Sometimes Music is your DNA, which is how it forges a significant component of identity for artists. Yet, in our culture – music was ingrained as a norm, for celebratory, entertainment and knowledge sharing purposes. South African jazz musician and TEDxGaborone 2017 speaker Nduduzo Makhathini remains one of the unique gems in our continent that have transcended his talent into purposefully influencing music for the better – being the producing talent behind award winning albums such as Lindiwe Maxolo’s Time and Mbuso Khoza’s Zilindile. We have a quick chat with him on the transcending power that music bears.
How much did music shape you growing up in your family’s cultural identity?
Music has always been a part of my life, in actual fact a very significant component. I remember my upbringing through songs, the greatest lessons I have ever learned were through songs. There is a lot that can be learned through songs especially in an African perspective where most of our history has been passed on either through songs or story-telling for centuries. I am particularly interested on how music in African cultures promotes the idea of a communal approach to life.
While music has been part of your environment growing up, what exactly ignited the passion of pursuing music as a career?
Quite honestly this was a very organic process, it became very evident when I was young that I would become a musician. The connection grew even stronger when I discovered that my becoming a musician was to later connect me to the gift of healing that was passed on to me by my ancestors.
What are the few values you have learnt through your career as a well-rounded musician?
Being an improviser teaches you self-love, tolerance and Ubuntu I find these to be some of the key values I found in my travels and working with other musicians.
Music is taken as a form of communication. Do you believe that music can communicate healing properties? If so, do you have a personal experience of such through your work? (please share if you do)
Music is the language of the soul, it communicates beyond form. I have witnessed this both as a listener and as a performer. Healing is at the core of personal journey as an artist. At a very young age I got a dream of ‘ubungoma’ which has to do with being a healer, so I believe that the music that I make channels this kind of energy and as I grow I find to be very important that I become more explicit and deliberate about this in the way I present, package and channel my music.
A couple of years ago, I did an experiment with water, I asked members of the audience to each bring water bottles to my performances with a belief that water has the power to code the healing power that comes through the music and this water could than be used for various purposes of healing. The feedback from this exercise was quite a positive one except that other people had their preconceived ideas about what this exercise was and it became controversial and I had to stop. There is a need to educate our people about our ways of doing things and our belief systems as Africans hence my follow up project ‘Ikhambi’
Using music as a voice of activism was a quintessential culture upon independent Africa, particularly between the 1960’s into the 1980’s. It further evolved into expressions of Pan African self -love and affirmations. Do you believe this message still relays as relevant in today’s globalizing society?
Yes I think so even though times have changed but certainly some of the things still have not changed, a friend once said, back then we threw stones at them but now we throw sounds and words. The spirit black consciousness movements in 60’s to 80’s is still very much alive but often packaged differently today. My current project ‘Ikhambi’ which means the cure touches on these issues, it believes that any healing process begins with self-love and it seeks to promote that through celebrating and embracing our narratives through songs. We also believe that this project will elevate the level of consciousness.
Where do you see Africa’s melting pot of musicality moving in the next few years?
It’s definitely in South Africa especially when it comes to jazz, South Africa has a very strong culture and history in the art form. I must also say that the West African’s are doing an enormous job in preserving our cultures and heritage in music and exporting that to the world especially to Europe.
Images courtesy of Hugh Mdalose