Thursday, October 29, 2020

Jazz Legends And New Generation – The Disconnect

It used to be fairly common for a younger African generation to look up to the elders for guidance and wisdom. I know this may sound like a bold statement that suggests we have stopped doing so. The competition for success amongst some of our youth is blinded to a point where the few who still believe in the good old-fashioned elderly advice are overpowered. The jazz fraternity is no exception to this observation.

I am in no way suggesting that the elders need to stifle the much needed new innovations we have come to expect from our youth in jazz. On the other hand, we all need to take a balanced view of what is happening in the jazz trenches. Let me share some of the most recent experiences. I was talking to Godfrey Mntambo on his new album simply dubbed ‘Kopano.’ This is a masterpiece that truly represents various social issues from the old and the new. What truly impressed me was how well the past is articulated in this album. In all honesty, it never crossed my mind that he could be taking a different direction in their future compositions.

I was wrong and Godfrey started to unpack where they are positioning themselves as a new generation of jazz composers. At the top of his list is consultation with the jazz legends that are still alive. They are looking for that connection that links the old and the new. Well, at this point he had my undivided attention and I gave him the opportunity to unpack this new concept that sounded truly foreign to me. It actually felt like one of those missing link moments.

Everything he was saying made perfect sense, not only in terms of jazz but all other facets of the society. If there is a disconnect with the past, two things are likely to happen. A whole culture can be lost or a new one can be born. But new cultures take time to nurture to a point of maturity and acceptability. 

So, what is the reason for consulting with the jazz legends? There are several ways of looking at it. The depth of knowledge on the role of music compositions played in the previous communities is one of them. The interpretation of whatever jazz material exists has become crucial in the search for the missing link. There is a rise in the number of jazz students who are looking at understanding and appreciating jazz within the context of what the African jazz ancestors have left as their legacy. Of course, we are not overlooking what the rest of the world did in the jazz space. It is also just as true that we can only read that which is written in a language we understand.

The search for the missing link has yielded some amazing results and the It Has To Be Jazz® project team decided to test some of the results. Prince Lengoasa, who has basically been there and done that in all things jazz, was invited to the recording of Ancestors Danced. This was an attempt to move away from just talking about the disconnect between the old and the new to actually doing something about it.

Well, the album has set a new direction in the search for that missing link. We have received a number of requests to arrange more collaborations in various endeavours and these include but are not limited to compositions between the jazz legends and youth in jazz, recordings led by youth but guided by jazz legends and marketing of finished products across different jazz generations. This sounds like a brilliant idea and it is further backed up by our findings which are, the new jazz compositions appeal to both the young and the old. What is even more interesting is that, they are being played in radio stations that cater for different age groups; from the young to the matured.

We are not going to rest on our laurels thinking that the promising results are the end of our search. In fact, this is only the beginning and we have time to race against. Most of the jazz legends are in their advanced age and we need to ensure we can document whatever we can and put their sound on record. Working with youth collaborations will go a long way in ensuring that a record of the past stays intact.

On the other hand, we are yet to define what that missing link between the old and the new is, even though the connection seems obvious. On a different discussion that I had with some of the jazz musicians, it appears one will have to look at all areas of music. I was taken aback as my previous thoughts were that a missing link is pretty generic and one does not have to break it down. Well, guess what! There is a lot that constitutes the link I alluded to earlier. First and foremost, it is the sound. This is a whole subject on its own because one needs to define what that sound is and who can identify with it.  Secondly, the meaning of the composition which addresses or speaks to the question of why a musical piece was composed in the first place needs to be explained. 

There is something that is generally illusive and yet is just as important and, it is how a composition is played and by who. There is no real explanation, at this point, how this selection process happens as it is dependent on the interpretation of the composition by the composer.

The missing link problem is real and needs to be addressed. The good thing is that we are aware of it and there are a number of people who are addressing it from various quarters.

So, why did this article make the It Has To Be Jazz® project review? Our youth in jazz have become self-aware of the direction they are mapping moving forward. However, they also recognise the fact that the coordinates of their path are based on an already existing map which the majority are still struggling to find and those who found it are struggling to read and interpret correctly. Stay safe.

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