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Mark Fransman


Mark Fransman burst onto the South African Jazz scene when he won the Old Mutual Jazz Encounters contest in 1999 as a solo pianist. He became deeply immersed in the Cape Town jazz scene performing and recording on the piano with Cape Town quartet Tribe and on the saxophone with the Goema Captains of Cape Town. Mark also pioneered a global movement of jazz innovation through his own bands Strait and Narro and Akoustic Knot. He joined musicians from Norway to collaborate extensively on a multi-year project resulting in performances in the annual Edge of Wrong festivals in both Norway and Cape Town. These international collaborative performances and recordings incorporated the eclectic and minimalistic styles of sound art and sound-scaping. This was instrumental in propelling jazz beyond the known into the genre of ‘sound journeying.' Mark says, “I'm very interested in speaking beyond chops and phraseology to the ears of non-musicians.”

In 2012 Mark adopted an alias, Makeson (his childhood Cape Flats nickname for Mark) and Browne (for his skin colour). This new name represents his new identity, free of his past successes, and grounded in a matured and authentic style of playing and expressing himself. And when he is in this mood, Makeson integrates the intelligence of a jazz improviser with the explosive appeal of a born entertainer, making him great to watch. And for those who know him he will always be Mark Fransman. 

Live performance at the freedom station

Mark Fransman came from Cape Town to Joburg and together with Carlo Mombelli and Thebe Lipere rocked the African Freedom Station with a two nights improvised stand. This was an all star trio making music for the first time. They are certain to become a famous collaboration. Carlo is well known in Joburg and Europe with his baby, the Prisoners of Strange. Thebe has recently moved backed to SA from London. He is known for performing with Malombo. Of him, Mark remarked, "He knows this open ended music."

It took two sets of music and one set on Saturday before the band was in full swing, operating out of love, individual musicians there for the collective. There was pure magic at times as each musician held their space with ease, and there is a constant flow of dialogue. Solos are not as much as a feature as a masterful musical refrain from the constant chatter of instruments.

Thebe has a percussion set up that is a work of art and mobile if need be. A hanging set of wind chimes with as many chimes as notes for a small piano, three sets of hanging Tibettan bowls, 2 Tibettan castanet cymbals, a great big Zen cymbal, 4 tin cans, 2 heavy-vinyl plates, shakers, rattles, sheets, a whistle, a reed pipe. Reed Sticks, brush sticks and an array of musical toys, a clapping hand, a moaning tube. Vast home-made shakers, one of motorcar parts, one of the seed pouches of a large tree, one of shells and one of materials. He shakes these vigorously amongst his playing of his many instruments in a constant array of showmanship, sportsmanship and percussion!

Carlo Mombelli is the glue, the base, the innovator, the open end of an eternal discourse and Mark Fransman is a virtuoso that rules upon this heavenly cloud of musical rhythm in a musical meditation of pure delight. Sometimes one hand on the piano, one hand on the sax, searching for sound. And then it is 2 hands on the piano, 2 hands on the sax; sharing such beautiful and heartfelt sounds. Where the piano playing is the saxophone goes... one informing the other; different takes on the same theme.

Carlo is also operating at least two perspectives on the same theme. Not only is he handling a loop but he's got a left foot pedal and a right foot pedal varying the effects of his electrical bass - letting him ride on his magic carpet through many genres at the same time, classic to rock, the full spectrum!

After the show Mark said, "You can never unlearn the truth," quoting Osho. Osho he said is a man that spoke truth with the accuracy of a person shooting a single rice grain from a mouth packed with uncooked rice grains. Mark was talking about the conscious, the sub conscious and the super conscious. He said that the discovery and popularising of how to use the sub conscious mind in the 1970's served the conscious mind which is as step down; whereas the purpose of the sub conscious mind is to serve the super conscious mind which is a step up or elevation. In other words, the sub conscious mind is 'The Secret' to manifesting things in the conscious mind. This is a step down in vibration from the sub conscious mind. Sub Conscious mind is a gateway to the Super Conscious Mind. And that is the direction of higher vibration...

Mark suggests one read Krishnamurti's End of Time and watch Sun Ra's movie 'Jazz is Dead.' An eternal dialogue. Afrika Mkhize was outside chatting to promoters who had a big financial agenda. He suddenly pipes up loud and proud for all to hear that Mark is son of a preacher man. As if that explains it?

Master disciple, life and death and the last recordings of Zim Ngqawana …

When Makeson Brown fired his own insights and wisdom off of Zim's incredible lived experiences he elevated himself to a higher perspective of himself. Words spoken through music, missives from the heart, as if they do not exist in this constructed third dimensional world but rather on a soul dimension. They are imported here as if the messengers of the light of life.

I learnt jazz the African way. Smoke. Play. Smoke. Play. Smoke. Play. For long sessions. An intense means of overcoming the mind and finding the present moment. And then I learn I was not the only one. When Zim started his teacher made him smoke. He did not even like it but he did it. When I could play a little my teachers teacher, S'dumo told me to change my habits. He said, 'with or without it, you must do your things.' I told Mark how S'dumo had given me the message 'beyond scalerology.' I said it was like an instant awakening. Yes said Mark, like what Lester Young gave to Charlie Parker. For Mark, Winston Mankunku was the giant of this music. That's one of the reasons why Mark has a song 'Underdogs from the Underground'. That's for a whole lot of musicians. He has a special composition for Winston called 'Ngozi', and he honks his horn with pure love for a great musician. Mark says Zim told him improvisation is like falling down the stairs. As you fall, you grab here and there.

Mark played Mahogany room Wednesday and Thursday (Straight and Narrow today) and then went to Australia and Hong Kong for one month with Brydon Bolton, he is back in Cape Town for one week and then in Canada for two months. I ask why he doesn't fly around the back straight to Canada. No he says he must come and see his family. Can they cope without you I ask? The question is can I cope without them he answers! So, why does he do it? Well, actually the money, we cannot earn like that in Cape Town. He is a migrant labourer. I am a nomad. So we meet up again.

