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Zim Ngqawana: Sound, Song, and Humanity

By Published: May 12, 2011
AAJ: How did you come to play this role?

ZN: At first they wanted a band. And I said to them: "What's going to happen to the traditional people? How are we going to tap into that?" There's about twelve different ethnic groups in South Africa. That became a problem. That is why we ended up with a hundred people.

I said that every ethnic group should bring their own drums, their own dancers, and their own song. And then we will combine that into a very very colorful thing. That is where we are now—trying to tap into that. I had never seen anything like that. Women playing drums... drums I'd never seen before. It's close to us! We were ignorant! We didn't know what we were dealing with. It was a serious education for us. So there is so much happening in this country that you won't believe. The kind of sounds I'd never heard before. Just imagine that now—if that gets notated properly—how it can advance so-called "jazz" theories, rhythmically and harmonically speaking.

AAJ: The drums are an obvious point for rhythm.

ZN: And dance! Dance is something! That's why you have to see dance. You see, that's why you have to see the whole thing in context: you have to see the drummers, the dancers, and the song. Then you understand that we're dealing with totality.

AAJ: It's too bad you don't have a recording of that.

ZN: That's a pity. They should have documented that. But, as I said, it can be recreated. It can be.

So we have a lot of work to do. But we're trying not to complain and do what we can do in our own small capacity. Personally, I would like to be dealing with that right now, but I don't have the right infrastructure or facility to do that. So with all of this constraint, I ended up working from the nucleus of a quartet. What can I do? I cannot do much. People are not prepared to lay down money for arrangements. More time in the studio, you know. Concerts. That is the issue with record companies that they have to start understanding: we wish to participate within the so-called "African Renaissance" context.

Zim Ngqawana Discography:

San, San Song (Sheer Sound, 1996). Zim Ngqawana (s, fl), Bjorn Ole Solberg (as,ts), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (b), Andile Yenana (p), Paal Nilssen-Love (d).

Zim Ngqawana, Zimology (Sheer Sound, 1998). With Andile Yenana (p), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (b), Paal Nilssen Love (d).

Zim Ngqawana, Ingoma (Sheer Sound, 1999). With Andile Yenana (p/v), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (b), Paal Nilssen Love (d), Lefifi Tladii (poetry/art/chorus), Dumakude Msuthwana (tpt/chorus), Zim Ngqawana Jr. (chorus).

Zim Ngqawana, Zimphonic Suites (Sheer Sound, 2001). With Andile Yenana (p/v), Herbie Tsoaeli (b/v), Kevin Gibson (d).

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