By Lenny Mailer
It’s no secret that the renowned DJ, Gilles Peterson, has long been a fan of South African music, especially the sounds coming out of Cape Town. Gilles is a French broadcaster, DJ, and record label owner. He founded the influential labels Acid Jazz and Talkin’ Loud, and started his current label Brownswood Recordings in 2006. He was awarded an honorary MBE in 2004 and is currently hosting his very popular and acclaimed Saturday afternoon music program called ‘Joining The Musical Dots’ in which he features a mixed-up selection, “joining the musical dots” between soul, hip hop, house, afro, electronica, jazz and beyond”, in his own inimitable style.
On his recent ‘Joining the Musical Dots’ program, on Saturday 22nd October, Gilles played the brand new John Wizards’ track called ‘Rwangaguhunga’. Back In 2017 Gilles was one of the first DJ’s to pick up on the strange story and wonderful music of the Cape Town group John Wizards and brought them into his studio during their UK and Europe tour where they played live.
In August of that year, the British newspaper The Guardian’s music editor, Tim Jonze, wrote a feature on John Wizards, documenting how Emmanuel Nzaramba, a Rwandan car guard in Cape Town met John Withers, a South African advertising music writer, and after adding some of John’s musical friends to the band, they became John Wizards.
The band later released its self-titled debut album, which showcased their unique sound featuring elements of R&B, soukous, Afropop, reggae, South African house, Shangaan electro, and dub, and included the singles ‘Lusaka by Night’ and ‘Muizenberg’. At the end of 2017, the band’s album appeared as No 8 on The Guardian’s list of the 40 best albums of the year.
The six piece band, consisting of vocalist and guitarist John Withers, vocalist Emmanuel Nzaramba, drummer and percussionist Raphael Segerman, bassist and keyboardist Alex Montgomery, guitarist Tom Parker and guitarist and keyboardist Geoff Brink, combined electronic sounds with more traditional African influences on their self-titled debut album, and the success of that album led to their touring extensively across Europe alongside Mount Kimbie and Jagwar Ma.
John Wizards effectively began when John Withers met Nzaramba outside a coffee shop in 2010 and the two became friends. They subsequently fell out of touch for a period. In 2012 they happened upon one another in Cape Town and it turned out they were both living on that same street. Prior to their meeting again, Withers had been working on recording and producing the set of musical ideas that would later become John Wizards’ self-titled release of September 2013.
Nzaramba added vocal recordings to some of the songs and began to perform with the rest of the band. John Wizards released a mix tape in August 2012 that roughly sketched out the songs to be included on the album. This mix tape was passed on to Mike Paradinas, owner of Planet Mu records. Planet Mu would announce the band as part of their roster in November 2012, releasing the album some ten months later.
In February 2017 Gilles visited Cape Town to record an audio documentary about the city’s musical heritage as part of Lufthansa City of the Month. The documentary followed Gilles over the course of a day as he set out to learn about the history of the city’s music, and infiltrate the dynamic contemporary scene. He began with the music of the Khoisan Bushmen, through to Cape Jazz of the ’60s, onto hip hop of the ’80s and ’90s, through to the spoken word and current musical climate of today. By discovering where the music was from and where it was going, Gilles discovered what makes Cape Town so special.
In the documentary, Gilles visited a bunch of the local music scenes’ leaders to hear their stories. From jazz musician Tony Cedras to spoken word artist Khadija Tracey Heeger, local hip hop legend DJ Ready D, the Chimurenga crew, legendary A&R Donald ‘Jumbo’ Van Renen through to today’s upfront talent like Nonku Phiri! The show also featured tracks by Tony Cedras, Miriam Makeba, Dollar Brand, Jumbo Track, Black Disco and more.
On that trip, Gilles also visited the iconic Cape Town record shop, Mabu Vinyl, where he met the shop’s founder and owner Jacques Vosloo, as well as the staff like DJ Mighty, SA online music guru Brian Currin and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman of ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ fame.
On Saturday’s ‘Joining The Musical Dots’ program, after playing the newly-released John Wizards’ track ‘Rwangaguhunga’ (starting at about 24 minutes), Gilles also mentioned that the drummer from John Wizards, Raphael Segerman, is also the son of Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, thereby “joining the musical dots” between John Wizards and Sixto Rodriguez followed by his playing of Rodriguez singing his own track, ‘Can’t Get Away’.