REVIEW: Jazz saxophonist serenades Joburg 

Jazz musician shares his lockdown-composed album with fans in Braamfontein

Songstress Keorapetse performing The Call at Untitled Basement on March 31, 2022. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya

 Jazz saxophonist Sisonke Xonti captured the heart strings of young jazz enthusiasts with his first ever Joburg performance of his album, UGaba: The Migration at Untitled Basement. 

Xonti composed the album during the 2020 hard lockdown, imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which left many South Africans mourning their family members who have passed, while others were left in a precarious financial position as jobs were shed.  

The album consists of nine tracks that tell stories of Xonti’s life, including the trials and afflictions he phased when he moved to Johannesburg – the City of Gold – in 2013, from Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape.  

Typical of the performances that take place at Untitled Basement, Xonti and his four-piece band were set up at the centre of the venue, surrounded by eager jazz fans who wanted to hear the album, live, first-hand.  

His band members consisted of significant jazz maestros such as drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko, pianist Yonela Mnana, double bassist Benjamin Jephta and vocalist Keorapetse Kolwane. 

Warm and dim lights hung over the musicians – adding to the soft ambience that permeated all over the entire basement.  

The band started their performance with the song, The Migration Suite Part One – which is part of a collection of songs, Migration Suite Part two, three and four in the album. The songs are the essence of the album, as they depict Xonti’s endurance of the difficulties he encountered in his journey to Johannesburg. The Migration One was performed with so much emotion and depth that some audience members closed their eyes, so they could let their other senses absorb the music. 

The audience was hungry for more – and Xonti delivered. They also performed Newness, which is the first track on the album. The song is a salutation to the birth of his daughter, explained Xonti to Wits Vuvuzela after his performance.  Newness is a beautifully crafted prelude of the album with a significant irregular beat in the bridge, that represent the vicissitudes of life his daughter will experience and overcome. Xonti explained that Ugaba is part of his clan’s name, therefore, the project also pays tribute to his family for walking beside him in his life journey. 

The seventh track, The Call is a smooth composition with soft vocals performed by Keorapetse Kolwane. The song has a catchy melodious chorus that got the audience harmonizing and clapping their hands along with the rhythm. Other songs, like  Nomalungelo and Sinivile had the audience up, dancing and singing along due to their upbeat instrumentation.  

Tebogo Mohwaduba, one of the event attendees, said that an annual attendee of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival, Xonti came onto her radar as one of the supported artists in 2020. She said, he is a music scholar, and that academic aspect of jazz comes through a lot in his songs, which she appreciates.  

DJ Kenzhero, who is the co-founder of Untitled Based and organiser of Xonti’s event, said for the album to be performed at his space, for the first time, was a goal for him, especially because he is a fan of it. “With the shortage of tickets, Xonti’s show was one of the most successful shows we’ve had,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Sisonke Xonti with his band performing the first track of Ugaba: The Migration. Photo: Ayanda Mgwenya