Makuzeni keeps us on our toes

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Performing at the DSG Hall Siya Makuzeni takes control of her unique sound. Photo: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala

A new Standard Bank Jazz Festival logo provided a fitting backdrop to this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Siya Makuzeni’s first gig. Not that she was providing us with a completely made-over Siya but this time round she performed her music and nobody else’s – no Marcus Wyatt, no Carlo Mombelli, just arrangements of her own music. By Nigel Vermaas.

As far as I know, this is a first. She opened with a song she’d premiered in part last year – making use of her live loop recorder-cum-harmoniser. No idea what it’s called but she uses it to manipulate her voice in new and exciting ways. Technology such as this can, like synthesisers, be disastrous in the wrong hands. It’s safe with Siya.

The first four songs mix lyrics, scat, African chants and rhythms with straight ahead jazz. A fellow jazz-lover remarked how confident she looked. She owned the DSG Hall stage last night but gave her band space to shine too.

The 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Siya Makuzeni, performs a completely original set at the DSG Hall. Photo: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala
The 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Siya Makuzeni, performs a completely original set at the DSG Hall. Photo: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala

Benjamin Jephta, whether on acoustic or electric bass, seems particularly simpatico with Siya’s voice, while Ayande Sikade cooks away subtly on his drum kit, as Thandi Ntuli provides some understated electronic piano. Sakhile Simani solos lyrically on bothtrumpet and flugelhorn, and Mtunzi Mvubu (substituting for tenor player Sisonke Xonti) makes his alto sing.

Talking of singing, Siya Makuzeni can’t be accused of “singing pretty” but she comes closest to it in her rendition of No Time to Waste, a song she wrote for a TV series. Beautiful. It’s considerably enhanced by Ntuli switching to acoustic piano and by a Charlie Haden-esque double bass solo by Jephta.

For her fifth number Makuzeni picks up her slide trombone – her band is now a classic horn sextet, but before we can relax into the familiar, she uses both trombone and voice in the song that follows, her indescribable guttural vocal solo echoing her ‘bone-playing. As she sings, she brandishes her gleaming horn like a totem: Siya Makuzeni is in charge. Not arrogantly, just rightly so.

After expressing her thanks to all, especially to Festival Director Alan Webster and the sponsor, she ends with a song which urges each audience member to “look inside yourself; realise your vision”.

Clearly, she practises what she preaches. She has only one more gig. If you can get a seat, buy one. Aside from Jephta, it’s with a completely different band. Siya wouldn’t want us to get too comfortable now, would she?

Siya Makuzeni 2, DSG Hall, July 6, 5pm

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