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Mandla Mlangeni: Born to Be

Mandla Mlangeni: Born to Be

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I want to inform the people around me, I want to be a beacon of light to my community, and I especially want to be of service to my community. Not even just in music, but in the message I want to bring to the community, of us loving ourselves, of us being kinder to ourselves, and of us seeing a bigger vision of diversity and a realization of what we want to do.
—Mandla Mlangeni
Mandla Mlangeni has been engaged. The South African trumpeter, composer, and bandleader oversees three groups, notably the Amandla Freedom Ensemble and the Tune Recreation Committee. Additionally, his works are marked by an intense effort to explore and connect with social discourse in the country today. Indeed, from the Tune Recreation Committee's naming nod to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to the Amandla Freedom Ensemble's latest project Born to Be Black: A Celebration of the Conscious Soul exploring black identity, black culture, and black pride, Mlangeni tirelessly endeavors to ensure that Jazz serves a social function for people. For him, the music and its practitioners have a role to play, providing a space for dialogue and discussion, and utilizing their art to drive social progress.

All About Jazz: You've previously mentioned in interviews that "the trumpet chose you." Can you talk about that?

Mandla Mlangeni: I was schooled in Soweto. That's where I started my formal music education. I used to play recorder, and because of the lack of instruments in the school, the only instrument available for me was the trumpet. I was impatient; I actually wanted to play saxophone and clarinet. So I said, you know what, I'll play trumpet anyways. I thought it was an easy instrument that I'd be able to master in a couple of months. It's proven to be quite a challenge, and I'm still learning it! I play no other instrument apart from that.

AAJ: In picking up the trumpet, you entered into a rich legacy of great South African trumpet players. At what stage did you become aware of that legacy?

MM: Well, I was aware of it from the beginning. For me to get the sound of the instrument, I had to listen to its practitioners. From early on, I was very steeped in the tradition of where the music came from. My earliest influences were Louis Armstrong, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and obviously Bra Hugh Masekela. My biggest and most immediate influence for a long time was also Bra Feya Faku. Later in my varsity years, I received lessons from Marcus Wyatt, who encouraged me to apply to study at the University of Cape Town, and also filled out some forms for me to attend the Youth Jazz Festival in Grahamstown. In order for me to get the sound I wanted, I knew I had to acquaint myself with the tradition in order to mold what I wanted to do.

AAJ: You continued your studies further at the University of Cape Town. What was that experience like?

MM: The University of Cape Town was an eye and ear opener! I had the incredible opportunity to be in daily contact with many of my contemporaries now. We all had divergent tastes in the music we enjoyed, the likes of Kyle Shepherd, Shane Cooper, Bokani Dyer, and many of the guys in the scene. Cape Town is where I formalized a lot of my training. I had the opportunity to play in the big band, the orchestra, and the environment of Cape Town helped. It's a tourist city; every night, something is happening, and I watched gigs and went to jam session. My formal and informal education in music was grounded in that.

From there, I knew what I wanted to do in my music, and I knew what that meant, to be in Cape Town and immersed in the scene, and to try and create something that would make me stand out from the crowd.

AAJ: Historically, there had been musical distinctions between the music of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Did you find that to be the case?

MM: Yes and no. You find that a lot of musicians from Cape Town actually move up to Joburg, and you find that they become absorbed into the scene. With Cape Town, the focus is different; it's more in the school of BeBop and the tradition of Charlie Parkers, Dizzy Gillespies, and it's focused on the Jazz tradition and playing the changes. Whereas in Joburg, it's more cosmopolitan, you have more influences because you have more diverse cultures from all over the world. Cape Town is more the place where you honed your craft, and then Joburg is the place where you had to present it.

It was ironic, because I was born and raised in Joburg, but I had to go to Cape Town to hone my craft. I was in Cape Town until the time I was ready, and then I came back to Joburg, and that's when the journey found its meaning.

