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Feya Faku's living legacy
Beauty is in the sound of a trumpet honed through a career of playing with the very best the jazz legends. Through music he is actively preserving the rich legacy of Xhosa Africa Cape Jazz.
Feya is a great South African trumpet player. Feya Faku is a child who grew up in and amongst the burgeoning jazz scene of New Brighton. He is a trumpet player and a product of this informal school of South African jazz whereby the musical language is passed from generation to generation.
Some of the artists that Feya Faku has played with include Bheki Mseleku, Hotep Galeta, Winston Mankunku, Zim Ngqawana, Johnny Mekoa, Allen Kwela, Duke Makasi, Victor Ntoni, Sandile Shange, Robbie Jansen, AB Lincoln, Alex Van Heerden, Johnny Dyani, Moses Molelekwa, Ntemi Piliso, Mike Makalamele, Lex from PE, Moses Khumalo and Mokone Senkgane (trombone player with Moses.) All of these artists have died.
On meeting Feya Faku in his home in Johannesburg he said that the jazz musicians had buried Victor Ntoni only one week before then. He said when he was chatting with the other musicians, they were saying: “It is us now! And it is true, all these young guys look up to us now.”
I asked him more about these musicians like Pat, Bheki and George.'
Let me show you something. I know these people. George Tyefumani was my teacher. He died of cancer or something. I came here with Mankunku and with my flugel horn there was a problem so he brought me this horn. He said no man, this is your horn you are going to be fine and left it.
Feya shows me the horn in its case.
He died. I came here to play with Mankunku. I came to the funeral. I was staying at Steve Dyers place. And then I went back to Durban. I came back to perform with Mankunku and his son came with his horn and said my father said I must give you this horn. It is the horn I recorded Hommage with. I kept it as it was. I am taking it to Ed to fix, but I am not going to paint it I am going to keep it like that. It is a very good horn and Bheki was like, ‘Hey, really this is your horn.' If I played with another horn Bheki would ask me where that horn is, because it has a special sound!
I started off in PE. I was a listener in the township. And we used to hang around at the shop belonging to Malisa. He was very nice man. The parents were professional teachers, and the daughters were educated. We used to listen to records there. We used to help at the shop. I was only fifteen. It was 1975. It was very nice. We used to live at the back because at the back of the shop and the house, there were other apartments. The other guy his name was Willy. He used to hang around with the soldiers. He had bought himself a trumpet. But, he was battling with it. He had a trumpet and a cornet. I asked if I could check the cornet and he said yes, go. Strangely enough I couldn't play the cornet. I took it back and I took the trumpet and it was spot on. I played because I had listened to a lot of music, figuring things out myself.
I met this guy whose father used to play with Mra (Christopher Ngcukana). Mra used to travel around. He used to come to PE. This old man was a trumpeter. Willy had taken the trumpet so I fiddled with the alto. This guy could read so he showed me. And then I went back, and I took the trumpet, and the rest is history. A cousin of mine who was doing teaching at the college started playing trumpet so he is the one who showed me the scales; but, only in tonic solfa. He had written all the 12 major scales. So I started out and I bought the book and I started teaching myself and I had already decided that this is what I wanted to do after meeting with Zim and all the other cats.
I started at a very young age. I have this thing in me that jazz or music chose me. I didn't choose it. This is true in a way because my thing was soccer when I was young. And then I don't know what these old people saw in me and they came to fetch me at home just after school. Hey Dumilani, lets go?
We started playing in the townships because these are the people who understand this music with their hearts, whether they are drunk. I mean I learned from drunkards. My teachers were drunkards. I remember Cups Nkanuka walking like 'this' and I would be sleeping from another gig and my mother had a small room at the back and my mother would knock and say here he is and I would have to accept him. So, that was my thing. It doesn't matter whether he's drunk. If he makes sense and is teaching you something, my focus is always on the positive; that is how I learnt.
