© Ben Robertson 2006 -
2013 – Reviews
Tabu Ley Rochereau: In Memoriam December
Track for the year-
Overview and album of the year
Anyone who has seen 80-
In 2013, the wonderful, seminal band African Jazz in which all these musicians made
their name has at long last begun to be appreciated properly in the wider world thanks
to the release of “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music”. (reviewed below), a double
album focusing on the career of Joseph Kabasele who founded and led African Jazz.
Beautifully packaged, like a hardback book ,with extensive illuminating sleeve notes,
this release exemplifies a trend that has gathered momentum in 2013 -
In recognition of these trends, in honour of the late Tabu Ley Rochereau and in confident expectation that it will be followed by an equally fine compilation showcasing the work of Africa Jazz’s greatest musician, the uniquely influential electric guitar soloist Dr Nico, “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” is this site’s album of the year.
Central African jazz
Baby Ndombe’s live big band tribute to his late father Ndombe Opetum, “Baby Chante
Ndombe,” showcases some of the best loved compositions in OK Jazz’s vast songbook
and features guest appearances by Michel Boyibanda, Josky Kiambukuta and “Pepe” Ndombe
himself in what wass presumably his last recording. Opetum also features on “Santa,”
one of the regions best reissues of the year together with Madilu System. Of the
younger composers, Karmapa makes a fine return to form and Doudou Copa impresses,
but the strongest new recording of all is a Ferre Gola double album “Boîte Noire”
featuring the superlative acoustic guitarist Olivier Tshimanga. None of these studio
albums consist entirely of jazz, each features at least one up-
On the reissue front, a five disc set from pianist/composer/vocalist Ray Lema including two of his best albums (“Green Light” and “Stop Time”) together with a rarely heard solo piano album (“Mizila”) and two others. Also unmissable are Abeti Maskkini’s 1981 big band funk workout “Le Tube Cheri Badé” and a compilation of early recordings by Max Messengo & Le Negro Band featuring Michel Boybanda before his stint alongside Opetum in OK Jazz. Lovers of Congoles jazz should also seek out Lokombe’s new Latin flavoured rendition of Ntesa Dalienst’s “Mari Mboka” featuring Dizzy Mandjeku and the West African big band Africando. Those willing to weather poor sound, distinctly Congolese production values and a great deal of material that isn’t jazz may also enjoy Ferre Gola’s spell binding performace of a couple of ballads from BoîteNoire in front of a raucous audience at Kinshasa’s Grand Hotel during which he reduces Africa’s most critical audience to awestruck rapt attention – an abiding image of 2013, demonstrating to any doubters that remain that Central African jazz has delivered us a new genius.
East African jazz
Mulatu Asteke’s “Sketches of Ethiopia” features what are arguably the best new jazz compositions from Africa of 2013 on a strong album made with British musicians including the superlative trumpeter Byron Wallen. Even against this strong opposition however, Aster Aweke’s new album excels.
Fine reissues from Kenya and Tanzania demonstrate not only how broad the influence of African Jazz and OK Jazz wars in the region but also that each country had its distinctive take on the music. The year has also seen the emergence of the uncategorisable but very fine Rwandan/South African crossover band John Wizards, promising saxophonist from Tanzania called Rama and the groundbreaking reissue of a recording from prewar Somalia.
There have been further promises of a new album from the gifted Kenyan saxophonist/composer/vocalist
Joseph Hellon and some fine clips of his appearances on Kenyan TV have been posted
on YouTube but there is still no sign of his long-
Southern African jazz
As has been the case since the mid 1990’s, South Africa is by far and away the most
productive country when it comes to jazz from Africa. Excellent newly minted recordings
of the year include those of pianists Norman Chauke and Abdullah Ibrahim. Mpumi Dhlamini’s
trio Lil’ Noise, Hugh Masekela, Pops Mohamed, Unathi, Cape Jazz Band and Mafikizolo.
None of these however tops the late Zim Ngqwana’s previously unreleased revelatory
live DVD (also available on CD) with a superlative quartet made up of Ngqwana on
sax, flute,, vocals, harmonica and electronics, Shane Cooper winner of 2013 Standard
Bank young jazz artist of the year award of on double bass together with Nduduzo
Makhathini (piano,vocals) and Ayanda Sikande (drums, vocals) both of whom featured
on last year’s excellent “African Time” album under the leadership of Herbie Tsoaeli
which deservedly won this year’s SAMA (South African Music Award) for jazz. Ngqwana
was an infrequent visitor to recording studios particularly in the latter part of
his career and rarely performed at his his best there apart from his 2004 “Vadzimu”
album, but this live set shows exactly why jazz lovers in South Africa regard him
as one of their all-
Zim Ngqwana and Molelekwa pioneered contrasting approaches to making jazz in post
apartheid South Africa that resurface in the two best newly recorded South African
jazz albums of the year. Ngqwana’s could be described as neo traditional and mainly
acoustic jazz which takes its cue from artists such as Mankunku, the Blue Notes and
Coltrane and which is purposefully weighty, befitting a nation that fought hard
for and is proud of its freedom. Molelekwa’s approach was more eclectic: a distinctly
Amid a veritable flood of reissues consisting overwhelmingly of reissues of reissues,
shorn of sleeve notes and original art work, the Brotherhood of Breath’s “Procession”
augmented with lots of new material and Sathima Bea Benjamin’s previously impossible-
It is heartening to report that South Africa has also produced a an extraordinary array of gifted new musicians such as the drummer Tumi Mgorosi and his band, three exceptional singer songwriters (Lindiwe Maxolo, Nomfundo and Mbuso Khosa ) bass player Mano Simeli, trumpeter Pablo Seotlolla and the Rwandan/South African crossover band John Wizards.
Most Ethiojazz and afrobeat releases are targeted primarily at European, North American and Japanese markets. but in South Africa ,as in DR Congo, the music remains an important, integral part of the domestic popular market as is demonstrated in this year’s comeback album from Mafikzolo add from the three jazz tracks (“Okwami Ngokwakho,” “Umongameli” and “Iphupha “) at the core of the Zahara’s new album “Phendula.”
From other parts of the region come several fine reissues, notably from Angola and Zambia; an excellent new drummer, Legan “Tino D“” Breda, rom Zimbabwe, a country which also given us Monoswezi’ one of the year’s best crossover recordings made with Scandinavian jazz musicians .
Among the plethora of fine releases from Africa in 2013, the best newly made recording
is surely Gyedu-
Leaving aside Lágbájá’s “200 Million Mumu: the bitter truth” which is essentially
an augmented version of last year’s top-
Other fine albums, from Cameroonian jazz musicians, include Richard Bona’s “Bonafied”
which is arguably the best newly recorded album by an African jazz bassist of the
year despite strong composition from numerous fine South African players. His singing
and arrangements on the album are sublime too -
The next best thing to Ambolley’s “Sekunde” from West Africa however is undoubtedly
“Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1” a previously unreleased album recorded 32 years ago by Dieuf-
The region hass also delivered several unmissable reissues: Manu Dibango’s 1975 filmscore for “Kusini” which turns out to be a masterpiece, two essential tracks from the enormously influential Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren/Ghababa including one from his legendary “Africa speaks, America answers” LP; another fine reissue from Orchestra Poly Rhythmo, recordings by Zani Diabaté , a Malian guitar player who owes more to Jimi Hendrix and Franco than to the desert blues and Dr Nico, and, perhaps most remarkably of all, a revelatory set of recordings by Mauritania’s “Orchestra Nationale. Tthere have been several intriguing reissues of early West African synthesiser albums too that have had mixed reviews but which genuinely challenge the prevailing consensus about the impact of electronica on African jazz. Of such artists, the most compelling is Nigeria’s William Onyeabor.
A final thought on 2013
No wonder Manuo Dibango has such a big smile on his face. This website’s quote of the year reminds us that 2014 will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the band African Jazz in which he made his name and in which together with his colleagues and in parallel with jazz musicians all over sub Saharan Africa the music we enjoy today had its beginnings. The growth of appreciation and understanding of the heritage of this music around the world combined with the excellence of today’s African jazz scene suggest that, perhaps, after all these decades, the end of the beginning is at hand. African jazz has arrived.
The death of African Jazz alumnus Tabu Ley Rochereau in a Belgian hospital at the age of 76 following a stroke and a long period of illness is very sad news.
Tabu Ley’s career and achievements dwarf those of all but his very greatest rivals.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s his popularity in sub-
For those unfamiliar with Africa’s music history of the period, it must be difficult to grasp just how dominant Congolese jazz and its major stars such as Rochereau were during this period. Suffice it to say that the music’s biggest stars, particularly Franco and Rochereau, enjoyed a degree of fame and popularity akin to that of the Beatles in Europe and America in the 1960s, the chief difference being that in Franco and Rochereau's case this degree of success persisted for several decades.
