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On the event of the Old Mutual Jazz Encounters Competition Final

Interview Hotep Galeta

There is a lot of talent in this country. A lot of which is under-developed. I am involved in education. Particularly jazz education. This is one of my pet themes. It is something that I have looked forward to for a long time that a corporation will come forward and start sponsoring developmental programmes like this. Finally Old Mutual came up with this idea.

Old Mutual called for demos across the country for up and coming jazz artists. The lowest amount of demos we got was from the Eastern Cape which I was surprised because the Eastern Cape is known for producing great musicians. We received a lot of demos. Some were good and some were not good. Some were jazz and some were not jazz. We had to sift through and make a decision.
We had a board. On the board were three musicians Rene McClean, Tony Cox, myself and a gentleman who works for SAMRO, Peter Morake. We had to come up with criteria to determine entry and musical content. And of course in this country, jazz is a very broad connotation, so we didn't only deal with the American concept of jazz. We also dealt with jazz in the South African idiom which is marabi, mbaqang and some traditional music; whether it was a marimba band. We came up with four categories, band then solo instrumentalist, vocalist, both male and female and composers.

What about the most promising artist category?

Those are consellation prises. In every province we found some extraordinary talent that we wanted to reward even though they didn't make it as a finalist. But, it was some encouragement for them to perfect their craft. For example in Johannesburg there was a Gospel group and they had an accompanying band and there was a drummer that was about 14 years old. He was the most outstanding musician besides the group. He deserved a prize just to motivate him. He didn't even have a set of drums but he was so masterful. It is talent like that that needs to be motivated.

Is there a difference in music styles between the provinces?

I think so. Cape Town has a totally different feel than Kwa Zulu Natal. It is all jazz in a sense. Johannesburg is also a little more sophisticated. I don't want to be biased but I am from Cape Town and I have always felt that Cape Town has produced some great musicians. There is a difference in terms of whatever ethnic group is dominating in whatever province. You find elements of those kinds of traditional music have a stronger influence. In the Western Cape it is more Western American orientated with a smattering of traditional African. Whereas in Johannesburg you find something similar and it is also a greater melting pot of many different cultures, Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Shangaan, it is very different. It is also very interesting and exciting.

What is the vocalist situation?

The vocalists I was kind of disappointed because we did not have a lot of vocal entries. In Cape Town Judith Sephuma won. In Johannesburg I was impressed by a young male vocalist in the real serious jazz tradition, I forgot his name. All of them are under the spotlight and one of them has to step away with the grand prize.

Judith Sephuma was the only female vocalist from Cape Town?

So she actually won by default because there were no other challengers. But, I mean she is an incredible vocalist. She's got a lot of experience and she is classically trained from UCT music school.

What is the reason there are so few female participants?

There was another woman but she didn't sing in the jazz idiom and she was disqualified. We specifically stated that it has to be jazz. It can not be R&B. It can not be Whitney Houston. We want it in the typical jazz tradition. I was surprised we didn't have many more entrants, not only vocalists but other instrumentalists. There are a lot of players in Cape Town. There is an incredible amount of talented young players around the city, not only here but in places like Durban and Johannesburg. Maybe we got to look at our advertising campaign next time.
Young musicians feel their best opportunity is to go overseas and that that is where the opportunity is...
I think the South African industry needs to wake up. And I also think the government needs to wake up. I spent 30 years of my life in exile. All of that was spent in the United States, I was there both as a performing artist and as a music educator. Particularly in jazz. I have recorded with from Hugh Masekela to Herb Alpert. I have 18 CD's to my credit which I have recorded with international artits and I travelled extensively. What I found is that the Americans have a very sophisticated system. But, they don't have as much talent as we have. The Americans have set up infrastructures for development. They have set up infrastructures in their education system, in their high schools. They have high schools for music and art. We could have the same infrastructures here. We need to make our ministers of education, our ministers of arts and culture aware of this. We need to have infrastructures for kids in areas like Mitchells Plain, Nyanga, Soweto, Kwa Mashu. They need to have these after school programmes of instrumental music, in primary school. That is how the Americans have it. They have music education starting from primary school. They have guidance councillors who know how to deal with music and performing arts. So, by the time a kid gets to highschool he's got a talent as a performer. He can go to a highschool of music and art where he deals with music theatre, dance, the technical side, the business side, everything. That is what we need. We need structures like that. Maybe it can be a joint venture between corporate and government. I really feel South African culture if we do not develop it we are going to be left behind because there is an enormous amount of talent here. I believe if we start developing it now then our music will become as important if not more important in the new Milllenium. South African music will begin influencing music in the rest of the world in the same way American music has influenced us from way back. We have an enormous resource here that we need to develop. I really think to invest in that development the dividends will be in the future and South African music will become a global force. In other words we won't have to go overseas anymore, people will be having to come to South Africa to be inspired. Why do artists have to go to the US and to Europe? Let the process be reversed. Let the Europeans and Americans come to South Africa to be inspired and to be discovered. We need to develop our recording infrastructures, and our Arts and Culture industry to facillitate those things.

