NOTHING about artist Kamogelo Masemola says jazz. His imposing stature suggests hip-hop; his unkempt hair suggests reggae and his studio in downtown Johannesburg’s Doornfontein has you wondering if he was ever a Skunk Anansie fan.
“Jazz is all I listen to, all day long,” says Masemola, 35, in an attempt to convince me. I still imagine him as a deep-house or trip-hop kind of character, but he soon has me warming up to his story by name-dropping and using terms such as “arrangements” and “notes”.
“The way jazz notes are arranged makes me feel so relaxed. Music by Nduduzo Makhathini and Herbie Tsoaeli elevates me to a higher plane, and this is when I produce my best work. Music plays such an important role to what any artist is producing,” he says.
Masemola also listens to Zim Ngqawana, Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim, so it was only natural that he would eventually dedicate an entire series to the genre.
“I wanted to pay tribute to those timers who exposed me to the music. I started listening to jazz because of cats such as Madi Phala and Sam Nhlengethwa. These are guys who would play those tunes all the time, and I picked up on it as a much younger man,” says Masemola, who was born in KwaThema on the East Rand.
“The Jazz Series tells the genre’s story and why it deserves so much respect. [It] is about the culture that its lovers adopt: they wear fancy clothes, consume expensive drinks and basically rule the world, as long as there in jazz in the background.
“I would not be where I am today had it not been for these men who taught me the music. From that, I took the time to serve my community by teaching art classes on Saturdays.”
Masemola did a stint as a facilitator for Youth Connection, an arts and life skills programme. “Through this, my journey has also produced the likes of Bambo Sibiya and Vusi Mbulali, who now in turn teach youngsters the basics of art in Ekurhuleni.” (Sibiya was a finalist in the Absa L’Atelier awards in 2014 and won the Gerard Sekoto Award in 2012.)
I now get it. I take a second look at Masemola and his studio, and see the traits of jazz within him: he is a versatile artist who uses common mediums such as charcoal, pencil, pastel and oil, but he can also turn things around.
“Jazz cannot be limited to a certain sound or artist, as it changes according to who is playing it,” he says.
“To show just how dynamic it is, you get purveyors of the music loving and appreciating it in so many different ways. These are just some of the people that I pay homage to, and that is why I did not document any instruments, nor did I show any of the jazz enthusiasts’ faces. Art and jazz are for everyone.”