AAJ: While in Cape Town, you took part in a lot of community outreach and service with brass bands. Can you talk about that?

MM: I come from that tradition, and it's how I learned music, with informal community music centers. They're an integral part of music education, and I think they're how you grow audiences of tomorrow. I feel that I need to immerse myself in community, and that it's a huge disservice if I just play music and don't interact with the community. In Cape Town, I was a coordinator for brass band activities at the Solms Delta. That was a role previously held by Alex van Heerden. Due to his passing, they got someone to fill his tasks, and I took over some of his responsibilities together with Adrian Brandt who was in charge of spearheading that operation, especially in going out into communities, particularly the farmlands where they aren't exposed as much to the music.

I feel that is very important to me, and it's something I still do. Every project for me has a workshop component, of making the music as accessible as possible for future audiences, not just for people who can afford the music. That's where I came from, and if I had not received those opportunities, and I don't know where I'd be. These actions make a big difference; you find years later a student who was a part of a workshop comes up to you and says, "man, I attended your workshop and I started listening to Jazz more." It brightens my world.

AAJ: You formed your own brass band, the Native Groove Collective. Was it around this same time?

MM: The Native Groove Collective was formed in 2010. I wanted to celebrate our heritage. And one of the programmers for the City All Sessions came to a concert and loved the whole concept. It was part of me making an endeavor to actually perform the compositions of composers, the likes of Khaya Mahlangu, McCoy Mrubata, or Abdullah Ibrahim.

That's something lacking in Cape Town. They tend not to acknowledge local practitioners, and instead focus on the American art form, or give more importance to artists who are not from there. Of course, Jazz is an American art form, but we've formed it in our own way. It's a language that we've carved out for us to understand it here in South Africa. That's the beauty of it, and it was part of that call for me to say, "I have not set foot in America, but I know its music. What is happening in South Africa? Who are the people in South Africa who form the culture and the music here?"

You have people here like Khaya Mahlangu who was part of a seminal band called Sakhile, who shaped the music scene here. You have the likes of Bra McCoy, who toured a lot with Hugh Masekela, and those people are never spoken about, even when you go to lectures about it. The focus was never on us, on what we did as a people, or the strides our parents and grandparents made so we could be a part of society. And that acknowledgement-which also led to another concept of mine, Born to Be Black-notes that yes, Black is beautiful. We come from a turbulent past, but let us also acknowledge the beauty. Let me acknowledge the light I can contribute to the world. Let's dismiss the negative associations with blackness and what "black" is, and be the guiding light to bring audiences closer together.

I saw the Native Groove Collective as a chance to be in dialogue with South African music and actually perform it as a brass band.

AAJ: It's interesting you bring up Khaya Mahlangu and McCoy Mrubata. Both of them have separately noted the 1976 uprisings as a turning point in their lives and music. And for Khaya and Sakhile, their piece "Isililo" addresses the uprisings whilst tapping into Zulu musical traditions to do so. You are also referencing local traditions in your own efforts; can you talk more about that?

MM: Our history has so many parallels between what happened in South Africa and in America with regards to segregation and to apartheid. For the most part, South Africans looked up to Black American traditions, which were a model for blackness. Black Americans seemed to be in control of their destiny. We have since learned that they were oppressed like us, they were denied the right to exist in many ways.

When we say tapping into tradition, we are acknowledging where the music comes from, acknowledging that the music is embedded in a deep sense of Africa. You find the connection with American music retracing its roots to Africa.

Then you find us as South Africans, aspiring to the American ideal, and we forget where we come from. When Americans come here, they see something that for us is simple or mundane, but they see the diamond, the jewel, and they take it and make something out of it.

We've got traditions and our own thing in our rich diversity. It's something we need to acknowledge and share with the world. I think for a large part that's something we haven't yet grasped. We need more avenues for us to express it. We like Americans' contribution to music in the form of Jazz, culture, art, and dance, but in only taking that we ignore who we are. We don't give voice to our message. I want to go back and re-trace steps, and see how it can relate to my immediate environment and our community.

