Why Jazz Still Isn’t Cool: The 2nd #BAMiversary in Review

Nicholas Payton

It’s been almost 2 years since my legendary post On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore and many followup posts explaining exactly why in great detail, international conferences, videos, etc., and most folks still don’t get it.

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The great irony here is that for all the creative “improvisational” types that jazz is supposed to attract, jazzheads are some of the most inflexible, obstinate, ignorant, lazy, entitled, cowardly and greedy people I have ever come across. For a genre that prides itself on community, jazzheads are a selfish and narcissistic bunch of hypocrites.

It’s been 100 years and you all are still arguing about what is and what is not jazz. Not only have many of the ancestors laid it out for you, but through them, I’ve exhaustively tailored the message in every fathomable way one possibly can. I’ve said it, played it, expressed it profanely and profoundly, and most of y’all…

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On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore

Nicholas Payton

Jazz died in 1959.

There maybe cool individuals who say they play Jazz, but ain’t shit cool about Jazz as a whole.

Jazz died when cool stopped being hip.

Jazz was a limited idea to begin with.

Jazz is a label that was forced upon the musicians.

The musicians should’ve never accepted that idea.

Jazz ain’t shit.

Jazz is incestuous.

Jazz separated itself from American popular music.

Big mistake.

The music never recovered.

Ornette tried to save Jazz from itself by taking the music back to its New Orleanian roots, but his efforts were too esoteric.

Jazz died in 1959, that’s why Ornette tried to “Free Jazz” in 1960.

Jazz is only cool if you don’t actually play it for a living.

Jazz musicians have accepted the idea that it’s OK to be poor.

John Coltrane is a bad cat, but Jazz stopped being cool in 1959.

The very fact…

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This Blooming Logo explained

cropped-gaw2-finalemailsize.jpgThe Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian) symbol of Eternal Life, the Ankh has become a well recognized symbol globally. Like the Christian crucifix, it initially denoted a spiritual or religious sign with an intrinsic and esoteric meaning, but it has gradually become a kind of fashionable symbol. Some people just like the shape so they create various ornaments and design jewellery and clothing emblazoned with the Ankh. So it has acquired multiple uses in modern times. Yet its semiotic link to a revival of Afrocentric values endures.

As a creative design business, Green Ankh Works (PTY) LTD has chosen to use the shape of the Ankh with added blooming leaves in order to symbolize perpetual growth. It is a Tree with potential to bear good fruit. It also depicts two branches (Creative Forces) meeting.

While most Ankhs are stylized and hardly venture away from the Ancient Egyptian look, our Green Ankh speaks of the current trends towards Environmental Awareness, Multidisciplinary approaches to organisation building, business, the Arts and ideas.

Green Ankh Works simply means The WORKS OF NATURE (NETER) ARE UNLIMITED.

The Essence of the Arts: Its a Kind of Magic

Magic consists of KNOWING the correct, exact gesture, word, pronunciation, all at the correct time; if these are not so, the system will not work. Those who go against nature may do so for a short time, but will undergo the correction of nature at their own peril.” – Ancient  Kemetic (Egyptian) Proverbs, On Right Action

Aint no rules aint no vows we need to conquer we won’t bow / We neither can be bought or sold / Cause everyday we pay the price with the rebels sacrifice / Life is worth much more than gold.” – Bob Marley and The Wailers, Jammin

Being an artist in the ‘modern’ capitalist society is no joke. Being an artist who is not business minded in a capitalist society is a recipe for tragedy. But then again what is Art for, and in how many ways can it be appreciated without succumbing to preconditions of the market or the “Faka Imali Uzobona” ( Put it money you shall see ) paradigm?

In searching for the Essence of the Arts, I am seeking to figure out how Arts can exist and flourish independent of commercial interests. But then again, perhaps financial gain and  commercial success is a veritable motivator for many modern Artists, especially those in the Entertainment field or industries.

I am trying to find out whether true Arts should or should be bought and sold, but I am fully aware as an artist myself, that I cannot toil on my work only to give it away to people who may or may not value it. How else can we measure value and appreciation outside of the commercial or financial markets?

But the essence of the Arts is not really to always pursue commercial interests, yet in a society where sustenance means one must sell what is most precious to them including one’s “Soul”, the significance of Art becomes contentious. Where does one draw the line between true personal expression and doing it to survive, to make a living or even to be a commercial success?

But let us not assume that the commercialisation or commodification of Art is a new thing. Through0ut history and in many varying societies, Artists have held different hierarchical positions. While some were porters, artisans, trained and skilled crafters and entertainers for aristocrats, the noble and the affluent, there have always been those Artists who are simply born to do it. Only the Creators know why some are predisposed to fashion something of aesthetical interest out of base materials while others are simply there to enjoy and benefit from such creations.

