Just Add Kinchby Amory Fleming / Images by Steve Gordon / 11.04.2012
“Move, move, move, move with your high heels!¨ The cab driver shouted out his window as he ferried us to the Mahogany Room last Thursday night. Where Soweto Kinch backed by a superb local rhythm section would later bring a freeing, fiery milieu of jazz. Muttering like a distracted drill instructor, it sounded like a get-up mantra for the bourgeoisie to kindly remove themselves from the street. The driver himself is a saxophonist, which makes sense for a scene that seems as far-reaching as it is locally self-contained. The gig’s drummer, Kesivan Naidoo, also co-owns the bar, along with the requisite corporate lawyer type. Another happy marriage of art and commerce.
¨Smooth jazz… oiled, but not varnished.¨ Soweto says, affecting a kind of mock-sophistication in between songs. This was in keeping with the place, which the artist continually referred to as ¨Mahogany Rooms¨, with a bar pushed to the side to make way for more chairs amongst the art-gallery décor. Jazz and rap are art-forms appreciated with a similar kind of religious somberness, despite the spontaneous and often lighthearted nature of the music itself. The reverence was in full effect, with the audience bouncing between praising wildly or seated in utter silence.
And the music… what could be more freeing than jazz? Especially when compared to a mechanical booming, the suffocating rhythms of today´s electronic soundboard? To actually play an instrument will always impress, and Soweto´s saxophone melodies had a vibrancy that was palpable in the awed and incensed reactions of the audience. It went beyond soothing melody or emotional range, going up and down scales rapidly and with an extravagant, theatrical tone that made it a well-aimed barrage of sound resonating with every note.
Lyrical freestyling is something that, as a concertgoer, I am often prepared to be disappointed by. But Soweto is quite capable. With a relaxed and congenial stage presence, he went in 3 different times, twice with audience participation and another time completely off-the-cuff. With a list of audience-provided words he would begin from nowhere, and dazzlingly cut a verbal trail leading from one topic to the next. Amusement was found in someone´s suggestion of the word “ominous”. Funny, since his deep concentration combined with that towering Afro make for an appearance one might describe as ominous.
Later I got a chance to grill the maestro on his thoughts on the social relevancy of jazz compared to rap. “Jazz is no less socially relevant than rap.” He said. “It’s just less of a corporate tool.” For Kinch, hip hop will always have relevance being based in human stories. But both methods, he claimed, require “a personal element… soul searching… something you can put your own signature on and find what´s unique about you.” He waxed on the lyrical greatness of Nas and Jay-Z, and groaned at the prospect of having to pick between the two, but stated that Nas´ ethics make him the better of the pair, bringing him to finally lament the current trend of rappers “making money by dehumanizing themselves.”
Rest assured that the vibrant, all-chorus energy of his rhymes and saxophone playing will always be appreciated in Cape Town. He stated it himself while choosing between different A-words coming from the audience. “I´m going for alchemy.”
*All images © Steve Gordon/www.musicpics.co.za