There is a classical Africa: Renee Reznek’s From My Beloved Country and more

Ignorance about African history and culture abounds – at both ends of the political spectrum. The smug racists banging on about railways and piped water are only a little more ignorant than the philistines asserting “science is colonialist” in blithe ignorance of the foundational legacy of Semitic, pre-Islamic (and later Islamic) research and invention in the North of our continent, among peoples today labeled Arabs, Egyptians and Libyans. (For more on where the myth of white Ancient Greek science came from, read the late Professor Martin Bernal’s Black Athena https://www.amazon.com/Black-Athena-Afroasiatic-Civilization-Fabrication/dp/0813512778 )

In the same way, other myths about Africa float around, for example about pervasive cultural ‘backwardness’ (more backward than the atavism of the Ku Klux Klan?). In relation to music, there are assumptions that the term ‘classical’ music can only apply to the European children of Bach and Mozart, or that African contemporary composition happens only in popular genres.

Let’s start with ‘classical’ music. The term has a number of coexistent meanings. For Wikipedia, it’s “music written in the European tradition during a period lasting approximately from 1750 to 1830, when forms such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata were standardized,” or, alternatively, “serious music following long-established principles rather than a folk, jazz, or popular tradition.” You could spend a thousand words deconstructing the assumptions in that second definition: jazz ain’t ‘serious’? folk music doesn’t follow “long-established principles”? and so on… Leave it.

Ganda court
East African classical music

Wikipedia’s first definition reflects pitch-perfect Eurocentrism. The word ‘classical’ means “representing an exemplary standard within a traditional and long-established form or style.” To colonise that word for European music alone – albeit sometimes with a capital ‘C’ – ignores that, for example, Indian music, or the Arabic music of Al-Andalus, or the musics of the Mandinka or Ganda courts in Africa also went through historical phases during which the pinnacle standards for their forms were set. Every culture has its ‘classical’ music.

But in ordinary speech, classical music is simply the kind of repertoire presented in formal concert halls, whatever micro-niche the genre specialists would place it in.

Rznek album.jpg

That’s my only excuse for headlining the term when discussing this year’s release by UK-based South African pianist Renee Reznek, From My Beloved Country (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/from-my-beloved-country/id1221579763 ). In fact, this is an album of ‘New Music’, all composed relatively recently in South Africa or by South Africans, and though Pietermaritzburg-raised Reznek has garnered many international accolades for playing more conventionally ‘classical’ material, that is not her project here.

The album comprises a dozen pieces, some of which have deep personal meaning for Reznek. Kevin Volans’ PMB Impromptu, for example, reflects their shared birthplace and pays tribute to Reznek’s keyboard skill through the demands the music’s intricacy places upon it. David Earl’s Song Without Words was written for her daughter’s wedding. The works are eminently accessible examples of their kind and provide, in total, an enjoyable introduction to the work of eight South African New Music composers, from the jagged edginess of Michael Blake’s Broken Line (which alludes to the conventions of Xhosa bow music) to the melodic lyricism of Song Without Words. And Reznek’s playing throughout is impressive: the pieces may sound accessible, but they are no less pianistically complex for that; her technique is the mediator. If just about every critic reviewing the album has used the word ‘warm’, there are good reasons: not only does the piano tone radiate warmth, but Reznek’s very evident pleasure in playing these particular pieces also reaches out warmly from disk to listener.

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Pianist Renee Reznek at the JIMF 2014

However, From My Beloved Country – like, for example the Andre Petersen/Kathleen Tagg duo outing Where Worlds Collide (http://www.taggpetersenduo.com ) before it – also serves a larger purpose by reminding us about the breadth of contemporary South African concert music. Two previous columns (https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/bone-raises-the-bones-at-sterkfontein/ ) (https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/mozart-bodies-and-bows/ ) have already reflected on this rich, less travelled, part of South Africa’s music scene.

