There’s always a perception that jazz as a music genre appeals only to the so – called older generation.  Through It Has To Be Jazz, Tshepo Maseko is changing that perception. This 26-year-old energetic publisher and curator has a mission to expose raw talent into the industry where young jazz musicians get to do what they love best, which is to get into several jam sessions and showcase their talent.

Just as he was about to leave his previous employment at an event management company, Maseko had a deep conversation with his father about the impact the youth can have in the jazz scene.  His father Raymond Maseko thought the young jazz musicians can be good ambassadors to promote jazz among the youth and gave the idea his blessing. He tells Marabi Jazz Lounge that this is how the whole thing started.

The uniqueness about It Has To be Jazz is that they get young musicians that are fresh from music colleges to a jam session that results in a CD recording. Musicians will meet at a recording studio for the very first time and do a lot of improvisation.  Multi-instrumentalist Malcom Xolile Jiyane, a graduate from Johnny Mekoa’s Music School in the East Rand plays a very important role in getting the young musicians that are part of the project. Saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane was part of It Has To Be Jazz at its inception. He has since embarked on a successful solo career.

Poetry is also an integral part of It Has to Be Jazz when jazz and poetry are fused together.  Mmakgosi Ophadile Anita Tau reads her poetry on the spot and comes across so good in the recording.  Maseko believes that, “Jazz is improvisation. Poetry is a feeling.  It’s a melting pot of amazing feeling”.  Everything is on the recording.

Jazz musicians have huge respect for one another.  The message about the concept was spread through word of mouth. Asked if It Has To Be Jazz is achieving its objectives, Maseko says, “The concept behind it has been proven. Jazz needs to be exposed.  Young people are attracted to jazz.  The musicians themselves are young”.

Maseko makes a very interesting point that, “People don’t realise that the biggest names in jazz made their best music when they were young”. It Has To Be Jazz is a platform for young jazz music not only from South Africa but from other parts of Africa as well. The goal is to make it an international project.

Finance is however the biggest challenge.  He does not have sponsors.  “We are grateful that YFM gives us coverage and they are not charging us”, Maseko says. He is very proud to say that he documents all the spending which he is willing to divulge to potential sponsors.

With the access to the young musicians that they have, they can record an album every week.  But they understand that they need to give the market a space to breath.  They have already released six albums which are Spontaneous Combustion, The Exchange, Horn of Africa, Words Unspoken, Mother Tongue and Playground. Their seventh album entitled Worlds Apart is due for release very soon.  Even though the designers of the albums have the creative control, they must however stick to black and white.

Should Elephant Maseko (Pty) Ltd, a company owned by Maseko get financial assistance for It Has To Be Jazz, they will increase the money they pay the artists and will build their own studio.  He adds, “We would love to have a house that can accommodate all musicians so that they have freedom and space to practice, preferably a farm where it will be quiet and peaceful”.  Also important is to build infrastructure for artists to make use of especially those who are new in the industry.

It Has To Be Jazz has hosted several jazz hotspots in Johannesburg.  The idea is to promote the concept of jazz among the youth where artists perform in front of an audience and interact freely among themselves.  They have a jam session and the material they perform has not been rehearsed but improvised on the day of the hotspot.  Marabi Jazz Lounge attended one of those which was held at YFM studios in Parkhurst.

Malcom Xolile Jiyane is on keyboards, Kegorogile Makgatle is on drums and Ayanda Zalekile is on bass.  Before the session starts the musicians chat informally with the predominantly young audience. Zalekile is very shy and looks surprised that people came to see him performing.  He credits Jiyane for the exposure he is getting.  Makgatle looks extremely confident and is ready to perform.  Jiyane behaves like a modest leader whose knowledge of the music and the industry is evident in the discussions.

When the trio start performing, they set the house on fire. The audience is captivated.  From the reputation of fusing jazz and poetry, another different element comes to the fore.  Zalekile brings a vocal maskandi element while playing his bass guitar.  By the time they performed their last song, a lot has changed.  Jiyane was on drums, Makgatle was on trumpet and now joined by a cool, calm and collected Calvin Ketsi on flute.  If you want the titles of the songs, you will get vague answers because everything is just improvised and not much rehearsing is done prior to the performance.

Marabi Jazz Lounge recently attended the recording of their seventh album Words Apart at Goliath Studios in Brooklyn on a cold Friday morning.  Inside the building musicians and the production team are in high spirits doing sound check before the recording.  The busiest person at the time is Byron Erasmus, the sound engineer.  Keyboard player Vincent Ngubane bursts into the production studio to ask if his instrument is sounding good.  He gets a nod.

Other band members include saxophonist Tebogo Kaunda, drummer Tshiamo Nkoane and a very outspoken Malawian Clyde Chisale on bass, congas and scatting.  Nkoane says people who think jazz does not appeal to young people are not touch with reality and must ‘think out of the box’.  He adds, “There are many young musicians studying, recording and playing jazz”.

When asked where they get such confidence to switch in between instruments and yet sound and look confident, Chisale says, “I’m confident with the confidence I have.  I can play what I feel which is why it has to be jazz.  In jazz, there’s no right and wrong note. Everything fits it”.  “This is a great project where we come and record original music and create awareness among the youth”, concluded Nkoane.

Besides the CD’s that they have released, It Has To Be Jazz has released a book which is a collection of jazz reviews and Captured Moments which is a pictorial book.


It Has To Be Jazz is very active on social media.

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