June 15, 2011

Tribute to Hotep Idris Galeta

Hotep Idris Galeta was born in Crawford, Cape Town on the 7th of June 1941. He grew up exposed to the rich musical culture in and around Cape Town. His first piano lessons came from his father at the age of seven who taught him some basic keyboard skills. As a young teenager in the early 50's he became interested in Jazz, after listening to a short wave radio Jazz program on the "Voice of America".

After meeting Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand, at a high school jazz concert in Athlone, the two became close friends and Brand became his mentor. Hotep, or as he was known in the 50's, Cecil Barnard, went on to establish himself as one of the young emerging pianists on the Cape Town Jazz scene, playing in such legendary clubs as the "Naaz", "Zambezi" and the "Vortex" and alongside legendary South African players such as Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Christopher Mra Ngcukana, Cups and Saucers, Johnny Gertze, George Kussel, Sammy Moritz, Henry Makone, Makaya Ntoshoko, Anthony Schilder and Monty Weber. All of these individuals had a great influence on his musical development.

Hotep left South Africa for London and then New York in 1961 and stayed in exile for thirty years. In the early 60's he obtained a scholarship to study privately with noted jazz piano educator John Mehegan. He now has a Master's degree with Distinction in Jazz and Contemporary African-American Music and Performance. His discography is quite extensive with over 18 albums and CDs recorded with a number of American and South African artists. They include his own acclaimed solo piano CD Live At The Tempest and numerous CDs with Hugh Masekela, Herb Alpert, John Handy, Jackie McLean, Joshua Redman, Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw and David Crosby and the Byrds. As a result of his reputation as an internationally recognized Jazz and Contemporary Music educator and pianist, he was appointed lecturer in Jazz studies to the University of Hartford's Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A in 1985. This position continued until his return to South Africa in 1991.

Since then he has served as the Musical Director for the Volkswagen-sponsored "Music Active" performing arts educational program for high schools. He recently returned to Cape Town after four years of lecturing in the Music Department at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape. He currently manages the Resource Centre at Artscape Performing Arts Theatre Complex in Cape Town, South Africa, and also co-ordinates the Jazz Performance and Community Outreach Jazz Education programs there.

Sheer Sound are proud to announce the release of Hotep's latest album, "Malay Tone Poem". This album was produced by, and features, Zim Ngqawana. The band he recorded with is the Safro Jazz Quintet, comprising Marcus Wyatt, Kevin Gibson and Victor Masondo. The vision behind the formation of the Safro Jazz Quintet, is to use the band as a developmental platform for young, up-and-coming talented South African jazz musicians in the same tradition established by the great African-American drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

He passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in Johannesburg on 03 Nov 2010, following an asthma attack.

To visit Hotep Idris Galeta's website CLICK HERE

Keorapetse William Kgositsile, born September 19, 1938 in Johannesburg is a South African poet and political activist, and was an influential member of the African National Congress in the 1960s and 1970s. He lived in exile in the United States from 1962 until 1975, the peak of his literary career. Kgositsile made extensive study of African-American literature and culture, becoming particularly interested in jazz. During the 1970s he was a central figure among African-American poets, encouraging interest in Africa as well as the practice of poetry as a performance art; Kgositsile was known for his readings in New York City jazz clubs. He was one of the first to bridge the gap between African poetry and Black poetry in the United States, and thus one of the first and most significant poets in the Pan-African movement.

Kgositsile grew up in a small shack in back of a house in a white neighborhood. His first experience of apartheid, other than having to go to school outside of his neighborhood for reasons he did not then understand, was a conflict with a local white family after he fought a white friend of his who hesitated when other friends refused to join a boxing club that denied Kgositsile membership. The experience was a formative one, and joined with other experiences of exclusion that increased throughout his teenage years. For Kgositsile, adulthood—being a "grown up nigger"—meant an entrance into apartheid.

Kgositsile attended Matibane High School in Johannesburg, as well as others in other parts of the country. During that time he was able (with some difficulty) to find books by Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, and influenced by them as well as by European writers (principally Charles Dickens and D. H. Lawrence, he began writing stories, though not yet with any intention of doing so professionally. After working a series of odd jobs after high school, he took to writing more seriously, and got a job for the politically charged newspaper New Age. He contributed both reporting and poetry to the newspaper.