The question of what is ethically sellable and what should not be bought or sold, is an old one. But for our interest as Afrikan people whose Arts and Crafts often holds sacred value, we need to look at commercialisation for what it is. The corruption or profanation of the naturally sacred – leading to the undervaluing of divine objects and divine actions or creations. But if I do not buy a Charles Mingus, Joe Henderson, Zim Ngqawana or Winston Mankunku Ngozi album, how else can I get a chance to appreciate the work and contribute to the wellbeing of the Artist?

Art is work and to some people who are not even considered Artists, their own work or even their sporting activity is considered an Art by themselves or even their admirers. To many people, a sportsman like Lionel Merci is an Artist. When I was younger, watching Maradona, Pele or Jomo Sono was like watching an Artist weaving his magic on the theatre of dreams.

When we were young and innocent, it never dawned on us that these Artists were involved in business transactions worth millions in cash and other lucrative benefits. In short, someone is always making money or profiting from someone else’s talent. How that advances or negatively affects the Art and the Artists him or herself is another longer debate that requires deeper analysis on various levels. Such as what are the motivating factors that compel an Artist to do what they do, and how much coercion is involved in the transaction from pure artistry to the market for talent. Malcolm Gladwell’s observations in his books The Tipping Point and Outliers offers great insights into these questions and provides answers to questions such as how the Best or the most successful competitors and players are selected.

Perhaps the question we should ask is, when exactly did we start buying and selling our Arts? Perhaps the simple answer would be, whenever we started setting up communities that were defined and fixed in the varying traditions of increasing and competitive people. In other words, we started trading in artefacts around the same time we began identifying ourselves as different from each other in terms of clans and different identities and professions.  It was distance, variation of talents and environmental factors that compelled us to seek out what we did not have or did not know how to create or fashion for ourselves. I do not want to speculate on which Age or Era, but the moment we each discovered that certain specific communities specialised in whichever Arts, that is when the trading and bartering began.

We each possess something that the other does not. The moment we identify that something and figure out that we want it for ourselves, that is when the deal begins. Whatever price is put on it that is the price we will pay if we can afford it. The market provides a space for availability and choice, but the problem with the capitalist market is that it allows for unfair competition where advantage  is given to those who can produce more rather than those who specialise in quality rather than quantify. This is how commercialism and materialism becomes corrosive and destructive in society.

This kind of unfair competition exists in all forms of Art, including literature. While writers and song-makers from all nations have the capability to produce Fine Art, it is the ones from the recognised and hegemonic commercial hubs who get to monopolize the markets and flood the whole world with their own ideas of what is true, beautiful and valuable. But they also never shy away from stealing directly from the rest of the world.

But then again what does it mean to be Afrikan in a world that has become so globalised and an Afrika which operates on Western value-systems?

Let’s see what one of Afrika’s greatest philosophers and writers had to say:

“I am an Ibo writer, because this is my basic culture; Nigerian, African and a writer …no, black first, then a writer. Each of these  identities does call for a certain kind of commitment on my part. I must see what it is to be black – and this means being sufficiently intelligent to know how the world is moving and how the black people fare in the world. This is what it means to be black. Or an African – the same: What does Africa mean to the world? When you see an African what does it mean to a white man?” – Chinua Achebe.

I know a lot of Artists who have sold more of their visual Arts work to Europeans than to other black people. They have even begun to believe that Black people simply do not value Art in general. Is this part of the modern culture or is it something to do with how we view Art in general?

My simple answer is that, We Art. Art is everything to the Afrikan psyche. There are many among us who believe that everyone is an Artist or at least a potential one. This is where the expression, “if you can talk you can sing and if you can walk you can dance” comes from. But can everyone draw, paint or do what Bheki Mseleku does with the piano, or what Shaluza Max Mtambo does with his voice?

How much should Artists be paid to attend a Festival such as the one happening now, the essence Festival. There are so many questions demanding real answers as to how exhibitors and Artists were chosen. Where does the money go and does it sufficiently support local talents …

Some will say very much so, but others whould strongly disagree … Who is selling what to who and who is fooling who?

I know

Ingoma and the death of ego

Nduduzo_MakhathiniLove and Light, Thokoza, Hutuapo or Hotep …

These are some of the words that we usually use to greet each other whenever we chat with my Spiritual brothers, either Eugene Skeef, Nduduzo Makhathini, Madoda Mditshwa, Zwelibanzi Dlamini and a few others. We do not use typical greetings because we are not typical. There is nothing predictable about us besides the Love we exude for Life, People, the Motherland and the Omniverse. Hold that thought, we will return to those words and their meaning to us later and in other essays too, as the Spirit leads.

Earlier this evening I was dropping off some fliers at my second home, the Ethio-Eritrean Habesha Cafe’ and also still deciding whether I should attend the Poetry/Musical event hosted by my team the Nowadays Poets just across the road at One Two Seven Restaurant – but lo and behold, Mama Nomusa Xaba comes walking up the road and so after we greet the owner of Habesha Cafe’ and also passing some greetings to the Poets/Artists – I had decided to drive her home.

