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The annual Tribute concert at Moretele Park is paying tribute to saxophone legend, Barney Rachabane.
The musician certainly lives the life of a jazz cat. From his dress sense – the checked cap, loose suits and sunglasses – this man could only have played a sax.
Sitting in at a rehearsal in the famous but very shabby Downtown Studios, it is easy to see why he is considered one of the greats.
This seventy-something man is surrounded by four trombonists, three other saxophonists, two trumpeters, a guitarist, a double bassist and three singers.
And directing all of them is none other than Khaya Mahlangu. The music scores are being read by the musicians and Mahlangu is energetically directing them.
Bra Rachabane watches the director carefully and on cue, flashes out a sexy solo.
“There aren’t many big band musicians to choose from as most are dead,” he says. “Apartheid killed them all. They couldn’t do anything so they just drank themselves to death.”
Rachabane says he started playing the pennywhistle in the streets of Jozi, collecting pounds. He then moved on to the clarinet and finally the saxophone.
“I was playing with Miriam Makeba at age nine before they all went into exile. I was also in the Chris McGregor band which was the first multi-racial big band. It had an African sound and was sponsored by Castle Lager.
They left here as The Blue Notes and went into exile. I stayed in Alex where I played with other bands.”
His achievements include paying on two Abdullah Ibrahim albums and Paul Simon’s Graceland. He toured the world with the album. He also toured playing with Darius Brubeck as well as his father, Dave Brubeck.
“I like touring and travelling. That’s what I do for a living. I grew up as a musician. I’m now a musician as an old man. I don’t know anything, but music. I’ll retire when I am dead.”
Throughout the interview he drinks tea. “I’m an old man. I like my tea hot, not warm.”
When it is time for the photoshoot, which takes place at Sofiatown restaurant in Newtown, he points to a mural depicting young penny whistlers. “I think I knew them when I was young.”
Photographer Timothy Bernard decides it would be a great picture. The small man promptly takes out his saxophone and starts playing.
The diners are treated to an informal, up close and personal show with one of our greats. Awesome stuff.
Before he leaves, he says: “I don’t like security. I’ve never had a salary. That’s brave, hey. You get used to it. My dad was a bus driver. He told me to get a job. He was a pianist. He asked how could I have a wife, children and a home as a musician. But I did. This is what I wanted. God gave me what I wanted. I only wanted to be a musician. Music makes me tick.”
With that he picked up the box with his instrument and walked out with his dark shades and checked cap. The epitome of cool.
The Tribute Concert takes place at Moretele Park this Saturday. Aside from the classic jazz sounds of Barney Rachabane’s big band, Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya, Stimela, Zahara, Mafikizolo, Malaika and Malike are all scheduled to play. Others booked are Thandiswa Mazwai, Solly Mahlangu, Sello Galane, Linda Kekana and Khaya Mthethwa.