Kesivan Naidoo Big Band: Glorious paradox of anarchy

In the DSG hall Kesivan Naidoo is driving an international big band to the toyi-toyi beat of freedom’s dance. Conducted by bug-eyed, goateed, pork-pie hatted trombonist Adrian Mears, the horn section blasted us into freedom interspersed with snatches from Madiba’s ‘we must not allow fear stand in our way’ speech. 

We’ve just come up from the venality of the political present brilliantly played out in the Rhodes Box to Kesivan sizzling on cymbals and rolling us snare and bass back 33 years, to that barely believable relief of a release from prison. Madiba on his long road, the East Rand and KZN civil wars ahead and the promise, and in hindsight the celebration, of freedom just beyond; the all-too-brief rainbow nation.

The jazz brings us back to what we all have in common: our celebration of survival. The awning is gone but unlike last year when it was in its entirety a bare school hall, the bar is back at DSG. Round the side now, where there are also braziers and a DJ playing vinyl from the home crowd. The campus is teeming with youngsters getting to grips with their instruments, rubbing shoulders with the masters, exchanging notes, drinking inspiration, hooking up. Just as Kesivan used to do.

His big band is stacked with masters. How he found the money to pull it off as producer is a wonder we are simply thankful for.

The horn section is 13 deep with saxophones, trombones, and trumpets. Names familiar and great such as Sisonke Xonti, Justin Bellairs, Lee Thomson, Sakhile Simani, Thabo Sikhakhane, Andreas Tschopp – who we’ve seen blowing the house away with Kesivan here before – Tara Sarter, Danni McKinnon on the baritone saxophone, Marc Stucki, Julia Rueffert, Darren English, and, from Germany hitting the deepest, most perfectly vibrating notes on the solo through Kesivan’s ‘Digging Deep’, Maxine Troglauer. Add Mears in on trombone, Kyle Shepherd on Piano, Benjamin Jephta on bass, Reza Khota on guitar, and of course, driving it all, Kesivan on drums.

No small feat. It is, at times, gloriously overwhelming. We didn’t see Kesivan fall over – DSG is not yet quite back to the heights of its effervescence, but is revived, again a space where discipline allows for chaos. Where the paradoxically anarchic play of notes questions definitions, where form is pushed and risks taken, infecting us around the braziers with questions, with a need to play it out, find the answers the artists are asking.

Kesivan Naidoo Big Band plays again tonight at 8.30. Bookings here. 

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