He is also inviting musicians.

I see you did a live recording at the Birds Eye … will you do more?

I never collaborated directly with Vite for the Rainmakers. He gave me some help, because he knows some administrational details he knows better. And I call him for advice. One time he was also using Afrika and Ayanda when they came here for the first time so we can share some expenses. We never really collaborated.

Performing at the Birds Eye again in February?

We have ten gigs coming up in February. We have played at the Willisau festival in August this year. And this was a great gig and it has been recorded by the radio. And I am just about to finalise the recording treatment and I am about to find a label for this. And we are going to bring out this as our next publication. Live in Willisau, hopefully I can get this out sometime next year. I haven't really found the record company yet, so this will be the issue for the next days. I will have to finalise the master tonight, so after tomorrow I will start looking into that. One of the tracks is on the website, Amsterdam. (Composition by Jacques Brel). This will be the opening track of the CD.

Listening to this track online: Deeply sonorous, rising out of the mysterious. It is a sweat and simple melody, a folk song. It is also known under other names. In Celtic, English folk music tradition it is called Greensleeves and Greensleeves of course was performed by John Coltrane. An upfront version, jazz upfront and more than one horn. On Amsterdam, Gaenz takes the melody at a very slow pace, creating space for Ayanda, Baenz and Afrika to contribute in a sometimes extended soundscaping. It keeps us this melancholic and sedate path.

African rhythm, how is it playing with South Africans is there a rhythmical change?

Our rhythmical exchange is based on jazz rhythm. The four of us before anything else are jazz musicians and we basically relate through our jazz experience and then of course Afrika and Ayanda have grown up in South Africa and are very familiar with all kinds of African rhythms and I am a little bit because I used to play with a West African guy for quite a long time back in the late 90's and early 00's together with Malcolm Graaf so I got curious in African rhythms and did my own research. I would never call myself an expert but have my own ideas. We basically relate through jazz rhythm.

South African jazz they say the one is up but for White people their one is down and they work hard to catch that, do you find that?

I have felt and heard this also in other African music, that the one is light, not heavy and of course I tried to get into that which is a little more difficult for us, it is not our culture, our culture does have a heavyweight on the one, that is true. This idea is very inspiring to us.

Have you come across Makaya Ntshoko?

Yes I played a gig with him and during our first tour with the Rainmakers in 2012 we were invited by Makaya to have dinner with him. It was a very lovely evening.

He was doing workshops in Basel on the concept of African rhythm?

Unfortunately I don't know him too well. We did one gig, I met him a couple of times and that is about it. There are other people who know him much more than I do. He is a sweetheart, we all love him really.

Looking at some of the compositions I find on your soundcloud, I see you share the composing?

Most of the original compositions are from Afrika and me and now from the last two rehearsal we played one tune of Ayanda's. But, basically we are open to any ideas. There is no concept behind that, that is just the way it is now. Another idea I was bringing in was some Swiss folk tunes and even some pop tunes and some folk tunes from Eastern Europe which has been another big passion of mine for the last twenty twenty five years. I have been doing a lot of research into Bulgarian, Macedonian and Turkish music, which I am very fascinated with. It is an interesting challenge for us to try and bring this together with South African jazz musicians. In some cases its works quite nicely but it doesn't always work I have to admit, but in some cases we had some nice things come up because the rhythmical ideas between Africa and Eastern Europe and Jazz are really different. SO it is not always easy to marry these two things. And the marriage is what we need to make it sound so. We did succeed in a couple of cases. One of the compositions is Lele Devla. There is a version around on Youtube. We have another one we did not publish it yet. I will come up with one or two more ideas on the next tour definitely. Let's rehearse first. Then I will see.

