|SOUND CHECK NOVEMBER 1 : 10AM - 12:30AM #sophiatownheritage #storyofsajazz
"I have been doing this for the rest of my life," said heavyweight South African Jazz man, and sound expert Fitzroy Ngcukana in his soft hearted way, just to let all the stange hands know who is boss.
I had arrived at Fitzroy's Bez Valley shop at 8am that morning to collect the gear that would back up the delightful musical make-up of the Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble. Fitzroy has not only a goldmine of gear but a goldmine of history and knowledge. Immediately on entering his shop, I thought that this could be the hippest jazz club in the whole country. I pictured a neon light "Fitzroys" hanging above the entrance of this corner shop of this fringe city suburb. And it would become a powerful place for the development of our music, a place of meeting, learning and playing music exactly as his father Christoper had done all those years before in Langa.
As we drove to Sophiatown to deliver the gear he said to me that musicians need to recognise that they are politicians! This statement is important because when we take responsibility for the power we have we can effect change. Politics is not only about having an opinion, but is about self assertion in a peaceful and pleasant way. Fitzroy's mantra for the day was "don't worry my Struan!" But he soon realised that I never worry. I got over worry when I had a nervous breakdown on the wondergigs fifteen years before. Since then, I place my faith in the most high to ensure the show is a go. And nothing could make me worry.
To witness Fitzroy in action, and to see how he transformed the venue from a mixed use space to a place of music was to see the power of a holsitic perspective in action. Self knowledge and self confidence when it meets up with skill and purpose is an awesome combination. And when it comes to the tricky issue of sound, it is essential.
To not only know what you are doing, but to not let anyone push you off your course is a path to success. It was thus a blessing and an honour to have Fitzroy on the show of the Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble. In his capacity as sound provider, he assisted the Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble in set up, sound hire and engineering. He created a stunning sound. It was three hours of set up and thirty minutes of sound check ... The Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble went through Take the A Train, their indominatible version, in the sound check. And then to make totally sure, put out a version of Pata Pata with the voices and the horns and the instruments interweaving in an impressive way.
Of course to be with the legend, 'Bambo' as Lex calls him, 'Banza' as Bheki calls him, Barney Rachabane, was a privalege of huge proportion to one and all. Barney says ro me there is only one thing he has done in his life and that is music. From the age of 8 till now, the age of 70, he has only ever been a musician. That he says is the secret. And I admire that.
Throughout set up, Bheki Khoza was full of energy strumming his guitar in a constant interplay of abandonment to joy. As we sat waiting for Fitzroy to complete the set up, Barney joked with me about Bheki. He said he has too much energy! Something is wrong: he does not drink, he does not smoke, he does not go for women and he does not eat meat! What is that? Barney puts his head back and roars with laughter. He is a real natural.
Tenor player Sydney Mnisi is possibly the best in the country, however when he stood alongside the little maestro Barney Rachabane, he was inspired and his spirits raised. Yonela on the piano got an earfull on the soundcheck sadly. He did not know the reason for this, but my sources think that he damage done of Fitzroy's piano's in the past when he hit the keys a bit hard. I spent a moment in the soundcheck sending a prayer that those two brothers would let go of their past and enter the present. Which they did almost instantanously. Real gentlemen, great adults.
And then to have such a stellar quartet of ladies in this ensemble was the icing on a cake that was already beginning to rise as Fitzroy slowly and methodically tweaked the acoustics of the venue into the perfect recipticle for expression. The energy of the quartet of ladies provided the homelyness, and made the ensemble whole.
As producer I had assumed a strong energy of the feminine, which manifested in the spread of catering provided to keep us throughout the day. The ladies went into the kitchen and took ownership of the catering and began to create a home in the kitchen that we would all eventually enjoy throughout the day.
There had been a build up to this magical morning of technical superiority. And that was an appointment ten days earlier with Fitzroy Ngcukana. Fitzroy was well known in the Cape Town days performing in a quintet with his brothers. He is an acclaimed singer. He and his brothers, the late Ezra (sax) and Duke (trumpet) were the three sons of the legendary father of African Jazz, Christopher Fezile Ngcukana.
