The Unity Band has been making a name for themselves in the local music industry since the release of their debut album Fabric. The album beautifully captures the amalgamation of the band’s diversity as they explore elements of jazz, hip hop, poetry, salsa, funk and at its core, a contemporary African sound. We caught up with the band and shot them a few questions in the lead up to their show at the upcoming edition of the First Thursdays Sessions at the Gin Bar, 4 July 2019.
Tell us a bit about how The Unity Band initially came together The Unity Band met at the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town, where we were all in different years studying Jazz. In 2017 Lumanyano (who’s nickname is Unity) approached each of us individually and asked us to play for his performance class (which is a performance slot that students are allowed to fill and have performances every Wednesday, open to the public, showcasing some the work that they’ve been working on) which was the first one of the year. We hadn’t all played as a collective before so this was our first showcase. After the performance we had people asking us if we were going to perform anytime soon and eventually decided to book our first gig at the Great Wizoo. After those two performances we kinda thought “Hey, we’ve got something going here let’s see if we can make it work”, so we booked a few more gigs around the city and then decided to make it official and became a band.
Where did the love for playing music begin and what lead you to pursue the drums of all instruments? [Lumanyano Mzi] The love for playing began in my father’s house. My father being a bandleader and having all the instruments in the house made it possible for me to choose any instrument. I could have played any other instrument, however my heart fell in love with the drums. What led me to play drums is that whenever I’d go watch performances with my father’s band, I’d always be sitting next to the drummer of any of the bands playing in all the concerts and observing how they played. One of the things that I loved was the fact that they always seemed to be enjoying every minute of playing, and you could see that from how they smiled that they were having a lot of fun. Another thing is that they can always play even if there’s no electricity. I’m reminded of a power cut at a festival when I was 7 where the drummer just kept on playing in the dark and how it made the audience so happy.
What is your experience of being a jazz musician in South Africa in 2019? Being a jazz musician in SA is an exciting experience, there is always room to explore and grow and challenge yourself through the different styles that are found in this vast genre. One also learns to have a great work ethic and to learn how to hustle, because you need to constantly be looking for new opportunities to perform and earn enough for you to live well. We are all still quite young, but we are all doing various things in the industry to ensure that we have a long shelf life, and also still enjoy the process of making music along the way. It’s not always an easy journey because of how the arts are supported in our country, but we make it work and are grateful for all the opportunities we do get and the people who support us throughout our journey.
What advice would you give to young jazz-influenced musicians looking to break into the local and international jazz scene? Explore as much music as you can. You never know where you will find inspiration. Work on your business skills too, as the music industry has evolved from only being handled by big businesses and labels. Independent artists are now at the forefront. The only way one can get to the point as an artist who travels the world playing festivals and so forth is to make sure you have all the necessities such as recorded music, biography, videos and live videos, a good social media following, and a fan base. Collaborate and find booking agents, not necessarily managers, but agents all around the world, that you can sell your product to. Most importantly support other musicians, network and build relationships that can also help your career. Have fun, and be true to the music. If you honour the music it will honour you.
Who’s doing interesting stuff on the local scene that you’d recommend checking out? From our peers, we would say Sean Sandby, MSMF, Thembelihle Dunjana, Muneeb Herman, Zoe Molelekwa and from our big brothers and sisters who have been in the game, Mandisi Dyantis, Mabuta, Saba Kaapstad, Youthphemism, Ronan Skillen, Reza Khota, Blake Hellaby.
Top 5 desert island albums (of any genre)?
The Unity Band’s Fabric (always), but if we’d have to exclude ourselves possibly:
Ancient Agents – Ancient Agents
Mrigya – World Harmony
Mandisi Dyantyis – Somandla
Bob Marley – Exodus
Jimmy Dludlu – Afro Centric
Where can people follow your musical movements and find more of your music? People can follow our musical movements and everything in between on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all @theunitybandza.
The Unity Band will be taking the stage at the second edition of the First Thursdays Sessions on Thursday 4 July 2019. The performance starts at 9pm followed with a DJ set by Marmite Fox from 10pm. Upstairs at the Gin Bar, 64a Wale Street. The First Thursdays Sessions are presented by Auchentoshan Single Malt Whisky and produced by Thursdays Projects.