“He describes the place where he grew up as very vibrant.  There were plenty of sports, arts and cultural activities.  Mdantsane even had a theatre.  Taverns would host performances by different jazz bands. These bands also performed at beauty pageants.  Ayanda would emulate the sound of drums majorettes using tins that had been emptied of baby milk as his set of drums and joined a band at a tender age of ten” 

By the time he completed high school, he was paying his own school fees, purchasing text books and stationery from the money he made from gigs where he performed as a drummer.  He started playing jazz when he was just 7-years-old.  It came as no surprise that at the age of 10, he joined Vuka Jazz band as a drummer.  Joining the band did not disrupt his schooling.  He was as dedicated to his academic work as he was to the band made up of people much older than him.

Drummer Ayanda Sikade. Picture by Rez Inyazi

Drummer extraordinaire Ayanda Sikade was born and raised at eMdantsane in the Eastern Cape 38-years-ago.  He is the third born of seven siblings.  “Our place was a hive of activities.  We were never bored as children and adults”, he told Jazz It Out.  There was a theatre.  Activities included sports such as soccer, rugby and cricket. Beauty pageants were held regularly.  “The Seventh-Day Adventist Church would have drum majorettes performing on Saturdays and I would follow them as they were showcasing their talent in the township”, he recalls.

The young Ayanda would play tins that had contained baby milk for his younger siblings as drums, emulating the sound by drum majorettes he had seen earlier in the day.  He also recalls live jazz performances that took place at taverns.  On several occasions, there would be beauty pageants where music was part of the menu in his vibrant neighbourhood.  Ayanda is grateful for the exposure to the world of sports, arts and culture without having to travel looking for it.  “Boredom is not something I experienced because it just did not exist”, he said.

Asked how did he joined Vuka Jazz band at the tender age of 10, Ayanda said he always hung around their rehearsals and performances which is why he ended up as their member.  “I was concerned about breaking expensive and delicate instruments.  I felt very comfortable with the drums”, with a chuckle.  While gaining a reputation as the young drummer for Vuka Jazz band, he was excelling in Mathematics and always occupied the top spot in the classroom.  “I was also a member of the school choir”, he added. Ayanda clearly knew how to give attention to all his priorities.

Been a drummer since the age of 7. Picture bu Siphiwe Mhlambi

Back then, being a musician was associated with drinking, drugs, thuggery and all the negative stereotypes.  For one to be accepted as a descent member of the community, you had to be a doctor, nurse, lawyer and teacher.  This made it extremely difficult for Ayanda to convince his mother that he wanted to study music.  What his mother also didn’t know was that pianist and academic Darius Brubeck had invited Ayanda to enroll at the University of Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

By the time he completed high school, he was already exposed to the music of artists like Jimmy Smith, Big John Patton and Stanley Turrentine. He enrolled for a diploma in Jazz and Popular Music at UKZN where he made friends with fellow students including pianists Mongezi Conjwa and Nduduzo Makhathini.  While studying at the institution, he got an opportunity to perform with Bheki Mseleku, Brian Thusi, and Jerry Kunene.  UKZN exposed Ayanda to many talented musicians who developed a liking for his style of drumming and encouraged him to stay focused.  They told him he would only get better through constant practicing.

In 2004, Ayanda won the prestigious Samro Overseas Scholarship which took his music career to greater heights.  Some of the musicians he has recorded and performed with include vocalist Talie Monin, pianists Bokani Dyer, Andile Yenana, Tete Mbambisa, saxophonist Zim Ngqawana and trumpeter Feya Faku.  “I was in the line-up of Zim Ngqawana band that recorded Live at Bird’s Eye Club in Switzerland”, he told Jazz It Out.  Ayanda also performed with Ngqawana in a live recording that was made at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.  The drummer has also performed at Tampere Jazz Festival in Finland.

Ayanda’s debut album released in 2018 titled Movements

As a session drummer, Ayanda has noticed that there’s a new sound emerging which has significant changes to the music.  He also believes jazz has moved from being predominantly American to become more inclusive and is more of storytelling than fantasy.  “I am very quick to adapt to all situations.  In the process, I have grown to become a more experienced and versatile artist”, he said.  He understands that being a session drummer means that he gets to perform with different types of musicians who have different personalities and different expectations from him.

His debut album titled “Movements” was released in 2018.  The idea to record the album started around 2010 while he was studying at UKZN but was never released because he saw himself more as a sideman than bandleader.  “Eventually I decided to release the album in 2018”, he said.  Ayanda was grateful to have musicians such as Mthunzi Mvubu, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Malcom Jiyane, Feya Faku and Herbie Tsoaeli in the recording.  He has also been part of Tsoaeli’s recording “African Time Quartet in Concert”.

“Zimkhitha” is a composition he dedicated to his younger sister whom he has fond memories of babysitting as a big brother.  Through “Blues for Abadala”, Ayanda was showing respect to the jazz elders that inspired his generation of musicians to follow their steps in playing music.  “I remember Somagwaza” is a tune about a young man going to the mountain as part of the initiation into manhood.  “When we all gone” is a composition by double bassist Herbie Tsoaeli whose message is ‘when the jazz greats are no longer alive, their music will still be around’.

When we all gone – Ayanda Sikade

From his extensive touring as a drummer, Ayanda has come to acknowledge that South African jazz is well received as a special type of music.  More and more of the country’s jazz artists are gaining international recognition. “The world is beginning to take notice of South African jazz”, he emphasized.  Ayanda is saddened by the closure of jazz clubs. While he acknowledges how turbulent the economy is, a part of him believes clubs still need to be visited.  Ayanda has also noted with concern that too many people want to take credit for their “so-called inventions” when the big‘jazz ‘cake’ has enough slices.

Ayanda together with double bassist Herbie Tsoaeli and pianist Aaron Rimbui were scheduled to perform at the 21st installment of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in March as Kwetu Trio.  Regrettably, the festival was postponed due to concerns over the Coronavirus. While the reasons for the postponement were explained, the artists and revelers were left disappointed.  “It was going to be great.  The three of us make good chemistry.  We have a good understanding of one another”, he told Jazz It Out. He said the music allows the trio to express themselves through their performances.

His advice to young drummers is to focus on playing music. They must play with different people, be versatile and listen to different types of music.  Most importantly, they must do a lot of practicing.  Young drummers must be very observant and not be afraid to ask experienced drummers for advice.  Ayanda’s hobbies are running, reading and watching soccer.  His Facebook account is Ayanda Sikade.  Follow him on Instagram @sikadeayanda and subscribe to his YouTube channel Ayanda Sikade – Topic.