Wits lecturers co-launch jazz albums 

Powerful African rhythms and poignant reflections on post-apartheid complexities. 

Bokani Dyer performing one of Vuma Levin’s movements titled, Chaphela. Photo by: Ayanda Mgwenya

Renowned jazz artists, Vuma Levin and Benjamin Jephta, took to the Chris Seabrooke Music Hall stage, on July 29, 2023, for a combined album launch called The Narratives. 

Levin is a guitarist, recipient of the 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz award and holds a master’s degree from the Amsterdam Conservatorium in Music. 

Jephta is a bassist and composer and has performed with prominent international artists like Dianne Reeves and Terri-lyne Carrington.

Levin is a jazz studies lecturer while Jephta lectures in both jazz and film music. 

Renowned jazz maestros, such as Sisionke Xonti (saxophonist), Bokani Dyer (pianist), Tlale Makhene (percussionist), and Jonno Sweetman (drummer), performed alongside the two during the launch.

The evening was divided into two sets. Levin kicked off the night with tracks from his fifth album, The Past is Unpredictable, Only the Future is Certain, performing 2/3 parts of the album: The first one titled The Past is Unpredictable with movements Gijima and Chaphela and the second one titled Prayers Made From Grass with Homily and Rites

Led by Tlale’s poetic chants and Xonti’s melodious sounds, an African rhythmic experience was created. The inclusion of African instruments like the udu ceramic drum, cymbals, chimes, ankle rattles, and triangles added a distinct African essence. 

Levin said, “The album blends indigenous and western musical instruments, making it a unique and special representation of Pan Africanism in music.” 

Following a short intermission, the spotlight shifted to Jephta’s set, performing his Born Coloured, not Born-Free album, Jephta’s compositions delve into the complexities of race in South Africa. The music encapsulated his personal experiences as a coloured male in post-Apartheid South Africa.  

Jephta’s set featured soulful tracks like An Incomplete Transition and Gadija (part 1), a heartfelt tribute to his grandmother. The bass-driven Ben-Dhlamini Stomp earned him a standing ovation. Closing the show, Jephta’s last two movements, Acceptance/metamorphosis and Resurgence, delighted the crowd with its infectious rhythm and captivating melody, leaving them singing and bobbing along. 

Speaking about the two musicians, Wits Music lecturer, Dr Peter Cartwright said, “They are both new in the permanent staff… so it’s a way to welcome them, you know, with their first public concert.” 

Elliot Rogers, third year music student said, “Benjamin Jephta is my lecturer for ensemble, and I do guitar [classes] with Vuma Levin; and seeing this concert where their music is coming together is a beautiful sight, looking at it from a [scholastic] lens.” 

The Narratives concert got the audience singing and clapping throughout, the multiple standing ovations received on the night spoke to the pair’s expansive talents.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Benjamin Jephta performing his bass-driven composition, Ben-Dhlamini Stomp, at the Chris Seabrooke Music Hall. Photo by: Ayanda Mgwenya

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The Sabbath: a musical journey of grief and healing 

Jazz musician dazzles music lovers with an acoustic concert 

Multifaceted South African musician, Gabi Motuba debuted her new project, The Sabbath in a concert held at Wits Chris Seabrooke music hall on Saturday, May 6. 

Motuba is a Johannesburg-based vocalist, composer and music facilitator whose music is centred around world politics, black studies, religion and genre studies. She released her first album, Sanctum Sanctorium in 2016 and Tefiti Goddess of Creation in 2019. 

In the project, released on June 28, 2022, Motuba shifted her focus to talk about her experience with grief; as her father lost his battle against Covid-19, during the pandemic. As a result, the project consists of five lamentation songs  that would leave any listener in a state of melancholy.  Motuba told Wits Vuvuzela that: “The project is largely a very reflective work for me in terms of moving from trauma into grief and into the pursuit of restoration”. 

Wits music alumni, Tembinkosi Mavimbela, who played double bass during the performance said that in The Sabbath, Motuba showed immense vulnerability. He described her performance as a form of supplication to a higher power. “Her performance was a prayer indeed; it takes courage to be vulnerable on stage and we shouldn’t look at a Sabbath in one direction because we approach prayer in different ways.” 

Thembinkosi Mavimbela interacting with friends and fans after the concert. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

What added to her performance was the concert took place at the state-of-the-art music hall . The venue is the only space in the city that is exclusively designed to optimize live musical sound with modern acoustic design. This added to Motuba’s exceptional vocal range.  

