8pm, Saturday, 4th March. I just drove to Pretoria from Joburg suburbia. I’ve missed Pretoria. Yes, I still call it Pretoria – lest I forget Pretorius and his people; the injustice. But surely, I don’t want anyone else calling it that. I’ve missed the air of bravado, braids polluting the sidewalks, the smell of inequality, the brothers and sisters selling chappies on the corners. More than anything, I’ve missed the sound of Pretoria. It’s a peculiar sound that you hear when walking the streets of the city. It’s a sound composed of taxis hooting, buses making urgent stops, a random guy shouting, shutters of cameras unknown. These are things that give one perspective and I have missed having that particular perspective of what life is about. Then there is the music, influenced by so many aspects of South African life. On this Saturday it is music that has driven me to Pretoria. To a place called U- the Space at the Tshwane Arts Hub. A pianist, Max Baloyi is about to play with his trio here. We were never ready!
Just as I walk into the space I bump into Max. I have not seen him in many months. We exchange pleasantries. We are all thinkers, but Max is thinks; he thinks about time, telepathy, ontology and expectedly; one can literally hear Max’s thoughts in his music. He lectured me and some friends about how we should begin to reconsider our perception of time. How the future is only a social construct, “you don’t have to worry about it. If you take care of today and live today, tomorrow will be fine.” What Max was getting at is the idea that we live in a multi-dimensional universe. More on this later.
U- the Space is an inviting and beautiful large room within Tshwane arts hub. Before entering the room I see some familiar faces, people looking into the room through windows on this dark and cool night. Everyone seems relaxed. There is a faint light emanating from the room. Max walks towards it and soon, so does everyone else. The set up for tonight’s performance is everything a lover of music could ask for. The trio tonight is Max Baloyi on keys, Nhlanhla Radebe on bass and Bonolo Nkoane on drums. There are benches in the rectangular room. The ceiling has a black drawing that for a strange reason makes me think of Stonehenge theories about life. In the far south of the room, is a white wooden ‘U’ sat against the wall at eye-level.
There are already people sat in here, anticipating the music. They are sat on benches and chairs all over the room. There is no stage. Instead, the band is in the centre of the room. We are the stage. Max sits by the keys, adjacent to Bonolo on drums and right next to Nhlanhla on bass. Eyes and cameras lenses are piercing through the windows. We are all expecting, I have only minor clues of what I’m about to hear. I’ve only heard Max’s music once before, in a bigger band. A trio is more demanding, not only does it require technical excellence, but there’s also a sense of intimacy between the band. At U- the Space it extends to the audience that is surrounding the band.
We are quiet. Max plays a melody. It reminds me of my very first compilation of jazz tunes. As the trio plays there are two painters outside creating visual interpretations of the scene. It’s unfolding rapidly. I see people closing their eyes, as if seeing is a distraction. Just listen to the music, up-tempo, walking bass, Max improvising over the changes. Max later introduces a song to us. “Maybe it’s time to start telling your mind to think. Breathe more and everything will be fine,” Max says. The tune is titled “the future of the past” and it’s in a time signature that I think, for the most part, has come to define autonomous creation of music in South Africa, 3/4. The tune is beautiful. The room absorbs it. People are smiling.
Max Baloyi composes beautiful music. They play a tune that he has titled “My father was a great man.” In introducing the tune he explains that “was” refers to the past, but through honest reflection he has realised that his father continues to be a great man through him. Nothing ceases to exist. “My father was and is a great man”. The melody is so catchy yet very creative. I instantly adore it. Max sets his eyes on Nhlanhla, whose spectacles are hanging by the nose. Max improvises over the changes. Bonolo accompanies him, listening intently, ever smiling – seemingly overjoyed by what he is hearing and what he is contributing in this collaboration. I presume words could never explain the feeling of “clicking” with another musician.
The band would later play tunes in dedication to Max’s mentor, Pops Mohamed as well as Sisa Sopazi, a friend and drummer that passed away. Yet, this evening has been one of joy. Max’s compositions offer a different perspective to approaching music and art in South Africa. Words can only go so far. Get some perspective. Meet the man that offers “the future of the past.” Visit U- the Space.