We shoot the breeze outside the venue. And then we laugh, smiled and nearly cry at the stories of so many musicians that Mark has seen, heard and met in his worldwide touring and performing at festivals. There is the story of how Joe Zawinul's drummer plays his first gig in fifteen years without smoking because he rocked up late, and he played phenomenally well. And the story about Dexter, pissed, drinking whiskey out of a long glass, barely able to stand but playing the shit out of his instrument. But, when Mark spoke of spending a week with Pharaoh Sanders, a great maturity and love visited the conversation. He said, "Pharaoh was clean." Super spiritual. I asked if this was because of all Pharaoh had seen in the Coltrane era, with the heroine conspiracy disabilitating jazz. Mark made me aware for the first time that Coltrane was a fore runner in kicking the heroin addiction. He became 'clean' and super spiritual but yet still died young, perhaps a stomach cancer caused from the years when he used heroin.

Lee Thomson is with us. He pipes up, Joshua Redman is a fitness fanatic. And, his favourite musicians are nerds. Small, likeable chaps. And Lee himself is losing weight. He is also on the Art of Living course and no garlic and onions for him. Mark is well clean himself. He says he hasn't smoked for years, not like the days when he was “young, dumb and full of cum.”

I have finally joined the cats, as cats talking about music. Mark says, "Fuck jazz. I want to get out of these genres. This is creative African music. The musicians are all Africans. No matter, it is a highly spiritual music.”

Like, how is that composition Mark loves to play, ‘infinite love'? Bursting light from the mature life, this composition touches the heart of the listener. After playing it at the Mahongany room, Mark re-iterate that it is not only the musicians making music, it is the audience that is affirming them. This is the philosophy of the mirror…

Mark was playing with Zim in Heidelberg. The gig was heavy. Zim was playing like he is speaking in tongues. Even the audience was going off, sometimes screaming wildly. Mark is on the piano and Zim is playing right in his face, staring him out like he's a ghost. And after the show in the combi he speaks. He says, "Mark it looked like you had a big energy on top of you. Do you have unresolved issues with your father?” Stop the car. Mark gets out and projectile vomits. The repression, the trauma is symbolically freed. Is Zim a doctor, a shaman? "I don't know what Zim is," Mark says.

After this experience Mark tells Zim that he is going to stop playing with him now and they go separate ways until three years later they meet again and become inseparable until Zim's untimely death. Zim played his last performance on this planet in Marks' band. And Mark recorded the show. “Zim rocked up to my place and said he wanted to come to the show. I was like 'cool.' But when he said he wanted to play, I was like 'Ya!'”

Mark is not afraid of death, he welcomes it and celebrates it. Mark Fransman had an NDE. He was born dead. On the 20th July 1976 in the midst of Soweto uprising a woman of colour from the Cape Flats called Johanna was told by the Afrikaans speaking doctor at the clinic that either she or her child would die. She was defiant and said no. When the child was born, the umbilical was wrapped around the neck such that the child was strangled. At birth, the doctor and nurses attempted to revive the child with slapping until the doctor declared the child dead and threw him into the arms of the mother saying, 'I told you so.' Johanna held her child in her arms and began to pray. Her faith was huge. Her child let out a terrific scream. Both Johanna and Mark are alive today, Mark actually remembers his birth.

Tattooed to the inside of his left arm, the man wears a large cross. The cross symbolises the meeting point of the here and the now. Here and Now is the synergy of Krishnamurti and Tolle writings and musings Mark says. And 'Now' is the word tattooed with a hexagram beneath the thumb on his left hand. An important reminder edged into his body.

Mark says "I am" are the most powerful words we can offer as they immediately ground us in the light of God ... so many words. These yet are only a few !

The Meeting

On a Sunday in 2014 Mark had very much touched me in two capacities. One by his complete immersement in jazz music and two by his ability to leave it all behind and just play music upon his guitar. He said to me, “Should there be a fire,' the first thing I will pick up is my guitar.” And then he preceded to tell me about his desire to travel the country, going to all the little dorpies and villages to share his music with the people. He described how his brother had once arrived in a completely unknown dorpie in the Orange Free State only to find a Zen Buddhist who had sought out to live his simple life there, proclaiming that this was where the energy was best for him. Of course, it is not as though Mark will l choose to live there, however to live in the land of his birth is really strained for lack of economic opportunity. One gig I the last two weeks he says, backing Emily Bruce, R200 income after taxi fair. He says should he have the chance to give it all up and move his family he would do that. We speak about Ernie Deane attempting to move back to Cape Town and then there is even me, seeking to earn an income and pitch a roof over my head, even build my nest egg to start my family and I want to do it in Cape Town. Why Cape Town? Well, it was actually a creative centre when we were all together around 2000AD what is more we all make a reasonable ‘income.' Things are coming full circle, there is an opportunity. We are included in a united dream. Let us make this happen? A sustainable world for a musical career. A shared abundance for musicians and audiences alike. This is my dream. Release.

It is after serving our sentence that we find release. It is after intuiting our lesson that we find release. It is after concluding our struggle we find release. It is at the end of our lives we find release. This we call death. Release is a death. Release of a creative work is the death of that creative work. It is the death of its potential. And through that death its potential is made real. And this is the release of Makeson Browne, the death of Makeson Browne. Is this the reluctance Mark is found within? In my own work I have found an awareness of this. The relief of release gave Graham the chance to die. The weight was off his shoulders and there he went. And then I also discovered how the blockage of release resulted in frustration and was often propagated by unholy alliances. One considers the 60 hours of recorded material Mankunku made in 1964, that was only release after his death in 2011. When I wrote ‘apartheid hated jazz,' the threatened to sue me. And there was the story of Shifty records that recently re-released their music, 30 years after the fat. I realized they were up against it, but saw the suppression of the musicians. And then there is my own story of the wondergigs. 13 years after the fact and I still feel as though I am blocked, unable to package, distribute and share the music as I had originally intended. But, then again music is made in the moment and consumed in the moment, the rest, the recording and the release is for posterity. And the marvelous irony is that economic posterity results from this posterity … So, there is no shame and no blame in this game.

