If androgyny was a musical word, it would fittingly describe the work of the 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Siya Makuzeni. By the middle of her debut performance at the National Arts Festival in #Jazztown, it was clear that her creative source and vision is cast larger than just straight ahead jazz. Makuzeni’s music is at once electronic and acoustic, improvised and premeditated, traditional and ground breaking. Furthermore, her artistic pitch is as much steeped in jazz as it is in everything else that shape her world.
First, we must confront the idea that though Makuzeni sings half of her repertoire, she is not a singer. Makuzeni is a vocal-instrumentalist. This is to say, to understand her genius, one must appreciate the depth of throat singing traditions among the Nguni and Sotho people in this corner of the African continent. So in many ways, jazz lovers, at what has been the most coveted ticket at this year’s Standard Bank Jazz Festival, got their trouble’s worth.
Makuzeni mediated gaggles and growls of Xhosa guttural throat singing through fancy machinery to give us a picture of what ancient traditions look like in our ultra-modern age. The ebullience of Mthunzi Mvumbu’s alto-sax and the clarity of Sakhile Simane’s trumpet were only made more exuberant by Makuzeni’s lyrical trombone. Their partnership completes a rare high-powered horn section by anyone’s standards anywhere. Oh, and rising young pianist, Thandi Ntuli was also there, and she’s a killer too. She was joined in the rhythm section by drummer Ayanda Sikade and Benjamin Jephta on bass. The sextet is rigorous and unpretentious.
Makuzeni is arguably the most challenging SBYA for Jazz to come along in a long while. Often, female musicians are reduced to tabloid fodder by a spectacle prone media. Makuzeni’s creative rigour denies and negates this tendency, though. Standing there on the spot-lit stage, blowing that horn with dextrous dutifulness to her craft, she forces the audience to hear her, not simply see her. It figures, Makuzeni is an example of how the various youth and schools programmes plough into the talents of many youths who join them. She has been a member of both the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band and the Standard Bank Schools Big Band. These along with her training at the Tshwane University of Technology prepared Makuzeni for what is today an international career. She has performed across Europe and the East African Islands as a member of various leading bands. Now she leads her own outfit. And the world can’t be the same when she’s done.