Q & A with Jazz artist Thandi Ntuli

21 January 2019 Interview

By Motlagae Konyana


With Jazzuary 2019, Kaya FM is celebrating the Rebirth of Jazz –what makes Jazz cool, what does the the Rebirth of Jazz mean to you?

I think life is a series of deaths and rebirths so to speak and in the same way I think “Jazz” or what we have come to call Jazz is and has always been evolutionary in its nature. So for me, “Rebirth of Jazz” may just mean a continuation on the path of documenting our life experience and growth both as practitioners and consumers of the music in a way that is meaningful to ourselves and/or in society.

Thandi Ntuli Portraits1_

Who and in what form expression would you like to collaborate with for an ideal Rebirth of Jazz project that would make Jazz cool and appeal to an even younger generation?

Well the word “cool” is also relative so I wouldn’t set out with that as an intention. A few years back, I asked my nephew if he knew Kendrick Lamar (true story!) and he said “no” but he told me about a song by Bokani Dyer that he came across on iTunes (Outro from his album ‘World Music’) that he really liked and actually flipped out when I told him I knew Bokani personally. Haha. That was awesome because you’d expect the opposite, right? So the appeal is there it’s just the exposure to the music that could be in question…maybe…I don’t know for sure. In terms of collaborations it always changes based on where I am at artistically but I think definitely Georgia Anne-Muldrow stands out as someone I’d love to bump heads with (in a good way) in the studio.


How would you describe your own musical direction?

It’s complicated and chaotic with some kind of underlying ‘order’ that only ever seems to make sense in retrospect.. Haha. But in every moment of time I do my best to stay true to what is true and meaningful to me at the time. A bit like life, I guess.


Who are some of your musical heroes and why?

Many many many many heros! Moses Molelekwa stands out as one, and possibly because of my introduction to his music in relation to my journey as a musician. He introduced me in a real way to the idea that the aesthetics of traditional African music can be translated onto the piano, an instrument I’d played my whole life but only in the style of Western Classical music. It’s strange because Jazz is rooted/founded by this very translation by means of the blues, but I guess it was most recognizable to me through his music. I also appreciate his aversion to boxes/genres as he experimented with electronics too in a time when that wasn’t really commonplace in South African Jazz. Herbie Hancock is another, extreme explorer and innovator that I really look up to. Another is my paternal grandfather, who was an amazing choral music composer. But probably my greatest hero is my late uncle, Selby Ntuli, who I’ve only heard stories about from my family but always get lost in awe of the artist and performer I am told he was.

Thandi Ntuli Portraits22_

What did winning Standard Bank Young Artist of the year for Jazz in 2018 mean to you ?

It learnt a lot about myself last year, which is always the best gift for me. But the award itself really helped me realize that there are so many people, more than I realized actually, who appreciate what I do. Mostly because the award in some ways may have introduced people to me through the opportunities it presented. That inspires me in some way!

What are you striving for as a Jazz musician?

I prefer “artist” to “Jazz musician”, haha. I strive to create work that inspires the same feeling in people that I feel when I am moved by art… in whatever form. I think art reveals some kind of evidence of the mystery of our nature as human beings and even after feeling it, whatever it may be, we all have some kind of recognition of ourselves even when we don’t know how to articulate it.


How do you plan on rebirthing yourself and stay relevant in Jazz?

By keeping it real and staying out of the music’s way.


What is your beef with Jazz – what don’t like about Jazz in South Africa and why?

My beef with “Jazz”, in general not just in South Africa, is the label it is given: “Jazz”. What is that? Nobody seems to ever come up with a meaning that is universally accepted, only various sects like the “purists” or “avant garde” the “funk” or “new-school” etc; and this is not a new phenomenon. Miles Davis, John Coltrane… so many musicians I have read up about/followed have said this in some way or the other. I find that term has sometimes been restrictive for me but also excludes others who have pre-conceived ideas of what it is, based on their personal exposure to “Jazz’. In a weird and wonderful way though, this is also what I love about Jazz. There are endless possibilities, because the seekersthe diggers, the collectors, the challengers of the status quo, the misfits seem to always find themselves somewhere in its ambiguity.

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