august, 2011
Top Drummer's Debut Album A Hit

For nearly three decades Vusi Khumalo has played drums for some of the biggest musicians in the world, including Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba and Abdullah Ibrahim.

Last month, the veteran muso upped his game with the release of his debut solo album Reasons for Seasons. Featuring luminaries such as RJ Benjamin, Lebo Mashile and Zwai Bala, the double disk offering effortlessly reconciles the gap between traditional jazz and urban music. It is already selling like hot cakes, confirming Vusi's status as one of the finest jazz acts in the country.

Recently we got a chance to chat with Vusi about the new album and his vast perspective on jazz, as well as other music industry matters.

What inspired you to do a double disk?

Vusi: It was not intentional, I was just creating my passion, music, and it came to a point where we had a double album.

How do you describe the sound?

Vusi: I celebrate music without boundaries with elements of different Jazz textures influenced by my global experiences, playing with musicians with influences. I still remember when I was 5 I loved Jimmy Smith's song 'Mojo' and I grew up with a lot of SA jazz. That is what I do, but I have grown to appreciate and create global sounds.

You worked with a lot of young guys on this project. Was this a conscious decision?

Vusi: Not really, but it was a natural progression. I met Vuyo Manyike the bass player while he was still at school and he always wanted to play with me. Putting this album together was about giving these talented youngsters an opportunity to explore with me and some of these youngsters are willing to cross boundaries and limitations. They experiment.

I've always known you as a drummer. What motivated you to take up other challenges and start releasing albums?

Vusi: I don't see myself as a drummer first but as a musician first, and I am inspired by composers. My father was an active musician who arranged for big bands and that is my main influence. Kippie Moeketsi lived across from my house and knowing that he was a band leader and a composer drew my passion. Just before he died he asked me to play drums on his set without even practicing. It was the last time I saw him.

You have been in the industry for decades. Are you happy with the current state of the local music industry?

Vusi: Not at all, the content currently on air is very limited. It's a topsy turvy situation. In S.A. there is more American music played than local or African music yet when I travel I hear more local music being played than international music. Their argument that there isn't enough local content is a big lie.

True. Many musos say it's difficult to make decent money in Jazz than in any other genre. Do you agree?

Vusi: Especially in SA. In other parts of the world you can survive because there is great support with clubs and festivals. As a Jazz musician in SA, you need to be versatile and explore new genres. Last year I played with John Legend in SA.

So what motivates you to keep on going with jazz?

Vusi: Jazz to me is like loving God. You know and understand the truth. It expands talent and knowledge of life. There is always something new to learn from the same song listened to for years. Other genres can do that but jazz is the ultimate.

What changes have you seen happening in the local music industry over the years, and have you embraced them?

Vusi: The internet is the biggest thing that has happened to musicians, an opportunity for them to cut off the middle man and deal directly with the listeners. Promotions online, youtube etc. It's phenomenal. I love it.

How do you plan to promote this album?

Vusi: There is a launch happening on the 29th of July, gigs both locally and internationally, YouTube, vigorous PR campaigns and downloads.

Music videos on the cards?

Vusi: We are in process of producing one. There is also a documentary about my journey as a musician.

And where are you going to be performing in the next few months?

Vusi: I am doing a gig at the Pretoria State Theatre in September but I am more focused on my documentary because I will be travelling to Cuba, USA and Europe.

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