Home to the Story of South African Jazz
Interviews with Moses Molelekwa 1999 & 2000
“ Molelekwa's genes and natural spirits have set him free from the earth and world beyond.” Vukile Pokwana.
Musical Energy Loud Truth beyond 2000 was formed as a recording label. Pioneered by speaker inventor Robert Trunz, Melt2000 was very influential in signing and nurturing young talent, most especially, Moses Molelekwa. Moses emerged from the bull rushes, this time not as a prophet, but as an internationally qualified jazz cat of esteem! The music prowess and confidence of this young man had an exponential harmonising effect on all of humanity.
As with any great and passionate musician, he would compose prolifically in his very short career. His music was dynamic and reflexive and a moving spirit behind our ever changing society. Melt2000 released his recordings. Finding Oneself came first, Genes and Spirits next and finally Wa Mpona.
On Valentines Day 2002, he and his wife were dead, leaving behind a young child, a comfortable home, blue jag and international career with dozens of unmade albums. The police case was closed as a suicide, however the great loss we felt as a community of like-minded people left us totally confused.
After his sudden shock death Melt 2000 released a post-humus collection titled 'Darkness Pass.' It is a double album of solo piano recordings that are deeply suggestive of a unique approach to music.
Moses Molelekwa was gifted. His shining light burnt a whole completely through the smothering mass of self-interest that was the music industry during his time. And artists were following his example, breaking through, creating music that was real and true. Moses was collaborating, bringing musicians together, achieving the dream of real music, pure music, true music and being the role model to all to realise their love through music.
His playing watered the glorious roots of jazz music as they grew as a reflection of his love. And so through his wistful whimsically melodic piano playing this reflection of love began to straighten the spines of every jazz lover from coast to coast, continent to continent.
Moses Molelekwa was one of South Africa's most innovative and progressive jazz musicians, a visionary who at the time was revitalising the global music scene, mixing in the old with the new, respecting the traditional sounds, yet taking risks and pushing jazz into a contemporary and refreshing space.
It was his passion for the inclusivity of sound and commitment to expanding his music, combined with his instinctive desire for discovering the voice of harmony, that fine-tuned his ear to the beauty of jazz and its great embrace. His sound was retrospective and progressive, eclectic and representative, rhythmical and harmonic, sensitive and tolerant.
Moses called himself a child of the Lost Generation . 16 July 2000, shortly after midnight was the last time I was to see this great man. We had been together to watch D'Angelo smashing microphones on the world stage (NSJ Den Hague 2000) and then we headed up to his hotel room to take on a jazz discussion of note. He said:
I love all music, and all the similarities. I think there's just something special about music, and you got to appreciate that.
I listen to everything. That is sort of manifested in the way I play as well, all those different styles. It's exciting to see a jazz festival with so much variety, which shows that jazz is so huge. One's role in this is to confirm South African jazz to this market.
There is a certain culture that already exists. The South African market is still taking baby steps compared to the States who are way ahead of us in terms of the structuring of the music business. Watching them represent their musical heritage inspires us as well to want to do more.
We represent South African music and the ‘now' generation of music. We have all these different influences from the South African music scene and we bring out each and every one of them.
Everywhere in the world there are those musicians who will express at a certain level, especially when you are doing something original. The music you play is also a medium in which you can express yourself best, like a language that is developed and that is growing and changing. So each artist when they start composing their own music and they play it and when the way they feel it is real to them, then they can touch other people and perform it with a real spirit.
In South Africa now it is an exciting time and also a testing time where we are reconfirming the root we have chosen. The richness comes from within. Opening your ears to other people's music is important. And that's why it is always changing. We are new and bringing in other musical elements, styles and feelings into the feelings of the world. It happens everywhere with all musicians. Music is the most powerful force in providing the thing that will unite the world. It is a connecting force that can come from every country.