Wits art student, Rethabile Zilila said that she was surprised at how audible everything was but appreciated the spacious nature of the hall.  

Motuba explained that as a composure, mostly working with string instruments, she chose the venue because she knew the acoustics of the room will produce a beautiful sound.   

The attendees’ sight senses were also activated. While Motuba was performing, there was a background theme inspired by nature on display.  

Wits Fine Arts lecturer, Zen Marie, who was in charge of the displays said he sets up the landscape in response to the music.  

This was evident as he displayed dark clouds as she was performing a track titled, Nabu Lobosuku , which means here’s the night. This exuded a dimmer and sombre atmosphere with the mood in the room quietening down as everybody was enthralled by her voice.  

The final part of the performance had a much lighter and brighter landscape, consisting of clear skies, which was an important moment showing the transition from grief to freedom. One could clearly feel the biblical reference as she sang the last track on the album, Amen, meaning the end. 

The hour-long concert was attended by the likes of Thandiswa Mazwai and former head of the Wits School of Arts Professor Brett Pyper.    

Rethabile Zilila and Thandiswa Mazwai posing for a picture. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

FEATURED IMAGE: Gabi Motuba thanking her audiences after her performance. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

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REVIEW: The Old and Beautiful return to the stage 

A fantastic performance riddled with anecdotal but relatable scenes, tied together with beautiful music, making it a must watch for theatre lovers. 

Wits University School of Arts lecturer, Fiona Ramsay and pianist Tony Bentel perform at the Iyabuya iPOPArt festival to showcase their talents and successful careers with over 35 years in the South African entertainment industry. 

The talents of Ramsay and Bentel’s Old and the Beautiful, helped wrap up the festival as the final act on March 30 and 31, 2023, at the Red Roof Theatre in Milpark. The festival had a three month run from January 2023, with performances from a range of artists at various venues.  

Wits School of Arts lecturer, Fiona Ramsay and pianist Tony Bentel smiling and posing for the camera on stage with a spotlight lighting up their faces before their Old and Beautiful performance at the AFDA Red Roof Theatre in Milpark during the Iyabuya Festival on March 31, 2023.
Photo: Georgia Cartwright

The show opened with a spotlight centered on Ramsay surrounded by props of head statues bejeweled with fancy gems indicating wealth, with Bentel playing an upbeat tune. The pair then moved quickly into the next scene with jokes about how covid-19 gave people the ability to hide their identities because of the thousands of masks that were purchased, a joke received with loud, unmasked guffaws.  

Ramsay and Bentel put on a show filled with humorous anecdotes related to the covid-19 pandemic, unemployment, loadshedding, gender inequality, and the unavoidable fact of getting old. The dynamic duo made reference to the well-known works of Marianne Faithfull and singing “Maybe this time” in their reenactment of the Broadway show Cabaret

Each scene in the performance draws upon different issues people face in South Africa while adding a witty twist to create the ultimate form of escapism. The show begins with, “Who doesn’t want to be rich,” a song about struggles artists face when looking for work and the reality of unemployment in the arts industry. The stage props help set each scene with props of clown noses worn by Ramsay and Bentel to indicate that the real jokes are themselves for believing they could have successful careers in the arts but that their optimism, along with a little dope, helps them cope. 

While the show deals with dull, often depressing topics, it also manages to make light of these issues through a satirical lens. When asked for their thoughts by Wits Vuvuzela, one audience member called it, “depressingly humorous”. Ramsay brings unique characters to life, such as Denise from an old age home in Welkom, who is staring “death” in the face while reliving her memories. The soundtrack to this is a mix of dramatic and calm classical music played by Bentel, which perfectly scores the emotional scenes as they unfold.  

The stage is set with props and rugs from Bentel’s lounge, the stage of the pair’s first performance together eight years ago.  Ramsay describes their act as a “satirical look on the madness of life,” and says that “if you don’t laugh, you get too stiff and serious but if you laugh, you are able to escape a little and move forward.” 

The lighting changes for each scene and seems to reflect the emotions felt in every act – blue for the sadness and loneliness felt when getting old and red for the frustration brought on by loadshedding and potholes. Each scene tells a story of its own while adding the razzle dazzle qualities associated with theatre, a truly spectacular experience.  

When asking the event organiser, Hayleigh Evans said the show exceeded her expectations, and going forward she hopes, “[Having] a live and consistent, permanent program where performers can thrive”, will bring people together.  

