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Shane Cooper’s infinite paths through rhythm

When it came time to form Mabuta, bass player and group founder Shane Cooper says he knew exactly who to turn to for the group’s drum sound (Marlon Witbooi) “because of his diverse set of interests musically”. As a member of several groups inlcuding Skyjack, the Reza Khota Quartet, the Kyle Shepherd Trio and a Zurich-based quintet called Zuintet, Cooper plays with various drummers, each with a different approach to music, invariably colouring his own perspective. 

In this interview, he elaborates on what each of those individuals brings to the table.

Marlon Witbooi (drummer in Mabuta)

(Oupa Nkosi) 

READ MORE: The rhyming drummer: Marlon Witbooi

Marlon is the first drummer I went to because of his diverse set of interests musically. If a drummer gets my sensibilities from the beginning without me having to show him too much, it means I can just slot in at a super comfortable level as a bass player and then the process of working on the music happens very naturally because the groove is there from the very beginning.

Kesivan Naidoo (drummer in Skyjack)

READ MORE: Kesivan Naidoo talks Coltrane, Carnegie Hall and ‘Brotherhood’

Kesivan is a really big ball of energy with incredible sound.
I don’t know how often people speak about that from the outside of musical circles. Of course there is the groove and all of that, but every drummer tunes their drums differently and has a specific set of cymbals and a way that they orchestrate the drums. I’m a big fan of how Kes orchstrates the drums and his sound.

How does he influence your playing on the bandstand?

It’s hard for me to say because of all the drummers I have played with, I have played with Kes and Jonno [Sweetman] the longest. Me and Kes have worked together on great projects since 2006. It’s kind of hard to say because we almost have a sibling relationship at this point. If I’d only been playing with him for a few years it would be easier to reflect on it. We’ve got a specific style where, if Kes and I step on stage, we got a specific book that we both open. We play a specific way together. I know when he’s doing a frill where he’s going to land. We just have a second nature together.

Jonno Sweetman (drummer in the Kyle Shepherd Trio, Reza Khota Quartet)

Jonno is one of the most dynamic drummers that I have worked with. He has got a huge range, from the most beautiful, delicate quiet stuff to loud energy. We come from rock music to a large extent, from our youth. It’s a certain sensibility that creeps up now and again and it’s allowed to shine through in projects like the Kyle Shepherd Trio, but we’ve done a whole bunch of other stuff as well. Jonno’s got an amazing groove sensibility and I think he’s an amazing listener and can quickly be responsive to a different direction you might suggest in the music. It’s a great quality to have.

Sphelelo Mazibuko (drummer in Rebirth of Cool, frequent collaborator)

Sphelelo has introduced me to a whole other way of playing because he comes from another world of groove that incorporates strong hip-hop, soul, R&B and gospel sensibilities within his African groove sense as well. So there’s another kind of element to his playing that allows me to express other ideas that I don’t play as much with Jonno and Kes, for example.

Ayanda Sikade (drummer in many formations, frequent collaborator with Nduduzo Makhathini)

Ayanda and I have a long relationship, we haven’t worked together a lot but we started playing together at the Zimology Institute in 2007. We have this connection from years ago, under the guidance of Zim Ngqawana. I think there is a beautiful connection because of that that comes up whenever we get the chance to play. We don’t have any active projects together but when we do get the opportunity to jam, whether it’s a once off collabo or a jam session or something, there is this thing that ignites. A lot of his playing sensibility comes from people like Elvin Jones, that [John] Coltrane style of music. It comes from an incredible percussive force on the drums. He is just a great musician with a great sensibility for song, and very intuitive.

Nicholas Stocker (drummer in Zuintet)

Nicholas is an incredibly neat drummer, he comes from Nik Bartsch’s project Mobile. There is this brilliant kind of multidimensional, rhythmic stuff happening on different levels. He has this incredible rhythmic independence. He can have one set of things going with two limbs and another set of things going with another two limbs and it is very organic and flowing, almsot like a classical music thing mixed in with improvised music, which I find really interesting.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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