African unity is important because there has just been too much blood and death in Africa. We can have a positive outlook because there is so much culture and so much music that needs to come out from Africa. There is a lot that needs to be done. African unity means African growth. It means world peace. I would like to see Africa as the United States of Africa, as one thing, because we are one thing.
Only when we come out of this time of devastation, frustration and separation can we start growing. It is part of what I am about. I love African music and I love the rhythms that come out of that, I can hear similarities and how connected they are. It is important to have it unified.
This comes through naturally, the experiences I have had, the feelings that I feel, the places I have been, they just manifest themselves. There is a certain feeling as well, a certain time when you play a chord or the movements that you use which is South African. The emotions that I put in are emotions that I know are there, but I don't know are there. It is not for me to look at them or judge them, it is just for me to express them.
I am philosophical about music. It is a mystery because sometimes when the sound is great and the spirit is great you can have some magical moments, something just happens on stage that you are so connected and you are complimenting each other in such a special way that there is a movement that gives you goosebumps. It can go a long way. It can go to a very high level, expressing emotions and sometimes being overpowered by something that wants to say something through you.
I have been listening to a lot of music. There is a lot of great music in the world which is not being heard as often as it should be, but in bringing all those elements together, I will be able to do that. Now it is a period of reflection and I like what I see so far, but I can see where it can go as well. I need time to put it together and take it into the world.
As far as my musical career is concerned, at the moment I see a lot of possibilities. I think that for the next album it is going to be big. I can feel it because now I am aware of the importance of being global. I have always had those influences and that kind of perception but now I have experienced it and seen how it happens and how it can affect one. I see possibilities of doing concerts with orchestras, I would like to develop my band. It can almost be like a school, but also a band which allows young people to come and grow in it and be free to leave when they need to move on; like a constantly developing ensemble. But at the end of the day, my next album will be all these influences put together, to present a new style, a new approach to music which is my personal approach.
How did you meet your band members?
I met the young Moses Khumalo at Kippies. There is a guy who runs a series of shows called the Monday Blues which showcases new talent and undiscovered talent and also some visitors maybe musicians who come as tourists. And occasionally just to have a jam with whoever was around. On that particular day Moses was there and someone from the school where he is studying brought him along and they asked me if we could do something. So, we went on stage and we did a duet. We actually did Mannenberg and we really blew it to pieces. I couldn't believe the sound that came from him and since then we have been working together for about a year now. The trombone player actually went to the same school I went to, so I have known him for quite a while. He used to work for Sankomoto and some of the groups around. He is really beautiful on his instrument and it is great to see young guys having a passion for their instruments and being musicians in general.
Are they also composing their own music?
Yes Moses has. In fact he also has a fantastic voice. I think he is multi talented. He has written a couple of tunes which we occasionally perform. I tried to encourage that as well because that is what happened to me when I was playing with Bra Hugh. He used to do my songs as well. It really helped me grow so I would like to do the same of course. And also with Thembi Mtshali who is not well known but is a great actress and a beautiful singer. She is actually based in New York now. And McCoy, I worked with brotherhood and we also had a band called, 'Umbongo,' and both McCoy and that band won different years awards for best groups sponsored by Guinness or something like that. I was just working the club scene and Bra Hugh took us to the States and exposed us to the American audience and what they expect from you when you come from South Africa. It really opened up my eyes.
Are expectations very different?
Ya. I think in South Africa they do appreciate original music and South African sounds but I think more South African and more African sounds in the States and Europe, they definitely expect that of you to show your culture.
And local audiences?
I remember playing with a group of musicians who had done records but not really performed their own music. They would maybe perform one or two tunes and that used to bother me. I perform originals and I think the more I play them the more people get familiar with them. Sibongile Khumalo actually did a vocal arrangement of Mountain I did on my first CD. People are responding and the sounds are more familiar now. They do expect originals now whereas before … even now they still like to here a bit of straight ahead jazz or whatever but I think original being better accepted. It is great.
How much does your music document cultural history of South Africa?
