Artist Spotlight: Edgar K. Muzah - Bassist With A Heart Of Gold
Regular readers of my ‘around the world’ Skype interviews for the Fusion artists page, will have gathered by now, depending on the airwaves, it either runs as smooth as a zip on a Fusion gig bag, or like flying a kite in a hurricane.
Luckily, professional bassist Edgar Kaye Muzah can drive, and drive he did, high up on the cliffs of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, the only way we could keep the signal strong and keep the conversation running very late into the night between a wet, damp UK and a hot and windy Port Elizabeth.
“I was actually born in Zimbabwe,” says Edgar speaking from Marine Drive which overlooks the Southern Ocean. “I moved here to South Africa in 2009 where my wife is from. The music scene is getting better in Zimbabwe now, although there wasn’t that much work for musicians when I was there. I used to love listening to rhythmic music especially traditional African sounds which I could relate to and found both innovative and inspiring. I still love the percussive feel and resonating warmth of established instruments like the kalimba and marimba, and the cununo drum played with bamboo sticks.
Even now, I’ll regularly get together with friends and we’ll play traditional songs or just improvise, sometimes with just vocalists and with cow bells, but you know... music is music at the end of the day.
As a child I was very lucky, I had the opportunity to study Ethnomusicology at the Zim College of Music. I was mentored by a guru called Chaka Chawasarira who is an amazing mbira player, he also makes these instruments and taught me how to play one to a high level.
I say I was lucky because it’s still a problem to get music education in underprivileged schools in South Africa. I’ve never forgotten all the help I was given and had always wanted to give something back and teach young children the value of music. So early in 2016, I set up a program called Notes Of Hope with a group of musician friends. I’m just giving young students the chance and the privilege of learning about music that only children in Private schools might get. If they do go on to university, they will at least have a good background of music and the instrument they have already learnt to play. The students start from primary to late high school and are taught physically, it’s not on-line, I feel it’s so much better for the younger students to be able to have the hands-on approach with the instruments.
Whilst we travel considerable distances to schools, we don’t charge, so the cost of the travelling and the instruments makes it difficult, but we all feel the same about teaching these kids a level of music theory which will advance as they get better, on an instrument they may naturally feel inspired to play. We offer tuition on bass guitar, guitar, saxophone, piano and vocal coaching.”
Busy times then for Edgar who is also a well respected session bass player, music composer, arranger, producer and writer.
“I wear several hats in the music industry, so I’m always busy,” says Edgar, “But I’m a bass player before anything else, session work is good, but I have to be on my toes as I more or less get the bass score given to me the moment I walk into the studio and which I have to familiarise with quickly before we record. Jazz is my main forte, but over the years I’ve played all styles including House Music and Afro Pop which are both popular here at the moment. The local music scene in the Port Elizabeth area is healthy and vibrant, I travel a lot and most of my gigs and session work is outside Port Elizabeth where the likes of Cape Town and Durban are on the circuit for the bigger named artists.”
Edgar I’m losing you, the signal is bad again, hello Edgar speak to me. Five minutes pass, “I’m back Lars”, he says,” I moved higher up the Cape, but still overlooking the ocean.
I was about to say that it’s always been the bass guitar for me, I must have been about 14 when I watched a friend play bass and was in awe of that big low end, he hooked me up with just one lesson, and I was smitten. That’s the only lesson I ever had, I’m totally self taught. I’m fortunate that I’ve always had a good ear for music and can carry a tune. This proved invaluable when I was younger as I had a problem with my eyes and I wasn’t allowed to read or look at anything on a white surface, so at the time, it wasn’t possible for me to read music. I persevered though listening to jazz albums and being totally influenced by so many great players including African jazz bassist Richard Bona. I feel I have a special relationship with his playing style and the music he plays, his album Heritage released in 2016 which has an Afro-Cuban flavour, is a fine example.
Afro Jazz has always been a passion for me, I played this bass style locally for a long time in a band called Take Note which also had a touch of Western afro contemporary jazz in the set. This was a wonderfully learning curve for me where I developed my skills as we toured playing at National Festivals, skills that would prove invaluable later in life as a session player.
I’ve made good use of my writing, arranging and producing roles, as head of music production for two new albums. Both are released in April 2017, the first is called Mamela Mna by a popular African Soul singer called Black Tye. This album was recorded in East London South Africa at ECAVC Records, taking in about two weeks recording time. The second album is called Uhuru/ Independence by Willis Wataffi Afrika who is one of Zimbabwe's top artists, I recorded this album up in Zimbabwe and the final mixing and mastering was completed back here in South Africa. So this year is quite exciting for me as I cannot wait for the world to hear these two talented musicians. The depth within the music and the enticing melodies will be something to look forward to. I really hope world music radio stations in England can get their hands on these albums
So what does Edgar do in his spare time or does he get any, maybe chill out on the golden sands of the Cape of South Africa beaches? “It’s hard, but I did have a couple of days to myself not long ago and I dreamt up an idea for another project”... of course, why relax Edgar?
“I started another project called 2Much Bass dedicated to bass players who didn’t get the chance to learn at school or in their days at college. It’s a scheme where I invite as many bassists I can from all skill levels from beginner to superman to meet and openly talk ‘all-things-bass guitar’ including amps, effects and swap ideas. Some of these players have never gigged and want to hear about the experiences of other players.
I have to thank Cort guitars who I also endorse and who helped me put this project together. The first one I organised was at the Opera House here in Port Elizabeth and I would have been satisfied if 30 or 40 bass players turned up, but I was thrilled when over 100 walked through the door. I’m using Cort basses full time now including my own Edgar “Eddie Bass” Muzah 6 string Signature custom bass which I play through my favourite bass rig which is a Laney Nexus SLS112 bass head and NX115 cab.
Of course, whatever ‘hat’ I’m wearing in the music industry, it commands a lot of gear I have to carry, not so much the amp and cab, but a hoard of personal items plus my guitars. I have to admit, that in the past I dreaded having to carry so many bags, until I contacted Fusion Gig Bags in the UK. I have the Fusion Urban Bass Guitar Bag, I absolutely love it man, like their logo says, it’s so much more than a gig bag. Everywhere I go people always ask me where I got it from. I don’t think they have any distribution within South Africa, but that’s not so much of a problem anymore with the internet. I’m travelling again very soon and it’s a relief not to have to carry an extra suitcase. There are so many pockets in these lightweight but extremely robust, cleverly designed gig bags. Even when it’s pretty full it’s not cumbersome, and so easy to carry by the soft handles or padded back straps.”
It would seem technology over the airwaves has beaten us this evening as Edgar finally disappears in to the night, but I’m sure my interview has given a brief insight into the music scene in South Africa and one of its finest musicians... Edgar Kaye Muzah, who has a heart of gold.
STOP PRESS: I am happy to say he contacted us in the early hours to say he arrived home safely, many thanks for a fine interview Edgar.
Interview by Lars Mullen
For more on Edgar’s profile and equipment follow this link: http://cortguitars.com/en/community/artist_view.asp?idx=194
Edgar Kaye Muzah on Facebook: