Saturday, July 2, 2022

‘Battle of the Basses’ at Millennium

The Millennium Jazz Club in Mogoditshane will be in full autumn swing on the 27 when bassists, Aubrey Oaki and Citie Ntsoseng share the stage to sample selections from their debut recordings in Botswana and more original compositions.

Citie’s main statement on record made soon after he resettled in Botswana after studying at the Durban School of Music in South Africa was released about five years ago, titled ‘Initiation’, and it remains among the short list of recordings that offer the listener an exciting introduction to the contemporary creative music of Botswana.

By his own account, it will take quiet some doing to follow up on that first recording, which in many ways, represents an autobiographical statement about the early life of the young bass player who relied only on raw talent when he made his initial entry into the entertainment industry in Botswana before going to study.
‘Kolobeng’ speaks about the historical site where David Livingstone in believed to have settled temporarily before proceeding in the direction of Zambia. The site is a short distance from Moshupa, Citie’s home village.

His arrangement of ‘Ntsha Nkgo’ connects him to the traditional manner of sharing traditional beer. He also makes a statement about early life in Gaborone, which rose from Batlokwa lands to a city after it was named the capital of the 43 year old former British colony.

The city is the subject of the title song on Oaki’s debut recording in Botswana, a collaboration with his wife, Masego, also from Moshupa.
“Going back to Gaborone” is written in the vein of the popular southern African music popularly known as ‘mbaqanqa’ and tells the story of the artist’s longing for home.

Oaki was a key member of the star studded ‘Mother’ of yesteryear which was the brainchild of one of Botswana’s most gifted guitarists, the late Whyte Kgopo, also a vocalist of repute by any standards.

Oaki was a founder member of the Afro-pop group, Kalahari, whose members spent time with South African trumpet player, Hugh Masekela, travelling in the United States and throughout Europe, before the individual members returned to Botswana leaving guitarist, Banjo Mosele, in Norway.

The bass player’s music borrows from the languages of northern Botswana, infusing the Ikalanga, Setswana and English lyrics into the genre of southern African improvisational music.
Aubrey’s playing, it will be evident as soon as one listens to him in performance, is of a quality several steps ahead of the recording.

It does appear though, that the Botswana bass has come of age. It took something near a musical revolution in the late 1960s for the jazz practitioners in the United States to admit the bass into the family of instruments that had traditionally occupied the space of the soloists or ‘frontline’.

But by the mid-1970s, it was common-place to listen to the formative generation of solo voices, among them the Chicago String Ensemble, Stanley Clarke and many others several of whom had studied at the Berkeley School of Music.

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In the region

Not so pleasant news from South Africa report the hospitalisation of the legendary saxophonist from Cape Town, Winston ‘Mankunku’Ngozi, after he suffered a heart attack.

‘Mankunku’ was born in the Mother City in 1943 and started playing the piano at the age of seven, later experimenting with the clarinet and the alto saxophone before finally settling on the tenor sax. The Capetonian preferred to brave the apartheid laws that often required that he play from behind a curtain because ‘mixed race’ bands were illegal, rather than opt for a career abroad.

In 1968, he recorded ├Øakhal Inkomo’ with Lionell Pillay, Agrippa Magwaza and Early Mabuza, and the recording remains among the popular favourites next to the later recordings, Jika, ‘Bantwana be Afrika’ and ‘Molo Afrika’.

Though he has toured Sweden and Belgium for brief periods, he insisted on staying close to his family and folk in Cape Town though he may also have visited Botswana with the Soul Jazzmen in 1967. No record collection is complete without a Mankunku album.

In the Diaspora

At this time of the month every year, Botswana citizens begin to plan for the Independence Day celebrations. Isn’t it pleasant to know that the day shares something with the great Blues player B.B King who recently announced that he celebrates his 77th birthday in September, as does singer Van Morrison. The legendary Caribbean born saxophonist, Sonny Rollins, also a leading voice of the Be-bop era, celebrates his on the 6th, followed two days later by the inimitable Elvin Jones of the John Coltrane quartet of the early 1960s.

He shares the same birthday with Otis Redding. Billy Preston follows on the 9th and xylophonist Roy Ayers has his on September 10. Cannonball Adderly, also a member of the 60s Miles Davis ensemble, that included Coltrane, had his birthday on September 14.

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