As the creative director of Pamberi Trust, director of Book Café and creative director of African Synergy Trust based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Paul Brickhill (PB) has been part of a team that conceives and implements artist development programmes whose outcomes include over 7 500 events and concerts over the last 15 years.
NewsDay correspondent Munya Simango (ND) had the opportunity to speak to one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent arts entrepreneurs and jazz musician. Below are some of the excerpts from the interview:
ND: Thank you for taking the time to speak to NewsDay. So who exactly is Paul Brickhill? Tell us more about your background.
PB: I was born in Harare in 1958 and I schooled in Vumba and Harare. I grew up in a household filled with books, jazz and ideals of non-racialism. In my teens I followed my brother’s footsteps and joined ZIPRA as an intelligence “foot-soldier”. I do not forget the day Chemist Siziba taught me the old national anthem, Ishe Komborera Africa, a beautiful song in any language.
ND: You have been described as a musician of exceptional and unique talent who has made a great contribution to Zimbabwe’s music industry. Do you acknowledge that?
PB: No. Such accolades do not belong to me. I made a small contribution through forming Solidarity Band which later became the Bhundu Boys with Biggie Tembo. Later I also formed Luck Street Blues that championed the jazz-blues and soul style in Zimbabwe. We set a decent standard and that was it.
I have never had formal instruction in music. I picked up the tenor saxophone in 1977 and played it badly for some years. Later I started to understand and practice jazz patterns and the ways in which jazz scales worked. Because of the poor way I was self-taught, my style sounds different to “trained musicians”.
ND: How did you come to embrace jazz? What sparked the flame?
PB: My late father had a “historic” collection of old jazz records like Sydney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and early Miriam Makeba. These jazz musicians had a profound effect on me, playing with such beauty and freedom. Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and God Bless This Child are haunting songs that have lived with me since.
In addition, shortly before my father died, he had brought Louis Armstrong in November 1960 on a tour to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Although I was only two years old, it was a pivotal event.
ND: What is your perception of jazz in general?
PB: While jazz has been called the “classical music of the twentieth century”, it is fluid as it takes many different styles; there are so many interpretations, but also confusion.
ND: What is your view of the current jazz scene in Zimbabwe? Is it vibrant and creative enough?
PB: Aside from Kelly Rusike’s crew and stalwarts like Filbert Marova, and a couple of great singers like Dudu and Prudence, the jazz scene of today is a poor cousin to the mid-1990s when about 10 decent jazz bands were active. These included trumpeter Paul Lunga and bassist Brian Paul; and that period was itself a shadow of the pioneering era of Zimbabwean jazz, from 1965 to about 1985, from which musicians like Jethro Shasha and bands like Sabuku emerged.
Today’s musicians are vibrant and creative, but that is not enough. Jazz is not easy; you make it only by devoted practice.
ND: What do you see as the role of African musicians in today’s society?
PB: Musicians are artists. They must be true to their art, that’s all anyone can ask. To be true to your creative process is to listen deeply to the stories and narratives around you, those of ordinary people who are utterly honest and profound in their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Our everyday stories must be told with truth, respect, humour, sorrow, but always with great creative passion. A million African stories need to be told; leaving out nothing, neither beauty nor pain. That way, artists will leave a legacy, otherwise they will be “here today and gone tomorrow”.
ND: Thank you.