Posterity will rightly remember that in the final analysis Franco was the greater
of the two but there were at least two periods during their long rivalry when Rochereau
had the upper hand even over Franco. The first such period began in 1963 when, together
with the supremely gifted guitar soloist Dr Nico, Nico’s elder rhythm guitarist brother
Dechaud, the top-
To those wishing to know more, the two double compilation albums entitled “Voice of LLightness” are highly recommended as is the double album Mbilia Bel compilation on the same Stern’s label. Other excellent place to start would be the early 1980’s hit “En Amour y’aPas de Calcul,” a track which to this day it is almost impossible not to dance to. To hear how sublime a singer he was, “Sarah” from the same era is equally highly recommended. Or as an example of his work with MbiliaBel, try “Résidece Marina.”
Rochereau’s career after the split with Mbilia Bel had its highlights too and resulted in some beautiful recordings, the best known of which is his song “Muzina” which was a colossal dance floor hit for much of 1995, during which tens of millions of people learned how to make the sign of the cross on their chests while dancing. The song turned out to mark the end of the era of the dominance of Congolese jazz. In later years he made a couple more good albums and some stunning guest appearances demonstrating that he had lost none of his powers but, along with every other Congolese jazz artist, he never again achieved the same pinnacle of success.
His last studio recording seems to have been an appearance alongside numerous other Congolese stars on a song entitled “For Ever” commemorating the the greatest of Franco’s lead singers: Madilu System. There was also a live performance at a show honouring Franco’s vice president Lutumba Simaro (“Vivement Simaro,” CD/DVD set) and some interview footage on Koffi Olomide’s live “Chante Tabu Ley” which consists of cover versions spanning Rochereau’s whole career.
Many of his most beautiful compositions live on in the repertoire of Mbilia Bel as demonstrated in her excellent 2011 live small band CD/DVD set "Bakolo Mindule.” In addition to Bel, prominent Congolese jazz musicians active today who are alumni of Rochereau’s band Afrisa includes the chanteuse Feya Tess; the gifted arranger and rhythm guitarist Maika Munan, mi solo guitarist Lokassa ya Mbongo, rhythm guitarist Bopol Mansiamina, trumpeter Kaber Kabasele, pianist/composer/vocalist Ray Lema and two of the world’s best lead guitarists: Huit Kilos Nseka and Dino Vangu who is also very highly regarded as a composer. There are also retired musicians such as saxophonist Modero Mekanisi together with Michelino the key pioneer of mi solo guitar and the supremely gifted singer Sam Mangwana both of whom worked extensively with Franco too. Afrisa members who predeceased him include singer/composer Ndombe Opetum who died last year and central Africa's greatest saxophonist Empopo Loway Deyesse. Finally, Rochereau has left a vast legacy of recordings and concert footage which ranks as one of Africa’s largest and is indicative of how much he meant to his audience.
For a full 450 page study, see Jean Mpassi’s “Tabu Ley Rochereau: Innovateur de la Musique Africaine” published in 2003.
Note: The publication of this article was delayed until after Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Track of the Month:-
Dorothy Masuka’s “Live at the Mandela Theatre” issued on both CD and DVD in 2010
was a glittering affair in in which an unprecedented array of South Africa’s jazz
stars, including Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya, Thandiswa, Sibongile Khumalo and
Abigail Kubeka came together to perform alongside and honour Southern Africa’s senior
jazz diva. The esteem in which this now 78 -
But none of the praise heaped on Dorothy Masuka that night in Johannesburg’s most prestigious theatre came remotely close to what she herself said about Nelson Mandela who we all mourn and celebrate today, having learnt yesterday that he is joining the ancestral spirits. Introducing her song “Mandela” while gesturing with authoritative jubilation to her audience and, as a South African born in Zimbabwe of Zambian parentage ,speaking to all Africa, she said:
“Ladies and gentlemen there is a song I've got to do... This song is about our father, the father of everybody here”
The song “Mandela” which she then sang and danced to with all her heart, much to
the delight of her audience and co-
Moreover, Mandela’s life span encompassed and related to the entire genesis of South
African jazz. A very special recording in this context is the album “Siya Gida -
Also recommended at this time is the trombonist/ vocalist/ composer Jonas Gwangwa’s 1993 album “Flowers of the Nation” and especially his masterpiece “Diphororo” written as an elegy to the South Africans who died for the struggle against apartheid, the greatest of whom as of yesterday is Nelson “Madiba” Mandela.
With condolences to Mandela’s family, his nation and his beloved Mother Africa:
Note added, 9th December 2013:
Judging from broadcasts from South Africa, the refrain sung most by mourners is the chorus of Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse’s composition “Nelson Mandela” from his 1996 album “Township Child.” The original version featured Mabuse on solo sax, lead vocals and, probably, drums and piano too; together with samples from the speech delivered by Mandela at his 1964 Rivonia Trial. “Nelson Mandela” has been reissued numerous times, most recently as part of the 2013 CD/DVD set “Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse: The Ultimate Collection” and now appears to be becoming part of the very fabric of the nation.
Track of the Month:– “Indépendance Cha Cha” by Joseph Kabasele & African Jazz featured on “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” by Joseph Kabasele, two CD set, also available as two separate download albums (DR Congo)
African Jazz, widely and justly regarded as the most influential band in the history of Africa, was founded in 1954 more than half a century ago. The release of a two CD retrospective focusing on the band’s leader Joseph Kabasele, also known as Le Grand Kallé, with extensive sleeve notes and documentation in English and French is not merely a milestone in the history of African music: it is a milestone in the history of jazz.
One of the most hotly debated issues in jazz from now on is going to be about the
significance of African Jazz in jazz as a global music form. As things stand, African
Jazz barely get a mention in reference books and histories of jazz, nor does the
band feature prominently in the standard jazz curriculum. The central reason for
this is simple: it doesn't stem from some long-
Against this background, to say that the release of “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” is overdue would a gross understatement. This two CD set, with an accompanying hundred and eight page booklet, represents the very first time that any serious attempt has been made to market African Jazz and their music outside Africa and particularly in the English speaking world.
What was the impact of African Jazz in Africa and why has the band been neglected for so long beyond the continent’s shores?
The best point at which to start answering these questions is the song “Indépendance Cha Cha,” which was a huge hit across the bulk of the continent when released by Joseph Kabasele & African Jazz in 1960 to celebrate the independence of the Congo, the biggest country in sub Saharan Africa.
The key to the song’s, and indeed the band’s, success was their electric guitar soloist
Dr Nico -
The term revolutionary, much overused in music, is appropriate in a most literal
sense. When “Indépendance Cha Cha” was released, no African country south of the
Congo had achieved independence. Across the border in Northern Province of what is
now Zambia, Kabasele’s song ignited and gave its name to the decisive Cha Cha Cha
Campaign of early 1961;paving the way to that country’s independence in 1964 which
was a crucial step towards the liberation of the whole of Southern Africa over the
decades that followed. To this day, the most bustling street in Zambia’s capital
Lusaka is Cha Cha Cha Road -
Whatever attempt the British authorities made in their short lived Central African Federation (consisting of what are now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi) to suppress what they must certainly and rightly have regarded as the dangerous music of Kabasele & African Jazz , they were utterly unsuccessful.
In the twinkling of an eye, Congolese jazz musicians built a musical empire that
dwarfed anything the British and other departing colonial powers had ever imagined.
The music achieved a degree of success undreamt of by Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington.
For more than three subsequent decades, Congolese acts such as Franco’s OK Jazz and
African Jazz alumnus Tabu Ley Rochereau dominated the airwaves and dance floors
of independent sub-
Exactly how the authorities in apartheid South Africa .reacted to this musical revolution in what was then its immediate northern neighbour is obscure, but it is surely inconceivable that the Cha Cha Cha Campaign and the song behind it went unnoticed. Certainly, Congolese music was suppressed in South Africa for decades to come and the fact that Kabasele’s and Franco's records had the word “jazz” emblazoned all over them may well have been a factor in why the authorities made life so much harder for jazz musicians in South Africa from 1961 onwards.
To this day Congolese jazz and its importance are barely recognised in South Africa and the music, particularly in jazz circles, remains virtually unknown. It is to be hoped that the release of “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” will at last start to reverse this most lasting and pernicious musical legacy of apartheid.
