Standard Bank ‘Young Artist Of The Year: Jazz’ 2009 winner and double-SAMA nominee Kesivan Naidoo is preparing a host of musical projects for the National Arts Festival, and beyond.
This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight on 30 May 2009.
Recently returned from a weekend at the South African Music Awards where his Indian-influenced quartet, Babu, was nominated for both “Best Instrumental Album” (for “Up Roots”) and “Best Newcomer”, jazz drummer Kesivan Naidoo is in the thick of preparing for his various appearances at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July – and a number of other band projects.
“There are a few things I am expected to do as the Standard Bank Young Artists winner, and the Grahamstown Festival is officially the first engagement where these are launched,” says Naidoo during a brief pause between rehearsals and gigs. He is quick to note that, also, the National Arts Festival is where a panel of music industry luminaries – last year chaired by Sibongile Khumalo, a former winner – select the winners of this prestigious award.
“Kesivan and The Lights… is kind of like Art Blakey and The Messengers”
– Kesivan Naidoo
The primary performance will be the debut of Naidoo’s first solo project, Kesivan Naidoo and The Lights. “It’s kind of like Art Blakey and The Messengers,” laughs Naidoo, “The Messengers might change, but Art Blakey stayed the same. In Grahamstown, The Lights will be half South African and half European because of all the people that I have played with throughout the years. Later, when we play at Joy of Jazz in August, The Lights will be all South African players.”
Naidoo is a versatile player involved in projects ranging from breakbeat to bebop and Indian to percussion-only ensembles, but The Lights are something new. “This project is particularly geared towards my love for acoustic jazz, and exploring that,” he explains. “People will be able to hear a few of my original compositions and a lot of my arrangements of other people’s compositions. It’s what jazz musicians do; taking certain standards and re-arranging them. I don’t want to spill the beans too much, but there’s also one popular tune that we’re doing.”
The July outing will see The Lights comprising Stockholm’s alto saxophone virtuoso Johan Horlen, Australian avant garde trombonist Adrian Mears, Swedish bassist Martin Sjostedt and, from Cape Town, edgy pianist Andre Petersen and Babu-compatriot and Indian and classical guitar master Reza Khota. The “Joy Of Jazz” performance in Johannesburg in August will feature trumpeter Feya Faku, whom Naidoo describes as “one of my mentors had for years”.
How, though, can a trumpet-player mentor a drummer? “In the jazz tradition, it’s not really like the instruments are playing in a hierarchy, because they are all related, and you are all playing and improvising in a certain style. It also goes beyond the music, to life experience mentoring,” explains Naidoo. He pauses and then adds, “It depends what direction you are taking the music: if you are talking about the more free type of approach, then I’d note (free jazz saxophonist, composer and teacher) Zim Ngqawana as a mentor. For the more hard-pop and post-bebop style, it has been Feya that pointed me in the right direction of what music I should listen to in order to get the sounds out that I wanted.”
Upon receiving the award, Naidoo was quoted as saying that he’d dreamed of winning it, especially given that he had friends in the industry who’d done so and, also, that it gave him confidence at a crucial time in his jazz career. “I’m very excited: it’s like taking the next step into leadership,” he adds now, and then mentions some of the industry friends – and past Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz winners – that he’ll also be playing with at the National Arts Festival. It is a stellar septet of a cast: Cape Town’s Shannon Mowday (saxophone) and Mark Fransman (piano, saxophone), alongside Concord Nkabinde (bass), Andile Yenana (piano) and an interesting featured guest, opera star Zanne Stapelberg.
“Tribe was the first collective that I was an integral part of”
– Kesivan Naidoo
Fransman and Naidoo are no strangers to Cape Town music lovers, especially since their quartet Tribe (alongside saxophonist Buddy Wells and double-bassist Charles Lazaar) was instrumental in introducing a new generation of listeners to the genre with a residency at Observatory’s Independent Armchair Theatre. “I had just graduated and, although I had been playing with other musicians, Tribe was the first collective that I was an integral part of, and where we performed some of my arrangements,” says Naidoo. It also introduced audiences to the sight of Naidoo in full flight, his drum kit almost an extension of his very being; and the notion of the drummer as the focus of a band as, eyes gleaming with a near-possessed passion, he cast aside his drumsticks to play out the end of a solo with bare hands smashing the vellum-skin of the tom-toms and the hard metal of his cymbals.
Naidoo has gone on to perform with collectives as varied as the percussion ensemble Beat Bag Bohemia, an international collective, and the electronic group Closet Snare, which on Friday night was co-headliner of “Eclectica”, the Argus Bandstand anniversary party, but Tribe remains a seminal departure point for him. “It was like a teething band, in a way, and then the musicians grew from strength to strength. Now, although we don’t play that often, there has been talk of Tribe coming out again. It was the band that formed the serious sound of my musical evolution and, in a way, I can say that everything stemmed from there, especially the post-bebop sound, and the music of South African composers. From there it has always been a focus of mine to form a sound that is uniquely southern African, but that people in the rest of the world can identify with.”
Kesivan Naidoo performs regularly with his various collectives in and around Cape Town: see Babu.co.za and MySpace.com/ClosetSnare for more. The 2009 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown runs from 2 – 11 July 2009 – see NationalArtsFestival.co.za for details.
This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight on 30 May 2009. Find out more onTonight.co.za.