the United Colours of Africa
The sound of Cape Town and the launch pad of the Cape Town sound available on bandcamp
Wondergigs 1999 - 2003: Music for the sake of music
Music is pure joy and purpose and it is sustainable. In collaboration with SABC staff members, the Wondergigs rolled out January 17 2001 to Nov 17 2002. Many musicians recorded over 250 live, in front of a live audience and together with a live on air broadcast. We marked a period of time with pure effort and love.
Laurence Mitchell, SABC WC (Western Cape) CEO, had a vision to celebrate Cape Town music. Laurence was at that time at the pinnacle of his career of thirty years with the SABC. Laurence had served in the Eastern Cape before relocating to the Western Cape.
SABC Western Cape has the Beach Rd studios, flash, swank, 50's style sound recording gear with a 250 seater auditorium with direct links to several radio stations. The concept to full this venue was live recordings. Music collaborations would actively seek the sound of Cape Town bringing in artists such as Mac MacKenzie, Robbie Jansen, Alex Van Heerden and Khoi Khoilektif. Our concept was: “Music for the sake of music.”
The wondergigs was about a new precedent and together with SABC we brokered a new form of contract whereby the artists received ownership of their work and the SABC in collaboration with afribeat received third party rights. Artists receiving ownership of their work became a draw card to attract the best in music and gave the best back to music.
The music could have a free road to join the internet revolution of release on demand if the artists chose it. The wondergigs cast of about 150 musicians reached out to a very wide audience with the live recordings, radio broadcasts and newspaper coverage.
Star performances were recorded: Ernestine Deane sung some of her compositions and 'Amazing Grace,' solo. Kesevan Naidoo performed his composition ‘Eclipse' with Tribe. Jimmy Dludlu created ‘The Shape of Strings to Come,' with his teacher Alvin Dyers and Richard Caeser. Robbie Jansen featured two pianists Hotep Galeta to play ‘Cape After Midnight,' and other classic jazz numbers and Hilton Schilder to play ‘Slow Slow,' and other goema numbers. Alex Van Heerden and Derek Grippe created a duo composition project with Brydon Bolton called ‘Sagtevlei.' The Khoi Khoinextion evolved into a Khoilektif and birthed the Goema Princess V Monica B and Mac MacKenzie with Hilton Schilder and Alex Van Heerden created the Goema Captains of Cape Town. The Cape Town musicians and community gave their all to this project.
The wondergigs was built on the philosophy of ‘immaculate expansion' whereby a star was to become a cluster and then to become a universe. Whereby a spark of inspiration was to ignite an entire scene and pick it up from the bootlaces. Those stars were Mac Mackenzie and the Goema Captains of Cape Town featuring Hilton Schilder and Alex Van Heerden.
SKY 189 PRESENTS : Emile YX? Ray Skillz Thee Angelo Rob Nel Michael Horn Michael Bester David Poole Carla Diamonde The Slowboat Assassin SOS Daniel Multinational Institution Fungus The Mutated Lung Self Frank Talk Nike Jimmy Grinnith Ray Skillz Caramel Animal Chin Judah Bionic Biscuit Mr Pitt Scalywag Brian de Goede Brydon Bolton Wayne Scholts Mizchif Captain my Captive Devious
It was our goal to see the story of Cape Town music united in its culture and heritage and to see the many wonderful colors that make up its diverse population; in a jazz kind of way, whereby music picks up the fragmented pieces of diversity in gathering and creates an urban language from it.
The intention was change! Laurence had a vision to celebrate Cape Town music. Laurence was at that time at the pinnacle of his career of thirty years with the SABC. Laurence had served in the Eastern Cape before relocating to the Western Cape. SABC Western Cape has the Beach Rd studios, flash, swank, 50's style sound recording gear with a 250 seater auditorium with direct links to several radio stations.
Together with the SABC we brokered a new form of contract whereby the artists received ownership of their work and the SABC in collaboration with afribeat received third party writes on which the artists received fixed royalties. This was a business revolution. The music could have a free road to join the internet revolution of release on demand if the artists so chose. Artists receive ownership on their work was a draw card to attract the best in music.
We were therefore given an open mandate to create music. It felt as if there was an alignment of stars. Laurence knew about music and illustrated a truly Cape Town yearning to hear a truly Cape Town sound. The idea was collaborative Cape music searching for a unique Cape sound.
