A new duo tutors us on what the future of South African music sounds like
I arrive much too early at the Kopano Res’ Verge-Inn and I could in this moment be likened to the eager new boy in town who doesn’t know that the cool kids arrive a few ticks after o’clock. Nevertheless, I make my way into the venue anyway to find rows upon rows of seats waiting to filled by an already loyal class of fans. But Ayanda Charlie and Ondela Simakuhle need a minute to prepare for their lesson of the night and I am to be welcomed back momentarily.
Still the nervous nerd of the group, I manage to justifiably wander long enough to be invited back inside. And as soon as this happens it becomes clear that this is not about to be a typical lesson. Candles are the only source of illumination and the only other necessities are a piano and some microphones.
Thesis open with a song called, “Iphupha” which seeks to celebrate and reinvent love. The rowdy audience instantly offer their attention to the performance of the opening number which leaves a melancholically desirable ambience in the room. As soon as the song ends, welcomes and introductions are in order and for the first time we can put our speculation to rest and give a name to this creature. Charlie stresses how this night is not a performance per se but rather a conversation – both artist and art lover on the same level. It’s clear: Thesis is setting the premise for the kind of artist it is from its Genesis and this was to be the first tutorial in understanding this premise.
There soon came a cover of the Jill Scott classic “A Long Walk” and by this point it was clearly apparent that between Charlie and Simakuhle there existed finesse in the way they handled their own as well the music of others. Charlie mentions how she isn’t sure what Revelation 3:17 has to do with the song: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
But then there’s a song like “Sondela Kum” which tries to reconcile the relationship between mother and child. If there’s any truth to stars aligning, “A Long Walk” – along with and because of its Scripture reference – is right at home next to “Sondela Kum” where perhaps the parent possesses a wealth of disciplinary measures but little to no affection. There’s a melancholic liberation that “Sondela Kum” provides in its sound and premise and it owes some of this to the song that inspired it, “The Flower Duet” from Delibes’ Opera, Lakme.
At this point in the show I was already convinced of something. We can talk about the TLCs, Spice Girls, and Destiny’s Childs of a former era but I cannot remember when last I saw a group of young women unite as a relevant force of music. It’s in the way Charlie and Simakuhle’s voices belong together. It’s in the poignancy of their lyrics. It’s in the way Simakuhle plays the piano like Thesis plays your heartstrings. It’s even in the way they appreciate that women have a right to be mad when hard done by and even allow the voice of a man with the inclusion of Kneo Mokgopa’s poetry in their song “Ilishwa”.
During one of the interactive moments in the show, we are told that Thesis owes its namesake to the discovery of the definition of the word ‘thesis’ on Wikipedia. I decide to choose an alternative route by consulting my own dictionary, and I am certain that it all finally makes sense. ‘Thesis’ itself comes with two definitions: “noun – a treatise advancing a new point of view resulting from research; noun – an unproved statement put forward as a premise in an argument”. Furthermore, ‘treatise’ is described as “a formal exposition” and an exposition is described as four things but I will highlight two: “noun – (music) the section of a movement (especially in sonata form) where the major musical themes first occur; noun – a systematic interpretation or explanation (usually written) of a specific topic)”.
Now what shall we take from this? I sit down to coffee with a friend of mine and it suddenly occurs to the both of us that very many of most celebrated artists began in this way – varsity students who thought they had something to say, “a formal exposition,” only they chose to say it through music. And if I understood anything from what I transpired it simply that they indeed have something to say and have invoked a systematic means of interpreting or explaining it to the rest of us.
Their dissertation has only just begun and I think it’s safe to say that everyone who shared the night with me would agree that their sonata is set to play on and on. We are only just discovering its major themes and these are exciting times.
For more on Thesis and their music, visit Feedback Musiq