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Radio Sechaba

Bokani Dyer says it was “divine synchronicity” that led to the creation of his latest project, Radio Sechaba, due for release through Brownswood Recordings in 2023.

“Sechaba means nation in Setswana and I had long been thinking about what makes a nation, in relation to the current moment in South Africa,  and how to capture that in my own music,” says the critically acclaimed pianist, composer and producer. 

“At the same time I was working on my Master of Music at the University of Pretoria and my thesis centred on whether young South African jazz musicians use their composition to address social issues in the way that the generation pre-democracy did. In a moment of divine synchronicity the two came together to create Radio Sechaba.”

That this multi award-winning artist has created a new project around nation building, unity and identity is no surprise. Dyer was born in 1986 in Gaborone, Botswana, where many artists from South Africa, including his father, musician Steve Dyer, were living in exile. His family moved back to South Africa when he was a child where, as the son of a black mother from Botswana and a white South African father, he has long been interrogating issues of identity and nation building.

Although Dyer has earned acclaim as a solo artist (including being named the Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz in 2011) and with his trio (the Bokani Dyer trio’s Neo Native won the South African Music Award for Best Jazz Album in 2019), he says Radio Sechaba is the first comprehensive musical expression of his deep thinking on these issues.

The project has also pushed him artistically. “Most of my music up to this point has been instrumental and for Radio Sechaba I am singing much more. Adding words, and a literary component, is a much more direct way of sending a message which is what I want to do with the project.”

Radio Sechaba is being released through Brownswood Recordings – the independent record label founded by DJ and broadcaster Gilles Peterson. Started in 2006, it’s a platform for new artists and music creatives, as well as an outlet for established acts to do something different. The label has long championed independent, eclectic music and Dyer’s signing to the label is another important step in his music career. 

“Brownswood Recordings is the perfect label for Radio Sechaba,” says Dyer. “Gilles is known for being a global tastemaker who is very open in terms of his approach to music. In 2016 I was lucky enough to be in New York when Gilles ran the New York Marathon and, on the same day, played a club DJ set that was the same length as his marathon. So for 4 hours and 26 minutes I watched him play a set that featured everything from jazz to Brazilian, old funk and more – and that broke boundaries in every way. To be joining Gilles’ label is very much a dream come true for me.”

The connection to Peterson came when Dyer participated in Indaba Is, a Brownswood Recordings project, recorded in 5 days outside Johannesburg, in 2020. Produced and managed by pianist Thandi Ntuli and The Brother Moves On bandleader Siyabonga Mthembu as the Creative Directors of the project, Dyer contributed the track ‘Ke Nako’. Speaking of now being the time to unite in the name of true humanity and a call to build a true and just society, ‘Ke Nako’ beautifully and movingly echoes the themes of Radio Sechaba.

“Indaba Is put the spotlight on South African jazz and especially Joburg based artists and I felt very lucky to be part of that  mix,” says Dyer. “I am greatly looking forward to working with Brownswood Recordings again and sharing Radio Sechaba with the world in 2023.”

Dyer’s recent career highlights include playing at the 2022 North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands, being part of the South African Songbook (2019) at the Lincoln Centre USA, London Jazz Festival (2015), headlining the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (2015) and an artistic residency at the Bird’s Eye jazz club in Basel, Switzerland (2014).