Hamba Kahle Pinise Saul: 1941-2016

Pinise Saul. Image:Richard Kaby

The UK Guardian once called her “the Queen of Afro-Jazz” and, if anything, that soubriquet underplays the package of musical talent, hard-working energy, righteous politics and sass that made up vocalist Pinise Saul, who died on October 27th.

East London-born Saul started singing at school, and was swiftly recruited by pianist Tete Mbambisa to join the vocal quartet he was working with at that time, the Four Yanks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJe_z9f6Wso ). The Four Yanks were later scouted by legendary impressario and drummer Dick Khoza, after their 1962 hit Umsenge. The group’s vocal talents, Mbambisa’s shrewd arranging skills and Khoza’s contacts led to a hectic touring scheduled that got them all noticed. By 1963, Saul has been recruited to sing in the musical Xapa Goes to Town. She was recruited from that stage to join the Johannesburg hit Zulu-language musical, Ben “Satch” Masinga’s Back in Your Own Back Yard, to replace Letta Mbulu. The greater work opportunities of the Golden City, and the ferment of creativity around Dorkay House persuaded Saul to stay in the city.

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Pinise Saul & Nick Moyake outside Dorkay House. Image: Basil Breakey

Her talent was marked by her peers. Trumpeter Dennis Mpale composed the tune Pinise’s Dance, which was recorded both by Mackay Davashe’s Jazz Dazzlers and, in a much better-known version, by Shakes Mgudlwa’s Soul Giants in 1968 on the album I remember Nick.

Always restless, and frustrated and infuriated by the performing regulations imposed under apartheid, Saul got her ticket out in 1985, through a place in the line-up for the musical Ipi Tombi. Saul went into exile, settling in London where her work stretched from roots malombo vocals with Julian Bahula and Jabula to fearless collaborations with a multinational cast of London avant-garde improvisers. Jabula’s 1975 album Live in Amsterdam was banned by the apartheid authorities for its incendiary, anti-apartheid lyrics. But Saul’s touring work with the increasingly successful band ( which released three further albums, all banned here) also took her to independent African countries, Europe and the USA.


Saul’s facility for moving seamlessly and creatively between solid mbaqanga groove and risky improvisation found its most comfortable homes with Chris McGregor and in the various London outfits of reedman Dudu Pukwana, whom she began working with in 1981. Listen to this clip of her with Zila, singing Ziyekeleni (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klmyZXQM-sY ) . Or this one, from a live performance in Germany : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1GJb88It0k

lifefront Her final musical partnership was with another player with roots in malombo: guitarist Madumetja Lucky Ranku, with whom she toured (including back to South Africa at, among others, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival) and co-founded bands including Township Express, Township Comets (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpIjeEftLfE ) and the SA Gospel Singers. Another fruitful partnership, with harmonica player Adam Glasser, brought the duo to South Africa for many performances, including this one (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6-RZ9i6UP4 ) at the Sophiatown Jazz and Heritage Centre in 2013.

There was nobody quite like Pinise: a combination of formidable courage, grounded commonsense, and sublime vocal talent which never quite received sufficient recognition in the country of her birth. Condolences to her family, and may her spirit rest in peace. Hamba Kahle.

With guitarist Lucky Ranku

Decolonising the Jazz Curriculum Part II

You need to come to the Orbit curriculum debate on Sunday (October 30th; 6pm) Because the righteous demands, the vice-chancellors’ equivocations, the militarisation of campuses and the hail of rubber-coated steel bullets haven’t gone away. But amid the trauma, there are green shoots emerging. One is the growing solidarity between students and the communities of their parents: working-class people who remember ’76 and the ‘80s and can see the parallels – even if too many politicians still can’t. The other is the renewed energy in linking struggles for access to struggles for curriculum, institutional and societal change.

Curriculum decolonisation even made it into the headlines last week via a piece of rhetoric about how #Sciencemustfall. For the right-wing, and the unthinking, it was a good excuse to mock the movement – but rhetoric at a public debate is rarely where the real contestation of ideas happens. As Sarah Wild and Linda Nordling point out in a Daily Maverick editorial (http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-10-21-op-ed-science-is-not-unafrican-but-there-is-a-prejudice-towards-african-science/#.WA8DppHzeIw ) such sweeping outrage as that panelist expressed is easily provoked by the pervasive exclusion of African scientists and African scientific concerns from the dominant discourse.

