Jazzocracy: The ‘art of the subhuman’

2011-01-15 20:36

Jazz is the democratic process incarnate. The music demands strict collaboration and rewards individuality.

Musicians know that they have to keep their skills at top notch to be respected, and listeners must pay serious attention to keep up with the innovations.

But at a deeper level, think of a band as a country and the individual musicians as citizens. They all need, in fact demand, to be heard.But for their solo improvisations to be musically sensible, they must play within the collective sound of the band.

So it’s like a proper democratic dialogue, the players must pay attention to each other while making their own statements. Otherwise the music descends into chaos.The music also resolves the spiritual as much as it places us into the world. In the urban black experience and beyond, jazz is how we remember what cannot be forgotten.

The music is an abstract truth medium to shout out collective aspirations and whisper personal fears to.

That whisper is what you hear in Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s “Darkness Passes”, that ominous solo piano album by a talented brother, who was perhaps warning us that actually, he was on the cusp of his mortal transition through a tragic suicide.

That is what gives Molelekwa’s music a secular urban devotional quality. One never knows whether to mourn or to pray when they hear “Darkness Passes”.

However, Molelekwa also provokes reflections and rememberings. His musical vocabulary also references the grand composer and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and so connects with an elder stream of this historical sound.

That same stream is an ingredient of the music of Zim Ngqawana – that saxophonist who knows how to encapsulate and resolve the brawny militancy of black consciousness into a syncopated groove.

It’s obvious that his “Qula Kwedini” is a statement of pride, originally sung by initiates in the mountains, Xhosa boys as they learn to become men.

But all that machismo too, was born of a woman. So the music is never chauvinistic or sectarian.

Hence, though it was born out of the Blues in the black experience, and I mean the Blues by any other name, call it Marabi, Kwela or Juju High-life, jazz disdains racism.

That’s why you can discern native rhythm sensibilities in (apparently a white male) Steve Dyer’s “Son of the Soil”.Even Jews could rely on jazz during the holocaust.

The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called jazz “the art of the subhuman”, as the music gave hope to an oppressed Jewry.In South Africa, the apartheid regime could not stand it too. Jazz was a symbol of urban black sophistication and pride – something they saw as a threat.

But most of all, jazz swings; it is the sound of a defiant joy, the ebullient thrill of a good party. And such is the intended celebration of this blog – Jazzocracy!

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