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A Groove Supreme - Vuyo Sotashe Full Interview

Vuyo Sotashe
Courtesy Vuyo Sotashe

The following transcript is from the interview originally broadcast on Saturday, February 18th, 2023 on WKAR's "A Groove Supreme" with host Michael Stratton. Vuyo Sotashe is a South African Jazz vocalist and performer with the Jazz at Lincoln Center's ensemble scheduled to perform at East Lansing's Wharton Center for Performing Arts on Tuesday, February 21st, 2023.

Michael Stratton (MS): Vuyo Sotashe! Welcome to A Groove Supreme, we’re so happy to have you here. Jazz at Lincoln Center. You’re a part of this group that's going to be coming and playing at the Wharton Center on the 21st of February - Songs We Love. Really looking forward to it. I think, umm, you’re aware of what’s happened here at Michigan State this past week.

Vuyo Sotashe (VS): Yeah. Yeah, no, no. I -- It's terrible.

MS: I think music is healing, so really looking forward to you bringing some healing to us. Being able to relay some of that.
So, you’re South African, Vuyo. Tell us a little bit about your own background and how you became interested in American music and American Jazz.

VS: Oh wow. Well, I grew up in a very - Yes, I am from South Africa. I was born and raised in a very small town in the eastern cape of South Africa called Butterworth. And you know, jazz music, or rather its existence in South Africa is very much connected to our own civil rights movement. So, I feel like the way in which jazz music actually really impacted, you know, I guess people in South Africa was that it became a voice for our resistance. And there are stories of, you know, communities like Sophiatown in Johannesburg and so many other artists, you know, who were centered around activism and jazz then became that, you know, that connector. So, I - that's really the story, I think, the core of the story of jazz music in our country. And how I got involved, or I got, you know, exposed to it was through records, you know? My dad used to play records every single Sunday. And used to keep a cabinet of these. And, I mean, it's so funny now in retrospect thinking about it. That he had all of these band recordings of South African artists like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela at the time, you know?

MS: Yeah

VS: And would play those and the likes of Nat King Cole, and you know, so many other greats were kinda streaming through our airwaves at home in the weekends. And it was only later on, actually, in my life, in my music journey that I really picked up and I started, you know, studying jazz and becoming very much excited about it. It was actually through my brother inviting me to my first jazz festival, umm, in Capetown. This was about 2009? Yeah. Around 2009, it was around that time, and I guess the rest is history from there.

MS: Again, we have Vuyo Sotashe here , who will be performing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the, uh, Wharton Center this next week. And the title of the program is Songs we Love, so there are particular pieces of music that you guys have focused in on… there are three singers aren’t there?

VS: Yeah, there are three singers. I'm so honored to be on the program with two people I've known for a bit of time now since I moved to New York. Shenel Johns, who is an incredible singer and performer, and Brianna Thomas as well. And they are gonna be, yeah, they are two powerhouse vocalists, you know? Who work in so many other disciplines, you know? But are such great, great, great, great vocalists in the jazz world as well.

MS: I was able to look at some of the repertoire that you guys do and so many of the songs are things I love. "St. James Infirmary," "God Bless the Child," "Over the Rainbow"… Which seems quite striking with what we’ve all gone through. What to you anticipate singing, or does the program change from night to night? How do you arrange that?

VS: Yeah, so our music director, Riley, puts - Riley Mulherkar, our trumpet player helped put this concert together. Actually its first performance was in 2016 as part of a program, this piece, essentially was part of the program celebrating 100 years of recorded jazz music. Umm, and so, Riley sat with us and went through, I guess, the lineage of discographies of singers, of great singers, and great recordings, and what we would want to sing. I'm going to be singing a few songs. Some lesser known, called - there's one called 'Sing Me A Swing Song," which was a song that Ella Fitzgerald a lot with the Chick Webb Orchestra up in Harlem in her first days, you know, as a performer. As well as we have an arrangement of "Porgy and Bess," a song from "Porgy and Bess" by George and Ira Gershwin: " I Loves You Porgy." that - The arrangement actually was inspired by a performance by Nina Simone, who was one of my most favorite, you know, expressors of anything.

MS: Oh, she's wonderful.

VS: She's wonderful, and I'm really excited, I mean, you invoke quite a lot in the conversation of, I guess of holding music as a tool for healing. MS: Yes. VS: As a tool for coming together, as a ritual, you know. And I'm really hoping that our presence there might bring something, some type of hope, or at least create a portal for us together. To kinda grieve through this, and work through this. Yeah, I really hope to.

MS: Beautifully expressed. Thank you Vuyo Sotashe for joining us tonight. You’ll be performing along with other singers and the Jazz at Lincoln Center at the Wharton Center, Tuesday night, February 21st. Looking forward to hear Songs We Love.

VS: Cheers, cheers.

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