Pops Mohamed

Pops"If one loses his or her culture, it means you're losing your identity and self respect as a human being. It also means there is a hole in your soul" Pops Mohamed was originally from Bemoni, a small town on the outskirts of Johannesburg. His real name being Ismail Mohamed-Jan, he was given the fond nickname 'Pops' because as a boy he used to love eating spinach just like Popeye ! Pops was initiated into music at an early age. As a young man of 14 his idols were the Shadows - but more influential were the trips he remembers taking as a child with his father to Kalamazoo to hear traditional music being played "..although people wouldn't know one another....they would sit and chat, drink and eventually jam. That kind of fusion is as old as urban South Africa."

Albums:

  1. Pops Mohamed & Sie Medway Smith
  2. How far have we come
  3. Pops Mohamed meets London Sound Collective
  4. Pops Mohamed, Greg Hunter & Gloria Bosman - Lotus Blossom Mood Africa

'Kalamazoo' was therefore the inspiration for the album of the same name as well as being the name of his business. At the age of 14, Pops abandoned his homemade box guitar for the real thing when he formed his group The Valiants, playing Kwela soul and Latin. His next band in his musical development was Children's Society, which was influenced by the spirit of Haight Ashbury, playing a repertoire of Hendrix and Santana classics. However, it was his own original composition 'I'm a Married Man' that gave Pops his first township hit. Then Pops got together with Abdullah Ibrahim's saxophonist, Basil Coetzee, and Sakhile's bassist, Sipho Gumede and landed the record deal that would make him even more of a star to township party-goers. He even traded his beloved guitar for keyboards. The result was the exciting and popular albums: 'Black Disco', 'Movement in the City' and 'Inner City Funk.' The Eighties saw him diversify, using different traditional instruments and disciplines. He began with studio engineering and producing and learned to play the 'mbira', a Zimbabwean instrument commonly known by Westerners as the thumb piano, and the 'kora', a 21-string harp from West Africa. These instruments have since become Pops' trademark and have brought to his music a unique sense of spirituality that has brought him critical acclaim. This exploration of indifenous instruments was crucial in his development into the dedicated and diversely talented holder of African cultural identity that he is today. His 'Kalamazoo' and 'Sophiatown' albums, released in 1991 and 1992 respectively were both nominated in the Best Jazz Album category of South Africa's OKTV Awards. Although Pops is very much a traditionalist - he is also interested in exploring the fusion of his soulful music with modern influences and expertise. His first album for MELT, Ancestral Healing (BW069) released in 1995 combines his deep-rooted, spiritual journey with contemporary instruments and electronics and features celebrated musicians such as vibes/marimba/comgas player Valerie Naranjo (featured on the Outernational Meltdown series). The result was a partnership between exuberant township jazz and slick Western touches. Subtitling the album 'From New York to Johannesburg', he highlighted the theme of co-operation and cross-culutural collaboration. Pops was a vital member of M.E.L.T. 2000's 'Outernational Meltdown' project, both playing in, and producing, the sessions held in October 1994. In 1995 he was an integral part of the Khoisan expedition to the Kalahari desert to record the inspiring traditional music of Africa's oldest inhabitants, the Bushmen. Pops sought to preserve their sound in a world that is fast marginalising traditional, indigenous cultures. Accompanied by Ben Watkins (Juno Reactor), Dick Jewell (cameraman and documentary maker) and Robert Trunz (Director of Melt) this journey had a profound effect on them all. Some of the recordings provided the backbone of Pops' highly acclaimed album 'How Far Have We Come' (BW088) for which the tracks were taken from the desert to London where they were worked on and produced by a variety of exceedingly talented musicians from both Britain and South Africa. Pops wanted to maintain the unique and special feel of the Khoisan music, whilst simultaneously creating a sound that people could relate to more closely. The result is an album that moves effortlessly from the timeless world of rural Africa to the global dance floor evoking a trance state untouched by time or space. To 'purist'critics of his blending of traditional, township and contemporary jazz he simply answers, "I don't see all the new dance styles (Hip Hop, Trip Hop, House, Jungle, Drum 'n'Bass etc.) as a threat to traditional music. I see them as new platform to voice ourselves. Fusing new futuristic sounds with ancient cultures, is about one of the only ways I know that can take these beautiful African sounds into the next century." Whilst he embraces modern influences and combines them to his own music, Pops feels frustrated that Western music played in South Africa was, and to some extent still is, marginalising traditional African music. The lack of investment in traditional music projects is of great concern to him. This concern initiated the Khoisan project. Having tried for years to find original recordings of their music Pops knew that he had to go himself. Therefore in addition to providing the base for 'How Far Have We Come', the recordings also led to the raw and undiluted album - Pops Presents the Bushmen of the Kalahari (BW2128) - a unique field recording of thgis resilient tribe of people who have been abused and dislocated for many years. This pure sound from the depths of the Kalahari Desert is presented by Pops and is a faascinating glimpse into the world and music of this most ancient and spiritual of people who deserve the right to be heard and respected. Traditional cultural expression remains a passion to Pops, ("It is vital for the future of the new South Africa"). When not recording, touring or busy running his own label and publishing company, he often actively encourages young South African musicians to seek inspiration in their roots and teaches them how to play traditional instruments. Furthermore, the new regime in South Africa means that it is now possible for musicians from across the continent to collaborate freely together and as Pops describes it "develop a common musical heritage". Even big names such as Baaba Maal and Youssou N'Dour have played with local musicians - unheard of under apartheid. Dedicated to preserving and continuing traditional sounds,Pops explains, "I am on a serious mission to protect and promote traditional instruments." After all "If you don't know where you're coming from surely you won't know where you're going to." Pops' argument is that if you want to educate people about other cultures, you must put your product through the sound they already know. Pops sees proof of this through his workshops in Europe - in particular Copenhagen - where he finds that kids are researching the instruments they hear on the records. They are especially amazed that traditional sound is very similar too a lot of modern drum 'n' bass sounds and that they compliment each other very well to become "now" sounds.

