Interview Ready D : Turning the Tables
How is it playing with jazz?
The whole jazz thing, for me i take it as another musical experience, new ground for growing. Hopefully this will contribute and help me to develop my style even further what I am doing with turntables. There is a contant evolution going on with turntablists all over the world. Jazz has got such intricate rhythms and patterns. I am kind of learning and picking up from that. I am going to use that eventually when I do a project and I put those rhythms back with the beat. I am actually hoping for a sound different to what everyone else is doing. I tend to see it as a learning ground. Hopefully I can bring a new edge or a new sound to jazz music in this country especially. It is happening all over the world already. I am hoping to experiment with more of an afro-jazz and a more distinct African sound.
And is that what you were doing with Namaqua?
Definitely. Namaqua has more of a traditional Cape goema sound. I really felt that because it is part of our heritage and our history and our culture and so on. To do the music, something you grew up and hip hop and fuse the two together is two worlds and two sounds you really love and it is coming together. That is Namaqua for me. That is something that brings me to life.
Do jazz and hip hop of their roots together?
With hip hop and jazz I don't see any parallels and I keep on repeating and saying this, the spirit the soul is exactly the same. It comes from the same source. It is just that music evolved through time a more distinctive sound. With hip hop it is more of a 4/4 drum beat with a repetetive loop going. With jazz it is a similar rhythm going broken up into different pieces and people are playing it differently. The way I hear it, I hear it the same way. I listen to jazz and I listen to it the same way as I listen to hip hop. Hip hop has been borrowing from jazz and now the tables are turning and jazz is taking from hip hop as well.
How did doing the Beatles songbook work for you?
For me doing Beatles music was mad far fetched for me. I didn't even think about it but I had a meating with Henry and the people at Square Deals and they mentioned doing the Beatles music. I thought what the hell am I going to do with the Beatles. They said No, the Beatles songbook with Morris Goldberg. We are flying him in from New York. We are doing it. Jazz. I said okay cool, let's try. For me also, I am open to whatever. If we are going to do the Beatles rave version and we are going to put scratching on it also, I am cool. Let's go. For me, I like experimenting. I am open to whatever comes my way. That is what I really like and I think that is what hip hop is in its purist form. It is about experimenting. It is about tapping into different sources and trying to create something different. Jazz musicians obviously all bring different flavours to the table. I really like that as well. For me, I got caught under the banner of being hip hop. That is my interpratation of hip hop and not being hardcore. I am experimenting and coming up with something.
Is there much improvisation?
All the way. Doing jazz you have got to feel your way through. Doing hip hop the music is more sequenced. Especially if you are playing with a back track. Strictly, a DJ with two turntables they are basically the same thing so now you got to cut, you got to mix, you got to scratch your way through. If you are working with a MC, somebody who can throw down something, can freestyle, can drop, in different styles, that is good because basically it is the same thing as jazz. With the scratching and the mixing you can bring in different beats and different rhythms. Especially when mixing beats, they way you scratch with bass drums and that it is basically like a drummer. With turntables we are doing the same thing. And afterwards with the mixer you can actually fade the drums and make them go up and down and create similar things to what the jazz musicians were doing. All the time there is some kind of improvising going on.
Where might you go with this jazz hip hop fusion?
What I would like to see is for this concept to become more active. Especially me coming from Cape Town. If we could have more from Cape Town, not necessarily the goema beat but if we can have more from Cape Town, the Abdullah Ibrahim and Hotep, more of that kind of sound. If we could have more of that and make the drums fatter and get more kids out there, DJ's to practice their skills. More of them sholud become turntablists and bring their flavour to the music as well. That is going to make South African hip hop and South African jazz very very interesting. According to my experience and what I heard in the past there is nothing like this going on in the world. We can make a real contribution to jazz and hip hop on a global scale.
Miles Davis did jazz hip hop in the 80's.
At the moment there is a lot going on in the States. Over the past four or five years there are so many turntablists that have started jumping up. We have DJ Bands, the Scratch Pickles, Beat Junkies. It is all over in UK we have the Scratch Perverts and all of those bands are experimenting with jazz and they bring in that concept and they bring in their whole Western sound. And then we also have Branford Marsalis who is working with turntables. Quincy Jones is using turntables. There are so many jazz guys and DJ's coming up. That is the Western sound. In South Africa I think we should concentrate on what is going on here. I think we should go for more distinctive South African African sounds. That is what turn tables is doing because it is different. I never had the experience of listening to that as a youngster. Because, we have been dictacted to, we have been heavily influenced by Western music. I grew up with reggae, I grew up with jazz, all this soul, and everything in a commercial context. I never really had the chance to appreciate goema music. Now I am starting to listen to more different music. I am starting to listen to what musicians have to say. I am getting drawn to the music much more and I am even getting drawn to Africa. I am getting more drawn to Cape Town. I am starting to feel more and more proud to be from Cape Town and to be a turntablist from this side of the globe. I want to work with people where we can have the same feeling, plus or minus the same vision and also just about music. I am hoping to connect with people like that.
