It is far from usual, in fact very unusual, for a group of intellectuals to walk in on you and casually announce . . . "Look old chap, we'd appreciate it very much if you could write and arrange music which we would like you to feature on a special night as part of our Arts Festival programme". "Come again", you say, and they repeat the statement verbatim just to make sure you did not misunderstand them.
The normal reaction is for you to gape, and lamely mutter... "Sure! Sure! . . . what kind of music do you want?" "Yours - your own stuff" they answer. "When do you want it?" you ask. "Two months from now" is the reply, and you end off by saying "Fine, I'll have it ready by then (if possible)", but, of course, you do not let them hear the 'if possible' part.
It's only after they have gone that the true significance of the thing hits you. "Me", commissioned to write music for part of an Arts Festival Programme? Brother!!!"
Well that's exactly what happened to me one afternoon in June 1962, so I snapped out of my stunned condition and got cracking. Firstly, to decide whom to use, secondly to try and write music which would suit the individual styles of the people I picked on. Thirdly to write music that would be reasonably acceptable to our discerning Jazzophiles.
The musicians I chose were Kippie "Morolong" Moeketsi on first alto; Dudu "The Woof" Pukwana on second alto, and for the rhythm section I picked on Martin Mgijima - Bass, and Makaya Ntshoko, drums. Oh! by the way, I was on piano and Chopi Timbula. With that fixed, I got down to actual composition and arranging.
One of the first things that hit me was . . here is an opportunity of experimenting; one that might not occur again. So I decided to experiment timidly, of course, but experiment I did. Why not try and use indigenous sounds, or as an alternative, why not write music that would try and portray the sounds around us ... Township sounds,traffic noises, machines hammering in factories? That's the first question I asked myself. So ... "Gideon"... I said to myself. . . "try it boy, it's a challenge, try it". And try I did. Well whether I've succeeded or not is a different matter. It's really a point for you, the listener/collector, to decide upon. The night of the show arrived and, as the title suggests, the tracks on this L.P. are extracts from it. I must admit I was as nervous as a cat on hot bricks throughout, and so were all the guys, I think, though none of us wanted to own up. But by the time we were through, we all gave one well-guarded sigh of relief.
Now for the music.
CHOPI CHOPSTICKS is an attempt to show that indigenous African instruments (in this case a Chopi Timbula-xylophone), can be used as a Jazz instrument. After the theme, I take the first solo. Kippie then follows, after which Dudu Pukwana comes in. Makaya Ntshoko then belts the drums, after which I climb in again. And that's that.
ISINTU can loosely be translated as meaning Humanity of Humaneness. This was especially written for Kippie Moeketsi. Here, once again, I tried to use typical African (Township) chord sequences. If you'll notice, the melody on the saxophone is purely pentatonic apart, of course, from the occasional grace notes Kippie throws in. While the melody is a ballad, I've tried to employ off-beat rhythms in the D section on the piano. This, I believe, is the vogue nowadays... a desire to get away from the regular 4/4 beat,
SPLIT SOUL has been dedicated to, and especially written for, Dudu Pukwana. As was the case with Isintu, this piece has been written to accomodate the exponent's particular style. Dudu has an aggressive deep sounding style and I reckon this particular number is just up his street. It also starts off a ballad, goes up-town, then tapers right down to the original ballad. The idea behind this piece was to portray Johannesburg in the very early hours of the morning when all is quiet and all you hear is the occasional sound of the milkman or night watchman, or some musicians dragging their feet wearily homewards after a stint at a club or something.
JAZZ FANTASIA FOR QUINTET... in Three Movements. The idea behind this was to show the everyday life of a typical urbanised African. First movement... "The Rat Race"
In this movement is depicted the hustle and bustle of rushing to work in the morning in overcrowded trains and buses; working like mad during the day; having a placid lunch hour lolling on the city pavements, and then rushing back home at night in the same overcrowded trains and buses. The two improvised choruses are done by Dudu Pukwana. Second movement... "Home at Night"
Here the worker is relaxed and contented amid his loved ones at home; all the anxiety and frustrations of the day forgotten. The melody here is carried by piano. Third movement. . . "Having a ball"
Instead of relaxing at home, he decides to go to a show, movie or dance and thoroughly enjoys himself. Just when he is beginning to have a real ball, he is abruptly reminded of tomorrow's Rat Race. Dudu does two choruses here and Kippie does one. I must say that right through this rendition of the "Fantasia" Makaya really excelled himself on the drums. It's a pity he had to leave for Europe, but I guess it's for his own good ... he will get more experience and hence become a better drummer. Best of luck wherever you are Makaya.
WALTZ IN F. This is a trio number, and is written in 3/4 time. Hope you like it. In fact I hope you like the whole disc. Here's hoping!!!
Notes by Gideon Nxumalo.
Cover Design: Art Heatlie
Cover Photo: H. Street / Kalahari Films
A fully transistorised "Live" Recording by Alan Boyle
GIDEON 'MGIBE' NXUMALO
This is the first pressing of Gideon Nxumalo's Jazz Fantasia. The album was reissued on Teal's African Heritage Series in 1991.