art lives! art leads!

Macufe Jazz: Dana and the Godfathers


Mpho Matsitle describes Macufe Jazz as a nostalgic and euphoric grand affair to his newborn Godchild, K.

To K., on this her 13th day on earth

They stood by the balcony overlooking the earth. Tears held back. Tearing up their insides. They had promised you no tears. In return for your no fears. Their precious produce. Inkwenkwezi. They stood and watched you descend into the clouds as they waved. Imploring you not to hurry back. To be one with the world they were sending you to. To bring light to that world.

“When the whole world had turned on me,” bellowed Simphiwe Dana when she saw you descend from the heavens. “You’re the light in my heart, shining bright in my heart. Guiding me to a better day. Sweetest thing.”

On her head she donned the isiqhova her light first burst into the music world with on Zandisile, the very same one she professed she would wear with pride as per the lessons of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o on The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street.

We did fret, I will admit, when we saw her on the line-up for Macufe Jazz. “She hasn’t done jazz in a long time,” we kvetched. But jazz has no time, only old Timers. One such is 65 year-old Themba Mokoena, the “institution of South African guitar styles.”

He accompanied Dana when she opened her set with the lament I pray you never have to recite: “Thina sizwe isintsundu sikhalela izwe lethu.” We all had our fists in the air, or holding our hearts, on the verge of tears. But none fell.

Ask Thandiswa Mazwai and she will tell you “we don’t even cry no more.” Even though Dana has long issued a clarion call that Mayine, the rain of our tears is nowhere to be found. That’s your forte, K.—your tears are legitimate, for you are innocent, whereas we are complicit.

Peter Nthwane is late but he had enough time on this world to chastise us for our laggardness when it comes to working to get what is ours. He, however, worked hard. So hard that even though he is no longer of this world you just joined, he can still headline one of the biggest jazz shows in the country.

He built his band, led ably by three hornsmen, backup vocalists and an understudy who will make many doubt that Malome is really no more. But he sure has gone to be with manyeloi Thabeng Tsa Sione.

This part of our lives, K., is called legacy.

It is said in the Book: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” The same Book insists that we are made in God’s likeness. The first and most important lesson you will learn from me, as one duty-bound to guide you in the ways of God, is that jazz is God’s purest language. Thus, jazz musicians, as the purveyors of this language, must be more like God than the rest of us plebs. This is why I imagine that Nthwane looked down the Macufe Dome on 5 October, “and behold, it was very good.”

I don’t have to burden my imagination with such, though, when it comes to Jonas Gwangwa – 13 days shy of being octogenarian on the day – and Caiphus Semenya, he who has been “so true” to aus’ Letta, “mogats’age”, for 50 years.

Bra Jonas (the only time you can call a man old enough to be your great-grandfather “bra” is if he’s a jazzman) too spent most of his time on stage leaning against his stool, “saw all that he had made,” the hornsmen and vocalist he’s trained to carry on his legacy when he no longer can, “and behold, it was very good.”

Jonas Gwangwa blows Macufe away/ Credit: Lihlumelo Toyana Photography

He only came in for his soliloquies. First, almost, definitely, cursing the Temporary Inconvenience that was his frail body. With his tenor trombone he blew down the walls of Jericho and our fears that the old geezer would not be able to hold a note for any considerable length of time.

Now that we no longer harboured any heathenish doubts, he got down to the business of the day: it was on Flowers of the Nation that he sat, gripped the mouthpiece firmly against his lips with his aged hands, and went on an extended sermon exalting you, K.

This sermon was in spirit a love child of Simeon’s wail at the sight of Christ – “for my eyes have seen your salvation” – and Elton John’s state of wonder: “How wonderful life is [now that] you’re in the world.”

And it was all for you.

We were all spent when he got up to do an unknown tune that implored us to love one another. It was at this moment that his vocal team first ascended the stage. Usually it consists of three female vocalists, who back him up when he takes us to the vanguard of the wedding dance.

This today, however, a gentleman accompanied them: led them, and us, through Kgomo, Batsumi and Morwa. And god, we danced! This was Gwangwa saying to us, like Nthwane, he is immortal.

Like Caiphus – the accomplished songwriter and composer who has worked with everyone, the world over, worth mentioning. We know Bra Katse has written many a song for many a legend.

We know too that legend-in-the-making AKA has written a song named after him. But little did we know, until the final hours of Thursday night, that the classic Way Back Home by the legendary Jazz Crusaders was a dedication to the jazz cohort of South Africans exiled in America who never tired of speaking about “back home in South Africa.”

This revelation preambled his new lyrical rendition of the harrowing song, which the Macufe masses were only the second audience to hear it.

He too travelled with a troupe of young and gifted jazzmen and women, putting paid the lie that jazz is a country of old men. As they went through his sing-along (can you hear mam’Letta here? Everybody Sing Along!) catalogue he too would take a back seat, “and behold, it was very good.”

Of course, as with any Caiphus show, all he had to do was breathe into the mic and the audience took over the singing. The dome turned into a stage. We locked teary eyes as we reminisced on our parents who introduced us to this music, we high-fived each other for no apparent reason other than the fact that we love one another.

But at no moment were we more intimate than when we cried together, “Yho! Yho! Yho! Yho! Motse wa ka wa thubeha.”

It was a nostalgic and euphoric grand affair.

These godfathers are Norman Chauke’s abonduguman, dancing to Dana’s invocation, “Thath’ induku we mfana, qula qul’ izithethe,” a tune that had the entire Macufe Dome swinging to its heavy and seductive bassline; the same crowd that was almost reduced to tears with the prayer Zandisile.

Yes, human nature will humble you. But also humour you. I’m here to tutor you.

But I’m signing out now … with a prayer: “Yenza njalo,” K. “Ndibek’ ithemba lam kuwe.”

Ndiredi to be a proud Godfather to a jazz muso (no pressure though).

Nguwe, nguwe, nguw’ ithemba lam!

Mpho Matsitle is the  Publisher of ART STATE. He is @MphoMatsitle on Twitter

FEATURED IMAGE: Simphiwe Dana works her magic. Credit: Lihlumelo Toyana Photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Editor's Choice