One doesn’t need to be a scholar specialising in the period to appreciate why the white supremacist regime in South Africa didn’t want to hear “Indépendance Cha Cha” on the radio, but the reasons for the music’s neglect in the wider world for so many decades are more complex. The most interesting and perhaps paramount reasons were the radicalism in Kabasele's use of the word jazz and the complex politics that affected musicians during the Cold War.
The first eight tracks on “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” have not appeared
on CD before and together with Ken Braun’s informative and well researched sleeve
notes shed some light on this as well as on the intentions of the compiler. The previously
obscure and stunningly beautiful opening track, “Valerine Regina” showcases Kabasele’s
gorgeous singing and compositional skill right at the beginning of his recording
career in 1951, several years before the advent of African Jazz. At first hearing
the record sounds remarkably like the sort of riff the Congolese jazz pianist Ray
Lema plays; but in fact consists of two closely intertwined guitars which, of course,
is exactly what Congolese music is all about and is the source of what Lema does.
The next two tracks are very early versions of two of the Kabasele’s compositions
best loved by the Congolese today. “Kale Kato” and “Parafifi” also set a precedent
that the compiler sticks to throughout this release: always preferring to include
the earliest versions of every song. The reasons for this are probably that it enables
the record company to include material which is effectively previously unreleased
as far as the vast majority of people including the Congolese are concerned; because
it mirrors the interests and priorities of collectors of rare vinyl and because it
enables the compiler to focus on Kabasele’s life and times but, from an aesthetic
point of view it is a questionable approach. While the first sketches of masterpieces
are fascinating; have value in their own right and can shine a light on the creator’s
thought processes and development ;they are in most cases simply not the same nor
as good as the final masterpiece. In this respect, Ken Braun’s compilation is quite
different from the benchmark “Le Grand Kalle volume 1 and volume 2” on the Congolese/French
Befraco label which invariably focused on the final and best-
These first eight tracks have a charm and importance analogous to early recordings Louis Armstrong made with King Oliver and various other artists. The merits of Ken Braun’s approach are immediately apparent from the fourth of these tracks, entitled “African Jazz” and recorded in 1954. In his sleeve notes, Braun explains that from this point on Kabasele’s audience referred to him and his musicians by this name. What made Kabasele’s music different from that of older and previously more popular Congolese troubadours such as Wendo was the addition of horns and more specifically from 1954 until 1957, the band’s first saxophonist: Isaac Musekiwa who, although he is barely recognised as such, was one of the great Southern African jazz musicians of the era. He was born in Bulawayo in what is now Zimbabwe, according to Gary Stewart’s book “Breakout” around 1935, the same year in which the celebrated Southern African jazz diva Dorothy Masuka was born in the same city. Bulawayo had a vibrant jazz scene by the early 1950's which produced the first global hit by any African jazz musician in the form of “Skokiaan” by saxophonist August , Musarurwa popularised by, among others, Louis Armstrong and Johnny Hodges. Thanks to field recordings made by the legendary Hugh Tracey at the time, the music of Musarurwa and his contemporaries that both Isaac Musekiwa and Dorothy Masuka grew up in the midst of, can be heard on the highly recommended compilation “Bulawayo Jazz,” which illustrates that the music was akin to that of South Africans such as the noted composer and saxophonist Isaac “Zacks” Nkosi. Isaac Musekiwa’s career as a saxophonist was every bit as successful in important as that of Dorothy Masuka’s has been as as a singer and composer because when he parted ways with Kabasele and African Jazz in 1957, he joined the greatest of all Africa’s jazz bands, Franco’s Le Tout Puissant OK Jazz, where he remained a permanent fixture in the continent’s premier horn section until his death in 1990.
If the first eight tracks on the album can be likened to Armstrong’s earliest recordings;
from the moment Dr Nico and his older brother Dechaud strap on their electric guitars
we are in the realm of the Hot Fives in Hot Sevens of jazz from Africa. The remainder
of the first CD constitutes a small selection of the most influential African recordings
ever made. No such selection can be definitive, nor can any be unsatisfying but the
limited number of first rate Dr Nico solos is disappointing. Had this selection of
tracks been played to the band’s fans in the early 1960's with the explanation that
this was the selection of tracks with which the band would be launched in America
five decades later, there would probably have been a furious riot. You can bet your
bottom dollar that the reason for this is that the current compilation is merely
a taster for a two or four volume Dr Nico set to follow on the same Stern’s label.
The band’s best known singer Tabu Ley Rochereau is equally under represented, presumably
because a selection of his best work with African Jazz has already appeared on the
first CD in Stern’s “Voice of Lightness” four CD Rochereau set . Even so, the selection
of tracks on the rest of the first CD of “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” is
magnificent and includes the standard for which the band is best known across most
of Africa in the form of track 21, mistakenly referred to as“Miwela-
The advantage of Ken Braun’s approach compared to a conventional greatest hits type
package is that it enables the listener to understand that African Jazz was much
more than a vehicle for its biggest stars. For example, Musekiwa was far from the
only important horn player to enjoy a crucial part of their early career with Kabasele’s
African Jazz. Others who appear on the set include Jean Serge Essous and Nino Malapet
from Congo Brazzaville, best known for their long association with that country’s
leading jazz orchestra Less Bantous de la Capitale which celebrated five decades
in the business in 2009. Willy Kuntima, one of Africa’s greatest trumpet players,
who had an instantly recognisable, open and full sound made his name with the band
and can be heard to great effect, for example on track 21 (again, listed as “Miwela-
All these musicians unquestionably had an understanding of what African American jazz wars, as did the various Belgian jazz musicians who played with and/or were associated with Africa Jazz such as the guitarist and former Django Reinhardt sidemen Bill Alexandre who reputedly brought the first electric guitar into the Congo. Over the years however, it has become customary to be condescending about Kabasele’s use of the word jazz and this explains why Ken Braun, in his otherwise admirable sleeve notes: is distinctively sniffy about the jazz content of Kabasele’s music. As Manu Dibango says in the first volume of his autobiographical writings, African Jazz did not play jazz. What he meant by this was that African Jazz did not play African American jazz and he is absolutely right right: they didn’t, nor were they trying to do so but Kabasele and his musicians were not stupid: they knew what the words African and jazz meant. The problem that has developed over the years does not stem from any lack of clarity on the part of the musicians themselves, rather the condescension and confusion arises because of the largely forgotten connotations of the word “African” in the context of the late 1950's and early 1960. The reason for this is that we have all spent most of our lives hearing bad news from Africa: of wars, coups, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, presidents wanted by the International Criminal Court and all the rest of it; but for a brief period in the late 1950's and early 1960's the news from Africa, from an African perspective and more broadly from the perspective of the free world, was overwhelmingly good because African nations were gaining their independence at the rate of knots. These seismic events in Africa’s history fostered idealism, optimism and excitement about Africa which was mirrored, captured and exemplified in the music of Kabasele’s African Jazz. Put yourself in Kabaseles’s shoes for a moment. Would you want to be playing and creating African American music to mark, celebrate and mirror the advent of African independence? Or would you perhaps prefer to create Belgian or French, British or Cuban or Latin music?, Of course you wouldn’t: you would want to be make African music. The word “African” in the band’s name was shorthand for a specific contextual agenda that was crystal clear to everyone in the early 1960’s. It meant independent, proud, free, defiant and undefeatable. Above all it implied a new beginning.
Kabasele’s use of the word “jazz” in this context changed its meaning across much
of Africa for decades to come. This creativity in the use of language should come
as no surprise to lovers of music from the African diaspora: Africans are surely
the worlds most virile language makers :a trait that lives on in forms of music such
While Kabasele’s use of the word jazz may have unravelled over time in the sense
that, for example, new bands nowadays never use the word jazz in their names or publicity
in the sense that he did, but for decades the word jazz was used in numerous band
names in Africa in the sense intended by Kabasele. One well-
African Jazz and the other Congolese jazz bands were the pre-
A further source of confusion and controversy about the use of the word jazz in relation
to Kabasele is that he himself stopped using the word in the second half of the 1960's
and changed the name of his band to African Team. The music on the second CD of “Le
Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” dates from 1963 onwards which was the point at
which Dr Nico, Rochereau together with others left African Jazz initially to form
African Fiesta before they too went their separate ways as solo artists. Kabasele’s
recordings from 1963 on are therefore much less important than those he made in
the early 60's but he nevertheless continued to play music of breathtaking beauty.
