Inaudible I

By Salim Washington and Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi

Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi: Ja, well, the Bellow of the Bull [inaudible]. ‘Yakhal’ Inkomo’ is like about the black people in South Africa. [Inaudible]. We had enough, so we were complaining, you know.  You see us laughing, but inside it’s not okay. And I couldn’t say that, you know, because they would…get me. So we say ‘Yakhal’ Inkomo,’ and they didn’t understand it, and they play it over the radio. But some of the people knew what I was…

Salim Washington: Knew what you meant, yeah.  What about the words that Sibongile Khumalo sings?  [That lyric] doesn’t have the same meaning at all?

WMN: No, she didn’t ask. She went to record. She then asked me afterwards. I said, no, the words are wrong [inaudible]. Because she’s talking about sheep and things. I try to tell her, but she didn’t write the lyrics. Someone else did it.  And that was wrong, I told her.  Now, I was talking about us.

SW: Wow.  Is there someone who could write better lyrics?  I wonder?

WMN: I’m sure there is. I need to sit down with someone before [inaudible]. Yeah, yeah, I think we can do that.

SW: I wonder, do you have any thoughts about how jazz has changed since ’94? How jazz is seen here in South Africa?  Are there any differences?

WMN: I think it has much. I think there’s a lot happening because you know, at first, we couldn’t go and learn music. Now, they’ve got schools and kids now are okay. We, like, just took the horn and blew, and they’re listening to a lot of music.  I’m not going out much so I don’t really know what’s happening out there. I’m sure it seems okay. So, they’ll hang in there.  I’ve been sick for a long time. I don’t know what’s really happening.  But I’m feeling a bit stronger now maybe go out to…

SW: You can travel some, ja.

WMN: …go out to listen more.

[At this point the discussion is interrupted and we begin to banter around jokes between those at the table and around us.]

SW: How did you learn to play?

WMN: Ooooh! I just, you know, I’m from guitar, when I was a kid. You see our family were… nice people.  They were not into [inaudible].  My father was a preacher too, and we always had people in the house singing and I loved it. So, one day a guy came past my house with an old guitar. And I asked my mother to buy it for me. I started there and then I went to piano.  Just on my own I learned it. My uncle used to check… But you play it like mbaqanga.  That’s how I learned.  I’ve always loved trumpet.  Like, I loved jazz before I really knew what jazz was.  I was serious, going mad for it.  We didn’t have records at home, but my friend had some. And I took up trumpet, and then I went to…I was a Boy Scout, you know, and I played bugle and trumpet. And then I heard the tenor and said ‘mmnh!’ (Laughter.) First the alto, first the alto and then I heard tenor.  I was like ‘whoa, it has a big sound!’ So, I started [inaudible] and I was playing in a band.

SW: A mbaqanga band?

WMN: Ja. So, after school all these guys were working after school. So, I go to the rehearsal room and they give the instruments away. And I’d open up the sax, you know.  Because they were not around, and so I broke their reeds and I broke their instruments. And they didn’t know who was doing it because I had been playing the trumpet. Then one day, one guy was sick, it was alto saxophone, I said, ‘Give it to me.  I’ll try.’  And they gave it to me.  This is the man who was like breaking up horns! (Laughter.) I started on alto; then I went to tenor.  I really like tenor.  I really love tenor.

SW: When did you hear Trane and Wayne Shorter and all those guys?

WMN: Oh, it was like back in the ’60s.  Trane used to really oh my God… [inaudible]. They all killed me, because Trane always used to make me cry. You could tell how fast but I pick up, I could pick up some [inaudible] and then that would really mess me up, you know. Really mess me up. You know, because it is tough when you are playing fast and saying something new. Like it sounds like, (laughs) I don’t know how to explain it. And Wayne Shorter. Wayne Shorter. I really loved those guys.

SW: Ja, you can hear it in your playing.

WMN: Serious, eh?

SW: Oh, yeah, yeah. I can hear it, and I’m amazed because so many people try to get that sound.

WMN: Really?

SW: But nobody could do it in 1968.[1]  Nobody, and I hear this record of you doing it.

WMN: Seriously?

SW: In 1968 you were doing it, as clear as day, clear as day! I’m like, ‘Wow, how did this happen?’ So, it must be some kind of connection you have.

WMN: You know, it’s the funniest thing. You know, I dream like…I was always with Trane in my dreams. And sometimes it comes like [inaudible], you know. Old people they come in a different form. And they say [inaudible]. I don’t know what they are talking about. But the old people they always come back to me. I kept this to myself… then one day I told people because I was scared. I was practising at home and I felt him.  This is true. I am being honest with you. I was alone in the house practising and I heard a person. I felt…I felt some presence. You know a [inaudible]. And that scared me. I left the horn. I told people, but they didn’t come back to me then. [Inaudible]. They relaxed after a long time. They didn’t come back to me. I really love him. I really love him.

SW: Me too, me too.  He changed my life.

