Sounds of Sekoto

A year after the lost music of Gerard Sekoto, perhaps South Africa’s foremost pioneer painter, was discovered in an old suitcase in the storeroom of the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, a CD of his music is to be recorded by BMG Africa featuring the Blue Heads, a progressive Afro-fusion-jazz ensemble led by veteran jazz pianist, Dimpie Tshabalala.

The Blue Heads, so called in honour of Sekoto’s famous series of blue portraits based on a drawing of Miriam Makeba, are to feature alongside Judith Sephuma and Vusi Mahlasela during the jazz festival at the Spier Arts’s summer season in March. They will also play at the opening of the Constitutional Court — where a collection of Sekoto’s work will be on permanent display — before playing at the Grahamstown festival in July.

Barbara Lindop, Sekoto’s biographer, found the music as she was sorting through his papers, which were part of the artist’s effects returned to South Africa after his death.

Some of the songs had been published in Paris by Les Editions Musicales and had been performed in L’Eschelle Jacob, a jazz dive on the Left Bank.

After a great deal of work by Lindop and the group, rehearsals began late in 2002 as the 26 useable songs took their present form. The Blue Heads have now arranged the songs for a nine-piece band. The music is powerful and heart-rending — the songs reveal the poignant yet universal struggle for recognition and survival of the artistic spirit in exile.

French lyrics were in some cases added to the English words Sekoto had written, to expand the songs to a standard length. In the same way Zulu lyrics were added to other songs that had a distinctly African feel.

The Blue Heads comprise Tshabalala on piano and vocals, Isaac Mtshali on drums, lead guitarist Ntokozo Zungu, Mzwandile David on accordion, Abel Maleka on percussion and Stanley Mwamba, a French Congolese singer, while the band’s female vocalists Mthlodi Maphosa and Nlanhlanhla Mahlangu, add depth to the group.

The jazz festival is sponsored by the BMW Jazz Club, which has been active in promoting home-grown jazz.

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