Husbands who loved their liquor dark, swirling neat in small doses. Wives who wore the latest two-piece summer suits from Queenspark and kept beautiful homes. They got together often to bask in the sun of a new South Africa while reminiscing over the lives they had built under siege in foreign cities; calling each other by the names that exile gave to them. The brazen excellence of Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela, the inimitable scatting of Al Jarreau and mellow grooves of Quincy Jones’ Q’s Jook Joint would float comfortably in between the aroma of braaied meat, playing children and loud conversations rising high into the air. They would drink and dance until late, throwing laughter out deep from the gut – colouring once lily-white suburbia with a new sound.
My childhood was filled with these kinds of Saturdays. I remember when I was about 6 years old and watched a familiar scene unfold. “Uncle” Freddy sat on his chair quietly, bopped his head and tapped his foot intensely to the music. As the song approached its crescendo, he looked up with pursed lips and shook his head like something terrible just happened. With everyone’s attention on him and the rhythm thrusting him into action, he stood up and stomped his foot. “Di di di di di di diii, di di di di di!”, he yelled with his head thrown back and hand pointed to the sky. “Hayi, hayi madoda! Nithi n’yamazi uDollar Brand?! Mmmm!”, face scrunched up all the way, playing an imaginary piano while the one hand cautiously holds onto his whisky glass. Some nods, some laughs and the greatness of Abdullah Ibrahim’s Mannenberg becomes a hot topic. Jazz was indeed intrinsic to my father and the family that my parents formed from their friendships. The way it lived among them and made them kin let me know early that it was something worth holding onto.
At this current point in my life, I have embraced my love for Jazz, not only as organic but as somewhat political too. As a young African Feminist, Jazz showed me the light and now I no longer pay Hip Hop heartthrobs to hurt me by calling women, myself included, “bitches” and “hoes”. Of course, some of my favourites are problematic but often its just instrumental or Blues singing and I can listen to the magic without having to feel my humanity being violated.
Jazz is truly a testament to the eternal genius of the African diaspora. Its rich history inspires me to create, love and fight for what I believe in. Nina Simone is the high priestess of my whole life and her fire keeps me going. Then, there is this divine ascension when I listen to Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redentor” or “Sometimes, I Feel like a Motherless Child” or Hugh Masekela’s “A Person is a Sometime Thing”, for instance. Jazz is a boundless spirit that connects me to my people all through the ages of time.
It also gives me even more reasons to love Summer! Rainy days, vanilla chardonnay and listening close – I imagine a beautiful man, sweat-heavy, using his whole body to make the kind of glory we get when Coltrane presses his lips to the saxophone in “Acknowledgement”. Or, the way the heart slowly aches into itself when Miles Davis plays “I Fall In Love Too Easily”. I imagine my future wedding day, rainy too, in a flower market and this pensive trumpet blessing the occasion. Jazz is the sound that I live by. It’s there in all of my intimate moments, when I’m hurting and healing and getting to know myself a better. Like Cassandra Wilson sings: “You know my secrets, you know the curve and the line. One touch, mmm, and I know you are mine. You move me”.
Bio: Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango is a Swedish-born writer, poet, African feminist and Anthropology postgraduate, living her best life in love and service to girls and women.