AAJ: That beautifully sets up the Amandla Freedom Ensemble. When did all of these ideas weave together to establish the ensemble?

MM: They've always been woven. I think I just formalized it by calling it the Amandla Freedom Ensemble. Going back to Joburg and having to start all over again, it's when I was in contact with many of these great artists. They encouraged me to do something that could lend voice to what I wanted to say.

AAJ: On the ensemble's debut album, Bhekisizwe, can you talk about the decision to title it in tribute to your father?

MM: The reason why was because I never really had the opportunity to know my father. My father contributed a lot, not just for his country, but for his immediate community. He was an exemplar to those around him. For me is the epitome of manifest destiny in an African way. He came from humble beginnings: when he started school he started at a very late age, at 11, and went on to define what he wanted to do. He knew his calling from early on, he wanted to restore justice and he wanted dignity for his people, which at that time were not happening.

He found his voice through becoming a human rights lawyer. Through that, he worked on very high-profile cases and uncovered, through the law firm he was working with, one of the atrocities of the apartheid government, the forces in Vlakplaas. His death was untimely, and for me not having him physically there but sharing word about what he had done filled a large void in me.

My father is imagined in my life. I see him as a beacon of light, an inspiration. I think, were he alive, how would the circumstances of the people around him have changed? How would the circumstances of my life have changed? How would South Africa have evolved? Would he have been part of the change to make it a better place? It's that force of human life, and you can never see what the future holds. But to me, it's an ode to him and to keep his memory alive, that's the most important thing.

Not to say that it's just an acknowledgement of my father. A lot of credit is given to my mother, because she's the one who carried me, who encouraged me to do music. She paid for my classes, and she taught me what love is. She persevered, through hardships she persevered and looked forward to the promise of a better life. She wanted to make life better for the people around her, as much as possible, and I greatly admire that. It taught me to give back with regards to my music. That's what I want to do: I want to inform the people around me, I want to be a beacon of light to my community, and I especially want to be of service to my community.

Not even just in music, but in the message I want to bring to the community, of us loving ourselves, of us being kinder to ourselves, and of us seeing a bigger vision of diversity and a realization of what we want to do.

AAJ: When we think of the framing of Bhekisizwe, there is the play The Story I Am About to Tell that bears witness to your father's assassination. Included in the liner notes to your album is text by Lesego Rampolokeng entitled "The Story I Am About to Tell." He raises in the text a point of a fake diversity he wants to avoid, with the line "Heritage Day is mansions and shacks standing together in pretend equality." Can talk about this question of articulating the vision forward that your album tackles?

AAJ: The vision forward is actually one of dialogue, more communication, and more integration in the sense of art being the vehicle for that change. I feel for a large part that white South Africa has not come to the party. White South Africa in a sense wants us to forget where we've come from, and it does not want us to acknowledge. Then you find us also relegating our experiences to our darkest crevasses. And that's why you find such violent outbursts in our society. We haven't dealt with the turbulent past that we've come from.

I think the TRC wasn't powerful enough a vehicle to engage with what happened. I think there needed to be a wider TRC in which everybody contributed their stories of how apartheid affected them adversely. And it affected both parties. It killed our humanity. For me, my father's death was the most personal trauma I felt from the apartheid government. It deprived me of a father, a role model. It deprived me of someone who could guide me. Hence, I also had to deal with other issues, of belonging, of always having to prove myself.

I feel that there must be more space for dialogue, and art is best suited for that. I think one person who articulates that is Wynton Marsalis. He uses art as a vehicle for change, and as a vehicle for empowering those around him. I look to that. Coming from the tradition he comes from, where New Orleans was a site of slavery, but what came out of it was an illustrious history of self-determination in the art they made. It allowed them to breathe life, it gave them a sense of humanity, which otherwise they were denied. That's what music does for me.