Release, I say release. All of it – get it out, send it out there and let the people decide how to support you. And that includes all the material you hold. Get it out, backed up and consumed …

About finding ourselves we had spoken. But, once the self is found is it then now time for the self to be shared? Sharing oneself becomes a topic both of metaphysics and of skills transfer. It is the seen and the unseen with the veil in-between. So, through our actions in the seen we affect the consciousness of the unseen and through our consciousness in the unseen we manifest our actions in the seen. So, let us think of the opportunities that lie in education. In traditional African society, music education is an aspect of community and happens throughout life from before birth until after death. The musician is integrated into the society and need not write proposals to accomplish his / her work. In Western society however the musician needs to make his / her path formed through the democratic selection process. Thus, where music is known universally and throughout time to be the mother of all arts, in a Western democratic society, it is made to share its time, space, impact and opportunity wit a variety of other disciples that fall under the general banner of arts and culture, and over and above the obvious ones dance, theatre, film, fine art, there are less obvious disciplines taking their equal share of the pie of opportunity and attention. This includes comedy, graphics et al. If music is the mother of all arts, then, it s not only gives birth to all arts, but nurtures them in their lives. Dance we know is a product of music. Theatre is speech and drama, which is a form of song and dance. It too is a product of music. Fine art is an expression, perspective or impression of a moment in time. It is a capturing of a music or kind of music that can be human music, natural music or divine music. The fine artist paints a scene from the music of life. Even the modern artist who paints the whimsical scenes of their own ego is depicting moments from his / her own dance with life and the meditations they choose to magnify. It is dependent on the internal music, which is the relation to the external; music. And this, art too is a child of music. A comedian is a musician, his / her instrument is his / her whit.

I am ready to write the chapter on ‘letting go.' It does not concern me what may cause a musician to hold on. I am not only considering Marks' possession of the Zim material, but I refer to Nibs and Guy holding onto live recordings of Gito Baloi. Whilst this material is still relevant it has the opportunity to impart on the hearts and minds of some members of the public so it must out. For music to sit upon the computer of a musician is no good for man or beast, specifically due to the fact that these artists are now dead and will never reproduce that music in any format. So, the recordings that remain are all that remain to recreate that magic of our past. To place it into the public domain and into the collective consciousness has the effect of heightening a collective consciousness.

Spirits Rejoice: The jazz music is something deep to the listener. It is not always at once accessible to the listener. It may be a musical dialogue between a trio or quartet of musicians whereby the pure harmony of the music itself takes over and the listener experiences the freedom of that harmony. In South African jazz this state is commonly called Spirits Rejoice. This is a strong potential that this listening experience is an acquired taste, like drinking a neat whiskey. Whiskey I was told came straight from the Irish, ‘whiskeybeha,' meaning the water of life. In that sense, jazz should come from the universal and transpersonal experience, jazzbehah, meaning the music of life. For, what is life but an experiencing tending to go away from harmony. Take for instance the archetypal bebop legend Charlie Parker. The medical officer who filled out the death certificate wrote there, “Approximately age 65.” Parker was 33, but we suppose his body had taken a pounding from the speed with which he lived his life. And that is the jazz experience. All activity is an extension of the self. For Parker, that man laying in the gutter with his penis hanging out. “Yes,” he says, “that is me.” And for Parker, the self same man playing music like a genius, inventing, innovating, improvising extraordinaire. “Yes,” he says, “that too is me.” For Charlie Parker those were aspects of his human spirit as they were manifested on earth through his activities and experiences. For me too it is the same. “This is me.” It is not a treatment, prescription or closed book. It is simply me. It is not necessarily perfect or imperfect for that matter. It is simply me. So, when the spirits rejoice, that resonating acceptance of the universal me is felt. It may therefore be an acquired taste for it is both an acceptance and forgiveness. Powerful.

It is only the Charles Lloyd documentary that can stop us fro speaking. Llloyd confirms, “what we are looking for is looking for us.” As much as I am looking to help Mark with he release of his alias, I am searching for a release f my own, a spiritual release and the musical graduation from planet earth. It is within the music I find my purpose. Yes, I look at the guys like Mark and Charles Lloyd and I see how sussed they are, starting their playing at the age of 9. Lloyd talks of the trumpet player Booker Little when he met at the age of 22, one year before Booker died. The first thing Booker says to Lloyd is “where are you staying?” Lloyd says, ‘cross the road or something.' Booker Little says no you are not, you are staying with me.' He describes Booker Little as a “realized soul.” Is REALISATION the RELEASE I seek? This is my journey, and it is the journey of the one who seeks for himself, it is the journey of the hero. It is a journey through loneliness, sadness, pain and brokenness to that place of acceptance and forgiveness. I have come from so far down and that is why I must make my journey through music. It is the platform for alchemy, it s the transition and the transformation. Through release I explain to Mark it is a proverbial clearing of the desk, it is a movement to a transparent place. Is it when we become transparent our awareness is maximized in the here and now. He still obsesses somewhat with management and thinks to start a company, UFO, Unlimited Formation Organization. “Do you know of any young managers?” He says. “No,” give me 5 moths,” I say. And we can surely …

“Trees are beings,” he tells me. When Mark had a panic attack in Canada, there was a tree growing out of a crack in the street. There he went to the tree and imbibed in its energy. He made it.

The interview: 

Tone Talks hosted by Andre Peterson … They start with a jam over the composition Khoisan Symphony Number One by Steven Erasmus … He asks for one word on family, “singularity,” says Mark, music, “singularity” says Mark, fear “lack of singularity” says Mark, heritage, “singularity” says Mark.

In the interview with Mark and Jonothon Rubain … Mark says, “We have something that binds us together. We basically grew up in the same church in Hanover Park. My influences are basically the church and more specifically my father. My mother was a choir master in the church at the time. That is where I learnt my sense of music, harmony, singing, cultural gospel music, like koortjies. That is the basis of the music, Kaapse Afrikaans koortjies.”