I studied with Mra. I know Mra in person: Columbus Ngcukana; Ezra's father and Duke and Fitzroy and all those guys. I met him long before I met his sons because he was in King Williams Town and he came to PE. I was not even a musician but we were listening to records. His sons were friends of mine. His son used to play alto; and later played trumpet.
Mra could play trumpet. He taught me trumpet. He taught me to read music. He is a man who played with Chris Mcgregor. He was out of this world. He was a great musician.
The story I never relate to is when I met Mra and he was drunk. He was sleeping in the street and I had a lesson before, my first lesson with him, and I was like, 'no man this is him'. And I picked him up and I knew exactly where I met him, which was not far from the place. I mean he must have been walking to the house and then just, you know! So, I picked him up and we went and I put him in bed and I tucked him up and he said 'Hey, I know you. Let's meet at so and so's place.' And that is how we met. And that is why we want to take music back there.
My thing was to learn, open my heart and not judge people. If somebody has something, grab what you want. I learnt from people who don't know that much about theory. Like if he wants to teach you a song on saxophone he will write 12 saxophones with all the fingerings you know. And will I sit there and say no this is bullshit why should I do this, no, I will lower myself and do it. That is why I bought a tutor. You learn about the instrument first. First you know about the mechanics of the instrument. It is like biology. Like the plant. This is the stem. These are the leaves. This is the roots. It is the same thing as the instrument. Before you start anything else you have to know the instrument first. This is a trumpet. These are the valves. This is the water key. This is the slide. This is how this works. You study that.
And then you go to the musical side, like the value of notes and all that. This is a stem, this is a stave and then there is that combination. It is like that. This guy will write 12 saxophones and I am like no. It is about opening your heart and taking it all. If someone is trying to give something to you, you take it and digest it.
And this is how we learnt. My other mentor is Patrick Pasha. He grew up with Dudu Pukwana. He knows Dudu and Dudu was very close to Chris Mcgregor and Dudu comes from Port Elizabeth. This is gold. This is history. Barney Rachabane played with Kippie at the age of 14. Stompie Menana taught Masekela to play trumpet.
This guy Bax Gon he was something else. He taught Bheki. Bheki lived in PE where we come from. The Spirits Rejoice were formed in Port Elizabeth actually. Bheki, Sipho Gumede, they lived there when the band was being formed and they used to practice there before they moved to Joburg. That is the guy who showed Bheki the chords and the name of the chords. There was a community. And those people were like a family. These guys from Soul Jazz, when they moved here and recorded this album, they were not living at hotels. Some were living at Dennis Mpale's house and other musicians' houses. Do you see what I mean?
For the first time I listened to a church service at Victors funeral. I really enjoyed that priest. I think he is Nigerian, or he comes from Cameroon. He talks sense. He says, 'Everybody has his own path in life. You have to go that way because God created us. You have to discover yourself.'
When it gets to spirituality you need guidance otherwise you go mad. You need someone to guide you. That is why other people go mad because there is no guidance. It is scary this spiritual thing. From people, I know, you need guidance in what you eat and all that.
It is very good sometimes to sit and reflect. Just heal yourself. Sometimes most of us get exposed to the highest level and become stars without knowledge sometimes. That can be dangerous. They are geniuses, they are that. That can destroy you because at some point you are on your own.
Be true to yourself. Know yourself. One thing I learned from my mother, she was a domestic worker. She taught me not to follow masses and to be myself in life otherwise it can be dangerous.”
Our music has a purpose. I believe that music must have a message or a purpose. I guess you have to tell a story; the phrasing comes from that. It is about how you feel at the time. For instance I don't know if you heard Terence Blanchard. I met him. He wrote the Malcolm X Jazz Suite. There is a song he plays there and it sounds so Pondo to me. Even the way he scoops the notes. Bababa bap dwaaa; you know? That is so Xhosa to me. That is so traditional. It could be Pedi or what. It is challenging and it makes you think. This guy is from New Orleans. Where does he get this kind of sound? It is so personal. Nobody sounds like him. He's the kind of guy you listen to and say, 'Hey this is Terence'.
