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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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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