4 Seasons is a reluctant jazz band. This Pretoria group of youngsters creates music with jazz as its base, but they seldom want to call it that, preferring to call it world music instead. Their reasons have to do with the misconceptions and perceptions that have been formed around the jazz genre.
"As youngsters we don't want to alienate our age group who tend to think that jazz is 'old man's music'. Jazz in the country also has that class connotation, that it's only for the elite, and we don't associate with that because we're in touch with the streets," explains Lesedi Ntsane, the band's trumpeter, who is due to further his jazz studies in New York.
The rest of the crew includes Bonolo Nkoane on drums, Ntando Mbatha on bass guitar and Sibisile Xaba on lead guitar.
Their signature sound involves retro and traditional references that have been given a contemporary treatment. They had been bubbling under for a while on the streets of Sunnyside, Pretoria, since 2004 and have in the past year managed to peek their heads out of the under-ground, gigging extensively around Gauteng - from Tings an' Times, Cafe Barcelona and the South African State Theatre to venues on the East rand.
They are one of the two bands that won the Puisano Live Music Competition, an initiative by the Department of Arts and Culture which annually auditions two bands in Gauteng with the aim of helping them gain exposure.
They have now earned a spot on the line-up at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz event next week in Newtown, Joburg, and it's a pretty big achievement for them.
What little experience they have has taught them the viability of playing for different crowds, and sometimes they sprinkle a bit of rap or ragga into their tunes.
But it has often been said that jazz musicians play for them-selves before the audience and at times 4 Seasons play innately from the inside out, giving the audience the choice to go with them or not.
"When we started we played to impress and we'd do covers from Tony Toni Tone and Malaika to Bongo Maffin's Mari e Pepa," says Ntsane. "But we have grown to play from that spiritual place that our four energies bring forth to release feelings that can't be labelled with words."
Upon meeting them, the outfit looked like the compressed version of the Afro urban band Kwani Experience, but beyond that I discovered an impermeable brotherhood that governs them and how they approach their work.
Another unusual quality they possess is the protectiveness they have over their music. They have an EP called Moment of Truth to their name and they turned down an offer to sign with Gallo records because they felt they were not ready with their music and within themselves. This has created their mixed feelings towards fame.
Ntsane admits that he's scared fame might taint the soul of the music, but also acknowledges that they need the recognition to fuel their mission to share their music with the world.
"We're very sensitive about the music and we take time with our compositions so that even when one composition is ready it moulds itself to the individual personalities in the group. And that's the beauty of the band. The music is the only thing we have. It's peace for us and it allows everyone to speak for them-selves," he says.
4 Seasons is a rare find and they're something to see and experience.
- Catch 4 Seasons at The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival running from August 27 to 29 in Newtown, Joburg. Their slot is on August 28 at the Mbira Stage from 6pm.
- The next day, on August 29, they're in Pretoria for the 13th annual Tribute Concert at Moretele Park in Mamelodi. This is the capital's biggest music event which celebrates SA music heroes such as Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya. The line-up includes Masekela, Mbulu, Ringo Madlingozi, Lira, Ntando, Thandiswa Mazwai, Jaziel Brothers, Mango Groove, Don Laka, Big Nuz and many more. Doors open 9am and tickets are at Computicket.