Students are not, under the current curriculum, exposed to quite how many of the foundations of so-called “Western” science (starting with mathematics) actually emerged from the early Arab world. And many of the defenders of “Western” science don’t know that either – or realise that scientific progress (a word they love) isn’t quite what they think it is.

Far from a steady accretive process where one Great White Man builds on the work of his Great White Predecessors, scientific knowledge has constantly been convulsed by wild leaps and challenges to the paradigms of the prevailing establishment (often initially dismissed by the gatekeepers of the time as absurd). In that sense, there have been multiple ‘science must fall’ moments throughout the history of science, but they’ve taken place within the scientific community. If you doubt that, read Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/students/envs_5110/structure_of_scientific_revolutions.pdf ).

Since we’re talking about curriculum content this week, you might like to look at music scholar Mareli Stolp’s further thoughtful intervention at https://musicsymposiumsa.wordpress.com/ .

And then I received this, from Gerry Platt in London. He addressed it to our panellists for this weekend, but the wider community deserves to read and debate it too.It’s long, but though Gerry’s points are, in places, fairly technical, the essence is clear: there are far more ways than the dominant one of hearing, analysing and learning jazz. See you on Sunday…


Dear Dr Lindelwa Dalamba, Kevin Davidson, Ceri Moelwyn-Hughes Andre Petersen and Gwen Ansell.

This is a humble, and very incomplete, offering; an edit of what I’m working on. My interest in this issue has grown from an intuition: that what I read about jazz does not always represent what I hear!

I am in discussion with some musicians in South Africa with a view to initiating a cultural exchange programe.
I would be very grateful for any comments (recommended articles etc.) that would help me to further this interest.

Gerry Platt. London, October 2016 gp@anothereye.co.uk

Gwen has suggested the focus on the ‘what?’, ‘how?’ and ‘why?’
Whilst I am intensely aware of the ‘how’ I’ve kept this to just two of these.


“Until everyone (Africans and non-Africans) acknowledges the importance and impact of African music on the dynamic quality and creativity of global culture, African mental emancipation will never come to pass”. 
Jacqueline Cordell Deja. pili, Musical Arts in Africa (UNISA, 2003)

. The variations of jazz and blues that we know today reflect centuries of colonial history, largely born during the times of slavery and after, within the African diaspora. As jazz has developed in her birthplace of North America there is a process of cultural cross-pollination. Traits, largely alien to European culture, arrive like seeds carried in the memories of people taken into slavery from many parts of the African continent; their cultures come together for the first time and in numerous ways adapt to each other to birth the new musics of the diaspora.

Blues and jazz are musics of the African diaspora; their elements were never put together in Africa. They come from diverse African cultures and meet in North America. 
At the risk of being provocative; Western traits were largely disruptions to an otherwise essential process of claiming a distinct African American identity that was not imposed by the slave ‘owners’. Such Western traits appear as a result of misinterpretation (by Westerners trained in interpreting music to written scores), by a belief in the superiority of European culture and by commercialisation.

An Afro-centric curriculum would not only enhance the way that jazz is learnt; it would also reveal the rich contribution that the continent has made to the music of the 20th century and beyond. 
(Identifying what might be the untainted authentic African contribution is only a stepping stone within a wider process. Ultimately cross-pollination of all cultural influences in music makes for the richness of our diverse world).

“It’s all just a racket. First I got to pay a guy to take down what I’m playing on guitar. He fool around three or four hours on a piano and make himself maybe ten or twenty dollars.See, he say I don’t play correctly chords, and he has to change um. Then I gotta call in another racketeer to make parts for the different instruments in the combo. Then comes rehearsal. I gotta pay for that too …… And I get to change my stuff to suit them. ….”
Big Bill Broonzy in his autobiography “Big Bill Blues”, 1964.