In 2002 we recorded live concerts at the SABC for thirteen consecutive weeks. These recording tok us firmly in the direction of defining the sound of Cape Town in that year. There were capacity auditoriums, classic live broadcasts, high quality of musicianship and a general atmosphere of joy and harmony. This is evident on the recordings.
The wondergigs collected musicians across the city and region, bringing them into studio for inspired recording sessions. These sessions were largely collaborative. We marked a period of time with pure effort and love.
With thanks to the Wondergigs, Laurence, Estelle, Bianca, Madoda, Reynaud , Jacques, family Harris and a beautiful family of friends featuring: BLK SONSHINE : Neo Muyanga Masauko Chipembere Jimmy Dludlu TRIBE : Buddy Wells Mark Fransman Charles Lazaar Kesevan Naidoo Derek Gripper & Alex Van Heerden featuring Brydon Bolton Kerryn Bailey Fiona Greyer GOLLIWOG : Rob Nel Kesevan Naidoo Lee Thomson Farrell Adams Leyton Smith Nick le Roux Gorm Espen Helfjord Daniel 3 GUITARS : Jimmy Dludlu Richard Caesar Alvin Dyers Denver Furness Tony Paco Frank Paco John Hassan Lucas Khumalo Eddie Jooste Alistair Andrews Andrew Ford Ivan Bell Andre Peterson ROBBIE JANSEN & THE SONS OF TABLE MOUNTAIN : Robbie Jansen Hotep Galeta Hilton Schilder Allou April Alex Van Heerden Spencer Mbadu Tony Paco THE ERNESTINE DEANE QUARTET : Ernestine Deane Brydon Bolton Wayne Scholts Ricardo Moretti MIKANIC : Mike Rennie Nick Turner Sylvia Mdunyelwa Ernestine Deane Mike Hardy Lee Thomson Jamie Cloete Schalk Joubert Riaan van Rensburg MOODPHASE 5IVE : Ernestine Deane D-Form Ricardo Moretti Brian de Goede Doglas Armstrong EJ von Lyric Burnie Shane MAC MCKENZIE AND THE GOEMA CAPTAINS OF CAPE TOWN Mac Mckenzie, Hilton Schilder, Abubakar Davids, Abdullah Davids Riedwaan Astrud Braaf Alex Van Heerden Liz Brouckaert Kurt Diederichs DJ Hamma THE KHOI KHOILEKTIV : Jethro Louw Robbie Rudolf Loit Sols V Monica B Lesley Javan DJ Hamma SKY 189 PRESENTS : Emile YX? Ray Skillz Thee Angelo Rob Nel Michael Horn Michael Bester David Poole Carla Diamonde The Slowboat Assassin SOS Daniel Multinational Institution Fungus The Mutated Lung Self Frank Talk Nike Jimmy Grinnith Ray Skillz Caramel Animal Chin Judah Bionic Biscuit Mr Pitt Scalywag Brian de Goede Brydon Bolton Wayne Scholts Mizchif Captain my Captive Devious
We felt we could spread this magic endlessly with multimedia collaborative music festivals. Laurence had an extensive vision of this. At first we would travel without, we would go from Cape Town to Maputo and then Cape Town to Cuba, Cape Town to the Caribbean and so on and then we would go within, Cape Town to Table Mountain, Cape Town to the Cape Flats, Cape Town to the Carnival, and so on, always expressed through staged musical performance, live recording and collaboration, such as the wondergigs philosophy had illustrated.
We created the first of these festivals and it was staged at the OudeLibertas amphitheatre. It was the Cape Town Maputo festival in 2003. Zolani Maholo performed intimately alongside Isaq Matuz, the blind blues man from Xai Xai. Matuz had not spoken before as he did not speak English, and never ever left Xai Xai before, but after the sound-check he spoke. He said, “It is like performing with Miriam Makeba.” After the show we could not contain his excitement. We were all staying together, about twenty people in the warehouse, and we slept that night with the sound of Matuz singing, ‘Halleluiah.'
Still being prepared : ALBUM THREE Mother City Love Songs : Music from Cape Town
Still being prepared : ALBUM FOUR Cape Town's Hip Hop
Album Review: NICK TURNER – Home and Secure
After a host of recent projects and from New York to Cape Town, Sons of Trout founder member Nick Turner has gone back to his dub reggae rock best. He is currently touring South Africa in various musical collaborations sharing, 'Home and Secure,' which is enough of a collection to show that this musician is in the starlight of his career, and he is moving and shaking with the stamina of a long distance runner.