Truly there is something special about South African music phrasing. I don't know what it is, maybe it comes from experience. When you hear Mankunku play on Molo Afrika, even his sound changes. Just that song Molo Afriq you hear his sound, it is different. There is something he is trying to convey, he is addressing something there. It is about the sound, is what I always say. Because, young guys they talk about sound and they don't even know what sound is. For me, sound is beyond playing trumpet. Sound is not tone. Sound is different. Sound is who you are within. It is something different from technique and all this stuff. One guy explained it, he said, ‘It is like humanity in music'. Sound is a very deep thing. I guess it is about that because some of these guys transcend their instrument, they play beyond technique and all that stuff. You learn the instrument and all that and then you play music. Your instrument just becomes like a speaker. You are the instrument. You convey what is within you.
I am fifty one. I don't care about technique. I don't care about fame. I don't care that much about money, as long as I can survive and I can provide for my kids. All I want to do is to play. Is to heal myself because there is a lot of things that are negative that are happening. Music helps me to go through. It is hard for me to say. Maybe someone else can observe. There are people who know us and certainly there is a change even where I come from, even now.
I have that thing that music doesn't belong to anyone. Music belongs to music. It depends on the individual, the upbringing and all that. Sometimes you have to reflect you know. Some people they make records prematurely and they become stars and it gets into their heads. You forget where you come from. It is a long story of where we are coming from.
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Feya Faku's tribute concert to Pat Matshikiza
Even though so many musicians of this great jazz era have gone, Feya is still bringing the sound of SA jazz to the public with his innovative and earnest compositions. Feya keeps the music of all of these great musicians of SA jazz alive.
In his recordings, compositions and performances Feya Faku plays tribute to the greats of South African Jazz.
Of the compositions: Song for Bheki (Mseleku) is a powerful and stirring composition with a strong and personal melody. Mr Ibrahim is another gorgeous anthemic composition where the trumpet rises up creating the impressions of a whirling dance. There is the carefree and bluesy Song for Winston, a real favourite for the audience and the musicians too.
Of the performance: The players loose themselves in music. Feya creates a warm sound through his instrument. After playing he retreats to the back of the stage from where he gently affirms his fellow musicians. His message is clear and inspiring at all times. Listening to the sound of his horn one hears the complete range and textures; the bends, rasps and dynamics, the trills and shrills, shrieks and treats. He is expressing himself never over expressing himself. There is a maturity in this music. So pure are the notes as they melt into one another!
Feya is a generous and humble soul and these attributes resonate through the sound of his trumpet. He is a high ranking trumpeter. He is at ease as he plays. At a recent music performance in Durban; all the proceeds from the door were donated to Pat Matshikiza. Feya said in his earnest speech after the show, 'Pat is living in a jondolo in Umlazi. He is not well and has partial memory loss. He has recently had a wheelchair donated to him.'
How is it that a great South African entertainer like Pat Matshikiza has something to want in his retirement years? Pats lyrics, singing and phrasing puts him in a jazz mould born out of the blues, those beautiful blues that have always gone hand in hand with humanity and yet his lyrical playing and rhythmical humour places him in the realm of timeless music. On his composition ‘Africa' he sings: “Let's work together to build a nation, support each other, Sakhuluntu!”
You see why I did this thing for Pat: because I have come a long way with them. I am not really faking it. Pat was a very funny man!
When it comes to Pat, I met bra Pat through the radio, because I was very fond of local jazz music. There was a very good presenter on the radio. His name was Al Fez , a very well versed being. He is still alive in PE. His name is Fezile. This guy and his knowledge of music both local and international are something else. I regard him as my indirect teacher and mentor because; 'me' coming from a very poor background, I could not buy records. I was brought up by my mother. Things were a bit tough for me to afford. I used to listen to radio. I came across Coltrane and all those people. Fezile had another programme where he would play local stuff as well where we would here Mankunku, Pat, the Heshoo Beshoo's, Allen Kwela, even some of the music that was not recorded. I still have it on some of the cassettes there. This band of Pat and Mankunku had Early Mabuza on drums, sometimes Ernest Mothle, very amazing stuff they played. If you have access to the SABC check it out. I even know an earlier version of Tshona, not the Tshona with Kippie, do you know that famous Tshona composition of Pat? He played with Kippie. This version was with Mankunku and Ernest Mothle. You can imagine. There was another transcription as well of Yakhal Nkomo with Pat on piano. Pat used to tell us stories when we met him in Durban in the late 80's.
