Saturday, July 4, 2020

MAPUTO JAZZ CORNER

It Has To Be Jazz®

With every country that I visit, I always look for what best represents that particular country. Maputo was no exception. Often what I would be looking for is not easy to identify and sometimes I am influenced by what I read or hear from people who have been to those countries. Typically, almost everyone I know who visited Maputo in particular will tell you about the king and queen prawns of Mozambique. That to a certain extent sort of prepared me for what I should expect. Well, I cannot tell you much about Mozambican prawns except that they are really huge by comparison to the ones I have seen in other African countries. Besides, I am a vegetarian and that does not help.

But I did accompany friends to Ocean Basket at the ‘Waterfront’ and when we got there, there was this youth Latin Jazz Trio with a bass guitarist who was in the zone the entire time he was playing. The drummer was heavily into Cuban drumming, which one hardly ever finds in these parts of the world. It is not often that you find a pianist in Latin Jazz with your typical American influence. Let’s just say for the first time since my arrival in Maputo I found something that made them really stand out and that is Latin Jazz. Music, in my humble opinion, is the one thing that truly represents the Maputo community. Unfortunately, since I cannot speak Portuguese, it was a bit difficult to fully appreciate the lyrics. But hey! The sound of jazz was that good!

Following my discovery of Maputo music scene, my adventurous spirit took over and a friend recommended Costa Del Sol. The first attraction for me was an African market place and some of the music I had never heard before. It was like a continuation of the trio I saw a day before. Now you can imagine my curiosity about Mozambican music when I got back home. I went into different social media platforms searching for anything and everything with Mozambique and jazz. I came across a Facebook page for a group called Canto do Jazz (Jazz Corner) with over 4700 members. This was a good start and I immediately sent a request to be added to the group. There are a few challenges because most posts are in Portuguese and it takes twice as long to read but it is worth it. The majority of artists are new to me but the excitement of researching on them never ceases to amaze me. The next best thing was meeting Chico Nuvunga, who has kept the It Has To Be Jazz┬« project team abreast of jazz developments in Mozambique.  We continue to enjoy our new-found relationship and we were blessed to host him and his team from Maputo during the 2nd It Has To Be Jazz┬« anniversary celebration.

So, what have we exchanged thus far? There are many points of interest that we shared, the first major one being the growing of jazz in the SADC region and the future prospect of a jazz music cultural exchange. But of immediate interest is the recent album release by Zoco Dimande simply dubbed My Heroes. I am elated to announce that I am the proud owner of the new autographed copy by the legendary Zoco all the way from Maputo.

The album has 12 tracks of beautifully orchestrated and well-crafted music and one can tell that only the best musicians were selected for this offering. Most importantly, I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion to the ensemble of the keyboard maestro Thapelo Motshegwe from South Africa. This was an unexpected collaboration which we are hoping the It Has To Be Jazz┬« project can extend to its pool of great jazz composers and musicians. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let us talk about the sleeve art. The artist has really gone out of his way to capture the spirit and the theme of the music.

I can only imagine the tough decision Zoco must have been faced with in selecting the musicians especially with such a huge pool of seasoned musicians in Maputo alone. But I am sure his decision was well-calculated, with Thapelo on piano and keyboards. Nelton Miranda El Bazz’s suggestive bass lines are constantly keeping everyone in check with a particular unique style of bass. Clearly his signature is identifiable in every piece. Ivan Mazuze and Sarmento De Cristo Cossa are saxophonists of note whose presence this album can never do without. They both bring a sense of completeness to the music with every note. Sethy Flautas is on flute! Oh, my God! That flute! There is something about flutes and their players, either you play it and play it well or you just don’t because a flute can make or break music. This album would have been incomplete if the incredible percussionists Tony Paco and Nelson Percussionista II were not added to the mix. Nothing sounds like the soulful percussions in an album such as My Heroes especially with so much African music undertones. I like that old school touch of adding background vocals to music and the addition of Onesia Da Cristina Muholove is a cherry on top. Stelio Mondlane on drums adds a flavour that seems to sway the music in the exploratory direction and take the audience to places never seen before.

The guitar maestro himself, Zoco Dimande, does wonders with the guitar. I suppose when it comes to guitars, it is really about the instrument being in the right hands at the right time. But this much I can tell you, he is a powerful genie and a genius with the guitar and he can whip out soothing sounds at a drop of hat.

So, why did Zoco Dimande make the It Has To Be Jazz┬« project review? Do yourself a favour, that is if you are into music, by taking time off and travel to Maputo to experience Zoco perform live and get a thrill of a lifetime! Your collection without Zoco’s My Heroes album is so much less.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.