Percussionist Tlale Makhene is one of the 40+ artists that will be igniting Swaziland next weekend. Photo: Shaka Makhanya
The Groove Master, as Tlale Makhene is affectionately known, is a name that has become associated with some of the most complex yet alluring sounds when it comes to his work as a percussionist.

Makhene’s spirituality is very strongly represented in his music, which he believes is the primary guiding force for his compositions.

Makhene, whose debut album, The Ascension of the Enlightened, won a SA Music Award in the Best Jazz Album category in 2005, has wowed jazz lovers with his latest album, Swazi Gold.

Later this month, one of the many performances Makhene has been scheduled for is the MTN Bushfire Festival at the House of Fire in the lush farmlands of the Malkerns Valley in Swaziland.

With the country having been Makhene’s home for a large chunk of his life, this makes for a rather special performance for him.

I catch up telephonically with the Groove Master on the heels of an international performance. He sounds rested and light-spirited, something that’s important when you speak to someone as in tune with his being as he is.

Swazi Gold has been on the market for about a year now and Makhene says it’s been a wonderful experience promoting it. “As much as Swazi Gold did not have the start I anticipated, it’s been good.

“You know, in life, wazi tindzaba ta la ubuya khona, hayi la uyakhona (you know only about where you’ve been, and not always where you’re going),” he remarks in Siswati.

“To my surprise, it’s just taken off, and people have accepted it with both hands. I have been doing performances internationally, as well as in Mozambique, South Africa and other countries. It’s been a good journey,” he adds.

Swazi Gold, he says, is an ode to Swaziland, as a way of thanks; but it’s also a chance to export the gold, the musical nuances and influences that he has been exposed to and that have influenced his style of music.

In explaining the musical journey the album takes listeners on, he says: “Swazi Gold is basically Swazi traditional music and its compositions are based on Swazi music. It speaks to a bridge that connects traditional masters and urban musicians.

“There’s music that I grew up with, and what I love about it is that traditional music is so beautiful that it speaks without speaking.

“If you’re aware of it, a song can be a love song, or - to take it further - a sexual song, but how it’s put veils this meaning.

“To a kid, it will mean one thing, to a teenager another and to a young adult something else. So Swazi Gold carries some of those elements. It’s jazzy soul music,” he explains.

If the places where he’s performed his music are anything to go by, Swazi Gold may represent its own genre, judging how music lovers have reacted to the album.

Speaking about his upcoming performance at Bushfire, Makhene says the setting makes it the best place to experience his performance style and his latest album.

Most importantly, festivals like this are important because they promote a variety of genres.

“Festivals are very important because they bring people together. Art, especially music, is a beautiful thing because that is where people are informed. The one thing I love about Bushfire is that it’s not a superstar festival; it’s a festival based on an experience, a journey.

“Historically, festivals like that would happen, people would gather, badl’ingoma.

“Festivals are urban forms of these gatherings, and are important for building identity, unity and social cohesion.

“So Bushfire, being in a place like Ezulwini, I feel it’s in the right space. And performing there, people will be in for an experience.

“Imagine listening to Swazi Gold in Swaziland? That is heaven,” Makhene says happily.

* The MTN Bushfire Festival takes place from May 25-27.