Victor Sibusiso Masondo is a man of many talents which has led to an illustrious career. The Durban born and raised bassist is also a producer, arranger, composer, teacher and film scorer. “I am a person who thrives from giving and receiving. A person who is always seeking out what is of great value in other people because that’s the way I also get enhanced by learning more from people”, he told Jazz It Out.
His father Daniel was a minister and a guitarist. He has five siblings which include three brothers and two sisters. “I was always inspired and looked up to my brothers especially my eldest Nkosinathi who was the bass player in our family”, he said. Victor would listen to what they were playing and would tell himself that one day he would follow in their footsteps. Having noticed the curiosity Victor had, they would hide instruments at the top of those standalone wardrobes that were popular at the time. “This never deterred me and I would climb the wardrobe to fetch the guitar”, with a chuckle.
Victor Sibusiso Masondo
As a high school learner, he listened to different genres and artists. “I didn’t realize how much music I was exposed to because I was always looking for was something that appealed to my ear”, he recalls. When he first heard a classical piece by Bach, that caught his attention. When he first heard “So What” by Miles Davis, he thought that was a brilliant tune. One day he had a blurring sound on the radio by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens. He was not only stuck in one genre and at home he would listen to Andraé Crouch. “I would be listening to whatever that caught my ear at the time. That was me”, he added.
After obtaining matric, he enrolled for a B Music at the Natal University (now called University of KwaZulu-Natal or UKZN in short) where he studied under Darius Brubeck who is the son of the legendary Dave Brubeck. While studying at the Durban institution alongside Zim Ngqawana and Lulu Gontsana, they caught the attention of legendary jazz musicians Max Roach and Clark Terry during one of the university big band’s trips to the US. “It was exciting for us to be noticed by people we learned about while still studying music. To be on stage with people I admired so much Clark Terry, Max Roach and papa Dave Brubeck was quite exciting”, going down memory lane.
Victor graduated at UKZN in 1987 and together with his fellow band members from “Friends First”, they embarked on a tour to the United States, Europe and South Africa. He bursts into a huge laughter when asked about the lessons he learnt as part of Friends First. “I learnt the true art of chaos. Chaos not in a literal sense but chaotic in a sense that there I was with a group of people the church folk thought were too radical. Then there was the political folk which felt we were not political enough and we could still push the bar”, he told Jazz It Out. Being part of Friends First was an amazing thing and an eye opener for the bassist.
Miriam Makeba’s 1991 release that Victor produced
After the unbanning of political organizations in 1990, many musicians that were in exile returned to South Africa. One of those was Miriam Makeba who was affectionately called Mama Africa and a staunch critic of the apartheid policy. Makeba made Victor an offer he could not refuse – to produce her first album since returning to the South African soil. The album titled “Eyes on Tomorrow” featured Hugh Masekela, Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie. The recording led to a tour in 1991 with Gillespie and Makeba. After the Gillespie/Makeba tour of 1991, Victor was commissioned by the Sun City Group and others to write, arrange and produce a song to create awareness about AIDS which featured SA musicians like Lucky Dube, Jabu Khanyile, Tsepo Tshola, Cinema, Soul Brothers, Wendy Oldfield and many others.
Masondo is one of the most versatile bassists who has worked with musicians from different genres, which has given him numerous advantages. “When I came out of UKZN I had studied jazz, I was playing jazz and I was loving jazz and yet there was this attraction to this group called Stimela”, he said. Not only is that people loved this group which was founded by legendary guitarist and vocalist Ray Phiri, but there was something that got people’s attention which made it extremely popular. “Sometimes, being a jazz musician or a studied musician, you can learn things that are made on an academic level and forget that there is a human level that you need to go down to and learn more”, he explained. For a while, he was a member of Stimela.
Between 1993 and 1996, Masondo served as Musical Director for the “Shell Road to Fame” which was a talent search tournament. When he was part of the tournament, he used to do a lot of listening because so many people arrived thinking that they want to be singers, they want to be superstars and quite a few that he heard were not singers but songwriters. “Others were just good arrangers while others were good accompanists. So, I used to try and listen out the most and try to do my best in being able to direct somebody in saying you didn’t make it in this part we are looking for but here is what you’ve got which you can pursue”, he explained.
Playing the double bass
He is glad that there are some people who took those advices and ran with them. Most people used to tell him about those advices he gave them which he had forgotten because all he was trying to do was add value to their lives through the talent search tournament. “I didn’t see it like these competitions of today where you crush somebody’s spirit”, he told Jazz It Out. His approach was to direct people to where he felt they were strong at. “Yeah it can be crushing when you tell someone who thinks can be a singer that you are not really a good singer but this is who you are. But at least you are trying to steer them into the right direction”, he added.
