Beautiful alchemy

2012-10-27 16:52

Percy Mabandu chats to jazz maestro Themba Mkhize and singer Nokukhanya Dlamini on their collaboration

There are all sorts of musical partnerships where artists share creative moments.

Think of the magic brewed by wife-and-husband combo Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, or the friendships that gave us the boy band boom of the 90s in Boyz II Men and Twins.

There’s that exceptional, synched partnership that transcends even the genome factor of family ties. It’s the rare rapport that words can’t explain. The best one can come up with is “a beautiful alchemy”.

This is the magic local jazz elder and pianist Themba Mkhize and singer Nokukhanya Dlamini hope to tap into when they collaborate at the Soweto Theatre on Saturday.

The two musicians will be joined by an 11-piece band to explore the grand South African song book, tunes from their various albums and other warm favourites.

Mkhize has produced for various musicians and directed theatre productions like Kwela Bafana, as well as Mandla Langa’s award-winning Milestones.

I visited the two musicians at Mkhize’s home near Kensington, east of Joburg, to find the 55-year-old composer waiting at the gate with a cellphone glued to his ear.

His grunts and chuckles indicate it’s a social call, but it continues until we are well into the back-room studio where the interview unfolds.

Wearing a pair of crocs, faded jeans and a white shirt, he offers me a glass of what he calls oxygenated water and a seat. Not long after the pleasantries are exchanged, Dlamini ambles in to join us.

She sinks into the couch.

Her posture, the casual blue sweat shirt and jeans, along with a bright beaming smile, bewitches the air.

They have a loosening effect even on the reputably serious Mkhize. The silent exchanges betray their genial relationship.

“She’s really like my daughter,” he says of her. It figures.

Dlamini (35), who cut her musical teeth as a member of the gospel outfit Joyous Celebration, is young enough to be Mkhize’s daughter.

In fact, she’s more a contemporary of Mkhize’s celebrated son, Afrika, the reigning Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for jazz.

Amid jokes about craving bananas and carrots due to a lack of potassium, Dlamini takes us down memory lane to the first time she heard Mkhize play.

“I remember listening to my grandmother’s radio when I was a child.

There was a piano solo on Shosholoza.

I didn’t know who it was then, but I used to wait for it every day and I learnt to sing along to it,” she says.

The song appeared on the 1987 Bayete album Mbombela.

The band, led by the late Jabu Khanyile, included Mkhize on keyboards – having already been with Sakhile, another seminal group of the 80s, where he shared honours with the likes of late bassist Sipho Gumede and Menyatso Mathole on guitar.

Dlamini also admires Mkhize’s work with the empress of song, Sibongile Khumalo. He produced the mezzo-soprano’s debut album, Ancient Evenings, and they shared countless appearances.

Dlamini says: “uBab’Mkhize has a way of making a singer just look perfect on stage. He made uMam’Sibongile blossom. She used to say he’s got elephant ears. He listens well on?stage.”

We all laugh as Mkhize responds to Dlamini:?“I like the emotional depth she puts into a song,” he says, adding that there has to be more than just notes and voice tone.

That extra touch is what they captured in Dlamini’s 2006 debut album, Tributes to You. They hope to recreate it for music lovers during their performance next weekend.

»?Dlamini and Mkhize will perform on Saturday at the Soweto Theatre’s Red Box

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