In 2014 your tour to SA will be made into a film including the village of Lady Frere and the Ngqoko singers? Are you taking the film further…

The African folk music is super welcome in our band, but I leave this to Afrika and Ayanda to bring in this aspect to the music. I don't know this music. It is their thing. I already ask them. If they have good ideas of music that could integrate the South African folk I am more than happy but I don't know this music well enough to introduce it to the band myself. I leave it to Afrika and Ayanda and maybe now Ganesh got into it because he was doing intensive research during his stay here during July this summer, what we call summer what you call winter! I am totally into that but it is not coming from my side because I am not an expert in that.

As far as the film is concerned, yes, Klemens Shiess, she is the film maker and is accompanying us through the whole tour. Our initial plan was to make a CD and a film together, kind of a double product. Klemens had the idea of following us on several tours. Maybe have a long time report film, maybe even through several years that he would follow us on many occasions and then do a deep research film on the development of the band; that was his last idea. At this point I am not a 100% sure of it is going to be a full movie about this tour. This is not defined yet. There will definitely be a film about this band but the form now is a little bit open as there are different ideas in our heads. I am going to suggest this CD to a label I have in mind and of course I suggest them both ideas, also the CD idea and also the CD plus DVD idea and then it will also depend if they are crazy for one or the other solution, this will also make some decisions. If they say yes they definitely want the CD with the DVD this would be a reason to go on with the DVD intensely. These are open questions today. Maybe in two weeks I know more.

Will the DVD be in South Africa?

The movie will be a documentary, a road movie. If there is music in the film it will be live. It will be extracts from shows and concerts. We try as much as possible on that tour to get decent recordings from the gigs. In the end the only really good recording we got was from Grahamstown. We actually went to studio in South Africa but in the end I am more happy with the recording from Willisau than the studio recording we dd. It seems this band is burning more on stage than on studio so in the end I am going to use the live recordings.

Is there an improvisational quality to the music?

Yes. There is my name in the band name but this is really a pure administrative measure. Someone has to do the business work. And in this case I agree that and I put my name there. But, for the music it is really open and it is equal. As soon as we are on stage, everybody is creating and everybody takes decisions and everybody is welcome to really play what he wants. We have no hierarchy in music, we just play together and everybody is welcome. This is a very important point and one of the points that makes this band be what it is now. There is a very strong echo from the audience that people can feel there is something else going on with this band, something that touches them deeply that they cannot put in words and I think it has a lot to do with this. All four of us can totally identify with this music and give everything to the music without any restrictions, obligations, decisions that I take or something like that. It is really open for everybody, this music. That is really important.

What about this composition ‘We di Grav Nabel Schlyche'?

How the Grey Mist Creeps. It is a Swiss folk song. I have a very emotional relation to this song. When my sister got babies, twenty years ago, all of my family are musicians and twenty years ago we recorded some children's songs, all of my family, for the small kids of my sister. And I totally forgot about this tape. And I couple of years ago my sister gave me this CD with these recordings that we did. And in the meantime my mum had passed away. And then I put this CD and there is the voice of my mom singing this song that we play now. It was an overwhelming emotion to hear her sing now she has gone away. It is a very personal thing. The voice is much more personal than a photo. It was a very intense experience. My daughter was listening to this CD a thousand times at least. I listened to the song over and over again and regardless of my emotion to it, it is a really beautiful song and it might be worth playing it and that is why it ended up in the repertoire of the band.

Do you tell this story to the audience?

This story is an inspiration to me and it might be an inspiration to my fellow musicians but in the end I think that music is an abstract art form. I don't want to guide the listeners imagination. Everybody creates their own film and their own emotion and their own experience, through the music they can hear. I don't want to canonise this. I don't want to give this a direction. With this kind of story, people think they have to feel this or that. It is not the way I think about it. I want to leave people free with what they do, with what they can hear. I don't want to push them anywhere while listening to the music, they go where they want.

On the story of Rain … ?

Mkhize means the Rainmaker. One of his ancestors when he came to South Africa the rain was coming so, one of his ancestors brought the rain. That is why his name is the rainmaker. I would never of course call my band the Rainmakers. I know what it means the Rainmaker in Africa. It is a big thing. It would not be appropriate for a guy like me to call his band the Rainmakers. The only thing that allows us to call this band the Rainmakers is that story with Afrika's name.

