POURING out of the music playing devise in a seamless flow is a richly textured soothing voice.
It is accompanied by the silky sounds of the piano, drum and double bass on an October 2nd, 2009 live recording at Rataplan, Antwerp in Belgium. The audiovisual presentation of the song Mpho is deeply felt on a cold silent night. Some years back, the elegant vocalist singing the song got the best of an old man at a Civic Theatre performance in Joburg. “Mara ke ngwan’ wa mang o’ (whose child is this anyway),” cried the man as Tutu Puoane effortlessly fed scoop after scoop of the sweetest of sounds to the ear. It’s a distinct African type of cheer-on, the kind of feedback and energy that an artist on stage can feed on.
“I absolutely love it,” says an excited Tutu when we catch up with her. “But only when it’s done appropriately. Once I had an elderly lady sitting very close to the stage and singing along loudly to every tune. At first I thought there was some weird frequencies coming through the speakers and my pianist thought my monitors weren’t working properly because I was singing out of tune. It turned out it was because of this lady sitting in front and people were trying to nicely tell her to stop but she wouldn’t. So, before I sang the next song I told her, ‘Lady, I think it’s beautiful that you know all the words to all these songs but could you please let me do my thing. She kept her mouth shut the entire concert.”
Tutu’s music mostly appeal to an individual described as ‘motho o e mametseng’ in the township – a composed person that knows their story and such people are few and far in between. Sometimes it becomes necessary that there’s absolute silence and attention is paid when her type of song – the mostly laid back and thoughtful kind- is performed or listened to. Breathe, her latest album, reflects an image of a young women well versed in and eager to tell a bit of her story or that of her people. Enjoying prominence as the language of choice for the delivery of her song’s lyrical content is her mother tongue, sePedi. The Pretoria-born musician has made it a habit to treat her European audience, especially in the tiny land of Belgium where she is stationed, to some sePedi. “It’s a lot of fun and them white people come to me after a gig and say: “re a go leboga Tutu (thank you Tutu),” says the proud singer.
“I’d like to be honest with you, sometimes I feel my mother tongue is slightly slipping away from me. I was trying to count till 10 the other day ka sePedi and I couldn’t remember number 8 (seswai). I felt extremely embarrassed. So the biggest reason I started writing/singing in sePedi is mainly for me to stay in touch with it. The other reason is that that way, I can teach my daughter to learn the language as well. She’s an extremely musical kid and remembering melodies and rhythm is the most natural thing to her.” It also emerges that Tutu’s not selfish with her talent. During her own performances she plugs the music of her compatriots. From when she first started out in Europe her repertoire exposed, and it still does, audiences to some of the finest songs this country has produced. “I play compositions by Buddy Wells, Mark Fransman, my brother from other parents Marcus Wyatt, and Lakutshoni’langa is still one of my ultimate favorite ballads.”
The university of Cape Town Music graduate’s longing for home is perhaps perfectly reflected on the breezy tune, Cape Town, also featured on Breathe. Her almost teary, at some stages, delivery comes from deep within her soul. “I haven’t been home since the previous Joy of Jazz last August and it feels like forever and it’s been driving me insane. So it’s extremely important for me to come home at least once a year, whether I perform or not.” Tutu is scheduled to stage at least six gigs at a number of venues from the end of September. It’s really motivating that she, from thousands of kilometers away, can secure such a number of performance next to each. This is at a time when most artists based in this country struggle to secure even a single gig in six months. “Everything I do is pretty much self-arranged. If I have to wait to be booked, then I’d never play at home. I make the calls and send the emails out to venues and people who can help, that I’ll be coming home from this date till that, please let me come play at your venue . That’s how I do it in Europe and it’s no different at home.”
The Pretoria-born musician’s lined up gigs include performances at venues such as The Jazzy Rainbow in Durban on September 28 and 29; Cape Town’s Mahogany Room from October 2nd to the 4th; Lucky Bean in Mellville, Joburg on October 7, The Barn at the Opera House in Port Elizabeth on October 11, the State Theatre in Pretoria on October 12 and the Soweto Theatre on October 13.