Muneeb Hermans: a cool jazz sound from the heart of the Cape Flats

Jazz trumpeter Muneeb Hermans . . . some pretty cool sounds when those chops get going. The Muneeb Hermans Quintet has just released an album titled One for HP dedicated to his roots which are in Hanover Park.

8 June 1922

Muneeb Hermans blows his own trumpet, figuratively speaking. He has justifiable reason to do so because, literally speaking, he blows his own trumpet, and pretty damn well too.  According to people who know, he is one helluva trumpeter.

One reason Muneeb might be blowing his trumpet more noticeably these day has been the release of his debut album, One For HP.

The 28-year-old musician did a preliminary launch of the album two weeks ago at a gig at The Commons venue in Muizenberg, where he, along with his group, the Muneeb Hermans Quintet played all the tracks off it. The new album will again be promoted at second launch at the Blue Room in Bree Street in the city on Saturday June 11.

Truth to tell, I have never seen Muneeb Hermans perform. I had not even heard of him until his name started popping up on my social media feed. But I have a good excuse . . . I live a long way up the road and the Uber fare to his gigs would leave a big hole in the pocket.

The YouTube link to his first launch landed on my social media feed with accompanying comments about this hot-shot jazz trumpeter. I love jazz as an art form and was intrigued.  So I checked with the one person in Cape Town who knows, Rashid Lombard, who started the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and is the go-to man if you want to know anything about the local scene.

“This kid is hot,” Rashid says. “He knows his stuff.  He is one of the new breed of jazz musicians who are developing local music to the next level.  He is worth listening to.”

The objective of this blog is to document the life stories of the exceptional artists who entertained us in the Sixties so that today’s generation – the Millenials and the Born Frees –  is aware of what went before.  Muneeb doesn’t fall into that Sixties category. Not even close. But what the heck, it’s my blog, I write what I like. And as I found out, he is exceptional, on so many levels.

There is a clue in the title track, One For HP.  HP is short for Hanover Park. That is where it all began for Muneeb Hermans.

“I have lived all my life in Hanover Park, born there on 17 July 1994,” he told me. That makes him a “Born Free”.

At the first launch of the album, he told the audience: “We now come to the title track, One for HP.  HP is the area I’m from and we all know what is happening in HP.  I just want to spread some positivity.”

Without wishing to sound patronising and implying that when people from HP do well, they deserve to be patted on the back or head, one has to acknowledge that living in that area, or any one of the sub-economic depressed areas that is a legacy of apartheid, does present challenges to advancing in life. Too many people are trapped in the ghettoes.

Muneeb had his schooling up the road at Belthorn Primary and Alexander Sinton High.  It was while he was at Sinton that his interest in music really took off.

Muneeb Hermans . . . going back to my roots.

“I think I’ve always had a liking for music from a young age,” he says. “My father is very musical and has been the main reason why I ended up doing music. From starting in the Cape Town minstrels to where I am today, my father was the one who bought me my first trumpet and enrolled me into the minstrel band to learn to play.

“I’ve always loved the trumpet; I play a bit of piano but not well. It’s the instrument I loved while being in the minstrels from a young age so It always triggered me.”

At high school, he was mentored by his music teacher, Ronel Nagfal, and was invited to be part of musicians George Werner and Buddy Wells’s Little Giants Band project.  The band comprises talented young musicians whose skills were further developed by Werner and Wells.

“The Little Giants band played a pivotal role in my development. I don’t think I would have been where I am today if it wasn’t for this band. Besides the music, we were taught life lessons, we were given opportunities to connect with professionals from a young age.

The next step in Muneeb’s life journey, was to enrol at UCT to study jazz performance.

“My formal musical education entailed a lot of hard work. I’ve made the decision late in high school that I wanted to become a musician, so there was a high level of commitment which was required on my side. Coming from a disadvantage community was never something I made a big fuss about, because I always believe that it does not matter where you come from, as long as your heart and mind is in the right place, you can overcome any challenges no matter where you come from.”

Muneeb’s first public gig was with his high school band for the opening of the softball tournament at Turfhall Stadium and was “something I’ll never forget”.

Even at this tender age, Muneeb is being acknowledged primarily as a jazz muso but he doesn’t want to pigeonhole himself.

“For me, I describe myself as a musician. I love and respect all kinds of music, I love adapting to any styles and being able to play a wide range of genres. There’s a bit of everything when it comes to my music. But I obviously have a big obsession with traditional South African jazz, it’s something I’ll always have in my music. I do incorporate a bit of them all into my music.

“Listening to all the greats from a young age has definitely helped my career as a composer.

“I loved listening to [US trumpet great] Clifford Brown. I was in love with Clifford for a very long time. I still am, but I’ve obviously also checked out many other greats who helped me grow as a musician. Trumpet is very demanding and even some days I feel like I need to go back to the basics. It’s a never-ending journey.

“Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis are right up there, too. The trumpet list is too long for me. I think every great trumpeter out there adds value to my life. Clifford Brown was technically very good, you could hear the rawness in his playing as well. I dig that sound, even though I don’t sound like that when transcribing him, his ideas were out of this world.

 

The Muneeb Hermans Quintet, from left, pianist Blake Hellaby,  alto saxophonist Justin Bellair,  bassist Sean Sanby, Muneeb Hermans and drummer Kurt Bowers.

“I also have huge admiration for local guys like Darren English, Marcus Wyatt & Feya Faku. They are all different but they are the ones for me. I am lucky enough to also personally know them and spent time hanging with them, talking music.

On One For HP there is a track titled Song For Douks which comes across with a distinctly Cape Flats feel through its vibrancy and emotion.

“Yeah, Song for Douks is a very emotional tune. I wrote this for my uncle who tragically passed away in 2013. I would describe Song for Douks as a strong African motive. Yes of course, it has that Cape Sound, and that is exactly what I was going for. The melody brings out the emotion, but it also brings a sense of joy in the solo section and that’s what I meant to deliver with this one.”

Muneeb acknowledges that jazz, as his preferred art form, does not enjoy universal approval. “I won’t say that jazz is not for everyone but, considering my own views, I don’t think jazz is a form of art everyone appreciates or respects, especially in Cape Town. I would say jazz is for mature listeners.

Although One For HP is Muneeb’s first studio recording, he already shown himself to be an accomplished composer and arranger with about 30 compositions under his belt or a work in progress. Whilst he draws a lot of his inspiration from his roots, he doesn’t limit himself to that.

One For HP is a record I dedicated to Hanover Park but when I’m writing, I don’t only think of Hanover Park. Yes, of course I’m from HP, but also the world is suffering, so I also consider everything happening in today’s world. I wanted to create a sense of hope and peace.

“I have written quite a lot of ghoema tunes and ghoema jazz has always been a part of my life. It’s a genre I get to play a lot these days with The Hilton Schilder Ghoema Club. With my own project, I haven’t covered ghoema as much as I should, but it’s definitely something you will hear coming from me in the near future.”

Tracks for One For HP were laid down in two days. Muneeb says: “The music was always there, it was just finding the time to get everyone together and record. When the guys were available for studio, I set up a couple of gigs before we went in to record. But we have also been playing together for a while, so it was just a matter of time.

“Blake Hellaby (keyboards), Sean Sanby (bass), Justin Bellairs (sax) and Kurt Bowers have been playing with me since 2019. I have always had these guys in mind when I started this project. I asked everyone individually to be part of my band and they all overwhelmingly said yes.”

Muneeb Hermans and his buddy from schooldays and the drummer for the Muneeb Hermans Quintet.

All the sidesmen on One For HP are musos of standing in their own right and front their own bands but Muneeb’s relationship with Bowers is extra special. “We basically grew up together, we met at high school in Grade 8 and have been close friends ever since. We come on a very long way.

Muneeb’s young career has already seen him playing a number of times overseas and he rates all of them highly “but the one that hits me the most was performing at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York”.

For the moment, he will be concentrating his mind on promoting One For HP with gigs across the country and “definitely many more recordings”.

He is also banking on a stronger support in Cape Town for his chosen art form.

“I think it has been getting better. The appreciation from the jazz lovers is always there, but maybe not the support. Many musicians obviously try to survive, so most times you have to take on whatever comes your way.  With One For HP I’m hoping for audiences to get an idea of the sound I’m going for. Most of the music is very simple but with melodies which will stay with you after every performance. There will definitely be a follow up record, hopefully not too far away from now.”

The tracks on One For HP are Inner Peace (Part 1 and 2), Influence, One For HP, Me, Kaapstad, The Bridges We Build, and Song For Douks. Me was composed by Hellaby and Bridges We Build by Sanby.  The album is available on all the major music platforms and hard copies are available by emailing hermansmuneeb@gmail.com or messaging him on Facebook.

Township life can be hard but it can also be a source of inspiration. Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to work with another young gun from Hanover Park who was “creative” with verbs and nouns, so to speak.  He went on to become the editor of major daily newspapers in South Africa and is a leading light in shaping thought in the New South Africa.

There’s the “positivity” right there!

The award-winning 2017 Little Giants Band at the Standard Bank festival . . . Daniel van der Walt (Vocals), Muneeb Hermans (Trumpet), Nicholas Pitman (Guitar), Godfrey Mntambo (Alto), Dalisu Ndlazi (Bass) Front: L-R Tshiamo Nkoane (Drums), Buddy Wells (Conductor), Zibusiso Makhathini (Piano), Thami Mahlangu (Tenor)

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