Second time around with McCoy Mrubata
Text and photos by : Estacios Valoi
Was his second time visiting Mozambique and was also our second meeting after International Cape Town Jazz Festival. But this time we were in the hall of the French Mozambican Cultural Center (CCFM) in Maputo. Just I and McCoy Mrubata the Saxophonist the, flute player, band leader and composer whose first time in Mozambique was in 1989 when he came with the former south African singer Brenda Fassie.
I remember years ago McCoy saying he would like to be part of the once called Mozambican Jazz Festival. Anyway. This was a kind different festival previous announced, music, gastronomy and oenology. But we call it as the organizers do, “The Piano & Wine festival” in its second’s edition one year later. Of course was a different combination in this annual venue organized by the Mozambican French Cultural Center-French Embassy.
What else could we say about wine, food, Jazz, a sound from a trumpet, Piano! A long walking between South Africa, France and Mozambique showing their wines and talents-McCoy Mrubata and Paul Harnmer at the hall of(CCFM) space to listen to classical or Jazz Pianist, taste and or buy fine wines, understand the subtle mix of dishes and wines and learn about wine regions in particular. And there was also XL Langa singing.
But my journey was with McCoy. I read somewhere that he was in Maputo to perform and I was attending one of ACNIR-IREX Investigative Courses. Intensive and I got into an intensive bottle of whiskey and there I was in the hall of the center. Next day, hangover while in the room of IREX. But the hangover tested well though. I met him.
Born in 1959 in Cape Town’s historic Langa Township, South Africa, McCoy Mrubata grew up with the sounds of African music: the soulful hymns of the Zion Church, the chants and rhythms of traditional healers and the brassy jive of the Merry Macs band who rehearsed opposite his home. McCoy just believed in simplicity and humility. McCoy also produces, teaches and spends a lot of time, as he puts it, simply being a family man. “I don’t really write songs, songs come to me because everyday I wake up with a melody and I simply work on it when I’m awake. When schooling became impossible in the fiery aftermath of the 1976 uprising, the young McCoy then playing flute studied informally under Langa greats like Madoda Gxabeka, Winston Ngozi , the Ngcukanas, Ezra and Duke, Blackie Tempi and Robert Sithole. But basically in 1976 when I first picked up a pennywhistle.”
McCoy Or just Mrubata was also engaged in other waves. In 1989 he formed Brotherhood, which also included guitarist Jimmy Dludlu pianist Nhlanhla Magagula and Lucas Khumalo. In 1990 the band won the Gilbey's Music for Africa prize. In 1992 he began touring with Hugh Masekela’s Lerapo, alongside guitarist Lawrence Matshiza and pianist, the late Moses Molelekwa among others. He also created his own bands, Cape to Cairo and McCoy and Friends. In the mid-1990s, he made the first of a series of albums as leader for the independent Sheer Sound label: Tears of Joy. The personnel of Friends, including pianist Paul Hanmer, bassist Andre Abrahamse and trombonist Jabu Magubane among others have formed a consistent team of collaborators for McCoy. Since those days, more albums have followed: Phosa Ngasemva, Hoelykit, Face the Music which won the 2003 South African Music Award in the Traditional Jazz category and Icamagu Livumile which won the same award in 2005, as well as the compilation CD - Best of the Early Years. The young McCoy then playing flute studied informally under Langa greats like Madoda Gxabeka, Winston Ngozi, the Ngcukanas, Ezra and Duke, Blackie Tempi and Robert Sithole.
McCoy's other projects Include Kulturation with pianist Wessel van Rensburg, exploring new interpretations of tunes from the African and Afrikaans communities. Xhosa and Zulu cultures with Afrikaans folk music tunes fusing these into contemporary versions of local South Africa music. Vivid Africa is collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Greg Georgiadis, using instruments like Oudh and bouzouki alongside saxophones to explore the musical spices of the East African coast. McCoy was also a member of a super band Sheer All Stars which consisted of some of the best musicians In SA Jazz: the late Sipho Gumede, Errol Dyers, Paul Hanmer, Frank Pako, Wessel van Rensburg and Louis Mhlanga. But McCoy is now working with Cococomusic Records.
EV- Five years later after our first meeting during Cape Town International Jazz Festival and as I know you have been doing a lot also promoting your music , the African music essence. Not only in terms of Jazz sound, African rhythms. So what is new?
MM- Nothing new, except that new ideas, same concept where we fuse our traditional, folk music with a little bit of footage of jazz, you know.. Jazz sophistication but actually we call it African jazz. So new is just the fresh ideas same concept.