These early poems, anticipating a lifetime of Kgositsile's work, combine lyricism with an unmuted call to arms, as in these lines from "Dawn":

Remember in baton boot and bullet ritual
The bloodhounds of Monster Vorster wrote Soweto
Over the belly of my land
with the indelible blood of infants
So the young are no longer young
Not that they demand a hasty death.

Any early interest in fiction was replaced by the sheer urgency of communication Kgositsile felt. As he said later, "In a situation of oppression, there are no choices beyond didactic writing: either you are a tool of oppression or an instrument of liberation."
In 1961, under considerable pressure both for himself and as part of a government effort to shut down New Age, Kgositile was urged by the African National Congress, of which he was a vocal member, to leave the country. He went initially to Dar es Salaam to write for Spearhead magazine (unrelated to the right-wing British magazine of the same name), but the following year emigrated to the United States. He studied at a series of universities beginning with Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he "spent a lot of time in the library trying to read as much black literature as I could lay my hands on."

After studying at the University of New Hampshire and The New School for Social Research, Kgositsile entered the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Columbia University. At the same time, he published his first collection of poems, Spirits Unchained. The collection was well received, and Kgositsile was given a Harlem Cultural Council Poetry Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Award. He graduated from Columbia in 1971, and remained in New York, teaching and giving his characteristically dynamic readings in downtown clubs and as part of the Uptown Black Arts Movement. Kgositsile's most influential collection, "My Name is Afrika," was published in this year. The response, including an introduction to the book by Gwendolyn Brooks, established Kgositsile as a leading African-American poet. The Last Poets, a group of revolutionary African-American poets, took their name from one of his poems.
Jazz was particularly important to Kgositsile's sense of black American culture and his own place in it. He saw John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, B. B. King, and many others in the jazz clubs of New York, and wrote to them and of them in his poems. Jazz was crucial to Kgositsile's most influential idea: his sense of a worldwide African diaspora united by an ear for a certain quintessentially black sound.

He wrote of the black aesthetic he pursued and celebrated:
There is nothing like art—in the oppressor's sense of art. There is only movement. Force, Creative power, the walk of Sophiatown totsi or my Harlem brother on Lenox Avenue. Field Hollers, The Blues. A Trane riff. Marvin Gaye or mbaqanga. Anguished happiness. Creative power, in whatever form it is released, moves like the dancer's muscles.

Freedom from a constricting white aesthetic sensibility and the discovery of the rhythmic experience common to black people of all the world were, for Kgositsile's, two sides of the same struggle.

June 08, 2011

A Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron was born April 1, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, but spent his early childhood in the home of his grandmother in Jackson, Tennessee. One of the most important progenitors of rap music, Gil Scott-Heron's aggressive, no-nonsense street poetry inspired a legion of intelligent rappers while his engaging songwriting skills placed him square in the R&B charts later in his career, backed by increasingly contemporary production courtesy of Malcolm Cecil and Nile Rodgers (of Chic). Scott-Heron spent most of his high-school years in the Bronx, where he learned firsthand many of the experiences that later made up his songwriting material. He had begun writing before reaching his teenage years, however, and completed his first volume of poetry at the age of 13. Though he attended college in Pennsylvania, he dropped out after one year to concentrate on his writing career and earned plaudits for his novel, The Vulture.

Encouraged at the end of the '60s to begin recording by legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele -- who had worked with every major jazz greats from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane -- Scott-Heron released his 1970 debut, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, inspired by a volume of poetry of the same name. With Thiele's Flying Dutchman Records until the mid-'70s, he signed to Arista soon after and found success on the R&B charts. Though his jazz-based work of the early '70s was tempered by a slicker disco-inspired production, Scott-Heron's message was as clear as ever on the Top 30 single "Johannesburg" and the number 15 hit "Angel Dust." Silent for almost a decade, after the release of his 1984 single "Re-Ron," the proto-rapper returned to recording in the mid-'90s with a message for the gangsta rappers who had come in his wake; Scott-Heron's 1994 album Spirits began with "Message to the Messengers," pointed squarely at the rappers whose influence -- positive or negative -- meant much to the children of the 1990s.

