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Interview Moses Khumalo

Moses Khumalo was the saxophonist in Moses Molelekwa's band. Interview Moses Khumalo conducted Johannesburg 2002 shortly after the shock death of his bandleader Moses Molelekwa (Moss). Moses said:

I met Moss at a Jam Session at Kippies. We played Mannenberg. We met again at a Club in Dobsonville. We played his song and that is when we started hooking up. He phoned me the very same week for the same club gig but with a full band. I knew Moss from there until his sudden death.

I am seeing development in our music. It has developed from mbaqanga and marabi to a certain style which can accommodate youth and the elderly. I must say it is getting to a point where people could appreciate jazz. When I was growing up they would say jazz is for old people. I didn't quite believe in that. I told myself I can relate with jazz. And from there the response is coming. If you check jazz festivals they get quite full and that is inspiring to see. People are starting to realise what is happening in our music, which is wonderful.

In mbaqanga it used to be 1,4,5. You get other elements in it. If you listen to Mannenberg and you listen to Shona, a lot of songs from those days in the sixties, they sound like the same vibe, but different. Today we have so many alternatives. You can't stick on the 1,4,5 because most of the artists have had the chance to go and study music. They have used those elements in music. So it sounds South African. That is most important. I try and check the history of our people as well. We must know where Hugh Masekela comes from and what he is about and Allan Kwela, Jonas Gwangwa, Sibongile Khumalo, Miriam Makeba ... It has totally changed. Like Ntjilo Ntjilo , it is a wonderful standard. And there are so many people like Bheki Mseleku, and Themba Mkhize who mix in Western sounds. SA jazz has developed from what it was to something we can be really proud of. I see people trying to express themselves. Trying to explain to the next person what they feel through their music. The title of the song tells the people what it was written about, what it was written for. “There is a song I play, 'Hip for the Blue Ones' which I dedicated to Moses Molelekwa, I felt it was a song where I could at least be in touch. I don't play jazz in a political aspect, I play in a musical aspect for people to appreciate and enjoy their music.

For example if they were to book a kwaito group and book a jazz group, a kwaito group will always be paid more than a jazz group. This is what we sometimes discuss. To be honest, jazz is food for life. It sells for so many years and kwaito music exists for a month or two and we must wait for another hit. Whereby jazz is played for the rest of our lives because you can listen to stuff that was composed a hundred years ago and it still has meaning to us. Basically that is something that must change. Not that we must get a lot of money, people should start respecting and realising the importance of the music by giving the artist respect and not taking advantage like, “This is a jazz artist, and pay whatever because obviously they don't get enough proper jobs. This is because we tend to not speak for ourselves particularly when the promoters try and rip us off. The other thing we were talking about is that we are not together in fighting those things. We don't have proper unions, we don't have proper places to talk and listen. We need to better the old industry by promoters coming together so artists can understand what the promoters need and the promoters can understand what the artists need, even the technical side of it. The people who work with sound should understand what the artist wants. We need to really have workshops, for an industry where not only musicians go there, but each and every promoter and musician in the country and the road managers too. We would have to find a way forward in bettering the industry. We can only do this by coming together and bettering the whole industry. Really.

I wondered if Moses had been torn between jazz and kwaito. At the time of his death he was working with TKZee on the BMG label and was working on a collaboration with classical musician Johanna Mcgregor. The dichotomy of the music industry: on the one hand the promiscuity, murder and mayhem of the major labels that support kwaito music and on the other hand the deep spirituality of the classical music and Moses's own Jazz. Was it this that really tore Moses apart? I asked Moses Khumalo if Moss's death had anything to do with his recent collaboration with TKZee and the bad influence of the hard ambitious stereotypes of the kwaito industry on his sensitive soul. Moses Khumalo said:

I don't want to lie. Moses believed in any kind of music. He could play reggae, he could play techno and there is drum and base on his ‘Spirits of Thembisa.' All his songs were different, they didn't sound the same. He even played kwaito. There was a song he called ‘Django'. ‘Django' was like a groove. He always believed in diversity. He always believed in music. He always told me that. He gave me that. When you play music you don't strictly have to play that music. You should be versatile and flexible in whatever. For me, Moses' death even today, I am still questioning about it because of the person he really was. He was a very spirited person. He had a free spirit. I could see Moss sitting with beggars you know, giving them food, and all that. He was a very kind and a gentle person, and quiet too. We might not know. It is not for me to say because I wasn't even there. I don't know what really happened. For me, I am really crying for his soul, that beautiful soul. I can't judge what happened. I can only learn from some of the things.

It's fascinating in this industry because promoters can really sadden your heart. There is something called 'bad spirit'. It comes from when you do something nice and people make you feel as though you are not doing something nice. I have been in those situations where I used to live a stressful time where my heart is just not feeling cool. I used to feel sad because of what is happening in an industry because of critics as well, people who don't appreciate what the next person is doing. If a person succeeds here in South Africa, particularly in our communities, people don't get happy when you succeed. They start having all these negative attitudes against you, they start calling you names and all that. It saddens one when it is like that because they seem to judge you as a kind of a person which you are not.

The media should at least consider a person while they are still alive. An artist can say what is happening and all that because it is hard to put yourself in another person's heart. We as musicians and media should have a certain way of working, with each other, by understanding exactly what is happening between the two sides. I must know how to respect a journalist. I must know how to talk to a journalist, I must know how to approach talking to a journalist. So many people tend to only focus on the bad side of it and not the good side of it.

Some months after this interview was conducted, Moses Khumalo was dead. The media described it as a “copycat suicide.” Moses Khumalo makes it clear in this interview that it is not this or that causing the sudden death of our musicians. It is something they call a “bad spirit.”



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