As we drank coffee I asked Fitzroy about the composition Mra as I was wishing the Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble would play it. He explained that the composition Mra by his father was actually a politically conscious song composed at the time of the Chris McGregor Castle Lager Big Band; under another title, 'ilizwe lifile' meaning the land is dead … It got the name Mra from the slang My Bra that Christopher Fezile Ngcukana picked up in the coloured townships. It was there that he also picked up the nickname “Columbus.” But Fitzroy remarked in a manner that Ezra had once before, that this was not his name at all!
The composition Mra is also creditted to Dudu Pukwana because Dudu was on the bandstand alongside Christopher and acquired an alto saxophone for the date. However he took Christopher's tenor which he played and Christopher played baritone saxophone on that session.
Fitzroy's passion for early African jazz was recently activated in a musical of the 50's people which he orchestrated and promoted. It was a big band featuring a number of luminaries of SA Jazz including Barney and bass player Victor Ntoni as band leader. Unfortunately Victor lost the charts that were prepared for the event. However Fitzroy has a copy of the show on DVD. The show was narrated in a radio drama style presentation and had an audio visual component.
REHEARSAL THURSDAY 29 OCTOBER 10AM - 2PM #sophiatownheritage #storyofsajazz
Lex Futshane (Bass)
Yonel Mnana (Piano)
Simphiwe Shiburi (Drums)
Bheki Khoza (guitar)
Sweet Aroma : Boni, Sweeri, Sono (backing vocals)
Octavia Rachabane (vocals)
Barney Rachabane (alto sax)
Sydney Mnisi (tenor sax)
This dream was made possible through support received from Thundafund, Department of Arts and Culture and Baenz Oester, Veit Artl, Robert Trunz, Jonathon Rees, Angus Douglas, Lisa Morgan, Ignacio Priego , Nicci Bailey, Tsidi Moahloli, Wayne Leigh, Jack Poopedi, Khumo Motsisi, Tricia Sibbons, Keabetswe Motsisi, Lex Futshane, Struan Douglas, Tusi Fokane, Subhas Shah
And with respect to some of the late greats of Sophiatown
Jim Bailey, AB Xuma, Trevor Huddleston, Kippie Moeketsi, Todd Matshikiza, Dolly Rathebe, Nat Nakasa, Mongezi Feza, Can Themba, Johnny Dyani, Bloke Modisane, Miriam Makeba, Nadine Gordimer, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Zuluboy Cele, Peter Magubane, Lewis Nkosi, Alan Paton, Joe Mogotsi, Nathan Mdlele, Rufus Khoza, Thandi Mpambani, Miriam Makeba, Thoko Thomo, Susan Gabashane, Ntemi Piliso, Casey Motsisi, Matha Maduma, Morris Hugh Lestwalo, Alfred Herbert, Solomon Linda, Mackay Davashe, Ezekiel Dhlamini, Victor Ndlazilwana, OR Thambo, Robert Sobukwe, Wilfred Sentso, Peter Rezant, Samuel Tutu, Ezekiel Mogale, Bob Gwaza, Solomon Ashedy, Douglas Koko, Ernest Cole Kede, Henry Nxumalo, General Duze, Boykie Gwele and Mzala Lepere, Gene Williams, Norman Martin, Sonny Pillay, Gwigwi Mrwebi, Gideon Nxumalo, Zweli Ngwenya, Eric Bamuza Scaramouche Sono, Gibson Kente, Elijah Nkwanyane, Ben “Satch” Masinga, Boet Gashe, Wilson Silgee, Sol Klaaste, Leon Gluckman, George 'Kortboy' Mpalweni and Nelson Mandela
From the living memory of Father Trevor Huddleston and his principles of love and cultural knowledge, a beautiful “green” building and creative space called "Sophiatown - the Mix," blossomed from the ground of a vacant plot. The space leant itself to the jazz people of Joburg, where jazz is not a music but a conscious state of being … ‘jazz being' … ‘jusssst being!' Sophiatown - the Mix took on the purpose of this great ideal and in true Sophiatown style, became a space for creating heritage, connecting, encountering and releasing one's inner freedom. The year 2015 is 66 years since the midst of the initial Sophiatown renaissance. History is repeating itself through a freedom given for unity in diversity and a freedom received for uniqueness in action. It is manifested in reality through a first of its kind performance of an ALL STAR collaborative musical collective called, the Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble and a celebration of extreme joy of “those dancing good times, where the now is all there is,” as Lewis Nkosi used to call the golden days.
