Master Bophela

I jumped inside a rehearsal room after standing outside for quite some time, I couldn’t contain my joy anymore.

It must have been around 2001/2 the music department was still at City Campus, Technikon Natal in Durban, great musicians/masters such as Sandile Shange, Busi Mhlongo, Bheki Mseleku, Enoch Mthalane, Bonani Mambi, Shaluza Max and a lot more walked in and out of campus either for a rehearsal, meeting, teaching or simply just visiting. Now these were the years and more especially since over the years we’ve witnessed a decline in these interactions between ‘institutions of knowledge’ and the keepers of knowledge in the nearby communities (and often in the townships), I guess these institutions have not realized the importance of mentorship (master/disciple relationships) in these space or it’s simply a failure of acknowledgement of different teaching methods or mere ignorance.

Back to the rehearsal room, I squeezed myself in a tiny corner ensuring I don’t disturb this ‘ritual’ as it sounded to me so this morning I remembered some of the lyrics that were sung:

‘Silindile thina asinalutho… Kudala silindile silal’ezintabeni, adudu sithandwa…’ Perhaps these lyrics spoke about disposition, angazi

After this song an old man sitting at the piano (he seemed to be the one conducting this rehearsal) asked me in iSiZulu: “Young man how can we help you” I got so nervous as I was under the impression that no one noticed me coming in, and eventually I responded: “I have a question Baba, I want to learn to improvise the way you do” with a big smile he answered: “Come another time”

Six months later after coming every other week and getting the same answer. I got my lesson that lasted for about two minutes. He offered me some chalk and said: “Go write your name on the chalkboard” and very eager to go to the piano I wrote it as quick as I can. He then said: “Wonderful” and I smiled. He continued: “Any form of learning is a process, the same amount of time it took you learning to write so fluently it’s the same amount of time time it will take you to learn to improvise, now enjoy your years of studying” and that was the end I was very disappointed.

Years later I’ve been thinking, this was probably the greatest music/life lesson ever, I also realized that masters that have walked the path teach differently to the ‘teachers’ by qualifications. Masters teach us to navigate towards the discovering of our own responses to ours questions, whereas ‘teachers’ in an ‘institution’ give you a set of fixed answers to every question and for me this idea lacks improvisation.

Thoughts:

Improvisation is life, not a problem to be solved. It is something we live every single day and forms part of our evolution.

Nduduzo Makhathini

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