This coming Saturday, 20 May is an important date for all fans of electrically adventurous music. Legendary drummer Louis Moholo will be in duet with the brilliant Kyle Shepherd (piano) for a once-off evening orchestrated by Paul Kahanovitz’ events company Slow Life, at Kalk Bay’s Olympia Bakery.
Moholo, simply put, is a monster of a musician. A genius who operates in his own realm of hyper-awareness and sensitivity. When he walks on stage and quietly takes his seat behind the drum kit – which, in his hands, swiftly transforms into an alien object of percussive mysteries and magic – the entire stage becomes his. He has been known to leave other musicians – highly acclaimed musicians, band leaders, veterans of their scenes – in cold sweats after playfully – devastatingly – pulling the rhythmic rug out from under them to check their reaction time, to gauge their ability to adapt to sudden shifts in the sonic atmosphere, the intricately fluid metrical universe he inhabits.
By the same token, when accompanied by creative virtuosos who don’t flinch at sudden change, who delight in musical danger, he can raise the bar ever higher with each drum stroke, and the music simply ascends. Moholo has performed with such jazz luminaries as Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, Peter Brotzmann and Cecil Taylor.
A voraciously talented pianist, Shepherd’s particular star has been brightening over more than a decade – his ensembles delivering dependably vital, beautifully adventurous takes on traditional Cape Folk songs and his award-winning compositions, featured in studio albums such as ‘South African History !X’  and ‘Dream State’ . Always hungry for different idioms of stimulation, Shepherd is currently immersed in scoring for film – his most recent score, for ‘Noem My Skollie’ nominated for a 2017 SAMA – and is fresh from a live art installation at Cape Town’s Youngblood Gallery, entitled ‘Aware’.
We spoke to Kyle about Aware – “an exploration of the city of Tokyo through sound and imagery” – and the upcoming gig with Mr. Moholo.
How often have you played in duet with Mr. Moholo, and what’s the dynamics arc?
KS: “I first played with Bra Louis fresh out of high school at ‘Manenbergs’ in Cape Town. The band was Bra Louis, Bra Zim Ngqawana and Bra Herbie Tsoaeli! They, as we know, are heavyweights. Since then I’ve played with Bra Louis in various formations maybe three or four times a year. The only element that needed development was my own musical ability and musicality… Bra Louis was, those 12 years ago, and still is, a fully realized entity.”
Any gig with Mr. Moholo is electric and exhilarating, but the duet format must feel intense. What do you anticipate?
KS: “Well, it is the nature of this approach to playing to be unknown. So, I don’t know.”
Tell us about ‘Aware’. How did the collaboration with Lindsey Appolis come about?
KS: “I first met Lindsey at the orchestra recording session for my Noem My Skollie score. He is a wonderful photographer and is one of the most in demand on-set film photographers in SA. We got talking about doing something. We had no idea what it would be until we started working. Throughout my musical life most of my work has been realised in this way. Actually working gives life to the work. I’m not one that sits out in the wilderness or at a coffee shop brainstorming meetings to come up with ideas. I need to be actively, and constantly, trying things. So the process with Lindsey was one where at some point we just decided to do it without a real plan.”
Last year alone, Tagores and Straight No Chaser closed down, how has this impacted on you? Which venues still showcase challenging music in Cape Town?
KS: “It has been a very quiet time on the performing front, in Cape Town. It’s strange for me because there’s never been a time, in my career, where Cape Town was this quiet musically. However, the positive is that I’ve had more time to work on music as a composer. For the next few years I’d like to concentrate on composing music for film and/or any type of image-based medium. I’ve really found it quite stimulating as a composer. As for venues… apart from pop-up events or situations where musicians, like myself, are organising our own concerts at our own expense, I’m not sure…”
Where: Olympia Bakery Kalk Bay, Clairveaux Rd, Kalk Bay
Who: Kyle Shepherd, Louis Moholo
When: Sat, 20 May, 8pm
Interview: Mick Raubenheimer