The City of Golden Gates

Then I was taken to the most beautiful city I had ever seen, ‘The City of Golden Gates’. Among other things, my guide told me that in this city people never owned keys to these glorious gates but knew songs that could open and close them as they wished. She continued to say that, the gates were built by ancient gods who inhabited the city millions of years ago. The gods had invented the gates for men to remember them and in that way each gate represented a passageway to a deity’s heart. 

My guide also said that, the elderly citizens who had mastered all songs, lived in their gods’ hearts and didn’t need to sing anymore but as they come close to every gate the gods opened for them. 

Later on this day I arrived at the initiation school where people learned various songs. I spoke to a fellow student who had learned about 8000 songs and was preparing to graduate, he told me that he had been studying for 300 years. He further told me that at an advanced level his teachers visited him in dreams. Meaning, he didn’t have go to class but fall into deep sleep (ubuthongo) for a number of years to eventually wakes up and present new repertoires. 

Still amazed by what I just heard, I went through to have my first class. Interestingly enough our teacher taught through silence and we had to respond in song, all in unison. 

Iphupho (19.09.2018)

Nduduzo Makhathini 

Remembering Mseleku

So in 2001/2 myself and a group of students came together and organized a Bheki Mseleku tribute concert (perhaps first and only that Mseleku witnessed) that we called ‘Bheki’s Corner’ the idea was to celebrate Mseleku’s life and music, and how his very existence encouraged us towards a new musical directions. The concert took place at the Jazzy Rainbow and was attended by Bab’uBheki Mseleku, Bab’uZim Ngqawana among other significantly important guests. This was indeed an honor for us, it kept us in touch with Mseleku, even when he moved back to London.

After Mseleku’s departure in 2008, I lacked a sonic language for remembering him, I basically couldn’t play his music without tears in my eyes, I was too scared. In retrospect I realize that I was also sad and couldn’t accept the fact that he was now on the other side. I had questions to ask…

In 2016, it was through Brother Eugene Skeef that I again renewed my strength to remember this great master and his songbook; what it meant in the current times. This soon culminated in a tribute concert at the Orbit featuring Mseleku’s friend and band-mate Bab’uEddie Parker who had come to join us for Listening to the Ground at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. This gave me so much healing, so much hope.

As part of this healing process, through the British Academy, York University and Stellenbosch University I did my masters thesis on Mseleku’s life and music, which in many ways has reminded me how important it was for me to find deeper ways of connecting with my master and a lost friend.

Where I’m really trying to get is that; I’m thankful for this moment, and the love and support you’ve all been showing in recent projects around Mseleku, firstly the one in July supported by the Market Theatre and lastly the ‘Rediscovering the Genius of Bheki Mseleku’ supported by Pegs Music Project, joined by scholars and musicians, including another Mseleku follower Brother Afrika Mkhize and others.

In African cosmologies and beliefs, it is said that an ancestor can only live for as long as the ones on this side remember them and chant their names, their music… Today I again remember Mseleku.

Below is a letter I wrote to Mseleku, it’s also part of my thesis: http://scholar.sun.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10019.1/103795/makhathini_encountering_2018.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Makwande

Nduduzo Makhathini

A Journey of a Believer: What has Men Invented?

I had been flying all this time, but when I realised that is when I fell. Even when I fell, I still did not quite reach the ground. As I was about to, I remembered that birds could fly and I became a bird.

I landed in a place I had never been, but certainly parts of me mused upon having visited before. While reminiscing on this moment, some gigantic beings emerged from the sky. The sky appeared to be so close to the ground, I could touch the clouds.

These beings starred at me, right above my eyes. I waited for them to speak and instead, they broke into song. They sung harmonious sounds, not just my ears but this time my entire body could hear, I felt their song. Though the language was new, my soul understood and sang along. At this moment I tried looking at myself, and realised I had vanished. A voice said to me ‘forget the past, be here now and go ahead’.

From this moment a new body emerged, a new self. It felt as though I was looking at myself from inside this body, a body of light. The sounds became more pronounced, though the volume had quietened the potency remained. I started to focusing intensely on the timbre of their voices, it was beautiful. But then I noticed something.

And I recall thinking: ‘So all this time in planet earth we thought these sounds were a result of human creation based on our inventions of musical instruments but on this planet all these sounds are singable. So what have the humans really created? It seems as though our creator Umvelinqangi had initially created and given us all, and we now spend our lives investing ways of recovering and repackaging that which had been lost.’

After this thought, I transitioned and fell back on this side, soon I woke up.

Iphupho (07 August 2018)
Nduduzo Makhathini

Indonsa Kusa (Morning Star)

I’m listening to the most amazing performance by nature sounds, possibly the world’s greatest music. These sounds are egoless, do not belong to no man but available to/for all, they do not have a name they simply are. They are in tune with the cosmos.

After all the often; significantly unpleasant, dissonant sounds of human made instruments and technologies, something special happens around midnight. Another world emerges, accompanied by the most beautiful music of the cosmos. This music plays throughout our sleep until we wake up to disrupt.

I think the world would be a more harmonious place if we were to be awake at this time to silently absorb this music then go to sleep morning.

Somehow this thought just made sense in this particular moment of my innocent observation.

Ubu’Ngoma

Nduduzo Makhathini

Changes

I love how jazz refers to a set of chord sequences as ‘changes’ and the art of navigating these changes as an ‘improvisation’.

Is this not perhaps what life is about? Being presented with new situations and constantly looking at interesting ways of responding to change, thus in a constant improvisatory mode.

If this is the case maybe then there is something to learn from the jazzmen and women around us in terms of how they prepare/not prepare their responses to the changes.

Nduduzo Makhathini