Check out the killer single ‘Everywhere,' Written about the perennial favourite, ‘unrequitted love' and given a spark of bourgeoisie by the delicious muted trumpet playing and French accent. But maybe you are more into this big up front reggae back beats that lead out tunes like “Seasons”, “Getting Hotter” (The Sounds of Trout hit), “Norman,” (The Mikanic hit) and “Same world?” The combination of hot horn lines with, tight reggae jams and great vocals is universal, vibey and natural. And as the trumpet rasps in the distance, one knows that this sound will travel!
Nick is well supported by bass and drums, Schalk Joubert and Riaan Van Rensburg (not on album), both performers gel alongside the band leader like a sole well glued to a shoe. In fact the trio is so tight that their reputation precedes them! Adrian Brand adds superb trumpet throughout the album sparking Cape Town, Balkan reggae vibrations with a clean tone and adventurous style.
Turner's vocals are solid and well-crafted into a soothing sometimes stinging delivery. The lyrics are witty and profound in their simplicity. It is Nicks' heart for inclusion community togetherness and friendship that comes through in the album. “We all look up and see the same moon,” he sings on same world.
There are delightful cameos like Nick's many musical brothers and sisters such as Mike Rennie (violin) and Zolani Mahola (vocals) who each add their own flavour to the potjie pot music.
The opening song on the album is called “anomaly.” Turner is of English heritage, but is South African for many generations, over 100 years. Thus, he sings in Afrikaans to reach the majority of the market in the region he lives – the Western Cape, and there are enough Afrikaans tunes to keep the home fires burning. The composition, “Roos” by Leslie Javan gives a raucus rural and humourous goema vastrap Cape flavour to the music.
Another anomaly is that Nick spent a five year stint in New York as a waiter in an African bistro restaurant. A number of songs refer to this, such as “Cuffed in my Kitchen” and the title track “Home and Secure,” drawing a link between New York and Cape Town.
Cape Tonian Musician Derek Gripper
Derek Gripper is a Cape Town born classically trained musician who has been undefinable in his approach to music since. His working protocol is: “working from recordings and creating versions that work fabulously on guitar.”
‘One Night on Earth' performs compositions from Malian musicians Toumani Diabate, Ali Farka Toure, Ballake Sissoke and Vincent Segal. The incredible technical sacrifice and performance discipline to perform the music from a 21 string instrument, the kora on a six string guitar impressed the public no end. When people listened to One Night on Earth, they listened to the music of a man overcoming limitation through music.
One Night on Earth by Derek Gripper is a live recording take that happened on one night on earth in a church in Kysna late at night after the traffic sound had died down. On that night Derek Gripper played solo guitar for his sound team and the rest of the world. On this album he has taken the compositions of Malian musicians.
The album begins with a composition titled Chamber Music composed by Ballakke Sissoko. Derek describes the album from which its title track was transcribed as “simply one of the most elegant and beautiful recordings of ‘world music' in recent years.”
On Track 2 Derek delves deep into a delightfully adventurous composition with the performance of an Ali Farke Toure piece called '56. As the liner notes say courtesy of a Lucy Duran interview: “In 1956 during his travels Ali saw a performance of the National Ballet of Guinnea featuring Malinke guitarist Keita Fodeba. Ali began to play using borrowed guitars and found it easy to translate his traditional guitar technique.”
This song depicts a great joy that captures the flailing dance and colourful actions of the Guinnea dancers.
Derek's rendition of this song is relaxed and pleasurable to the maximum and there are moments where you feel the musician himself has handed himself over to the power of the music. We float along.
For me, this opening songs were a lovely introduction, but from Track 3 the musical journey that represents a great breakthrough for Derek truly begins. At once we hear a far more intricate tapesty of sounds. The deep base, the light dancing melody, the two note ostinato's, the groove as light at the flight of a bird and on top of this an almost eastern scalar improvisation,
From track three to seven we hear the musical transcriptions that imitate so convinvingly the music of Mali. Track 3 to 7 are compositions by Toumani Dianete. Derek transcribed his compositions from Kora instrument to guitar and thereby re-created Malian music (note for note) from the musical recording alone. It's a fantastic and daring work.
