“Trumpeter Thabo Sikhakhane was only 19 – years – old when he performed with pianist Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane at the Cape Town International Festival and UNISA Jazz Festival last year.  He was also featured in the recording of the SAMA nominated album by Mashiloane entitled Closer to Home.  He is the younger brother of 27-year-old saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane who recently graduated on a BFA- Jazz program at The New School in New York”

The two siblings from W section in Umlazi, south of Durban have seen little of each other in the past 7 years since Linda’s move to Johannesburg where he took part in the recording of “Words Unspoken” by “IT HAS TO BE JAZZ”, awarded a scholarship by South African Music Rights Organization (SAMRO) to study overseas, and the release of his 2016 debut album entitled “Two Sides, One Mirror” where he composed all the songs.

“I had the responsibility to look after Thabo.  We would play soccer, hide & seek, karate, and many other games.  We spent a lot of time together as we were growing up”, Linda told Jazz It Out.  “We lived a normal life like any other household and were taught respect from an early stage.  I always felt very safe when Linda was at school because I knew no one would care touch me. He was also a prefect”, Thabo recalling those days when they were still young boys.

They both went to Clairwood Boys Primary School and have the same mentors in Mrs V Rajmoney (whom they are pictured with on the feature image), Mr Khulekani Bhengu and the late Dr Brian Thusi.  Linda also played trumpet at Siyakhula Music Centre which is associated with The Salvation Army in Umlazi and this is where Thabo is currently doing a Diploma in Classical Performance.  Their parents Mr Mbongeleni and Mrs Gugu Sikhakhane instilled good Christian values in their children.

Trumpeter Thabo Sikhakhane. Picture by Sbonga Gatsheni

Thabo soon found himself playing at gigs at a very young age.  That motivated him to go for exams at the Royal School of Music. Linda recalls a time when he and his younger brother would perform for the family.  “Thabo would hold down the bassline on the keyboard and I on the clarinet. Our parents were very supportive and attentive to what we played for them”, Linda added.  Thabo would later travel to China with the KZN Wing Band which Linda was once it’s member.

Because of his elder brother’s successful career, Thabo feels he needs to work harder in his own right as a trumpeter but is not necessarily competing with him.  “Linda inspires me a lot as a big brother and fellow musician as he has shared the stage with great musicians and has made an impact to many younger musicians”, Thabo told Jazz It Out.  He describes the awarding of the SAMRO scholarship to his brother as a huge motivation to work harder.

Linda also believes it’s common for siblings to influence one another, and family plays a big role in inspiring an individual to reach their goal.  He further believes it is evident his brother Thabo puts a lot of work in what he does, and is a serious and focused musician.  Through his daily practicing at home, he may have indirectly influenced his younger brother to pick an instrument which resulted in him playing the trumpet.

Saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane. Picture by Hymie Sokupha

The Skhakhane brothers have a lot in common in their personalities and characters.  “People always say our smiles are similar but that’s really hard to tell.  I know that we both love meat”, said Thabo with a chuckle.  “I don’t remember having a serious conflict with Thabo when it comes to music.  We share the same playlist when we are driving or chilling at home.  I left most of my CD’s with him when I left for Johannesburg”, Linda added.

But he believes that him and his younger brother have some differences.  “I am not sure if I am able to describe the difference in our personalities but we are different in a way.  I think Thabo is more of a private person than I am”, he said.  Do they seek advice from each other?  “The advice I always seek from Linda is how I could sound better in playing chord changes because that has always been a struggle”, Thabo said.

Thabo’s favourite musicians are Feya Faku, Sydney Mavundla, Marcus Wyatt, Khulekani Bhengu, Sandile Simani, Gordon Vernick, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, Lee Morgan, Chet Baker, Till Brönner, Woody Shaw, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Sean Jones and Roy Hargrove.  Earlier this year, he shared the stage with US saxophonist Ernest Dawkins at UKZN Centre for Jazz and Popular Music. His other favourite music genres are dance and classical music.

The younger of the two siblings has also shared a stage with pianists Nduduzo Makhathini, Afrika Mkhize, Andile Yenana, saxophonist Salim Washington, and multi-instrumentalist Sazi Dlamini.  He was also chosen as part of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band led by Amanda Tiffin which performed at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival last year. Thabo has also been pre-eminently featured at the KwaZulu – Natal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Thabo with bass player Dalisu Ndlazi in the background. Picture by Simanga Konstant Zondo

Linda’s favourite jazz musicians of all tine include Brian Thusi, John Coltrane, Moses Sefatsa, Sthembiso Ntuli, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Kenny Garrett and Jerry Kunene.  He is grateful to have performed with Kunene, Thusi, Nduduzo Makhathini, Afrika Mkhize, Andile Yenana, Feya Faku, Tarus Mateen, Clarence Penn, Gregory Porter, Philani Ngidi, Marcus Wyatt and Herbie Tsoaeli.

The siblings are playing a lot of catch up now that Linda has completed his studies in the US and both confess to having missed each other.  “I am always in need of him  as a big brother”, Thabo said.  He also hopes to do a lot of work with Linda now that he is back in the country. Linda recalls his experiences of playing alongside his brother.  “Such experiences are rather emotional for me and very priceless”, he said.

Linda also believes it was a lot easier for Thabo to convince his parents about his choice of career.  “Things were a lot easier for him because our parents had a better understanding of how the industry works.  In my case, it took a lot of convincing to allay their fears and concerns”, he told Jazz It Out.  Thabo firmly believes the future of jazz in South Africa is very bright with young musicians like him that want to make a mark.

Linda doing what he loves best. Picture by Sufi Don

Thabo also recalls how his Umlazi neighbourhood was surprised that he chose to study and perform jazz while his peers are into music genres that are perceived to be more popular with the youth.  He stood his ground and the community accepted there was no way of changing his mind which was already made up.  Besides, he does not come across as someone who can be distracted from the path he has chosen.

Linda told Jazz It Outthat South African jazz artists are well received in the US.  He mentioned the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim, Bheki Mseleku and Ndikho Xaba, whom the jazz fraternity is mourning his passing, as artists he heard being mentioned regularly while he was in New York.  He believes that if jazz was created by people of African descent, then jazz is African music.

Linda has Facebook Page Linda Sikhakhane – Artist Page.  His Instagram account is @sikhakhanelinda and @LindaSikhakhane on Twitter.  Thabo is on Facebook as Thabo Sikhakhane @Sikhakhanethabo on Instagram.