It’s impossible to not hold one’s breath in awe of the creative possibilities of the collaboration between bra Hugh Masekela and Riky Rick. By simply making it possible for the singular elder statesman of South African music to get together with the young and enterprising rapper and producer, Riky Rick, Standard Bank is daring the two creative musicians to claw at much more than a few great tunes for the masses to jive to. Although it happens as a milestone on the celebratory road to the 20th edition of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz, the collaboration can easily launch us all into a new musical age.
The spirit of collaboration is foundational in jazz lore. All important historical moments in the music’s history has some kind of collaboration at their heart. Unlikely musical and collaborative encounters like Charlie Parker’s be-bop, Miles Davis’ gift of fusion, or even Dizzy Gillespie’s collaboration with Cuba’s percussionist, Chano Pozo, which birthed a new genre we now call Afro-Cuban, are just a few examples. Even South Africa’s own Don Laka understood this when he started fiddling around with kwaito and found a new sound that he called Kwaai jazz.
On 8 August we all watched in anticipation as the two South African mavericks sat enthroned on a warmly lit stage and spoke about their lives, loves of fashion and stories of songs and personal struggles. The air was thick with a younger man’s gratitude to fate for delivering him to fate, and the legendary trumpeter’s joy at yet another chance at possibilities.
At the heart of the collaboration is the idea of the two iconic artists working together to transcend genre and generational divides. This way illustrating to music lovers everywhere that: jazz is closer than you think!
It’s a principle that seeks to encourage music lovers who may think the virtuoso in jazz is too high for them to grasp and enjoy. To declare that “jazz is closer than you think!” Is to say, “hey it’s your heritage too, enjoy it, own it.”
As the process unfolds, some lucky fans will get a chance to visit Riky and bra Hugh as they rehearse their newly created work. Later, some will also form part of an exclusive audience at the performance of music created through the collaboration.
An element that may be lost on some pedestrian fans is that the collaboration also represents a coming of age for South African hip-hop. The symbolic force of having a rising rap star like Riky Rick with a creative colossus that is Masekela is about reclaiming South Africa’s contribution to the creation of hip-hop as a global pop cultural phenomenon. The genre was born in New York where South African music geniuses like Masekela were creatively active as expatriate citizens in exile. Masekela’s hit records like Don’t Go Lose It Baby actually feature him rapping. This notch on his creative staff make him a kind of godfather of rap music in these shores. How much of it will come out as part of this #OutoftheBlue experience, we can only hold our breath.