Sunday, May 16, 2021

Trans Kalahari Quintet takes it ‘Back to Basics’

When the Lifestyle Desk got the e-mail request to attend the media live preview for the latest Trans Kalahari Quintet album at Botswana Craft, the invitation was met with a lot of skepticism. We get plenty of such invitations and more often than not the events turn out to be a total waste of time and resources. “I will go and stick around just long enough to fulfill the requirements of politeness,” I thought to myself. The listening session, held on Wednesday February 11 at Botswana Craft, attracted only a couple of reporters and a handful of jazz enthusiasts notably Shima Monageng and Taolo Moshaga.

The show, scheduled for 1800 hours, would start an hour late after it became clear there wouldn’t be any more guests arriving. “ It’s not so much the number of people you get to perform for as is the impression you leave on those few people watching your performance,” band member, Matt Dasco, would later tell Lifestyle in an interview. And leave an impression they did.

They played beautiful sounds from their latest album ‘Back to Basics’ and a couple from their previous one, ‘Re Teng’. Their music can be described as eclectic; fusing a variety of genres from the blues, to African traditional jazz, Latin, ballads and funk. The music arouses an incredible sense familiarity perhaps owing to the combination of styles especially with the songs Lobola and Funkbaqanga. Even the totally unexpected rain that poured on the night did not interrupt what turned out to be an incredible listening session. They just don’t make music like that anymore. Interestingly the whole album is devoid of vocals but one gets so lost in the music it becomes difficult to even notice.

The group comprises Dasco (saxophone), Zakes Gwaze (guitars), Arthur Makhwenkwe Mengwe (drums), Brian Nyakurukwa and the late Elliot Morgan. They have all played behind the scenes for local jazz musicians from Shanti Lo, to Banjo Mosele, Soccer Moruakgomo, Ndingo Johwa and Lister Boleseng. Lifestyle caught up with Makhwenkwe and Dasco to discuss the group.

Just how did the group come about? “Oli (Oliver Groth, Botswana Craft) contacted me in 2009 and asked if I could put together a band to open for a South African jazz band that had been scheduled to perform at Botswana Craft,” says Makhwenkwe. “I had seen Matt (Dasco) playing saxophone for Soccer Moruakgomo at Millenium Restaurant and I had been impressed with his skills.”

He says he also contacted Gwaze and the late Morgan both of whom he had known for years. It took them just a few days of rehearsal and putting together some of their own material and they were ready to take to the stage. “It was a collaborative effort and we played mostly standards,” Dasco adds.

Two years later, in 2011, they recorded and released their debut album, Re Teng. In the album they also experimented with various styles of music. But they did not promote the album enough to get recognition. This was largely due to saxophonist Dasco’s relocation back home to Texas, USA. “I took up a job back home in Texas six weeks after the album was released,” Dasco says. He had been in Botswana for just two years working at both Princess Marina and University of Botswana respectively. He would come back a year later for a performance a \t Botswana Craft before going back home. Meanwhile the group pianist, Morgan, suffered a stroke and passed on just after their album release in 2011. In 2013, while on business duty in Uganda, Dasco received a call from Makhwenkwe about an invitation Trans Kalahari Quintet had received from Zimbabwe.

Although the concert did not materialise the group got together and worked of their second album, Back to Basics. “We put together eight tracks in two days,” Dasco says. The album was recorded by Skizo Molosi and mastered at Sugarhill studios in Texas. “Skizo contributed a lot to the album and brought in a whole new perspective, thanks to his vast experience in music,” Dasco says. The production of the album took two years to complete. As was the case following the release of their debut album, Dasco was to fly back to the US today (Sunday) to continue with his work following a well-attended official launch of the album at Pavilion Restaurant on Thursday, February 12. “I want us to take the album to the States to promote it there also,” Dasco tells Lifestyle. “I want to promote Botswana music and give it the recognition it deserves.” The band will continue to play in the absence of Dasco who will be replaced by Andrew Chinganga on the sax.

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