Survival is tough for any independent artist in South Africa. Moreover, music exchange between cities tends to be disparate, whether due to a lack of venues or funding. Yet there is a generation of jazz musicians trying to change that and to create more of an interconnectedness for opportunities to play.
Guitarist and composer Reza Khota is one of those artists. Next week he tours South Africa with his quartet, starting in Cape Town and then Durban and Johannesburg.
Khota has been working as a jazz guitarist in Cape Town since he moved here from Johannesburg in 2006, playing in several bands along the way. For a few years he was a part of acclaimed Indian inspired-jazz band Babu, before they disbanded in 2012. Khota released his first album as a band leader, Transmutations, in 2014 with his quartet, consisting of Jonno Sweetman (drums), Buddy Wells (saxophone) and Shane Cooper (bass). The album fused his classical background with his love for jazz and rock music.
The quartet is working on new material, drawing on inspiration from Ethiopia, Mali and Nigeria. Khota explains where this influence comes from: “Over the past few years and through some travel, we have become enticed and fascinated by the groove traditions on this continent and the deep level of sophistication in the feeling, placement or displacement of rhythm.
“Music by Mulatu Astatke, Fela, Tony Allen, Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate feature regularly in our listening.
“The hypnotic, spirit-searching grooves and modes resonate with us and relate directly to our modal jazz/experimental rock interests,” he says.
“We are somehow in the centre of all these sounds, growing up in an urban and cosmopolitan society. I don’t think we should try to be African as a way of selling ourselves to whatever music we want to and that we are capable of.”
Last year, things were quiet for the quartet due the busy schedules of the band members, but now Khota is happy to rejoin them.
“I have played with musicians around the world and these guys are my first choice. Each time we play, it’s an adventure. The music can go into new places that it’s not been to before. It’s pretty trippy stuff!” he says.
While passionate and dedicated to his music, he also knows the struggle of being an independent artist too well. He says that most musicians survive by alternative means, “either as session musicians playing with different bands or corporate gigs or teaching”.
“Otherwise you make serious compromises on your standard of living and you just focus on what you do. There are some artists, who are uncompromising and stick to their guns in terms of producing their music on their own terms. If you keep doing that long enough, you build your audience and you manage to survive somehow, but it’s definitely not easy.”
This national tour is supported by the Music Mobility Fund, a funding component of Concerts SA which offers opportunities for South African musicians to undertake live music tours. Since last year, Khota is also an artist-in-residence at the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape. This initiative is spearheaded by director Premesh Lalu, and gives artists from across the board the opportunity to produce work. The residency provides studio space and is based at Factory of the Arts in Woodstock. Khota collaborates with other artists in the programme such as fine artist Dathini Mzayiya, where he improvises sounds to live painting.
Khota’s diversity as a musician is evident in the many music collaborations he has worked with, locally and internationally, including playing with the legendary drummer Louis Moholo.
In April, he plays the Edge of Wrong improvised music festival in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
l The Reza Khota Quartet perform on Friday and Saturday at Straight No Chaser in Cape Town; March 4 at The Chairman in Durban and March 5 and 6 at The Orbit in Johannesburg. For details visit www.rezakhota.com