Dashiki Dialogues: Jazz room resurrects Mankunku

2012-04-05 09:32

There’s a sonic sanctuary near Parliament where jazz crusaders can connect in the still of the night.

Not far from the seat of government, nestled between art galleries and new age stores on Buitenkant Street, Mahogany Room has become the first proper jazz club in the country and possibly on the African continent.

The space is run and curated by award-winning drummer Kesivan Naidoo and trumpeter Lee Thompson.
They’ve successfully canvassed some progressive business people for funds to test a new model of jazz club management in South Africa.

It’s the classic New York formula; what jazz scribe Gwen Ansell so fittingly called the “no frills, music in the foreground with other noise banned” approach. As if to say, this is what happens when you involve musicians in all decisions made about their craft.

Music thrives, like it did when I staggered into this cavern last Saturday night during the jazz festival weekend.

Here goes the experience.

First I stumble into a bass walk by Nick Williams who improvises lines historically played by Agrippa Magwaza in the original Yakhal’inkomo, written by Winston Mankunku Ngozi.

The incredible Mark Fransman is reincarnating what Lionel Pillay originally did on the piano. Naidoo, the tower of power keeps a unique take on time à la Early Mabuza.

I catch them halfway through the syncopated combustion. But I’m in time to witness a big glob of sound take a ghostly shape above the gathered groove devotees.

The musicians keep a tight lid on the simmering blues with a sophisticated intensity. Promising hornsman Darren English is here too.

The audience is filed in church-like arrangement, watched by their heroes from the walls. Here, in the honey-coloured light, only twirling smoke and sound seems to roam freely.

Everybody whispers in relay through the rows to order beverages from the bar that is built on the side of the rectangular minster. Here, the music is taken so seriously that no one needs to be told to be quiet.

There’s no food sold or a kitchen with its usual noise of banging pots – a thing that invariably killed many jazz clubs.

Remember Barrington in Killarney, Joburg where American saxophonist, Salim Washington led a band competing with the howl of chefs and clanking pans?

There was also the Ginger Square in Hatfield, Pretoria which saw diners shushing music lovers every time they clapped their hands.

These sort of pseudo jazz clubs never lasted because the music was secondary. Hence as the enduring memory of Mankunku’s bellowing cow permeates our dialogues, we are all proud of our new mahogany-coloured Dashiki.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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