Certainly, many Congolese music lovers regard the recordings he made in 1966 and
1970 with African Team as his greatest artistic achievement: Recordings from this
period, although ultimately less influential than the earlier seminal recordings,
are what the Congolese actually listen to and value today as witnessed by the previously
mentioned and much loved two-
“Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” closes with four of these tracks, one of which
is the sublime “Ko ko ko – Qui est la?” which is, to these ears, a Kabasele masterpiece
showcasing his soaring voice, masterly arrangement and his uncanny ability to find
and get the best out of very great musicians. Another of the tracks is the unusual
and rarely heard “Africa Boogaloo” which is a kind of missing link between African
Jazz and Dibango’s trademark “Soul Makossa.” Readers who enjoy these African Team
recordings should seek out other tracks from the same sessions, many of which are
included on the Gefraco two-
However, Ken Braun’s sleeve notes, which otherwise add vastly to our knowledge and understanding of this great music and which are a major plus point of the release are unfortunately incorrect h in suggesting that these 1970 recordings were Kabasele’s last. While they may have been his last session is in an audio recording studio and may have marked the end of his vinyl discography, he continued to perform and record for Congolese TV and there are at least two live recordings available on Congolese DVDs of performances from after 1970, in addition to a kind of playback show where he mimes and dances to some of his earlier studio recordings in front of a TV studio audience. The existence of these recordings rather casts doubt on Braun’s speculation about relations between Kabasele and his country’s head of state, the much feared dictator Mobutu Sese Seko for whose reign the journalist Bernard Levin memorably coined the word “kleptocracy.” Whatever their political differences may have been, they didn’t stop Kabasele performing, recording and being honoured at home. Indeed, he was created the country’s first Grand Master of music during this period.
Also of interest is footage aired on Congolese TV after Kabasele’s death under the title “Hommage à Grand Kallé,” available on the DVD “La belle époque Musicale” which veers, with poor editing ,between snippets of a tribute performance fronted by Kabasele’s protégé Pepe Kallé* featuring former African Jazz stars including Dr Nico, Dechaud and Roger Izedi interspersed with equally disjointed snippets of a Cuban band playing Kabasele's music in Cuba for an audience of very scantily clad beautiful young Cuban women. The latter, regardless of the equal beauty of the music, was very clearly a Cold War propaganda film depicting Cuba as a kind of earthly paradise. It is fairly clear from this that by the end of his life, the Cuban regime regarded Kabasele as an ally and an asset. Without the facts one can do little but speculate about when this relationship began but it may well explain the extraordinary extravagance of those 1970 sessions which was completely unprecedented in African music at the time and may perhaps have prompted Mobutu, who was essentially allied with the Americans in the Cold War, to make sure that Kabasele didn’t tour outside his home country again or make recordings that could be broadcast or marketed outside his home country either. If this version of events is remotely close to the truth, it may also very well explain why Kabasele stopped using the word jazz in the name of his band because during the Cold War and particularly in Cuba the term jazz was frowned upon and regarded as being symptomatic of American decadence and imperialistic ambition.
Had Kabasele outlived the Cold War and survived to the present day, it would long
ago have become obvious that there was nothing remotely objectionable about his politics.
The translations of his song lyrics in Ken Braun’s sleeve notes demonstrate that
all he wanted was a democratic, non-
It would however be naive to think that politics have nothing to do with why it has taken so long for his music to be released and marketed properly in the United States. Aside from the absurdities of the Cold War, the dearth of new recordings after 1970, the failure of the major American record labels which dominated global music throughout the period to extend their tentacles to Kinshasa; and Kabasele's death in 1983 probably all played a part. In addition, it didn’t help that the exiled South African jazz musicians who effectively introduced the world to African jazz had never heard of Kabasele. In addition, a new three CD retrospective entitled “Africa in America: rock jazz & calypso 1920 to 1962” illustrates that the jazz establishment had an absurd mixture of prejudice, ignorance and romanticism about Africa, the legacy of which casts a long shadow even over today’s more globalised jazz scene. While “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” may not be perfect, it does represent a great and noble step in the right direction, towards the kind of atonement that these two great continents and their interrelated but fractious jazz communities need so badly.
This set and its sleeve notes are also helpful in putting to rest another longest
running controversies concerning Congolese music. It has long been argued, following
the Congolese author Sylvain Bemba’s “Cinquante ans de musique du Congo-
The main question that remains is this: what is the jazz world to make of Joseph
Kabasele and African Jazz? It could be argued that one of greatest achievements of
African American jazz is that when Africa gained her independence she chose to call
the music with which her people celebrated African jazz. Is this not the single greatest
compliment ever paid to African American jazz? -
Unfortunately and somewhat astonishingly, African Jazz and the entire revolution
that they represented in music remain more or less unnoticed in the wider world of
jazz. How will this music be received? How should it be received? If you had asked
Joseph Kabasele, African Jazz and their fans this question as they celebrated their
independence and danced all night long the same question, would they not have responded
that they hoped their African-
Properly understood, “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music is an album which ought to prompt a seismic shift in the world’s thinking about jazz. What ought the jazz establishment do about its neglect and ignorance of Kabasele's African Jazz and, by extension, of all the great jazz from Africa that ensued? The situation today remains little short of appalling. If, for example, one goes through the entire list of links on Wikipedia under their entry for jazz you will find no mention whatsoever of k or Dr Nico or Kabasele. How can this be rectified? What could or should the jazz establishment and its most hallowed institutions do about the situation? The answer, as so often in the history of jazz, lies with the only undisputed genius in the history of the music: Louis Armstrong. Armstrong led the way in the late 1950's and early 60's with a series of tours of Africa during which he met, interacted with, played for and embraced the majority of the African jazz pioneers of the day. He loved what he heard and found in the mother continent, describing for example, his first visit to Ghana at that nation’s independence celebrations as the second most important event of his life after playing with King Oliver. Armstrong’s embrace of Africa was characterised by respect, curiosity and, above all, joy. As so often before in the history of jazz, Armstrong’s spontaneity and lead cleared the path for everyone else to follow. The time has surely come for the jazz world to wake up to this seismic shift, dust itself down, and once more heed Armstrong’s great clarion call.
The main barrier is ignorance. The thing that is going to break it down is the music. That is why “Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music” is such an important and welcome release. May it herald true enlightenment in jazz founded in a justified radical reinterpretation of the past. If so, in years to come, t will be axiomatic to regard these recordings as the point in jazz history at which the centre of the jazz world shifted seismically from the United States to Africa.
Note added 16th December 2013: sadly, the great singer and composer Tabu Ley Rochereu, referred to above, died the very day this article was published. An appreciation of his life and work was added to this site shortly after Nelson Mandela's funeral.
* Correction -
“Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat” by Tony Allen with Michael E. Veal (Duke University Press)
Track of the Month:-
“One of the things that lovers of African jazz agree about is that the greatest kit drummer in the history of the music is Nigeria’s Tony Allen, famed above all for being Fela Kuti’s drummer in the 1960's and 70's and oft described as the man who put the beat into Afrobeat. A shelf full of books about Fela all confirm this. Given his enormous role in this most documented genre of African music, it is extraordinary that up until now no one has written a book about Tony Allen.
The publication of his autobiography “Master Drummer of Afrobeat” is therefore welcome
news and a major event in African jazz. The genesis of the book is a measure of Allen’s
stature: it is co-
To find out about anything in or from Africa, the best way is to ask a knowledgeable African the right questions and listen patiently and intelligently over a long period of time to the answers. This is not an easy process at all. It requires a considerable amount of time and skill and is all about building trust and developing a relationship with one's interlocutor. This is why the fashion for musicians’ statements exemplified by Jonathan Eato’s scholarship on South African jazz while a welcome development is also a process that requires tremendous skill on the part of the interviewer or scribe. Veal’s introduction, along with the first chapter of Paul Berliner’s now classic “The Soul of Mbira,” should be required reading for anyone wishing to undertake such a task.
Veal’s efforts have yielded handsome rewards not only in the content but also in the language and literary worth of the book. The tone is conversational and captures not only the recollections of Tony Allen, who turns out to be a gifted and engaging raconteur, but also the cadence of his speech patterns. It’s beautifully done and the result is captivating: narrative that will be enjoyed as much as a work of literature as it will be valued as a source of information about what makes Afrobeat tick. One senses an affinity between Veal and Allen who both come across as cool customers: detached observers of life who are sparing in the use of words and think before they speak. The reader is also conscious of the fact that the pithy polyrhythms in the language and structure of each anecdote are those of a man whose rhythmic sensibilities are in a different league from the rest of us. This isn’t just an important book: it’s one that’s hard to put down.
Between them they paint a warts and all portrait of Tony Allen -
The wonderful portrait of the development of his music contained in the early chapters
is accompanied by an excellent “selected discography” of recordings by musicians
who have influenced him, which, if and when the book is turned into a film, will
ensure that it has an absolutely stunning soundtrack. As one might expect from such
a prominent African-
The biggest influence on Allen’s playing however was 1960's highlife, particularly its Ghanaian dance band variant and especially the Hour Dance Band and their kit drummer Rim Obeng.
