09 Sep 2019

It Has To Be Jazz® 

The name of this band is made up of two music genres; UmBaqanga and Blues. Now you can imagine my confusion when I first discovered them on Facebook. In fact, I thought this could be another one of those concoctions of genres intended to create another of those never heard before genres. While the name is different and intended to be catchy, it did not exactly capture my attention. So, I decided to ignore it and move on to other pages on Facebook.

The next time I saw their name was on the World Sound Concert advertisement. What really caught my attention was the fact that they were the last and final performers on Sunday. This was an event spread over 4 days. It is very rare to find an exceptionally good band performing on the opening day of an event. The general rule is that the best is usually saved for last and in this particular case it is so very true. During stage setup, I had a very brief conversation with a colleague, David Lephoto, who is a great music lover and also happened to be the concert producer. His very first comment was that the band played well and all of them are gifted jazz musicians. I remember asking him about the name of the band. He just laughed it off and said that I should just wait for the magic. Indeed the ‘magicians’ pulled out their wands and very much to the audience’s delight they kept us on our toes.

David was kind enough to introduce me to the band leader and a pianist Solethu Madasa and we immediately exchanged numbers.   I was pleasantly surprised by his call the following day wishing to further pursue the brief discussion we had after the show. The meeting took place on a Wednesday. We quickly got all the pleasantries out of the way and went into the actual purpose of the meeting, which was to gather all the information I could get about the band.

Music is something that has always fascinated Solethu in many ways and I could easily tell when he related his musical influences that this is a man who could never live without music.  Going to school to formally study music had always been his greatest wish. He felt that his contribution to society was destined to be through music. Little did he know what challenges laid ahead? For starters, almost the entire class went for the easiest study modules and it seemed he was the only one who went for the most difficult ones. This resulted in him being unable to find study partners for a while as his mates did not appreciate the complexity of the modules he had taken. Maybe, to a certain extent, one can say they considered the modules impossible to crack. So, recitals remained a bit of a challenge for a while as he could not present a full suite of his compositions. He caught his break when he met the drummer Obakeng Mabitsela who definitely shared the same interest of music module. So, practise sessions became somewhat easier in that there was now two of them.

Misfortune was never meant to be permanent. During one of the practise sessions the head of department overheard them practising and he joined them with his saxophone. Everything else from that point is all history. The birth of UmBaqanga WeBlues became a reality and shortly afterwards they were joined by Thabang Moloi, a very unique flute and saxophone player and Dalu Mqwathi, a double bass player who definitely plays from the heart. Sometimes, they jammed with a few other musicians such as Kgosana More, a saxophonist and Phumelelo Ndlovu on contra bass. These are youngsters with very creative compositions and without any inhibitions. They have had their fair share of success and quite a few of the not so good ones such as where they had been asked to shut down the music because the audience was not happy with the concept of composition. I suppose politically incorrect statements.

Their true break came when, of all the students in the school, they were specifically asked to perform at a memorial service of their teacher Sisa Sophazi. Their next major break was when they were commissioned to play in Mpumalanga for an extended period of time. After those first two events, they made regular appearances at various venues and festivals. The ensemble has worked hard over the years, actually since 2016, and they have composed enough material to at least come up with 2 CDs. I was quick to ask as to when they plan to record and I was happy to know that the wait is not going to be long as they are due to go to the recording studio during the first week of September. Personally, I can hardly wait.

Right at the end of our conversation I could not shake off the idea of how they actually settled for UmBaqanga WeBlues and so, I just had to ask. The explanation was that as one of the band members was playing around with some chords and in his attempt to explain he used an example of a lady walking with a swag while shaking her waist and how the chords matched the walk. When all the band members finally got it, he exclaimed, ‘That walk is UmBaqanga WeBlues!’ Ever since then, the name stuck. So, in case you were misled by the band name like I was, I need you to know that this ensemble is a top-drawer material and you certainly need to book their CD, which they hope will be released in about 2 months.

They are continuing to develop in other areas of expertise such as music business and found that to be impressive because not many musicians want to deal with that part of their needs.

So, why did UmBaqanga WeBlues make the It Has To Be Jazz® project review? Such excellent bands often operate in the shadows away from the real appreciators of jazz and as a result remain unknown for way too long. The group has paid their dues and it is about time they came out of the shadows. Their compositions are certainly worth investing in.