“There is an interesting distinction, however, between the type of call and response used in West African music and that used in European Music. Often the sound of the call is still in the air when the response begins. The two parts overlap. Sometimes the call begins again before the response is done, thereby overlapping once more”.
Mark C. Ridley: Jazz Styles. 1993.

In the many histories of jazz we see references to traits that are African in origin but the specific cultural source is rarely mentioned (eg: ‘Shining Trumpets’ by Rudi Blesh: 1946). One exception is the work of Gerhard Kubik, he is able to cite specific African examples of traits that have influenced the diaspora music from the blues through to Charlie Parker. Kubik’s work focuses largely on pitch tuning and harmony.
It is imperative that the source of many more traits, that appear in the diaspora, are located to specific cultural traditions in Africa.

A look at a ‘bebop’ chord book will quickly reveal how some African harmonics have been distorted to fit a Western method of interpretation.

The early blues, published in sheet form, were transcribed by people trained in western notation. This led to European folk chords being used to inaccurately describe music of African origin. This has contributed to the myth that jazz is based on African rhythm and European harmony, the western influence is accorded undue importance in the process.  

“It is, of course, natural for everyone to interpret a sound event in terms of the culture with which they are familiar. This is why Western-trained musicians will always detect European chord progressions in the blues, not only in those cases where their presence is obvious and intended, but also where there is evidently no such concept”.Gerhard Kubik. Africa and the Blues (1999).

Leaving aside the smooth FM radio jazz & the three chord pop blues, the most significant Western influence is the 12 tone equal temperament tuning of Western instruments, especially the piano. That Africa has over 2000 indigenous languages is expression of its vast diversity; there is no homogenous culture or musical style in Africa. In addition to this the music brought by enslaved people to America reflects the different colonial powers and their shipping routes. The contrasting West African rhythmic patterns in North America and the asymmetrical time-line patterns of Brazil are an example of this.

“The popular belief that jazz and blues all inherited European harmony is kindled by authors who proceed from classical music theory. Using Western harmonic concepts as a blanket explanation for all the harmonic qualities in the blues, they fail to explore how the Western schemes are converted. ….. In the jazz world the identification of harmonic sequences in Western terminology has been elevated to “jazz theory”, which is now required material for college students studying to be jazz musicians”.
Gerhard Kubik. Africa and the Blues (1999).

How would a jazz and blues curriculum differ from current ones if framed from an African perspective? Possible components to be included are the following: 
Is it best to break sound up into different aspects? If so; how?

It is important to acknowledge that the categories of ‘rhythm’, ‘harmony’ and ‘melody’ are culturally specific and have only a limited use when discussing non-Western music. If we are to look at the different elements of African music another breakdown may be appropriate.

Kofi Agawa comments “Erich Von Hornbostel’s seminal article of 1928 … exemplifies some of the comparative method. In its metalanguage (antiphony, part-singing, organum, scale, interval, harmony, tonality, ostinato, form, and the relationship between speech-tone and pure melody).”

 In ‘Representing African Music.’ (p 62-63) 2003 Kofi Agawu says “There is no single word for rhythm in the Ewe language (Togo, Ghana,) ……. related concepts of stress, duration and periodicity do in fact register in subtle ways in Ewe discourse”.
According to the author the same goes for the Tiv (Nigeria, Cameroon,) the Mandé (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone) and the Vai (Liberia). 

With this in mind perhaps rhythm should be included in headings such as ‘timbré-melodic phrasing’?

Furthermore “the use of bar lines remains one of the most contested issues in transcriptions of African music”. (Kofi Agawu. Representing African Music, p.56. 2003).

How are scales formed and tuned? Numerous different scales (some giving rise to what have been called ‘blue notes’) from Africa were brought to North America including:
Seven tone and five tone equal temperament (ET).
Scales built on overtones. 
Scales with ambiguous, ‘elastic’ thirds.
17 tone Arabic scales.

Gerhard Kubik’s paper ‘The African Matrix in Jazz Harmonic Practices’, in: Black music research Journal. Vol. 25, No. 1/2 (Spring-Fall, 2005). http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/30039290?sid=21106352867783&uid=4&uid=3738032&uid=2 maps how we can approach part of our learning.