It is very much hoped that Allen’s evident love of this music will stimulate a revival
of interest among scholars, music lovers and especially the various reissue labels
because Tony Allen is right: the best of 1960's highlife constitute some of the most
beautiful music ever produced in Africa, more beautiful in fact and much more interesting
than the bulk of reissues by inferior Fela imitators that pour out of the reissue
labels at the moment. In addition to the recordings cited in the “selected discography”,
seek out the two disc compilation “Highlife High Up’s: La Musique du Gold Coast Années
60” released in 1996 on Original Music -
Allen’s account of the emergence of Afrobeat and the pivotal Fela/Tony Allen band, Africa 70, out of their earlier highlife/jazz crossover outfit Koola Lobitos is definitive.
One of the best known things about Allen is that his were the only parts in Fela’s
music that were not written by Fela: Allen had absolute freedom to play what he wanted,
a freedom which led to the creation of one of the greatest bodies of work in 20th-
The chapter on Africa 70 will be required reading for students of this music henceforth and form the core of the book: so much so, that it would be a mistake to try and summarise Allen and Veal. Suffice it to say that Allen was much more than just a drummer in Africa 70: He held the position of bandleader. He modestly explains that this entailed making sure that everyone’s instrument was in tune before they started to play but his role was clearly much greater than that because when he left Africa 70, a substantial portion of the band decided to go at the same time. In short, Tony Allen’s leadership was a force to be reckoned with.
He doesn't really give a clear single reason for the split with Fela, rather he alludes
to several factors including a discreetly unidentified issue with one of Fela’s wives
and Fela’s obstructive behaviour concerning his first solo recordings but the recurring
theme that runs through his narrative of the relationship is financial differences.
According to Allen, things came to a head when he was put in an impossible position
“If I kept waiting around for money from Fela, I would still be in the Egypt’s 80 today!”
The split with Fela had little to do with the music which remained excellent to the very end of the Berlin Jazz Festival show that broke the camels back. Musically, Tony Allen's drum patterns were the very essence of Afrobeat as, evidenced in remarkable footage of the last number they performed together which is this site’s Track of the Month (see above).
Although neither Tony Allen or Prof Veal actually say so, it is striking that the root of Allen’s problems with Fela lay not in their differences but in what they agreed about. Time and time again, Allen explains that Fela was the great composer; that Allen was a drummer that no one could touch and that he was the sole member of Africa 70 who was free to play whatever he liked. But if Fela didn’t compose the drum parts that Allen played, then who did? When is drumming merely an act of accompaniment and when is it an act of composition? If there was ever a drummer who broke down conventional thinking about such matters it is Tony Allen. The reason he is so highly rated is that he has smashed such preconceptions into little pieces with his drumsticks. It is hardly surprising that neither the music industry nor the royalty system kept pace with what he and Fela were doing. Their differences about money were caused by exactly the kind of colonial thinking that he and Fela opposed so virulently in every other part of life. Had the copyright system in Nigeria been reformed to make it more equitable and more reflective of the African creative process involved in creating the music, Tony Allen would have been a wealthy man and would have had no cause to fall out with Fela. Moreover, from the perspective of those of us who broadly agree with Michael E. Veal’s critique, set out in “Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon,” the retention of Tony Allen and such a redistribution of wealth might conceivably have deterred Fela from some of the musical and personal excesses that marred much of the latter half of his career.
As it was, ironically, Allen’s final recording with Fela, “Africa Centre of the World” with Roy Ayres, presaged a permanent move to Europe and a lengthy solo career.
His solo career was beset by difficulty from the outset. The unreliability of NEPA the state run electricity supplier in Lagos resulted not only in his humorous song of the same name (aka “Never Enough Power Always”), it also meant that effectively there was very little opportunity for live music because it simply wasn’t safe to move around the city in darkness. Later in Europe, Allen faced immigration and financial problems, record producers who wanted to smother his sound with electronics, fellow musicians who wanted him to play djembe rather than his drum kit, etc.
What Allen and Veal do not remark upon however is t that the biggest irony of Tony Allen’s life is that having created such great and liberating music with Fela, he himself then became ensnared by it. Veal makes the point in his introduction that Allen might have made a living performing cover versions of Fela’s most popular compositions. While It is true that Allen has not done so, the sad fact of the matter is that all too often in his solo career, he has found himself regurgitating the same Afrobeat drum licks, frequently in much less stimulating musical contexts than he enjoyed with Africa 70. He usually sounds bored doing so, particularly in studio recordings, and sadly much of his post Fela work is relatively dull, clichéd even .Veal points out that Allen’s solo albums make a good soundtrack for Amsterdam’s coffee shops, but,post Fela how, often has Allen made recordings that can blow the listener away without being stoned? This is a serious question because the supremacy of his musicianship has never been in doubt. While there have been a great number of forgettable recordings, given Tony Allen’s quite extraordinary pedigree it is not surprising that there have also been exceptional ones. What are the highlights of his solo career?
One obvious facet of Tony Allen’s solo work is his singing which, oddly, in a book
in which the subject’s voice plays such an integral part, is barely mentioned. On
stage, Allen can be self-
Allen’s best work, has always been delivered when faced with a challenge. This was precisely what had been so exciting about his time with Fela. Essentially, Fela would compose and arrange another masterpiece and lay down the gauntlet to Allen, saying, in music rather than words, what are you gonnna do? It was this relationship: between two supremely gifted and innovative musicians sparking off each other that fostered the creation of Afrobeat and that series of amazing recordings with Africa 70. After Fela, Allen has rarely found himself recording in really challenging musical environments Most of the time his musical collaborators know exactly what they want of him, he knows exactly how to deliver it and does so with consummate ease. While, particularly since the resurgence of Afro beat following Fela’s death, this has enabled Allen to earn living, one is left with the feeling that he has painted himself into a musical corner in which his freedom of expression and head room for new development are hampered. But, Allen remains a supremely gifted musician and therefore whenever he has been challenged, post Fela, he has made amazing music. To their credit, where studio recordings are concerned, both Allen and Veal are good at sorting the wheat from the chaff in the second half of Allen’s solo career. Veal refers to some such examples in his introduction and discography, notably the work with the Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernest Ranglin and with British rock adventurer Damon Alban. Allen draws attention to the minimalist Afrobeat and dub amalgam on “Black Voices” which is arguably his best post Africa 70 solo album.
If their very special book has a weakness however, it concerns the music of the first decade and a half or so of Allen’s solo career, possibly because his memories of the period are dominated by problems he had in putting together solo albums and by the many struggles he faced in his life at the time. On top of that, expert on Afro beat though he undoubtedly is, Veal does not seem quite so surefooted about the various shades of African jazz that flourished in Paris the 1980's and 90's where Allen lived and worked at the time
Like most sub Saharan African professional instrumentalists, Allen is primarily a dance orientated player. He talks about being inspired by particular dancers among Fela's troupe and frequently uses the term "jumping" to describe successful gigs. This, above all, is why the footage of his performance of “Cross Examination of the African Colonial Soldier” with Fela and his Queens. at the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival is this site’s Track of the Month: the interplay between his drumming and the dancers is the very essence not only of Afrobeat but of Tony Allen. A key starting point therefore for assessing any part of his career is to ask: what worked on the dance floor?
Whatever the reason, Veal doesn’t appear to have asked Allen this question and there is nothing in their otherwise excellent book to indicate or explain why the 1985 track “Marabout (Iyolela)” was the biggest dancefloor success of his post Fela career to date.
“Marabout (Iyolela),” the opening track on the Congolese keyboardist/vocalist/composer
Ray Lema’s album “Medecine,” is also remarkable because of the presence of guitarist
Mose Fan Fan, an OK Jazz alumnus. This is the only recording ever released featuring
prominent members of the two best bands in African jazz, Africa 70 and OK Jazz working
An equally glaring omission, which doesn’t even feature in the “selected discography” let alone the body of the text, is Allen’s appearance on Manu Dibango’s 1992 album : “Negropolitaines Vol. 2” (Melodie 85905-
It's hard to believe that a Yale professor specialising in Tony Allen is unaware of the existence of this recording. Perhaps it was omitted because he and/or Allen felt uncomfortable with its title. Had the album been called something like “Afrojazz Cosmopolitanism in Paris vol 2,” as it might well have been because that is exactly what Dibango and his musicians were trying to embody, the esteemed Professor Veal would surely have been all over it. Misguided or not, the title of the album was an attempt, to reclaim and decolonise the term “Negro.” Whatever the reason for its complete omission from the book: it is a great shame, not only because it contains some of Tony Allen’s best drumming,but also because it is one of the definitive African jazz albums of the 1990 and a landmark in the careers of the musicians involved.
