Article and photos: Estacios Valoi
“What do you get when you cross legendary pianists like Duke Ellington, Ramsey Lewis, Bob James, Joe Sample and South Africa’s greatest players like Abdullah Ibrahim and young Moses Molelekwa? A bomb - precisely what this enigmatic character Paul Hanmer is.”
I call him the pianist writing with sound
And there was Paul Harmer in his first time in Mozambique-Maputo, right there at the hall of the French Mozambican Cultural Center (CCFM) in “The Piano & Wine festival”.
With Pianist, we had a short-long conversation, from “ The essential Paul Hanmer”, a compilation of different albums or lets say our conversation was some kind of compilation of the different Pauls VS Hanmer inside him.
Paul Hanmer born in 1961, composer, pianist and one of its foremost Jazz musicians. He moved to Johannesburg where he formed Unofficial Language with drummer Ian Herman and bassist Pete Sklair. The group has released two albums, Moves Moves and Primal Steps. Influenced by Keith Jarrett, Hanmer has worked with artists including Grammy Award winner Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Jonathan Butler, Pops Mohamed, Sipho Gumede, and McCoy Mrubata. Hanmer has recorded for the South African recording label Sheer Sounds, and has played keyboards for the Sheer All Stars.
Hanmer has recorded with Tananas, Miriam Makeba, Ray Phiri, McCoy Mrubata and Pops Mohamed and formed part of Tony Cox's 'Cool Friction Band'. In 1999 he performed and recorded with Sheer All Stars, and produced Gloria Bosman's debut album, "Tranquility". Hanmer has also written a string quartet for the Sontonga Quartet and a Clarinet quintet for Robert Pickup (Zurich Opera). In addition he has composed a suite of duets for double bass and cello for Leon Bosch (Academy of St Martin's in the Fields).
Since 2003 Hanmer has also been composing works for classical performers: UnTsiki and Ntwazana (2003) for The Bow Project, a string quartet for the Sontonga Quartet, a wind quintet for the Mozart anniversary in 2006, a clarinet quintet for Robert Pickup, a suite of duets for double bass and cello for Leon Bosch, a piece for two tubas and drumkit for Anne Jelle Visser of the Zurich Opera, and two duets for violin and harp.
EV- I was still in the hall looking for Paul Hanmer , McCoy Mrubata’s brother froom another father and mother,. “You know, better Ask McCoy.” And I said better we leave McCoy who was sitting and enjoying XL Langa, the Mozambican singer. Meanwhile I asked Paul how was he enjoying Maputo.
PH- Yes this is my first time in Maputo in my entire life, so is beautiful . Also I can happen to see so many places ..continent going in terms of physically environment , the built environment which is not been .. you see , everything seems to be deteriorating. Let me put in that way, is just sad. But what I find here ,people are very relaxed and very open with each other , this is what I get here , is a sense of community with so many diversity of people and is wonderful to see.
I mean here was never such thing as apartheid ,discrimination, all this things. But I think here in Maputo is some king of fire, is like real, there is much togetherness which I don’t.. Like I say, in cape town where I’m from or in Johannesburg where I live , you can full yourself sometimes that is quit integrated but there still very much division amongst people which runs very, very deep.
EV- So who is Paul the man or the musician behind Paul?
PH- Well. I still love what I started, which was listening to my parents LP’s and there were a selection of Joan Sebastian Bar and the Brandenburg concertos. I fall in love with a lot of Hopscott music from Beethoven , Bar , Schubert songs, just for listen piano and Frank Sinatra with big band , Elephase Gerald , Louis Amstrong his beautiful album.
EV- And how for to bring Beethoven, people like Mozart into the Jazz context?
PH- It took me a long, long time. I started to find out when I was 18-20 years of age that people like Chicaria , Herbie Hancok, the musician that worked with Al jarreau in his albums, all those beautiful tenors around players and pianists, where all classic trained but it was only when I was 28 when I heard Keith Jarrett for the first time. I had a record of Keith Jarrett playing with a trio-Jack de Juanete and Gary Peacock. For the first time it made me realize, this guys .. You cannot play a piano like that without a classic training, right.
But what he did, he brought that training to his tradition, which is the greater American song book of Jazz and made me realize that is what I have to do in my country, I have to turn my training towards the tradition of south Africa. And I spent most of my life trying to arrive in South Africa, because I was trained in European art music, then went to play top 40 ,so american and british pop songs, then I realized I have been playing and playing before that studying, and studying I learned piano and then I come to hear bands like Bayete, Theta, Zakir when there were still together and I felt out of my dept . Im South African, I have lived here in Johannesburg my all life, I feel like a foreigner , trying to enter to south Africa . All the times I’m trying to get into south Africa.
EV- Are you saying there is something to be discovered, fixed, feeling little bit lost, and what are you looking for?
PH- Sure. I’m looking. I do speak English, I don’t speak Zulu, I don’t speak Xhosa, I don’t speak any of the Nguni languages. Nothing!
EV- What was your last album?
PH- The last one was accused number 1( Nelson Mandela), it was based in a film around Rivonia trial and as you know this year is the 50 anniversary of that trial. So I used .. I was trying to make music sound like that, sounded like music that was written in 60’s when the trial happened but in south Africa ..so was like I was taking myself back to a place I never been before, trying to imagine the atmosphere of the 1960’s, because I was born in 1961.
EV- How was for you to produce something from your imagination, not writing with ordinary words-alphabet, not writing with light- photography but describing the scenarios, moments using sounds, playing your mind and piano about a place you never been before ?
PH-Exactly. It was great and I enjoyed it because what I had was a picture of those albums from my father, such as Milles Davis and Wayne Shorter , Herbie Hancok , Steins Gate with Astrud Gilberto and those people .And listening to them , just imagine the music, the way it sound , the atmosphere, like the photographs , the images , the way people dress, the way they walk , so I had all that .
EV- And I guess you were also able to bring people’s cloths into your piano?
PH- Somehow yes because everyone was smoking , they were looking very elegant , woman and man.Image was very important. Then you see the Rivonia trial , the footage from the time ,news real and you see Winnie Mandela , she is beautiful, very, very, beautiful woman and Nelson Mandela with this big side part, like avenue Samora Machel, a big one across his head, looking sharp, phantastic and you realize how beautiful this people are .I was brought up to believe that no one that I can see around ,common people .. I don’t know. I never realized how beautifull people are .
EV- Today Cape Town International Jazz Festival is a mixer of pop..etc. No more the real Jazz fest like before.How do you see the South Africa music industry today?
PH- I think when people improvise.., too me that is new injection of life happening to the music. You have people saying this is not jazz, but is jazz . I don’t know how they make this distintion! Maybe is because I don’t feel like I’m a jazz player, because I love jazz and I love people who can play jazz and I always try to work together with jazz players and I know what that is because it seems to me that jazz could be Beethoven, Mozart, would have been Bar . We know they were great musicians , we know they could improvise better than anybody else, we know there were famous for this things , and writing their own music and embody the best of the age they lived, that why they were great .
EV- What most scares you in this world ?
PH- I admit to you. I’m sacred of death. You know, we are supposed to face death with courage but I’m very scared of it, scared of harm coming to my family because there is more crime ,desperation in south Africa, people ..is more expensive to live. It come across to everybody.You speak to a wealth man , engineer ,tax driver ,musician ,banker , they all suffering , teachers , municipal workers and there is a lot of corruption, poverty and are people who are more disparate than me and they need to eat, and they steal, robe , they were kill to eat and that is the reality.