I want to articulate those feelings, those sentiments, of saying, "You know what? There are a lot of things going wrong. Let's create platforms for us to engage with our communities and engage with white and black people to talk about it. Let's build a meaningful change in our society, and not just play pretend." There's this duality, and this illusion of inclusion in the New South Africa. I think we need to redefine who we are. That's what the album tries to do.

AAJ: The name of the ensemble conjures Jonas Gwangwa's Amandla Cultural Group. That group was also interested in using culture as a tool for advancing a new vision of society. Is it a deliberate reference on your part?

MM: It was a deliberate reference in a sense. A homage, to take on the mantle. I won't resurrect the Amandla Cultural Ensemble. My name is Mandla, but I need to give power to my voice. The power of my voice is through song. Through song I find my freedom.

I alone cannot make the change I want to see. We need to make a change as a community of artists and practitioners. Hence why "ensemble": all of us bring something different. That's a form of activism, not just playing in Jazz clubs, but going out into communities where people wouldn't necessarily know about us. We can provide a link between what is now, and what came before us.

AAJ: The three ensembles you've brought into being are all noted by an ensemble name rather than denoted as your ensemble. They are always collective.

MM: Yes. I cannot take full credit. A lot goes around in making the music happen. I try to play with as diverse musicians as I can. The music is not by my own efforts, it is by their efforts. This gives a sense of ownership to all who are involved, and so it does not seem that I am just putting my name on everything.

You find with, say, the Tune Recreation Committee, even though the line-up changes, people in the band contribute in so many ways, whether artistically, with logistics, or even guidance from older members. That's what I want to aim for. It must be a collectivization of efforts.

So much lies in the cult of personality or the Mandelas or the Sisulus, but I think that the wider change that has occurred in South Africa is because of the people on the ground, the nameless ones who marched, who carried their passes to the union buildings, who lost their children. I wanted to allude to that spirit, of having a wider community contribute to the dialogue.

AAJ: You bring up your other ensemble, the Tune Recreation Committee. While it might be too simple to say the Amandla Freedom Ensemble is a Johannesburg-based band, while the Tune Recreation Committee is a Cape Town-based band, the TRC does seem to draw particularly from Cape Town artists. How did it come into being?

MM: Naturally, I was in Cape Town studying, and I encountered and played with these musicians, so it made sense for me to perform with them. That band actually came before the Amandla Freedom Ensemble, and it's where a lot of the music you hear on Bhekisizwe was initially composed.

Coming back to that was a sense of me trying to redefine that sound and experience. The reason why it's predominantly Cape Town based is because Cape Town is also a largely disjunct community of sources. It's like a meeting point for First and Third worlds. It has an almost Eurocentric view of itself. While that might bring us closer to other audiences and to people who are visiting, at the same time, there are other voices in Cape Town, other histories, other collective truths.

I wanted to actually speak to that. Not enough music or initiatives actually speak to what that is. The make up of the band is very intentional, and the people are a part of it, and I wanted it to be a part of a bigger conversation about how we define our humanity and articulate what our humanity is. Is our humanity closely aligned to just me being black, you being white, someone being Coloured [mixed-race in South Africa], or other? What is our common thread in this world?

A common thread is that we want to live fulfilling lives. We want to be valued by our communities and add value to our communities. I lived in Cape Town for eight years, and I never really had the sense that I was valued there. Yet, I kept doing what I wanted to do, and I saw how I could contribute by bringing light to elements of what has been done.

Also, the name Tune Recreation Committee alludes to the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the "second death" of my father, and of realizing the atrocities of South Africa and interrogating that. It's a palette for documenting my personal history. It's a memoir.

AAJ: If we look back to Bhekisizwe and Lesego Rampolokeng's text in the liner notes, one striking line is "there is no such thing as the voice of society." With Tune Recreation Committee you seem to interrogate that further, making it plural by calling the album Voices of Our Vision.

