Trumpeter Feya Faku.210214. Picture: Etienne Rothbart.

It is often lamented that we don’t pay homage to our country’s artists while they are alive, particularly when it comes to jazz musicians. Radio DJ and jazz aficionado, Ike Paahle, has decided to change that.

On Saturday night the first of the Living Legends of Jazz events will see Feya Faku bestowed with that honour. He will perform at the M2 Studio at the SABC’s Radio Park in Auckland Park. A documentary on his life and times is also in the offing as part of the project and will be available for purchase.

Trumpeter Faku says the secret to his longevity and success is his attitude towards his music.

“The way I play music is organic. My thing is the moment. I didn’t chose the trumpet, the trumpet chose me.”

He was born in New Brighton in the Eastern Cape and schooled during the tumultuous ’70s which saw him matriculate later than he expected: “That time was vibrant with politics and I finished matric late due to the struggle.”

He played the alto saxophone which he shared with Mickey and Neo Stokwe, both of whom, he says, are very important in his life. Jazz hero Christopher Columbus would give them lessons in reading music.

“I am not a good music reader now. As I said, I prefer to be organic in my playing. Bheki Mseleku said that music is not about reading. The fact that people can read does not mean they can play. You must have emotional contact with the music, get to its soul. The music I make is about people, people I really love and who have had an influence on my life. When I was young I had a vision. I didn’t want to just play.”

He cites another father of jazz, Duke Makasi, as a big inspiration. Duke took him to Joburg in 1985 where he stayed for six months. He then enrolled in what was then the University of Natal, Durban (UND), to study the only jazz course in the country at that time. This was on the advice of another trumpeter, George Tywefumane.

Faku holds up his old leather trumpet bag: “He was my mentor and before he died he wanted me to have his bag. I refused and after his death his son found me and gave me the bag on his father’s insistence.”

He was able to go to university thanks to secret sponsors from Europe. He then started playing with fellow students Melvin Peters and Zim Ngqawana at various Durban venues like the legendary Rainbow Restaurant.

“That was before the rainbow nation. The Rainbow was power- ful when it came to music and politics. The owner at the time, Ben Pretorius, loved us and gave us a spot every Wednesday night. Then he asked us to be the backing band for his big artists like Pat Matshikiza and Thandi Claasen when they were playing. It was amazing for a young musician.”

Faku studied at UND from 1988 to 1992: “I studied classical trumpet which, coming from the township, I was not aiming for. From day one of the course I worked so hard because I was self-taught. But as soon as I qualified I had to unlearn.”

Over twenty years later Faku has toured the world and is one of the most respected musicians in the country. He is working on his fifth album which will be released in April. It was recorded in Switzerland and will be supported by a tour celebrating his 20-year friendship with the Paul van Kemenade Quintet. The tour will take place in May in Europe and then move to South Africa, ending at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival on July 5.

Faku says the highlights of his career has been working with Mseleku for years and Abdullah Ebrahim. His biggest inspiration is his mother: “She was a single mother and domestic worker. I was born in June and my father passed in December. She taught me to define myself and not follow the masses. She also taught me how to give without expecting back. She said it was important to follow my dreams. She was an angel.”