Ramsay and Bentel are currently both working on projects of their own but plan on having many more magical performances together in the future. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits School of Arts lecturer Fiona Ramsay singing during her performance of the Old and Beautiful at AFDA’s Red Roof Theatre in Milpark during the Iyabuya Festival on March 31. Photo: Georgia Cartwright

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Music meets queer rights

by Mbalenhle Dhlamini | March 30, 2023

The British Council alongside Business and Arts South Africa host a queer edition of karaoke night at Wits’ Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

On Friday March 24, 2023, people took to the stage for their fifteen minutes of fame, at the queer edition of Fak’uoke (wordplay on Fak’ugesi and karaoke) in Braamfontein.

Fak’ouke is part of the Fak’ugesi Festival, which showcases and celebrates African digital creativity annually. Festival planner, communications intern and MC, Nontokozo Qhobosheane said, “With the help of our partners, Business and Arts South Africa and the British Council we were able to make all our attendees feel like stars.”  

This queer edition of Faku’ouke was inspired by Five Films for Freedom, a nine day film festival with queer rights as the theme.

Rowann Hermans, karaoke night attendee and ‘best power ballad prize winner said, “Bear in mind that I didn’t know it was a competition until they said that they were going to start voting.”  

Hermans walked away with a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and six bottles of wine for their rendition of Estelle’s ‘American Boy’.

“I really just enjoy performing so my expectations were to make a show and engage with the audience, I was more there to perform a song than to win,” they added.

Lathitha Gqokama who was in the crowd and attending a queer event for the first time said that “it was a safe space for any kind of self-expression, and I particularly enjoyed experiencing the diversity among the people who were there”. 

The Faku’gesi festival plans to host another Faku’ouke queer edition during pride month from June 1 to June 30, 2023.   

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FEATURED IMAGE: Attendees second self is Fantasia onstage. Photo: Mbalenhle Dlamini

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GALLERY: Homecoming Weekend in pictures

Wit’s University’s Homecoming Weekend saw non-stop celebrations from Friday, September 2 until Sunday, September 4, 2022. The Wits Vuvuzela team was out and about throughout and these are some of the moments they captured.

Cool Kid: Zekhu Kheswa

Different environments can affect how one understands and views the world. 

Zekhu Khwesa is a Bachelor of Music student at Wits University, a budding musician majoring in jazz vocals, and goes by the stage name “Lord Zekhu. The Durban born musician said music has been a part of his liver ever since he can remember. “At the age of 11, I would practice at the staff kitchen at my school, that is when one of my teachers noticed me and gave me proper lessons,” he recalls.  

Zekhu creates alternative, Afro-Pop, Trap and RnB music. He manipulates and fuses sounds from different genres that articulate and present the audience with something unique to listen to. “Music needs to introduce different taste, this helps broaden and open the listener’s minds to new, informative and insightful things,” Kheswa said.  

The photograph that inspired Zekhu to write the JungleFever collection Photo: Sedibana Mpho

The love of music runs in the Kheswa family, Zekhu’s mother is an Opera singer and his uncle is a music conductor for orchestras, and lectureat UKZN. At the age of 10, Zekhu would go to UKZN to practice playing the piano. He tells Wits Vuvuzela that as a child he never realised that he was following his mother and uncle’s footsteps, but it is all making sense now.  

Zekhu released his first collection JungleFever on 3 May, 2021. The collection consists of 3 solo singles, the singer explained the work behind JungleFever was inspired by photography shot by his friend, Sedibana Mpho. “I mostly create my work from analysing and interpreting art,” he said.    

Zekhu initially pursued modelling when he first got to Braamfontein in 2014. But he said the experience came with a lot of stress and anxiety, and eventually lead to Zekhu slipping into depression, that’s when he decided to cut ties with the industry altogether. It was one of the biggest challenges Zekhu has faced, “I inspire myself by looking back at what I have done and look what I am going to do next,” he said.

Growing up in a musicafamilyZekhu is inspired by greats such as Michael Jackson and Kanye West, who influenced his fashion and dance style.  “At 9 years old, I would pick outfits for my mother to wear when she would attend meetings at school,” he adds. 

Zekhu had also suffered from the impact that the covid-19 pandemic brought in people’s daily lives. He used to have paid gigs which became scarce, he said the lockdown period was tough, he saw it as an opportunity for learning and regrouping., “Time alone for an artist is the foundation of creativity,” Zekhu said.  

Zekhu is currently working on another project “Cozy Collection” which is also inspired by the photographs he has taken before. 

 

FEATURED IMAGE: Image of Zekhu Kheswa Photo: Alfonso Nqunjana

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