Does this give you a sense of greatness?

I hope I am aware of what Rainmakers means in countries like South Africa. I hope we don't make anyone angry with this.

Everybody comes together in this band. Everybody seems to be really happy and seems to identify with what this band can talk about on stage. We don't even talk a lot about it. We just feel everybody. We agree on some very basic things we cannot put in words and this of course is a big gift. You can never make this. It just happened. Somehow I had the idea of bringing these four people together and the rest it wasn't me, it was us. I am really very grateful for this. It is as magic for me as the audience. I just appreciate it and try to keep it alive by being a bandleader that finds gigs and publishes records blah blah blah and does things that are necessary to keep a band alive. Actually it is a big gift. I cannot say it differently.

In terms of education, do you include this experience?

I always try as a teacher to bring in my experience as a musician into my teachings. It seems to be a little bit easier when I teach ensembles, when I teach bands playing together. This is more directly the same. When you teach your own instrument this can be a little more instrumental and technical ad sometimes we do get a little more carried away by technical and instrumental aspects of the story and maybe sometimes are less focused on the musical side of it. But, of course there are some very inspiring things how Ayanda and Afrika play, how they act and how they talk also.

For instance Ayanda told me he never owned a drum set. The only chances he got to play a drum set was rehearsals and gigs. He is very radical. He says, practicing only makes you selfish because you start to play egocentric shit that you practiced at home instead of listening to the music and just playing the music. This idea is quite provocative somehow in a country like Switzerland that is so proud on the educational part of everything. We have such a different approach to many things, a more abstract and educational approach so this statement was really shaking me, wow that is something else. And Ayanda is the proof. He is one of the greatest musicians I ever met. It is true that one hundred thousand percent of what he is playing is music. He is always contributing to the music. It is never bullshit. It is just the music. He is the living proof that this works.

On the other hand I know Afrika practices a lot of piano and he is thinking a lot about the music on the abstract level. He is as great. He has the same one hundred percent of music and no bullshit. So, I wouldn't say it is the only way to go there. But for me, it was a very radically different idea of how to become a musician. But this is a long process. I really have to think about this and integrate this in my vision. This is so super different from how I live it. It is taking some time to show concretely in for instance what I do as a teacher.

What about this five hour rehearsal?

When we first met in Switzerland, our first quartet rehearsal. In the 2011 Grahamstown festival there were jams with Afrika and Ayanda and some other people. We jammed late nights. Coming together the four of us was just before our first Swiss tour and that was 2012. And the first rehearsal was just five hours non stop. And every song went at least half an hour and everybody was playing his ass off. Usually when you practice with European guys they play one chorus and they don't get wet. At this rehearsal everyone just played with everything he had. It was such a different experience. Even the rehearsal was super intense. And these days they still are. When we rehearse it is almost as intense as a concert which is very unusual for me, a Swiss musician, practicing with other Swiss musicians. This is not so common, this devotion.

You will be in South Africa to perform at the Orbit in March?

We play 28 th March at the Cape Town Jazz festival. We are booked on the 10 th of April at the Orbit. We are working on more dates in South Africa, between these two gigs we want to get as many gigs as we can. We are a bit restricted. We have to keep away from Cape Town, not to be in congruence with the festival gig of course. This is a big gig. We cannot play around the corner five more times. We will definitely try and play Joburg, Pretoria area and maybe Durban. Please keep yourself updated on the website.

There is a link between Orbit and Birds Eye.

Yes I have heard about that. It is a great thing of course.

Have you engaged in the Orbit live recording platform?

We go step by step. We have one CD out. The next step is to bring out the second CD. And when that CD is out I will start thinking about recording the third one. It is good that you mention that, maybe in the meanwhile I will be willing to record the Orbit gig.

Thank you


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