The project was stimulating for all the participants because they faced three challenges
of, unusually for all of them, making a purely instrumental album; of reinterpreting
neglected compositions by major African composers of the past and of recording with
Tony Allen for the first time. The musicianship was made all the more mouth-
Nevertheless, despite such omissions, Tony Allen’s autobiography will surely make
its mark as a beautifully written and thought provoking volume that is enlightening
about subjects that are not even mentioned. For example, it enormously increases
one’s respect for the other African kit drummers who have managed to make a career
in Europe such as Manu Katché and Brice Wassy who have not only survived but have
taken Allen’s musical advances and developed them in contexts far beyond Afrobeat.
Tony Allen is such a shrewd observer of the African music scene that one longs to
know what he makes of such players and, of course, of his great but utterly contrasting
contemporary, South Africa’s Louis Moholo-
When it comes to the portrait of the musical relationship that has defined Tony Allen’s life, the book is lucid and moving. The rounded and credible portrait of Fela that emerges, the highs and lows of their troubled relationship and Tony Allen’s insight into the music they made make for what, in all probability, will come to be regarded as one of the best loved books ever be written about African music.
A more difficult question is what the implications of this book will be for Fela’s
reputation in the long term. What are we to make of Fela’s managerial style and the
way he seems to have mistreated his musicians? The obvious accusation is it he seems
to have been just as bad as the Nigerian politicians he lampooned. How would Fela
respond to such an accusation? At a guess, he would argue that the question be looked
at and answered in an African way and that his style of leadership was truly African:
that of a largely and essentially benign headman who maintained his position by keeping
everyone on their toes. If Tony Allen were to refer the matter to the “African Court”
presided over by the “great wise chief” described in in Fela’s song “Cross Examination
of the African Colonial Soldier,” what would happen? Fela’s defence team would undoubtedly
highlight numerous entirely genuine mitigating circumstances that occurred during
the tensions with Allen, not least the violent death of his mother at the hand’s
of the Nigerian military. If Fela was successfully prosecuted, one would like to
believe the trial would end in forgiveness amid good-
Finally of course some readers might wish to know what Tony Allen’s position in jazz is? Delightfully, wisely and proudly, Africans and Afrobeat musicians in particular dislike straightforward answers to such questions. And anyway who could give a definitive answer? Mr Allen? Or Professor Veal? The best answer might come from Fela, who musically was first and foremost a lover of jazz. We can't ask him for obvious reasons but, thanks to this marvellous book, we can read how he chose to complement Allen when hearing him and Africa 70 play “No Accommodation,” one of his earliest compositions:
“ ‘Allenko, you are there -
The “great wise chief,” referred to above, might also smile and enquire: what is the right question to ask? Mightn’t it be more appropriate to ask whether or not there has ever been a jazz drummer better than Tony Allen? Or to put it another way: is Tony Allen merely “The Master Drummer of Afrobeat” or is he simply the master drummer period?
Track of the month: -
Antoine “Papa Noël” Ndule Monswet has been one of the top guitarists in African jazz for more than 50 years. There has never been a major guitarist in the music who could boast such weight of years. Nor is it likely that anyone ever again will attain his stature because he worked as electric guitar soloist for the only two Grand Masters of Congolese music ever elected by that country’s musicians union: Le Grand Kalle, whose seminal band African Jazz set the ball rolling in Congolese jazz and Luambo Makiadi Franco, who’s matchless Tout Puissant OKJazz ,later renamed Bana OK, was Africa’s most popular and important band for decades thereafter.
Alongside Papa Noël’s participation in these and other groups, since the early 1980s he has released infrequent solo albums some of which such as, “Bon Smaritain” and “Haute Tension” both partially reissued on the “Bel Ami” compilation, are among the best ever jazz guitar recordings from Africa. Happily, his latest offering “Color,” which is neither a band nor a solo album but rather a duo with the French accordionist VivianeA finds him at his best and is is an object lesson in Congolese jazz.
When Noël hung up his electric guitar about a decade ago and opted to focus solely on acoustic work it seemed an absolutely bizarre course of action. With hindsight, and as has no doubt happened frequently during his long, distinguished career, Noël was actually ahead of his time in doing so and, looking back, there is no doubt that it was a wise and prescient course of action. The fact of the matter is that electric guitar solos, the staple of Congolese music for decades, have pretty much gone out of fashion. Likewise, Noël’s decision to make a second duo album, the first being a live recording with the Cuban acoustic guitarist, vocalist and composer Adan Pedroso that was excellent in parts, may prove to be ahead of its time too. Certainly, “Color” is a beautiful recording ,which is greater than the sum of its parts. Noël’s playing is understated and subtle, while still sparkling with the unbridled excitement that is the hallmark of Congolese music. The intimate setting and the fact that he is the only guitarist enable us to hear all this as never before. What is more, it is patently obvious that he is enjoying himself and that he and his musical partner, accordionist VivianneA, have a genuine and tangible musical rapport. Her singing in duet with Noël, whose vocals have never been heard at such length before, is affecting too and proof of the special musicality of Lingala.. A forerunner, it is to be hoped, of numerous other Western musicians learning to sing in this most musical of tongues. Listen for example to their vocals on “Margarita.” Her accompaniment on the accordion is equally sensitive and effective, for example on the gorgeous folkloric track “Calabasse.” But inevitably, it’s Noël’s guitar playing and skill as a composer, that steals the show. Listen for example to his playing on the instrumental “Flamme” on which he demonstrates that despite his venerable pedigree and white beard, he is more than capable of blowing the listener’s socks off.
The more intrepid lover of Congolese acoustic guitar is also likely to be fascinated by two major new recordings featuring Papa Noël’s heir apparent: Olivier Tshimanga. Like Noël, Tshmanga made his name as an electric guitar soloist in the Congolese jazz style working alongside the rhythm guitarist, composer and bandleader Le Poète Lutumba Simaro, in Bana OK formerly known as the aforementioned T.P.OK Jazz. From several excellent live DVDs Bana OK released at the start of the last decade, it was crystal clear that Tshimaga’s inspirational solos and playing galvanised this great juggernaut of a band to a level of excitement not experienced since their former leader Franco’s passing. . From that point on, Olivier Tshmanga was established as one of the top jazz guitarists in Africa who’s every move has been closely watched by those in the know. In recent years, in parallel with and perhaps inspired by Noël, Tshimanga has eschewed the electric guitar and concentrated on acoustic and semi acoustic work, arranging and composing; not usually as a solo artist but rather as a contributor to albums by the likes of Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, Bozi Boziana and Côte d’Ivoire’s Meiway. The two new releases which feature his playing and arranging are both under the leadership of singer/ omposer Ferre Gola with whom he has also worked, on and off, for many years.
Tshimanga’s growing association with Ferre Gola is symptomatic of this great popular
singer’s increasingly evident affinity with jazz. Gola made his name performing alongside
major mainstream stars such as Koffi Olomide and Werrason and has gone on on to develop
a hugely successful solo career and. like them, is by now an A list Congolese star.
At the same time, with relatively low-
On the vocal side Gola’s singing is complemented by that of an unidentified voice
with whom he perrforms in duet. This mysterious figure has a far deeper voice than
Gola’s for whom he fulfils a role that is utterly Congolese: halfway between an atalaku
and a true singer, often providing introductions, commentary and even advertisements
with his distinctive half sung voice. Artists of this sort often perform with their
backs to the audience -
Such an instrumental line-
On the footage of the most compelling track “100 Kilos,” for example, it is rather wonderful to see Olivier Tshimanga, a live performer of magnetic charisma, firing up the string section by virtually conducting them with the neck of his guitar,whilst grinning, dancing and playing beautifully. Intriguingly, this particular composition dates back to 2005 when Gola and Thshimanga collaborated on the double album “Miracles” by the short lived super group Les Maquis de Maison Mère. Comparing the new version with the original is instructive because it demonstrates the progress Gola has made as a vocalist. He is a singer whose power lies not so much in the beauty of his voice, but in the artistry with which he uses it and this is why his stature and popularity have increased so greatly since 2005: he is simply a far more accomplished and skilled performer than he used to be. This is surely why the album is entitled “Showcase:” The whole purpose of the novel instrumentation, arrangements and beautiful guitar parts is to create the perfect backdrop for Gola’s by now stupendous singing.