Pat named Yakhal Nkomo. Mankunku said to the band members he did not have a name for the song, so Pat said, ”Why not call it Yakhal Nkomo because you are playing like a raging bull”.
Abdullah Ibrahim was telling another friend, the greatest teachers are in the townships. I agree with that. My foundation started there actually.
What happened is myself, Zim, Lex (we are all from Port Elizabeth), a drummer George Elias and Melvin Pieters. The four of us were students from the university of Natal. Melvin just graduated. We played a gig at the Rainbow. Rainbow in those days there was a special night for students, like Wednesdays and then on Sundays they would bring all these ladies and masters like Thandi Klaasen to play Sunday. And then Sunday evening they would play in Pietermaritzburg. We played there on a Wednesday and Ben, the owner, was so taken up because we sounded so professional. It helped him in a way. Instead of bringing the whole band from outside, he would bring a soloist and put him with us, like Mike Makalamele, Thandi Klaasen, Duke Makasi and all those musicians and Barney Rachabane. That is how I met him in person.
I met bra Pat there. I remember it was a Sunday. We didn't rehearse. It was so scary. I walk in there. And he is there on stage wearing no shirt. Half naked but with a hat, you know, playing the piano. You know when you hear that full piano. He is playing it towards the left, creating a dark sound. Beautiful! It was him, Mark Duby and Lulu. It was a quartet playing his compositions.
That gig was very important to me because normally I used to play in a quintet or a big band so now I had to stand there alone. There was no music and Pat said 'Sibali' like he normally says, he says, ‘Feya we didn't rehearse, I am playing my composition, you will see what to do.' It was very scary. But I stood there on my own. It was like a rite of passage in our language like going to the mountain and facing things like a man. He showed me a few charts which were rough. I had to use my ears and my instincts. And the gig was very successful and he really liked me from then. He said, 'Oh man for your age you play so pure and beautiful and we didn't even rehearse'. I think it had to do with the chemistry. For me: music is about love, it is about trust, and it is about energy.
If you open your heart, it will be easy. If you close yourself and start playing from here (head) then there is no flow. All these old people really freed me in a way. We played and the gig was nice. And then we went to play again in Pietermaritzburg. It was nice and that was the beginning of our relationship and it never stopped. Whenever he comes to Durban he would want me, Feya has to be there. I remember at one point it was myself, Zim, George Elias on drums and Lex on bass. It was so nice. I remember sitting at the back of the van and he was sitting with us. We were all sitting there. He was telling us the stories about their recordings and all these funny things like Dorkay. He used to make us laugh. He is a very nice person and a great composer as well.
So, he comes with this composition of his called “The young lions.” It has got a lot of changes. He was bull-shitting me. He says, ‘Ah no Feya man just take it easy, don't play all the chords” So I said, 'Ah but bra Pat what can I say, what can I do because the music tells you what to play but there are so many chords what must I do?' He was laughing at me. Later on his wife calls me and says, ‘Feya, guess who can't play his music.' She was laughing and she said, 'Pat'. That is how our relationship developed. He is a great person.
The last time I worked with Pat was when he recorded this album that was produced by Themba and Laurence. It is a very nice recording but I don't think it represents him because I know where he comes from. It is not like the original Pat, that roughness, that rawness. It is too perfect. You know Sipokazi the singer, the tall singer, she is there. All sorts and that is my problem with albums where there is no collective sound, but the music is powerful.
I know Pats' music because I played a lot of it. And he made sure I was there. He said whatever happens Feya has to be on this record. That is how I was involved. He was a funny man.