The Brother Moves On is an important addition to the South African music scene telling vital stories through musical art. As a performance ensemble, they’ve done a ton of touring and as individuals, they’re deeply (and historically) rooted in various genres within the scene…some mentored by the serious pioneers of African jazz. On Saturday, they’ll be playing Good Luck Bar’s second birthday. Naturally, we’re excited…not all 2 year old birthday parties have drinks and live music, y’know.
I had the honour of speaking with them and while I begin by exposing a spelling error I’ve been making for over a decade, they seemingly forgive me and give insight into how the band was formed, their collaborations and the spaces in which they play music.
Richard Chemaly (RC): So there’s some nostalgia for me here. I grew up listening to Siyabonga’s former Grahamstown group, Orangutang Bitch, particularly because they had a song called “Lebanon”! Where are all the members from musically, and have you all been in previous groups leading up to TBMO?
Brother Moves On (TBMO): Lebenon!!!! Ayanda Zalekile is a protege of Malcolm Jiyane and studied at Bra Johnny Mekoa’s Gauteng School of Jazz. He’s a hell of a composer and had played trombone in the band only to later realise the band needed a bassist and then picked up the bass.
Zelizwe Mthembu who once featured for Orangutang Bitch studied at the Moses Molelekwa school of Jazz and then moved on to join Ayanda at Bra Johnny Mekoa’s school. Simphiwe Tshabalala is self taught or rather you’ll find him killing it at his church on that lucky Sunday as that is where he honed his chops.
Leading up to being in TBMO, Zelizwe, Siyabonga and Nkululeko and Mbali Mthethwa sometimes formed a band named Jewish. Ayanda has been in the Soweto punk scene as a hired hitman for many bands but when we met he’d feature with Future History and was central to another band named Radio Station. Simphiwe was a member of Passport a band from Vosloorus when the cats came into contact with him.
RC: Oops, well that’s about a decade of getting a song name wrong [sheepishly changes subject]. You were established as a DIY group yet over time, you’ve gotten much support due to your talent. Somehow, you’ve managed to maintain your sound and sincerity. How have you managed to maintain this identity despite increasing production opportunities?
TBMO: We’ve had to lose out on what at times looked like good opportunities. At the time it brought us into a lot of internal conflict but over time we’ve collectively come to understand the heavy weight of maintaining independence in an economy of scarcity. What’s maintained all this is the energy of the Bear and a need to learn from what we do so we can own it, the good and bad the mistakes and the sparks of genius. We constantly learning and healing.
RC: Last year you toured a bit and, particularly in London, seemed well received. What is the difference in your experience performing for foreign crowds relative to local ones, particularly in telling Afrocentric stories?
TBMO: The London scene was such a chanced relation. We jumped the London underground queue of sorts. The band was part of Keleketla Arkestra’s project with UK bad ass viola musician Hannah Jones and she is a part of Rhythm Sections a crew that includes Bradley Zero that throws ill underground parties.
They put together a show with Yussef Kamaal and we featured our good friend Shabaka Hutchings. We thought we were playing a small gig only to find that we were headlining quite a big gig as our first gig in London and Itai Hakim’s first gig overseas.
Local audiences live in the same spaces as we do and thus get not only the language but the frequency of our odd vibrations. The music is meant for healing and primarily the healing of our immediate spaces so at home is where the heart is but on the road we seem to see the importance of our countries particular vibration in relation to the global story. We then find kindred spirits telling the same story from their perspectives on the road and this is enriching as it helps to realise that you are not alone and that ( as Tumi from TATV puts it) the “people of the light [do] generate a glow in the room”
RC: You seem to collaborate a lot so where do you find the best fits in terms of collaboration? I recall how excited I was when I heard that you were collaborating with Paulo Chibanga way back in 2012.
TBMO. It’s when we admire someone and it doesn’t particularly fit that we really want to work with them. Throwing one out to the universe but where is Bra Neo Muyanga? We’ve admired him for so long.
RC: In the 2 years of it’s existence, we all seem to have fostered a story (or many) at the Good Luck Bar. Do you have any stories of the venue that you’d put to music?
TBMO: It’s odd ’cause the Good Luck Bar crew came at a time when a lot of the “white scene” thought we were trouble and racist in our black pride. We were uneasy with regards to their approach but they continually treated us like stars whenever we were there.
The space is genuine in its love for music, South African and African music in particular, and that’s great to see in a space with no music venues. So I think we’ve found the first line for the track, “in a space with no music venues, you can count on the good luck bar.”