While I was in Spain back in June, I took a weekend to visit clients in Madrid. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made. When I first arrived in Madrid, I will admit I was feeling pretty lost and a little scared. Compared to Barcelona, the city seemed HUGE and confusing. I don't speak a lick of Spanish (crazy I know) and it seemed nothing was in English... I'd been spoiled on the touristy streets of Catalonia. But it didn't take long for me to realize that Madrid was a very friendly place.
Joseph Siankope met me at my hotel and drove me down to the city center. It was a tough day for parking, because it was the last day the King was in power. So there were guards everywhere and some streets were closed off... but he stayed positive and smiling despite the traffic. Then he took me on a walking tour of the city. We saw the palace and the Almudena Cathedral. We stopped for wine with views of the beautiful buildings. Then we went for lunch. (in Spain that's at like 4pm). I met his sons and his wife. And then he said... there are some people I want you to meet... he took me in to the restaurant and I was greeted by a crowd of his happy friends. I received cheeky kisses from all of them and then we went outside to eat. His wife was so sweet and really wanted me to have an authentic meal. So she guided me through the menu one item at a time telling me what each thing was and what the most traditional dishes were. Joseph selected an amazing wine. I forgot to ask him what it was but it was the best wine I had the entire trip... and that's saying a lot. The food came out in waves... and there was way too much of it. But it didn't matter because we invited his friends to help us polish it off. We had a lovely time sitting and talking and laughing... I had just a very short amount of time before the gig and wanted to go back to the hotel first... so they all walked me to the taxi... instructing the driver to be extra nice to me and then all of them hugging me goodbye. It was the most welcome and happy I felt since my arrival in Spain.
I was worried when I arrived at the Espacio Ronda because I couldn't figure out where it was. After walking around for what felt like a very long time (but was probably only like 5 minutes) I found it and parked myself in the front row. Joseph introduced me to the band and they were all wonderfully friendly sweet guys. I wasn't sure what to expect. There was a small crowd and the Espacio Ronda has the feel of something more like a theater... Joseph told me that's not their normal venue but it happened to be the gig that was going on while I was there.
It only took half of one song... before I realized what a magical experience I was in for. Joseph introduced me from the stage and everyone welcomed me with applause... Throughout the evening he frequently would turn to just me and explain things in English... it made me feel very honored and taken care of. The music was unbelievable. I have seen countless New Orleans Jazz performances. I have been to Preservation Hall 4 times. Every August I take a trip back to New Orleans and spend the entire weekend... from the moment I wake up, until the moment I go to sleep... listening to Jazz. And, I thought Joseph's performance was one of the most moving things I have seen in my life. I wasn't the only person that felt this way... the room erupted in dancing. Much of the time we were singing along or clapping along. Joseph and his band turned what had felt like a cold and empty room... into an all ages dance party sing along. I have always felt like there is no genre of music I don't like. I always say, that for me, if you can really put your heart into what you're doing... then what you make will be beautiful. Joseph pours his heart out through his trumpet and his singing. There wasn't a single moment I was there that I didn't think he was giving it 200%... it was amazing.
After the show, Joepsh and Olga drove me across town to catch another client gig at Plaza Jazz... they both got out of the car to hug me goodbye. Sometimes you meet people and even though you spend just a few hours with them... you know that somehow you could be lifelong friends. I will forever remember the music and the kindness they shared with me.
Joseph has lived an interesting and diverse life. He speaks several languages. He truly cares about his music, his family, his friends and the world he lives in. And you can see that come through in everything he does. I did a short interview with him about his life and his music below... included are the photos and videos from the concert I attended at Espacio Ronda.
How did you decide to play the trumpet and when did you start?
When I was little I first played drums , double bass, vocals , tap dance and a bit of trumpet. I just swapped from instrument to instrument till I got to New Orleans – 1980. After blowing on Mr Satchmo´s horn in New Orleans, I discovered my true vocation in New Orleans Jazz.
Where are you from?
I was born in Zimbabwe in the deep rural area – countryside, without electricity , nor running water . I walked to school bare feet a 10 km distance everyday plus another 10 to get home. I was fit!!!
When did you fall in love with the music of New Orleans?
