“…it’s the only one [genre] that affords people like me the opportunity to manipulate and reshape our work over and over and over again.”
Flick of a match.
At 25 years old Kyle Shepherd has already explored and achieved much. Composer, player, bandleader, his first two albums were both nominated for SAMAs, and the in-demand Shepherd has been commissioned to write music for various ensembles and persons. His music has been used in Dylan Valley’s Afrikaaps documentary (he was also musical director of the acclaimed show) and Valley & Aryan Kaganof’s Hangberg Rising.
Shepherd’s seemingly quenchless hunger for knowledge, combined with an innate fertility of musicality, finds him perpetually busy. His future is constantly tugging at his past, his ‘post’ perpetually sliding into ‘pre’.
Currently in the midst of an international tour for latest album, South African History! X, he has to steel his energy – the future tense is already at work:
“Apart from focusing on my performance/tour-schedule at home and abroad, I am planning to record a studio album with my Trio later this year. I’m an artist-in-residence in Switzerland during October 2012 as part of the Swiss Arts Council’s ‘Prohelvetia’ programme, which will also be coupled with a trio tour in Switzerland. I’m also going into the studio to record a solo piano album in Japan come September, in between a tour there.”
As if his temporal plate isn’t full enough, Shepherd’s been commissioned by the Festival d’Automne à Paris (Paris Autumn Festival Paris, France), to write works for an entire concert programme for a large ensemble, for next year’s edition of said festival:
“It’s quite an elaborate project and so I am giving it specific focus in the early part of 2013.”
Born in Cape Town on 7 July 1987, Shepherd was young when music came to visit… and it hasn’t left since.
“I studied classical music from the age of five. In my teens I picked up the piano and found it was quite a natural thing for me.”
Shepherd was swiftly inaugurated into the glow of musical improvisation, saying that Jazz, ultimately, became his favoured idiom, “Composing, recording and playing jazz music is home for me. It was a natural choice to settle into the genre because it’s the only one that affords people like me the opportunity to manipulate and reshape our work – over and over and over again.”
His potential and early talent was noted by the likes of the great Zim Ngqawana, at whose ‘Zimology Institute for Music’ he studied. Kyle and Zim went on to perform together; recalls Shepherd:
“I feel honoured if anyone finds traces of the late great Zim Ngqawana – sage, philosopher and master, in my work. The influence of Zim at a personal, philosophical and artistic level has been deeply profound for me… during his life and even now in his death…his music, the memories, his philosophies continue to be a part of me as I evolve both as a musician and person. I had the huge honour to have spent time listening, talking and making music with Zim, and it is an even greater honour to have had him play on South African History !X”
Following his first two albums, it would be surprising if ‘!X’ doesn’t win a SAMA – it is a haunting, passionate work. The title is partly inspired by Malcolm X, who explained his mysterious choice for a surname thusly, “An ‘x’, in mathematics, represents the unknown.”
For Shepherd many young people living in SA today are oblivious to the true history of their country and its peoples – the roots of their cultural inheritance is obscured. The apparent typo in the album title (what seems to be an exclamation mark preceding, instead of following the titular ‘X’), is a deliberate reference to one of the ‘click’ consonants in Nama, the language once widely spoken amongst the Khoi and San peoples. He elaborates:
“Much of our early history as South Africans is unknown to most of us. I have decided to learn and discover as much as I can about it. In ‘South African History !X’ I am in my own musical way providing some answers – telling a part of the story.”
Shepherd leaves us with a revealing response to the following question – What have been some of your favourite live/improvisational experiences?
“It is difficult to pinpoint specific moments. There have been so many. There have been magical moments both when I play alone and when I am with a group. Every concert is a search for that high…”