In lockdown with… saxophonist Moreira Chonguiça

Mozambican jazz saxophonist, composer, producer, academic and philanthropist, Moreira Chonguiça is celebrated for blazing a trail from his East African roots to the world, notably through having founded the Morejazz Festival in 2010. We find out what he’s been doing and listening to during lockdown and what he’s most looking forward to on the other side of this. 
Moreira Chonguiça

Moreira Chonguiça. Photo credit Anthony Friend

  First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”? When I was very young and had just started at music school, my uncle Eben gave me a Grover Washington CD. He was a huge fan (he also actually wrote the song “Mnganami” which appears on my first album Vol 1 – The Journey). At the same time, he also gave me a video of the last concert of Miles Davis in Paris in 1991 with Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone. That’s when I asked the music school if I could change from clarinet to saxophone. What I saw Kenny Garrett doing on that alto saxophone, that bigger bolder sound, that changed my life and I decided that was what I wanted to play. What are you listening to right now?  At the moment I’m listening to GRAMMY award-winning Brazilian guitar player Alegre Corrêa. I first heard him as part of the The Zawinul Syndicate’s 75th birthday concert and about a month ago a friend of mine in New York, who works with Herbie Hancock, introduced me to Alegre on Zoom when we were working together on a US teaching programme. A very interesting guitar player. Over lockdown, I have discovered some new music but mostly I have been listening to music from my own collection – artists from the African continent – with May having been Africa month. I have been recommending playlists to my followers with artists like Rokia Traoré, Toumani Diabaté and Oumou Sangaré from Mali, Bonga from Angola, Etienne Mbappe from Cameroon, and Euphyro from Mozambique. Have you done or watched any livestream gigs or events since lockdown?  I was involved in a wonderful collaboration with some Swiss and Indian musicians for International Jazz Day on 30 April. It was a very interesting experiment and I look forward to developing the relationship with those musicians. Also for International Jazz Day celebrations I did an amazing live concert with my youth development orchestra – Morejazz Big Band – for our private national TV station STV. We did it with strict protocols in place and it was very well received. It was livestreamed through their app, STV play, as well so it was our first experience of performing with this kind of technology without an audience. For the Africa Day celebrations on 25 May, I was involved in representing Mozambique in the live stream Worldwide Afro Network concert alongside many African artists like Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangaré and many others, some well known, some undiscovered African talent. The show is still on their website and is definitely worth viewing. One of the best livestream shows I’ve watched has got to be the Andrea Bocelli concert from the Milan cathedral. The production, scenario and context was so relevant and on point – it’s no wonder it received the viewing figures it did. Do you think that livestreams have been successful? It’s more been a question of necessity. At this moment, artists have no choice but to use streaming to expose their music to their fans and open new markets. There are lots of advantages – it’s an opportunity for artists to be seen, heard, discovered by audiences all over the globeand also disadvantages… I am a musician and a producer and, for me, music must be well presented in terms of sound and listening through a phone or laptop just doesn’t give the same effect as listening in a live venue. The other thing is the energy that an audience gives a performer. A musician like me feeds off the diversity of an audience. The lockdown has made that invisible. Most memorable moment in your career or education?  It was the day that I released my first album. The day I touched the physical CD. That day was the realisation that I now had a solo career, that I had to take my playing to a different level, that I had responsibilities as a band leader and a human being, that I had to make this work. It put me under pressure to create, re-invent, and research more music. Instrument you wish you played?  I am a frustrated piano player. I would like to play the piano properly. I love the instrument. It’s elegant. It’s the most complete instrument. Has this time in isolation inspired any new creative ideas?  It has given me time to think, to re-invent, to see the gaps in the market, to understand the psychological side of this time, to see what trends are emerging. I am not sure if the world is ready for new music. The world is very nostalgic, very sad, very melancholic at the moment. I think what is going to do well are old standards, old classical music, old pop primarily because of the lack of happiness, the lack of hope, and the politicians are not helping at the moment either. The racism issues, Covid-19 pain… People want to remember good things. People want to feel safe. What are you most looking forward to once this is over?  I am interested to see what the ‘new normal’ is going to look like. To see how it affects the venues and the musicians who are humans first before being musicians. I want to see how we are going to sit in a jazz club, how the festivals are going to operate… I think this is going to affect the presentation and spirit of new material. The new normal will have a huge influence on us all in the creative space whether it is in theatre, art, movies or music. We are still in the process of a revolution which will stabilise eventually and we will go back to life but it will never be the same and we must learn from this. A chance to plug a friend’s music right now… Despite having played with some greats, Alegre Corrêa is relatively unknown and I would highly recommend looking at his music. I would also suggest pianist Nduduzo Makhathini’s new album, Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds. All of us from this Southern African region are very proud of his signing to Blue Note. They are both friends. LINKS: Visit Moreira Chonguiça’s website Visit Alegre Corrêa’s website Find out more about Nduduzo Makhathini on the Blue Note website

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