Art of jazz can change board­rooms

Muzi Kuzwayo

CityPress - - Business - Business@ city­press. co. za Kuzwayo is the founder of Ig­ni­tive, an ad­ver­tis­ing agency

Business can learn a lot from jazz. His­to­ri­ans dis­agree on the ori­gins of the genre or the mean­ing of the word. Some say it started as a neg­a­tive word, as in: “The nig­gers are jazzing up the mu­sic.”

What is clear from his­tory is that Amer­i­can writ­ers like Ger­ald W John­son lamented the jazz gen­er­a­tion. “Among the very young, the im­pres­sion pre­vails that the so-called Jazz Age was marked by a col­lapse of morals, pub­lic and pri­vate,” he wrote in his book In­cred­i­ble Tale.

Even in the black com­mu­nity, jazz was re­ferred to as “the Devil’s mu­sic”.

Com­poser Jelly Roll Mor­ton spoke about how his grand­mother threw him out of the fam­ily home when she dis­cov­ered that he played jazz – there could be no greater sin.

Years later, jazz proved to be a great uni­fier in a racially di­vided world. Throngs of white young­sters met their black coun­try­men in the love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of great mu­si­cians such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. That was just be­fore the world was hit by a phe­nom­e­non known as Hugh Masekela.

If in­flu­ence could be drawn like a line, you would see how Masekela’s has spread into ev­ery nook and cranny of mod­ern jazz. Mar­cus Miller, the man who res­ur­rected Davis from his first death, tells a story of how he and his child­hood friend, Omar Hakim, cher­ished play­ing with “the guy who played the African stuff, Hugh Masekela”.

That was when Miller and Hakim were still search­ing for gigs in New York night­clubs.

Jazz is about col­lab­o­ra­tion, which is some­thing black busi­nesses must learn to do. Masekela’s orig­i­nal Stimela has a young Joe Sam­ple on elec­tric pi­ano. The lat­ter went on to be­come a legend with The Cru­saders.

I put it to you, my friends, that Letta Mbulu pop­u­larised the Afro in the US and the world. Be­fore her ar­rival, Amer­i­can artists of African ori­gin such as Ella Fitzger­ald wore their hair straight. This in­cludes the great mu­si­cal pro­tester, Nina Si­mone. They tried to fit in.

In 1966, Si­mone re­leased an al­bum called Let It All Out. On the cover, she has long hair. In 1967, Mbulu re­leased her de­but al­bum, en­ti­tled Letta Mbulu Sings.

On the cover, the African girl is wear­ing an Afro. Re­mem­ber that back then, Americans of African de­scent were called “coloureds”, Ne­groes or black Americans. There was no per­son re­ferred to as an African-Amer­i­can then.

So the Afro can only be as­so­ci­ated with the fresh wave that came from the moth­er­land, Letta Mbulu.

In 1976, Alex Ha­ley pub­lished Roots, a novel about slav­ery that changed the way the US saw it­self. A year later, a TV minis­eries of Roots was made and Quincy Jones pro­duced the sound­track. Un­like the man­agers, who are driven by ego and try to do ev­ery­thing them­selves, Jones turned to his friend Cai­phus Se­menya to write the songs about Africa.

Se­menya adapted a Yoruba church song, Ise Oluwa, which, ac­cord­ing to Mbulu, says: “What God has cre­ated can nei­ther be im­proved nor de­stroyed.” The song was re­named Many Rains Ago. When Mbulu cries “goodbye, moth­er­land”, you can feel the pain of her own ex­ile, and how she must have felt leav­ing the shores of her coun­try.

In a nutshell, we have, in this coun­try, peo­ple who have changed the world – Makeba, Masekela, Se­menya and Mbulu, to men­tion but a few. The lessons to take from them is to work to­gether, and share ideas and suc­cesses. They were driven by pas­sion for work, not by ego.

Maybe if we lis­tened to their mu­sic a lot more and read their his­tory, we would go on to change the world in the board­room.

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