On this album, we hear music that has travelled from the 21 stringed KORA instrument of the a 72 nd generation GRIOT in MALI to the six stringed GUITAR of the MUSICIAN in CAPE TOWN.
And he has done an amazing job, so much so that the notion that you can only play Malian music if you are from Mali is merely a notion. It is a musical language that Derek has learnt to speak.
And it is such a beautiful language that when he plays these seven songs, they flow together with such meaning that one feels the spirit of Malian music, the holistic values of the griot in the North West of Africa has travelled with the compositions. Derek has both captured the music and feeling of Mali.
The delicate musical nuances of this music so fantastically reproduced on guitar transports ONE on the wings of an eagle to the scenery where this music originated tens of thousands of years ago in one of the most ancient sites of human mythology and habitation. Where the scenery of Mali is marked by desertous and semi desert terrain, the humanity is an example of a transcendental human spirit. There, where there is music there is an abundantly colourful dress, there is theatre, puppetry, wildly exhibitive dance and the enigmatic voices of soaring splendour or guttural relief. Where there is the music of the GRIOT, KORA and MALI, there is a great expressive relief that transcends the musician and his her music speaks directly to the hearts, dreams and souls of the community. The GRIOT, is the SHAMAN, BRAHMAN, the sharer of music and sharer of life, light and love with the community.
On a musical level, Derek Gripper did what many music reviewers and journalists all over the world believe to be impossible, however there is no mystery in what Derek has done and his beautiful written liner notes together with scores and a very helpful website assists anybody to follow his music making process.
In transcribing the compositions of Toumani Diabate, Derek heard “an intricate interplay of themes, cycles and ornamentation.” He heard “an unbelievable wealth of melodic and thematic development.” Derek found that the Malian musicians execution of counterpoint harmony has led to an illusion that there are multiple musical voices in operation when there may only be one voice, the kora.
“The first thing I noticed was how the simple rhythmic counterpoint created the illusion of multiple voices and rhythmic freedom between voices. The nature of the interlocking rhythms between a low and a high part gave the listener the impression of total freedom between voices. This effect was highlighted in pieces like Kaira and Jarabi by the swinging rhythm and the placing of important melodic ideas on the off-beats of swinging rhythms. So while all the parts fitted together in a seamless rhythmic whole, the overall effect was one of the independence of individual lines. This in the language of classical composition, is true counterpoint, and it is this perfection of counterpoint which had drawn me, and many others, to Diabate's work in the first place. This counterpoint is the effect which has made Toumani Diabate seem like a magician in musical circles. His work takes us back to a time when composer, performer and improviser were not such distinct terms.”
Taking prominence in Diabate's composition are “kubengo's.” The kubengo is an ostinato.
“The kubengo is a cyclical phrase which provides the rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment to the melodic phrases of the singer or second kora player. These cycles are juxtaposed with what is called birmintingo or ‘improvisation.'
There is no mystery this is simply the performance of a high art of music making that has its origin in Mali. When a young musician from Cape Town decoded the musical language of Mali he broke the long held taboos of musical superiority and exposed the compositions of Mali as angelic. ‘The music speaks for itself.' ‘One night on earth' has the capacity to transcend its genre.
Derek writes as much in the liner notes:
“A musical work from the European classical canon is referred to as a ‘composition' while a musical work from an oral tradition from, for example, Africa, is ‘folk music' or ‘traditional music,' and it is this that allows us to create the distinction between CLASSICAL MUSIC and WORLD MUSIC. Do we obscure this dilemma by referring to AFRICAN CLASSICAL MUSIC? Or do we get closer to a point where we can drop the first two words and arrive back again at the important one: MUSIC.”
The Sound of Water release by Derek Gripper (8 / 10)
On his album the Sound of Water Derek begins an extended project to transcribe the works of Egberto Gismonti for guitar. He calls this the “Gismonti Project.”
Derek was first introduced to the music of Gismonti by late South African trumpeter and accordionist Alex van Heerden.
“Alex and I worked together for a little over ten years, and during this time our inspiration was both the music of South Africa, especially the Western Cape, and the innovations of Naná and Egberto who reminded us that our local traditions could inspire a deeply personal music; a music without boundaries. Most of our earlier compositions, from Sagtevlei onwards, were very influenced by Gismonti and Vasconcelos - they were like a guiding light to me and Alex - an example of what could be made of "traditional" music.”