Mark continues, “My introduction to jazz was actually through gospel music. If you use chords that are slightly away from three chords. I started hearing the chords in gospel music, especially a lot of Andre Crouch music where you have people like Joe Sample playing piano and the Crusaders. As I was listening to the gospel I heard all these beautiful chords, even some of the notes that they were singing. They were not only traditional notes. There were definitely gospel artists from the late 70's that were pushing the envelope. There were two albums that Quincy Jones produced and Quincy Jones was an arranger for Count Basie and he was a jazz trumpet player. You could hear directly in that music that there were some things going on. Music is made for the ears. It comes from the ears and goes to the ears. Johan Sebastian Bach said, music you just play it until it becomes a song. He was an improviser and he would just play and play and while he was playing he would hear something and say let me repeat that. And then he wrote it down. For all music in the world. We are always stuck with this idea that until we learn something we can't play. It is not necessarily the case. There are a lot of musicians out there who are playing and their ears are telling them that it is right. It is right. It is made for the ears, it comes from the ears and goes to the ears. That is the last destination. From there it goes in and does something to your spirit and to your heart. I started listening to the gospel music more intently and if you really listen to that music you will hear certain chords, harmonies, melodies and ideas coming from the bottom of that music. There was a piano player called Thomas Whitfield and he had a choir. He is one of my favourite piano players. He always sat by the piano and directed the choir from the piano; that was his thing. He is dead now. He was working out the harmonies for the singers from the piano and eventually you can hear that he is actually playing extensions to those and that is how harmony works.

In the 80's there was a television show on Sunday evenings, from watching that and we and my brother also had a radio and there was a show used to come on radio 5 back then in the 80's called Quiet Storm. And when the Quiet Storm came on they always played some amazing jazz. On that radio station, my brother started putting a tape in and recording the entire session. There was one day that I will never forget, this DJ that was playing (Carl Kakilis) he played some John Coltrane, it was a real big moment in my life. I was 9 years old. My brother would record it and that would be the music for the week for me and my brother. We would go to bed with it. He would put some music and we would listen and fall asleep. I still do that. It comes from a young age and now I know that the music goes into your subconscious. And there it does amazing things. Every time it came to the John Coltrane song, it didn't matter if I was sleeping, I would just wake up and I would want to hear more.”

What was your exposure to Cape Town Jazz?

“It was definitely meeting Errol Dyers. When I met Errol Dyers it was like someone taking me in. By then I was already playing. I was already at University but when I met Errol, the information that he gave me and this is the funny thing, especially us; coloured people, we are drawn to the story. ‘As hy gaan skinner, skinner hy die storie!' Those stories that Errol told me specifically and the stories keep coming back and he has more and more stories. Errol was the gateway for me and then I met people like Winston Mankunku and all the other ouens. Just before Basil Coetzee died I met him and played with him. He was quite sick at the time though. I met him ad played with him which was very special. The music was one thing, but when they talk that was really the thing. And of course I played with people like Robbie Jansen and Hotep Galeta who was a great father of the music. For us these are real big giants, like massive figures. The most important thing I learnt is listen. I just kept on listening to these people. These are big big names but they were very quick to take us in. They look mean. I have heard people tell me I look mean, but it is all part of that illusion. Until you meet people you actually realize it is a completely different thing.

Jonothon Rubain says, “Robbie told me to write my own music and Robbie told me that I can do well through music. Meeting and playing with Kirk Whalum was a highlight. Kirk is one of the most humble human beings you will ever find in your life and playing in the gospel scene, a guy like Kirk Whalum has one grammy's and been all over, but he is very humble and that changed my life. By being humble you change people's lives without having to say anything. We saw the DVD, ‘Gospel according to jazz,' so we can play jazz in church, and then his son came up and did a sing on bass and I thought I would love to play with this guy. That was something special.

The guys who came before us need to be respected because if it wasn't for that guy you wouldn't be playing to day. Someone paved the way. If it were not for Robbie Jansen we would not have played jazz festivals and met these guys because there would not have been a platform.

What about the business of music?

Mark says, “The business of music is divided between composing, publishing, recording, performing and also teaching. They all have their role to play in the business and each one of those things contribute to my business.

The music scene in South Africa has undergone a lot of changes and those changes are due to a change in venues, a lot of venues have closed down. I had to find a lot of alternative ways of generating money. Music is constantly changing. Technology is constantly changing. People are offering live performances online. In the turn of the century in the 1900's, recording has made it possible for people to listen to other musicians without them having to be in the room with you. There albums would be there way of actually going where they can't go. Before that people actually just used to tour everywhere. If you wanted to listen to a guy you had to go and see him. When the radio came along that is when they were able to have music and musicians represented in places where they weren't necessarily. They have taken this further in the modern day and age with a lot of people making clips. You might not see me performing all the time but you can look at a clip and see me performing. How do you make money from that? Performing is not that easy, a lot of the times the live music scene is run as an amateur scene. You are responsible for what you are going to earn. There are two venues in Cape Town where you are going to get paid, you have to bring your audience in order to get paid because you are going to get paid from a door deal or raw deal as they say. This is the reality unless you are only going to play at festivals or tour which I am thinking much more of. Music is situated in the cities, the cities is not South Africa, the cities is certain points within the country, the entre rest of the country is not getting the attention of the cities and there is an overflow of musicians in the city. There are a couple of thousand musicians, but only two jazz venues. This is a reality. In order to make money from music, it is important to look at the music holistically, to look at it from the perspective of teaching, recording, publishing, writing, touring and try and make that your business, not to commit yourself to say now I am a musician and I like to play. That is not realistic. Every musician and especially coloured musician that comes from Cape Town, all of them emphasize one thing, write your own music. I remember Robbie saying, you can play music that has been recorded and you have to learn from that that is good, we all do, but eventually you can only write about your experience. You have got a certain amount of hair on your head that nobody else has, a certain finger print. Why does that not include music, your personal experience?

“The famous question for Cape Town music, there have been films made about it, what is goema music and do you play goema. Is it the Cape Town music.”

Jonothon says, “Goema is a drum and that drum is being used in the klopse, the coon carnival and jazz musicians from that created this genre where they use jazz and mix it with the beat that they are still using from the klopse. Goema for me is jazz with that beat. There are basically two cities in the world where you hear the sound you can recognize the city, that is New Orleans and Cape Town. We are very special. I would encourage musicians to go to the klopse. That is where I am in January. That is part of me. It runs through my veins. When I hear that beat I feel happy.”

