Loftiness of lucidity in the Vuma Levin Show

Vuma Levin is invested in storytelling as a foundation for the songs he writes. (Supplied)
Vuma Levin is invested in storytelling as a foundation for the songs he writes. (Supplied)
  • As a part of the virtual National Arts Festival and the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, Vuma Levin explores what it means to be South African.
  • To make this happen the guitarist and composer selected pieces from his earlier album: Life and Death on the Other Side of the Dream along with songs from newly released record, Antique Spoons: Chapters on Love, Loss and the Politics of Memory.
  • The performance features Vuma Levin (guitar), Sisonke Xonti (sax), Bokani Dyer (piano), Romy Brauteseth (bass) and Peter Auret (drums).



There’s a clinical clarity to the music of guitarist, Vuma Levin. It underpins the refreshing lucidity of his performance at this year’s Standard Bank Jazz Festival and the Virtual National Art Festival programme.

The intellectual interests, or rather philosophical postures and political pursuits of his creative practice lends a layer of mystique to the  music he makes. Levin has a lofty sense of his project. 

These are ideas that require prodigiously gifted improvisers to articulate well. So he has gathered an airtight band that includes reigning Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Sisonke Xonti on saxophone, the Award’s illustrious alumnus, Bokani Dyer on piano who shares rhythm section duty with bassist Romy Brauteseth and Peter Auret on drums.

Watching Levin lead his band, one is struck, not only by the feeling with which the band plays, but the corporeality of the experience too. There are musicians who embody their instruments. The inanimate objects become fused into their being as they play. Levin appears like a man apart from the mechanical contraption he uses to form sounds. In other circumstances, this could be rejected as impersonal disconnection. Here though, we marvel at the deliberate cerebral investment in the work at hand. It marks for us as audiences, the mental alertness it takes to make this music. It is not unlike the focus a capable storyteller masters to hold together and deliver a complex narrative.

Perhaps this is because Levin is invested in storytelling as a foundation for the songs he writes. For this gig, the guitarist and composer has selected charts that include pieces from his earlier album: Life and Death on the Other Side of the Dream along with songs from newly released record, Antique Spoons: Chapters on Love, Loss and the Politics of Memory. Taken all together they embody an epic exploration of what it means to be South African. All the mess, mirth and meaning of our democratic experiment are in there.

There are grand motifs and metaphors here. Meditate on the metallic shrill of Levin’s guitar carrying on like the cold collapse of Mzansi exceptionalism; or our collective capacity for tenderness tunes into Xonti’s alto saxophone weaving itself around dexterous dips and dances of Dyer’s piano. There’s more than meets the eye here. You hear it, and sense it will require more than a single encounter to distill. Like a good tale turning and caught in the bend of a meandering memory.

Watch the performance here

This article was originally published by The Critter