Prolific Tāmaki Makaurau saxophonist Thabani Gapara is about to embark on his Mwana Wevhu tour, a celebration of Southern African jazz infused with the rhythms of central and southern Africa, intertwined with classical elements. The tour will take him and his band to Tauranga, Auckland and Hamilton. Silke Hartung was curious to find out more.
The greatest tool I have found useful in that regard is working out what people are listening to. I believe that if the artist and I have a common point of reference for how they’d like me to play, it helps us chase the sound they’re looking for in their music. I have found that in recording sessions and live performance alike, the most valuable asset to a session musician is having the openness to try anything. Also, specifically for jazz students it can be easy to forget to keep listening to what’s happening with contemporary music, because the artists you will play for are very aware of what the current “sound” may be and if you know that too it makes you easy to work with.
It has a long storied history that dates back to Township jazz, kwela and jive performance in shebeens (informal pubs that served a variety of alcoholic drinks including traditional brews). There is a long history of taking the sound of jazz and incorporating traditional music and language.
So to me Southern African jazz is music that has the joyful and invigorating sounds borrowed from traditional music but also the groove and “swagg” taken from popular African music styles of the region like Mbaqanga, Chimurenga, Jiti, Marabi, Katekwe and Sungura to mention but a few. Add to that jazz harmony and improvisation and it makes for truly exciting listening experience.
I think one thing that has really stood out is, “I never knew jazz could be this fun.” The guys and I just have a really good time on stage, it’s such a pleasure to hear people say they’ve had just as much fun. I’ve been blessed to have some superb cats play in the band, each an artist in their own right.
I subscribe to the idea that my art can be a way of revealing parts of myself to listeners and concert goers. Where I come from, what I have seen, where I have travelled and the people I’ve had around me have played a significant role in shaping my outlook and identity. “Ndiri mwana wevhu,” I am a son of the soil, the music and stories in this tour are a celebration of my journey to this moment and an acknowledgement of all the wonderful people and places that have shared it.
The song that has really got people having a good time is taken from my record called ‘The Griots Path’. The song is Family. I recorded a live version at Ponsonby Social Club that features a string quartet.