Prom 56: The South African Jazz Songbook (Metropole Orkest/ Marcus Wyatt)
(Royal Albert Hall, 28 August 2022. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
There is an abiding truth about South African jazz, and it is perhaps best expressed in the title of a song by Mongezi Feza: “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me”. The fact is that the more one learns about this music, the more there always is to explore below the surface. The jazz music of the Rainbow Nation never ceases to amaze with how deep, how rich, how varied, how incredibly diverse it is.
Marcus Wyatt’s programme, devised for the Metropole Orkest, and being performed for the first time last night with the full orchestra (full band and set lists below), gave us just a brief glimpse into this vast world.
Yes, there are the figures who have made it into the broader public consciousness. So we heard Miriam Makeba’s “Click Song” performed characterfully, delightfully by ESKA, and also a tune, “Bombella”, by Abdullah Ibrahim. Hugh Masekela’s impassioned “Stimela” was there too, giving voice to the millions of men who went back and forth, travelling for days in cramped trains from the homelands and bordering nations to their work in the cities, with the haunting sounds of the wheels and the whistles of the train, and given an impassioned performance by Siyabonga Mthembu and ESKA.
The clever aspect of the programme, however, was how we started to get to know the music of those figures whose fate always seems to be to remain below the radar, the “musicians’ musicians”. There was a gloriously lyrical piece, “The Age of Inner Knowing” from a total genius, Bheki Mseleku (1955-2008). And we also heard music by trombonist Jonas Gwangwa (1937-2021), the composer of the music of “Cry Freedom”. He was remembered in “Diphororo”, a great trombone feature for the superb Robinson Khoury. And then there are the Blue Notes, whose influence on jazz has been immeasurable. Loose Tubes would not have been the same band without the likes of Django Bates and Chris Batchelor having been magnetised by Dudu Pukwana as teenagers. A composition by him began the programme.
This concert has a very long backstory, and was the culmination of decades of persistent advocacy by Marcus Wyatt. Wyatt runs influential bands in South Africa, and is probably the leading bringer-together of South African jazz, combining a knowledge of the heritage with an active participation in the current scene. The story is that he spent a year in Amsterdam in 2001, which sowed the seeds for his building a network in the Dutch music community, notably through Durban-born saxophonist Sean Bergin who had fled South Africa and settled in Amsterdam in the 1970s. So, to arrive on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall last night with the Metropole Orkest was an immense achievement in itself, to which one has to add Wyatt’s contribution as composer and lead arranger, and on top of those, his roles on the night as conductor and compere of a highly complex programme. He deserves all the praise he can get. I did start to wish we could have heard and seen more South Africans on stage to reflect the scene out there as it is. In the end, partly to do with visa problems (apparently) there were only two of them (Wyatt and Mthembu) on the Albert Hall stage.
That said, the Metropole Orkest bringing this music onto a big stage and a big canvas brings its own delights. The unanimity of those strings who have put in their thousands of hours working in the same section together, the way they groove so effortlessly, is an experience in itself. And the guest soloists all made great contributions. Theon Cross‘s highlight was an exploration of voiced multiphonics near the end. Soweto Kinch has many roles, it was good to be reminded what an imaginative and fluent jazz saxophonist he is.
It was also fascinating to watch the physical effect of the music on the audience in a well-filled arena, as the people bobbed, swayed and danced. A special occasion.
SET LISTS – FIRST SET
1A. Tete & Barbs in my Mind (Dudu Pukwana) – arr/orch Marcus Wyatt (feat. Siyabonga Mthembu)
1B. Mra (Christopher Columbus/Dudu Pukwana) – arr Chris McGregor/Marcus Wyatt orch Marcus Wyatt
(solos : Trombone – Robinson Khoury, Piano – Hans Vroomans)
