Hotep Galeta: Funkin’ For Obama

Hotep Idris Galeta returns from work on multimedia and music centres in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng to play a rare Cape performance – and launch a new album, ‘Funkin’ For Obama’.

Hotep Galeta: Funkin' For Obama

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ section on 7/8 March 2009.

It’s hard to say what Hotep Idris Galeta is best known for. To some, it’s his storming closer sets with Robbie Jansen at the annual Jazzathon; to others it’s his recordings in exile with US jazz legends like Jackie McLean and Archie Shepp, or local legend Hugh Masekela. Still others know him as a music educator, both in the USA (he lectured at top music conservatory, Hartt College) and in South Africa – not least through his work at Fort Hare, through the Artscape Resource Centre and as convenor of the music workshops allied to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. He also holds and Arts, Culture and Heritage award for outstanding contribution to the performing arts (Western Cape), a Certificate of Appreciation from the State of Louisiana for “bringing the culture of South African music” to that state, and a Living Heritage Award for Music, bestowed by Dr Pallo Jordan in 2007.

Surely, though, one of the most enduring impression of the man – vying for top spot with both theatre and outdoor performance spectacles – is of Hotep Galeta leaping to the front of a portable stage at a satellite venue during a distant Grahamstown Festival and conducting the Eastern Cape Jazz All Stars. So often, line-ups assembled for such an event run into a problem of too many genius cooks spoiling a broth that has neither the time nor the budget for proper rehearsals. Under Galeta’s baton, it was the sublime showcase warranted by the calibre of its cast and, testament again to his vision and ear for things, it was so because he had chosen to stand off-stage, directing, rather than under a stage spotlight.

Galeta, born Cecil Barnard in Crawford, returns to his Cape Town birthplace for a reunion gig with Robbie Jansen; two masters of a style they helped form in the 1950s and 1960s – with the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim and Winston Mankunku Ngozi – and is now known as Cape Jazz. ‘I’m very excited about coming there again,’ says Galeta by telephone from Gauteng, where he’s visiting Hugh Masekela. ‘Robbie and I have this great rapport – we’re musical contemporaries, but we’re also good buddies. He’s the elder statesman of Cape Jazz, if you want, and he’s an incredible musician who’s been through a lot. For a guy with serious respiratory problems like he’s got to be able play the way he still does is a blessing that we all should cherish. I’m really looking forward to playing with him again.’

Galeta will be in the Western Cape to play the second Franschhoek Oesfees, a festival that is equal parts a triumph of musical archiving and a genuine celebration of the season’s ‘oes’. Mark Solms, neuroscientist and co-owner of Solms Delta describes it as ‘an authentic harvest festival that is not a commercial event, but a real party and a heartfelt thanksgiving for the harvest’. The festival is a natural consequence of the estate’s museum and ‘Music Van der Caab’ programme, established due to the enthusiasm of co-owner Richard Astor, UK-born philanthropist and Cape jazz lover. It is also significant that the third co-owners in the Solms-Delta estate are the farm-workers themselves, and the Oesfees has a deliberate project of bringing together farm-workers, farm-owners and the general public. Both the museum and the festival aim to trace and showcase ‘the rich and complex melting pot that is Cape traditional music’ from goema, through langarm and vastrap, to boeremusiek’  ‘We are looking to involve someone from the Afrikaans community, probably a guitarist, to play some sakkie-sakkie or vastrap and make our show a little more multi-dimensional,’ explains Galeta.

Although still an active performer, Galeta’s work out of the stage spotlight has continued – he is currently the director of the Miriam Makeba Center of Performing Arts at the University of Fort Hare’s campus in East London. His visit to Masekela involves discussions around the trumpeter’s long-held dream to open a music academy; dreams that are now being realised thanks, in part, to funding from Gauteng’s provincial bodies. ‘It’s exciting that we now have a fully-fledged mutli-media and music centre in the Eastern Cape, and that this is now happening in Johannesburg,’ he says. ‘I have presented proposals to Western Cape MECs based on our models in the Eastern Cape, and suggesting using Oude Moulen, which is government property, for a music and multi-media centre, and they’ve said there isn’t any money. Hopefully, what we’ve achieved elsewhere will change priorities that I think are very lopsided.’

He points out the successes of Fort Hare’s Miriam Makeba Centre: a state-of-the-art digital recording studio that can accommodate a choir of 100 people and has two full-time Masters Degree qualified technicians; 11 albums recorded in the two years since the Centre opened on Heritage Day in 2006; an auditorium that can seat 500 people; six Apple G5-powered studios catering to film-editing, scores, DVD-production, special effects and the like – and, of course, a roster of more than 20 artists recorded at the studios, ranging in style from maskanda to kwaito, choral to gospel and both contemporary and traditional jazz.

The studio has also seen Galeta himself tinkering with some tunes to create ‘Funkin’ For Obama’, a follow-up album to his acclaimed 2003 solo, ‘Malay Tone Poem’. “There are ten tracks, with things like ‘Let’s Jigga With It’, a kind of smooth jazz meets Brazilian samba meets Cape jazz. There’s the standard ‘Ntshilo Ntshilo’, done with just a Hammond B organ and voices a la Take Six; there’s a song for Moses Molelekwa, ‘Montuno For Mololekwa’, which is a serious Latin tune, with timbales and a salsa feel.” Which all sounds impressive enough – but all the more so upon learning that Galeta played all the instruments on the album himself. ‘I said it’s state-of-the-art digital, like top studios in LA or New York,’ he laughs, ‘I got in there and spent two or three months doing all the instruments myself – playing drums, keyboard, bass, guitar, piano. You need a game-plan and a roadmap, and then it’s like when you are arranging or conducting – you know which parts must go where, and how you want them played. It’s quite interesting, playing just with yourself, but these days the technology is so good that you can really do it.’

Hotep Galeta performs with Cape legend Robbie Jansen at the second annual Solms-Delta Oesfees, which also features  “Karoo Kitaar Blues” slide-spoon star Hannes Coetzee;  Gramadoelas (founded by Les Javan and the late Alex van Heerden); banjo, concertina and accordion ensemble Die Baardskeerdersbos Orkes; Franschhoek valley legends, the Papier Brothers Langarm Orkes; Jacobus Cloete (Namaqualand);  Bitterfontein Riel-dancers; “Pinkster-Koortjie” group House of David; and the farm’s own Delta Optel Band and Delta Brass Ban (Saturday 4 April, Solms-Delta Wine Estate, Delta Rd (off R45), Fanschhoek, 1pm to 9pm, tickets R150 from; includes two glasses of wine and hearty traditional meal; enquiries  8743937). More on and

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ section on 7/8 March 2009. Find out more on