When I used to coach high school public speaking, the first lesson I’d give would be about deciding which emotions they’d want their speech to elicit. When it comes to performing jazz, the emotions were always predictable.
When you consider the great female jazz artists, you’ll be forgiven for conjuring up ideas of melancholy, depression, long seductive dresses, smokey bars and lyrics about heartbreak. This is not the case when it comes to Asanda Mqiki and her band so if I told you her jazz elicits happiness, joy and the kinda indescribable feels you get when you fit the last piece of a really complex 10000 part puzzle, you probably wouldn’t believe me. The band’s harmony coupled with the expressive singing of Asanda is difficult to imagine simply on the basis of words but fortunately their manager, Nikki Froneman of Arte Viva Management captured some of it:
Posted by Nikki Froneman on Friday, 16 June 2017
Apart from the incredibly well controlled vocals, two things stood out to me about Asanda, the PE based singer. Initially, here was this trenchcoat wearing jazz singer walking into a cold Bloemfontein evening at Boho Bistro wearing a beanie. If somebody hadn’t nudged me and whispered, “That’s her”, I would have been questioning where she was. Challenging the idea of a what a jazz singer should look like is difficult, especially when you’re less dressed up than your audience. Successfully challenging what a jazz artist should sound like, it mattered not what Asanda wore because the audience was so enthralled with her performance. It was a performance that would even satisfy seasoned jazz connoisseur celebrities on the level of Atandwa Kani. I know this because Atandwa was there and seemingly loving it.
The second, and most counter cultural aspect of the performance is her relationship with her band. I seldom find harmony between members of jazz bands. More seldom do I find respect of the band by the front singer. Asanda not only introduced her band to us but she did it by interrupting the music and ensuring we knew who they were. This is in stark contrast to the norm of mentioning a name and giving the player 2 bars in the bridge of the second last song. This harmony was evident from members of the band engaging with the sound engineers on behalf of their colleagues to Asanda sitting down at some point and letting the band take over completely.
It was also wonderful to experience quality instrumental jazz harmony instead of the chancy play anything that’s in the same key tripe we’re usually fed.
Being a saxophonist myself, I was mightily impressed with her sax dude but the work of her first pianist deserves tremendous praise and I would probably pay to watch his solo gig should he ever throw one.
Jazz is my general go-to when I want to escape the misery of the world by listening to somebody being more miserable. In the case of Asanda, the ends are the same but the pathway there is far more pleasant and opens jazz to an entirely new audience.
This was especially exciting to see in Bloemfontein; usually the last place to be touched by innovation, especially in the form of music. Perhaps with the continued hard work of Lesley Jennings Entertainment Coordination, the Bloemfontein scene will change for the better and more of these great artists will come.
If you’re in Bloem, keep an eye peeled for other events. Even if you’re not, keep an eye on Asanda!
If you’re into jazz, Asanda is for you. If you’ve never experienced jazz, Asanda is for you. If you’re not into jazz, be better and give Asanda a listen. You won’t be sorry and, like me, will learn that there’s more to jazz than what we think we know.