For the love of Jazz
Award winning South African jazz guitarist Jimmy Dludlu has come a long way since he picked up his cousin’s guitar and first started playing at the age of 13.
Since then he has worked with some of the most celebrated names in the music industry including Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Trevor Hall, Papa Wemba, Hugh Masekela, Sipho Mabuse and Chico. His début album, Echoes from the Past was an immediate success receiving two First National Bank South African Music Association awards.
His next projects Essence of Rhythm, Afroncetric, Corners of My Soul and Portraits cemented his place in the music industry, winning him several awards and critical acclaim both at home and abroad.
His artistry has won him fans around the world with the release of his music and tours to countries including the United States, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden and Hungary.
Dubani-wa-Dubani talked to him for the Feel Good Its Friday interview where he spoke of growing up in the era of apartheid, the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, chasing his musical dream and life in general.
Hello my brother. Welcome to Botswana and thanks for making time to talk to us.
Thank you too for the invitation and for welcoming me to Botswana. It’s great to be back, in fact this country is like a home away from home to me, as I spent some time here in my younger days. I always enjoy coming here because the people are so warm and welcoming. I have enjoyed your hospitality since my teens when the country took in refugees during the liberation struggle and civil strife in the seventies and eighties. This country took in students, politicians, writers, musicians, freedom fighters and those facing persecution, not only from Southern Africa but other parts of the world. It is for this that I and others, who in their times of trouble lived in Botswana, should be grateful.
Tell us about yourself
I am a God fearing family man and everyday I thank the Lord for all he has done for me. The musical success, my family, friends and any other achievement are His blessings. It is the Almighty who helps me through my darkest moments. He always helps me rise above any unfavourable situation and I am forever grateful for His love and understanding.
Q. And your background?
I grew up in a country that was ravaged by civil war, and spent most of my youth travelling and living all over the region. As I said, I virtually grew up in Botswana. I even have a daughter who is now at University with a lovely lady in Tonota. Travelling and living in countries like Namibia, Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe was quite a challenge because of the civil wars. I am grateful to God that I survived all this.
Q. What about Jimmy Dludlu the musician?
I am basically a jazz artist whose career was shaped by the music that was playing all over the radio. Blues, Rock n Roll, High Life, Mbaqanga and Brazilian music were the in thing in the 70’s and I took to all these the way a duck takes to water. Those whose music shaped my beginnings and inspired me to take up the guitar include the late, great Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, The Soul Brothers, Mahlathini, Mahotella Queens, Bob Marley and other greats of that time. Most of the brilliant music of that period was guitar dominated, and I guess it was natural that I took up the guitar. All I have achieved in music is because of the influence of this era. That is where I come from. But besides the musicians there were others who shaped my destiny, especially the way I think about things.
Q. Who are those?
When I was at high school I had this black and white calendar with all the black African leaders on it. Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Kamazu Banda, Sir Seretse Khama, Mobuto Se Seseko, Julius Nyerere and others. Looking at these leaders gave me inspiration. They all seemed to have an identity that made them different and inspiring. Kenneth Kaunda with his handkerchief, Mobuto with his leopard skin hat and walking stick, Banda with his flywhisk. They were all great leaders in their own way and I have a feeling it will take Africa quite a while before they get leaders of such calibre. It was their inspiration that made me realise as a musician I am also a cultural ambassador of the African people. Our society needs leaders like them to give us the courage to face the next day and look at the brighter side of the future. They inspired a whole generation.
Q. Any others who inspired you
My parents were the first influences on my life. My dad was a pharmacist while my mum was a housewife and they planted in me the value of respect for all from an early age. The respect they inspired me to have has been my passport in life and has helped me achieve all I have so far, and it carries me through life everyday.
Q. Your major cultural influences seem to be African, whereas young people these days are inclined to look from outside the continent. Many say these borrowed cultures are bad for our young people. Your comment on that?
People are different, and I would not condemn anybody for finding influences from anywhere else. The world is a global village and who amI to judge what other people find inspiring. Having said that, I must add that sometimes we look for answers elsewhere while they are at our fingertips. With this in mind I would ask Africans to look for answers to their problems at home before looking outside Africa. One thing we must understand is that the nations we are trying to copy, exported and continue to spread their culture to the rest of the world through their music, films, literature and other art forms. We need to export our culture to the rest of the world. This way we appreciate ourselves more and get the rest of the world to see us for what we are, not what others think we are. That’s one of the challenges facing us as a continent.
Q. And what are some of the challenges?
There is HIV/AIDS, malaria, corruption, child trafficking, child abuse and others. Our leaders need our support to overcome these ills but we seem impatient with them. We vote them into office and then expect results the following day which I think is unfair not only on them but on us as well. With our help and support our leaders can take the continent to where it belongs. At the top. There is only one way to go as a continent and that is forward. To me Africa is the future of the world only if we become more patient and shape our own destiny for our own good. As far as I am concerned God and the African gods have spoken. All we have to do is listen to them and work towards getting Africa to greater heights.
Q. One of the challenges facing Africa is lack of skills and education. What’s your take on that?
It’s rather unfortunate that we are living in a world where most people are more concerned about material things than knowledge. Life without knowledge is to me empty no matter how much material wealth you have. An empty life is a dangerous life. I will encourage anybody out there to take education seriously. Knowledge is important and it’s never too late to go back to school regardless of your gender, age or background.
Q. Let’s go back to your music. What has been your lowest point?
The recession. It hit the music industry so hard. People are not buying music as much as they used to. There are few festivals which means we now get less jobs at which to perform. We used to get up to five jobs a week but now one is lucky to get just two. It’s hard on us.
Q. And the most memorable?
Strange as it may sound it goes back to the days before I made my own record. I performed with the Ghanaian band Anansi and Trevor Hall at the Botswana Twentieth Independence anniversary celebrations at the National Stadium. The place was packed. I was only fifteen and had never played in front of such a huge audience. I was a bit nervous before the show but I enjoyed myself and put on a great performance.
Q. You have played and recorded with some of the greats in African and World music. Which of them has had the greatest influence on your career?
All of them have played an important role in shaping the artist that I am and it will be unfair to single anybody out.
Q. Do you have any other love besides music?
Yes. I love reading because I love knowledge. I love biographies and inspirational books.