Makhene Tlale. Picture: Supplied

Tlale Makhene has just landed in Cape Town. That much is evident from the strong gust of wind distorting his voice as we speak over the phone. 

Makhene is in Cape Town to prepare for his cameo appearance as part of Manu Dibango and Moreira Chonguica's set at next week’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

Makhene has fond memories of his previous performance at the festival in 2012. “As an underdog, you’re concerned about whether there will be any people who come to watch you. But I remember five minutes into the set up the place was already filling up. And to my surprise, my older brother who was there told me, ‘Hey, don’t choke’”, he laughs. “That was pressure. By the time we finished mic check and everything, the venue was full. It was beautiful, we had fun.”

That feeling of being an underdog was put to bed two years later when he won the 2014 South African Music Award (SAMA) for Best Contemporary Jazz for his debut album, Ascension of the Enlightened.

Today, he’s even known as The Groove Master for his impressive skills as a percussionist. His work as a drummer also saw him recruited by three Danish drummers known as Drums Across, which saw him travel to places like Copenhagen, Denmark where he taught for about three month and simultaneously improved his skill in contemporary musicology as part of the cultural exchange.

Makhene is due to release his 2nd album, Swazi Gold on the 12th of April. “It’s basically me saying thank you,” he says. “For me, Swazi Gold is a special project. It’s where everything started. I was born in Johannesburg and raised in Swaziland.”

He recalls how at the age of nine, he was drawn to music when he’s witness his grandmother playing instruments and singing around the house. “Those were the biggest moments of my life. That’s when I knew what I needed to do as young as I was.” 

Growing up, Makhene was heavily involved in drumming and singing at church, school and pretty everywhere else. Makhene believes that there’s a lack of movement from the classical traditional music from the rural areas into the urban areas, and so this project is him trying to bridge the gap between the two. His aim is to move away from foreign influences and tap into the signature South African sound. 

“Everyone in Africa does it, except South Africa. We need to do that. That awareness needs to be rectified.” This direction differs from that of his previous album, which had more jazz and saw him trying to expand on his knowledge on the genre and classical music at the same time. Now, he’s focusing his energy on advancing his traditional music. The jazz is still there, but it does not define the music, he says. “It was my first foot in, so now this is my second foot where I say it’s now time for the awakening. I’m moving, this is the second step. Swazi Gold deals with our lives generally and the poetry of our lives.”

Makhene is deeply philosophical, and he hopes that this will come across well in his music. “When I began this album, I wanted to talk about and address what Swaziland has given to me and the value it has added to my life.”

Swazi Gold features a song he wrote for his wife and where he thanks her for everything she’s done for him. “Sometimes, as human beings, we take too much time in thanking people while we still have the chance to see them. Especially as men, we don’t appreciate women. I’m not gonna follow suit when I’m lucky and one of the fortunate men who has a good woman in his life, so I had to say thank you.”

Makhene Tlale will feature on Manu Dibango and Moreira Chonguica's set on Friday, 31st of March on the Kippies stage from 7pm – 8pm.

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