Derek Gripper has studied Egberto Gismonti's music extensively over the last ten years leading him to a full scale vision of a transcription, recording and performance project for Gismonti's music. He describes the ‘Gismonti project' as a statement on what the power of the guitar can be (when thought of as a small piano). After Derek had completed 15 transcriptions of Gismonti compositions he recorded five of them to include on his album. The success of this album propelled Derek completely out of the acoustic SA guitarist mould into the category of ‘world musician.'
The inter relationship between the folk music of South Africa and South America, and Cape Town, the land where our first Nation (the bushmen people) settled is displayed. For example on the composition O Trenzinho do Caipira (by Villa-Lobos)
“I am intrigued by this composition's similarity to the Cape koortjie, a cyclical musical song sung and played in churches in the Western Cape of South Africa; a meeting point of European Christianity and African trance dance.”
I asked Derek how these transcription and imitations of Gismonti, assisted him in developing his own voice and releasing his own expression and thus becoming an influence to other musicians?
“I think we all copy. Language, for example, is learnt through imitation. Then we utter our own stories; music too. I think musicians are scared of imitation these days because of copyright being so engraved in our minds. There is a value placed on originality to the extent that we are terrified even to play something that has been played before. I am not sure that this is so in other cultures.
“Improvisation can happen on so many different levels. One can improvise with an existing composition (say Bach) just by nuance. The performance can be different every time and the result totally original and totally free, like Glenn Gould playing Bach. And, some so-called improvisers are totally derivative. While they may be playing a new series of notes every time, they always sound the same. So, I think the copying or not copying of notes is not the issue. The question is, is the spirit free, to delve into the moment, to accept the moment, to be fresh, to feel and to explore; explore an existing work, explore an instrument or a scale, it doesn't matter. A composition, like an instrument, is simply a vehicle. Each performer must bring it alive and that is the juice.
“Gismonti, for example: once he has written a piece - like Frevo; he plays it over and over again. In this sense his performance of Frevo and my performance of Frevo (if I played it) would be no different in terms of potential. Both of us are playing an existing work. Both of us could become dry and boring and stuck and mechanical in playing this work… and both of us could constantly find new ideas and nuance.
“Lately I don't perform much of Gismonti's compositions, but I have learnt a lot from him and his playing has effected, or inspired, my own style. Sometimes I think that other musicians give us permission to do what we really wanted to do anyway.
“I had an interesting experience with Carlo Dominiconi in Turkey. He is a classical guitar composer in his sixties now, but he has really treaded his own way and his playing is very free; very Gismonti even in his own way with the same qualities of dirtiness and texture and all. It was wonderful. We improvised together three pieces at the end of our double bill concert to 500 people in an ancient quarry. Afterwards he said: ‘Y ou have the capacity to improvise maybe better then you know yourself. On stage I was feeling very relaxed with you.... and it happened exactly like it should be... just in the moment.' This made me smile.
“Moments of pure originality can come in many ways, even when playing Bach, but for me I think the path is somewhere more free and open, beyond kora compositions and Gismonti and classical music and even Cape music. I pick up influences like vocabulary. Playing with Dizu this week gave me a new vocabulary. It all goes in and slowly it all starts to come out. But I am a pedant sometimes too (Nietzsche: "sometimes proud of tables of categories") and get caught in catalogues of existing works and creating a kora style on guitar or transcribing Gismonti's complete works. It all goes in, and someday it all will come out. The music is going in the direction of a totally free space where individual works and styles and genres and continents melt away.
“The idea is to get Gismonti's permission to publish a book on his music. Maybe even with text and images - a really beautiful exploration of the music and its stories. I would like to visit him and talk about his compositions and discuss the arrangements, perhaps even get input on them from him. My idea is to move from African Classical Music (which you hear on One Night on Earth (his latest album) ) to a contemporary global African Classical music, to expand the tonal, harmonic, timbral and textural palette of (our music) in order to evolve a new form of African composition or ‘re-composition'.”
Maestro Gismonti's South African Visit :
The Music of Egberto Gismonti : Egberto Gismonti visit to Johannesburg September 7 th 2013
There are musicians that have a massive influence on the rest of the world through the recordings they make. Egberto Gismonti's visit to Johannesburg in 2013 as part of the Arts Alive festival on September 7 th 2013 created an unexpected experience of a great blossoming of truth and transformation.