WMN: Wow! (begins clapping) it’s like (sings music à la Coltrane)… it’s like African music. (Sings the type of call and response patterns that Coltrane utilized in his mature phase. Coltrane would play a phrase in one register and then answer it in another register, going back and forth as though two people were creating the lines.) This is African! Where did he hear this, man?  You know. It’s like Xhosa music, man. Which I knew I couldn’t, I didn’t know what to do.  I just, you know, I use the voice, you know, like the tone.  I’m just going to use it because [inaudible] I can get the feeling. That other thing, it’s too tough for me! (Laughter.) Just try and get the voice, you know, and try [inaudible]. And play mbaqanga, you see? And with Trane [inaudible]

SW: Yes, yes, yes. The records, did you…did you have a record company?

WMN: You mean more recently? Ja, we had like sometimes back with Mike Perry.

SW: Yes, I’d like to try to get some of those records. I have one that you did on Sheer Sound.

WMN: Oh ja, that was the last one.

SW: And the last one.  Then I have the two that you did in ’68.  But, now what’s the name of your company?

WMN: Nkomo Records. They are hard to find? (Asks question of one of our party.) Because we gave it up. We couldn’t work without it. It’s tough.

SW: So, what do you…I don’t know if you want to say this on tape or not, but what do you think of the Sheer Sound recordings?  It seems more commercial, not as hard as your others.

WMN: [Inaudible] I don’t know because like, like they wouldn’t let you do anything you wanted to do.  But they were nice because…I’ve got some money out of it.

SW: Okay, that’s good, ja.

WMN: That’s good, because things were tough always. In fact now it’s tougher to get…some money.

SW: Yeah, yeah.  Do you have any interest in teaching?

WMN: I can’t teach.

SW: No?  You don’t want to teach?

WMN: I can’t. I don’t know…I teach by playing, you know?  I just [inaudible] long time. You know Bheki [Mseleku]? [Inaudible] is from [inaudible]. He would come around when he was young.

SW: Okay, Bheki. I thought he was from Durban?

WMN: Ja, that’s right.

SW: But he would come to Cape Town?

WMN: To Joburg.

SW: Ja, to Joburg. You were in Joburg. Okay.  I love his compositions. Oh, what a composer he is. Just amazing. Amazing.

WMN: He’s crazy.

SW: Crazy, that’s what I hear.  Ja.

WMN: Even saxophone.

SW: He can play sax too, ja, and sing.

WMN: And sing. Exactly.

SW: Guitar. Ja. Pharoah Sanders used to tell me about him. Yeah, yeah.

WMN: I love Pharoah Sanders.

SW: He’s beautiful. Pharoah’s beautiful.

WMN: I never got to meet him.

SW: You never got to meet Pharoah? I’m sure you two would love each other.

WMN: Serious?

SW: Yes. Pharoah’s a very beautiful man.

WMN: That’s what I’ve heard.

SW: Yes, his spirit is like yours, and he has Trane in his heart. He has it in his heart. He has the sound more than anybody.  When he wants to, he can sound just like Trane. Just like Trane. Just like him, man. Beautiful. With his own thing.

WMN: Oooh! (sings a phrase) just like Trane. It is beautiful to be here with you. I can feel you searching. [inaudible] It’s tough, [inaudible]. When you are searching, where!!?

SW: Wow man.  Are there any new projects that you want to do? Anything that you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

WMN: I don’t know because I’m very sick and [inaudible].  I’d love to go in there and take it easy and talk to people, who [inaudible] last year when things were tough. [Inaudible].  Because it was, wow, it was terrible in the old days. I just want to speak to the old man. To say thanks [inaudible]. If I could make another record.  You know, just a last one…I’d love it.

SW: Yes, yes.  Who would you like to record with?

WMN: I don’t know. I don’t know at the moment. I need to sit down with different people. Oooh!  I don’t know. Are you into avant-garde, are you?

SW: Yes, yes.  I like it.  Do you like it?

WMN: I like it, but it’s not like way back when we used to go into special [inaudible].  But then you won’t get any gigs. And you have to pay rent.  Then let’s say… ‘Take it easy because I don’t know what [inaudible].’ These things I really love. I really love. Ja.

SW: There must be a way to get you in a studio. There must be a way. Let me stop this here…

Memphis [Salim’s 10-year-old daughter]:  This is crazy. There are some drunk people, and they had a bass and a beer and now it’s all gone and they’re falling down sitting in chairs and people picking them up and all that, but they still be falling.  They drunk and I’m getting a little bit scared, and our ride, they left because they have to go to church because it’s Good Friday, and now it’s all going down man.

SW: We’re at Mzoli’s in the famous Langa township of Cape Town.

Memphis: Yes, yes, yes, with the famous…

SW: Mankunku Ngozi.

Memphis: Yes, with the famous Mankunku Ngozi.  And they are still drunk and they don’t care. All right. Bye.

[1] Yakhal’ Inkomo was released in 1968, the year after Coltrane died.

This story is in print as part of Chimurenga Vol. 15: The Curriculum is Everything (available here).

Presented in the form of a textbook, Chimurenga 15 asks what could the curriculum be – if it was designed by the people who dropped out of school so that they could breathe?

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