MM:Yes. It needs to be that. We need to get back to that. It's great to be individual, to be ambitious. But usually that comes at the cost of other things.

I think that's what we need more of. We need more compassion in our society, we need to come together and make an effort to actually remedy the situations. When we talk about the voices of our vision, we also talk about where we come from. We come from a great tradition, a great history, and our history cannot just be defined by slavery or by apartheid. Our history is deeper, it's an ancient history. Humanity had its beginnings in Africa. Civilization too, I dare say so, finds its voice here.

We talk about the wide range of cultures and histories that exist here. Egypt is the most obvious one, but what about the cultures of the people in the Niger Delta? The Dogon people of Mali? The people in Zimbabwe? It's finding a voice of how we can now articulate ourselves as Africans, and articulate ourselves as a people, drawing pride. Just because I am black and come from the township, I do not need to celebrate that. I don't want to celebrate my "township-ness"; I don't want to romanticize that. I want to delve deeper into where I come from, and I want to inform future generations of where we come from, and where we can also go.

We need to continually interrogate what we want to do, and assimilate it into what the culture has become. We can't change the world in a cave. We need to go out there, take the blows, and start the hard work of actually getting together and plowing the proverbial soil.

AAJ: There's a wonderful moment on the album where you do precisely that. On the piece "R.O.AD" you have Madala Kunene appear as a guest. How did he get involved on the album?

MM: I encountered Madala Kunene's work when I was at varsity. In the syllabus we were taught at school, we were never taught about our music. It was always Western Classical Music, other music. You find that the pages of our history are not even a chapter. I find that Madala Kunene was at the forefront, singing his own voice and telling his own story. That was what drew me to what he was doing, and that's how I made a connection to his music.

Also, he had a personal connection to my father. He knew my father personally, and I found that informed what I wanted to do. Here's someone who I've looked up to and whose music I greatly enjoy, and sitting down with him and recounting how his music inspired me, he mentions that he knew my father. That for me was the first time I met a musician of that caliber who actually knew my father and encountered him. Madala told me things about my father that I didn't know.

I wanted to have that link, as small as it was, in what I wanted to do.

AAJ: He brings up another aspect, of tradition and innovation. While he's stated to be a maskanda musician, he doesn't sound like any other maskanda musician! He's not easily defined.

MM: His sound and his message show he's tuned into more. That's exactly why I wanted him on the record, and it's something I still want to fully interrogate. I still want to actually understand that: am I only a Jazz trumpeter? How can I tune into what is happening in South Africa? How can people right now relate to my music? How can what I do lend itself to defining and being defined by what is happening today? I think that's what I love most about Madala Kunene. He's firmly rooted in who he is, but also he explores other territories and makes new connections. That's why his music always sounds very fresh.

AAJ: That reaching to new connections is readily apparent on the Amandla Freedom Ensemble's album Born to Be Black, and indeed many ideas are explored in this album. Can you talk about its origins?

MM: Born to Be Black is a concept between me and Bra Louis Moholo-Moholo. As you know, Louis is the last surviving member of the Blue Notes, and he left in the sixties. The Blue Notes were a force to be reckoned with in Europe, but I found that Bra Louis came back and not many musicians were connecting with him. He was doing a lot of international performances, but I found that I wanted to find out about him. Why was it that many people didn't seek information from him?

I took the step to connect with him, and through that, we started the concept of Born To Be Black: A Celebration Of The Conscious Soul. We started the project in 2013. I was kind of nervous to be saying "born to be black," and we were doing it in Cape Town! What if there was a backlash, and people might say we were racist? And he just said to me, "Who are you? Where do you come from? Why is that when we mention black that it's associated with negativity? Where I come from, to be black means signs of rain. Black clouds gather, and it rains to nourish the soil." That for me was very powerful. Living in Cape Town, I had kind of forgotten about who I was. That phrase itself, "born to be black," means I need not hide from who I am. I need to embrace myself, the big, the bad, and the ugly!