When we got in the car I had to change the music. I had been listening to the Australian avant garde Soul band Haitus Kaiyote, but since I was in the presence of an Elder, I decided something gentler would be better… yet I was now torn between playing Nina Simone or Jay Electronica featuring Kendrick Lemar, surely Mama Nomusa could dig that, after all she is from the USA and her Lifelong partner is the one and only premier Avant Gardist Baba Ndikho Xaba.

Anyway while I was fiddling with the music and driving up to her house, we got to talking about work relationships and how it is difficult to work with people who have not defeated their sense of self-importance, people who are either diva’s or egotists.

Mama gave me such simple yet sage advise, I found myself letting go of so much pain and confusion that had settled in my heart like a some immovable mystical heavy object. But our subject matter shifted to something more beautiful and even though it was related to the first issue of what causes relationships to break down, she was showing me how the opposite is possible if peoples hearts are Open to the Spirit of Love, Light and Godness…

Mama Nomusa being the consummate storyteller, begun telling me the story her last experience of watching and listening to Nduduzo Makhathini at the legendary Rainbow Restaurant this past weekend. Mama was simply awed by the sheer amount of Love and Healing that Makhathini brought to the music.

“He silenced the typically loud place with his big heart Menzi.”

Said Mama Nomusa, spreading her arms around us like a great white headed Eagle. “There is the music itself, but then there is the face and purity of intention, the Heart of Love of the young man … he became an Elder on the stage, as if he was evoking all the wise old men who he can easily summon from the broadness of his Love.”

As Mama Nomusa spoke, I couldn’t help remembering that Nduduzo Makhathini’s music is the daily fix at my home. Hardly a day passes in which I do not play Icilongo for my babies, or Matunda Ya Kwanza or my favourite Inner Dimensions just to cleanse the house of any bad vibes or heaviness that may settle in and hide and fester in corners that we cnnot reach by either prayer or incense. It is only Ingoma that can permeate the very crevices and sinews of the heart and the space we call home.

Ingoma YalesiSangoma iyaselapha. OkaMakhathini wazi kahle kamhlophe ukuthi uzalelweni noma umsebenzi wakhe ngqangi yimuphi emhlabeni. Njengezinye Izithunywa ZikaMvelingqangi namaThongo KaMenzi, uzokwelapha isizwe esimqondo udungekile.

It takes a heart full of ecstatic musical Love to usher in the Age of the Divine Mother. It is not by coincidence that the coming of Makhathini was preceded by two or three other great Healers who happened to be pianists, the tormented genius and Tarot-like Hanging Man – Taiwa Moses Molelekwa and the Krishna-centric Drowning Man – Bhekumuzi Hyacinth Mseleku. These two trailblazing phenomena were to music what Jesus Christ was to the Gentiles – a gate, or a door towards Higher Consciousness.

As human beings they are or were as flawed as any of us, but as Artists, whose work sets them apart as Avatars of the Universal/the Omniversal Spirit or God, they were divine beings, messengers whose sound was poured on our heads to christen or edify those who have the gift of hearing. The music or Ingoma that they do is so expansive and powerfully evocative that it exist as a strong elixir against egotism. If we can listen with a clear conscience, perhaps we can find ourselves bathing in Umsunduzi River or finally heed the message of Mseleku’s Sun Race Arise.

Of course there are many musicians in South Africa or in the world today who exude a similar aura of Shamanism or UbuNgoma. But in an  age where the sheer amount of information that comes through is dazzling, where does one go or what can one do to simply soak in the vastness of the gifts of Ingoma – Ingoma ka-Omar Sosa, Ingoma ka-Christian Atunde Adjuah Scott, nengoma ka Kendrick Lemar, The Soil, The Brother Moves On, Existing Consciousness nabanye abelaphi …?

As we do not see each other as much as we would wish to, Mama Nomusa and I spoke about other influential Leaders we both have known. One of them being Shekem ur Shekem aka Ra Un Nefer Amen. I was carrying three Divination cards from the Ausar Auset Society in the car and I had asked her to try and find me a complete pack as these belonged to my partner Yaa Ashantewaa Ngidi who kept them on her desk at our Institute of Afrikology office. I was returning them today, but I seriously need my own and also to learn to use them.

Mama explained in her characteristic lightness of speech, how some of the smartest and most connected people are simply enslaved by their ego and the best way to deal with them is to Love them and leave them. “For the sake of your own journey, my son, the best thing is to leave with Love.”

I did not fully understand what she meant until I put on Joshua Redman’s Timeless Tales for Changing Times – and the song that really brought home the message, was Visions.

It is the kind of music that invokes the past while affirming the significance of the present yet treads firmly as a walking bassline towards an envisioned future. . .

I am trying to put into words, how music / Ingoma helps me to figure out stuff that is supposedly not related to sounds or even to emotional matters. It is as if music is an intelligent lifeform in its own right. The players may be participating in its production but only the music /Ingoma itself knows which direction to go and if we are receptive enough, we can be carried on the wings of its Loving Kindness and perhaps only then would we appreciate the meaning of Hutuapo/Hetepu/Hotep/ Thokoza (Be Joyful) and all the words we choose to use when we see each other as Kindred Spirits.