Mark says, “Goema is an accumulation of various rhythms, and there is a big influence from our Malay heritage. That drum comes from them because it is a vat. It wasn't made here, they used to take the vat from the ships and then put on the dried ‘bokvel,' and made the goema drum and the drum was meant to be plaid under your arm. If you listen to goema traditionally it is a carnival music. That was the initial idea of the goema. Now you have the Malaysians coming this way and they had their own ideas of carnival and celebration. Our people, the people of the Khoi, if you listen to the idea of the Bushmen bow there has already been a movement into goema. I spend a lot of time playing with Hilton Schilder these days and he always plays this bow which is already the goema. The drum accentuated the basic idea of it. The traditional songs that describe goema like ‘daar kom die alibama' was ship related. The songs were maritime songs. Around about the 1950's were there was this great bog creative explosion happening in the townships wit he Sophiatown sound, the Cape really started solidifying along with township music, solidifying the goema of as an actual style of how they wrote songs. A lot of them even if you sing songs like ‘Rosa' the Malay choir songs you can always hear it. When the compositions started, the evolution of the music started. People started writing music with that groove. This gave birth to the entire book of writings up to the present day where people are still composing in that style. I had to study that music. I could not take it for granted. I had to check out a lot of music and still listen to that music. The goema has evolved. You can play a ballad in that tradition. It is not just a rhythm, it is a tradition of music, the goema culture, the idea of a music that is not just defined by a rhythm.

How do you feel about performing, do you get nervous?

“I never forget Taliep Peterson once told me, He once told me, ‘mense kom nie on vir jou to sien op jou gat val nie.' Which means that the fact that people are sitting there is already in your favour. The fact that they are there and that they have paid money to see you play, they want you to succeed, they are spurring you on. You have already won just by people coming to hear you.

On a religious note, Mark says, “I come from a different thing. Both my mother and father are pastors. When I was saying singularity, there is no division. We create divisions between certain things because we think it makes it easier. I just see one thing. We are human beings. If you take the human bit away and the s away then we are being. We are being right now. It is that cutting away of certain aspects. I don't assume a position when I play music, now I am going to play or you. I have to be in that position as a being. I don't become a musician every time I pick up an instrument, I am a musician all the time. I have to view things from a perspective of always being singular, having a singularity in the aspect of myself. New agers like to use the word holistic, but the thing is that holistic comes from the word holy which is singular which is to be one and then they put the w in front to make the word whole. It all comes from the same root, the Greek to mean to be entire to be one, to be complete. In singularity there is no division between things. I don't go to church. I assume the position within myself that there is a certain thing that doesn't work for me. I do believe in the complete idea of being a musician without an idea of what is representative of myself. Because I am one I don't go against my past because that is my roots, God IS, so for me I will be undivided. I believe in Christ but I believe in Christ as the ultimate form of being.

What do you do when people don't pay you?

I always make sure under all circumstances that I have an agreement somewhere. Play the old musicians trick, “Just remind me again how much is the gig paying,” in a SMS.

Do you adapt the music for an audience… “I think the music should be what it is. That honesty is important in terms of who is going to listen to the music. We have to allow people to come to the music and not force the issue to create a music that people are going to come to. There are two words that I like to use often in a day and that is acceptance and allowance. Accept what kind of music that you make and allow whatever happens to that music to happen. I have some challenges because I perform a lot of different kinds of music.

When I was touring in Norway I ran out of albums and I just sent people to the itunes account. The next morning after the gig I started getting reports who bought the album and based on that I actually accumulated a data base of listenership. They are people who buy my albums. I have a listenership in Tokyo Japan, I get a lot of emails coming in. If ever I had to do a gig in Tokyo I would make sure I had contact with those people.

What about mentorship?

You don't go out looking for people to mentor. No mentor is looking for their mentees. I went to Errol. I think the barrier needs to be broken. It is your thing. There is a guy who likes a girl. He says to his friend she is here every day at lunch hour so his friend says why don't you go and ask her. He said no I am scared. So the friend says if you go and she says no, would you be any worse off than what you were before you asked? If she says yes, you are gong to better off so not asking is the stupidest thing on the planet. I have mentored a few musicians. I love mentoring. It is stupid for people to die with information in their heads. It is a question of asking, asking is the most simple and powerful thing. If you get a no for what you asked for, you are no worse off, but if you get a yes you are better. I think it is the illusion of barrier that people don't approach others. I think teaching is important, it is not his process and my process, we go on a journey together.

 

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An aural discography:

Let us listen now to some of Marks music …

Starting with the unreleased album called ALONE, the album that remains unreleased that I suggest is retitled to “You are the light!” He plays all the instruments on the album like Sammy davis Junior.

As we once were is a gentle introduction to this supremely royal album. Saxophone and baby grand rise together in sonic agreement, chanting out sustained notes and courtly turns in a hushed musical agreement with striking phrases making for a colourful musical expression. It is a deeply yearning musical call, a sound of great love born out of tremendous suffering. It is the sound of surrender, jazz calling forth to the ear of the beholder to define this as beautiful. For, beautiful it is as piano rises up the crisp sound of the keys in a way that is as much jazz as classic. A lovely sound, on the button of a universal musical expression that is fantastic, palacial, grand and deeply dignified. The piano is in an introductory mode almost welcoming guests at the vanguard to the great ball. Indeed, it is a masked ball, for the musician is alone on all instruments and wears an alias. Yet it s a mask not of sinister-ness but of great integrity for behind the mask is a human being that is just being, being himself a man born to make music. Saxophone returns playing out in its lucid man, spacious yet revealing in the fluidity with which notes tumble from the glorious instrument into a melody that is hard to define for it is potent and pleasurably expressive as keys keep it light, tight and right. Oh, the glory of this music, welcome, welcome. At last South African jazz is climbing out of all boxes, all definitions, all preductions to be free in its expression of love, the kind of love that binds us together beyond anything that separates us. The saxophone rises up the register again in long notes to be joined by the piano. This song renders preduction to what is to come. It is a fanciful musical welcome that sings in delight for the power of music to capture, to tame, to relinquish and to ignite. Free I am but alive it most certainly. As the saxophone presses home the music to close out a tremendous opener.