Going back to Born to Be Black, it grew. We finally worked with Bra Andile Yenana, and working with him, it grew to other musicians like Salim Washington. I wanted to have a collective voice of all of these different musicians, musicians like Zoë Modiga, a great vocalist. That kind of communal energy of the music was very important to me.

AAJ: If we think about this idea, the way you explore Blackness on the album, in Louis Moholo you have the generation who redefined South African Jazz in the 1950s and 1960s, and in Andile Yenana you have the generation who redefined it in the 1990s. And then you bring in a diasporic look both with Salim Washington and also Shabaka Hutchings. Can you talk about that aspect?

MM: Yes, the Trans-Atlantic migration of the music. Shabaka is Barbadian-born, but he also has a history and roots back in Africa. Through his project Shabaka and the Ancestors, he is trying to find his voice by going back, coming here, to connect to Africa. Salim Washington has been a great force in informing the musicians here, he's also been influenced by the music of South Africa. I wanted to have that because Jazz musicians' styles can cross-pollinate, and I wanted to find that, to say that this music reaches far and wide. The music might have had its birthplace in New Orleans, but it finds resonance with me. And I can relate to the story of Louis Armstrong, incarcerated at a young age and finding a father figure in the form of King Oliver. I can definitely relate to the segregation musicians faced, of playing to diverse audiences but having to eat in the kitchen. Or having to play behind a curtain.

Reading about that, seeing that, being in touch with that aspect of American history and relating it to how I've grown up, to how the psyche of our people has been adversely affected by this history, in the music we make right now and the message we are trying to make, we can show this commonality in our experiences. This offering is a communion of brotherhood in which we play and celebrate who we are.

AAJ: One track that jumps out on this project is "Isikhumbuzo," in which you fuse Louis' drumming and Zoë's singing with a string quartet. Can you talk about the addition of the strings?

MM: I aspire to be a "serious" composer, and the strings add an element of seriousness and regality to the music. Also, the violin bridges worlds. I was classically trained and I played in orchestras when I was younger. I always loved the string section, and I wanted to explore that in my music. "Isikhumbuzo" means "a reminder," of who we are.

When Zoë sings and explains the story, she talks about the fable of the tortoise and the hare. We know the tortoise and the hare in the "slow and steady wins the race," but this is slightly different in that hare thinks it's more special than everyone else, and smarter than everyone else. But the hare lacks the humanity of actually connecting with other animals, and so the hare is outcast, pushed aside. The hare wonders why it is not part of a bigger community, and the tortoise says "because you have forgotten to connect with who you are. You have forgotten to connect with the people around you. You should look deep within yourself."

So "Isikhumbuzo" is a reminder that we need to go back and remind ourselves of what more we can accomplish if we work together.

AAJ: You previously mentioned Shabaka and the Ancestors. That ensemble definitely brought your playing to an even wider audience, but how did it emerge?

MM: Shabaka was a brother, I met him in Cape Town in 2013 and we started playing together. Shabaka came and connected with us, and we performed as the Amandla Freedom Ensemble with Shabaka. And Shabaka saw something in the group that I didn't see at the time, and the first album that we recorded was with Shabaka as well. He plays tenor on Bhekisizwe. That's where I launched the African Freedom principle, and that's when I connected Shabaka with Tumi Mogorosi, Benjamin Jephta, and Mthunzi Mvubu. Shabaka used to frequent South Africa quite a bit, and we'd organize gigs. We'd do the same with Nduduzo Makhathini, and Nduduzo and I were the links to the scene for Shabaka and what he was doing.

In 2015, we recorded Bhekisizwe together, and that's where Ariel [Zamonsky] also comes into the picture. That's where the idea took root, the idea of the players he wanted to recruit in that project. I think, in a way, it's the best compliment for me in the sense that he took something that I started and valued, and he shared it with the world. He had something that I didn't have, and through his endeavors he popularized what we were doing. The movement and sound were already there, he found a way for it to be represented.