I grew up in a musical family. My father was a serious jazz fan and my mother was sort of easy. She liked ballads and stuff like that and classical also. Occasionally we would visit an uncle who is a reggae fan and just plays reggae all the time. That was also another great advantage of growing up in the township. Everybody could play their music loud and nobody would complain. You would get to hear music all the time. I appreciated all those different styles of music. I used to enjoy Bruce Springstein as well. 'Born in the USA.' I remember when I was young some times I would climb on top of the toilet and sing that because we had outside toilets as well. There is just that culture of music in the townships that keeps pumping all the time. On Sunday's there used to be traditional dancers, especially bapedi dancers just having a jam session. I used to go and listen and watch. That is why also it is difficult for me to identify myself and put myself in a box and say well I am a jazz musician or I am that because I love all this music. I feel that there is something beautiful about all of it and I try to put it together. I like the similarities in everything. So, I try and bring everything together.
Is this branching out indicative of a future sound of jazz?
I hope so. I feel even more confident now after performing in Europe, getting Chucho Valdez to play a duet with me. Flora Purim on my album, Brice Wassy who is a master drummer and percussion player for Cameroon. Having people agreeing to work with me is giving me confidence and encouragement that I am definitely on the right track. I think it is quite an honour to be given titles or to be given a task. We don't know what is going to happen in the Millenium. But I think it is a nice period. I think we are also picking up from the fifties where there was a very strong culture of progressive jazz that went underground and most of this music I am getting introduced to when I go to London or the States as most of it is not available here. There were things that people were doing then. There was just a creative energy which sort of disappeared into the underground. It is carrying on a certain tradition picking up where the past guys have left of. I feel there are a lot of great musicians who are also doing that like Jimmy Dludlu for instance. I really like his style and I think it is taking our music a step further. The combination of bebop with mbaqanga and all that. Zim Ngqawana is another very progressive jazz musician. We do stand for South Africa, rightly so. I also feel there is a lot of music that hasn't been explored here. If you go outside of South Africa to Europe or the States, Zulu music is more known there. The Zulu culture is known all over the world. I think there are also some other cultures with very beautiful music like the bavenda, the bapedi, the batswana, there is a lot of music that hasn't really been explored. I will definitely be going back to check that stuff and try and take it further.
Can we use the term global world music?
All musicians now at this point in time in our lives. Every musician is searching for a universal sound. A lot of people want to come together as a human race. It is so transparent in music. Right now the world has become pretty small with TV. CNN is doing a great job and you know what is happening all over with the internet. It is just one piece of land or piece of existence, plain or whatever. People are beginning to realise this and they have access to music from all over. I think every musician is looking for a universal sound because they would like to reach everybody out there as many people as possible. Not just for financial gain, I think that there is something special about music. And if the musician doesn't enjoy music he wouldn't be a musician.
It is perhaps much simpler than we see it. I don't want to philosophise to much about it but I think that there are a lot of similarities in music across the world. I can hear similarities between a country guitar with a Zulu traditional guitar. Somewhere it is just a matter of rhythm but you can find exactly the same phrases. Maybe we are recycling the same things as past generations and empires which have fallen. New generations coming in, new technology, maybe we are just going around like that? Even in music. Maybe the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning. I have enjoyed music and tried to draw as much from the old and tried to make it as new as I can. I think it is all about recycling.
Was your grandfather a musician?
What effect has spirituality had on your music?
A lot. I believe that a human being is made up of different elements, physical, emotional and spiritual as well and I have learnt to acknowledge that at a very early age. I was brought up in a very spiritual home. We went through different churches. And I still do that now. I don't think you can find everything in one religion. I believe Jesus Christ also traveled a lot to the East. And he studied there. I am really inspired by the Aquarian gospel of Jesus the Christ which suggests that he actually had to work hard to actually receive Christhood, like Buddha. It is not something you are born with. It is something you gain you know. I do keep all that in mind and I do try to find out what spiritual leaders like Kahil Gibran. I have tried to read what they have to say about music and in most cases it is a very spiritual thing. It is like meditation because it puts you in a certain state especially when you play you think of nothing else except harmony. That is what we are seeking basically as human beings. It is a part of creation to be in harmony. When you think about that harmony, you feel it and it makes you feel beautiful. Music is inseparable from spirituality.
