Moses Molelekwa – An Interview
by Struan Douglas
South African music is hot. It’s always been hot. And yet where are the compilation albums that capture the passion and depth of contemporary South african sounds in an honest, authentic and representative way? Right now there is a wealth of brilliant South African music avilable. And afribeat.com has put together an album, focusing on jazz, acousti c and world music styles, that captures the intensity, diversity and power of this creative pulse.
Moses Molelekwa is one of South Africa’s most innovative and progressive jazz musicians, a visionary who’s revitalising the genre, mixing in the old with the new, respecting the traditional sounds, yet taking risks and pushing jazz into a contemporary and refreshing space. As with any great and passionate musician, he composes furiously and prolifically, dynamic and reflexive in an ever changing society, developing his sound into something that is retrospective and progressive, eclectic and representative, rhythmical and harmonic, sensitive and tolerant – a step in the direction of a universal sound.
Moses has recorded two albums on the Melt label and has taken his beautiful sounds to numerous national and international festivals. Rosskilder with TKZee and most recently the North Sea Jazz Festival in Den Haige.
“It was one of the best festivals I’ve ever played at, it was like a new beginning. I grew up listening to and playing Herbie Hancok’s music – he is one of my greatest inspirations. When we hooked up, we didn’t swap chords or talk music, we ended up meditating for an hour. It was just an amazing beautiful connection.”
A meeting of heightened awareness and harmony between two musical greats, combining various movements of jazz – past, present and progressive – into a spiritual connection of sharing and developing. Their vision is musical – eclectic, diverse and unselfish- revelling in the unity of sound and rhythm. “I love all music, and all the similarities. I think there’s just something special about music, and you got to appreciate that.” And its this passion for the inclusivity of sound and commitment to expanding his music, combined with his instinctive desire for discovering the voice of harmony, that has fine-tuned his ear to the little details, the beauty of jazz and its great embrace.
His latest album transcends the jazz idiom. He mixes in straight ahead jazz, beautiful piano melodies and reggae or contemporary drum and base beats, into an album that is a visual journey through the landscape of his youth, the colour and diversity of his influences and his deep spirituality.
Interview with Moses Molelekwa
North Sea Jazz festival Den Haige
16 July 2000, shortly after midnight – Moses is relaxed and sociable after a fabulous performance the night before and a day at the festival catching some of the big acts, we drink a couple of beers together high up in his hotel room.
SD: Playing at the North Sea Jazz festival amongst a line up of the greatest of stars, how do you feel?
MM: It is inspiring and exciting because South Africa is another world. Though jazz is loved there, the North Sea Cape Town earlier this year was the first of its kind to attract so many people, so to come to the North Sea here and see that every year you have serious jazz appreciators is great. The jazz market in Europe is so huge – it is inspiring to be among such great musicians. It gives me time and space to reflect on what I’m going to do next, and encouragement that I am definitely on the right track.
SD: There’s a lot of variety, funk, r&b, hip-hop. Do you find it is pulling you in different directions?
MM: I’m naturally like that – I listen to everything. That is sort of manifested in the way I play as well – all those different styles. It’s exciting to see a jazz festival with so much variety, which shows that jazz is so huge. One’s role in this is to confirm South African jazz to this market.
SD: Being an ambassador for South African music, there are only three African acts at this festival – how do you feel you guys can go about showing these people that there is a wealth of music in Africa?
MM: By our performances, the feeling we put in our music – that is what it is at the end of the day. It is an eye opener as well watching American musicians. There is a certain culture that already exists. The South African market is still taking baby steps compared to the States who are way ahead of us in terms of the structuring of the music business. Watching them represent their musical heritage inspires us as well to want to do more. We represent South African music and the now generation of music. We have all these different influences from the South African music scene and we bring out each and every one of them.
SD: Having recently travelled West Africa, I feel that African music has a lot more to say than international music – do you feel that African music is richer in expression?
MM: Not really, everywhere in the world there are those musicians who will express at a certain level – especially when you are doing something original. The music you play is also a medium in which you can express yourself best – like a language that is developed and that is growing and changing. So each artist when they start composing there own music and they play it – the way they feel it and it is real to them and then they can touch other people and perform it with a real spirit. In South Africa now it is an exciting time and also a testing time where we are reconfirming the root we have chosen. The richness comes from within and also opening your ears to other peoples music. And that’s why it is always changing. We (South Africans) are new and bringing in other musical elements, styles and feelings into the feelings of the world, but it happens everywhere with all musicians. Music is the most powerful force in providing the thing that will unite the world. It is a connecting force that can come from every country.
SD: Talking about all these influences and similarities, having collaborated with kwaito group Tkzee and recently classical pianist Johanne Mcgregor, where are you going now with your sound?
MM: It was exciting working with TKZee, it was a great experience and even today we are still continuing to collaborate. I have been in the studio with Tokolo on his album. There are things that I hear in kwaito and there are things that I have written that bring out the African element and the jazzy element more stronger in kwaito. As far as my musical career is concerned, at the moment I see a lot of possibilities. I think that for the next album it is going to be big. I can feel it because now I am aware of the importance of being global. I have always had those influences and that kind of perception but now I have experienced it and seen how it happens and how it can affect. I see possibilities of doing concerts with orchestras, I would like to develop my band. It can almost be like a school but also a band which allows young people to come and grow in it and be free to leave when they need to move on – a constantly developing ensemble. But at the end of the day, my next album will be all these influences put together, to present a new style, a new approach to music which is my personal approach. I have been listening to a lot of music – there is a lot of great music in the world which is not being heard as often as it should be – but in bringing all those elements together, I will be able to do that. Now it is a period of reflections and I like what I see so far, but I can see where it can go as well. I need time to put it together and take it into the world.
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