Bokani Dyer: tapping jazz energy

1 April 2011

Jazz pianist Bokani Dyer, the 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz, comes from a strong musical family and is building on his musical heritage with unique flair, inspired by “the energy behind the music”.

Gearing for the National Arts Festival

Dyer, along with the other Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners, will be showcasing his newest work on the main programme of the 2011 National Arts Festival taking place in Grahamstown from 30 June to 10 July.

The 24-year-old will be doing four shows at the festival. He is planning to launch a six-piece ensemble called Amaya featuring Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Buddy Wells (saxophone), Ayanda Sikade (drums), Angelo Syster (guitar) and Shane Cooper (bass), playing compositions written by Dyer over the past year.

He will perform with Soweto Kinch, an alto saxophonist from Birmingham, UK, as well as with Soweto Kinch and rapper Tumi. He will also be presenting a trio performance with Kesivan Naidoo (drums) and Hein van der Gein (bass).

Dyer has been busy with an album for his groove band Plan Be, a collaboration with vocalist/composer, Sakhile Moleshe. The album, entitled A soul-housing project, will be released in April. He has recently been involved in performances with various artists as well, including Jimmy Dludlu, Melanie Scholtz, Moreira Chonguica, Ivan Mazuze and others.

“My big focus at the moment is working towards the recording with my new band Amaya in May, which will be completed and released before the festival,” says Dyer.

‘Jazz is a beautiful art form’

“I’ve always had a love for music, but developed a liking for jazz from the age of 16 after I had been playing for a few years,” says Dyer. “I was introduced to jazz by my father, Steve Dyer, who used to play jazz music in the car and at home often.

“Jazz is a beautiful art form which allows for deep exploration through spontaneous creativity.”

Alan Webster, director of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, Grahamstown, describes Dyer as “a very impressive young musician, technically skilled beyond his years and artistically creative in a wide array of jazz genres. He is undoubtedly someone who is going to add to the breadth of South African jazz in the future.”

Dyer lists Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa, Andile Yenana, Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi locally, and Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Bobo Stenson internationally as some of his jazz heroes.

“Inspiration is a weird thing,” he says. “It doesn’t always come from likely places, like a conversation or the weather or spending time with children. The energy behind the music is what inspires me. It is the character and feeling behind the sound that really matters.”

Career so far

Dyer graduated from the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town, with a Bachelor of Music (Hons) first class in June 2008. During his studies in 2006, he was chosen by Andre Peterson for a youth band that took part in a summer school in Sogne, Norway.

He was also part of the Standard Band National Youth Jazz band in Grahamstown, which played at the Johannesburg International Jazz festival, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and toured Sweden. He played for the University of Cape Town Big Band and also played at the Arts Alive concert with Steve Dyer, Dorothy Masuku, Thandiswa Mazwai and Siya Makhuzeni.

In 2007 Dyer became a member of the Shannon Mowday band and performed at all the major jazz festivals in South Africa. He also joined leading South African Afro-Jazz guitarist Jimmy Dludlu’s band that frequently performs around the country on the South African festival circuit and abroad.

He travelled to Sweden in March 2007 with his own trio to perform at the Swedish Jazz celebration held in Lulea, and also performed at Fasching, the iconic Swedish jazz club in Stockholm.

In 2007 he formed Plan Be, an original groove music band with talented vocalist Sakhile Moleshe, and was a runner-up in the Fine Music Radio travel awards competition.

After graduating in 2008, Dyer’s trio became a regular fixture at the popular Green Dolphin restaurant in Cape Town, and he played at the Cape Town International Jazz festival with Jimmy Dludlu and toured with the band in and around South Africa.

They were also a backing band for high-profile jazz artists, including Jonas Gwangwa and Judith Sephuma.

Dyer then joined the Moreira Project, led by Mozambique saxophonist Moreira Chonguica, for the launch of his second album in Namibia, Mozambique and Cape Town.

In 2009, Dyer performed with Judith Sephuma at the annual Jazzathon held in the amphitheatre at the Waterfront, Cape Town and travelled with Jimmy Dludlu to Davos, Switzerland to play for the South African delegation at the World Economic Forum.

He also toured to Zanzibar with Moreira Chonguica to play at the Sauti za Busara music festival in February 2009. At the Cape Town International Festival he performed with Rus Nerwich and the Collective Imagination. He was also sponsored by Laurentina Premium to perform with the Moreira project at the Mozambique Jazz Festival in April. He was runner-up in the Samro jazz piano competition.

A highlight in his career was being involved for the first time in a concert in Botswana, his country of birth, featuring in a concert with Steve Dyer, headlined by Oliver Mtukudzi.

In 2010 he again travelled to Davos, Switzerland with Jimmy Dludlu for the World Economic Forum, and performed at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival with the Bokani Dyer Trio.

SAinfo reporter

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