Vuma Levin is a multi-award-winning guitar player and one of the leading talents in South African jazz. In September 2021, Vuma Levin achieved a major milestone in his career when he was named the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, a coveted award that is widely recognized as the highest honor for an artist in South Africa. His new album, an orchestral undertaking titled The Past is Unpredictable: Only the Future is Certain, is an attempt to create a work that is commensurate with the scale of this achievement.
Recorded across three cities, Johannesburg, Basel and Amsterdam, the album features some of contemporary jazz’s most important young voices, including (but not limited to) Ben van Gelder (Netherlands, Saxophone), Xavi Torres (Piano, Spain), Bokani Dyer (South Africa, Piano), Shane Cooper (South Africa, Bass) and Matthias Spillman (Switzerland, Trumpet).
Conceptually and aesthetically, the project utilizes South African traditional indigenous musical practices and instrumentation as its basis. These are reread and reinterpreted through the lens of contemporary South African jazz, popular music, innovations emerging out of the nascent new music, improvised and jazz scenes in Switzerland and the Netherlands and the orchestral dimensions of Western Art music.
The compositions are based on transcriptions and analysis of pre-colonial, traditional nguni-sotho choral and gourd bow music. Materials extracted from this process were then combined and recombined with the aforementioned genres. As a result, the instrumentation of the ensemble is entirely novel – traditional South African bow, percussion, vocals and finger piano instruments are placed at the center of a jazz quintet, horn trio and string quartet orchestrations. The combination of these influences takes the listener on a sonic journey that traverses the rural areas and hinterlands of the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal, the townships of Soweto and Khayelitsha, the jazz theatres of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Basel, Geneva, Bern, Amsterdam and Rotterdam and the classical concert halls dotted throughout the European capitals.