There is also drugs, how much is it a struggle for young artists?
I think it is quite difficult but you have to experience in life. That is something you have to do. You have to experience. Going through such things, sometimes it is just fate that the person has to go through. As human beings there is a point we are supposed to get. We are probably here for a particular reason. Each one has his own obligations and reason for being here. And sometimes you have to go through things. And I don't think that is any different if perhaps you are a musician or an accountant or whatever, or a painter. You have to experience. Sometimes it is those experiences that bring out the best in you and when you are learning and searching you are bound to make mistakes and open the wrong doors. I don't think there is really a time limit to how much wrong you can do. But you can always come back and do it right. I believe in infinity. Infinity of our existence, infinity of love from our creator. Infinity of the universe. It just goes on and on. Time is also infinite. If you make mistakes there is really no rush but I think it is important to experience. For young people it may be difficult at times but you have to make your own choices. Sometimes the experiences that you go through make you a better person. I have also had to really challenge myself and look at myself and there is a lot happening and I have met past musicians also like Duke Makasi who warned me. He was pretty ill when he died. He used to drink a lot of brandy and he used to smoke cigarettes. He was asking me if I drank and I do occasionally, I will have a beer. He says it is very dangerous. The way I am now is because of booze but they used to really drink a lot those guys. I think it was just the period. I think it was quite frustrating being a black musician at the time. We have perhaps less pressure now. We can be creative and we can perform stuff that we feel passionate about without having to worry a lot. We don't have to be political now. We can play music and spread the good vibes that we feel. It also had to do with the times and as I said it is about individuals. You have got to experience what you have got to experience.
How much does commercial demands shape what people play?
A lot but the way I have decided to handle that situation is by doing the stuff that I enjoy, playing the music I feel. I am being honest when I play and I can express myself the best when I play. And going to the people who are perhaps more commercially successful and do more commercial music. To do remixes of that stuff and it is basically rewarding for everybody perhaps the jazz artist and the kwaito artist which I am really doing now. The commerciality of your music does effect who listens to you, how many people do listen to you. I have decided to deal with it like that. I have tried to incorporate different styles in the way I want to do it and also to open up and reach as many people as I can. I can not be that simple just to do an album like that. I prefer to do remixes and stuff like that. It works pretty well. This album I am working on now, the remixes I am working on with TKZ. There are other remix projects with MELT2000 being done in England and in the States. It is going pretty well, I am feeling pretty encouraged by that I will encourage more musicians to do that. In the States they do remixes of Herbie Hancock. All those guys they respect them and acknowledge them. And I think the same should start happening here. It will benefit everybody.
The new album with TKZ what is it?
The guys came to one of my gigs at the Bassline where we were doing a gig and Zwai who was the lead vocalist and main programmer asked me if we could play one tune. I was so excited. I had seen them at Jimmy Dludlu's gig when he was down there. I thought these guys are so open minded because they were the first guys in kwaito that I had seen in a jazz club. Those are the kind of people I would like to work with. Open minded, open ears. They came to my gig and Zwai asked if he could play a tune. I said sure. So he went on stage. The tune he played was actually from my first CD, Marabi a Aremongolo my grandfather taught me and it actually blew my mind. We really connected from there. Not only in music but from a human level. Which was great so we started to talking and hanging and we actually went into the studios till about 6am after the gig and it was brilliant just listening to the stuff there. They were still working on their album and I got to hear the stuff. It was beautiful so we started talking and I suggested the remixes and it was something that they had been thinking about as well so we just went on and on. We recently went in and did a couple of programming and it should be out next year sometime and we are also planning a Christmas show. Just to showcase him as a vocalist because he is a beautiful vocalist. There is a lot happening and I am really enjoying it ...