Asher Gamedze's 'Dialectic Soul' Is an Exploration of Continual Motion

Asher Gamedze.

Photo: Lungiswa Gqunta.

Asher Gamedze's 'Dialectic Soul' Is an Exploration of Continual Motion

We talk to the Cape Town-based drummer about his debut double album, unconventional style, and finding validation as an outsider.

With Dialectic Soul, the Capetonian artist, drummer and vocalist Asher Gamedze, who became known to many thanks to his appearance on the intense 15-minute track "Capetown" from Angel Bat Dawid's record The Oracle, makes his debut as a bandleader. Recorded live over the course of two days the album features an ensemble composed of Thembinkosi Mavimbela (bass), Buddy Wells (tenor sax), Robin Fassie-Kock (trumpet) and Nono Nkoane (voc). The album was release via On The Corner Records.

The result is a double album filled with progressive free jazz that is both raw and spiritual. Described by Asher himself as beying about continual motion, he explains that his composition "state of emergence suite" introduces the themes that constitute the album, with free drums representing autonomous African motion and the saxophone reflecting deeply and honestly on colonialism, the teachings of Coltrane, Steve Biko, Makeba and Malcom X and positive manifestations of resistance. "Fundamentally, it is about the reclamation of the historical imperative. It is about the dialect of the soul and the spirit while it moves through history. The soul is dialectic. Motion is imperative. We keep moving."

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

When did you start thinking about putting this album together and what was the process?

I was doing a Master's dissertation on South African Jazz and some of the cosmological and political concepts that constitute and emerge from the music. As part of that process I was committed to the idea of not replicating this idea of normal academic production, which is to write about something from which you are removed. Initially, I'd wanted to write an album and submit it as part of my dissertation but I didn't end up having time. It was still something I really wanted to do, so at the beginning of 2018 I set myself the goal of recording the album.

dialectic soul | asher gamedze | a film by sisonke

What kind of headspace were you in while working on the album?

A huge variety. Part of it was the process of reading about particularly the avant-garde and free spiritual jazz traditions both in the United States and Europe and in South Africa, that was really important in terms of understanding that the jazz tradition is constituted and composed by renegades. Almost all of what we think of as jazz now, there was some kind of contradiction or conflict around the emergence of that music and whether or not it constituted jazz. So the reading space about all these people like Zim Ngqawana, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Louis Moholo, Alice Coltrane and their own orientation towards the music was really liberating for me in terms of validating the outside position that I had.

How did you connect with your collaborators and what made you choose them?

I played with all of them in different settings over the last five years. I knew that I needed a few things from musicians on this project. One was an openness to the music that I'd bring. A lot of it is unconventional and my own style is quite outsider… From playing music with so many people in different contexts I had a sense of people who were like that and I solidified who I wanted in my mind and then the composition and arrangement were very much shaped around those specific musicians' voices.

Can you explain the concept of dialecticism as it relates to your album?

The basic concept of the dialectic is used to explain development and motion, whether that is in terms of consciousness and thought or the material world or both. In "State of Emergence Suite" it's laid out quite blatantly in the three movements that are the three stages of the dialectic. The idea of the synthesis is that it begets another thesis and so it continues moving. So there's this idea of continual motion associated with the dialectic that I'm really interested in and very committed to.

I'm interested in thinking about cultural production historically and cultural production as the expression and manifestation of the soul, so the dialectic soul suggests that these forms of culture are historical and forms of cultural production exist and emerge out of certain historical conditions. It's also an attempt at a synthesis between the materialism between the Marxist tradition and the idealism or spiritual aspect of jazz music and other different kinds of black spiritual traditions that it is a part of. It's speculative, the idea of the dialectic soul is not this set thing that is this exact idea. So it's all of those things and however other people are going to interpret it.

The album was recorded over 2 days, how much of these recordings are improvisations and do you try to control the direction of improvisation at all?

My orientation as a composer and bandleader is quite simple in the sense that I open up as much space and create as liberating a performance space as possible. All of the songs have very specific concepts, musical and political or theoretical. My orientation is to communicate that musical idea quite clearly and figure out how we articulate that as an ensemble and if we're able to articulate that thing then I leave the solos completely open.

Can you explain how the theme of movement that is inherent in the album is translated into the album artwork?

If you look at the concept of the art, if you look at it from one level it's just a mess. If you go in closer you'll see that there are a whole lot of things happening, whether it's patterns or shapes, whether there's an idea, people sitting down or stick figures, there's something happening. The idea is that different things and sections within the piece are connected in random and different ways. How that concept of the dialectic and motion relates to that is that there's movement between these different places, these different things. Whether we think of it as history or music, there's this motion. And that wherever you look there's something going on.

With this album being the start of your journey as a bandleader, what do you want to explore next?

So many things! I've been writing quite a lot. I spend a lot of time in my head, generally. I come up with ideas all the time. At one stage I'd like to record something with a big ensemble, like a lot of horns, in a similar vein to Archie Shepp's "Yasmina" which has a lot of Chicago horn players on it and Chris McGregor's "Brotherhood of Breath". I'm also interested in maybe doing something with the same ensemble in this setup. I've been writing quite a lot of stuff that could be played in a variety of different contexts.