EV-By maintaining the same concept what are you trying to achieve?
MM- I’m trying to achieve what the Cuban and the Brazilians have achieved with salsa music, Brazilian jazz, and their exported all over the world .Now we African, Manu Dibango is one of our kings, Hugo Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim. We are also trying to do the same, explore and mix.. Jimmy Dludlu and all the young guys like us we trying to do it, to support even more, make it better if you like.
EV- You and Paul finished performing. What your gave the audience at the hall of CCFM?
MM- I have been working with Paul since 1988 so we understand one another and we gave them a test of Paul Hanmer and McCoy. What we are performing is basically music that Paul wrote and I also wrote. Some songs we wrote together and it was very intimate in terms of sound, just piano and saxophone but rich in test. Bit time.
EV- Could you tell us about one of the songs you wrote or performed together and the story behind it?
MM- In 2005, I lost my first born child, my daughter, she was murdered at the age of 24, and she just turned to it. The first song is very emotional. Is called “the white sense of the flat”, written by Paul Hanmer? He wrote it in dedication, commemorating my daughter’s dead, in fact he wrote that year, it was a very dark period in my life and by doing that, I suppose he was trying to console me ,to keep sane you know. And the last is called “Indombene” a Xhosa word; Indombene is where the traditional healers bit the drum. Basically when they celebrating and curing people. The concept is that music also does cure people, makes you forget, like Paul wrote that other song just makes us ..Keep us sane.
EV- I look to your face, this big smile. What where your celebrating tonight (that night)?
MM- We are invited here for this Piano and wine music festival. So, I suppose were helping them to celebrate this and people are happy, they are buying our CD’s and I also got a new CD out, is called Brasskap Sessions Vol.2. We played songs of the new CD celebrating the ‘Be”.
EV-How was for you to produce this CD and who is featuring with you?
MM- In this CD, features are 13 musicians, Paul also there and the great organ player Moses Nguenya and I have got about eight or nine young guys who are fresh from the colleges. You no, I like to mix my music, the mix chance as well, the old, the young, just for us to interact and throw in each other energy because the young guys might not be experienced, but they got a positive energy , is got a lot of guys in it and is a nice CD.
EV- Positive energy and the young are not really yet in music industry, in the market struggling with producers, promotors this entire people. Isn’t it?
MM-- We older guys have to be careful with young starts, we need to guide them because there are many obstacles in life, in challenging music too. So we are here to guide the young ones and channel they energy positively and help them. They mustn’t say, eiishh, this and that you know. Promotors will always be promotors we just need to work hand in hand with one another. Like me I don’t perform any more in lot of Big Jazz venues , I’m not bit about it, not scarred to charge , I charge a lot of money , I don’t want to compromise because I have been around , I know my story so I don’t bag anybody you know . I know what I’m wealth. So when a call comes I do it, if not, it’s fine. But people will always miss me you know. That why I’m a soldier, always packed.
EV- So who is the man behind the musician?
MM- In my case is a woman behind the musician. My beautiful wife who takes care of my children , I help her, I always say I’m a family man before I’ m a musician, kind of guy who loves family. I’m a simple guy, I drive my kids, take them to school, I held the dishes , take care of the garden and then I practice in the studio and then back home. I’m a home person.
EV-How do you see the South Africa music industry, market today?
MM- As far is Jazz’s concern. Once stage Jazz was fading away because promotors, Jazz market was infiltrated by other kind of music and for instance they could call it Jazz festival and there is only one or two Jazz artists and the rest is just Afro-pop, this and that ! But it is slowly coming around, also with help of this new opened club called “Obity”. Is beautiful and is also helping to revive the real Jazz. And what I like about it is because they give a platform, not only for us but also for the youngster, even to people who are older than me. Is across the border, pure, good music .You know. Jazz.
EV- That day, November last year, I asked McCoy about times to come, concerts, and I got caught not with somebody’s wife but with my tape recorder!!
MM- My show will be after tomorrow, Sunday. You will be surprised where it will be! Is in my house! I got Jazz concert with a bass player called Lex Fundjane, is called Ingungutela, is a Xhosa word, it mean “the summit” and we fuse our bands. He has got his band and I have got my band. We took few members from each band. I have got a big yard at the tennis court will have a stage and big tent. I’ll keep playing the music, this is what I do and I hope to bring back a CD recorded in 2001 in Norway. By the way. I have got a new label called Cococomusic because I was with Chia Santos for more than ten years and my last CD came out through my new label company Cococomusic/Cococorecords and my second CD is coming this here?