Encountering Bheki Mseleku: a Biographical-analytical consideration of his life and music

Makhathini, Nduduzo (2018-03)

Thesis (MMus)--Stellenbosch Unversity, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis presents a study of one of the seminal figures in South African jazz, Bheki Mseleku (1955-2008). Born in South Africa, Mseleku is notable for his compositions, virtuosic pianism, recordings with leading jazz figures including Abbey Lincoln, Pharoah Sanders, and Joe Henderson, as well as his musical influence locally in South Africa and in London where he lived in exile. By drawing on journalistic accounts and interviews with Mseleku’s family members, fellow musicians and acquaintances, as well as my own perspectives as a performing jazz pianist, this thesis constitutes the first academic study of Mseleku’s life and music. The opening chapter documents Mseleku’s biography, drawing on disparate sources from print media and documentary film, alongside personal interviews. This provides the backdrop for the next two chapters, which explore two constitutive aspects of Mseleku's life and music: his exile from South Africa in the 1980s and early ’90s, and his deep spirituality. Chapter Two situates the sound of exile in Mseleku’s music, comparing his experiences and music with that of the earlier generation of South African exiles from the 1960s, particularly Louis Moholo. A consideration of his album, Home At Last (2003) plots the coordinates that inform the notion of “home” for Mseleku. I argue that exile, read against the notion of “home”, represents a disconnect from community, but also signals the turn from home as a physical space to home understood as a spiritual construct. The introduction of spirituality in this chapter opens onto a prolonged exploration of spirituality in Mseleku’s life and music. Chapter Three explores the diverse influences – from Mseleku’s Zulu upbringing and his engagement with Eastern spiritual practices – that shaped Mseleku’s conception of spirituality, and how these influenced his piano pedagogy and compositional style. Chapter Four is an analysis of Mseleku’s album Meditations (1992). Here I highlight the importance of spiritualism in his music, but also trace the other influences audible in his sound, including African music practices and American jazz. Stellenbosch University https://scholar.sun.ac.za 8 I close the thesis with my personal reflections on Mseleku, based on my experiences with his music and teachings through our brief friendship. It is my hope that this study lays the foundation for future scholarship on Mseleku, whose life and music has been neglected in South African jazz historiography.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis is ’n beskouing van die lewe en musiek van ’n prominente jazz-figure in Suid-Afrika, Bheki Mseleku (1955-2008). Mseleku is gebore in Suid-Afrika, en is noemenswaardig vir sy komposisies, virtuose pianistiek, opnames met toonaangewende figure in jazz insluitend Abbey Lincoln, Pharoah Sanders en Joe Henderson, asook sy musikale invloed plaaslik in Suid-Afrika sowel as in Londen, waar hy gewoon het as ’n uitgewekene. Hierdie tesis is die eerste akademiese studie van Mseleku se lewe en musiek, en is gebaseer op joernalistieke artikels, onderhoude met Mseleku se familielede, mede-musici en kennisse, asook my eie perspektiewe as uitvoerende jazz pianis. Die eerste hoofstuk dokumenteer Mseleku se biografie, en steun op verskeie bronne uit gedrukte media en dokumentêre films asook onderhoude. Dit dien as agtergrond vir die volgende twee hoofstukke, wat twee belangrike aspekte van Mseleku se lewe en musiek verken, naamlik sy uitgewekenheid in die 1980s en vroeg-’90s, en sy diepgesetelde spiritualiteit. Hoofstuk Twee situeer die klank van uitgewekenheid in Mseleku se musiek, en vergelyk sy ervaringe en musiek met dié van ’n vroeër generasie Suid-Afrikaanse uitgewekenes van die 1960s, in besonder Louis Moholo. ’n Beskouing van sy album, Home At Last (2003) verken die koördinate van Mseleku se idee van “tuiste”. Ek argumenteer dat in die geval van Mseleku, uitgewekenheid as ’n verwydering van ’n sin van gemeenskap verstaan moet word, en ’n wending van ’n verstaan van tuiste as fisiese plek na tuiste as spirituele konstruk teweeg bring. Hierdie idee van spiritualiteit in Hoofstuk Twee dien as ’n inleiding tot ’n meer breedvoerige verkenning van spiritualiteit in Mseleku se lewe en musiek in Hoofstuk 3. Hier word die uiteenlopende invloede wat Mseleku se konsep van spiritualiteit beïnvloed het verken, insluitend Mseleku se Zulu agtergrond en sy kontak met Oosterse spirituele praktyke, en die impak daarvan op sy klavier pedagogiek en komposisie styl. Stellenbosch University https://scholar.sun.ac.za 10 Hoofstuk Vier is ’n analise van Mseleku se album, Meditations (1992). Hierdie hoofstuk werp lig op die belang van spiritualiteit in sy musiek, maar dui ook op ander invloede hoorbaar in sy klank, insluitend Afrika musiekpraktyke en Amerikaanse jazz. Ek sluit die tesis af met my eie besinnings oor Mseleku, gebaseer op my ervaringe met sy musiek en onderrig gedurende ons kort vriendskap. Dit is my hoop dat die studie die grondslag lê vir toekomstige studies oor Mseleku, wie se lewe en musiek onontgin is in Suid-Afrikaanse jazz historiografie.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103795
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