The creative voices of poet James Matthews and jazz singer Melanie Scholtz meet on a new album called Freedom’s Child, launching at Artscape Theatre on September 18.
Scholtz recalls that she was walking down St George’s Mall in central Cape Town while talking to a friend about working with a poet on her new music. She then literally walked into a “serendipitous chance meeting” with Matthews. “I had just won the Standard Bank Young Artist award (in 2010) and was talking to a friend on the phone about how I would love to collaborate with a poet for one of my next projects,” says Scholtz. Then I realised I was walking behind James, wearing his very familiar satchel and beret. So we talked all the way down Long Street, while he serenaded me with one of his love poems, ‘I’m flushed with the lushness of love’. I asked him whether I could write some music using his poetry.” She adds: “And the rest is history.”
Matthews is etched into South Africa’s turbulent history via his poetry that spoke out against apartheid and its evils. Scholtz recorded the diminutive poet’s words to music, in songs that recall a time of struggle.
The collaboration “serves to highlight and document our history as a people,” says Scholtz. The album is named after a Matthew’s poem in the collection Cry Rage which was banned in the 1970s.
The poems that feature on the album are contained in various publications spanning 1973 to 2008. Scholtz says the “music is jazz inspired”.
Matthews lived through hard times since he was born in 1929 in District Six, Cape Town. In 1976 he was detained by the apartheid government and was denied a passport for 23 years. He has published several collections of poetry, short stories and a novel. He has won numerous awards for his work and was bestowed a National Order by South Africa’s democratic government.
Scholtz says she while spending time with Matthews she discovered the music he enjoyed and soon started writing her own tunes to match his words.
“James is a very big Nina Simone fan and so I took this into consideration while writing the music for this album. The songwriting was also more specific as the poems and not the music this time had to be the star of the show,” she says. Some of the poems that now feature as songs are Weave Me a Fantasy, Clipped Wings, The Face of My Mother, I Am Black and Sing a Song of Death.
Scholtz says Freedom’s Child was “born out of a need to collaborate, create and facilitate change”. She says this “soul-stirring journey” lasted two years, which she spent writing and recording the album. “What I learnt on this journey was a sense of gratitude for all those who came before us who were willing to fight and die for our freedom today. I continue to be inspired by the work that artists like James do in our world,” reflects Scholtz.
“They make art not just for art sake, but they are messengers of the times. They are genuinely interested in leaving things behind for future generations.”
The British Council assisted with the album’s recording and Mark Fransman, a previous Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner, produced it. Freedom’s Child features acclaimed British saxophonist Soweto Kinch as well an array of South Africa’s finest jazz musicians. For more information about Freedom’s Child log on to http://freedomschild.co.za
Artscape Theatre’s Heritage Festival featuring Melanie Scholtz album launch starts at 19:30 on the 18th September at the Arena.
For more information check www.artscape.co.za. For ticket bookings contact Sonia Van Rooy on cell: 082 290 0631.
Note from Viv:
James Matthews is a long-time friend of poet Gladys Thomas
and artist Peter Clarke
both of whom live in Ocean View in the Scenic South Peninsula.