How do jazz musicians take it?
Suprisingly I had quite a good response from the jazz musicians. After a Namaqua gig out in Oudsthoorn a lot of guys came up recommended what we were doing. They liked it. I couldn't understand it. It wasn't such a long time ago that what we were doing was not being recognised as music. They were kind of shitting all over us. This is kids stuff. This is swearing. This is hippity hoppity and I mean the tables are turning. The older guys kind of enjoy what they are doing. I am speaking to them and they say they like the rhythms, they like the way I swing with the band. Those are terms that don't really understand and am still learning all the jazz terms, what the jazz cats say. I am learning all those things. And for me it is actually cool for people to acknowledge and for people to actually here there is something happening. I am listening to what these guys are telling me and I am learning and putting it into the music, trying to give them stuff that they can relate to. So far the response has been positive.
I noticed with Hey Jude you threw in a reggae beat, is that new?
That was something that happened amongst the musicians because I can remember in the rehearsal that the drummer was playing a reggae beat. It wasn't supposed to be a reggae beat, it was supposed to be something else. He came with a whole reggae thing and it just sounded good. Morris said okay cool let's do the reggae thing. And me with the decks I wasn't sure what I was going to bring in, so I was just bopping along with a percussive sound, finding gaps to do my thing and not to crowd too much.
Performing with No No Diet Bang did you have more freedom than here with the Beatles Songbook?
Yes definitely because here it was more restictive. You have got all the musicians, they need to do their solo. Everything is more strictly composed. You have got to go the musical way with the Beatles Songbook. And for me that was cool as well. Because being retsricted actually cause you to come with a way just to say your bit. You find gaps in certain places to do that and for me it is cool. No No Diet Bang, what I liked there was the freedom. They are the guys who have more of a rugged edge to the jazz that they do. There is a lot of jungle, drum and base, funk as well with the stuff that they are doing. And I can really hear all the spaced out stuff that they are doing and I can pull more tricks out of my bag and so on and start bringing crazy stuff.
You are on the cutting edge of many different music genres. Where is music going?
I think there is more fusion going to happen. In South Africa there is a very good turning point that music is taking. I have played at raves, at kwaito and at the jazz and all this. And also over the past two years such a lot of DJ's have flown in from overseas. They played music that nobody knew and they still managed to rock the party. We had a couple of turntables come over to Cape Town. I don't know if you remember the Ninja Tunes. For me that was the ultimate, ultimate gig. That was heaven. That was like going to DJ university. That was the ultimate. There is no bar to the fusion that is going to go on. Eventually the jazz cats are going to play kwaito. Kwaito is going to incorporate drum and bass.
Now you are being recognised by different age groups. This is a revelation.
For me it means a lot. It is inspiration for older people to come up and recognise what I am doing and actually praise what I am doing. For me, I regard that as the highest form of respect, for older people to acknolwedge. As times change and generations come and go, it is harder for the older generation to accept what we do. Hip hop is a very rebellious form of music. There is some aspect in it that people can accept. There is much more to hip hop than 2Pac or Biggy Smallz or what you see on television. That is all we see on TV and people who don't have the knowledge about hip hop, its history and its roots come to think of hip hop as people slapping each other's mothers, people calling each other bitches and snoking some blunts and all that. So, hopefully what we are doing now with turntables and the b boys or whatever, we can send the message so people know this is hip hop. This is the essence, this is the root, this is where it started. This is not the record industry version of hip hop that you get on the mainstream radio. Basically that is a money making thing.
What was your evolution as a musician?
I started off as a break dancer and from there I started getting into MC-ing and rapping just a little bit. The whole DJ-ing thing came after a trip to the UK in 1987 as one of the guys in a breakdance crew. The whole conscription thing was taking place at that time with white kids being forced into the army. We left South Africa and we earnt quite a lot of money. After checking that whole thing out from record companies to DJ's. That was the first time I saw DJ's doing their thing in real life, in the clubs and so on. I had so many ideas. Before that we were experimenting with people's hi-fi systems, breaking our neighbours hi-fi's. I can remember all of that being in trouble with my parents and so on. After I came back from the UK, our breakdance crew managed to get quite a big gig. After all the money we made, the first thing we bought was a mixer. A year down the line we managed to have the first championships which I entered. I was practicing and doing my thing on these wooden turn tables. I was busy for two years in a row. After I won the competition, people started taking me seriously. Everything started giong faster for me and I started doing more and more. Until Prophets of The City came along. I started getting involved in production, learning about samplers. And that brought me up to this point.