[  African Jazz, Hip Hop Kwaito Reggae & more...  ] 12 April 2024   SA Time:     
  Related Shows
Joburg International Festival
Awesome Africa Music Fest 2006
  Back to Artist A-Z A-Z Popup

Print Print version
Yenana, Andile (South Africa)  
Andile Yenana

Music has been the mission of pianist Andile Yenana's life since he was born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape in 1968.

"My dad, Felix Thamsanqa Yenana, had a huge collection of music, ranging from jazz to Motown, all the forms of urban black music. My brother also had discs, and I grew up listening to their records and singing along."

His father's memories, as well as his music, helped inspire Andile's career.

Yenana senior had been a student at St Peters College in Rosettenville, a school with a strong church-music tradition, where fellow students had included trumpeter Hugh Masekela. (Andile, too, sang in a choir during his schooldays.) "Already, around nine, my old man had opened my eyes to the world of the arts. Because of that heritage, there's no way I could be older in this genre of jazz." When Andile began learning piano, it was with a mission. "When I picked up that instrument in Zwelitsha Township, it was to play jazz."

Andile secured his teaching diploma from Fort Hare University before taking up B. Mus studies under Darius Brubeck at the University of Natal, Durban's pioneering School of Jazz and Popular Music. There, he discovered the professional music scene around Durban's clubs, and struck up a firm friendship with two other highly focused music students, saxophonist Zim Ngqawana and trumpeter Feya Faku. "They paid attention to their varsity work, and I admired that."

As well as gigging with both his new friends, Andile also formed a jazz outfit band at UND called "Inside Out". He used to play with Concord Nkabinde, Dumisane Shange, Mfana Mlabo, etc: "Those were the happiest days," he remembers.

piano, keyboards
Genre: African Jazz, jazz
Andile Yenana

The friendship with Ngqawana turned into a (so far) 11-year gig, when Andile moved to Johannesburg and joined the reedman's quartet. Though the personnel around them has changed over the years, the tough teamwork between sax and piano has endured through all five of Ngqawana's albums, starting with San Song, recorded during an exchange visit to Norway in 1996.

But right from the start, Andile's career has involved a range of projects and collaborations that have taken him far beyond the conventional jazz small group.

Since they met in Durban in 1991, he has collaborated with saxophonist Steve Dyer and other musicians on pan-African music projects under the title Mahube, with which he has performed across sub-Saharan Africa. He has acted as arranger for vocalists Sibongile Khumalo, Gloria Bosman and Suthukazi Arosi among others, and produced albums for other instrumentalists. Andile won a SAMA as Best Producer for his work with the legendary Winston Mankunku Ngozi on "Abantwana be Afrika". He has also played in the Afro-pop band of guitarist Louis Mhlanga. In mid 2005, he opened for Dianne Reeves at the Johannesburg Joy of Jazz Festival. He has deliberately tried to work with anyone interesting who approaches him: "It helps broaden my scope."In 1996, Andile and Zim visited the US as part of Black History Month, the first of three visits to Chicago he has made. On the latest, in 2002, fellow musicians gave him the trademark skull-cap that now graces all his stage shows: "It's special to me."

Andile also played with Zim in the UK as part of a well-reviewed 1997 collaboration project that performed at the Royal Albert Hall, and at the Nantes Fin de Siecle festival in France.

From the late 1990s, his other main project was the band Voice, a collaboration with Sydney Mnisi, Marcus Wyatt, Herbie Tsoaeli and drummers Lulu Gontsana and Morabo Morajele. They called themselves Voice, because "we don't have to sing on stage to express ourselves: our instruments are our voice."

Voice has released two albums and toured Sweden, and Andile has also worked on other releases featuring Wyatt, Tsoaeli, and other artists of his current label, Sheer Sound. With Tsoaeli, he's part of Joburg's most in-demand rhythm section. That aspect of collaboration is important to him. "Jazz is an act of collaboration and improvisation. That's why I love it so much I am creating with people."

But all this time, he was also patiently composing and developing the concept for his first album, We Used To Dance, released in 2003.

Like the Voice albums, We Used To Dance featured original music (from Yenana and Mnisi) alongside works from the canon created by the fathers of South African jazz, such as Johnny Dyani and Dudu Pukwana. It's title reflected the historic jazz culture Andile grew up in, where stylish jive steps contributed to the appreciation of the music, adding its own solos to the horns coming from the record-player. "We need to preserve the legacy," he says, "and I see myself as contributing to that."

We Used to Dance was well-received, and still sells steadily today, and Andile has continued gigging, spreading the gospel of the music.

He has done other work, too, contributing to the score of the Aids documentary "Shouting Silent", and even acting as music director for a TV game show Lilizela Mlilizeli. That's part of the mission too. "I like the idea of having a live band playing instead of musicians miming on television. I'm glad we can do that without patronising viewers."

Andile was selected as the 2005 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, which posed fresh challenges: he had to build up a new outfit and repertoire for his three commissioned concerts at the 2005 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, back in his native Eastern Cape. But he embraced the opportunity to try something new, and break what he sees as the sometimes stereotyped mould of the current SA jazz scene. "We lack a framework or even a societal point of view to express how to do things better. Many musicians just have these little schemes of doing it better for themselves." And from this old boys club point of view, there's pressure to toe the line.

"But musicians are at the forefront of the cultural revolution and deserve to be treated with dignity. We need to be assertive, revise the protocols and have a black agenda."

In December 2004, Andile, together with Zim Ngqawana and other South African players like Robbie Jansen, took a trip to the Havana Jazz Festival. On his return, it was straight into the studio to work on his latest album "Who's Got The Map?"

The new album is a much edgier affair, posing challenging questions about the future of our cultural identity. "It's designed to evoke thoughts about places, spaces, treaties, borders and restrictions - what place does jazz have in the so-called post-modern society," says Andile. As for his own future, he's working with colleagues from Voice on ways to introduce young players to South Africa's jazz heritage. "I don't want a spaza shop (a little corner stall). I'd like to see a supermarket run by musicians for musicians: a place where, before they go to university, young players can learn about South African jazz before they learn about jazz from overseas."

Were it not for what he sees as these duties to music, Andile would prefer to spend his time working on his music, alone.

"But I love the surprise music can bring to the emotions and spirituality of listeners. And as long as I have the strength and the will-power, I will go on."

This biography by Gwen Ansell

Contact Details:

  Recordings : Yenana, Andile
We used To Dance

We Used To Dance
Who's Got The Map?

Who's Got The Map?

click here for more about these and other recordings by : Yenana, Andile

See copyright & usage and about for further details.

Subscribe Unsubscribe