AAJ: It was always a surprising issue to see the personnel on Wisdom of Elders, as it was indeed the Amandla Freedom Ensemble plus Nduduzo.

AAJ: Yes, and I don't mind. That for me is a compliment. Even as we were recording, I thought, "Wow!" It made it easier to make the music, too. And it made sense, as these were musicians he was playing with and identifying with.

That's what life is about, to expand and reach out, and see what you can make of it. This posed a couple of challenges, in that I couldn't play with the Amandla Freedom Ensemble as much as I would have wanted to, but I think it also gave new voice to the music, and to a wider audience.

AAJ: Returning to an earlier point you made, you referenced the limitations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To expand upon that, as we think about the current political discourse in South Africa, where do you see the arts' role in current discussions, and where do you see the goal for the next five, ten, twenty years?

MM: I feel that music and art need to be fully immersed in all aspects of South Africa. I think arts therapy, music, and culture should inform the dialogue and act as a conduit for the conversation we want to have. The arts should be our TRC, it's how we can reconcile. More arts, more drama, more music should be the conduit for the broader conversation.

That's how we should define ourselves. Our stories are always told by outsiders, never by us, and we gravitate towards stories that are not by us. We haven't yet found our voice in our stories yet, they are articulated by people who are not us. We need to find our stories that we need to share with the wider global community. We need to find reason for sharing those stories.

The reason speaks to issues that are happening right now. For a large part, we aspire to whiteness, and I'm sorry to say that. But it's true, we see whiteness as the pinnacle of us being human. And you see it in the way we dress, in our hair. Now, people can do whatever they want, but it's a reflection of that we have not fully embraced ourselves in many ways. We don't really love and appreciate ourselves. The only way we appreciate ourselves is if someone from outside says, "Yeah, this is cool." But we can never give ourselves that credit, we can never write our own stories. It's a commonality you find in the stories of the telling of the life of Nelson Mandela: it's done in an American gaze, like when Morgan Freeman was telling the story. There are great South African actors who can tell that story. We want affirmation from outside, and I think we are scared of rejection, of being shut out for expressing our true thoughts, our true aspirations. I think that's largely the problem that we have: we are scared to fully embrace our experiences, and we don't want to immerse ourselves in the now for fear of being judged.

AAJ: In an earlier interview you stated "we must control the means of our own production." You were speaking in regards to musicians, but more broadly one of the debates in South Africa today regards land ownership. To that end, with arts as dialogue, how do you see the arts forging a path in a topic like that?

MM: I'm not a politician, but the land question speaks to me, to notions of spirituality, to notions of language. This speaks to notions of identity, and to economic prosperity. How can we define our future if we don't have the means? How can we truly say we are free if the black majority cannot control land, but if seven percent of the population controls eighty-five percent of the land? There's no space, we are all on top of each other. Whatever the cause might be with the land, we have to live off the land. It's part of a wider discussion and a wider topic to be explored. But music can play a role in articulating those kinds of dilemmas. Arts can be at the foreground, used as a resource to educate. Policymakers need to foreground arts and the importance of it in our communities. For a large part that has not been done here.

The onus needs to be on us as artists to see how we can frame the discussion, and not wait for policymakers. We need to put these questions forward, even the difficult questions, and try to answer them in a forum, a conducive environment were everyone's voice can be heard and the ideas interrogated in a respectful manner.

Selected Discography:
Amandla Freedom Ensemble, Bhekisizwe, (Self Released, 2015)
Shabaka and the Ancestors, Wisdom of the Elders, (Brownswood Recordings, 2016)
Tune Recreation Committee, Voices of Our Vision, (Self Released, 2017)
Amandla Freedom Ensemble, Born to Be Black: A Celebration of the Conscious Soul, (Self Released, 2017)

Photo Credit: Alexia Webster

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