2. Angel Nemali (Dudu Pukwana) – arr Marcus Wyatt (orch ?)
(solos : Alto – Soweto Kinch, Guitar – Peter Tiehuis) intro and outro solo – Rik Mol (trumpet)
3. Bombella (Abdullah Ibrahim) – arr/orch Mike Campbell
(solos : Piano – Hans Vroomans, Tenor – Leo Janssen, Guitar – Peter Tiehuis)
4. The Click Song (Qongqothwane) (Miriam Makeba) arr/orch Marcus Wyatt
Feat. Eska – vocals, Theon Cross p tuba
5. Age of Inner Knowing (Bheki Mseleku) – arr Afrika Mkhize (Orch Vise Mkizwana or Mike Campbell)
(solos : Piano – Hans Vroomans, Tenor – Sjoerd Dijkhuizen)
6. Lakutshoni Ilanga (Mackay Davashe/Alan Salinga) – arr Louis Moholo/Marcus Wyatt orch Marcus Wyatt (feat Siyabonga Mthembu / ESKA; Theon Cross)
(solos : most of the band + harp & Theon Cross free solo!)
7. Bantu (Zim Ngqwana) – arr Marcus Wyatt / orch Mike Campbell (feat. Soweto Kinch)
(solos : Alto – Soweto Kinch, Piano – Hans Vroomans)
Feat. Theon Cross (in brass section)
8. Connected (comp/arr Marcus Wyatt (feat. ESKA)) Solos Hans Vroomans – piano
9. Stimela (Hugh Masekela) – arr/orch David Cousins (feat. Siyabonga Mthembu / ESKA)
10. Yakhal’ Inkomo (Winston Mankunku) – arr Afrika Mkhize / orch Vise Mkizwana (solos : Tenor – Soweto Kinch, Drums – Marlon Witbooi , Trombone – Robinson Khoury, Trumpet – Nico Schepers)
11. Diphororo (Jonas Gwangwa) – arr Jonas Gwangwa/Marcus Wyatt / orch Melissa Van Der Spuy (feat Siyabonga Mthembu)
(solos : Trombone – Robinson Khoury; vocals – Siya Mthembu)
12. Annake Tassou (Marcus Wyatt) – arr Marcus Wyatt / orch Mike Campbell (feat. (feat Siyabonga Mthembu; ESKA & Theon Cross) (solos : Marlon Witbooi – Drums & Theon Cross tuba)
Encore : Dear Africa (Mongezi Feza/Johnny Dyani) – arr/orch Marcus Wyatt (intro double bass and tuba) (feat. all soloists)
(solos : Eska, Siyabonga, Soweto Kinch)
METROPOLE ORKEST AND GUESTS
First Violins: Jasper van Rosmalen (concert master), Federico Nathan, Sarah Koch, David Peijnenborgh, Gideon Nelissen, Jenneke Tesselaar, Marta Lemanska, Casper Donker, Saskia Frijns, Christina Knoll
Second Violins: Merel Jonker, Willem Kok, Ewa Zbyszynska, Ruben Margarita, Robert Baba, Xaquín Carro Cribeiro, Annerieke Nentjes
Violas: Norman Jansen, Mieke Honingh, Julia Jowett, Iris Schut, Isabella Petersen, Alex Welch
Cellos: Joel Siepmann, Emile Visser, Annie Tångberg, Jascha Albracht
Double Basses: Erik Winkelmann, Arend Liefkes, Rebecca Franssen
Harp: Joke Schonewille
Flutes: Mariël van den Bos, Janine Abbas
Oboe: Maxime Le Minter
Saxophones/Clarinets: Marc Scholten, Jasper van Damme, Leo Janssen, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, Max Boeree
French horn: René Pagen
Trumpets: Ray Bruinsma (lead) , Martijn de Laat, Nico Schepers, Rik Mol
Trombones: Jel Jongen, Robinson Khoury, Jan Bastiani, Martin van den Berg (bass)
Percussion: Murk Jiskoot, Frank Wardenier
Drums: Toni Vitacolonna
Guitar: Peter Tiehuis
Bass: Eric van der Westen
Conductor: Marcus Wyatt*
Guests: Siyabonga Mthembu* (vocals), ESKA (vocals), Soweto Kinch* (saxophones) , Theon Cross* (tuba)
(*) Proms debut artist
Categories: Live review