Andile Yenana

Andile Yenana

BandJazzAcoustic

Traditional Jazz Combo, Mainstream, Bop, Hard Bop, Cool. Jazz with South African undertones.

Biography

Music has been the mission of pianist Andile Yenana's life since he was born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape in 1968.

"My dad, Felix Thamsanqa Yenana, had a huge collection of music, ranging from jazz to Motown, all the forms of urban black music. My brother also had discs, and I grew up listening to their records and singing along."

His father’s memories, as well as his music, helped inspire Andile's career. Yenana senior had been a student at St Peters College in Rosettenville, a school with a strong church-music tradition, where fellow students had included trumpeter Hugh Masekela. (Andile, too, sang in a choir during his schooldays.) "Already, around nine, my old man had opened my eyes to the world of the arts. Because of that heritage, there's no way I could be older in this genre of jazz."
When Andile began learning piano, it was with a mission. "When I picked up that instrument in Zwelitsha Township, it was to play jazz."

Andile secured his teaching diploma from Fort Hare University before taking up B. Mus studies under Darius Brubeck at the University of Natal, Durban's pioneering School of Jazz and Popular Music. There, he discovered the professional music scene around Durban's clubs, and struck up a firm friendship with two other highly focused music students, saxophonist Zim Ngqawana and trumpeter Feya Faku. "They paid attention to their varsity work, and I admired that."

As well as gigging with both his new friends, Andile also formed a jazz outfit band at UND called "Inside Out". He used to play with Concord Nkabinde, Dumisane Shange, Mfana Mlabo, etc: "Those were the happiest days," he remembers.

The friendship with Ngqawana turned into a (so far) 11-year gig, when Andile moved to Johannesburg and joined the reedman's quartet. Though the personnel around them has changed over the years, the tough teamwork between sax and piano has endured through all five of Ngqawana's albums, starting with San Song, recorded during an exchange visit to Norway in 1996.

But right from the start, Andile's career has involved a range of projects and collaborations that have taken him far beyond the conventional jazz small group.

Since they met in Durban in 1991, he has collaborated with saxophonist Steve Dyer and other musicians on pan-African music projects under the title Mahube, with which he has performed across sub-Saharan Africa. He has acted as arranger for vocalists Sibongile Khumalo, Gloria Bosman and Suthukazi Arosi among others, and produced albums for other instrumentalists. Andile won a SAMA as Best Producer for his work with the legendary Winston Mankunku Ngozi on "Abantwana be Afrika". He has also played in the Afro-pop band of guitarist Louis Mhlanga. In mid 2005, he opened for Dianne Reeves at the Johannesburg Joy of Jazz Festival. He has deliberately tried to work with anyone interesting who approaches him: "It helps broaden my scope."

In 1996, Andile and Zim visited the US as part of Black History Month, the first of three visits to Chicago he has made. On the latest, in 2002, fellow musicians gave him the trademark skull-cap that now graces all his stage shows: "It's special to me."
Andile also played with Zim in the UK as part of a well-reviewed 1997 collaboration project that performed at the Royal Albert Hall, and at the Nantes Fin de Siecle festival in France.

From the late 1990s, his other main project was the band Voice, a collaboration with Sydney Mnisi, Marcus Wyatt, Herbie Tsoaeli and drummers Lulu Gontsana and Morabo Morajele. They called themselves Voice, because "we don't have to sing on stage to express ourselves: our instruments are our voice."

Voice has released two albums and toured Sweden, and Andile has also worked on other releases featuring Wyatt, Tsoaeli, and other artists of his current label, Sheer Sound. With Tsoaeli, he's part of Joburg's most in-demand rhythm section. That aspect of collaboration is important to him. "Jazz is an act of collaboration and improvisation. That's why I love it so much I am creating with people."

But all this time, he was also patiently composing and developing the concept for his first album, We Used To Dance, released in 2003.

Like the Voice albums, We Used To Dance featured original music (from Yenana and Mnisi) alongside works from the canon created by the fathers of South African jazz, such as Johnny Dyani and Dudu Pukwana. It's title reflected the historic jazz culture Andile grew up in, where stylish jive steps contributed to the appreciation of the music, adding its own solos to the horns coming from the record-player. "We need to preserve the legacy," he says, "and I see myself as contributing to that."

We Used to Dance was well-received, and still sells steadily today, and Andile has continued gigging, spreading the gospel of the music.

He has done other work, too, contributing to the score of the Aids documentary "Shouting Silent", and even acting as music director for

Discography

RECORDINGS AS A LEADER:
We Used To Dance (Sheer Sound, 2002)
Who’s Got The Map (Sheer Sound, 2005)

RECORDINGS AS A SIDEMAN:

SAN Featuring Zim Ngqawana: San Song (NOR-CD 1997)
Mccoy Mrubata: Tears Of Joy (Sheer Sound, 1997)
Mahube: Music From Southern Africa (Sheer Sound, 1998)
Zim Ngqawana: Zimology (Sheer Sound, 1998)
Zim Ngqawana: Ingoma (Sheer Sound, 1999)
Jimmy Dludlu: Essence of Rhythm (Universal Music, 1999)
Marcus Wyatt: Gathering (Sheer Sound, 2000)
Voice: Quintet Legacy (Sheer Sound, 2000)
Mccoy Mrubata: Hoelykit? (Sheer Sound, 2000)
Zim Ngqawana: Zimphonic Suites (Sheer Sound, 2001)
Andy Narell: Live in South Africa (Heads Up, 2001)
Louis Mhlanga: Shamwari (Sheer Sound, 2001)
Suthukazi Arosi: Ubuntu (Sheer Sound, 2001)
Sibongile Khumalo: Quest (Sonny, 2002)
Marcus Wyatt: Africans In Space (Sheer Sound, 2002)
Winston Mankunku Ngozi: Abantwana Be Afrika (Sheer Sound, 2003)
Zim Ngqawana: Vadzimu (Sheer Sound, 2003)
Voice: Quintet Legacy Vol.2 Songs For Our Grandchildren (Sheer Sound, 2003)
Feya Faku: Tacit (Masingita Sounds & Images, 2003)
Louis Mhlanga: Tinganekwane... (Sheer Sound, 2004)
Nokukhanya Maphumulo: Dedicated To You (Gallo Records, 2005)

Set List

TYPICAL 45 Minute Sets

1st Set

1. Sydney's Etude
2. Mr Harris
3. Pedal Point
4. No Lights
5. Oasis

Second Set

1. Wicked Whispers
2. Thembisa The People
3. Blues for Nick
4. Dream Walker
5. Rwanda