THE TRAGEDY OF ge­nius

Re­mem­ber­ing Moses Molelekwa

CityPress - - Front Page -

Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 13 marked 15 years since the pass­ing of South African jazz mu­si­cian Moses Molelekwa and his wife, Florence Mtoba. On that fate­ful date in 2001, the bod­ies of Molelekwa and Mtoba were dis­cov­ered in an of­fice, which they shared, in down­town Jo­han­nes­burg.

Molelekwa’s body was found hang­ing from a beam and Mtoba had been stran­gled. The case re­mains un­solved. At the time, news re­ports said he was tak­ing drugs and spend­ing time with some of kwaito’s bad boys.

The pass­ing of Molelekwa shocked South Africans, par­tic­u­larly be­cause this great jazz mu­si­cian was only just be­gin­ning his jour­ney in mu­sic.

The mys­tery sur­round­ing the cir­cum­stances of the two deaths still casts a dark cloud over his short life.

As City Press spent the past few weeks in­ter­view­ing his fam­ily, friends and fel­low mu­si­cians, it was clear the wounds fol­low­ing his pass­ing are still very raw – but the re­gard his fel­low mu­si­cians have for his work is not in doubt.

This is per­haps best summed up by Si­bongile Khu­malo, whose 1996 al­bum An­cient Evenings and 2000 al­bum Im­mor­tal Se­crets were pro­duced by Molelekwa.

“Moses did not pro­duce a huge body of work,” says Khu­malo. “But he did pro­duce sem­i­nal work that de­fined a sound for a gen­er­a­tion of young mu­si­cians in the 1990s,” she says.

“Moses was spe­cial,” says McCoy Mru­bata, one of Molelekwa’s first men­tors. “Khaya Mahlangu once said some­thing like, ‘Geniuses like that come along once in 100 years’ – and I agree.”

Molelekwa would re­lease only two al­bums dur­ing his life: his 1995 de­but al­bum, Find­ing One’s Self, and its fol­low-up in 1998, ti­tled Genes and Spir­its.

Both would go on to win SA Mu­sic Awards (Sa­mas) and are seen as sem­i­nal al­bums in the South African jazz canon.

Moses’ father, Jerry Molelekwa, says the fam­ily home in Tem­bisa was a mu­si­cal one, with Miles Davis, Th­elo­nious Monk, Hugh Masekela and Ab­dul­lah Ibrahim blast­ing from the turntable.

He says af­ter he took his 11-year-old son for the first time to the Fed­er­ated Union of Black Artists (Fuba) School of Mu­sic, it was a love af­fair that never ended.

The school was run by the Fuba Academy and founded in 1978.

“Moses used to travel all the way to Jo­han­nes­burg from Tem­bisa on his own on Satur­days,” says his dad.

“There was not a sin­gle day I re­mem­ber him say­ing: ‘I can’t go, I’m sick.’

“He used to come home late at night and he was mugged twice – they stole his books,” adds Jerry.

Mru­bata re­mem­bers the first time he met Moses. “Fuba was right next to the old Kip­pies jazz club. I used to have a band there, McCoy’s Broth­er­hood,” he says.

“Dur­ing a break, I heard this beau­ti­ful mu­sic com­ing from one of the rooms of the school.

“I went up and there was this tiny 14-year-old kid named Moses,” re­calls Mru­bata. “He was very young.”

Mru­bata soon took the young Moses in, so he didn’t have to travel to and from Tem­bisa.

Mru­bata re­mem­bers Moses as a very soft-spo­ken, re­spect­ful boy.

Khu­malo says she used to call Molelekwa “the young man who was born old”.

“In his play­ing, in his de­meanour, in his speech, he was slow and de­lib­er­ate and wise,” she says. “Even when he was ag­i­tated or an­noyed, I don’t re­mem­ber him talk­ing loudly or rudely.

“He poured his angst into the mu­sic with a low in­ten­sity that could flare up into a vol­cano of deeply felt emo­tion.”

Jerry says his father was a very good stride pi­ano player and Moses picked up a lot from his grand­fa­ther.

He says Moses’ grand­fa­ther taught him the song Marabi A Are­mogolo, which fea­tures on his de­but al­bum.

“He was al­ways in­ter­ested in the roots,” says Jerry. “He al­ways said he wanted to play the pi­ano the way Philip Ta­bane played the gui­tar.

“When he was mak­ing Genes and Spir­its, I ques­tioned what he was do­ing. He said: ‘To­day you don’t un­der­stand the mu­sic, but in the fu­ture you will un­der­stand it.’”

Drum­mer Ke­si­van Naidoo, who is cur­rently study­ing at Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton in the US, says Moses was one of the most in­flu­en­tial mu­si­cians of his gen­er­a­tion.

“His im­pact was so sig­nif­i­cant to the new wave of South African jazz that I can still hear his in­flu­ences in the sounds of the cur­rent van­guard of our mu­sic,” says Naidoo.

“What was re­mark­able was he had es­tab­lished his own voice in mu­sic at such a young age.”

Naidoo says he thinks it was Molelekwa’s abil­ity to find the con­nec­tions in the dif­fer­ent styles he was fus­ing that made him so unique.

“I re­mem­ber when he passed; it was a to­tal shock,” says Naidoo. “How could this hap­pen to some­one who had not yet peaked?”

