As all of this is developing, you record your debut. Can you talk about the decision to make your record? LS:
This was inspired by a gig opportunity I got to present my original music at [Johannesburg-based jazz club] The Orbit, honoring an invite by producer Aymeric Peguillan. I formed a quintet that I had always wished to hear play my music. From playing that gig, I decided to document this experience before leaving for the United States. I knew that the move would compose new material so I had to first document this important experience in my life. AAJ:
You brought on Nduduzo Makhathini
to act not as a pianist on the album, but as the producer. What was that experience like? LS:
Nduduzo is like my closest big brother. He introduced me to the Johannesburg music scene when I moved there, and I even had a chance to play on his second album, Mother Tongue
. That was the first Jazz record I was a part of in Johannesburg.
His experience helped guide the whole project. I believe in his creativity and musicality. Judging from his albums and other works that he produced, he has done really amazing work as a producer. To have him produce the album was also a good opportunity for Sanele Phakathi to learn closely from a person who inspires him. AAJ:
You titled the album Two Sides, One Mirror
, and in the liner notes there is a reference to the music coming from two separate periods of your life. Can you expand on that? LS:
The title was inspired by a mirror in my parent's bedroom at home. I would meditate on it when they were away at work, reflect on things that had happened in my upbringing and things that I aspire to do in the future.
Later, I came to realize that the title is even deeper than I thought. The whole album is actually a reflection of my life, the richness of culture in KwaZulu-Natal where I was born and raised. AAJ:
Let's walk through some of these tracks. Can you talk about "Hidden Love" and the addition of a vocalist and lyrics? LS:
Hidden Love is a song I composed in 2012, while I was at university. It came through an experience of loving someone but not being able to express the feeling.
The lyrics were written by Omagugu Makhathini, these lyrics are so in sync with the narrative of the song as if I had explained to Mrs. Makhathini the story behind the song, I had not told her the story but spiritual communication gave birth to these amazing lyrics. Having Sis Omagugu on vocals was intentional. I new that she would execute it in a satisfactory way singing the melody with so much dignity, drawing a lot of inspiration from the great Mam Abbey Lincoln. AAJ:
You also add a vocal element right at the end with "Closer to the Heart." Can you talk about that? LS:
"Closer to the Heart" was composed in the same period as "Hidden Love." This was a song I received when I was inspired by the music and people I had been exposed to in that period.
The vocal chant at the end of the song captures a unison idea of a rejoicing collectively after an accomplishment. Such sounds are borrowed from our African ceremonies. AAJ:
So the studio and session allowed for that flexible approach? LS:
Yes indeed. AAJ:
One song that jumps out, as it's so distinct from the others in its tone, is "A Night in D.C." What is its story? LS:
Back in 2012 and 2013, I was part of a group at UKZN that was invited to Virginia Commonwealth University for a cultural exchange program. In year 2013 the group recorded in South Africa then Richmond, Virginia. After the recording we went to Washington D.C. and spent a day there, visited the Library of Congress and many other places. Later in the night we went to watch Kendrick Scott perform at the Bohemian Caverns, which was a really special inspiring concert. When we went back to the hotel after that concert, I heard this particular bass line and melody. The whole song just came like that to me. So I named it "A Night in D.C.," because it was a beautiful night in Washington D.C. AAJ:
Another one that jumps out is "Influential Moments." LS:
"Influential Moments" came when I was reflecting on events that have occurred in my life, sometimes a melody would come through these reflections. In this case themes that I was playing over and over at a gig I had in Durban gave birth to this song. AAJ:
The liner notes also mention one of the songs is a dedication to your grandmother and to your upbringing... LS:
Yes, that's "uKaMadinana." It is a dedication to my late maternal grandmother. So back in the day, we would visit her in Joburg, and then visit my paternal grandmother in KwaNongoma after Christmas. We would go to visit usually at Christmas, This particular song was composed on the 25th of December, I was alone back home in Umlazi while the rest of the family was in the rural areas. I was thinking deeply about my grandmother, who passed on a couple of years ago. I was reflecting on the Christmas Days I've had before with her. This is how the song came, and with that song, it took me a long time to have a final product of the composition. It was just a melody with no harmony, but the night before the recording, Nduduzo added harmony to the song. It was really exciting to hear the full version of the song after the recording. AAJ:
With you now in New York, how has that transition fared? Are there new projects developing? LS:
New York has a very huge scene, and it keeps you on your toes. It has so much to offer, and I meet so many great players. It is humbling. This scene has really made me appreciate who I am, and where I come from. That is important, to have certain nuances that really describe who you are and where you come from. I think that comes up when I play at jam sessions and in concerts.
This place has been good place for me to network and get closer to the source. I recently debuted my gig as a leader in the city. There are projects developing and I foresee a strong connection between South African and American artists. I've been also writing new music that I hope to record soon in New York .
Nduduzo Makhathini, Mother Tongue
, (Gundu Entertainment, 2014)
Luyanda Madope and H3, Connecting Generations
, (Yanda Productions, 2017)
Linda Sikhakhane, Two Sides, One Mirror
, (Skay Music, 2017) Cover Photo Credit: Sufi Don