The Process

The kinds of love and trust required to be an improviser are immeasurable. Just to think that even though some of what we do is based on memory, nostalgia and our past experiences – most of it lives in a realm of the nameless, the undefined, the timeless, the unknown. While the true meaning of an improvisation is often defined by a single choice, that one note that comes at the end of a phrase. In this way, improvisation can be thought  of as a pilgrimage from the known through the liminality stage, towards a new mode of knowing. It is a constant falling in love with unknown destinations, and each time is new.

Love and Light

Nduduzo Makhathini

A Recalled Dream from Another Time

We all came, sat around the fire. As part of our evening rituals, uGogo was meant to tell a story. But this time she kept quiet, she looked directly to the center of the fire as though in an intense conversation with the unseen. Soon and in an unexpected manner, an eccentric being emerged from the fire. It had a face of a mother, multiple arms and legs. It looked me directly in the eye. I became nervous and in that moment felt a part of me getting drawn into its deep presence. I was instantly taken to another place.

In this place the people were different, they were free and told stories I have not heard. They spoke simultaneously in multiple tongues, but seemed to understand one another and I understood them too. They operated in a unique time zone and frequency. I wanted to stay here, I wanted to learn from them.

As I opened my eyes, uGogo had me in her warm arms and said ‘that was the end of the story little child’.

Then I wondered; ‘have I not moved from here the entire time, was the story told in total silence, who was the being in the fire, did everyone see her and where are all the other people?’ Though these were thoughts going through my mind, quite surprisingly, in response uGogo said; ‘yebo mntan’omntanami kunjaloke emhlabeni, okuningi kusemfihlakalweni…’

Nduduzo Makhathini

15.11.2018

Sketches of a Dream: Isambulo

Dreamt of a traditional ancestral ritual (umsebenzi). It took place in what seemed like a village I’ve been to in KwaZulu Natal. In the dream I saw a lot of people/musicians that have left. They were all dressed in some type of space costumes, similar to those of Ra’s Arkestra.

As I recall the different scenes in the dream this morning, I’m also thinking of Bab’uSun Ra’s ‘claim’ that he was not from this planet, perhaps many of us are visitors indeed.

Isambulo (28.10.2018)

Nduduzo Makhathini

Ubu’Ngoma

Upon reflecting on my own practices as a healer and improviser, it becomes evident that most of what transpires in the course of improvising/divining could be thought of as layers of manifestations. A series of occurrences within which, based on our willingness to be totally present, it becomes possible to realize that which resides in the state of potentiality. This is to say that, in essence what gets projected are sonic representations of the worlds we dream of (similar to prayer) and in this process one becomes an essential contributor to the kinds of ecosystems responsible for our immediate realities.

Thoughts (20 October 2018)

Nduduzo Makhathini

Alertness as a Master-key

A voice asked: ‘How far do we still have to go?’ Another responded: ‘I’ve been traveling for centuries, and always asked myself that same question. Over the years, I’ve begun to believe that the concept of one arriving at a destination is an illusion. I think even when one reaches a particular destination, another emerges ahead of them…’ In that moment a bird flew above their heads and said: ‘If you had paid enough attention to yourselves, both of you would have realized that you have not been moving, but instead hypnotized by all forms of movements surrounding you. Now I say to you, begin to walk.’ The two voices mutated to silence.

Nduduzo Makhathini

17 October 2018

KwaUndonsi

Months later as we reached the mountain top, a heavy storm came. In the midst of it all, I saw an old man dressed in a white gown, he looked majestic. He stood still and did not seem affected or disturbed by all that happened around him. In his hands, he held an unusual flute. I came to look even closer, and noticed he had slightly more fingers then most of us.

I turned to my guide Nyawnde to ask about this man. Nyawnde related the story: ‘The old man had inherited the flute from his mother when he was a young man.’ He continued to say: ‘His mother was a wonderful musician, and one day she was fetched the wise ones in a spaceship believed to be from one of the most musical planets called KwaUndonsi. The old man believed that all musicians came from this planet and one day he also shall join the greater music community on the other side…’

After listening to Nywande, I turned back to the old man and this time he looked younger. I came closer to him and he disappeared, and quite surprisingly the sound of his flute kept playing. I looked up to the sky and saw a gigantic spacecraft from which a flute fell on my hands.

Umbono

07.10.2018

Uyisithunywa Esihle (John Coltrane)

This one time I listened to Trane, travelled so far and almost never came back. Afterwards, I was in such a shock and needed to share what I had just experienced with someone. I went to a friend, a master whom himself was a huge Trane disciple. Subsequent to his intense listening to what I had to share, he calmly responded: ‘…You shouldn’t have come back, this world is not for us’. Well, to this day I am still processing this statement, somedays it makes sense and somedays layers of confusion.

But for now, let me speak briefly about how I encountered Trane’s music and perhaps get into what it represents to me. I met Trane through his music, more specifically his albums A Love Supreme (1965) which I had discovered in the library during my studies at Technikon Natal. This is perhaps the first jazz record I had ever listened to right to the end without feeling lost, it felt as though Trane (through this record) understood my people, knew my village our chants and dances. In many ways, the experience of listening to this record took me back to the various ceremonies and rituals I had attended in my upbringing, there was some sort of unexplainable familiarity around it. It was a transcendental experience overlapping the concept of time and space. The record gave me lots of hope, in this new journey of becoming an improvisor at least through an instrument this time around.

It is crucial to note that before this experience, I had no background in jazz music. All I knew was the singing of the birds, and other natural sounds. I also knew the different repertoires from a range of traditional musics that my people sang. There is a connection between Trane (his music) and my grandmother. Ugogo (grandma) is an integral member of any black community and more so in an African context. Ogogo are probably some of the greatest teachers of all times. Among other teachings from grandma was being taught and made to experience the power of music and how it aligns humans to various spheres of consciousness. Meaning, before I went to ‘study’ music, I already knew that through sound it was possible to tune into other frequencies and tap into some kind of parallel existence. In other words, this is the feeling I got from listening to A Love Supreme and later other Trane recordings that came after.

Now back to my initial story about intense listening to Trane. As part of preparing for my next concert taking place at the Joy of Jazz next Saturday, I went back to Trane in fact I religiously feel a need to go back to Trane. Partly, this time around it is because I felt that doing a collaboration with a great master such as Azar Lawrence whom among other people has worked with McCoy Tyner, Trane would be central and a perfect point of departure to new spheres. So, I went back to my collection and found mostly the post A Love Supreme recordings of Trane, I listened intensely. I went really far beyond the stars and deep in the underworlds. Strangely enough this time I had no fear, I guess it has to do with where my journey has taken me over the years. I had to confront the existence of other worlds.

This morning I woke up from a dream, and I had forgotten most parts of it but as I go through the day in Trane’s company I am constantly re-membering parts of this beautiful dream. I remember seeing Trane, he played with us and my whole entire village knew his music and he knew our music too. Another part I recall is, there were no amplifications, but sound travelled over the mountains to other villages, them too were singing the same songs and we could hear and feel their pulse.

Mr John William Coltrane for being a faithful messenger for our people in the diaspora, motherland and other worlds, we acknowledge your eternal presence.

Siyathokoza,

Nduduzo Makhathini