Bra Zim Ngqawana walks in on you while you’re teasing the piano’s ebonies and ivories in a practice room eMakhanda. You feel his presence. You continue nonetheless, while trying your hardest to do an “I ain’t really bothered” impression.
The elder, who has a headlining show that year, opts to hang around, in spite of his fast-approaching set time. Let them wait, his attitude suggests.
You notice that he’s no longer in the room, and rush to the DSG Hall where the concert is due to take place. You step outside, only to find him stretched out on the lawn. “I didn’t know you could do that, you cheeky native” is what the look he gives impresses upon your 20-year-old self. You downplay the compliment, yet don’t undermine it.
Both of you head to the performance venue — you as part of the audience, him as the band leader. A bond is formed; it will develop and expand when he calls you — along with Kyle Shepherd, Nduduzo and Omagugu Makhathini, Shane Cooper, Ayanda Sikade, Mthunzi Mvubu and Malcolm Jiyane — to join him sporadically at his Zimology Institute, located on the outer reaches of Egoli.
You are Sakhile Moleshe, born and raised on a diet of your father’s records and the romantic ideals of 90s R&B. You are the last of five children; four sisters came before you. Your parents are business people: your father is a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, your mother dabbles in fashion and alteration. eDikeni (in the Eastern Cape) is your ’hood, the backyard you’ll get to explore many years later as part of a jazz-electro band called Goldfish.
You’ll tour multiple cities, performing to sold-out audiences. Your life will predate what the likes of Black Coffee are doing in 2019 by about five years. For now, these tapes, this love at the house and the memories of growing up in a tight-knit community are what you have. They are enough.
“I remember my mother telling me that they went to [Steve Biko’s] funeral. It was a national duty. Politics was a heavy influence. My father [who was also named Biko] made sure we got a hold of [politically charged literature] early, that we could read [it], so that we could get hip to that stuff early,” says Moleshe on a Jozi afternoon. He recounts his childhood memories while seated on a couch in his Norwood, Johannesburg, living room, which also serves as a studio where preproduction for his music projects gets done.
His engineer lives just around the corner, as does his girlfriend. The sound of his neighbours rehearsing intermittently bleeds through to our side. He maintains a sense of community around him, a carry-on from his childhood.
Moleshe’s appreciation for jazz, an art form he studied at university, came much later. He does, however, recall seeing the likes of Jimmy Dludlu, Tito Puente and Keiko Matsui on television.
“I just knew I didn’t have the fitness, so that’s why I’ve always loved generating more fitness to be able to appreciate and play jazz, as much as I can. It’s like the quantum physics of music. No matter how much people try to commercialise it through the use of the name, the brand, or the icons of it, it’s still much more [complex] than what people think. It’s like an atom. You need high-level instruments to be able to see it, to feel it, perceive it,” he says.
Downtown Studios, 2016. This is before the municipality kicked the dealers and junkies away from the vicinity during a mini-urban renewal project. Inside, Nduduzo Makhathini’s session for his Icilongo: The African Peace Suite project continues undisturbed. Moleshe, freshly arrived from Cape Town, is part of the cast of musicians invited to contribute to the recording. He sings two songs that day, the hopeful Imagined Race, and the mournful Inkululeko. He also does a great preacher impression on Ivangeli.
“I am not in the public domain as much as people think I am,” he says about his jazz leanings. He found a match in pianist, composer and producer Bokani Dyer at the University of Cape Town’s South African College of Music, who was in the same year as him. “That’s when we decided: ‘Let’s do our own thing’.”
Their own thing was the Soul Housing Project, which assumed band format in 2007, after a year in which the duo exchanged ideas and wrote material for the concept. It was a welcome escape from the rigour and narrow-mindedness of academia.
The Johannesburg venue for the album launch is drenched in post-torrential rainwater. Outside, people wait for the waiters at Maboneng’s AfroBru to complete their hoovering chores. Armed with buckets, mops and an expedient work rate, they declare the job done in no time.
African Time will always have its way, it seems, even if that means co-opting the effects of global warming to partake in its agenda, which is to ensure that the natives are always fashionably late.
Back inside, Moleshe welcomes the patrons and apologises for the temporary inconvenience caused. In a few moments, his Soul Housing Project brethren will join him on stage to present works from their Plan Be album.
The band’s line-up assumes multiple formations as per the city they’re in. Currently, Aldert du Toit is on guitars, Tendai “Shoxx” Shoko on bass, with Leagan Starchild Breda on drums and Bokani Dyer floating on keys.
The songs on the album they are launching are the product of years of work. Digital World, for instance, was uploaded close to a decade ago on Soundcloud.
“Bokani’s a great songwriter, and we’ve written great songs together. Those are just the first batch. There’s even more [unreleased music], which goes into dance music territory,” he says about the songs on Plan Be, which was released in early December 2018 and is available to either buy or stream online.
The rest of the music, he says, will emerge from the vaults “when we’ve got the structures to absorb and have control of what those outcomes are in a more digital world”.
Moleshe spent all of 2006 without a phone partly so that he could zone in on his studies. He obtained one the following year, at the same time that Goldfish reached out to him. Dominic Peters came to fetch him from his apartment for a recording session one morning.
He tried to pull out of it, but got convinced otherwise. There were prospects for Ibiza and multicity tours.
He’d just quit all the other bands with whom he was performing with at corporate events. “I’m not gonna believe this white boy,” he thought to himself, but his love for music remained steadfast in the midst of his doubtfulness.
“That’s one thing I’ve learnt: for the love of music, we must create together, no matter whether we’re white, black, Indian or Chinese. Not answering the white boys was blocking all those years of Ibiza, Paris, London, Brazil, Miami on tap. And it was purely on merit. We grew a show together,” he recalls.
From Goldfish he learnt all there was to learn about the business of music, which is mostly about having a solid strategy, and showing up on time, every time. The gravy train ran its course after five years.
“Everybody [thought] there was a fight. There was no fight. I just grew into a certain space where I knew that I wasn’t comfortable or able to live with myself, and I’d gotten myself comfortable with things where I didn’t have control, and I wanted control,” he says.
A series of syndicated podcasts called Globalize Yourself Stereo, which he did with DJ Xee, followed. The concept was developed from lessons he’d learnt while at the College of Music. “They’d talk about residual income, sleeper money. So I was like ‘okay, this is my time to use the radio thing.’ ”
It enabled him to be creative without necessarily having to perform.
Moleshe found himself restless yet again, after spending time in Austria, compiling what eventually became a 500-episode podcast series with his homie Xee.
“It was like, ‘Hold on a second, why do I have to phone someone to get things going?’ ”
Final Call, his debut solo offering, was the next step.
He describes the sound as “a diary-style conversation with myself”, supported by the many voices in his head. He started crafting the songs at the end of 2015 in Cape Town, shortly before relocating to Jozi the following year. He invited a rolling cast of musicians to contribute different skill sets to the songs.
“I’m more excited to work with multiple artists in that capacity, where the trust and the musical freedom is there,” he says. “I’m trying to really just push my music through my company [Imilozi Music], create merchandising, theatre, art — all of the stuff that seems unattainable but is actually at your doorstep, I wanna get involved in.”
Final Call is out now. It will be launched on January 30 at Upper Galleria in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. Check SakhileMolesheMusic on Facebook