Those that have worked and interacted with him as a creative artist will tell you about how professional he is. He believes musicians must show total commitment on what they do to earn respect from their peers and critics. Working with artists from different genres has afforded him an opportunity to establish relationships across all spheres of the industry. Recording independently was something not common when he chose that route almost 20 years ago. Learning as much as possible about the arts industry in its entirety is what drives him.
Bassist, composer, producer and music educator Concord Nkabinde recalls childhood memories of him and his brother sitting at practice sessions where his late father used to train choirs and gospel music groups which were always well attended. The 53-year-old Soweto born and people centred creative is always dreaming of an atmosphere that help to level the ground so people from all walks of life can interact on equal footing. “I try to use any means necessary to achieve this. Music and creativity have been the tools that I have spent more time exploring”, he told Jazz It Out.
Bassist Concord Nkabinde. Picture by Siphiwe Mhlambi
His quest for music knowledge saw him listening to different radio stations that played different genres. The young Concord would sit in front of a radio holding a guitar. Moses Ngwenya who is the legendary keyboard player for the famous Soul Brothers lived not far from his home. “The band would rehearse at his house and I would sit outside listening attentively”, he remembers. Later he discovered the music of Andraé Crouch, Koinonia,Abraham Laboriel, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, Amy Grant, Keith Green, Joy, Harare, Kings Messengers and many other groups and artists.
By the time he was doing Grade 10, the life of this high school learner was centred around music. He would even take his guitar to school which got him in trouble with his teachers who felt he was not focused on the academic work. His father who first introduced him to music, was also concerned and told him he should treat it “as just a hobby”. Concord stood his ground and decided to follow his heart with the support of his mother. “The rest is history”, he said. Despite the concerns about his affinity for music, he managed to complete high school and obtained a university entrance.
He left the familiar surroundings of Dube Village and headed to Durban where he enrolled for a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). While studying at the campus, he became good friends with Andile Yenana and Dumisani Shange. The trio ended up in various bands together including the Zim Ngqawana Quintet. Despite enrolling for the qualification, he had already decided that his future going forward would not be on one music genre. “When I joined the programme at UKZN, I had already made up my mind that I was not attempting to become a jazz musician. It was never my intention and I have never referred to myself as one”, he told Jazz It Out.
His debut album
Jazz as a music genre, however, was something he definitely wanted to learn and he could see that it would help unlock many doors towards versatility. Concord was attracted to the ability to improvise, which spoke directly to his deep desire to freely create and express himself. “This also meant constant growth which would enable me to deal with new styles, new sound, new concepts, new people and new spaces all the time”, he emphasized. He knew that his long-term objective was to broaden his knowledge which was going to enable him to engage with musicians from all walks of life.
After graduating, he moved back to Johannesburg to assume a post as a full-time teacher at Federated Union of Black Arts (FUBA) and Funda Art Centre. One of his former students at FUBA is actor and singer Rami Chuene. A few years later, Concord quit teaching to pursue a career as a session and touring musician. He soon became a sought after bassist, working with the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim, Zim Ngqawana, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joyous Celebration, Arno Carstens, Ray Phiri, Roy Ayers, Vusi Mahlasela, Theuns Jordaan, McCoy Mrubata, Miriam Makeba, Ernie Smith and many others.
He is very outspoken about his passion for cross cultural collaborations which has contributed to his growth as an artist. “Such projects are not really about music but about people and life”, he said. What brings fulfilment to him is that he gets to showcase his talent in projects that combine varying cultures, different languages, a combination of generations, different music styles, balanced gender representation. “These always leave an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of our audiences”, he added. He does not believe that the industry he is part of should set itself boundaries.
