Africa calling

The Tel Aviv Museum presents a host of African art and music.

January 19, 2017 17:41

South African seven-piece band BCUC. (photo credit: ERIN WULFSOHN)

There is an Africa-based exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art called “Regarding Africa: Contemporary Art and Afro-Futurism.” It offers an intriguing view of life and creativity in various parts of the continent and re-examines the African body, landscape and culture.

This weekend there is an opportunity to get into the musical side of African endeavor at the Africa Hotel event, which takes place at the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv and at the museum today and tomorrow. The museum is hosting a session with musicians from various countries in Africa and Israel today at 2 p.m., with the live action taking place tomorrow at the hostel, starting at 6 p.m.

The lineup takes in a wide range of artists and creative sensibilities, such as left-field duo Loco-Hot, comprised of vocalist Gilad Kahana and percussionist-producer Tamir Muskat; high-energy Yemen-fueled singer Ravid Kahalani; and the Fendika troupe from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

One of the highlights of tomorrow’s proceedings is the BCUC band from Soweto, South Africa. The seven-piece group will present an eclectic array of sounds, rhythms and colors, with the musical entertainment enhanced by the visually arresting efforts of dancer Portia Lebohang Mashigo.

The band describes its musical ethos as “ecstasy Afropsychedelic,” and the six musicians feed off a suitably broad swathe of sonic backdrops.

“As children, we grew up listening to a lot of traditional music, from [Zulu-rooted] Mbacanga and [Zulu folk music] Maskandi to Mohobelo [traditional Sotho dance originating from Botswana, Lesotho and northern South Africa] and Sekokiane, as well as urban music, soul, hip hop, pop, jazz, and the blues,” explains vocalist Kgomotso Mokone. “Our musical influences range from [Afrobeat pioneer] Fela Kuti to [Grammy recipient R&B and soul singer] D’angelo, [1960s all-female South African group] Mahotella Queens, [reggae outfit] The Mystical Revelations of Rastafari, [avant-garde jazz pioneer] John Coltrane and [soul music icon] James Brown to name a few.”

The members of BCUC come from various cultural backgrounds, and the band’s work takes in expansive artistic domains. Even so, Mokone says they quickly found a common musical language, although they also have their innovatory ups and downs.

“We’ve been together for a long time. It’s our 14th year together as a band. We cannot say it comes easily or hard, it depends on the particular song,” she says.

It is very much a heartfelt exercise.

“We already have our sound because of the instruments that we use, so all we do is just translate what we feel into music,” she adds.

That, and the accrued life experience of all the 30something artists.

“Our language and our culture is all that we are,” Mokone observes, “so without these elements our music does not exist.”

The Abraham Hostel audience will get a lot of disciplinary directions for their money’s worth, and there should be nary a dull moment in the gig.

That, explains Mokone, is a direct result of what each band member brings to the fray and how all that filters out vocally.

“We all write what we sing. At times it starts with a rhythm, or someone brings along a verse and we jam to it. There is no set formula to how we create music,” she says.

If the clichéd adage about artists having to accumulate their fair share of suffering before they can produce work of genuine value still holds water, in view of South Africa’s painful history in the 20th century, the BUCU gang certainly come with the requisite baggage. However, Mokone says the group prefers to adhere to a positive take on life, while accommodating the challenging aspects of the present and past and looking ahead with optimism.

“Although there have been the past inequalities, we do not focus on that. What we focus on is empowering the people and giving them newfound confidence in themselves. We are not all from equal families financially and historically, but because we focus on the future, we make sure that we stay relevant and encouraging to the people who do not have, whilst we are not judgmental about the people who were born from wealth.”

Music, Mokone feels, can help to offer healing and shine a light on a healthier path in life.

“We would love to use our music as a tool and a model that shows that it is possible for one to come from a very difficult past but have a future that shines like other people’s future,” she notes. “We are a black band that is aware of our blackness, [but] in the same breath, we do not allow our blackness to determine where we can end up in life.

With our music we see everyone as equal, irrespective of the inequalities. All in all, one can start from further back in line, but with determination and not allowing self-pity, one can reach the finish line.”

Stirring words indeed.

In addition to creating soul-captivating music, the singer says she and her fellow band members – four of whom sing, with the instrumental substratum including guitar, percussion a bass drum and a nose flute – also feel a responsibility for projecting an image of South Africa to the world.

“It is our duty to continue our country’s narrative, especially the post-Mandela South Africa. We are the voice of the now South Africa. Although we carry the burden of our past, we feel like we are driving the narrative of what future South Africa is.

There is still a long way to go as far as cross-racial relationships are concerned. All we are doing is creating a foundation for future conversations that the country should have,” she says.

This will be the band’s first visit here, and Mokone says she and her comrades in musical arms are looking forward a mutually inspiring experience.

“We do not know much about Israel. All we know is that Israel is part of the world, and we are people of the world. Israel needs our music, and we need the people of Israel to enjoy and discover our beautiful music,” she says.

That’s in the cards.

For tickets:

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