Reznek’s album opens with a composition by Neo Muyanga, whose work was showcased not only at this year’s Johannesburg International Mozart Festival (JIMF) (when he was composer in residence) but in 2014, when the pianist visited and premiered this very work: Hade Tata.

Neo Muyanga
Neo Muyanga

Hade Tata is a programmatic piece, evoking scenes from Mandela’s release onwards, and reflecting on high hopes un-met. For those of my readers not familiar with New Music criticism, it’s worth noting that in this context, ‘programmatic’ is often uttered with a slight sneer; for some, music with an extra-musical narrative isn’t so fashionable right now. But I’m not sneering. For me, Hade Tata is a moving ten minutes of memories and sound-pictures, from the icon’s slow footsteps out of Victor Verster Prison, through a riotously chaotic welcome home to the bluesy regrets of the final passage. (Come to think of it, ‘bluesy’ isn’t exactly an accepted term in New Music criticism either.)

That’s a good place to conclude. Forget the labels, and, next time, buy some South African music from a category you’d normally swipe left on. Whether ‘New Music’ or ‘Classical’ (or jazz) it’s all music. And music often brings us things that get everybody’s metaphorical feet tapping, alongside things that carry special meanings for certain listeners. Whatever its general appeal, Hade Tata will carry an extra resonance for those South Africans who were there and felt those emotions from the inside. And probably Mozart says some special things to a Salzburger, too…

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Farewell to a powerful visual archivist of jazz

It is with sadness that we learn of the death of photographer Peter McKenzie. McKenzie’s images added immeasurably to the historical record we have of South African struggle and culture: pictures made with the spirit of a comrade in that struggle, as well as a knowledgeable observer – something he also conveyed in his ongoing work as a teacher, and his curatorial skill as a photographic gallerist. (see http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/peter-mckenzie  )An appreciation of his work and contribution is long overdue. Hamba Kahle.

Eshu-Elegba in Groot Marico: Bird Monk Seding messes with readers’ minds to make them think

Bird Monk Seding: a novel

Lesego Rampolokeng

Deep South 2017

 

A jazz novel today, just to give Joy of Jazzed-out ears a rest. Reading is good too.

There’s no mystery about Seding in the title of Lesego Rampholokeng’s thirteenth outing. It’s the shortened form of Leseding (“place of light”), the small North West rural settlement to which the book’s narrator, Bavino Sekeng, moves on some kind of writing retreat “in the quest for Bosman’s ghost”. But Rampolokeng has always asserted that it’s about the words before anything else, so let’s not lose focus on three others that matter just as much: Bird, Monk, and ‘novel’.

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Lesego Rampolokeng

Last first, because it might be tempting to read Bird Monk Seding as autobiography, since Papa Ramps gives us more of his own life story in one place here than you’ll otherwise find outside interviews. Bavino is a name the writer employs in books (https://www.amazon.com/Bavino-Sermons-Lesego-Rampolokeng/dp/1875011234 ) and on Facebook. But, as he told Mphutlane wa Bophelo ( https://www.thedailyvox.co.za/lesego-rampolokeng-vagabond-word-man/ ), it’s also a way of invoking Everyman: “About Bavino…if Zola-bound, I’d be Kau, elsewhere ntanga, or Bafoza, Magenge … my Orlando Western street-corner male endearment term.”

So seeking autobiography would be a mistake. Though his own story is the cloth he cuts from, Rampolokeng’s book is meticulously constructed of art and artifice to connect the physical and psychic violence before liberation to what persists and prevails now – so much so, that you might need to put heavy quote-marks around that l-word. Train-tracks at Phepheni in Soweto, and at the little station nearest Seding, facilitate travel between times as well as places: Soweto in the ‘80s; Seding today. “Jim comes to Joburg,” says Rampolokeng, “so Bavino goes to Marico.”

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Eshu-Elegba

That’s where Eshu-Elegba comes in: the Yoruba trickster god. Because those intersecting railroad tracks are where Eshu lives, presiding over language and communication, mediating between the mundane and the divine, the ancestors and the present, the revered and the downright rude. That’s what writers do too. The connection to Eshu, they say, is traditionally established through hearing, playing and dancing to certain rhythms. Enter Bird and Monk.

