South Africa´s minister of music
Born in 1949 near Johannesburg in South Africa, Pops Mohamed is said by many to be South Africa’s minister of music. This player of many instruments was known in the 70s and 80s for playing township music, soul, funk and jazz on the guitar and keyboard before turning to traditional South African music and instruments. In the 90s he began recording the music of South African bushmen and integrating it into various projects ranging from jazz and funk to drum ‘n’ bass and trance. Pops Mohamed also works as a producer and lives in Johannesburg.
Born in 1949 in Bemoni in South Africa, Ismail Mohamed-Jan – better known as Pops Mohamed – may be South Africa’s most versatile musician. He first played the guitar and keyboard then turned to traditional music from various lands, especially South Africa. He plays ancient instruments like the thumb-piano, kora and didgeridoo but also experiments with the newest technology, always in the service of music.
Pops Mohamed owes his artistic openness to his childhood in an Indian community near Johannesburg as also to his mongrel background, since his father was a half-Indian, half-Portuguese Muslim, and his mother half Xhosa, half Khoisan. His nickname Pops dates back to his childhood enthusiasm for the comic seaman Popeye.
Before turning to traditional sounds, he played the keyboard with eminent jazz musicians live and in the studio. The end of apartheid was for many of his colleagues a personal relief and a professional setback, since the public then rushed to hear pop-stars streaming in from abroad instead of their own musicians. Pops Mohamed countered by launching himself on an international career which has since led to many tours. At the same time he took more interest in traditional music from all over the world. Fearing that it would vanish in the wake of techno, he wished to have it not only recorded but also suffused with modern sounds and rhythms to appeal to a wider audience. As he put it: ‘If people don´t understand where they come from, there is a hole in the soul.’
The most successful result has been the album How Far Have We Come, the first product of his long-lasting connection to a Khoisan (bushman) group in the east of Namibia. In the Kalahari waste he made recordings which he then processed with a computer and supplemented with tracks made by studio musicians in Johannesburg and London. In a similar project with the singer Samia from Bangladesh he accompanied old Bengali songs with not only traditional instruments but also keyboards and a drum-computer. He has produced other records with such various colleagues as the trumpeter Bruce Cassidy, formerly with the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, and the London Sound Collective.
On his world tours, Pops Mohamed often appears as a duo with the Jamaican singer and multi-instrumentalist Zena Edwards from London but also with other musicians such as his friends from the Kalahari. One looks forward to this unusual musician’s new projects.
Events at the HKW:
Tuesday, 22nd June, 1999
Multi-Instrumentalist from South Africa
Organiser: House of World Cultures
Ismail Mohamed-Jan, better known as Pops Mohamed, was born in the township Bemoni near Johannesburg in South Africa. As a child he would go to Dorkay House, where concerts given by Kippie Moeketsi and Abdullah Ibrahim familiarised him with traditional and jazz music. At the age of 14 he founded his own first band The Valiants, with whom he played kwela, soul, pop and Latin music. With his band Children’s Society he then performed his first hit in the townships: I’m a married Man. Together with Abdullah Ibrahim’s saxophonist Basil ‘Mannenberg’ Coetzee and Sakhile’s bassist Sipho Gumede he got a recording contract and issued four albums - Black Disco, Movement in the City, BM Movement, and Inner City Funk – in the 70s. In the 80s Pops worked more backstage as a producer and sound-engineer, while also learning to play the mbira and other traditional instruments.
In 1991 and 1992 he produced for the South African market the solo albums Kalamazoo, and Sophiatown, both nominated for the Best Jazz Album Award from South African OKTV. In 1995 he issued his international debut album Ancestral Healing, recorded in New York with New York musicians like the vibraphonist and percussionist Valerie Naranjo as also with musicians from South Africa. Pops himself played the piano, the penny whistle, the mbira and various percussion instruments.
When the album appeared, he recorded Koisan bushmen in the Kalahari waste. These unadulterated recordings were issued in 2000 as Pops Mohammed presents Bushmen of the Kalahari, but this music had served as a basis for the album How Far Have We Come, which he had issued already in 1996. On it, together with young British jazz musicians like Chris Bowden and Roland Sutherland, he had blended traditional bushman music with funky South African jazz. On Pops Mohammed meets the London Sound Collective, he went one step further. With the spearhead of the underground drum ‘n’ bass he blended traditional music with electronic instruments on the dance floor.
African Classics: Pops Mohamed
Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow
Pops Mohamed Meets the London Sound Collective
Pops Mohamed & Zena Edwards – Millenium Experience
with Bruce Cassidy, Sheer Sound: 1997
with McCoy MrubathaSheer Sound: 1997
How Far Have We Come
Music With No Name
B+W Music: 1995
with Morris Goldberg, As Shams/EMI: 1992