“I was with Buddy Wells in the car – on our way to a Tribe re­hearsal – when we heard about his death over the ra­dio,” says Naidoo. “We pulled over and started to sob.

“Just a week be­fore, Moses had said he would like to work with Buddy and me. That mu­sic was never made.”

Gui­tarist Louis Mh­langa, who played with Molelekwa through­out his ca­reer, re­calls that weeks be­fore his death, Molelekwa had asked to play some of his gui­tar lines on the keys.

“We started ex­per­i­ment­ing with those ideas, which were very in­ter­est­ing,” says Mh­langa. “He was al­ways search­ing for the new.”

Trum­peter Mar­cus Wyatt says he was never in Molelekwa’s band, but he did play a few shows with him.

“I liked his ap­proach,” he says. “He wasn’t a jazz purist; he was all about how the mu­sic must go for­ward.”

Wyatt says what he likes about Molelekwa’s mu­sic is that he em­braced in­flu­ences from across the African con­ti­nent.

“I think Moses, es­pe­cially on the Genes and Spir­its al­bum, drew a lot from west Africa,” he says.

South African jazz leg­end Carlo Mombelli says he re­mem­bers pop­ping over to the Bassline in Melville to watch Molelekwa play when­ever he could.

“I loved his mu­sic and his pure pas­sion for it,” he says. “He was a great pi­anist and mu­si­cian.

“I still wanted to make some mu­sic with him and was shocked to hear of his pass­ing. Moses left a vac­uum in the jazz mu­sic scene of South Africa.”

Jazz pi­anist and ed­u­ca­tor Andile Ye­nana says Molelekwa was very im­por­tant to South African jazz as he showed that the mu­sic was not just for the older gen­er­a­tion.

He re­calls at one of the first Sa­mas that Lebo Mathosa came on stage and an­nounced there would now be an award for the old peo­ple.

“Straight af­ter her, Moses came out and de­fended us,” says Ye­nana. “He said: ‘I am young. This is not mu­sic for old peo­ple. I have a stake in this mu­sic.’” “He is our pride and joy,” says Siyabonga Mthembu from The Brother Moves On. “For all of us who call Tem­bisa home, Moses is our son. “Here was a guy from one hood away from where I grew up, mak­ing this in­cred­i­ble spir­i­tual mu­sic.”

Mpumi Mcata, gui­tarist in the BLK JKS and Mo­tel Mari, says Molelekwa was like South Africa’s Jimi Hen­drix.

“Ever since Find­ing One’s Self, he was al­ready push­ing the bound­aries of what was, tap­ping into the nether re­gions of African spirituality, bridg­ing the gap be­tween the an­cients and the fu­tur­ists,” says Mcata.

“His mu­si­cal voice spoke to my gen­er­a­tion with an un­matched depth and earnest­ness.” Jerry says the plan for the Moses Molelekwa Arts Foun­da­tion in Tem­bisa is to have his son’s in­flu­ence play an ac­tive role within it. “We want to bring mu­sic lessons closer to the peo­ple, so they don’t have to travel like Moses did,” says Jerry.

He says, dur­ing the week, the foun­da­tion con­ducts an out­reach pro­gramme, trav­el­ling to pri­mary schools that don’t have mu­sic teach­ers and giv­ing mu­sic lessons there. On Satur­days, stu­dents from the age of seven and up­wards come to the foun­da­tion to learn. Jerry says when his son died, h e had been plan­ning to at­tend Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic to study fur­ther. Moses may not have re­alised that dream, but Jerry has seen other young­sters go on from the foun­da­tion to re­alise theirs. One of the foun­da­tion’s most suc­cess­ful stu­dents is Wit­ness Mat­lou, who went on to study pi­ano at Berklee Col­lege, grad­u­at­ing in 2015.

“That dream never hap­pened for Moses, but it hap­pens to­day for me,” he says, adding that it is im­por­tant to teach young mu­si­cians about how to deal with suc­cess and fame, to pre­vent them from re­sort­ing to drink and drugs to cope.

He doesn’t have to say that he wishes his son had had this kind of guid­ance – it is clearly im­plied. Then Jerry be­gins to talk about Zoe Mtoba Molelekwa, Moses’ son. Now 21 years old, Zoe is also a bud­ding jazz mu­si­cian, hav­ing stud­ied pi­ano at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal. He is also ac­tively in­volved at the foun­da­tion. “We don’t ex­pect him to be Moses,” says Jerry. “Like Moses, he must es­tab­lish him­self as his own artist.” Jerry says Zoe does not need to com­pete with his dad. “His father changed a num­ber of lives,” says Jerry. “It was amaz­ing the im­pact this young­ster had on an en­tire na­tion.

“At his fu­neral, the artists all said they had never en­coun­tered some­one who could in­flu­ence ev­ery­body.”

He is clearly still touched by the out­pour­ing of grief and loss that hap­pened when Moses passed back in 2001. Jerry looks down as he pauses. “What hap­pened to Senzo [Meyiwa, the soc­cer star who was mur­dered in 2014 and whose case re­mains un­solved],” he says slowly, “brought all those mem­o­ries back.”

It’s clear Molelekwa is missed, but his mu­sic re­mains with us.

PHOTO: GALLO IM­AGES

Moses Molelekwa

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.