Does it Matter is off to a funky start, keys are vamping. There is a new and exciting mood as alto sax plays out a staccato melody. It is both Cape Town and Africa. Drums pitter patter in the background like the ears of a cocker spaniel. Keys, fender Rhodes style comes in with a funky rolling jazz solo, twinkling with clarity and joy and the vibing in the low register to bring in the free wheeling sound of the sax man, the expressive virtuoso harping on the sweet and delightful melody that seems to come to life with sound and colour. And then it is gone.

Dogma is somewhat splendid and dramatic with piano and sax following one another in cues and sparkling turns before sax takes the fore with a rising phraseology that is potent and purposeful in this glorious universal sound of jazz music. No drums needed here to showcase the power of Fransman's four hands – piano and sax, like Mseleku, Mankunku and now Fransman. Durban, Eastern Cape and Cape Town united in a jazz sound defying any pigeon holing. The crystal sound of the baby grand hits hard in juxtaposition to the soft whispers of the sax horn. The piano solo lines add texture and direction. The sax is back with the melody line, intricate and expressive, even tempered yet still slightly naughty as it harmonizes with the keys in a wink and smile. Hot track, even the sound of a rough voice, the musicians own, cannot be haltered in its almost involuntary harmony.

He-art is another swelteringly purposeful melody that is lead out with the saxophone. Up a tone with the melody and then into the improvisation. Deeply melodic, he is all over the key and then back into the melody. Keys, drum and the sound of a guitar are there in backing. A top composition.

Hymn is resplendent in its sweltering beauty. Invoking, reflecting, soothing and contemplating in the present state of beauty, both past, finished and future, but always available to the heart that longs for it. The gorgeous sound of the saxophone sings out the hymn as if there were nota dry eye in the area. And then he rises with the sound as if a seed pod floating in the wind, making its way to the highest reaches of emotional contentment. Keys Fender Rhodes style follows the lead of the saxman, confirming the dialogue, polishing the gentle spoken melodies with its high octane. Royal, grand and beloved it is. Neither classical, nor jazz, nether pure nor filthy, neither forgiven nor unforgiving. Just music it is. Keys change into a harpsichord style integrating to the fore as the sax stands back and truly laments in the glory of this wondrous sound. It is an eternal melody that is found here. Piano and sax alone, the song hits and then they rise into the climax of the melody. It is a musical marriage of melody and harmony, love and reflection, piano and saxophone. It leaves us resilient, it leaves us resolved, but leave us it must.

Infinite Love begins with a bright and boisterous melody line backed by the keen chords of the piano. The pounding sound of the piano meets with the bright and firing saxophone line. With sparkling turn giving out the typical joyous combination of a humour unlimited. Melody spins out of the bubbling notes that fill the spaces in the improvisation and keys are there just backing up in time and harmony in pure togetherness. The power of one man or two instruments is evident here. It is as strong as Shaka's bull horn formation, two direction to the same centre. A centre of love. Keys take the solo, all over the register , the sound is so bright, so clear, it punctuates the chakras with meaning and joy, purpose and clarity. Saxophone returns with the stealth and power of a commander a high doctor, an esteemed spokesperson or leader, confirming the melody in the listener and doubling up on the effect it is having letting it sink in, in a soul offering of high caliber. Something out of the ordinary in this united sound in a multiple expression. Two instruments, four hands but an infinity of perspectives in the theme of love and united in jazz, jazz music, just music. The song plays out to a harmonic improvisation.

Output is the woodwind quartet – wow times four. Eight hands! Music expresses the glory of pure love beyond words. Clarinet, oboes, all sorts of deeply joyous sounds lay out a rhythmical line with pure notes, whilst the sweet sound of the sax rises in joyous harmonic melody. The most natural sound of a collective harmony, rises with a sustained note. Then it is the sax, bringing in the sound of jazz over the animated collective of the woodwinds and the fender Rhodes picking out a harmonic agreement. The glorious sax is speaking out. There is nothing to place his sound in any context as it falls and rises again with the stretched enthusiasm of the wistfully tender sound of the Fender Rhodes, coming through as though as mature as something out of the ancient era. Music is timeless ... And they return to the joyous harmony of the woodwind quartet. 8 hands in thorough agreement. This is as huge as the wigged composers of the high courts of the 18 th century, all nodding in agreement. The sax melody places the tune in South Africa as it dances over the melody backed only by the strong taste of the Fender Rhodes. Real transformative jazz we hear here.

Skyward begins with the deep sound of the oboes before being joined by the clarinet. The sound of the woodwind is deeply appealing as it melts against the softly spilling twinkles of the Fender Rhodes before the sound of the saxophone stands apart wit its inventive melody making. Keys are there filling in the spaces. But, it is al saxophone, deeply expressive. The oboe is steady and the sax is back with the melody. A gentle melody accentuated by the light play on the keys. It is a wistful melody saying something breezy, somewhat playful.

Thought Life is using the woodwind to lay the rhythmical base before the high pitch of the alto sax plays and the melody with clarity, pulse and purpose. The tune is reaching deep into the recesses of the imagination and returning with a transformative musical expression. A top score. The melody dances in colors of a well spoken culture of music. Drums is supportive and then the reflective sound of the Fender Rhodes backs up the floating, rising, forming, singing melody of music. Bright turns create a beautifully bustling musical improvisation to reach into the gaps in the melody supporting it with frills and furls in the minor mode. The high pitch of the alto is evocative whilst percussion including keys is steady and incidental. The improvisation is monstrous, almost typical before falling into the sweltering romance of the melody, and then the melodic exchanges spoken out with well punctuated lyrical playing. The keys take over this melody and the sax continues with the improvisation settling the song very deep indeed.