Bird Monk Seding is on these pages because it’s a jazz novel. In this case, not because it’s about jazz – though often it is – but because the music of its words, patterns, rhythms, breaks and improvisatory excursions call up and echo the jazz it describes.

Thelonious-Monk-and-his-cat
Thelonious ‘Sphere’ Monk and his cat

Thelonious “Sphere” Monk: his music born from the blues but précised through meticulous craft to the point where it sounds wholly new. “Monk’s radical idea,” said Robin Kelley, “was not to add more notes to chords but rather take them away, creating much more dissonance.” A bit like this, perhaps?  “Expensive dressed in poor veneer. The face slum, the core bourgeois. Bars, restaurants, bookshops where upward mobility gets its chops.”

Charles “Bird” Parker: master of what John Fordham summed up as “the ability to move far away from a tune’s ‘home’ key and back without losing the thread.” “The base was there before me. Solid. I stand my pen on it. And the paper winces/ while I wait for the blood/ (…)Step. ‘the melody’s more important than the navigation.’ And motif is/ trampoline in this. Bounce on it/ only to take off and then back again…on the one!”

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Charles ‘Yardbird’ Parker

The book is also a tribute to Mafika Gwala, who died in 2014, and there are multiple explicit praises for the poet’s work, and shared, echoed allusions, for example to Phillip Tabane. But the real homage is embedded in that music of words, because that was Gwala’s voice too:

Mafika
Mafika Gwala

“If we are not saints/ They’ll try to make us devils;/ If we refuse to be devils/ They’ll want to turn us into robots./ When criminal investigators/ are becoming salesmen/ When saints are ceasing to be saints/ When devils are running back to Hell/ It’s the Moment of Rise or Crawl/ When this place becomes Mpumalanga/ With the sun refusing to rise/ When we fear our blackness/ When we shun our anger/ When we hate our virtues/ When we don’t trust our smiles./ one and two/ three and four/ bonk’abajahile” (from Bonk’abajahile published in Jol’iinkomo, 1977)

Within Bird Monk Seding’s polyphony of true and trickster voices, it is clear which parts are true, and irrelevant which are autobiographical and which are not. This much is the important truth: we have failed to deal with racism and violence and racially-structured degradation and so they poison today, when former liberation fighters join former SADF killers – some of them farmers just outside Groot Marico – on the gravy-train. But grasp Eshun’s hand and he can also link us to another level of existence, where music accesses the sublime and good people still live. The two worlds exist at the same time, side by side, sometimes colliding or intertwining: jazz cannot erase desolation, but nor can desolation erase the freedom and beauty of jazz, and so Bird lives, and so we are able to breathe as well.

Poet Lorenzo Thomas said some similar things, in another voice tracking the swoops, flurries and soaring of Parker’s music:

“According to my records, there was something/ More. There was space. Seeking. And mind/ Bringing African control on the corny times/ Of the tunes he would play. There was Space/ And the Sun and the Stars he saw in his head/ In the sky on the streets and the ceilings/ Of nightclubs and lounges as we sought to/ Actually lounge trapped in the dull asylum/ Of our own enslavements. But Bird was a junkie!”

(from Historiography by Lorenzo Thomas)bird-monk-cover

There are new things in this book. The personal voice is not so relentlessly a voice of disgust as it has sometimes been. Though the shifts between affectionate memory and visceral horror still happen fast enough to feel like a punch in the guts, there are more of the former than there used to be. There’s nobility, fortitude and love in the lives of people such as Seding’s Pogisho and Mmaphefo, risking everything to protect their son. Other things about Rampolokeng don’t change. The writing is as meticulously crafted as ever, mashing up memoir, reportage, movie script, music and verse with his customary forensic scalpel. “BUNIONS ON MY FINGERS/ I put in a lot of work on the pen…” “I celebrate the minds fashioning us on more than just a couple of dimensions. Death to literary apartheid and art-ghettos,” Rampolokeng told wa Bophelo. And, in the book: “The idea though is to take it/away from the inherited form. Make a new dream./ Four-pronged attack,/ channeled through one. Mafika, Bird, Monk and me.

