Hey everyone! Sorry it has taken so long for me to set up my blog, but I’ve been in northern Italy for the past six weeks. Wi-Fi has not made it to that small village in the Dolomites. Italy was an absolutely amazing experience! Even though the music festival was not all that I imagined, I met some great musicians and played repertoire I’ve always wanted to play live.
I landed in South Africa on Thursday, August 11th. Instantly I fell asleep, once I made it to my room. I’m staying at an adorable little hostel, The Green Elephant, in Observatory, a Cape Town neighborhood. It’s called Observatory because this area has a really famous observatory at one point in time–yeah, y’all could’ve guessed that one. But today, “Obz” is the Austin or Montrose of Cape Town, where the hipster and student populations flock. Any coffee shop or bar you enter is playing popular Indie music, and mini succulents on every table. That kind of vibe. Even though this is the more artsy and trendy area of Cape Town, no amount of craft beers and aeropressed coffee can hide the years of racism and poverty. This place isn’t a rough area or anything, but it’s like any city. If in the wrong place at the wrong time, bad things will happen to you.
Okay, that sets the scene for you.
Friday night, some locals invited me out for a drink at a local bar: Velvet Lounge (suave, I know). There was live music; my ears perked up instantly. The band was called The Bush Doctors, lead by Sibondha Wood. He was full of energy. His band had the traditional drum kit, vocals, bass guitar, plus rhythm and lead guitar. The band was a fusion between funk, traditional African Gumba music (I’ll explain a little later what this is), and jazz, but Sibondha likes to call is “Gumba fire music”. When Sibondha danced and sang, the audience danced along and added their own little scats. I loved watching the audience’s spontaneous participation. If you tried this at a gig in the States, someone would kick you to shut up.
So I’m there having a good time, when this guy with a big Sherlock Holmes trench coat comes in. He’s bending over in front of the stage. I think this guy is crazy or something, I’m not too sure about him. Then he pulls out a tenor saxophone and starts to belt it out, right in front of everyone. It’s such a great experience, this band. I don’t believe it could be any better, until Sibondha pulls out a djembe and starts wailing on it, right after his sax solo. This is a killer band, fusing traditional African music to modern funk, with a little jazz sprinkled on top. After their set, I ask Sibondha if we could talk over coffee.
I know Sibondha isn’t a woman in percussion; but whatever, work with me here. I want to learn as much as I can while in Cape Town, I can’t discriminate on gender. That would be rather hypocritical of me. So, here is my interview with my new friend, Sibondha Wood. Hope you enjoy!
Sibondha Wood, 36
Sibondha grew up in Madlocazi, a small, rural African village in Gaza, Mozambique. Growing up, he felt there little to learn except to play the indigenous drums of Africa. He was introduced to dancing by his grandfather. In a traditional African village, drumming and dancing were entertainment for the tribal king. Later in school, Sibondha played the djembe in theater class. Djembe is considered one of the oldest drums from Africa, dating back all the way to 500 A.D. Historically, the djembe was first used to communicate to other tribes (yeah, it’s that loud), but then it became more versatile and was used for religious ceremonies, weddings, harvests, and any general celebration. With the djembe, Sibondha could express himself through music he was driven to pursue.
It was a struggle for Sibondha to find the music he wanted to share. He played in a couple of bands before moving to Cape Town. He felt forced trying to fit into a particular genre of music. Once Sibondha could let superpowers guide, he found ways to express what he felt, to his satisfaction and the enjoyment of others. Sibondha’s music engages a new generation of listeners, without losing sight of his heritage. He is bringing Gumba Fire music back into the spotlight in Africa. This music died when people were no longer “seeking spiritual powers to allow them to guide and lead you”. For a time, native performers seemed focused on music for fame and money. They forgot about their past, their heritage; they forgot “to follow the energy”. Sibondha’s music tells stories, of how he grew up in his village, of Africa before and after colonization. Gumba Fire music comes from an indigenous African music genre called Gumba Gumba. When people would perform this type of music, the listeners could see some type of superpower, almost like a fire, around the performer. It’s an incredibly moving and spiritual experience for both the performer and the audience.
“Music is meant to be a journey that brings you backwards and forwards”.
Sibondha decided to move to Cape Town six months ago to form a band. Within this short amount of time, his band has become the best show in Observatory, attracting audiences of 500 and more persons weekly. The band formed organically aroun Sibondha’s solo performances, playing djembe and singing his original songs in hangouts. Local musicians were attracted to create music with him.
I asked Sibondha what he wishes people to experience through his music. He would love to see Gumba music be recognized among the younger generations. Culturally rich music, with deep heritage, can bring hope in changing communities. Sibondha’s music is magical: you see, feel, and hear his music. This is what he envisions, for his audience to experience spiritual journeys together with him. When he plays his music, everyone is welcome.
“With this music, you are with us–one of us. I do not run away from truth or my culture. My music down deep represents truth. People need to give more attention to the nature than the perspective of human kind. The beginning of knowledge is learning respect, especially to your elders.”
Many people feel uncomfortable faced with Sibondha’s intense determination. Undaunted by the younger generation’s disregard for traditional music, he maintains, “If I can make a difference in someone’s life, that is my mission. If you don’t know where you came from, you will be lost in the present.”
Sibondha has another mission, giving back to his community through teaching. He models how playing traditional African music is to be a true African. Yes, these primary school children learn to sing, play guitar and piano, yet they are losing something of their heritage. Sibondha described his teaching method: He asks them to pick up something – a pen, comb, or merely their hands. Next he coaxes them to make a sound, any sound, on the tables. “This is the music we are missing”. Sibondha creates the essence of the djembe through hitting of hands on tables, of the mbira beating with pencils. This is how he inspires kids to be interested in their past, how they can celebrate their heritage. Sibondha hopes to open a traditional African drumming school for children in Cape Town. He hopes to inspire younger generations, creating the sounds of their ancestors, preserving African music and culture.
“At first, it was the Nature that will appreciate us. Nature will always be with you, and you will always be with it”.
I see Sibondha probably twice a week, one time to just say hi at his fashion design shop (see the picture below), and another at his band’s weekly performance at a coffee shop called “At The Place”. Every Sunday this shop hosts four hours worth of local musicians and bands. I’m seeing it for the first time this Sunday, so I’ll let y’all know how it goes, and I’ll take some videos!
I hope you guys liked my first blog post. Sorry it’s taken so long. It took longer than I thought to get acclimated, and I had to go see the penguins. Leave me a comment if you have questions or general inquiries about my blog!