Underdogs begins with the windy sound of the double bass as it splits out the melody for the alto to follow. It is another crisp minor melody. Drums follow and Fender Rhodes comments most subtly but the melodic sound is strong, almost blissful in its sonic abundance. This is the sound of the wind as it turns a melody to itself. In resonance, in agreement, in truth and I love. Fender Rhodes takes the solo, vibing and rising in important patterns, resplendent in its spaciousness. Sax returns wit the melody, and the woodwind in deep agreement. Another delightful score.

You are the light is the epic piece. So deep, so melancholic, dramatic, piano and sax are united in this hugely symbolic melody. Symbolic of a distant stare, an open heart, an enigmatic cry, an eternal melody of the resilience of the human spirit. “O am that I am.” “You are the light.” This should be the title track as Mark showcases has love for song as he sings out this fresh and fascinating melody. This musical expression to show the will of the human spirit to survive. He speaks to the heart of all the things I have lost. Yet, with every breath there is renewal. And here the piano, rises through the phases to take the spirit higher, free and fresh again. “Surrender to the infinite love supreme.” Musical spiritual, the sound of Mark Fransman

This masterpiece of an album is not the only unreleased material that Mark is sitting on. The other work, the Acoustic Know seems to be something else though. It is more made of musical necessity, to give thanks for the endorsements he has received and share something with younger musicians. It is not potent, but yet it is relevant…

Acoustic Knot : This is a saxophone album. All tracks are untitled. On the opening tack , drums meet sax. The melody line is strong

The second track begins with a simple base movement, joined by the drums and then the saxophone joins in an improvised style. It is two saxes working together and then the strong melodic refrain. As it falls away the tenor arrives again. Same time different perspective, It is a paired down sound, showcasing the acoustic excellence of the horn man in the studio with some understudies. And the bright and illustrious melodic refrain returns to close out the anthem.

On the third track saxophone is driving on two train lines, drums follow, steady yet understated, a counterfoil for the sound of the sac, as lucid as it is, in its fluid movements through the atonal intonation of a minor key.

The 4 th track begins in samba, yet impressive raunchy murmur. Bass and drums bubble compatibly in soundscapes but this is once more a showcase of the horn range. It is a great instrumentalist on a great instrument and its poignant. Here the alto is deeply melodic as it eases and falls up and down the keys. `The fluidity brings out the role as well that this instrument is not only about the brass, but the reeds too. The music is alike the bubble of a brook, the endless, relentless flow of a stream of consciousness, flowing from the source and then to the mouth and into the ocean of the collective mind. This is a most powerful contribution to the saxophone language both rising and falling in chromatic contemplation and into the expressive shouts, riffs and exchanges of the music man. And he falls away into the bass solo, sparse and paired down. Sax returns deeply contemplative in a spacious dance with the subtleties and nuances of sound.

Track 5 is a playful composition. Saxophones dance around the key in a playful unison, before alto takes to the fore with both thrilling passages and rhythmical returns. And then wildly expressive as a long story is told with little or no accompaniment with only the drums and the base following in a disconnected free style. But, the saxophone is united in itself, tremendously verbose in its descript9ive melodic runs and occasionally raunchy longer notes. A shrill melody mixed with a delightfully flowing one make for a striking musical conversation between the two voices of the saxophones. Here Shannon Mowday is featured on alto.

The sixth track is a ballad or a hymn, spoken in gentle tones with deeply expressive runs. A pleasant music with saxophone both stealthy and frenetic.

The 7 th track is a playful saxophone combination, backed by drums alone and the introduction of a softly spoken walking base. Once more the sound of the saxophone is masterful as its fluid melodic runs are punctuated by the drum patterns and base making for a sound that sparsely reflective creating the space for piercing invections from the saxophone, darting up and down the register before settling on the bright melodic refrain which the track closes with.

The 8 th track is lead by saxophone with drums soundscaping in the background with use of the evocative cymbal crashes. Here the sax is spoken in a high register. Tasteful, fluent, wistful and serene, the high register paints the thoughtful hues of a delightful imagination. This is the sound of exoneration as the saxophones drifts away into pure silence for a softly plucked bass to lament its hush tones alongside a brushed drum. Sax returns in a cyclically tearful musical impression. A top song.

The 9 th track is a more joyous occurrence as the saxophone arrives straight out and straight up. Drums remain on the scene. Saxophone is all over the register in its range from the deep gravely notes to the high whispers through the startling mumble jumbles of the middle register. Before the sax has a lot to say the other instruments are there only as a supporters nt collaborators so when the sax falls away the song falls away. And then the sax bursts back with a bubbling array of pure sound, once again showcasing both the instrument and the player as the collaboration, the harmony and the extent of possibility. From shrill to gentle it is all here … but in closing its truth is stated, a deep passion an unrelenting joy and love for it is the accompaniment of man and music that is closest to god …