In short, Bird Monk Seding is about as autobiographical as Mingus’s Beneath the Underdog. Mingus – who was never a pimp, and, in Mingus Speaks (https://www.amazon.com/Mingus-Speaks-John-F-Goodman/dp/0520275233 ), shows a somewhat different character – rode on pimp-style boasts and repellent sexism to throw racist stereotypes back at their architects and more generally, Eshu-like, mess with his readers’ heads.

That’s the strategy Rampolokeng’s brew of bitter truth and baroque imagining also employs. It declares it’s a novel. Believe it. In one legend, Shangu, the Yoruba thunder-god, asks Eshu: “Why don’t you ever speak straightforwardly?”

The trickster replies: “I never do…I like to make people think”

 

 

 

 

Heritage Day – a time to improvise as Kinsmen do

Happy Heritage Day – or, as capitalist Big Food has renamed it, National Braai Day.

Eish!

Evidently, some South Africans are so terrified of engaging with how we differ, and bring different things from our backgrounds and experiences to today, that they’d rather risk death from overdoses of carcinogenic charred meat, alcohol, salt, and high fructose corn syrup. It’s a complete lowest common denominator cop-out: the fact that whole human race has, at some point in its evolution, consumed food cooked over an open fire, is trivial.

So it’s refreshing to have music to discuss today that engages thoughtfully and intelligently with heritage, as well as being a really cool listen. It’s even better when the release introduces musicians who are not the usual suspects.

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Kinsmen (from left) Dawjee, Sodha, Pillay

Water, the longest track on trio Kinsmen’s debut release, Window To The Ashram (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/kinsmen ) starts with soft solo notes dropped from Muhammad Dawjee’s saxophone. Shailesh Pillay’s tabla and Dhruv Sodha’s sitar join in, and the sound grows. The strands weave together into a full, complete melody, surging forward and buoying the listener’s spirit. It’s like raindrops trickling into rivulets that unite to form a strong, flowing river. Somebody who doesn’t know the group might be tempted to take those sonic cues of structure and instrumentation, plus the musicians’ names, nod knowingly, and say: “Ah, Mother Ganges…”

But water flows like that in every country – and such an easy, stereotyped label is about as far away as you can get from the intention of Kinsmen’s music.

“We have to start with the Indian-ness we have now,” asserts Dawjee. “And that’s a South African experience.”

All three players grew up in Laudium in Pretoria (see the Laudium video on their FB page at https://www.facebook.com/kinsmen.art/ ), and parental aspirations played an important part in how they related to music. Dawjee’s father was an enthusiastic amateur saxophonist (“He used to play on the balcony…as a kid, I was taken by the sound – it reminded me of elephants!”) By the age of six, he had started handling the instrument and demanding lessons. But his music teacher deemed him too small for a sax, so he started on clarinet, only later moving to the larger instrument. He was intrigued, too, by the sound of the sitar on his father’s Ravi Shankar album. Dawjee’s family however did not see music as a profession, so he trained as an architect, getting, he confesses, “terribly out of practice” on his horn during that time of intensive study.

Sodha’s family had enthusiasm for the idea “of playing in temple” and so he began lessons on tabla and then flute. His teacher had a sitar too “and I got fascinated by the sound of the instrument in Bollywood movies. The Internet too – at that time there were about two Google sitar videos and I played them over and over!” Sodha liked the idea that the sitar had no equivalents among Western instruments. Eventually he began taking two-month trips to India to develop his skills. “It demands commitment. If you stop for even a few weeks the grooves on your fingers disappear.”

Today, he remains influenced by classical Indian vocal music: “the sitar is always aspiring towards voice.”

