Award-winning Mozambican saxophonist Moreira Chonguiça, is indisputably one of Africa’s finest and most celebrated African Jazz musicians. Chonguiça will be coming back to the Mother City for an exclusive Africa Day performance at Norval Foundation on 25 May.
Chonguiça lets us in on how music chose him, the talent and music scene in his hometown Mozambique, and so much more.
How old were you when you first picked up a saxophone and have you always known that this is what you’ll end up doing?
I was 7 years old when I first picked up a recorder and was enrolled in the National Music School in Maputo, Mozambique. I ran away for a few years because playing soccer with my friends was more attractive than playing music, until the school contacted my parents! When I returned, I started to fall in love with the saxophone and I realised it was going to be my first love. When I was 17, I had to make a choice between International Law and Music. Music ended up choosing me!
Your debut album, The Moreira Project: Vol.1-The Journey is an all-time favourite. (Love 360 degrees and Simples (Simplicity), which was followed by Vol.2-The Citizen of the World. You featured an eclectic mix of artists in these two volumes; Grammy Award nominee Najee, Wanda Baloyi and her father Jaco Maria, Omar Sosa, Marcus Wyatt, and the legendary Manu Dibango. You then released MP: Reloaded in 2013 that also features rearranged tracks from the two volumes. Would you say that MP (The Moreira Project) as as a whole is your magnum opus?
Vol 1 was a collection of songs I had written over many years as I began playing as a professional with other bands but it came to a point when I decided that I needed to see if the songs were any good and Vol 1 was released as my debut album as a solo artist and a band leader in 2005. I had to test myself as a composer as well as an instrumentalist.
Vol 2 was actually a more difficult album to do because everyone is watching to see if a musician can produce another batch of good music and if I could actually repeat the effort and that Vol1 wasn’t just a flash album. Vol 2 Citizen of the World was the album that gave me confidence to be in this music business.
MP Reloaded was an experiment after many years of playing other people’s music with DJ’s at corporate events and weddings, I decided to see what would happen if I put my own music to a beat.
How do you integrate the influence of the various people in your band? Do you pull from various traditions of jazz?
I am extremely fortunate in that I have some of the best musicians on the continent in my band and although we don’t play together all the time, we miss each other. Music is about people and experiences and with the group of musicians I am playing with at Norval Foundation, there is a synergy, an energy and a chemistry that transcends to become magic.
I grew up in a family that loves music. All kinds of genres of music. I am influenced constantly by different genres not only jazz which I pick up on my travels, from being introduced to artists by other musicians and music lovers.
Your music evokes nostalgia, really powerful and moving—has it ever been featured in any films (local or international)? My music has been used in a number of documentaries mainly emanating from Mozambique as well as the movie Virgin Margarida. It has also been used in advertisements for a number of Mozambican brands.
Tell us about your experience as a musician based in your hometown Mozambique compared to when you were based in Cape Town.
Mozambique is a country rich in culture and heritage. There isn’t a very formalised music infrastructure in Mozambique like in South Africa. But I am working on that. I would like to see the Mozambican artists getting the recognition and reward they deserve. Maputo is a city with cultural events happening every day and night. It does not have as many beautiful venues such as Norval Foundation which is a unique space, but there are some really interesting places where cultural events take place. Overall, events are very well supported in Mozambique.
And any musicians or vocalists from Mozambique that Africa/the world is sleeping on?
Musicians to watch coming out of Mozambique are Helder Gonzaga my bass player, Ornesia and Regina dos Santos who are both extraordinary singers, Pika Tembe and my own MoreJazz Big Band who are such a bunch of talented young people.
What are your thoughts on Africa Month/Africa day, the current jazz scene in South Africa/Africa and the one thing you’d like to see happen in terms of music/the arts in Africa?
Africa Month/Day is a time to reflect on the highlights of the past year and it gives us a chance to highlight issues and look forward to the future. I am hugely positive about this continent but I would like to see the educational systems take Music more seriously from Primary school level. Music has so many benefits to a learner that it needs to be part of the main stream curriculum of every school. Our young people need to learn more about music in general, music from the different parts of the continent not just a particular genre.
South Africa has some very fine jazz musicians coming to the forefront and it is very exciting but we must remain true to ourselves, continue to push boundaries, make our own sounds. It’s a tough business to be in but lots of hard work, persistence and integrity help the path to success.
The renowned ethnomusicologist will be bringing his passionate stage performance in Gallery 8 at the stunning Norval Foundation where Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama’s installation Labour of Many - draping walls and floors with Hessian sacks - sets a dramatic backdrop. He will be joined by Mozambican bassist Helder Gongaza, his Cape-based band and Mozambican dancer and choreographer, Edna Jaime.
The show will begin at 8:30pm on Saturday 25 May 2019. Visit the Norval Foundation online at norvalfoundation.org for more information.