Masondo’s abilities as both songwriter and producer caught the attention of the organizers of a US based production company and Warner Bros Records in 1995. This saw him receiving an invitation to produce an album in celebration of the “new” South Africa. The album titled “A Place of Hope” featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ray Phiri, George Duke, Gerald Albright, Sibongile Khumalo, Ian Herman, Nana Coyote, Gail Hamilton, Take 6, Al Jarreau, Sheila E, Chante Moore, Jeffrey Osborne, Tsepo Tshola, Wendy Mseleku, Hugh Masekela, Al MacKay, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Roy Wooten and many other musicians from the US and SA. This project raised funds for the restoration of the famed Regina Mundi Church in Soweto.
Another milestone in Victor’s career was in 2006 when he received an invitation to arrange music in honour of Duke Ellington for the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival held annually in Washington DC. He got to work with highly acclaimed musicians like Roy Hargrove, and the United Nations Orchestra who were Dizzy Gillespie’s Orchestra, that which he called a great re-union. How did he get assigned such a huge responsibility? “It came through Charlie Fishman who managed Dizzy Gillespie”, he said. Fishman raised a concern that jazz was kind of taking a knock and wanted to do a “proper jazz festival” which was going to be hosted in Washington DC.
His versatility has led to an illustrious career
Because he had worked with the United Nations Orchestra a long time ago, Victor asked Fishman “I wonder what it will be like if I did some arrangements on Duke Ellington’s music but using all different African influences”. “That’s it. This is what I was looking for. The band is outside and just bring them over” was Fishman’s response to Victor who thought “Oh my goodness what have I done”. He realized the amount of work that had to be done but it worked very well. It was quite fascinating and one of the exciting moments at the festival was when the orchestra did its interpretation of “Take the A-Train”. The arrangement was done slightly different to the one by Ellington. When the audience finally recognized the tune, there was a lot of excitement and the band was given a ten-minute standing ovation. “It was really fascinating. It was one of my career highlights”, recalling with a broad smile.
In 2015 – 2016, Victor pursued his long dream of honouring founder and leader of the multi Grammy Award winning outfit Ladysmith Black Mambazo Dr Joseph Shabalala through a tribute concert. It featured Mbongeni Ngema, Dr John Kani, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Vusi Mahlasela, Kholwa Brothers, Hhashi Elimhlophe and guest appearances by the Multi Grammy Award winning vocal group Take 6 and KwaMashu Christian Church Choir amongst others. Shabalala was so grateful for this project to honour his legacy. Victor’s father took Mshengu (Shabalala’s clan name) under his wing in the earlier days of his career and mentored him. “I was so glad to tick that off my list and say I did an amazing effort to honour this great man with a great team of people”, with a sense of fulfillment.
Another aspect of the entertainment industry Victor is passionate about is film scoring. “I have always been curious about film scoring just as much as I am curious about music and how it works. There are certain things people don’t notice that make you sit in a movie and enjoy it because something underneath is enhancing”, he told Jazz It Out. He cited an example of what Stanley Clarke did in “Boys N the Hood”. He also heard a lot of stuff John Williams has done. “What excites me about film scoring is to watch something that started as only voices and a little bit of effects and suddenly it comes alive and the music becomes visual and an integral part of the movie”, he added. Great movies are usually complemented by great soundtracks.
Hallucinations – Sibusiso Victor Masondo
The highly experienced Masondo has just finished recording his first jazz recording titled “As promised”. It was inspired to a large extent by an incident that occurred at a shopping mall one day when a gentleman came over to him and asked “everyone has done an album and why are you depriving us of a great jazz album”. He looked at the man and said “Okay, I need to do something about this” and went to the studio to make the recording. The reason it’s given this title is his response to the man he forgot to take his contact that “as promised, here comes that jazz album”. He hopes to release it soon and is glad with the lineup of musicians that are part of the recording.
His list of favourite of musicians is another reflection of his versatility. From pop to jazz musicians. “I can listen to Ringo Madlingozi anytime of the day. He is one of my favourite singers”, he said. Victor thinks Nduduzo Makhathini is a marvel to watch, and Sisonke Xonti is a phenomenal saxophone player who is in a league of his own. So are Sphelelo Mazibuko and Kevin Gibson (who he expressed a wish to work with him one day). He believes multi-instrumentalist Mark Fransman is an exceptional pianist. “Judith Sephuma has a brilliant voice and Jesse Clegg is an amazing singer”, he added. From the US, his favourite musicians are George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Victor Wooten, Anthony Jackson and Ron Carter.
Sport is his biggest hobby outside the arts. “My favourites are football and boxing”, he said. His Facebook Page is Victor Masondo. His individual Facebook account is Sibusiso Victor Masondo. Follow him on Instagram @victor.masondo and @nyambose on Twitter. You can also subscribe to his YouTube channel Victor Masondo and connect with him on LinkedIn – Sibusiso Victor Masondo.
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