For Pillay, “My folks tried to help us to do things they hadn’t been able to do.” His early music education gave him a general background in Indian classical music; only as he grew did the tabla “become really something for me.” By training, he’s an actuary, and he ruefully concedes that yes, he can perceive links between intricately counted rhythms and those actuarial numbers – “as well as,” (he rolls his eyes), “having to be the band’s financial manager!” Today, his drum listening is broader: he says he’s “mesmerised” by Sikh rhythm styles played on the jori drums.

The three established their musical collaboration via friends of friends. “We initially thought it would be a nice hobby”, says Pillay. “Yes,” adds Dawjee, “we never expected to have this. Then, about a year ago, something just clicked in our music.”

A conversation with Kinsmen is often like that: they complete one another’s sentences without any jockeying for dominant voice, and that’s apparent in the playing too. “We bring plans and preconceptions to rehearsals,” says Pillay, “but the emotions of playing together change everything…I can start a 7-beat and the others pick up on it: it’s not the melodic instruments that must always lead.” Adds Dawjee: “We workshop ideas and they’re mostly joint compositions. It never matters who brought the original idea – it couldn’t have gone where it did without the collective.”

For Kinsmen, the formulaic, Orientalised way Indian classical music is packaged for South African audiences is a concern. The three describe what they see in press releases: “exotic,” “unattainable discipline”, “ancient craft”. “I get frustrated ,” says Dawjee. “As a person of Indian descent in South Africa, I can relate to the music’s virtuosity, but not to all that.

“I was struck by what [saxophonist] Shabaka Hutchings was doing as a British person of African Caribbean decent, coming here to South Africa, exploring roots with a real openness about how he could attach to them. For me, that’s one thing that drove the cause of Kinsmen. Because those concerts don’t necessarily offer younger audiences something they can relate to. We’re South Africans now.” Adds Pillay: “Even though our training allows us to understand the music, the environment of those concerts is everything we’re not.” “Finding our identity,” sums up Sodha, “is central to Kinsmen.”

Much of that searching is expressed in the album’s opening track, The Calling. Sodha explains: “It’s one of the first pieces we collaborated on, and we always open with it. The way it opens signifies fear and mystery: a mood almost of sunset in a forest and all the animals rushing for safe shelter.” But that image also serves as a metonym, says Dawjee: “It’s the apprehension of what the music will bring…will instruments with different idioms find a common language? And through the tune we all had a chance to express our presence, and reach a sense of arrival – from apprehension to courage.” “There are no boundaries when we work together,” elaborates Pillay. “And there are no conflicts of style – even subtle ones. There are only three human beings there.”

In contrast, the second track, J, is melodically simpler: an innocently romantic theme with the mood of first love. That contrast is deliberate programming after the intensity of The Calling.

All the tracks on Window to the Ashram share a feeling of tales being told, and it’s that “exploration of narrative through improvisation,” says Dawjee, that locates the music in a jazz context, – although he concedes that the ‘jazz’ label carries at least as much bothersome baggage as the ‘Indian music’ one. He alludes to features he hears in the music of John and Alice Coltrane – “finding the gaps around one tonal centre”, and the sense of exploration. The way [bassist] Carlo Mombelli’s work on Stories was underpinned by a sense of unfolding narrative was also influential – “hearing that album was one of the things that got me playing again.”

Listeners to Mombelli and similarly thoughtful jazz composers will find much to appreciate here – although it is very different music. Kinsmen’s album leads the listener on a journey that takes in the lushly romantic, the controlled and meditative (Unsung Hymn), some remarkably catchy melodic hooks, and intricate rhythms. It explores improvisatory traditions from both its key sources, and, beautifully, gives each track the space it needs to breathe. Ideally Suited involves Dawjee and Sodha in a careful negotiation of dialogic space, something else reflecting Kinsmen’s musical priorities. “Initially,” says Pillay, “we thought we had to fill all those spaces – now we know we don’t.” (In those days, they were playing Simon and Garfunkel covers too…) “Now”, adds Dawjee, “we understand how important it is to articulate and shape the silences in the music.”