In a touching bit of irony that he himself was quick to joke about, Gil Scott-Heron was born on April Fool's Day 1949 in Chicago, the son of a Jamaican professional soccer player (who spent time playing for Glasgow Celtic) and a college-graduate mother who worked as a librarian. His parents divorced early in his life, and Scott-Heron was sent to live with his grandmother in Lincoln, TN. Learning musical and literary instruction from her, Scott-Heron also learned about prejudice firsthand, as he was one of three children picked to integrate an elementary school in nearby Jackson. The abuse proved too much to bear, however, and the eighth-grader was sent to New York to live with his mother, first in the Bronx and later in the Hispanic neighborhood of Chelsea.

Though Scott-Heron's experiences in Tennessee must have been difficult, they proved to be the seed of his writing career, as his first volume of poetry was written around that time. His education in the New York City school system also proved beneficial, introducing the youth to the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes as well as LeRoi Jones. After publishing a novel called The Vulture in 1968, Scott-Heron applied to Pennsylvania's Lincoln University. Though he spent less than one year there, it was enough time to meet Brian Jackson, a similarly minded musician who would later become a crucial collaborator and integral part of Scott-Heron's band. Given a bit of exposure -- mostly in magazines like Essence, which called The Vulture "a strong start for a writer with important things to say" -- Scott-Heron met up with Bob Thiele and was encouraged to begin a music career, reading selections from his book of poetry Small Talk at 125th & Lennox while Thiele recorded a collective of jazz and funk musicians, including bassist Ron Carter, drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Hubert Laws on flute and alto saxophone, and percussionists Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders; Scott-Heron also recruited Jackson to play on the record as pianist. Most important on the album was "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," an aggressive polemic against the major media and white America's ignorance of increasingly deteriorating conditions in the inner cities. Scott-Heron's second LP, 1971's Pieces of a Man, expanded his range, featuring songs such as the title track and "Lady Day and John Coltrane," which offered a more straight-ahead approach to song structure (if not content).

The following year's Free Will was his last for Flying Dutchman, however; after a dispute with the label, Scott-Heron recorded Winter in America for Strata East, then moved to Arista Records in 1975. As the first artist signed to Clive Davis' new label, much was riding on Scott-Heron to deliver first-rate material with a chance at the charts. Thanks to Arista's more focused push on the charts, Scott-Heron's "Johannesburg" reached number 29 on the R&B charts in 1975. Important to Scott-Heron's success on his first two albums for Arista (First Minute of a New Day and From South Africa to South Carolina) was the influence of keyboardist and collaborator Jackson, co-billed on both LPs and the de facto leader of Scott-Heron's Midnight Band.

Jackson left by 1978, though, leaving the musical direction of Scott-Heron's career in the capable hands of producer Malcolm Cecil, a veteran producer who had midwifed the funkier direction of the Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder earlier in the decade. The first single recorded with Cecil, "The Bottle," became Scott-Heron's biggest hit yet, peaking at number 15 on the R&B charts, though he still made no waves on the pop charts. Producer Nile Rodgers of Chic also helped on production during the 1980s, when Scott-Heron's political attack grew even more fervent with a new target, President Ronald Reagan. (Several singles, including the R&B hits "B Movie" and "Re-Ron," were specifically directed at the President's conservative policies.) By 1985, however, Scott-Heron was dropped by Arista, just after the release of The Best of Gil Scott-Heron. Though he continued to tour around the world, Scott-Heron chose to discontinue recording. He did return, however, in 1993 with a contract for TVT Records and the album Spirits. For well over a decade, Scott-Heron was mostly inactive, held back by a series of drug possession charges. He began performing semi-regularly in 2007, and one year later, announced that he was HIV-positive. He recorded an album, I'm New Here, released on XL in 2010. In February of 2011, Scott-Heron and Jamie xx (Jamie Smith of xx) issued a remixed version of the album, entitled We're New Here, also issued on XL. Gil Scott-Heron crossed over on the afternoon of May 27, 2011 in a New York hospital, just after returning from a set of live dates in Europe.