Sandile Dikeni reviews We Used To Dance, an album from Andile Yenana.
Listen. Digger Jazz, is my brother. Literally and figuratively.
I really met him one crispy Sunday morning in the Karoo. I was about ten.
It was a beautiful winter morning. I know it was morning because, although the sun was shining, one could observe vapour from the mouths of the hungover township dweller who visited our joint in New Bright location, (not of the Port Elizabeth kind) Vicky West.
My old lady use to sell some hooch to chase the winter karoo blues away, that is why many of the neap and half jack hunters found their way to 144 New Bright Location.
On the day that I met Digger Jazz for real, the sweet wine drinkers and the brandy fraternity was very present at my joint. The coal fire was hot and the Sunday lunch was beginning to cook on the stove. As I say, it was early morning on a Sunday and Digger Jazz was cooking something awesome on the semi automatic Pilot record player cum wireless machine that stood in the sitting room on four legs. I asked him what he was cooking on the gumba-gumba. He explained to me that the Long Player (LP) on the turntable of the Hi-Fi was a dangerous brew by the Jazz Ministers and the singer on the track was Bra Victor Ndlazolwana. I said “heyta daar!” And later when he was organising me a chis kop with a Minora blade, he explained to me the piano of Tete Mbambisa. I said heyta daar! again.
Sundays were never the same for me since that day. Sundays became occasions and rituals: it was the shining of shoes or the washing of the Hunter Book if it was not the Tiger Onitsuka tekkie under the scrubbing brush later to be dabbed with a touch of maize meal to bring out the white colour; it was the voices of the sweet wine drinkers curing a hangover, the aroma of a leg of lamb in a cast iron pot, the smell of coal smoke. It was the sounds of either The Crusaders (Way Back Home), Jimmy Smith (I got my Mojo Working), Big John Patton, (The Way I feel), Eddie Harris (I am tired of driving, and, I need some money), Houston Person (Houston Express), Lou Donaldson (Say It Loud) – the Blue Note list is longer than a million LPs – or just the simple Africa Piano of Dollar Brand then, now Abdullah Ibrahim, Tete Mbambisa, the Voice of Ndlazolwana. It was Mankunku, Masekela, Makeba, Letta Mbuli (the South African repertoire is just as long, longer than history and memory), eysh man it was very nice. That is how I really met Digger Jazz, who as I said before is my brother.
That is also how I met the south of African jazz, which tells you something therefore about how come I know Andile Yenana. Andile Yenana is that guy who recently launched a debut CD tagged, We Used to Dance.
Before he launched the CD, Andile used to do very little but listen. That is why he can play. Unconfirmed rumour has it that when Andile was born in some noisy baby factory in the Eastern Cape the medical profession there was baffled by this baby that was mum while all the other Xhosa little brats were polluting noise. They say that when Andile was born he was silent. It is only much later, when they were playing at home something similar to that played by Digger Jazz on our Hi-Fi, that they discovered that he was not merely silent, he was listening.
Deceptive bastard. I still think that the boisterous nature of this pianist is one of the most deceptive acts in music.
I will bet my last Dudu Pukwana Long Player and the only Ndlazolwana Seven Single in my possession, that he was listening to his own soul. While everybody was dancing he was listening. We Used To Dance is a deep reflection on (his) listening ability.
He kicks the album with a cut that makes you listen. It is something called Wicked Whispers. This song is all the things that Digger Jazz made me hear on that crisp smoky Sunday in the seventies. Very smoky, and the piano tends to tickle the border between its own definition and that of the organ. Add voice and then listen.
If one listens with the gut, you will discover that it is the belly of the album that forms its gut. There is a progression in the middle of the album that kicks off with tune number four, aptly called The Source, a Feya Faku composition, and then suddenly it is the magical spirituality of Mhlekazi’s Dance at number five, a travel through a gem that transfixes called Oasis, and here one must bend down very low and drink very deep and pause for a while. Oasis is a beautiful song that establishes a new oeuvre in our piano and pain soundscape; frankly a new pianist is born. On this piece Yenana is both speaking and listening at the same time. Just as one finds the guts of Abdullah say in something like The Wedding in the album Water From Ancient Well, we encounter the depth of the rivers of Andile in Oasis. Take a deep breath with your ear and listen onwards.
The next piece is as deceptive as Andile. It is called The Finale maybe because in a sense of chronology on this piece of work it is the last of Yenana’s compositions. Or should we say, the last of his own, pained and penned expressions in the album’s chronology, The Finale, another masterpiece from the Eastern Cape’s pianist is not the idiomatic finale – definitely not in the sense of the gut of the album (tracks four to eight) or in the whole of the album. It is just a sheer piece of brilliance in composition and delivery! The finale in the gut section is Wish You Sunshine, by Johnny Dyani. Herbie Tsoaeli reawakens Dyani from some restless grave somewhere with some magnificence on bass that made me think that should Digger Jazz hear this stuff he will say something like “Heyta daar“. But before one can finish saying Heyta daar there is, on this same album, Andile’s interpretation of Dudu Pukwana’s Blues for Nick, which I must admit I have never heard before now. The guys: Andile, Feya Faku on trumpet, Sydney Mnisi on sax, Herbie Tsoaeli in bass and Morabo Morajele swings he whole thing towards a prayer later in something called We Pray, composed by the bass player.
And, well what can we say, the piece (We Pray) is one of those things that Digger Jazz used to put on the Hi-Fi on Sunday, when he shaves my head, when the sweet wine drinkers come to our house, when we polish our shoes and wash the Tiger Onitsuka footwear and brush it with white maize meal, when the leg of lamb roasts in a cast iron pot, when the Sabbath smells of coal fire smoke, when the church bells ring and ring and one of the drinkers speak Black Power in hush tones…
Many times when I play this album I think of Digger Jazz. Digger Jazz is, as I said before, my brother, literally and figuratively. I met him in the middle of the seventies…
Sandile Dikeni is the author of three poetry collections, Guava Juice, Telegraph To The Sky and planting water. He has also published a collection of his columns, writings and essays called Soul Fire.
This article first appeared in print in Chimurenga 2: Dis-Covering Home (July ’02).
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