I fell in love with the music of New Orleans when I was about 11 . I learned to play this music in order to pay my education when I left the rural area for the town life. I listened to the LP recordings of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Kid Ory, Freddie Keppard, Louis Armstrong, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Sister papa Joe, Blind Willie Johnson etc.
Tell me about your time in New Orleans.
In 1980 I went to New Orleans for the first . I was in the Neptune Jazz band of Zimbabwe. I had never seen another New Orleans Jazz band before. I had known this music only from the recordings and there I was with real musicians. The audience appreciated our music. We were awarded Honorary citizens of the city of New Orleans. I met the owner of the Preservation hall , Allan Jaffe who gave me a cornet for my birthday as he liked my sound. He asked me to take up the trumpet seriously and preserve the good old music of New Orleans. I was handed the original trumpet of Louis Armstrong so I could blow on it. Boy, that was the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me as a musician. It was like my Jazz Baptism. Wooow!!!
How did you come to live in Spain?
I came to Spain on tour, liked it more than many countries I had visited before. Some years later I was back to Madrid for my studies. I met my future wife Olga. We got married and had two kids Joseph jr. and Alvaro. Spain is a wonderful country to live in.
Is music your full time job?
Music is not my full time job. I am into counseling. School counseling , workshops on diversity in education through music, workshops on African music and its culture.
Can you tell me about your music program.
Most of my gigs are Private events , jazz festivals , weddings , some jazz clubs and the before mentioned workshops .
Do you also teach?
What I have mostly taught is music and movement or Musik Garten, African music, through dances , percussion , songs and lately some trumpet too.
What's the music scene like in Madrid?
You don´t find much New Orleans Jazz or Traditional jazz in Madrid. Jazz organizers and jazz critics are mostly interested sometimes over blinded by sophisticated modern jazz which they sometimes even don´t understand.
How often do you perform?
More or less once a week.
What's the name of your group.
Joseph Siankope and his New Orleans Jazz Band
Do you have any recordings and where can we find them?
- The Ambassador plays New Orleans greats (Joseph Siankope and his New Orleans Jazz Band)
- Música e Interculturalidad ( Joseph Siankope - Editorial Catarata)
- Zimbabwe – Mestizaje de Ritmos Étnicos
You can find most of this stuff on Amazon
Do you have a favorite music memory?
I remember playing at New Orleans Jazz Festival – opening day, with more than a hundred musicians in the Mississippi river. The musicians were from all over the world and from the very the city of New Orleans. It was just awesome.
Where can people see you play (do you have a gig schedule online)?
I usually play in Madrid and most of my gig schedule is on my facebook.
How often do you go back to Africa and can you tell me about your projects there.
I haven´t been there for about four years now. I am working on a project to improve education and development in the rural areas through our NGO – ZIMESKO ( Zimbabwe España Kobani) Our dream would be to build a school at Magoli so that kids stop walking more than 10 km to school everyday with all the dangers they have to run into during these distances , thus danger of animals and men for the young girls. Some schools need repairing, school material , sponsorship, computers , books , pencils & pens, electricity ,potable water, housing for the teachers and a never ending list of needs….. We hope to accomplish our project in the near future. We sometimes raise funds through concerts and workshops and that is very slow.
Describe your "dream gig"... if you could perform anything... anywhere... with anyone what would that look like?
It would be so nice to return to New Orleans with my brothers and play that good jazz we used to play together with its unique sound . Play again in the preservation hall and the Mississippi river boats. Our last concert there was in 1984. So my brothers are back in Zimbabwe and still swinging but lesser than before. These guys play wonderful New Orleans Jazz.
I've heard from other guys in Spain that there's not much trumpet music in Spain... what's it like being a New Orleans style trumpet player in Madrid?
I love the style I play. People enjoy my music but New Orleans jazz has got a big audience in Spain, so we will keep on working on it. My aim is to bring new Orleans music to so many people somehow people here in Madrid consider me a New Orleans Jazzman and someone who represents New Orleans Jazz in Spain.
Any new projects on the horizon musically speaking?
Maybe some recording in short.
If your trumpet were an animal what would it be?
My trumpet would be a Cheetah. In fact it is my family totem, My surnames are Siankope Ngwenya and Ngwenya means Cheetah on land or crocodile in the water in our local languages in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.
I am the PR, Advertising, Marketing, Web and Social mind at Harrelson Trumpets. When I am not at work- I paint: