Seven fresh SA visual artists have paid tribute to seven local jazz giants at a new exhibition called Considering Genius. Garreth van Niekerk finds out about the music behind the colourful memorials
‘What does it mean to be a genius and what burdens may or may not come with this state of being?” asks Boitumelo Tlhoaele in her curatorial statement for the Considering Genius exhibition at Res Gallery in Parktown.
The same question has plagued anyone investigating the process behind an artist’s career, but rarely do our trailblazing local musical geniuses get the historical excavation they deserve.
How else will the next generation understand what inspired the musicality of Dr Philip Tabane’s Ke A Bereka, or what moment made Hugh Masekela’s Stimela? How did Witchdoctor come to life for Johnny Dyani? Where did Letta Mbulu find her Ju-Ju? How did Louis Moholo form the Brotherhood of Breath and how much did Pat Matshikiza’s musical family really inform the style of his music?
Tlhoaele told #Trending this week: “I had just completed a project on Feya Faku and Herbie Tsoaeli at Wits, where I’m doing an MA in heritage studies, and started asking the question of how we preserve our histories, and in which places do we keep this information? Who has access and who doesn’t?
“I always hear people talk about being intimidated by the gallery space, so when Kaya FM approached me, I started thinking that maybe jazz could make it less so,” she said.
It’s fitting, then, that Tlhoaele collaborated with the talents of young South African visual artists to investigate their influence in full colour as part of Kaya FM’s Jazzuary month of events.
She told us US jazz critic and essayist Stanley Crouch’s book Considering Genius informed the name and direction of the exhibition, and set the tone for these sorts of historical interrogations into the settings of music, the technical compositions themselves, and the powerful connection between jazz and the visual arts.
Aside from controversial social critic Ayanda Mabulu, the names Bambo Sibiya, Layziehound Coka, Malcolm Jiyane, Neo Matloga and Palesa Mopeli may not be household names in the art world just yet, but what more fitting introduction could they have to the white walls of the art institution than through the names and legends of their cultural forebears? Considering Genius runs until January 28 at
Res Gallery in Parktown, Johannesburg
Sibiya on Masekela: ‘I love Hugh Masekela’s music. His image, charcoal on canvas, speaks of my love for his music, which I listen to every other day. I reflect through this work on Masekela’s title tracks and some of his lyrics, and highlight some of the issues he sings about. I look at Masekela the man, who was exiled and married Miriam Makeba, but also the man concerned about the sociopolitical matters of SA and isn’t afraid to vocalise them through his trumpet. While his music is beautiful to listen to, it is also very powerful.’
Mabulu on Yakhal’Inkomo: ‘The work is about the current economic situation in the country, but is inspired by Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s track Yakhal’Inkomo, which was performed during the forced removals in Sophiatown. I find that the people of the country are suffering an economic lynching, or genocide, at the hands of the ANC. The situation dehumanises them and puts them in their lowest degree, and I feel they’re being disrespected in many ways because they fought for this democracy and now they need to die for what they fought for.’
JAZZ NIGHTS Jiyane on Jazz Nights: ‘Louis Moholo contributed much to jazz by playing drums and using his music around the world to fight the evils of apartheid, while Pat Matshikiza comes from an artistic family, his uncle Todd is the composer of a great SA jazz musical, King Kong. I celebrate and honour them.’