/ 22 March 2011

Chic Afrique

“What isn’t jazz?” you might well ask when Gazelle surf through their ‘Lim Pop’ mash-up of electro, disco, house, township pop, cabaret and glam funk grooves at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this weekend.

Not that flamboyant front man Xander Ferreira and his sidekick Nick ‘DJ Invisible’ Matthews are particularly phased about their jazz credentials being questioned.

‘People will see we’re more versatile than most bands in the world” says Ferreira. ‘We may not have really pumped in too many jazzy vibes so far. But we’ve got world, we’ve got hip-hop, we’ve got soul, we’ve got funk, we’ve got disco we’ve got rock.”

‘And we’re performing all that shit live! We’re not the kind of band that just stands on stage with a backtrack,” declares Matthews. ‘Jazz is about improvisation within the moment, right? For us getting a couple of marimba guys and extra singers on stage is also jazz. We’re improvising along the way, we don’t know how it’s going to go. We’re taking traditional African instruments and playing styles and mixing it up with something which is from a totally different place. We’re actually playing something that’s not realised yet. We’re trying to create harmony within juxtapositions.”

First musical memories
The scope of such a ‘remix’ strategy becomes evident when Matthews confesses to buying The Ghostbusters soundtrack instead of Stevie Wonder’s Part Time Lover at the age of three. Ferreira’s inspirations are equally revealing.

‘Remember that Rolux Magnum ad on TV? I grew up with that bass line, that was one of my first musical memories,” he says. ‘I’m taking all the different parts of my whole sonic world up to now and not being shy of any of them. I listen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and go: ‘awesome’. I listen to ABBA and go, ‘wow, that’s fucking amazing!’ I don’t let my ego try and push anything out. I let everything in and inspire me. ”

Right. So anti-hip is the new cool, and a wilful pop cultural mash-up is the perfect soundtrack for our attention-deficit-disordered age?

All scene-d out

‘Every generation goes through a period where they stick to a scene. But there are so many scenes that it eventually just gets lame and uninteresting,” muses Ferreira. ‘We’re all scene-d out. So why can’t we just ‘buffet’ things and take a little bit from each of them?”

Why indeed. But Gazelle are a pair of white boys and their ‘buffeting’ cannibalises the cool fire from predominantly black musicians: Bootsy Collins’ flamboyant funk, Brenda’s township pop and Chic’s disco grooves are obvious echoes. Toss the lead singer’s penchant for swanning around onstage dressed like an African dictator with his band draped in leopard print costumes into a theatrical aesthetic they tag as ‘Chic Afrique’ and it’s no surprise some critics accuse Gazelle of blaxploitation.

‘It’s satirical and satire is the only way to speak to people about difficult things. Through our aesthetic we are talking about politics as well,” replies Ferreira. ‘People almost immediately jump to conclusions because they don’t understand it. But it’s who I am. I had more black people around me until I was thirteen than white people. Imagine the woman who brought you up, bathed you every day, you’ve got a heavy connection with her and with her culture. When you were a baby you heard her music, it became a part of your culture. Fuck man! I ate pap with my hands when I was a three year old. The first time I had pizza was when I was twelve. So the thing is, that is my culture. And anyone who doesn’t recognise it, is not from that culture.

‘People in South Africa are so scared to make statements. Everyone’s so scared of what people will say about them, they’re keeping in their emotions. That’s why it’s our mission, we’re about much more than just the music. It’s a great opportunity for us to make a piece of art — like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. To break it all down for you about where we are at: for us the art is so much more important.”

Right. So audiences can expect something pretty arty from their performance on Saturday night? ‘We’ve got the best slot at the Jazz Festival: between Earth, Wind & Fire and Youssou N’Dour at Kippies, you can catch us on the Bassline,” says Ferreira. ‘We’ve got the full band, Grenville (bass), Dubmasta China (ragga toasts), Sean Ou Tim (drums), two back up singers and we’re bringing in some marimba boys. But our show is also about: ‘Oh shit! We’ve just got the Michael Jackson lookalike who’re we’re going to dress up like a Tokoloshe’. So maybe we’ll smuggle him in, in a bag!”

Click here for more from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival