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Zim Ngqawana: Sound, Song, and Humanity

By Published: May 12, 2011
AAJ: That's a level of purity. Some artists believe that they are entertainers. And that is part of it.

ZN: [laughs] Business, you know.

AAJ: But I think there's an African concept of music that relates to the drum, and dance, and community, and ritual.

ZN: Yes, all of that is highly integrated.

AAJ: Americans don't always appreciate that. The idea of dance, for example, is not the same. The other thing is that Americans view Africa as one continent, and one people. I know that was the idea you were trying to bring out with Ingoma... but at the same time, there's a lot of differences between places in Africa, with culture and music and people.

ZN: Actually I have seen more similarities than differences, in many ways. And as I say this can be achieved in no time, if it is supported. But that's why we should create that kind of space for these things to be discussed and be demonstrated. Coltrane did it. Coltrane did it for us. I'm so honored... I'm going to Vienna in April to share a bill with Pharoah Sanders. You see, again, if our people were so hip to these things, they would invite people like Pharoah—who was a disciple of Coltrane—to carry on that tradition. I want to go there and benefit for myself, but I have no forum to share that with people. Can you see?

I can tell you, a lot of people don't even know who Pharoah is! An opportunity for me to be on the same bill with Pharoah should inspire everybody around us to come and see what mileage can we get out of that. In terms of what Pharoah stands for, as a Coltrane disciple. Pharoah has that ability to complete what Trane started, because he has shared that with him. But we need creative people to see that, and to think about how can we bring the music home? And again: how can we sustain that which has been started in the US?

5. Oneness Through Sound and Breath

AAJ: How many foreign musicians come to South Africa?

ZN: Well, quite a few. The North Sea Festival is happening here now. There's the Netherlands one, but this is in Cape Town and it's still called the North Sea Jazz Festival. It's basically the same thing, just transposed here. There are a lot of musicians who are associated with certain record companies. It's a serious network... it's not easy to infiltrate, you know. Hence, you cannot get all of these people I'm talking about.

Dewey Redman was here. He came to perform at the festival. But again, it will take visionaries to see that. Dewey Redman represents a very serious school: Ornette Coleman, the so-called "free" music based on the harmolodic theory of Ornette Coleman. And he has the ability to share and demonstrate that. So Dewey Redman's stay here could have been extended. He could have been taken around to the academic institutions, to the Departments of Arts and Sciences, you know. And he should be honored as an innovator of that particular school. You see?

But normally promoters are not visionaries. [laughs] There's a certain thing that they do. We respect that. They should do that. But again, it's for the people within the government to see and understand this is how you prepare. We have our people there who are ready. They are ready to come. They are dying to come and share what they have achieved with us. But also we have the context for it. We should have got the new techniques to develop that, but we had a much stronger context here—the whole thing. So we need each other badly. And soon. And I think when festivals and magazines are dealing with the music, it's the best way for this music to be communicated and transported... across the Atlantic.

AAJ: It's surprising how much the jazz in South Africa has in common with the music in this country and in Europe. I'm not sure if it's access—people have heard of Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela, but that's kind of the end. I hope we can open some new doors.

ZN: In the end we're all striving for oneness. We have been taught to understand the differences and parallels, but I am really gravitating towards that oneness. And it can be achieved. And then we can bring about some kind of harmony or unison in this world.

AAJ: You've gone on the record about returning the names of places to their native forms. What does that mean?

ZN: See, I told you in the beginning that music with us was never out of context. There's a music for childbirth, and there's a ceremony that goes with it when you name that child after certain things. It's very important. The person who names the child has to be very inspired. There's an old African proverb. It says that when your wife is pregnant for nine months, the man has to discipline himself and spend the most time in solitude. While the wife is going through pregnancy for nine months, also for nine months he has to go through that process of looking for the right name. You see? He has to see inside for what inspires him. It's a very serious thing. Because with a name you can corrupt your own child, or you can affect him or her to become a person of character. So it's a very serious thing. It doesn't just come out of nowhere. It has to come from inspiration. That kind of inspiration is another thing that people have forgotten in modern society.

Places now are named after heroes, you know, after men... which is right, that has a place. [laughs] But when you really delve deep into the mysticism of sound, then you take care how you utilize sound. Sound is very important in order for them to really come up with a name that will liberate the people from all of these insults that were hurled at them and that they have internalized. They have to utilize sound. They have to tune the people to another pitch now where they can transcend all of these things that they have hated and been told, you know.

Mad people can achieve that when a guy goes crazy. That's what happens. He goes through that process. It gets tuned to another pitch. That's where he loses himself. He can go naked [laughs] because he's completely not aware of that. He speaks different. So we are such a traumatized people... people in the world. All of us! You see, I am not talking about Africa only. I'm talking about the world. The so-called "developed" countries... same thing. Through the process of education and religion, people have been highly traumatized. So we need to use the same process. Sound, sound, sound. Unfortunately in the modern day it is looked at as music and styles. It has been lowered to that level.

It will need serious, serious mystics—serious practitioners of music—to retune the people to their original pitches. That's how naming a country, a continent, this world... Automatically, once they go back to their original tune, they will be able to affect their surroundings and their environment. And that's how the real vibration will come back. On its own. Indians have been doing it as Om in the beginning. I made a code of it in that Ingoma thing. Ingoma, the very same thing, the very same word, is about that tradition about the creation. The Indians call it Om—we call it Ingoma. You see?

So I don't think it will come from the politicians. It will come from the inspired people. People who are prepared to sacrifice, people who are prepared to go into solitude. People who are prepared to fast and deny themselves in order to be elevated in order to really receive that. And can you believe that there are people who are like that in this country? There are! And I sat at their seat, and I asked them about the science of sound and of music. They explained to me that it is not what we hear, what we see at the moment—it's beyond that. And they get frustrated that less and less attention is paid to the arts. That's one thing I admire about the States—whatever happens there—and Europe, of course, even greater. The understanding of the arts. We lack that.

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