Unfortunately however, the album doesn’t quite live up to its promise. For one thing,
it is unclear what type of recording this is meant to be. The footage, some of the
singing and instrumentation seem to come from a live performance but much of the
instrumentation one hears can’t actually be seen and presumably consists of overdubs
including, bizarrely, some truly dreadful canned applause. Also, Gola’s singing,
while beautiful by anyone else’s standards, is somehow slightly below par. It’s difficult
to pinpoint exactly why this is: did the novel instrumentation make him slightly
ill at ease perhaps? It is as is as if he is trying slightly too hard. All the tampering
with overdubs arouses the same suspicion -
Happily, Gola’s new double studio album, “Boîte Noire,” (= black box), available as two separate CDs, also features Olivier Tshimanga as acoustic guitarist and arranger on most tracks. However, the album needs to come with a health warning for jazz lovers because Gola is a major star with a band, fan base and background akin to Werason & Wenge Maison Mère’s or Fally Ipupa’s; so the album is by no means all Congolese jazz. Rather, t is aimed fair and square at the mainstream Congolese market and is designed to maintain Gola’s status as a star. The title track, a bona fide hit, and first and last tracks on the second CD, for example, are full on dance floor workouts in n the Wenge style at its most raucous and there are also ballads reminiscent of Koffi Olomide’s recent work. It also needs to be stressed that, in the usual Congolese manner, many tracks, including all the more raucous ones, although credited to him as composer don’t actually feature Gola’s singing at all.
Despite these caveats, this is an album in which the jazz lover will find much to
savour. The tracks on which Ferre Gola actually does perform all have elements of
jazz, as do many of the others..Tshimanga’s playing and arranging feature prominently.
There is admirable melodic bass playing and Gola's array of singers, including his
long term associate Biva Ray, are of a consistently high standard. Their singing
and the vocal arrangements are gorgeous, exhibiting sensibilities and skill refined
by frequent live performance. Rather confusingly, several tracks feature a lead vocalist
referred to as a protégé who sings in a Gola-
It is notable that Tshmaanga and all the musicians on the album sound more relaxed on the tracks which don’t feature Gola as a performer. At a guess ,they are circumspect when Gola is at the microphone because they believe that what he has in that mysterious black box of his is sheer, unadulterated, flesh and blood genius.
Is Ferre Gola a genius? This is the sort of conundrum that leaves critics lost for words, but fortunately, in this instance, the ever effervescent Congolese have done the job for us. With catechistic wit, they have coined a nickname for Gola which explains in three words why they believe they have, walking in their midst, one of the greatest singers that ever lived. In view of what they regard as the supreme subtlety of Gola’s vocal style, they call him “Jesus de Nuances,” the Jesus of Nuance.
Whether they are right or not is for you, the reader, to judge but when a nation as musically sophisticated and important as DR Congo starts enthusing about one of their sons to this extent, it is time for the world to sit up and take note for the simple reason that the Congolese know a great deal more about their music than anyone else does. The correct way to answer the question for yourself is to listen to the music in the way it is intended to be appreciated which is not merely by playing it but by it being listened to attentively again and again. Not an easy task, admittedly, with a complex double album featuring lots of performers and more than one genre but possible surely, if one focuses on one or two songs.
For this purpose, the track “Kiti Ya Libala” is recommended. It starts off with a half spoken introduction by the male vocalist that was heard but not seen on “Acoustique Showcase 1789,” in which he sets the tone stating, in French, that that love is a crocodile on the river of desire. Ferre Gola's vocal begins with a sentence containing the word “Pourquoi” (meaning “Why”).In the mixture of Limgala and French that follow, Gola in conjunction with the first voice we heard allude, it seems, to everything under the sun including: movies, sex, politics, witchcraft, cosmology and folklore. The music moves slowly but with undeniable power like a crocodile through water driven by a melodic bass line and Olivier Tshimanga’s thoroughbred acoustic guitar . There are equally powerful contributions from the vocal chorus who are deployed like the horn section of a big band. The piece climaxes with a sebene like increase in tempo and the feeling that the crocodile has reached its destination.
“Kiti Ya Libala” is an interesting composition that keeps the listener’s attention and suggests that Gola’s skill as a composer, previously the weak point in his musical armoury, has strengthened. You may find the syrupy keyboards a destruction: they can most charitably be described as a Parisian delight that doesn't travel well. The key thing however, is to listen, preferably many times, to Gola: the way he bends and shades each note, speeds up, slows down, savours every word and phrase.
If this experience leaves you cold, so be it. At least, hopefully, you will have
gained an insight into just how skilled Gola and his musicians are. If, on the other
hand, as so many Congolese do, you find yourself moved to the verge of tears by Gola’s
singing and then feel, especially towards the end of the track that you would like
Those seeking a more conventional Congolese album replete with guitar solos to dance
the night away to need look no further than Jeaannot Bel’s “Cherie Na Ngai.” Best-
Burkina Fasso may be a name less familiar however because his background and fame
have nothing to do with Congolese jazz but rather with the music of both branches
of Wenge Musica and a host of mainstream Congolese stars. At the height of his influence,
during much of the 1990's and early 2000's, it was obvious to those who followed
such matters that Burkina Faso was a giant figure in Congolese music whose contributions
frequently made a complete mockery of that country’s much vaunted star system. The
fact of the matter was that throughout this period, where it really mattered -
To those who didn't witness it first hand it's difficult to convey just how important
Congolese music was at the time. Across the bulk of a continent more than three times
the size of the US; before the proliferation of mobile phones, the Internet, satellite
TV and Nollywood movies, tracks like “Titanic” and “Kibuisa” were danced to by tens
of millions of people over and over again for months at a time. In the earlier era
of Congolese jazz that stretched from the late 1950's until the 80's,the same had
applied to Papa Nëol’s appearances on tracks such as Franco’s “Mario” and Simao’s
masterpiece “Maya.” Such songs, both from the jazz era and beyond until the beginning
of the current millennium, were much more than mere pieces of music: they were part
of the very fabric of society and daily life. Understood in this light, Burkina Faso’s
participation in Jeannot Bel’s latest project is a remarkable coup, akin to Michael
Jackson rocking up at an open mike night. The occasion is made all the more special
by the fact that Faso is every inch a post-
Those who would do away with the guitar entirely in Congolese music, might try pianist/vocalist/composer Ray Lema’s new quintet album titled “V.S.N.P.” which stands for “Very Special New Production.” Lema is on good form throughout as the equally gifted Cameroonian bass player Etienne M’Bappe. That said, the album is rather an anticlimax after Lema’s last effort: an extraordinary live DVD/CD set with the gigantic Jazz Symphonica de São Paulo, which was always going to be an impossible act to follow.
Track of the Month: -
The Brotherhood of Breath’s “Procession” is actually much more than a reissue because
three and a half of the six tracks featured on the new CD are previously unreleased.
They include the earliest recorded version of Mongezi Feza’s composition “You ain’t
gonna know me ‘cos you think you know me” which over the years has become an African
jazz standard performed frequently by artists such as fellow Blue Note Louis Moholo-
Astonishingly, this isn’t the best track on this remarkable album which may partly
explain why Feza’s masterpiece it didn’t feature on the original 1978 LP. That honour
goes to an 18 minute version of Dudu Pukwana’s “Kwhalo” which gives this glorious
big band an opportunity to stretch out. What a magnificent line:up they had: featuring
all four surviving Blue Notes -
As an aside, fans of the Brotherhood of Breath and the Blue Notes are also pointed
in the direction of a new live recording by Foxes Fox entitled “live at the vortex”
recorded in London in 2007 featuring two key Brotherhood alumni-
Of the handful of African jazz musicians whose careers stretch back longer than Moholo’s,
Congo Brazzaville’s tenor saxophonist, clarinettist, composer and bandleader Max
Masengo is one of the least well known. The reissue of some of his earliest recordings,
apparently compiled by Masengo himself is a noteworthy event. Happily the music
on “Anthology: 1958-
Ultimately however, Masego’s significance in the history of central African jazz
is relatively minor compared to that of the Congolese rhythm guitarist Bopol Mansiamina
whose career has been as long as the relationship between Evan Parker and Louis Moholo-
As a young man, in the late 1960's and at the start of the 1970's he was hand-
The position of the rhythm guitarist in all jazz is often underrated or even overlooked as exemplified by Freddie Greene who worked as Count Basie’s guitarist for decades and also appears on many of Billie Holiday’s greatest recordings. At first hearing, Freddie Greene’s contribution can sound relatively insignificant but just like Count Basie the many great musicians who have hired Bopol over the decades have recognised that his playing fires up the greatest soloists and singers while consistently delivering on the dancefloor. Classic examples of this in Bopol’s case include Tabu Ley’s 1975 hit “Karibu ya Bitou” and Mpongo Love’s equally successful “Ndaya” from the following year. Neither track featured a lead guitarist and both feature the great Empopo Deyesse on sax augmented on “Ndaya’” by the equally gifted keyboardist Ray Lema.