What is your role?

I am now 57 years old. I have been playing music professionally since I was 15. I am not as keen to be on the stage as I was when I was younger. I am more interested in education to give my knowledge. I have a masters degree in performance and also jazz education. I am interested in getting a doctorate. My interest now is to educate and facillitate because of my contacts and ties in the United States to facillitate exchange programmes with the musicians and performing arts bodies to come here and do workshops. I look at myself as South African but I also have Amer ican citizenship, so I look at myself as a citizen of the world. I might be living here for another six months, then I might go to the US for another 2 years and then come back. It is to get the information, get the knowledge, establish those links and contacts so we can start to get the ball rolling. I can't do it all by myself. I need help from whoever wants to give me help. It is not only me. There are other musicians who think along similar lines. We can not do it ourselves. We need to have a collective body to create this vision because that is what it is. It is a vision that we have. This vision can not become a reality unless we have the support.

Chatting to Letta Mbulu...

Letta and I have also worked together. Caiphus and I, we have worked together because we used to be in Los Angeles together. Letta and I, we talk the same language. Caiphus and I, we talk the same language. We have all been there and we have seen. We have been with the stars like Quincy Jones's, Herb Alpert's, you know we have been with those guys. Their thing is always, play your own culture, don't try to sound like an American. Bring your own thing, develop it, fuse it with ours and make something new. We have fertile ground here. I get very upset when I hear guys playing cover version here in the Western Cape. Cape Town unfortunately is known for that. There are astounding musicians. They don't have to play that. It is a dead end. You cannot be creative if you play someone elses music all the time. And then you develop an audience of cover zombies. They say play me George Benson exactly the same way he plays. That is why I admire guys like Jimmy Dludlu. He was one of my students and I love him. I love his music and I love the way he has gone. There are younger guys like Selaelo. There are a lot of musicians like that. Mark Fransman. I always talk to them and give them information, give them literature, music and books.

How did you find the contest?

One of the things we looked for was originality and how close it is related to our own culture.

Who will be judging?

On the judging panel we have some very distinguished emminent musicians. We have Professor Darius Brubeck from the University of Natal Centre for Jazz and popular music. We have one of my collegues from the Western Cape, Robbie Jansen, great musician. We have Duke Ngcukana who comes from a very distinguished musical family. His father is a great musician. Of course his brother is. And there is Bruce Cassidy from Johannesburg, he is a Canadian. He is a very talented musician. He writes jingles, he is into IT technology and computers. I don't judge, I am just there to facillitate and advise the guys.

Is there a disparity in the judging?

We use a point system. Nobody knows what the other one is voting. When the competition is finished we get together behind closed doors and everybody submits their marks. It is very fair. And if we feel there is some kind of disparity we have an open discussion. Of course we also have officials from Old Mutual also auditing, so I think it is one of the fairest things I have ever come across. In all of the provinces the judging was very accurate.

Are you living in Grahamstown?

I live 45 km from Grahamstown in Fort Beaufort. I teach two days a week at Rhodes. And I also teach at Fort Hare. I have applied for a position in the US. I am thinking about going back because I want to do a doctorate. Not only am I interested in education but I am also interested in music management. I will come back. There are a lot of knew media entertainment companies springing up. I would like to be part of that development. I have a vision and I think those elements could help develop the industry in a different direction. You have to have some credentials before you get in there. You have to have a business skill. I have some business skill now but no certificate. All I have is a masters degree in music. It doesn't mean anything.


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