The evolution of Jazz music through the ears of Jimmy Dludlu

Zama Memela

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Jimmy Dludlu was one of the first artists to begin to change the youth’s perception on jazz music. I got to catch up with uTatu’Dludlu and talk about the evolution of jazz music in internationally before he graces us with his soothing and sometimes hip-bumping jams at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, yet again. […]

Jimmy Dludlu was one of the first artists to begin to change the youth’s perception on jazz music. I got to catch up with uTatu’Dludlu and talk about the evolution of jazz music in internationally before he graces us with his soothing and sometimes hip-bumping jams at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, yet again.

At the tender age of 13 years old, you taught yourself how to play the guitar; what made you decide that this was the path for you and that you would found your career in the music industry?
I think I was 18 when I decided that I think this is going to be my career.

A whole 5 years after you had already gone through the discipline of teaching yourself? Why so long?
I had to sing and dance so I was getting confused whether I should dance and my dad wanted me to be a lawyer or work for intelligence or whatever. He had all these ideas but for me it was like; this is what I want to do.

I am sure that being a father yourself, you now understand why your father wanted all those things for you instead of choosing a career that was uncertain…
I never said anything about kids! [Laughs] but anyway, now that Iv grown up, Im aware of the pressures of this business but I would never advise anyone by saying it is a bad business. Anybusiness comes with its own challenges and that’s what life is all about about, What I would say to anyone that wants to persue this kind of business is; make sure you 200% in it. It’s a very challenging business.

So Tata, rumour has it: You will be recording a live DVD at this year’s Cape Town Jazz festival. This has never been done before at the Festival.
It is a dream come true Zama. We as a band have been together from back in school at UCT which is about 20 years. It’s a milestone for guys that got together as students and friends in the early ‘90’s. I mean we are still together and we have been with the festival from the beginning, travelling around the world with these guys so we thought it would be nice to tell our story. And that’s exactly what we are doing; I am telling a story about my humble beginnings in Cape Town as a music student from UCT, as a young artist in a place where people said there is no industry until where we are with 7 albums. It is an achievement. But then we decide for this one , we will tell a story of The Table Mountain Blues.

What are The Table Mountain Blues?
Whichever way you look at it, it is a story that involves our mountain. From any side of the mountain, whether you look at it from Camps Bay, Hout Bay or Noordhoek – we have been playing around it at gigs and workshops or teaching and we need to tell that story. The best way to tell it is through The Table Mountain Blues, whichever way you look at it; Table Mountain is Cape Town. And Cape Town has been nominated as one of the best cities in the world and when people talk about Cape Town, Table Mountain is what comes to mind first. So that title is also being used as a marketing strategy.

Many South Africans may feel that South Africa is the hub of jazz music; do you feel that the genre is most sustainable here at home or overseas? Which market is greater for you?
It differs because times have changed. But we have a lot of Cape Town musician in Eastern Asia and the United States of America and we also have those that are doing collaborations with Scandonavians. Around the world, those are the most powerful territories that I know South African artists doing lots of work and the music is being embraced by those people in a big way. It’s a new voice and style of jazz where stories are being told in a different way by encorperating the new style of music in our own surroundings so that we can have a bigger vocabulary and connection with the rest of the world. It is progressive and I think we [artists] have done a good job of being ambassadors of South African jazz music.

How would you define the evolution of jazz music in ’94 in comparison to post’94 which would be all the forms of jazz that have emerged up to date?
Now, there is more youth playing jazz and if you look at students in the Western Cape, specifically Cape Town, there are a lot of students that are studying jazz and playing music from Abdullah and the Ncukana Brothers. They are playing the original songs and in schools, teachers are teaching about the history of Township jazz and South African jazz. The way jazz used to be in terms of different genres is contemporary, mainstream and afro jazz. The future of South African jazz looks very bright because we have the younger generation being taught who they are in the musical culture. Its not like people starting to play with musical icons and role models from abroad but they do not know who they are. It is well balanced and they know their culture and the African culture. Before it was a little bit hectic because you were exposed to one style which was coming from abroad so the future of this art form is unstoppable. In the next four years we will have more young people playing all over the place. I went to St Joseph’s School in Rondebosch, Cape Town; there was a festival by students from different schools – I was mind lost!! They could play anything, any style by any artist. I was very proud!

Those are the very people that are influenced by you and your peers that are making like music. How relevant is the Cape Town Jazz festival in influencing the jazz scene especially now that there are different genres being introduced into the Jazz Festival like HipHop from Khuli Chana and AKA. How do you feel about sharing a stage with young individuals performing a different art but still appreciate your genre?
The way to introduce people to a language like this is you need to introduce them with something that they are familiar with. It’s like; you can make nice chicken but if people don’t like mayonnaise you need to then introduce it slowly on the plate until they taste it and slowly add chillies. It’s the same dish but your just adding a different flavour that will get the people interested. The thing is, those people will go to that show but no one will buy tickets to go to one show but because they know that it is a jazz festival they will be exposed to something new the same way that jazz lovers will go to other shows too – they will share. But those who want to go to the Jazz Festival, they will go to the mainstream, African jazz and all these stages and find that ‘hey, I like this music’ and they will buy tickets to go to the other stages. Its all the same dish with different flavours – you can say ‘I like it mild, hot, medium- well?’ but its all the same. At the end of the day, variety is the spice of life. Its all bout the fun, bringing people together where we all share the same joy.

Tata, after so many years, do you ever listen to your music and think, “Damn, Im good!!”
That’s what I have been doing for the past 6 months. Sitting with 7 albums trying to select the best songs so that we can put together a 1hr15min show. And this involves team work otherwise I would be stuck in a comfort zone, so I managed to gather my core producers, Bokani Dyers and Camilo Lambart and we sat down to select the best songs that we shared with the executive producer Chris Siren and it is looking good. When I went back to listen to this music, I couldn’t believe that it was me telling these stories and I just thank God for the gift to tell a story through a guitar and song. But some songs will make you cry, jump, think and some will make you criticise yourself but it’s a moment in your life where you just have to cherish it and not say it is good or bad. Just say it is all good because you cant put a gun to your head now.

With all your achievements, what is the one thing that you still wish to achieve within the next 3-5 years?
Man. One of the things I’ve been dreaming about is to collaborate with most of the artist which will be coming to the Festival on my live DVD. And slowly it is coming together, it is a matter of a couple of days, hours and minutes. It’s a countdown. Shortly after that, a very good tour around the world. And my other major dream is to have a very good that will teach how to find our voices as African artists. The youth spend a lot of time copying [other artists] but if they were to spend a little more time exploring within themselves and realize that it is good to find uniqueness within yourself.

What is your favourite childhood memory?
I used to work in the church a lot and I think that is how I found gratitude for what I have been gifted with. It humbled me and taught me to share and believe just by lighting that candle, fetching the bibles to be placed on chairs or being a part of the choir. I used to complain but it kept me out of trouble and helped me develop that special connection and discipline