“… in jazz history from the 1920s to the 1950s, different sets of African traits become prominent in succession. Heterophony and responsorial, functional polyphony were dominant in early New Orleans jazz … homophonic multipart structures set the tone of big-band jazz during the swing era of the 1930s, while equotonal melodic principles, clustered chords often based on remote partials, and what has been called the ‘pitch area concept’ Evans 1982, 24) staged a breakthrough in bebop in the 1940s”. p.169.

“There are five major principles of organisation and conceptualisation of tonal-harmonic elements in African music that seem to have continued and been creatively applied to jazz”:
(Kubik, p. 174):

To summarise, I paraphrase:

  • The span process: Players strike two keys on the xylophone that are separated by one key and then shift this bi-chord in parallel hand movement to lower or higher keys.
  • The experience of partials-derived systems: Overtones; developed from the recognition of partials of the natural harmonic series.
  • Blues tonality: (a) music with an ever present drone (bourdon), (b) intervals that included minor thirds and semitones, (c) a sorrowful, wailing song style, and (d) ornamental intonations.
  • The concept of flexible pitch areas: Kubik coined the term ‘elastic scales’ with reference to certain tonal systems in Africa. For example; there was considerable variation in the Zande harp tunings from musician to musician and even from day to day by the same musician.
  • Equiheptatonic concepts: In precolonial Africa, equiheptatonic (octave divided into seven equal intervals) tunings were developed in several distinct areas.

Elsewhere, Kubic comments: “In various kinds of African music there is a phenomenon of central interest ….. It is the so called inherent note patterns. … Inherent note patterns only exist as auditory images; they are non-existent as played images. They hide in the inner structure of a total composition, … I was first struck by this … when I began to play the xylophones called amadinda and akadinda in Luganda.”
Gerhard Kubic, ‘Subjective patterns in African music’, p.129-130 “Cross Rhythms 3”. edited by Domowitz, Eke and Mvula. 1989.

Decolonising the jazz curriculum – and clearing the broken glass

Outside the Orbit: clearing the shattered glass

The Orbit had its front window smashed on Friday night. Whether by protestors with a defined purpose (though it’s hard to fathom what), opportunistic demagogues and provocateurs, or a bunch of drunken thugs joining what they perceived to be the “fun”, it’s hard to know. All the vandalism has achieved is to rob musicians and service workers of a few days’ decent gigging, and a struggling club of resources.

During the mayhem, the Orbit still willingly sheltered students injured by or terrified of police weapons; it cares about its community. The attack has silenced for a while one of Joburg’s “small pockets of cool” (the phrase is tenorist Shabaka Hutchings’) – a place where the cultural discourse regularly runs counter to the prevailing smug complacency and abdication of responsibility.

The view from inside the Orbit as an SABC van burns outside

Not, I’d say, a victory for anybody except those in power who prefer such silence.

But the apparent lack of tactical savvy by protestors at this point doesn’t devalue their cause. Fees still have to fall, sooner or – if we want yet more of these divisive expressions of mindless gatvol-ness – later. Listening to various vice-chancellors sounding like speak-your-weight machines as they try to damp desperation with bureaucratese, it becomes clear they too have lost the plot. University authorities need to start explicitly refusing the role of buffers imposed on them by government, and instead step around the cops to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the students. The vice-chancellors need to disavow their previous years of complaisance in the face of dysfunctional government university funding, and demand reprioritised budgets and an end to the looting of state funds. Only then can education – and not only higher education – get what it desperately needs.

It’s not just about access..

In the midst of all this, though, it’s easy to forget that money isn’t all education needs. Transformation is about far more than access, even if access is a powerful place to start.

In a thoughtful Daily Maverick op-ed (http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-10-09-op-ed-the-recolonising-danger-of-decolonising-psychology/#.WAM9TZHzeIw ), Wahbie Long, discussing the decolonisation of psychology, notes how:

“The prefix ‘de’ suggests the removal of some germ, irritant or pollutant – as in ‘deflea,’ ‘deworm’ and ‘detoxification.’ It strikes me as simplistic to think of higher education in South Africa as a colonial era brew comprising several ingredients, one (or several) of which needs only to be extricated to ensure the general well-being of our students.”