His second album
This well travelled bassist has toured with artists such as Lionel Loueke (Benin/USA), Colin “Black” Vearncombe (UK), Sergio Dias (Brazil), Efrain Toro (Puerto Rico), Eero Koivistoinen (Finland) Magnus Lindgren (Sweden), Nils Landgren (Sweden), Bendik Hofseth (Norway) and Edyta Górniak (Poland). His work goes beyond music and extends to composing music for television and documentaries including “Soul City”, “Soul Buddyz”, “Late Night with Kgomotso”, “Vuwani”, “For Better For Worse”, music for a dance and movement production on the life of Sarah Baartman titled “Cargo: Precious”.
In 2002 he formed a record company called Drocnoc Music, and went to release his 2 self-produced albums “The time, The Season” (2003), “This is My World” (2006) and a live DVD “Live in Joburg, South Africa” (2011)which was nominated for a South African Music Award (SAMA) for Best Live DVD. Despite the fact that both his solo albums were about exploring and experimenting as an independent artist, both did well and he never lost a penny. “People still purchase those albums”, he told Jazz It Out. He also remembers the criticism he received for releasing independently from colleagues and record labels which was something unheard of at the time.
The workaholic also admits the process was not smooth sailing. He chose the independent route not just for the sake of it, but for the purposes of owning his work. “A lot of it was trial and error, which really taught me a lot about the business side of music, understanding the value chain, building networks, growing partnerships, understanding myself and how I can exist in the space, as well as learning to take audiences more seriously”, he elaborated. Concord does not think he would be carrying the confidence he does and doing all exploration he does had he outsourced most of his business ventures. The experience also taught him humility.
His Live DVD
Despite not regarding himself as fully-fledged jazz musician because of the diversity of artists he works with, Concord was named Standard Bank Young Jazz Artist in 2006, an announcement that took him by a complete surprise. “I didn’t know much about this award and was not aware that my career was observed by people who matter and command a lot of respect in the music industry”, recalling that exciting moment. By his own admission, the award opened so many opportunities for him which is something he is grateful for.
As a seasoned bassist that he is, working with so many diverse musicians throughout his career mainly as a session and accompanying bassist has taught him a few lessons about the music industry. “When you enter a space where you have been booked to accompany an artist, listening in humility is a must. You have to resist the temptation of fighting to be heard and instead submit to what the music requires”, he explained. Furthermore, he believes session musicians must always come well prepared. Failure to do that will result in an artist not getting calls to perform and record. It is very important for a team of musicians at a gig or recording studio to reflect teamwork which is very essential.
By now, he also knows the difference between performing at a small and intimate audience venue and a festival. Preparations for the two can never be the same. “Ballads work very well with an intimate audience but may not be ideal for a festival”, he said. Concord advises musicians to learn more about the industry they are part of to survive. “Artists must have a hands-on approach, never stop learning, run with their vision, embrace technology and use it responsibly”, he added. He warns that being independent does not mean that an artist single-handedly and physically does everything by themselves. It means that the artist is empowered with information and has a right to choose who they want to partner with.
For artists to be seen as professionals, they always need to learn as must as they can to stay in the profession and remain relevant. “How does one claim to be passionate about something and not take the time to know as much as they can about it? This does not make sense and yet it is so prevalent in our industry. Many just want to jump on stage, enjoy the applause, take the money, go home and wait for the next call. This is not sustainable”, not mincing his words. Acquiring knowledge and information (whether formally or informally) is a cornerstone for artists towards empowering themselves.
Even though he is a bass player by profession, Concord listens to other instrumentalists and vocalists in the industry. His favourite bass players though are Fana Zulu, Abraham Laboriel (since his childhood days), Christian McBride, Jimmy Haslip, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Richard Bona. He also believes there is a crop of young bassists who have something special to offer such as Prince Bulo, Romy Brauteseth, Josef Karnerbäck, Carlow Jooste, Tedai ‘Shoxx’ Shoko, Aron Hodek and many others. He hopes to release another album, write more music for different genres and do film scoring. His hobbies include travelling, computers and photography. Concord enjoys playing table tennis and volleyball. Like his Facebook Page Concord Nkabinde (Artist Page). Follow him on Instagram @concord_nkabinde and @ConcordNkabinde on Twitter.