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2013-04-03 13:34

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In the build-up to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, veteran performer Jimmy Dludlu jams with newcomer Nomfundo Xaluva

It’s mid-morning, midweek at Tagore’s in Observatory, Cape Town.

This intimate bohemian jazz venue in the heart of this student suburb has enjoyed its fair share of late-night performances.

Dated wallpaper and news clippings are splashed randomly on the walls between the stacks of vinyl and the DJ booth that doubles as a bar.

Today Latin, African and traditional jazz master Jimmy Dludlu and youngster Nomfundo Xaluva are jamming together.

They may be from different generations, but both break new ground in jazz circles each time they play.

Nomfundo is happily installed behind a Roland keyboard and Jimmy has his Les Paul electric in hand.

On the dark Tagore’s stage, the two tentatively play a couple of chords, a bit like a couple heading out on a first date.

Nomfundo looks to Jimmy, who in turn looks to her, and somewhere in the middle music happens.

Although the only fans on hand are a lighting assistant, photographer and a few curious regulars, the attention is enough to feed the two players.

Jimmy is clearly relaxed and talks to his playmate between chord progressions.

Before long, Nomfundo’s humming along to a song being made and played in the moment.

‘We sound pretty well rehearsed, considering we aren’t,’ Jimmy jokes.

The players ease into a free-flowing set that shows their rare ability to blaze new paths with little more than a lyrical flint, melodic kindling and enough combustible cool to keep the party going all afternoon should they decide to let loose.

It takes two

Since the release of his debut album, 1997’s Echoes from the Past, Jimmy has worked tirelessly to achieve a level of success that means sell-out shows and callbacks to the legendary Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which takes place on April 5 and 6.

Nomfundo and Jimmy have both played and wowed the crowds at this annual musical highlight – she in 2009, and Jimmy on more occasions than he can recall.

This year, Jimmy will be part of the festival line-up that includes the likes of UK collective Brand New Heavies, Jill Scott from the US, Spain’s Chano Domínguez and The Netherlands’ Chef’Special.

Nomfundo may only be in her late 20s, but her wealth of knowledge and aptitude saw her signed to Universal Music late last year.

Her 12-track melodic African jazz debut, Kusile (isiXhosa for ‘The Dawn’), is the result of years of practised commitment.

‘Jazz has a reputation for locking on and not letting go,’ she says with a smile.

‘We’ve become comfortable kindred spirits over the years.’

Living the dream

Nomfundo wrote and recorded Kusile as an independent and unknown artist.

‘By the time Universal wanted to sign me, the album was all done. I could simply hand over the finished product, which was convenient for us all.’

Having finished her Master’s degree in jazz studies (voice and dissertation) at UCT in 2009, she now rubs shoulders with some of the biggest names in the business.

Jimmy, too, has been hard at work since releasing his last studio album, Tonota, almost two years ago.

Biding his time recording, touring and teaching in Mozambique, he’s unmistakably one of this country’s most distinctive jazz voices and able guitarists.

‘Making good music means no customs and excise,’ he says.

‘It knows no boundaries, no borders. All it needs to live and breathe is an audience willing to feed it.’

In the studio

Today, Jimmy looks to give back at every opportunity.

Tonota was a collection of songs written and recorded 14 years into a vibrant career, all inspired by his small Botswana home town.

He’s back in full-blown pre-production rehearsals for what promises to be one of the most colourful live events of the year.

Fans of the jazz musician’s seven albums can look forward to being part of history when Jimmy captures his first live DVD recording at this year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

‘Recordings don’t just happen,’ Jimmy says.

‘I’ve been in pre-production since November last year, and will stay there right up until I get up on stage at the CTICC on Saturday.’

For someone so young, Nomfundo is fortunate to have decades of genius oozing from each track on her debut album, thanks to the likes of pianist Bokani Dyer, double bassist Wesley Rustin, drummer Kevin Gibson and saxophonist and flautist Buddy Wells.

They all signed up to record with her long before she inked her major label deal.

‘They were really the dream rhythm section to record with,’ she says.

‘A more unsuspecting troupe you’re not likely to find anywhere. Kevin, especially, is so unassuming. I quickly realised how he got his nickname “one-take Gibson”.

It was a rare and special process – one I’ll never forget.’

‘I’m excited about recording new arrangements of standards people have grown to love over the years,’ Jimmy says of his upcoming recording.

‘It’s going to include a good 90 minutes of friends, peers and magic, all captured for posterity. I aim to take every song to a new level.’

As their session winds down, a key change ensues and Nomfundo takes the reins in a way usually reserved for musicians many years her senior.

Jimmy allows Numfundo to show her stuff.

Eventually, their impromptu midweek lunchtime concert ends and they head in opposite directions, mobile phones in hand.

Jimmy’s gems

Nomfundo talks nerves and dream collaborations with Jimmy.

Nomfundo: What advice do you have for newcomers?

Jimmy: Be prepared to work extremely hard if you want to be heard. There are a million voices out there – all good. Find a way to make yours great. If you’re lucky enough to gain an audience, work even harder to keep them interested.

Nomfundo: How do you deal with nerves?

Jimmy: My band and I have a pre-show ritual that involves a carefully considered amount of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. I also tend to delegate the first guitar solo. After that we lock into a groove and the music guides us through.

Nomfundo: Who would you most like to jam with and why?

Jimmy: My live DVD will hopefully feature a whole host of them, so I don’t want to jinx it. Jill Scott and Buena Vista Social Club are two greats I’ve had the privilege of playing with in the past, and I would love to have that opportunity again.

Nomfundo: How do you deal with criticism?

Jimmy: If it’s constructive and I can apply it, then everyone’s a winner.

» Get your copy of iMag in City Press on Sundays.

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