Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Magic Diau: a stickler for the jazz and traditional mix

Jazz veteran Magic Diau’s fusion of jazz and Setswana traditional music is symbolic of an artist still trying to come to grips with the direction the industry has taken. It speaks volumes about his desire to hold onto the essence of the music he grew up to.

Rocking a black beret as he enters the Sunday Standard premises for the interview, his sense of style is a visual testament to his reluctance to do a complete crossover. And why should he? There is still a huge audience of old folks out there completely fed-up with today’s bubble-gum music.

At the age of 57, he knows the distance behind him may be far greater than the journey ahead.

This is why, in his own words, he decided to rush to the studio back in 2002 to release his very first studio album, African Rhythms, after more than three decades in the industry.

“I realised most of my peers had started dying one by one,” he tells Lifestyle. “And like me, some of them had never recorded their own solo projects.”

Having performed since the 1980s, he counts some of our local jazz greats like the late Tsilo Baitsile, Malombo, Banjo Mosele, CryzeLefatshe, and Soccer Moruakgomo among his peers.

His only studio recording back then was a track he did with the star-studded cast of TshepoTshola, Hugh Masekela, Buti Tsienyane, Aubry Oki, Banjo Mosele, Cryzer Lefatshe, and Ricky Molefe.
“The song was called ‘Take Me Back to Gaborone’ and we recorded it at Wood Pecker (Gaborone),” Diau says.

He then founded a group together with Tsilo and Malombo but the two left to join the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).

“I later got together with Lefatshe and we formed a group called Ngwao,” he says. As the name suggests they decided to now go the traditional route by fusing popular Setswana folk songs with jazz.

“I was the first guy to perform Selina,” he says. But the two could still not record their music. They only played live shows around the country and at times opening for recognisable groups like Harare (SA).

It was at the Gaborone City Hall when they performed Harare that he landed his first opportunity to record his own music but he let it slip.

“After being impressed with our performance some guy came over to me and offered me a chance to record in South Africa but I developed cold feet,” he tells Lifestyle.

At the time, Diau says, they did not trust South African record producers.

“They had a reputation for exploiting artists.” This is despite, by his admission, that getting to record an album back in the day was not easy, and too expensive.

“Trying to record live music with a band was no walk in the park. There were no studios around,” he says. “The nearest studio was in Mafikeng.” Making a living off music back in the day, Diau says, was not an easy task. “The community did not make it easy for us. If you wanted to perform for a living they would look down upon you and just assume you must have failed at school,” he says. “My folks had hoped for me to be a teacher instead.”

A decade after releasing his first studio album Diau released ‘Ke a Tshaba’ in 2012 which he is still trying to promote. He says unlike other genres, it is particularly harder for jazz artists to reach bigger audiences through radio because radio stations prefer to play the music exclusively on Sundays.

To try and take his music to the people Diau intends to hold monthly shows at Boetelo Sun Valley Resort (Gaborone Dam south gate). The first show, featuring Trans Kalahari Jazz Quintet, is scheduled for Saturday July 26.


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