Two voices and one guitar – sometimes music doesn’t need more to touch you. Sibusile K’aba and Naftali are South African musicians who shared with us their story of awakening, humility, inspiration, kindness and love even though we didn’t understand a word of their lyrics. The two musicians’ warm smiles and sounds that seemed to flow directly from their hearts reminded us of the natural power of music to transport us thousands of miles without moving, to connect us as people and even to heal.
Their music reached us during their concerts in Bulgaria, organized by Alarm Punk Jazz and Stretch.
How did you discover music or did it happen rather the other way around?
N: I think the music discovered me. I started singing from a very young age. I grew up around musicians, my mother was a singer.
S: Music discovered me.
And how did you two find each other?
N: We met in Victoria (South Africa) in 2005. We hit it off and just started playing together. The rest is history, as they say.
S: We are spiritual brothers, we get along without words and we make music with our hearts.
When creating music, which comes first: the melody or the words?
N: It depends – sometimes the words, sometimes the melody.
S: Sometimes the melody, then come the words – then you add the harmony. And other times it’s the other way around. But the most important thing is that the music comes from the heart, otherwise there’s no point.
What stories do you want to tell with your music?
N: Something to trigger thinking – to think about the future, community, love. I think we all want the same things. We want love, unity, no hate. I think everybody feels that way. So, our music is everyday human stories.
S: Unity, Equality, Love, being together. I find inspiration in everyday life. I believe music heals us from the wounds of the past and helps us move forward.
You’ve been involved in music for a long time, what changes have you observed in the South African music scene?
N: There hasn’t been an abrupt change from what was happening in the past – it’s more of a natural extension of it. What has changed is the bigger platform that young artists have these days to share their music, to find their voice. There’s more space for artists to develop, to express themselves. When we were growing up, it was different. We were just playing live. But what I notice is that people nowadays appreciate more especially live music.
S: The level of the contemporary scene in South Africa is very high. There’s a big community committed to continue from where those before us have reached. We have a complicated and difficult historical past, full of pain and hardship, but that is why I believe artists are not afraid to take risks, to speak out.
Do you have any “rituals” you use to help your inspiration?
N: Creating is like planting a plant. First you have to take care of the seed and other things. Right before creating music you have to take care of yourself, your body, to let that energy flow. So that the music can come out. The more you take care of yourself, the more likely you are to connect with the art and create.
S: I love spending time with my daughter, talking to her in our own, childlike language. I love listening to different sounds, which I then try to reproduce, sometimes even by heart. But silence is also important to me.
On the poster after the concert, Naftali wrote to me “Be grateful” and Sibucille – “Love wins”. What are you grateful for in life, Naftali, and do you think love can win (especially these days), Sibusile?
N: I give thanks every day. Even for the sun rising and setting. The fact that we are still alive and can connect, talk about things, about the future. There’s a lot to be thankful for – like people just being together, connecting with each other.
S: Love is acceptance – accepting yourself, others, the world around you. And I believe that with acceptance it can really win.
Do you think that the artist should reflect what is happening and have some kind of social responsibility?
N: Art is a reflection of society. If you’re an artist and you don’t reflect what’s going on in your society or life, then you have a problem, you’re lost. That’s what art should serve. So that when we see a piece of work, we can feel where it comes from, what the situation is. It should be able to reflect that. I don’t want to sound judgmental, but that’s the way things are for me.
S: I believe art has a social responsibility – you just have to do it.
You mentioned ‘Ubuntu’ earlier – the sense of humanity, of belonging. How do you think we can maintain that feeling? How do we stay human in a world that tries to dehumanize us every day?
N: We have to try in every way to keep that feeling. We are a kind of reflection, so we are actually part of what is going on in the world. It’s not something abstract that we read about somewhere on the internet – we are part of it all.
S: I just try to do the right things every day as I feel them.
During their concert at the Goethe-Institut, Sibusile and Naftali were joined by Vasil Hadjigrudev (double bass). On the last photo Ivan Hadjivelikov (Stretch) and Tsvetan Tsvetanov (Alarma Punk Jazz)
Naftali, you’re about to release your first solo single, tell us a bit more about it?
N: The song is called “Kea Shwa” and is inspired by the love for the African woman. The title is a South African expression and translated literally means “I will die and dig my own grave for your love”. I worked on it with my favourite “musical brothers”- Sibusile and Tabang. Tabang and I have known each other since first grade when we were in the same class. The song is an introduction to my new album, which is named after my mother “Mmapi” and is inspired by my love for the African family.
One last question – watermelon or melon?
N: I prefer watermelon.
S: Watermelon, because I like water.
interview and photos: Sofia Hussein for Dinya