And that is as true when we discuss the teaching of jazz as of psychology – or any other discipline.

It’s easier, and far less challenging to those in authority, to discuss ‘what?’, than to engage with ‘how?’ and ‘why?’. Poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, speaking at a Keleketla debate a week ago (https://www.facebook.com/events/332288767163012/ ), reminded us that discussing education merely as a tool for individual advancement perpetuates the very commodification whose acceptance makes our society and its education system so barbaric in the first place.

Following the leader enshrines patriarchy

It’s easier to adopt follow-the-leader slogans and behaviour, whether in the classroom (or Parliament) or on streets lit by burning cars, than to hammer out through debate the role of leadership, what its mandate should be, and under what circumstances that mandate should be withdrawn. Yet as Kehinde Andrews points out in the UK Guardian, in reference to the Black Panthers, solid strategy, genuine alliances in, and real support for, your host community trump slogans every time (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/14/fifty-years-black-panthers-formed-black-lives-matter-revolutionary )

“Follow-the-leader” may well be ruling street actions like the one that saw the Orbit window smashed. You see it in crowds obeying loud-voiced louts who could as easily be state agents as students. You see it in the silencing of queer and feminist students, now increasingly excluded from patriarchal political decision-making (http://mg.co.za/article/2016-10-13-00-feesmustfall-burns-queer-students ). And you see it too in security guards and cops unquestioningly obeying officers’ orders to fire rubber-coated steel bullets (let’s not forget the steel) at unarmed protestors. Marikana, after all, was not so long ago…

How do these questions of authoritarian process manifest in the jazz classroom? They don’t always, because we do have music teachers and scholars who give ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ equal status with ‘what?’ in their teaching. But then again, we also have others who don’t…


Decolonising the jazz curriculum 1 – there’s more than one great music

The reification of Western Art music as the ‘highest achievement’ in terms of aesthetics and skills, persists even in music curricula directed towards jazz degrees. There’s certainly wonderful music to be found chez Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Like all music, it is well worth listening to, to find out what it has to say, and well worth playing too. (When Wynton Marsalis mastered classical playing, he discovered “when I got to the top of that particular mountain, I found it was just another music.”) It’s that mythical first place on some nonexistent scale that’s the problem. At its most unreflective, the superlative expresses a tribal preference, reflecting socialisation in a particular community. That top place and that scale, though, were both invented at precisely the time Europe began underdeveloping Africa; the assertion of cultural supremacy was necessary to the West’s project of colonising the Other.

So, when we teach Western Art Music, we could at least contextualise rather than reifying it. We should remember that composers of colour wrote it too; and that in jazz as well as other musics, what comes from South Africa is a lot more than mimicry of what came from elsewhere. The curriculum should not be so crammed with one genre of music from one part of the world that there is no room for any others.


Decolonising the jazz curriculum 2 – there’s more than one style of pedagogy

Tied to that content comes a teaching method owing much to the Western conservatoires. Too often, knowledge is still seen as owned, and transmitted in one direction, by ‘masters’ and teachers to students. There’s little acknowledgment that is only one possible process model of learning, and the one that most vividly embodies the power relations of entrenched establishments. That point was made last year by Prof Achille Mbembe, in papers presented at Stellenbosch(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8t8T8tWdMU ). In jazz, it often looks like the ‘teaching’ fictionally depicted in the movie Whiplash: a demeaning, relentlessly authoritarian discourse with experimentation permitted (if at all) only when the teacher decides the student is ‘ready’. Yet there are other possible pedagogies, where those who know some things and those who know others work as co-creators and co-discoverers in the knowledge project. When Paolo Freire asked his literacy students to bring him words from their lives that they wanted to read, they learned the letters – but he learned the truths of their existence (https://selforganizedseminar.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/freire_pedagogy_oppresed1.pdf ). The traditions of Black music historically emphasise sitting side-by-side to learn.