Pops also encourages them to write in their own tongue and to both make and learn to play their own particular traditional instruments. A collaborator on numerous projects with artists such as Jessica Lauren, Madala Kunene, Busi Mhlongo, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Pops Mohamed is both a highly influential musician as well as a respected producer. He co-produced Madala Kunene's 'K'onko Man' and Moses Molelekwa's debut album, 'Finding Oneself' (BW053) which one two FNB South African Musical Awards. Pop's debut album 'Ancestral Healing' also won two FNB awards in the traditional jazz category. In 98 along with Bruce Cassidy he won an award for the Best Instrumental Performance for their album 'Timeless' released only in South Africa for the time being but is available by mail order from www.qradio.net. During 1998 Pops started working with his musical protégéé Zena Edwards on a primarily acoustic album entitled The Millennium Experience (BW2139). Inspired by their successful tour of Namibia and their trips into the Kalahari where they spent time with the San Bushmen, they use poetry and chants and even do acoustic re-working of his landmark album 'How Far Have We Come'. When performing his work with the Bushmen, called 'The Link' because it reconnects Xhosa and the Khoisans music after a period of 150 years, he saw that the audience were moved to tears, as indeed, he and Zena were themselves. Pops says, "I have never seen a performance of this calibre before." This album released in Spring 99 was his effort to acheive a London sound and also present his work with the San in a more modern, cutting edge way. Pops' versatility and innovative vision is expressed in his recent collaboration with the London Sound Collective- resulting in an explosive new sound. Released in August 2000 Pops feels this dynamic partnership will help to make the younger generation more aware of traditional music. "I think it was great move....I see new music such as Drum 'n' Bass as a new platform for launching indigenous music - otherwise people wouldn't be able to relate to it on a modern level. It reaches out to the younger people." Essentially the collaboration spells a new step forward in the continual evolution of trance music "deep trances connecting with spirits and ancestors". The intention is to capture the essence through modern technology as well as traditional instruments. His boundless creativity has also led to his collaboration with prolific remix engineer and former Orb member Greg Hunter, Gloria Bosman and Suzan Hendricks in an album entitled Lotus Blossom (MZA 006) released in 2005. This outstanding project weabes together traditional African instruments and contemporary electronics to create a wonderfully warm tapestry of sound likely to evoke a trance state in even the most resilient of listeners. Pops has toured both nationally and internationally with a number of different artists including Max Lasser on his 'Between' tour, South Africa's top multi-racial jazz-fusion band 'Tananas', adding the African textures of kora and mbira to their Western rythms, and the Ngqoko Cultural Group (which included the Xhosa singers of Lady Frere). More recently during October '99 as part of his campaign to restore and revive traditional African music Pops participated in the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen along with some of South Africa's best musicians. Amongst others, Moses Molelekwa, Madala Kunene, Vusi Khumalo, Dizu Plaatjies and Simpiwe Matole of Amampondo were there. The conservatory offered classes on the different styles of music found in South Africa and Pops taught traditional instruments and their history. At the end of the workshops the musicians grouped into several bands and performed at the Copenhagen Jazz House. This educational tour continued with Pops and Zena teaching in Finland following their successful tour of Lapland, Helsinki and the University of Jvyaskyla in 99, before going on to do workshops in Germany. During April/May 2000 Pops was performing in South Africa and working with Vusi Mahlesela,a South African 'folk' singer, as well as writing a track especially for TV broadcast. Towards the end of May he toured Germany with a famous South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope, and Zena joined them to do workshops. The Kalahari Khoisan joined them for ten days of concerts at the Hanover Expo 2000. Their performances were considered one of the highlights of EXPO due to their message of preserving and protecting indigenous music from Africa. Pops has been involved in the SanScape Project in aid of the San Bushmen of Southern Africa. The Bushmen remix album SanScapes Vol.1 was released in 2001 alongside a series of events including Pops, Zena and the San from Namibia in London. With his forward looking vision and expansive collection of collaborative projects it could be said that Pops Mohamed is the living embodiment of cross-cultural co-operative music. Following in the footsteps of his uncle, a traditional musician who played for healing ceremonies, Pops' music has a similarly therapeutic effect on his listeners! Pops Mohamed is undoubtedly essential listening and an inspirational source for all cultures. Pops more recent work and recordings for South African label SHEER SOUND can be found on www.sheer.co.za