Sitting with legs crossed or with feet firmly planted on the ground could be the difference between being taken seriously or being sexually objectified. This is the advice Anikki Maswanganyi gives to her daughter, Solace, a jazz vocalist.
Maswanganyi is a drummer and leader of her all-female jazz band from Tshwane, Ladies In Jazz. She is a reluctant feminist and the brains behind the Women In Song Legacy Tour programme she started in 2015.
Women In Song celebrates the visibility of female artists and stems from Maswanganyi’s aversion to the discrimination and violations of female jazz musicians. The strong bonds she formed with veterans Dorothy Masuka and Abigail Kubeka inspired her to curate the Mother and Daughter concert series.
The series nurtures cross-generational exchanges and showcases the power of music in uniting families.
Headlining in 2018 are three generations of women: singer, guitarist and teacher Tu Nokwe; her performer-composer niece Ayanda Nhlangothi and Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku (Nokwe’s daughter); and Nobiko (Nhlangothi’s daughter).
Nokwe and Nhlangothi are a seamless pairing of mentorship, support and openness. The older woman anticipates her niece’s answers, displays pride when she is being engaged and supports her answers. The niece picks up on what the aunt says — things that will help her learning and growth.
Nhlangothi carves out for a supportive environment for her daughter in which she can explore her talent without judgment. This nurturing runs in the Nokwe family — and it seems to comes easily.
Nokwe’s mother, Patty, who died in February, was an opera singer. She taught her daughters to sing and introduced them to the music of Miriam Makeba and Letta Mbulu. Their late father, Alfred, was in several jazz swing bands and encouraged his daughters to perform with him at weddings.
In her teens Nokwe formed a group with her sisters called Black Angels. Although she was the group’s star performer, she knew she wasn’t its best singer.
"At the age of 11 I knew I didn’t have the ear for music. I wasn’t musically gifted, but I had the gift of performance. I loved the platform," she says.
"My surroundings were supportive of that. My sisters in Black Angels were trained to cover for me when I sang out of tune. There were always busloads of musicians and actors coming to our house. We would watch them rehearse. Our house was an institution."
Nokwe became an actress (with an iconic role in Shaka Zulu, the movie) and a self-made artist with two timeless albums, Inyakanyaka and African Child, which feature her idiosyncratic African sound.
Nhlangothi started off as a notable finalist in the inaugural Idols SA in 2002. She released a contemporary debut album, Music2Me — Umngoma, in 2007 that proved she was a formidable composer and soulful singer.
She has performed in several theatre productions including the recent Tsotsi, The Musical in Cape Town.
She is now leaning towards traditional music, having recently taken up the Zulu umakhweyana bow.
"That instrument has a history in our family legacy. My aunt used to play it when she was younger," Nhlangothi says. "She ran a project for the preservation of our heritage called Isihlahla Sobuntu [Tree of Humanity] and she would tell us about this instrument that we need to research, how it connects us to our culture, our values and our [humaneness]."
Nokwe’s influence was Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu, but she had only heard her on the radio and had not seen her play the instrument. She searched for people to teach her and found a relative from her father’s side who taught her the basics.
"When I researched how to make and play it, the US embassy helped me set up a cultural preservation programme where I could teach my students from the Amajika Youth and Children’s Art Project," Nokwe says.
"Ayanda latched on to it. She fell in love with it because there’s something else inside of that kind of music, and that’s respect. The gogo that taught me told me that you must have respect for the instrument because the music that is in it is the sound of the ancestors."
Nokwe and Nhlangothi often perform together and toured KwaZulu-Natal in December as part of Concerts SA’s Music Mobility Fund.
Masuka once said: "We want to share the wisdom, but the young ones don’t know what to ask." This worries Nokwe. "Within a family there’s always a chance for one to gain wisdom. It’s important to leave a space open for learning.
"In my family we were raised with music and dance around the clock, an open door for artists and an exchange of learning. The minute a black government took over and funds were available, we stopped," she said.
"I want the family that God placed me in to go back to what we used to do. We are supposed to be always living our purpose as a family. Wherever we are with families of our own, we should be living the purpose that is placed within that family.
"Families are institutions for all our purposes. With this concert we’re parenting with our talent and doing the work."
• The Mother and Daughter Concert is on March 17 at the Goldrush Morula Sun Resort in Pretoria.