Two un­sung he­roes of the genre re­lease al­bums

Two re­leases, from vet­eran Ibrahim Khalil Shi­hab and bright young tal­ent Reza Khota, light up the scene, writes Atiyyah Khan

Sunday Times - - Contents -

Af­ter five decades, au­di­ences can look for­ward to a new re­lease by mas­ter im­pro­viser, pi­anist and com­poser Ibrahim Khalil Shi­hab. This week­end Shi­hab launches his lon­gawaited se­cond al­bum as band­leader, The Essence of Spring. The al­bum is a fol­low-up to the 1969 al­bum Spring, recorded with his quar­tet which at the time fea­tured a young Win­ston “Mankunku” Ngozi, his brother Philly Schilder on bass, Gary Kriel on gui­tar and Gil­bert Matthews on drums. The al­bum is an es­sen­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the canon of South African jazz.

Shi­hab, pre­vi­ously known as Chris Schilder, changed his name in 1975 upon em­brac­ing Is­lam. He was chief com­poser in the band Pa­cific Ex­press, cre­at­ing a se­ries of hits on their first two al­bums. Fol­low­ing this he spent many years trav­el­ling abroad, work­ing as a mu­si­cian in var­i­ous parts of the UAE and Far East. He is some­what of an un­sung hero since his re­turn to SA in 1999.

Shi­hab, now in his 70s, has been keen to re­lease new mu­sic for a while but has found it quite chal­leng­ing. He at­tributes the work be­hind the al­bum re­lease to the en­ergy and per­sis­tence of Cape pi­anist Ra­mon Alexan­der, who is also the pro­ducer of the al­bum. The two have formed a beau­ti­ful mu­si­cal com­pan­ion­ship with the cre­ation of this al­bum. Shi­hab says: “Ra­mon is re­spon­si­ble for this and I’m very grate­ful to him. He did a won­der­ful job and he gave me such sup­port mu­si­cally, es­pe­cially with some of the ar­range­ments, like with the Pa­cific Ex­press songs which he ar­ranged.”

Alexan­der ap­proached Shi­hab last year about record­ing an al­bum, he says: “I wanted to pro­duce an al­bum that shows peo­ple who this man re­ally is. A man who wore many hats over the years. A jazz com­poser, a mas­ter pi­anist and a song­writer that ap­pealed to the masses.”

The al­bum is a beau­ti­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion of sounds from the

Cape, and for it Shi­hab has worked with a whole range of mu­si­cians from the area, amongst them fel­low Pacifics drum­mer Jack Mom­ple, gui­tarist Reza Khota and per­cus­sion­ist Gary Grainger.

Mu­si­cally, Shi­hab has a lot to pack in from all the time that has passed and the al­bum stands as a doc­u­men­ta­tion of his var­i­ous in­ter­ests from avant-garde jazz com­po­si­tions to more eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble pop songs. The al­bum opens with a re­freshed re-ar­range­ment of Spring by Shi­hab. Jazz heads can look for­ward to four new com­po­si­tions by Shi­hab, as well as an ex­quis­ite solo pi­ano piece. There is the won­der­ful goema-in­flu­enced Bo-Kaap, based on his many years spent in the area.

There are three in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Pa­cific Ex­press songs which get a re­work­ing, in­clud­ing An­gel of Love and I Hear Mu­sic as well as an­themic hit Give A Lit­tle Love, this time round sung by im­pres­sive 20-year-old tal­ent Ruby Truter. ●

Au­di­ences can see Ibrahim Khalil Shi­hab and the Essence of Spring project at the Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val next year. Al­bums avail­able via www.ra­mon-alexan­der.com

Gui­tarist and com­poser Reza Khota re­turns with his quar­tet for their se­cond al­bum, Lim­i­nal, which launches to­day in Cape Town. Lim­i­nal is de­scribed as be­ing be­tween two states — Khota draws heav­ily on this idea, both philo­soph­i­cally and mu­si­cally, on the al­bum. He is part of the new wave of jazz mu­si­cians that ded­i­cate them­selves to pri­ori­tis­ing mu­sic that asks ques­tions cen­tral to postapartheid SA.

Join­ing Khota in the quar­tet is Shane Cooper (bass, Fender Rhodes and synths), Jonno Sweet­man (drums) and Buddy Wells (sax). They share a unique chem­istry and move with ease into new mu­si­cal ter­ri­tory. The al­bum is the re­sult of writ­ing over the past three years.

“Rhyth­mi­cally, I have in­cor­po­rated my affin­ity for In­dian clas­si­cal rhythms and beat cy­cles as well as my love for Ethiopian jazz, Malian blues and Nige­rian afrobeat. As a band we tend to zone in on the mi­cro-rhyth­mic and polyrhyth­mic in­ter­play that oc­curs, es­pe­cially in the im­pro­vised sec­tions,” Khota says.

Cooper is a close col­lab­o­ra­tor. His in­flu­ence on re­cent project Mabuta and as elec­tronic pro­ducer Card on Spokes can be felt through­out the al­bum, which moves in an elec­tronic di­rec­tion. Khota ex­plains: “Shane and I share a mu­tual in­ter­est in elec­tronic mu­sic, es­pe­cially ana­logue sounds, early synths, tape echoes, Fender Rhodes and more.” The rich tex­tures of Sweet­man’s drum­ming add fur­ther lay­ers to the in­stantly recog­nis­able tones of Wells’s sax­o­phone.

Khota has the abil­ity to move be­tween com­pli­cated In­dian clas­si­cal rhyth­mic prin­ci­ples, African groove tra­di­tion and jazz im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Hence the al­bum places it­self be­tween mo­ments of quiet and in­tense groove.

“Af­ter writ­ing these tunes and fig­ur­ing out ti­tles for them, I be­gan see­ing how the idea of lim­i­nal­ity was com­mon to the dif­fer­ent ti­tles. In con­junc­tion with the art­work by Grant Jurius, we be­gan ex­plor­ing themes of the sub­al­tern — peo­ple ex­cluded from the sys­tem, refugees or those who toil for the riches of oth­ers. With the re­lent­less pur­suits of ex­treme cap­i­tal­ism and neo-lib­er­al­ism, there seems no end to the grow­ing chasm be­tween those that have and those that don’t have,” he says.

The writ­ing ex­plores the states of na­ture and pol­i­tics. Al­bum closer Ghosts is a four­move­ment suite that emerges as a re­flec­tion on the idea of haunt­ing. It al­ludes to the ghosts of Marikana min­ers. ●

Lim­i­nal is avail­able on all dig­i­tal plat­forms.

The al­bum launches in Cape Town to­day at Jazz in the Na­tive Yard, Guga S’thebe Cul­tural Cen­tre, 37 Wash­ing­ton Street, Langa. 4pm. R100. Info: 021 695 3493.

Pic­ture: Leonardo For­tuin

Ibrahim Khalil Shi­hab.

Reza Khota

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