Internationally, those debates have been explored extensively by Deborah Bradley (http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195394733.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195394733-e-022 ); for South Africa, a good place to start is with Mareli Stolp’s short, informative blogpost (https://musicsymposiumsa.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/decolonizing-music-studies-at-south-african-universities/ )


Decolonising the jazz curriculum 3 – opening the debate

lindelwaIt’s for all these reasons, at this crucial time, that the next Conversation in Orbit on Sunday October 30th at 6pm, will focus on the ‘what?’, ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ of the jazz curriculum.

Does what happens in schools and higher a-2349870-1352639896-6229education currently serve both learners and our own jazz tradition?

What could – or should, or must – be changed?

Our panel will comprise Dr Lindelwa Dalamba, Kevin Davidson, Ceri ceriMoelwyn-Hughes and Andre Petersen: scholars, teachers and players all.bio_ten

There will be a concluding set from another music scholar, pianist Yonela Mnana and trio.


Andre Petersen & Morten Halle shed light on North-South collaborations

Talking to trumpeter Tomasz Stanko a couple of years back, he observed that musicians from everywhere in northern Europe quickly found common ground with one another “because we all come from countries where there is light without sun” and that mood infused their music.

There are mysterious parallels between light and sound. Both, as the physicists tell us, are waves. There are seven colours in the rainbow and seven notes in a scale. Red, blue and yellow are the primary colours; their position on the spectrum makes them the equivalent of the major chords on the scale. Those primaries blend to form secondary and tertiary shades; notes can be sounded together to form other chords. And we also use colour words – especially blue – frequently to talk about the feel of a jazz track. Physicists and mystics, as well as musicians and music and art therapists, have all speculated about what these resonances mean.

So what, then, happens when musicians marinated in that cool grey light collaborate with others, from a place where sun and heat pour out fiery colours for most of the year?

Morten Halle

That’s what happens on Norwegian saxophonist Morten Halle’s most recent album, The Storm Inside (Curling Legs clp cd 154) recorded in Oslo in May last year and just released. Halle’s outfit, Halles Komet, has regularly featured South African pianist Andre Petersen, alongside bassist Edvard Askeland and drummer Torstein Lofthus. For this outing, they’re also joined by trumpeter Feya Faku who contributes not only sounds but two compositions, alongside two from the pianist, two from Halle, and one from the bass-man.

Halle himself notes on the liner: “Norway and South Africa have both produced their own distinct dialects of the jazz language, bringing in diverse elements from various types of traditional music [producing] a recognisable yet slightly different sound and feel.”

Stanko’s cool grey light is certainly there, in, for example, Askeland’s Eg Dreg Frå Glaset with its sombre, spacious feel. And South Africa’s red-hot puts in an appearance in both Petersen’s goema flavoured D’julle als hulle and Faku’s Elaina. That latter starts, in terms of melody, like the kind of indigenous hard-bop-jive The Drive were making in the 70s, but doesn’t stay there. Halle’s boisterously abstract solo takes the tune definitively into the future, and as the rest of the ensemble picks up that feel it becomes a very different animal – different, but certainly not alien.

And that’s what’s most interesting about this album. It doesn’t oscillate predictably between the poles of North and South as some Europe/South Africa collaborations do, depending on who penned the tune. What we hear on The Storm Inside are rather those secondary and tertiary colours: blends whose roots are not hidden, but whose flowers are very hard to label.

Andre Petersen

Because each track is so distinctive, it’s hard to pick standouts. But I had two more favourites. Halle’s title-track opener is all sullen, ominous, slow-moving thunderclouds illuminated by brilliant flashes of instrumental bravura from the leader and Petersen. And Petersen’s own, knowingly-titled Time Watchers refracts light on glittering water with motifs that oscillate between African time (in the proper sense: cyclical time) and Western minimalism – Terry Riley meets Nyanga pipers on the Cape Strand. This is another of those albums that merits quiet listening, but only to enjoy the seamless empathy and skill of the players – it’s not in any sense ‘difficult’ music. But it is likely to take you outside yourself, into a place that is neither North nor South but lets you bask in the light of both.

• The Storm Inside launches live at the Orbit on November 11/12. I’d buy my tickets now – it’s likely to be the easiest place to buy the album too.