Name: Malcolm Jiyane
Occupation: Multi-instrumentalist, improviser
Nationality: South African
Current release: Malcolm Jiyane's debut LP, UMDALI, is out via Mushroom Hour Half Hour.
If you enjoyed this interview with Malcolm Jiyane, visit him on bandcamp for more music. You can also read our expansive interview with SPAZA, his band with Ariel Zamonsky, Gontse Makhene, Nonku Phiri, Dion Monti and Andrew Curnow.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
It’s basically that: They are tools. If you wanna eat, you need tools — spoon, fork, you know. To cook need a pot, and so on … Tools are also for survival; I use them for that too.
And what do they do? It’s up to The Creator. All my answers are very simple, because they take you back to UMDALI — The Creator. I don’t know anyone who is so creative, to create such tools — think of a human being: you have lungs, you have a heart, an ass, a mouth to speak, hands to touch, all these tools.
So, musically, I’m just practicing the same thing over and over.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
This question has been asked over and over, and it’s been written about a lot … improvisation — I’m improvising right now; this exchange is improvisation, improvisation is expression. It’s almost like being in heaven — it’s total freedom. Improvise, that’s your freedom. You were meant to improvise.
Composition … oh well, composition is very tricky. It’s saying what I just said, and writing it down. Saying what I said, and then writing it down. That’s a composition. It’s a reflection of something, a recollection of anything that you’ve observed at that time, and you relive it.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
It’s the most beautiful thing ever — it’s freedom. There’s no jail there. You have to do justice to yourself, first … to the listener… and then to evolution. The evolution of the music.
When someone says ‘Malcolm, come play with me.’ I take it far, because I think that’s what I think you’ve called me to do.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
These things are hidden, and they are given. It’s a very complex thing … once you’re in the moment, the things you think, the things you’ve learnt, and the books - they all go out the window.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind for your improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Bring your guns on! This is your life. This is what I bring when I come to anyone’s environment, performance, studio … I bring myself.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
There’s nothing else that I know, but to bring myself. And my strength. There’s no other way. I come guns blazing. Don’t get on stage without your guns. It’s my life, that’s it.
There’s that Bhuddist monk who burnt himself alive, for love — love of humanity. I’ll do that. When I play, that’s all you’re gonna get.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
First things first: human beings have spirits, right? Whatever touches me is spiritual, it can’t be seen, but we can feel it. So, putting it into music is trying to … fix it in time.
How many love songs do we have in this world? Struggle songs … Blues … revolutionary songs — we should have all been happy by now. But music doesn’t fix roads, for instance. The music itself doesn’t really hit home, it only … it can be like morphine — it can relieve the pain; it can touch you, without really touching you.
What I want to do is of substance, something that will create change. I just hope and pray that the music you listen to on this record will not only make you happy … but it will make you try, wherever you are.
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
Live performance is direct, it’s direct energy — they are seeing you, you are seeing the audience. You… feel it.
In the studio — the audience has to rely on you translating the feeling, and on their ears. It’s like calling somebody you know, your friend; or seeing the friend right now, here. It’s the difference between calling, and seeing.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
This is the breakthrough, in fact. This one. UMDALI. I’ve been asking God to show me the way, and people who know me may have been wondering ‘what’s happening with Malcolm,’ an all of that …
Life happened. I’ve been praying: ‘God, give me a breakthrough.’ Mushroom Hour showed up, and BOOM! So, this is my breakthrough here. UMDALi is here. This is it.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
There’s a song on this record, it’s called "SENZO SENKOSI" — that song is named for my friend, the late Senzo Nxumalo. And there’s another song, "LIFE ESIDIMENI" — and what triggered that is something happened in this country, when mentally ill people were treated inhumanely, and over 100 people died.
Everything I do is triggered by certain things, good or bad, those triggers are very emotional — you reflect, you look at people, see something on the street or on the news, read something, all these are things we use … birds move me, nature moves me … and then it all translates into music.