Music soothes Hotstix's heart

This Saturday afternoon, Sipho Mabuse, the muso who'd ordinarily be surrounded by throngs of people, is alone at home.

He's not playing. No, scratch that. He is playing. For himself, though. Not the crowds.

He can't leave home for a certain period, he says. On Wednesday he was burying his youngest son, nine-month-old Neo, the last of his brood of eight.

"He was a gift, man," he says, with tears in his eyes.

Home At Last, the instrumental madness of Bheki Mseleku, the jazz genius who has just died in London aged 53, fills the lounge. Mabuse plays it again, listening for and pointing out titbits that can only reach the ear of another musician. "I am paying homage to the man."

He could very well be paying his respect to Neo, a picture of whom he'd later call up on his computer screen.

The British capital chosen by Mseleku for his "second" exile is coincidentally the home of the eldest of Mabuse's children, 33-year-old Mpho, whose own two children have become the apple of their grandfather's eye. He calls them "two beautiful children" and he places the emphasis on the descriptive noun.

Children are a gift from a powerful source, he says: "Otherwise we shouldn't have them."

Mabuse has two more children in Scotland. His relationship with their mothers is civil, including Chichi Maponya, the rich man's daughter with whom he has two girls. They speak on the phone.

Mseleku continues to spew off the state-of-the-art stereo, like he is accompanying his own soul and Neo's to the Heavens.

How does a songwriter-cum-musician heal when he's hurting?

Mabuse says there's "the human being before the music" and doesn't think the two can be divorced.

"We may express our pain differently, probably feel it differently. But pain is . pain.

"I wanted to play a song at his burial but felt my emotions were overwhelming. I just couldn't bring myself to do it because then I would also misrepresent the music. because of my pain. So I decided not to."

He steps into the kitchen and returns bearing two glasses of ice-cold orange juice. He gathers the jacket of his chic suit gingerly around him as he plonks on the couch and, like he'd waved a wand, the remote control is again in his hands.

He plays Terrence Blanchard, changes his mind after two tracks and talks about the exotic sounds he's opted for. It is Jan Garbarek, a Norwegian. I Took Up the Runes, the album, was inspired by the music of rural India, says Mabuse.

This is the style of making music that appeals to the ex-Harare front man.

"Go to the villages," he says, "listen to what they play."

This is the same modus operandi that fuelled the magic of his own Thaba Bosiu, a tug-at-the-heartstrings song he performs with a Lesotho national he refers to as Ntate Thabang.

On the song Mabuse plays the flute "one of the most difficult wind instruments". Only two names come to mind when asked about masters of the flute - our own Kelly Petlane and Hubert Laws.

He stands up to look for something in his huge CD collection.

"This is some of it," he says about the size of the collection.

He returns with Keith Jarret, a pianist. The piano is also one of the instruments Mabuse plays well. "His shows are sold out three months in advance," he says of Jarret.

Mseleku, who has guided the musical fortunes of the London-based Mpho, played the piano like a dream, he says. Abdullah Ibrahim is another one of his favourites on the piano.

A saxophonist of mean repute, Hotstix, as he's fondly called, says only Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane did justice to the sax.

He listens to other people too - Bobby McFerrin, Nina Simone, Richard Bona. When the subject moves to the likes of Sibongile Khumalo, whose father Khabi Mngoma was once Mabuse's music teacher, he says concepts like South African Music Week baffle him.

Kwani Experience, Oscar Rachabane, Mpumi Dlamini all receive a good word about themselves from Hotstix.

"You wouldn't believe it," he says, "but I also have a HHP album somewhere here."

It is possible to make music imbued with longevity, says the man who penned Burn Out, a pre-kwaito entertainment anthem of sorts that still fills the dance floors to this day. "Pop music," he says, "has always had a short lifespan, kwaito included. Pop music all over the world, that is. But there is quality pop music, Burn Out is one."

The key is "how well-written the songs are".

The one-hit wonders of the genre made popular by youngsters such as Arthur, Mandoza and Brickz do not, sadly, satisfy this criterion.

He did not compose Burn Out, he says, like he were prompted by the spirits: "It came from somewhere."

Satisfied with the answer, he looks up as if he is staring beyond his ceiling. "I don't know where it came from."

Against the backdrop of Garbarek, he moves the conversation to Wynton Marsalis and how he found inspiration for his Congo Square. That point again - village music.

"I like listening to the work of musicians outside the mainstream," the old muso says, adding that Garbarek uses the gourd to make music.

He speaks very softly and the music in the background adds to the serenity of the surroundings. He uses words like "infectious" and "spiritual" to describe what emanates from his hi-fi. Like he were in a trance, he says when you "close your eyes" what you hear will "take you to another world".

With music, Mabuse is deep.

With Kippies, the jazz joint he ran in town now closed, he finds time to "work in the garden" when the normal nine-to-fivers toil away.

The reading matter under the coffee table is stuff like All That Jazz.

An avid reader, he's currently absorbed in This Is My God, a book by Herman Wouk. He talks about it, about how "every Jew, when death comes, would remember their Jewishness".

He talks about Moshito, the annual music festival and exhibition that has just concluded in Newtown.

"It is a very important platform," he says of the gathering of stakeholders in the industry, currently in its fifth year.

He was unable to attend as part of the ritual of laying Neo to rest.

Any more questions would be like denying the man the chance to heal.

Mseleku returns to the turntable.

Soul-soothing sounds perfect for healing a broken man crying for his dead son.

He's alone. Not lonely.

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