I’m a big fan of DJ Okapi’s Afrosynth label. Usually it focuses on reissuing South African music from the ’80s. A year ago Afrosynth took a very interesting turn by releasing a compilation showcasing the contemporary South African Jazz scene.
The double LP New Horizons has been on heavy rotation in my house ever since and getting extra playtime during the lockdown. Life had a different pace in the past year and this broadened my music taste as well, listening to and playing more Jazz and less dance music.
When I heard about volume 2 of New Horizons on Antal’s monthly WWFM show, I messaged Dave (DJ Okapi) to get the scoop!
In this article, we talk to 2 of the artists behind some of our favorite songs on the compilation and to Dave himself about how the compilation came to be.
'Afrikanization' by The SN Project stood out for me from the first listen. I feel transported to a small jazz dive bar with lots of smoke and it sounds like a live improvisation that gets a crowd moving in their chairs (maybe on to said chairs?? #justcovidthings). Plenty of resets in the track but the groove keeps going while different instruments take the lead.
After some technical problems, I finally establish a smooth Facetime connection to Siphephelo Ndlovu (from The SN Project). I tell him about my love for Afrosynth's music and how I got to know a bit of South Africa's culture and music through the label.
Siphephelo: It's a great way to get to know South Africa! You can learn a lot about our - sometimes forgotten - heritage through music. The music I write and play is deeply rooted in my own Zulu heritage. Both my parents are Zulu and at home, we used to speak the language. The world we live in is very much westernized. Music is one of the ways we preserve our culture. The vocals are in Zulu and the harmonies are typical as well.
Timo: Can you tell me a bit about the South African Jazz scene?
S: There's a lot of amazing talent in the scene. It's forever growing, changing, developing but the past 2 years have been hard. Live performances are key as it's the main way to make a living. Now you see the scene getting a revival at the end of the pandemic. People are trying to climb back.
T: 'Afrikanization' is not only the song featured on the compilation but also the title of your 2020 album. Can you tell me a bit about the album?
S: It's a celebration of who I am. Inspired by lots of different aspects, trying to encapsulate my cultural heritage. I brought together a collection of great musicians from all over the country. You could say it's the whole of South Africa in one band.
T: How about the compilation? What does it mean for you to be featured on New Horizons 2?
S: I cannot be more grateful, it's a great feeling because there are people who I looked up to during my studies on this compilation. To be featured alongside them is an honor. The compilation is a great way to discover the South African Jazz scene - not only for the listeners but also for the artists!
Zimkhitha by Ayanda Sikade is another stand-out track. It grabbed me from the get-go with a melancholic saxophone - I feel like this track is perfect for sad lockdown days swerving between melancholic and hopeful just like our emotions over the past 2 years. The sax takes the lead and is beautifully supported by the rhythm section all throughout. We're proud to be able to premiere the full track here on Steppin' Into Tomorrow:
After establishing a solid WhatsApp-video connection I ask Ayanda about his story and how long he's been into making music.
Ayanda: I was born in a township in the east of South Africa. Not far from my house there was this place where a jazz band used to rehearse. I would go there and I fell in love with the drums at an early age. I started playing myself when I was 9 or 10 years old (in the late 80s). My grandmother used to sing a lot as well, you can say I grew up in a rich musical environment!
Later on, I went to study music (drums, arranging & composition) at the university in Durban. They had a good jazz school there. I don't know anything else but music. It's my life! I lived in Johannesburg for a long time before moving to Pretoria 3 years ago. When the pandemic hit it was very hard for us.
How is non-pandemic life as a Jazz musician in South Africa or Pretoria? And how does that differ from the past 2 years?
Normally, in Johannesburg, there's music any day of the week. Now we are back to playing every weekend but during the pandemic, this was very different of course! I also have a band in Switzerland that I am trying to organize a tour for in 2022. Usually, I travel to Europe every year but I haven't been able to do so in the past 2 years.
How is it for you to be on this compilation?
A: It's special for me because I‘ve never been on a compilation before! The compiler needs to have a certain vision about this record and I feel honored to be part of this vision. It's also nice to bring all the South-African musicians together to share their music. I hope that with this compilation South Africa can influence the way people hear and see jazz! There are actually some really great musicians coming out of SA right now like Nduduzo Makhathini, who's an inspiration for me:
Are there any other musicians that inspired you?
A: It depends, there are different ones for different stages in my life. Right now, it's people like my grandmother but for example, during apartheid it was different! Of course there's the greats like Coltrane and Yusef Lateef. Another inspiration is Zim Ngqawana / Zimology:
My new album is dedicated to my grandmother. She used to sing in our house about the village she comes from, rivers in the neighborhood.
Listen to another premiere, this time Ayanda's new track 'Mdantsane' - named after the township he grew up in - here:
Ayanda's album Umakhulu will be out via Afrosynth Records in late 2021/early 2022.
Ayanda's album cover - a house from his grandmother's village
Lastly, Dave (DJ Okapi) tells us a little bit about the process behind the compilation:
Dave: New Horizons Vol.1 did better than expected so Antal suggested to make a Vol.2. Compared to the first one it was much quicker and easier to put together, I actually did most of it on Spotify. After that it was a matter of reaching out to the artists and signing contracts, which happened mostly over Dec/Jan, then the notes/artwork/mastering etc. Obviously, the context for musicians in SA has changed so much due to Covid so I think the project has some added value now compared to when we did vol.1.
The whole album takes you on a journey forward and - maybe I’m projecting here after 1.5 years of limited social life - on to better times. Hope flows all through the compilation and the title ‘New Horizons’ couldn’t be more fitting. Almost an hour and a half of hopeful but mostly beautiful music!
Steppin' Into Tomorrow stands with artists & labels and encourages listeners to support by buying their music directly from bandcamp.