“Multi instrumentalists Dave Reynolds and Pops Mohamed have done over 200 concerts together, including festivals such as the Standard Bank Jazz Festival and the Bosman Festival. They have also performed at several jazz clubs. Pops has received three Lifetime Achievement Awards. No one can separate these two artists who are more like brothers”
Describing his relationship with Pops, Dave said: “Pops and I share a deep love and commitment to being African and playing original African music. We are soul brothers”. Pops was quick to say that: “What Dave and I have in common is protecting and preserving our beautiful heritage for future generations to come”. They also a share a common belief in an integrated South Africa which requires that they develop a curiosity for their different cultural experiences.
Dave was born in Namibia. His mother was a school music teacher and his father was a principal in Windhoek. Both the parents devoted their entire lives to their children and believed that they should be what they want to be. “Soccer and singing were absolutely the best part of school”, he recalls. Unknowingly, he was getting prepared for a career in music.
Pops was born in Benoni on the Gauteng East Rand. As a child, he did what most kids were doing like flying kites, top spinning, skipping and playing marbles. He also loved listening to the radio and messing around on the piano during school breaks. “My family was very musical”, he told Jazz It Out. He taught himself how to play the piano.
At the age of 14, he went to study music at Dorkay House. Despite having taught himself a few instruments earlier, it was the guitar that formed part of his studies at the institution. In his early days as a semi professional musician, Pops played with several bands in Boksburg and Johannesburg townships. “My first band was called Les Valiants which I was its lead guitarist in 1968”, he said. By the mid 70’s, he made collaborations with saxophonist Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee and bassist Sipho Gumede.
In his first year at Rhodes University, Dave did not study music. He found a mentor in Dr Andrew Tracey who ran the African Music Research Institute. “I felt worried that if I studied music it would be too institutionalized, which it was”, he told Jazz It Out. He tiptoed into hoping to find another mentor and Norbert Nowotny turned to be just what he was looking for.
Dave’s experience with fellow students at the tertiary institution was nothing to write home about, except for Chris Letcher, who started the band Urban Creep and currently lectures film music at Wits University. He also met Alan Webster who was a little older than him and playing heavy jazz already. Webster was a huge inspiration to Reynolds. “I wanted to be like him, but hadn’t found my instrument of choice yet which is the steelpan”, he said.
From playing piano and the guitar in his early days as a musician, Pops added kora, mbira, Khoisan Bow and percussion. There are other five additional instruments that he can play but rarely uses them for performance except when he is writing film and documentary scores. Dave also plays different types of instruments but is limiting himself to only three which are Paraguayan harp, nylon string guitar and steelpans.
2007 saw the release of Dave’s debut album “Grassroots” where he featured trombonist Siya Makuzeni, bassist Concord Nkabinde and guitarist Louis Mhlanga. The album taught him how to produce and engineer quality music. He also produced and released the album “Beyond”, a posthumous collection of Gito Baloi’s previously unreleased recordings. Both albums received South African Music Awards (SAMA) nominations. “The recognition helped me personally to overcome some of my fears”, he told Jazz It Out.
Dave has also worked with musicians such as trumpeter Hugh Masekela who taught him not to take himself too seriously when performing live. From bassist Gito Baloi he learnt how to believe in himself. Guitarist Steve Newman taught him to care about his audience, while bassist Sipho Gumede told Dave to develop the sweetest tunes and let the obscure ones go. Pianist Paul Hanmer emphasized he should know himself and what he wants to do with each day, and saxophonist McCoy Mrubata taught him to be down to earth.
Pops told Jazz It Out that some of the best albums he has recorded so far include “Ancestral Healing” which won a SAMA award for Best Traditional Jazz and reached the 5th spot in the European world music charts. “Timeless” is another album which won a SAMA award for Best Instrumental Performance where he collaborated with Bruce Cassidy. The two musicians also had a duo group called Timeless at the time. “How far have we come?” is an album that stayed on the world music charts for 18 weeks.
Dave and Pops take extreme pride in playing African instruments. Their image and signature come mainly from the instruments they play. “It was our intension from the very first day we started working as a duo group”, Pops said with confidence. “Even the steelpans were developed by descendants of African slaves, like a bright shimmering version of marimba”, Dave added.
Their music makes the listeners connect with their ancestors. “Sometimes I see myself as a spiritual person who believes that we are constantly surrounded by spirits of a certain nature during our performances. Our music is a lynchpin that brings the past, present and future together to what we call the 21st century”, Pops told Jazz It Out. The two musical buddies are also aware that their music reaches a wider audience that goes beyond jazz and world music.
On the 24th of June 2015, they performed on the Standard Bank stage at the National Arts Festival. From that performance, they released an album “Live in Grahamstown” the following year which received a nomination for Best Jazz Album. The recording featured artists Sylvain Baloubeta, a Congolese bass player living in Canada also on backing vocals, Mozambican born and now Cape Town based drummer Frank Paco, and Tony Cedras on accordion who has played with Paul Simon and Cassandra Wilson.
In this world class live recording, Dave does a brilliant performance on steelpans, electro-acoustic guitar and vocals, while Pops excels on the mbira, kora, vocals, and percussion effects. Sylvian shows why he is regarded as an accomplished bass player who is good in expressing himself musically. Pops Mohamed describes Sylvian as a “monster” on bass. Tony also shows that he is a well – travelled musician and Frank Paco shows why he is a highly acclaimed drummer many musicians enjoy performing with, a “wonderful human being” in the words of Dave Reynolds.
The tune “A song for Jos” is dedicated to an elder woman who is a constant supporter of Pops’s music throughout his career as an artist. “It was my way of saying thank you for her kindness and endless support”, he added. “Ons gaan huistoe” is a tune Pops composed while touring in Denmark a few years ago. After a very hectic tour, he was excited that he was finally going back home. The deep spiritual song entitled “Spirit” takes him back to his childhood where he always dreamt of flying and seeing the world through the eyes of an eagle.
One of the very moving songs from the album is “Welcome to the future” which begins with a poem recited by Pops honouring some of the global leaders like Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Shaka Zulu. Asked how the song came about, he said: “Just like it happens in the field of ICT where there is back up, we will be lost culturally if we don’t know where we are coming from”. “A Kora dream” is a tune about the love relationship he has with the instrument.
Dave Reynolds and Friends including Pops Mohamed performing the tune Where the sky touches
When Dave was asked how “Malay Jam” came into being a song, he said he used to play “Kango” on steelpans, even though he composed it on guitar. “Malay Jam” was the solo section in Cape jazz style and my friend Reza Khota inspired me to make it a standalone tune. These days I play “Kango” on guitar as it was originally conceived and we run into “Malay Jam” straight after”, he told Jazz It Out.
Reynolds does not want to predict the future of South African jazz but hopes to see more young jazz musicians building their own careers and becoming more innovative. As a performer and producer, he also understands the importance of using modern platforms to promote and sell music. “Most artists are tempted to spend more time on making the music and often neglect the promotion aspect”, he warned.
If he is not in the studio or on stage, Dave does yoga, mountain climbing and loves to play with the children. Pops on the other hand loves watching old classic movies and spending quality time with his family in his spare time. The two multi instrumentalists have a joint Facebook Page Dave Reynolds & Pops Mohamed as well as separate accounts on the social media platform. Dave’s Instagram account is @daveman_reynolds. Pops’s Instagram account is @pops.mohamed and @PopsMohamed on Twitter.