The organisers paying lip service to BRICS billed Gismonti's visit as ‘South meets South.'
At a production level, Arts Alive was handled in a controversial manner. The city of Johannesburg handed out a tender to run the Arts Alive budget and contract for three years. A conglomerate of entrepreneurs tailor-made to receive this budget was formed and won the three year tender. Their purpose is economic. Thus for our best performers / creators to reach the stage is a maize through the pitfalls of greed, lust and mind control of modern economics. However we still do it.
Maestro Gismonti is a musician from Brazil who has broken through to share his light. Gismonti's performance was like nothing we had ever seen before. He was absolutely himself. And he was challenged.
There was no coincidence that Gismonti's ten string guitar had been damaged in transit giving it a scratchy and very soft sound. He played it however for a few minutes only and picked out an intuitive and poetic guitar phrase which he did not complete. He allowed the sound to hang into an unexpected silence whereupon the sound of a flugal horn from backstage was heard. Hugh Masekela, an apartheid era hero, a man levelled by addiction, was warming up his flugal horn.
With typical Brazilian flare Gismonti had stood up the organisers at the press conference the day before the big show by insisting the driver drop him in Soweto. And then during his performance when the misplaced sound of the flugal horn players' lack of discipline born of an inability to listen filtered onto stage, Gismonti threw up an arm and with his wrist slightly bent like a matador who had avoided the charge of a mad bull, he called upon the audience to stop, listen and interpret. In a moment we were educated.
South Africa has been accused of having an audience listening problem but now it is clear to see that this is a conspiracy of promotion. After this interesting cameo, Masekela's leather hat was seen moving at the side of the stage as he relocated. Gismonti stopped his song and put his guitar down. He said, “I cannot play with this noise I am going to play piano now.”
Gismonti is equally as proficient on piano as guitar. He is a master pianist. He tacked the ivories with the certainty of a great healer reviving a dying body. He pressed all the important pressure points on the piano, using rhythm to go beyond time and using improvisation to bring a sense of miracle. He played the piano as if it were an extension of his body. Driving rhythms were met with melodic refrains, whilst on all occasions he picked out specific notes and chords with the speed and dexterity of a hunter pulling a fish from the river with his bare hands. The overall impression was of frequency. And in the extraordinary healing capacity of his music the philosophical vision of the great Russian composer Scriabin was felt. It was as if a great whirlpool of colour arose from the open top of the grand piano and listening to this music was like looking through a kaleidoscope where we the listeners were transported into that space of creativity.
After the controversial performance of Gismonti in South Africa, Derek Gripper wrote these words to Gismonti :
“You are Brazilian but you have the heritage of Lithuania and Italy. Here you might be considered an immigrant - not a real South African. But yet you make some of your country's most important music! We need to realise that a nation is created by those who share a sense of place. Simple.
“You represent for us a culture of plurality: Egberto Gismonti is a musician we can learn a lot from! You are somebody who can show us how to use the riches of our own country; How to embrace our pluralism; How to use the forms of jazz and classical music to be a vehicle for our own culture; How to innovate; How to celebrate.
“We have not got to a point like in Brazil where we can accept each other as "South Africans" in all our diversity! Especially now, our idea of The Rainbow Nation is not as strong as it was 15 years ago under Mandela's leadership. The apartheid government really destroyed too much of our culture. It separated communities and created a deep wound of inferiority - a complex of inferiority. My experience has been that we as a country (if you can generalise) struggle to evaluate our own culture and music unless it has been endorsed by outsiders. And we have the added problem that the raw materials of our music are largely silenced and scattered. There are only small memories left.
“You are right that we have exchanged a race ideology for an economic one. Or that the racial separation persists because of economic separation. And they worry about safety and economy, but in the words of Churchill: "If we cut funding in the arts then what are we fighting for?" paraphrased.
Gismonti says to Gillman in an online interview EG = mc² : :
“Basically, I'm a piano player that plays guitar. Because of the piano's range I have tuned my ears to bigger intervals than the guitar's intervals. That's the main reason I use more strings. The tunings are different for each guitar, but all of them have high strings on the 7th and 9th.”
“Choro represents the foundation of our music. To play, to understand, to be, to think Brazilian music, everyone must cross by the concept and the music of choro .”