South African music drawing on here, jazz and South Asia are not new: many compositions of Deepak Ram and Surendran Reddy, for example, explore that direction too. And, of course, there’s the legendary collaboration that was never recorded: Ram’s recollection of his elder brothers, players of sitar and sarod, jamming with legendary reedman Kippie Moeketsi in the family garage in the Sixties. But there’s probably much more than that un-documented, and Dawjee has one example.

He recalls how his grandfather was one of those who started a marching brass band, the Muslim Brigade, in Laudium. Over the decades since, community attitudes to music have become more conservative, “But I wonder,” he says, “what and how did music enable the very diverse community of Marabastad to be, and think, and do…”

kinsmenCDcover

Like Dawjee’s grandfather, we are all not merely recipients of heritage but makers of it in how we choose to live. We can and should make conscious choices about the attitudes and practices we want to adapt, reject or hand forward to the future.

Please step away from the lamb chops for a moment and think about that.

 

  • Kinsmen have upcoming gigs in the next couple of months at the Groot Marico festival and in Cape Town and Durban – details on their FB page.

Aki Takase: fists and filigree on the Joy of Jazz piano

The late, unique, Dr Geri Allen’s piano chair in the Power Trio was always going to be a hard one to fill after her death on June 27th. However, the Standard Bank Johannesburg Joy of Jazz handled the matter particularly clumsily, continuing to use her image and biography on the festival website for far too long (her photograph was still on the lineup page when I checked just now, at 10:34 am on 19/09: nearly three months later) rather than acknowledging the dilemma. I’m probably old-fashioned about respect for the dead, but I find that extremely distasteful.

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Pianist/composer/leader Aki Takase

However, Joy of Jazz has now announced the revised lineup, for a festival that runs from September 28-30 at the Sandton Convention Centre. Joining drummer Terri-Lyne Carrington and reedman David Murray on piano will be Osaka-born, Berlin-resident and eight-time winner of the German Record Critics Award, Aki Takase. Though a respected veteran of the European and US avant-garde jazz scenes, Takase is a new jazz visitor to South Africa. Her visit holds the promise of a fresh and daring keyboard presence, at an event where the 2017 lineup is dominated by names of unquestionable – but already known – quality. Allaboutjazz has noted Takase’s “uncommon knack for bringing something fresh to whatever music she cares to tackle.”

Also a leader and composer, Takase began playing piano aged 3, and studied classical music at the Toho Gakuen Academy. Her interest grew from classical to contemporary composed music and jazz; she confesses to being intrigued when a friend told her that “John Coltrane is like Beethoven”. Her early listening took in Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and more and eventually she thought: “Ah, maybe I can do something myself…”

In 1972, she moved to New York, working with, among others, Lester Bowie, John Zorn and Dave Liebman; nine years later she made her first appearance in Europe at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Audiences instantly appreciated her distinctive keyboard approach. She settled in Germany in 1987 and since then, often in company with husband and musical collaborator pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, she has been an admired and influential presence on the European free jazz scene. See the two playing Mingus at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uALFIaa4v60

“In the beginning,” Takase told an interviewer (https://soundcloud.com/underyourskin/aki-takase-interview-live ), “I was just playing what I wanted (…) Later, I knew there were some rules.”

Monk

Takase is a longtime collaborator with Murray: they first worked together on the album Blue Monk (Enja) in 1983. She has released more than 40 albums as leader, among them outings exploring the work of composers such as Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy, and Ornette Coleman. But it is Thelonious Monk whom she acknowledges as her most enduring piano hero: “He is a genius, timeless…nobody delights me so much.”

