“Zola and I have always been tight. We laugh a lot, cook together and share a drink. I always rely on him when it comes to ICT gadgets. Although he loved music, he never showed an interest in making a livelihood from it until later. He has energy in both recording studio and live performances”
This is how 59-year-old bassist, educator, composer and arranger Lex Futshane described his 38-year-old systems specialist and vocalist son Zola. “Our relationship is bigger than music even though music played a greater role in bringing us a lot closer. We are spending more time as we get older”, this is how Zola Futshane described his father and mentor Lex. They live not very far from each other which is what Futshane junior finds interesting.
Lex remembers how musicians were regarded as loafers, drunkards, womanizers and all other negative things when he started his career as a musician. His parents had concerns about his choice until they realized the passion he had. After receiving a R300 cheque while playing with Modern Jazz Group led by Pat Patsha many decades ago, Lex saw this as a huge motivation and wanted to pursue a career as a bassist.
Futshane senior is music graduate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and works at Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company where he teaches bass and manages the teacher training programme at the institution. He also lectures the Ensemble classes at Wits University. Lex is also a founder member, composer and arranger of Bassment, a 12 double bass ensemble comprising of 6 Jazz and 6 Classical bassists, a first in Africa.
Lex remembers Zola as a “very curious and willed chap who loved singing and later humming melodies from my jazz cassette collection”. Zola also sang in the school choir and even joined the church choir where he did more of what he was passionate about. “Music was pretty big in my household, singing in particular”, Zola told Jazz It Out. Getting ready for school on a daily basis included singing. He also belonged to a band of youngsters which he formed with his schoolmates.
After completing matric, Zola enrolled for a Bachelor of Science Degree at Rhodes University and later a Bachelor of Commerce in Information Systems at University of Fort Hare. “The conversation I had with Bra Lex while doing matric was very tough. I wanted to study music. But because I never did formal music grades, I foresaw a tough time at university as a music student”, recalling that consultation with his dad about life beyond high school. His decision was also influenced by the awarding of a bursary to enroll for a B Sc.
The bass player was happy with the decision his son reached. “I was very proud of Zola and knew he was going to complete his degree in record time since he was very bright at school. My son gave his best in everything he did and still does”, an extremely proud Lex told Jazz It Out. “So, doing music was then planned for later in life”, Zola added. He is a systems information specialist by day and a vocalist by night and gives both roles the attention they deserve.
As a professional musician and bassist, Lex has had a career he is more than happy with. “I don’t have regrets for choosing music although it is not as glamorous as it seems to an outsider or part-time musician”, he said. His early years started at New Brighton in Port Elizabeth with the likes of Buggs Gongco and The Soul Jazzman Institution. He would later perform with artists like Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Rashied Lanie, Bheki Khoza, Bheki Mseleku, Ezra Ngcukana, Ulrich Sussie, Brice Wassy, Chris Mers, Dave Brubeck and many others.
Lex has performed in many local and international festivals including the Grahamstown Arts Festival, Arts Alive, Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival, Bath International Music Festival in the UK, IAJE in the US and at a festival in Seoul, South Korea. He played bass and co-arranged many recordings such as “Art Gecko” with Counterculture, “Durban Noise” with Jurgen Braunninger, “African Tributes” with NU Jazz Connection, “Old Blues Ball Is Back” with Felema, and “Before it’s too late” with Darius Brubeck.
Zola who is also featured in his father’s album “Innocent Victims & Perpetrators” says committing himself more to music has not been easy. “People like Bra McCoy Mrubata demand a certain level of competency and seriousness. This has pushed me to some late – night practicing and reviews. The end result has been amazing though. When you finally crack a song that has been hitting you hard”, he told Jazz It Out.
Futshane junior describes the release of his album entitled “Thando Lwenene” in 2014 as a dream come true. “One of those moments one treasures forever in their life. From recording the album, meeting the musicians and songwriters who helped out, to the launch night when everything comes together. Seeing friends and family enjoying the work you have done. Man, it was something special”, recalling the process with excitement. The album received a nomination for a South African Traditional Music Award (SATMA) that year.
He explained why he goes by the name ZolaSoul: “The whole thing of calling myself ZolaSoul was the unshackling of being the son of Lex, the double bass player kind of thing”. In the album, he struck a balance between soul and jazz but acknowledges that he is associated with jazz any way. Zola also described the early days of performing with Lex: “At first it used to be like being in a music class and writing an examination”. They would review all the performances in detail but feels a lot more confident to express himself as a musician these days.
Lex is happy with Zola’s contribution to “Innocent Victims & Perpetrators”. “He fitted the bill since my aim was to work with young musicians on the project. We had fun in the studio and it was refreshing hearing these guys creating their own footprints in my music”, beaming with pride. His LEXtet is an exciting ensemble playing his own compositions and arrangements of local and international jazz standards. He has performed in countries like Swaziland, Zambia, Mozambique, and Germany.
Zola recalls attending a gig in PE as a youngster where his father was performing at the Edward Hotel. His band members included Bra Big T, Rev Pat Patsha. Zim Ngqawana and Feya Faku were also there. The saxophonist and trumpeter would be regular visitors to his home and has witnessed several of their rehearsals and gigs. He also paid several visits to Lex while he was teaching in Durban and has embarked on several road trips with him.
These days Zola plays with Lex and McCoy Mrubata on their Ingqungquthela series of performances. This is a collaboration of the two legends that happens every two months for the last 2 years. They play a combination of music from both musicians with old and news material. Tomorrow will be the 20th edition of Ingqungquthela(see the gig guide).
“With mutual respect and honesty, things get better all the time. The relationship, openness, the learning and teaching makes it all too beautiful”, this is Zola’s advice to musicians who may find themselves in a similar situation of working with their fathers. If Lex was not a good role model, Zola might have resented everything to do with music and musicians in general.
Lex Futshane is on Facebook as well as on Instagram @lexfutshane. Zola is also on Facebook as ZolaSoul Futshane and @therealzolasoul on Instagram and Twitter. If you are in Johannesburg on Father’s Day make sure to catch their performance at 26 Drakensberg Street, Rondebult where they will be part of a band including McCoy Mrubata on saxophone, Johan Mthethwa on keyboards, Bernice Boikanyo on drums and Samora Ntsebenza on percussion.