History has come full circle and it is exactly as it was in the heyday of Sophiatown, with Dolly and Mama Afrika and the beautiful nightingales of African song; Dambuza, Todd and the great gentlemen of African music; Can, Bloke and the brilliant creatives of African literature; Father Trevor, Jim and the pioneers of empowerment; Kippie, Zuluboy and the loose cannons of African Jazz, and all the other great names of our golden era. But we have grown, we have learnt, we have awakened to all of that and more.
The Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble will be directed by the great bass player Lex Futshane. Lex grew up in the burgeoning jazz days of New Brighton and he studied in the blossoming jazz years of UKZN. He will be joined by his collaborators; the blind pianist with an intuition for sound, Yonela Mnana and the great virtuoso, the rabi, the meastro maskanda guitarist Bheki Khoza. Together with strong man on the drums Simphiwe Shiburi, this rhythm section will set the pace for an all star vocal quartet and an all star horn section to bring colour to their passages of poetic flare.
The lass with song in her name, Octavia Rachabane, will join the powerhouse trio of Zulu vocalists, tenor saxophone maestro Sydney Mnisi will stand alongside the eternal musician, living legend alto saxophone player Barney Rachabane.
This show is part of the eternal spirit of jazz. It is crowd funded into reality. Be a part of this and join phase two of our crowdfunding. Pledge, donate, give and you will receive ... great rewards courtesy of the author, the cultural heritage centre and the DAC !
This is phase two of a fund raising initiative ... Our goal with #sophiatownheritage is to raise a further R6000 (at least) to push this project onto the road :
Peace Love Respect, Gratitude and Joy
The Sophiatown Streets were the Theatre for African Jazz
"On the streets of Sophiatown, you would see barbers, people washing, many playing the pennywhistle, cooking, singing, dancing, talking, gambling, fighting and partying. In the shebeens; music, art, politics and beer-brewing developed. Great music was born in Sophiatown in its shebeens, dance halls and the Odin Cinema." Olga Corner
“You don't just find your place here, you make it and you find yourself. There is a tang about it. You might now and then have to give way to others making their ways of life by methods which aren't in the book, but you can't be bored. You have the right to listen to the latest jazz records at Ah Sing's over the road. You can walk a Coloured girl of an evening down to the Odin cinema, and no questions asked. You can try out Rhugubar's curry with your bare fingers without embarrassment. All this with no sense of heresy. Indeed, I've shown quite a few white people 'the little Paris of the Transvaal' -- but only a few were Afrikaners.” Can Themba
“Sophiatown was a very beautiful place. There was music everywhere, flowing out of every house, from every corner and every shebeen. Rhythm was the unsaid word. There was mbaqanga, marabi, kwela jive, and on Sundays the gospel choirs marched down Toby street singing, and we always joined them. And then there was jazz at night. We used to go to `Sis Fatty's shebeen and watch the Jazz Maniacs and listen to recorded American jazzmen... Everybody used to meet there: musicians, artists, intellectuals, writers, politicians and boozers. And all of us, the young aspirants, were growing up in this cultural explosion...” Thandie Klaasens
"It is about the marabi, the mabokwe, also the itswari, and famu. It is vital, like the dames that like it. The sound of the marabi is intended to draw people into the shebeens, and then to get them dancing. We call them night time girls, the dames that make and break the man. These women are real and they love the musicians." Todd Matshikiza
"I had seen jazz-crazy youths and girls at home in England, in a frenzy of dance-hall jive ... But the jazz in this room was not a frenzy. It was a fulfillment, a passion of jazz. Here they danced for joy." Nadine Gordimer