PROFILES
Feya's debut album pays tribute
Feya FakuTrumpeter Feya Faku's latest release "Hommage" is a recording that has a lot of maturity, belying his youthfullness. In it he pays tribute to some of the legends of South African music. And it is no accident that the young musician has acknowledge the influence these musicians had on his life. The likes of Duke Makasi, Barney Rachabane.

It was recorded during a cultural exchange programme to the Netherlands. Eric van der Westen produced it and it was recorded by Jure Wieman at Edgetip Recording Studios in Arnhem on September 24 and 25 1998.

Tebogo Alexander talks with Feya Faku about his life, his music and "Hommage".

TA: What is it about your hometown, New Brighton (outside Port Elizabeth) and its history of being the home of so many of South Africa's great exponents of free form music?

FF: I would say that maybe it's because of the environment. There's a lot of music around in New Brighton. I remember when I was still a kid, I think I was around four or five years old and I was being brought up by my grandparents. The community hall was literally in front of the house. I was hearing all the music that was being played there...from these great musicians. Like there's [the late saxophonist] Duke Makasi, who used to play for Soul Jazzmen. You know, the Soul Jazzmen inspired most of the musicians who are into jazz [in the Eastern Cape].

TA: Who inspired you?

FF: Who inspired me? A lot of guys. Like Makasi, [the late Spirits Rejoice trumpeter] George Tyefumani. There is another old guy who plays tenor.... Whitey Khulumani. He used to teach me melodies. And then later I hooked up with George Tyefumani. So I never had any trumpet person who was helping. I really got my tuition from saxophone players. I used to practice with (saxophonist) Zim Ngqawana.

TA: How did that influence your voice….being a trumpeter learning from saxophone players?

FF: I personally think it helped me. For instance, in the way I articulate...I think more in terms of the saxophone...in my concept of playing, the way I phrase. In fact, I don't use too much tongueing.

TA: Do you think that this makes your sound unique?

FF: Yes, I think in a way it did.

TA: How would you describe Feya Faku's voice, your voice as a musician?

FF: It's a combination of everything I've heard. And I've heard a lot of music, going back to the time I was a little child. I grew up listening to a lot of music. For instance, Dexter Gordon. Yet I was also listening to indigenous stuff, everything. I would say it's generally improvised ...music.

TA: In a recent interview with your label-mate [Sheer Sound recording artist and saxophonist] McCoy Mrubata [about the release of his latest CD, Phosa Ngasemva] I asked him if I gave him a million rand to play with a South African musician of his choice, in the world, who would that be? He said it to be Feya Faku...

FF: I'm honoured, because McCoy is a great musician. I've never really had a chance to play with him, because we are busy on different projects, clashing schedules.

TA: How would you describe the musical message, the concept of your new recording, "Hommage"?

FF: I would say it's more a dedication to some of the people who inspired me to play this music. I just transcended what I absorbed from these people.

TA: Many people have often compared you to Mongezi Feza [the young Blue Note trumpeter from New Brighton who died in exile in London] ...how would you compare your style to his?

FF: I wouldn't compare myself to Mongezi. I have problems with comparisons....because we have diffferent voices, even us two as we sit here and talk. I find it difficult. But all I can say is that I think Mongezi [Feza] had a genius quality. In fact I think he was a genius.

TA: You used European musicians on this recording...just tell me about these guys. Who were they?

FF: They were musicians from Holland, from the Netherlands. On acoustic bass is the guy who produced the album, Eric van der Westen. He is a friend of mine. We met...I think it was back in 1994. In fact, it was Zim [Ngqawana] who introduced me to these guys. The first time Eric van der Westen came here was with Kenny Wheeler. We played the 1993 Johannesburg Guinness International Jazz Festival together. And Johannesburg's Arts Alive Festival that same year. We kept in touch since then.

TA: Why them to record this album? It seems quiet unusual. In that this being your first album and you go to Dutch musicians, in bassist Eric van der Westen. Pascal Vermee on drums, Jerome van Vliet on piano, Mete Erker on tenor and soprano saxophones.

FF: Why them? Eric arranged a cultural exchange programme for me to go to Holland. I did concerts there. Before I left, Eric had asked me what I was up to with regard to composing, whether I was writing songs. Fortunately I had some music, so I took it with me to the Netherlands. When he looked at the charts he was amazed and said "I like the way you write". And he hadn't even heard the music. He said I have to do something and he went about organising for me to get the recording done.

TA: What do you think was it about the way you write that he liked?

FF: It was the melodies. Now everybody is into simplicity. And that's what I like...to be simple, simplicity.

TA: That's what some of the reviews have said about your recording, "Hommage", that it's simple, and sophisticated...

FF: Ja...

TA: ...in a way reflecting Feya Faku?

FF: Responds with a laugh.

TA: What I find interesting about yourself is that you work with such a wide variety of musicians and formations. Currently you've got a group in Durban called The Core, you're part of Mahube [the southern African band led by Durban-born saxophonist, Steve Dyer]. And not to mention the general session work that you do with boZim and the likes...how do you find the time to spread yourself.

FF: I'll have to be honest, sometimes I get into trouble. Like double booking myself. Look, it's not easy. I have to diarise everything. And there sometimes I'm not disciplined enough. Because I like to please everybody, and it's nice to work with different people. In some ways it's the continuation of the learning process.

TA: Could you select a tune from "Hommage" and tell us what it means to you?

FF I would select...uh...maybe the ballad..."Duke's Lament". I love that track, and maybe because it's a ballad. It came to me naturally. I was still at school, messing around with the piano which I sometimes do, when I heard that Duke's dead, he'd passed away. The song just came to me.

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