His second solo album , released 2006, begins with the title track, “Long time coming.” It settles into a Cape Town smooth jazz radio format. Mark shows his range as a Cape R & B singer. There is a slight shortage in the showmanship to yodel in the upper register, which illustrates his singing is at best an accompaniment rather than a lead. The lyrics are good, the jam is steady, but this song is lost on the reviewer and possibly the public too. Track 2 moves into a more programmed sound with Mark and Melanie Scholtz presenting a sincere musical duet. The vocals are spacious in this smooth jam, with interesting effects showing the repertoire and influences of the composer. The trumpet lines are very smooth and the song does not rise out of the moderate. Track 3 commences with street sounds, incidental children's voices and a steady interplay between horns and backing vocals. A good production value is separated out nicely with very moderate horn lines. Melanie and Mark provide a vocal duet for the chorus lines, wit the message for the song is delivered in typical acid jazz spoken word. The lyrics are good, yet the song is still not rising out of the moderately depressed. The rhythm is steady, the son is easy, the excitement is missing. Track 4 commences with enigmatic world music style soundscape before the melody line is sung out in a folk music style. This sing is no longer in the smooth jazz genre but has shifted into the afro-ethno – folk style. Marks' lyrics are deep in religious sensibility and sung in a feel good style with a strong root of humility, modesty and Christian values. By track 5 it appears Mark has paid his dues to radio formats and religious people and begins to pay dues to his family. Although there is still a preconceived element, there is at once an indication of joy. He takes the lead on this song with vocals, back in the smooth jam mould. The lyrics are enigmatic and the rhythm riding steady. Horn lines are understated but present. Marks singing seems to fall short of the Cape R & B. Track 6 commences with a delightful interplay between back beats, a single note horn refrain and Melanie's free style vocals. The lyrics here are more biographical than musical, and shift the tone away from accessible to personal. Melanie's' languid vocals are a highlight as they range into the international acid house style of the era. An interesting piano refrain and bigger beats change the pace of a song that never lands. Track 7 presents a jazz beginning with a muted horn going on in the background and a polished horn refrain. The lyrics of the chorus are in an early house format, whilst, the son of a preacher man, shows his cards as he speaks / sings in a style that is his. Very transformational, inter-personal lyrics. By track 7 we have a spiritualized entertainer on the scene. With the muted horn going on in the background, Mark's spoken word follows the early acid jazz as he is backed by Melanie. At times I think he got that back to front, but then the lady sings out front … Track 8 is a simple ditty, following out from three blind mice in an imitative style. Horns are simple. Mark's spoken word is lyrically strong, he pushes his speaking voice, but it is clear that is not his primary instrument. The horn lines are pretty generic and the rhythm nowhere ear, until a sudden break into heartwarming Kaapse jazz for the last 30 seconds of the song. Rousing sax, twinkling piano, the kind of stuff that is loved. This composer is teasing us… Track 9 returns to the acid jazz genre with polished horn lines meeting with clean riptides of break beats to make for a fresh sound. Whispering voices sing out the song title, keeping it tight and straight. At the halfway mark, things change, the song picks up pace and there is a delightful dance and melody with a harmonious edge to the vocals that sit way in the background. This album is finally starting to stand up for itself. Track 10 starts again n the world music sounds cape before the sound of a polished sax pushes out an upfront straight ahead jazz line whilst drums and base keep the foot stamping. Not just an easy listening jazz but also an upfront kind of jazz and a very neat composition. He calls it “Chilled Fire.” As the 30 seconds to go mark the son falls back into the afro soundscape and out. Track 11 begins in an early township jazz style with piano leading out and whistles affirming the inherent joy in this musical style. Drums are rolling on in a polished style and then the song falls right out. Too short by far .. a ditty. Track 12 is an acoustic folk song brought to life with gently ascending hooting horn lines. It is a lively bright sound, and an exciting little melody and space for gentle improvised solos that marries so well with the horn refrain. A strong composition that fades out. Track 13 comes out with an LP stretch, scratch style before a sweet piano line and drum and base beats place the song in the lounge. Simple trumpet lines make the refrain, whilst the melody is played out by the piano, backed by the gentle rolls of a distant flute. A kiff chill lounge song that has the taste of the legendary Cape Town late night chill sessions. Well produced keys over drum and base. A big cymbal and the sound of a scratch interject at the half way mark to say, “jazz” before bigger beats come in as if to say' home time boys!' And then they are out with the chill soundscape and a simple horn line of closing. Track 14 starts off with a big funk style. My favourite song on the album because I hear a sustained joy and exciting horn lines fixing themselves over a straight up funk guitar style. Rhythm section are steady and understated as they have been throughout the album. Chattering sax lyrics meet up against reflective keys and create the space for a funk style sax solo. One can hear the enjoyment of the sax as the rhythm is vibing. Horn lines too feel more secure in this format.

Straight ‘n Narrow debut album released 2004 : Off to an acid jazz interzone introduction, LP style scratch and an easy riding but with simplistic horn lines, all in an acid jazz format. Track 1: Begins in an Eastern mode, with sparsely soundscaping percussion and rising keys falling into silence. A very spacious offering as guitar and percussion fall off of each other in and amongst an array of percussive soundscapes and keyboard tunings. Something out of a futuristic society. It is more sparse and chaotic than realism and the sound does not rise from its timber into a song. “Thank you and good night, it ends.” Track 2 is an easy riding jazz mode. Base and drums are up front and joined by horns putting out an interesting refrain. Same refrain up a semi tone and then back again. Saxophone speaking out those softly spoken melodies. And keys are there in a funky programming, talking in the high resgister, for a sound that is cool and planted in the view of early 2000. New cool instrumemtal jazz, horns speaking in a highly controlled unison: neat stuff. Track 3: Tension is created with the opening soundscape and an electronic soundscape with the notes of the keyboard. Something out of a movie, with brushes and chords to lie under before trumpet feigns a high intelligence with its clean melody line, followed almost luminously by the keyboard like a language being taught to members of another civilization. Distorted trumpet lines mix with the electronic sound of the keyboard creating a musical mix that is futuristic in its electronica, yet quick to date, until sax stands alongside trumpet and ups the melodic passage before falling into the tempting yet slightly naughty staccato phases. Track 4: Solo keyboard commences before sound journeys back in this slightly emotional start. The lead vocals sing out the deeply suggestive lyrics in a showboat way. A musical message is shared as keys twinkle energetically in the background. The voice of Mark backs up the melody in what is a happy and uplifting song. Trumpet joins in a repetition of the head and brief R&B yodels are shared in this happy song transporting the listener to a place and time where music reigned. A gentle and stirring composition. All musical smiles. Track 5: Deep beats and blistering electronica welcome the dexterous and stealthy call of the trumpet as it lands on this song with a delightful phrase and then up a semi tone / tone same phrase and then back again. The groove is steady. And then Mark is in the music with his spoken word style. His lyrics are on the mark but his spoken groove is too straight for the date. Trumpet is on the spot, vibing out some heavily enticing lines before keyboard settles into a backbeat vibe to keep the … to be continued .

Mark is a multi talented, multi instrumentalist, composer, lyricist, producer and web designer. Struan is also multi talented, writer, journalist, self-publisher, musician and web designer. Mark and Struan share a number of things in common, an afterlife experience, a love of music and a shortage of income. It is proposed that by coming together they can use their positivity to balance out the negative.

 

 

 

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