Takase shares Monk’s gift for presenting audiences with the unexpected, and it’s not entirely clear why the Joy of Jazz press release chose to preview her work as “piano serenading”: a somewhat misleading label for a powerful and very physical presence at the piano, where jagged sounds from fists and flat hands crashed on to the keys can be juxtaposed with delicate, finely crafted melody. The UK Guardian’s John Fordham notes “some very attractive virtues: a fearless relish for treading close to the edge, formidable technique, deep jazz knowledge, a shrewd sense of how to balance abstract improv and song structure, as well as a sense of humour.” (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jun/06/aki-takase-my-ellington-review )

Cherry

Takase’s most recent work with Murray is the album Cherry-Sakura (https://intaktrec.bandcamp.com/album/cherry-sakura ), and much material is available online to sample the mood of their work together, for example the preview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flTuINIuhuw and the live performance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOp4dEqTPf4 . We know from Grammy-winner Carrington’s many previous outings how she, too, can “tread close to the edge” in defiant rhythmic power, and next weekend’s performance is likely to offer new insights into and textures for the music of Perfection. It will absolutely not sound the same as the recording, but it will share sophisticated ears, daring ideas and instrumental mastery. That’s the most fitting way to pay tribute to the memory of Allen.

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Terri-Lyne Carrington

 

Ancient Agents: joyous music from everywhere

You wouldn’t know it from almost nonexistent press coverage, but this decade is turning into one of the richest and most beautiful for new South African jazz. Alongside original ideas and visions, technical proficiency is high, thanks to improved (though still not ideal) access to music education. And doors and minds are open for all kinds of intriguing collaborations: across genres, continents – and generations, so that, for example, veteran South African giants such as Louis Moholo-Moholo, Thebe Lepere and Kaya Mahlangu can share stages with relative youngsters such as Mandla Mlangeni. (Late October, if you want to catch that one in Joburg.)

AA colour

AAnother, equally intriguing collaboration is Ancient Agents, whose self-titled album (https://www.ancientagents.com/releases ) launches on Sept 21 at the Orbit in Johannesburg, with other launch gigs scheduled. The quartet comprises tabla, didgeridoo and percussion player Ronan Skillen, guitarist Reza Khota and bassist Schalk Joubert alongside a Swede, Fredrik Gille, on frame-drum and the Afro-Peruvian box-drum: the cajon.

The album describes its sound as “richly textured acoustic world beat” but while that’s not inaccurate, it doesn’t tell half the story.

With so much percussion on board, many on the nine tracks are unsurprisingly groove-led for some part of their existence, but those grooves are dazzlingly varied: from the lilting Zimbabwe-style patterns of the opener, Clouseau’s Dream (www.ronanskillen.com/ancientagents/videos/ancient-agents-clouseaus-dream ), to tabla tals, to rhythms that wouldn’t be out of place on a Cape Town club dancefloor. The strings run a similar gamut: Joubert’s bass can walk, skank – and solo; Khota’s guitar can soar on wings of echoey effect, chime like bells, or get down equally dancefloor dirty. Sometimes that all happens in the life of a single number: Unearth starts somewhere that might be the Kalakuta Republic, segues into tough jazz impro, and then travels East. This isn’t the kind of ‘worldbeat’ that trances you to sleep – rather, its intricacy and variety compel careful listening. And because each player has mastered and owns the idioms of his instrument, the eclecticism unfolds in a way that feels natural and joyous, without even a whiff of pastiche.

The joy and fun in the music are important too. Groove-led music can sometimes feel relentless even as it drives your feet to tap. By contrast, Ancient Agents’ tracks, such as the appealing little folk tune Bokmakierie or the closer, You’re the Reason, are also just so damn pretty.

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Ancient Agents in performance

Music-collectors aware of a Tananas-shaped gap in their current collection would do well to give Ancient Agents the digital equivalent of a spin. It doesn’t sound ‘like’ Tananas – those players were, and these players are, such distinctive individual voices that would be impossible. But it lives in the same soundscape: a territory that has abolished musical border-posts, but is deeply grounded in and respectful of different musical legacies; a place that’s simultaneously nowhere and everywhere.