Gillman writes: “Accustomed to the wider range of the piano and constricted by the conventional six string instrument, Gismonti designed guitars with 8, 10, 12, and 14 strings, thereby expanding the intervalic and harmonic potential of the instrument. Approaching the fretboard as if it were a keyboard, Gismonti gives listeners the impression that there is more than a single guitar player .”
“ As a young musician Gismonti taught himself how to play guitar by listening to the solo recordings of Baden Powell and by transcribing sections of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier .'
Derek Gripper writes:
“Gismonti is one of those musicians that is at one and the same time a shining light in the music of one particular country, and the music of a totally original human being who defies nationalistic categorisation. In many respects his music is quintessentially Brazilian, but at the same time it reaches so much further than the music of one nation or history possibly could.
“Beyond the stylistic realm of nation, genres and musical forms, the polar extremes of Gismonti the musician seem to be represented in his two principle instruments: piano and ten-string guitar. His piano playing begins as pristine serenity, but moves towards rolling thunder and expansive improvisation. His guitar playing begins as a raw and untamed explosion, but reduces itself to impossible fragility.
“Gismonti's music is a modern answer to Villa Lobos' guitar music. Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos created a style of guitar music that revolutionised the language of classical guitar. He did this by exploiting the individual characteristics of the guitar in ways that had not been done before. Gismonti's work incorporates the same Brazilian folk influence and guitaristic devices as Villa Lobos, but he adds to this the language of avant garde classical music, minimalism, contemporary jazz, rock, and the guitaristic pyrotechnics of Django Reinhrardt and Jimmy Hendrix.
“Gismonti's music is an example of contemporary African music. Much of Brazilian music is connected to Africa - like his composition Lundu. Lundu was a Brazilian dance that has originated as far South of Africa as Angola. This dance had travelled to Brazil and become its first national dance, later morphing into the Choro and Samba .”
“My approach has been to explore his music as an interpreter - like one would do with Bach etc. My approach has been to use sound and instrument as the means to explore music, and to leave behind abstract theory as much as possible. So I explore the music by ear, on the instrument. I have found that it is easier to get to the heart of the compositions and how they can be translated by just working with the raw sound. The recording has taken the place of the musical score: both as a means to reach audiences, and as a means to learn from and play the music of other musicians. Most of my transcriptions of his work are in rough scores, using a special tablature for guitar due to his use of many different tunings.”
“ Gismonti's primary innovation seems to have been the addition of one or two high strings to the bass side of the instrument. This made it possible for rhythmic drones to be played as low bass notes or as high notes, all by the thumb, leaving the fingers free to play the harmonic or melodic movements. Salvador is a great example of this, played on Solo with an eight-string guitar with treble g string tuned up to A sitting below the usual bass E string. Then another bass string, tuned to low A below this. This configuration was later extended on the ten-string guitar to include a treble g string below the lower bass A and a lower bass string below that (tuned mostly to F or G). The strings are tuned something like this for many of his later ten-string guitar compositions (and arrangements of earlier works): G g A aEADgbe (where bold is low bass string, upper case is normal bass string and lower case is normal treble string).”
When I asked music how deep the Gismonti music went, this is how he answered:
“The music has more texture and fire - more Hendrix than Mozart. Most classical guitarists play in a very different way to Gismonti - very clean - influenced by the piano. His is more visceral and he really uses the sounds and possibilities of the guitar.”
The transcendental qualities of Gismonti's music are evident in any of his over 60 albums. The composition Ruth from his 1996 Alma album is wistful and swirling with imagination. The combined compositions of Maracatú, Sapo, Queimada & Grilo from his No Caipira album is splendid as it moves with gentle horns through an invigorating dance of the soul. On the Rarum collection, Gismonti's guitar playing is exposed in this joyful collection of sound and experience brought to life by the gentle chants of content voices.
Gismonti has helped us move this mountain of perception. This is an invitation to Gismonti to give us another chance. We have the capacity to listen in this land. We have the capacity to transform in this land. The only problem is apartheid never died it simply exchanged its race ideology for an economic ideology. And great musicians, originators or saints create transformation by sharing their truth.
The musical language of truth, harmony, unity, expression and beauty will not be overcome by the dance-whores and Americanisation of modern promoters.
Important Gismonti links provided by Gripper: