Siyavuya Makuzeni is a trombone player, vocalist, lyricist and songwriter well known for her uniquely experimental, edgy yet pure intonation. Born in 1982 in the Eastern Cape, Makuzeni grew up singing in the choir and playing recorder before picking up the trombone while at Sterling High School in East London. ‘The influence of Xhosa music and jazz is the foundation of my musical beginnings, and has helped me to shape my own voice or individual expression,’ she told Struan Douglas in The Story of South African Jazz.
Makuzeni’s genre-busting style is influenced by drum and bass, hip hop, traditional Xhosa music and electronica. She uses vocal pedals to manipulate her voice, creating soundscapes and backing loops in her live performances.
Throughout high school, Makuzeni participated in the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival, an annual programme at the National Arts Festival that sees South Africa’s jazz students vying for a spot in the Festival’s top bands: the National School’s Big Band, the National Youth Big Band and, ultimately, the National Youth Jazz Band. Makuzeni was consecutively selected for all three categories, recording with the National Youth Jazz Band in 2001. She also featured in Zim Ngqawana’s Big Band tour to East London in 1999, and played for the East Cape Big Band for a few years.
Makuzeni regularly collaborates with South African musical royalty, including Marcus Wyatt. They first met in Grahamstown when Makuzeni was a teenager and have collaborated regularly ever since – most recently on Maji Maji – In the Land of Milk and Honey, the new album from Wyatt’s SA jazz collective, Language 12. In a review of the ‘intellectually stimulating’ album for the M&G, Makuzeni is described as ‘a majestic vocalist, rich in tone, expansive in range, and wise in interpretation’.
A session musician and voice-over artist when not performing live, Makuzeni has lent her songwriting skills to albums by well-known artists. She has performed with Carlo Mombelli’s Prisoners of Strange, worked with Themba Mkhize, McCoy Mrubata, Frank Opperman, Wendy Oldfield, Tlale Makhene, Khaya Mahlangu, Sibongile Khumalo and many others. Her live collaborations include performances with William Kentridge and Phillip Miller in Dancing with Dada. To top it all, she is also a band leader of her own experimental rock band, IppYFuz.
‘Siya’s singing is lyrical and inventive,’ Douglas writes. ‘From the highest pitched to low, soothing notes, she adds a touch of sophistication to any melody, while her scatting is adventurous.’
Makuzeni tours extensively, featuring in the line-up of some of the world’s biggest jazz events, from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival to the Stockholm Jazz Festival. In 2005, she was awarded a grant to attend Fabrica Musica, Benetton Foundation’s ‘applied creativity laboratory’ just outside Treviso in Italy. The experience culminated with a multimedia theatre concert in Brisbane, Australia, a year later.