I met Joseph Nkosi at one of his performances in the Gifu Prefecture at the Academy of Forestry in Japan. He collaborated with Japanese artists. An animation will play on a screen about the life and death of a forest. While these images will run on the screen Joseph will improvised music and sound combined with the animation. Here is a short video I took at the performance it shows only I few minutes of the concert.
Joseph Nkosi is a South African Musician living in Osaka Japan since 2001 and plays a traditional African instrument called the Marimba (A wooden xylophone) and the African drum. He is considered one of the top three Marimba musicians from South Africa. His performances are mostly traditional African songs and music but he also collaborates in different Japanese projects where he does improvisational music. Nkosi makes his own instruments and also give workshops of his first hand knowledge in making and tuning of marimbas. He has his own band “Nkosi Africa”that performs nationally in Japan and that collaborates with musicians from various genres like traditional Okinawa shamisen musicians. Wherever he performs he educates people about the powerful beauty of African music. He is also a painter that voices the lifestyle and culture of South Africa.
He performed in bands like AZUMAH, VUKA AFRICA, Joburg Streets (England). He is a creator of AFRIDA marimba band, UBUNTU marimba band and BAYEZA, He also worked with musicals such as SIKULU (izidumo), SIYAVUMA, the AFRICAN FOOTPRINT, and is the co-founder of UMOJA the spirit of togetherness. He performed nationally in South Africa and in countries like Japan, Israel, Scotland, Germany, France and the rest of Europe.
As a South African artist living overseas I was curios about the lifestyle and art of Mr Nkosi and if he could share his own experiences of creating in a different culture with me. He was very kind to answer some questions and I would like to share them with you.
Tell me a little bit about yourself being raised in South Africa and how did you start playing music?
I was raised by a family who believed in independence and art was one of the weapons to achieve this. My father was an artisan in enumerate ways he also was a musician but sculpture was his passion from which he made a living.
Are you a self taught marimba player? Which mentors and great musicians inspired you?
I would say yes, although the roots of who I am is from my father and my older brothers. I have never been to school to learn music but I have become a music teacher. I wish to learn from someone if I am ever given the opportunity.
Your band ‘Nkosi Africa’ have many appearances and workshops in Japan. Why do you think the Japanese are so attracted to African music?
Man… Japanese like to learn from other cultures especially from a native person, they are open to all cultures not just Africa. They also like to support and appreciate a person who is doing something positive, more than that they like educational entertainment.
How did your music get involved with Japanese Animation?
I had an offer from one of the professors who knew that I did music for film, which is usually African jingles, background music for African stories and puppets performances.
Tell me more about your instruments and how the weather in Japan affected it?
First when I came with my band to Japan our instruments would go out of tune every so often since the humidity is different from South Africa. I decided to stop bringing the instruments from Africa but to make them in Japan. I start searching for an affordable indigenous wood that can be compatible with the local weather, the wood that I end up using turned out to be imported from South America. It works perfect up to now, the sound is not as superior as the South Africa Marimbas but it is still good and better than nothing!
The Japanese culture are very harmonious and African culture pulsates with raw emotions, how are you able to combine these two different cultures in your music?
I had to learn and understand the Japanese culture before I could feel that I am being part of it and only then could I guess the right or wrong action to take in any given situation. I still feel that I do not know everything about their culture. What I am doing is showing my African soul because it is also very important to be proud of being different since this is how we will learn from each other.
Do you as an African feel disconnected living in a different country or did this situation create a new identity for you? Did this affect your music at all?
I do feel disconnected, everything is different and some things are completely strange but I have a lot to be thankful for, I feel very privilege to be here. I feel that I got a second birth, yet there is no place like home. I really would like to thank and express my gratitude for the support I get from people in Japan.
What does the future held for “Nkosi Africa” and where do you see yourself in the future?
My solo CD called ‘Amasiko’ and a compilation CD ‘Cocido’ with other musicians are available. I am busy recording my 2nd solo album to be released by end of May, for more information you can visit my website www.nkosiafrica.com
What advice do you have for young Africans who are scattered all over the world today seeking their own voices through music and art?
Continue to show the positive but sometimes hidden side of Africa. Africa is great, Africa is beautiful and naturally blessed. Always remember to work for Africa your home, for all the talents we have belong to our ancestors and not to us.
You can contact Joseph Nkosi on his website www.nkosiafrica.com