Unlike Freddie Greene however, Bopol has also gifted us a number of solo albums
over the years, three of which have now been newly reissued as digital downloads:
“Manuela” from 1983; the eponymous “Bopol” from the following year and “Innovation”
from 1991. While, none of these albums established Bopol as a truly great solo artist,
they do shed light on his musicianship during what is perhaps the most interesting
part of his career during which Congolese jazz transformed into sukous. The opening
track’s, invariably the most important on Congolese releases of the period, simply
because the rest of the album was never played if the first track wasn’t any good,
are illuminating .These curtain raisers on the first and third albums demonstrate
the radical change in the music vividly. “Manuela” which opens the first album is
irresistibly lovely:the sort of composition and performance that could fit snugly
into the repertoire of Tabu Ley or any of the great Congolese jazz stars. By contrast,
“Djieneba” which opens the 1991 album is a full on soukous workout of the type that
was setting dancefloors alight right across sub-
In its heyday the dominance of Congolese music stretched not merely to Bopol’s domains in Francophone West Africa: it ruled the roost in Anglophone East Africa too as demonstrated in a clutch of fine re releases from the region. Orchestra Super Mazembe’s “Mazembe @ 45rpm” Vol1 (available on CD and as a digital download) and the even better Vol 2 (digital download only) sound like they were designed to be played in a beer garden at high and distorted volume and are the very thing for an old school African braai. Recorded largely by expatriates Congolese musicians working in Kenya with intriguing contributions from others too such as Zambia’s talented maverick Nashil Pichen and the great singer/composer Samba Mapagala who remains a stalwart of the East African jazz scene. This is demonstrated on his excellent recent CD “Maishanimtamu (Life is Sweet)” with Orchestra Virunga and a stellar line up including guitarists Popolop (ex Zaiko), Huit Kilo (ex Tabu Ley/Afrisa) and Syran Mbeza (who along with Bopol was one of Les Quatre Etiolles) together with singer Wuta Mayi (ex OK Jazz and Quatre Etoilles) plus the gifted saxophonist Jimmy Mvondo (Of Jimmy and Fredo fame).
The more adventurous might also like to try the latest double album of obscure reissues
on the Soundway label entitled “Kenya Special selected East African recordings from
the 1970's and 80's” consisting of tracks that mostly sound like they have been selected
for their rarity value rather than their musical quality. As is usual with this label
several tracks have managed to sneak in which are musically interesting such as a
lengthy James Brown style number by the excellent and important Congolese saxophonist
Veckys and his Orchestra Veve entitled “Niarudia” in which he assures a Kenyan female
admirer that he will be back soon while he and his musicians wail the opposite with
their deliciously wayward horns plus a Nashil Pichen track. There’s also at least
one genuine Kenyan gem, by Nairobi Matata Jazz -
The Jazz Maniacs behind Molelekwa’s “Rapela” and Sathima & Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Africa”
Track of he Month: -
Once in a while, a recording comes along that soars above everything else. Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, widely regarded as Africa’s greatest ever jazz pianist, had an extraordinary talent which enabled him to do this all the time. A new and previously unreleased track entitled “Rapela (Live)” featured on the album “Live at Kippie's: 2001 (Set One)” (digital download only) is a case in point.
Many consider Molelekwa’s second solo album, “Genes and Spirits,” the last to be released in his lifetime, to be one of his finest achievements. “Rapela,” was Molelekwa’s own favourite track on the album, and is a good example of what he achieved on “Genes and Spirits” which was to take well known musical styles and rework them into something distinctively his own. In “Rapela’s” case the raw material was Fela Kuti’s afrobeat. There is nothing unusual about drawing on Fela’s influence: in South Africa. f or example, Hugh Masekela, McCoy Mrubata, Oskido, Revolution, Bazwaana have all recorded in this style. But Molelekwa does much more than imitate and pay homage to Fela – this is afrobeat transformed. The original album version of “Rapela” kicked off with brief musical allusions by Molelekwa to the opening bars of Billy Strayhorn's “ Take the A Train” and by his guest drummer, Cameroun’s Brice Wassy, who plays momentarily in the manner of Fela’s superlative kit drummer: Tony Allen. It is as though Molelekwa and Wassey were announcing that they were about to try and do something as ambitious and remarkable as the greatest masters of jazz composition and African rhythm.
After comparing it to a “killer recipe” with many different ingredients Molelekwa described what happens next in “Rapela” as follows “The tune is actually in 4/4, but if you count it with sixteens it becomes something else, some odd time like 16/9, or something like that. Then it goes into a 7/4 groove. So it's just me playing around with time and making it enjoyable and exciting at the same time." (in interview with Adam Haupt, Mail and Guardian, 4 September 1998).There is no disputing the complexity of the composition: the British classical pianist Joanna McGregor who performed the piece in concert duet with Molelekwa found it so hard to learn and play that she habitually referred to it as “The Dreaded Rapela” in the wonderful diary she kept at the time which was published after Molelekwa's death in “Art, Not Chance – nine artist’s diaries;” (Ed Paul Allen; 2001; pp 9 to 21) Anyone wishing to follow in Professor McGregor’s footsteps and master the composition for themselves would be well advised to acquire Molelekwa’s DVD “Live at Nantes” in which he and Wassey can be seen casually and delightedly tapping “Rapela’s” rhythms on their chests in bright sunshine outside the recording studio. Fela himself would have been unable to resist their smiles.
Oddly, the superlative ,new and previously unreleased “Rapela (Live)” which opens “Live At Kippie's 2001 (Set One)” isn’t t a live version, nor does it date from 2001 nor was it recorded in Johannesburg. The reason we can be certain of this is that it features the distinctive voice of the afrementioned Cameroonian drummer Brice Wassy who appeared on the original recording along with the Cameroonian bass player Hilaire Penda. Anyone doubting this should compare the cover version recorded by Wassey in 2010 on the eponymous trio album “Sawadu” on which he is the only vocalist with the voice of the singer who immediately precedes Molelekwa’s final solo on the newly released version. While Wikipedia state correctly that little has been written in prose about Molelekwa, this was not the case in February 2001 when his death at the age of 27 was headline news in South Africa for days and was also widely reported around the world. It is inconceivable that Brice Wassy, one of the greatest drummers in Africa, could have performed live with Molelekwa at Johannesburg’s premiere jazz club Kippie's in the weeks leading up to Molelekwa’s death without anyone in the media noticing. It is infinitely more likely that this wonderful new version of “Rapela,” which is a studio recording, was recorded in 1996 in the UK, probably at Brownhill Farm in Sussex, during the “Genes and Spirits” sessions with Molelekwa on all keyboards and vocals, Wassey on drums, percussion and vocals, Hilaire Penda on bass together with a distinctly South African sounding female vocalist (Lungwiwa Plaatjies perhaps?).
Molelekwa and co-
Those who download this new track and fall in love with it will want to know where
else they can hear Molelekwa play afrobeat. Astoundingly, the answer is – nowhere;
not because Molelekwa’s career was so short but because he wasn’t that kind of musician.
Rather, he was a post modern polymath who was continually digesting different influences
and creating something new. Two excellent examples of this can be found on the other
tracks on “Live At Kippie's 2001 (Set One )” all of which was previously released
on Molelekwa’s “lLve in Jo’burg Nineteen Ninety Nine.” On “Down Rockey Street,” the
studio version of which was the most popular track in South Africa from “Genes and
Spirits,” Molelekwa and his fabulous teenage saxophonist Moses, Khumalo transform
reggae in the same way that ”Rapela” transforms afrobeat and with his beautiful piano
playing on a band version of “Bo Molelekwa” he does the same with the church hymn
These lovely live Molelekwa recordings cannot date from both 1999 and 2001. The absence
of the superb trombonist Mokone Sengane, who was a member of the Molelekwa band that
recorded the definitive live version of “Ntate Moholo” at the North Sea Jazz Festival
in the Netherlands in late 1999 (subsequently released on the posthumous “Wa Mpona”
album) and who played on two excellent albums the band recorded after their leader’s
death (Moses Khumalo’s “Mntungwa” and Pops Mohammed’s “yesterday, today and tomorrow”)
suggests that the earlier date of 1999 is more likely than 2001. A member of the
audience can be heard crying out “Happy New Year” during the version of the track
“Genes and Spirits” and Molelekwa’s impromptu decision to entitle a new composition
“Kippie's Samba” suggested it almost certainly was recorded at Kippie's early one
Wikipedia aren’t able to claim that little has been written about the great South
African torch singer Sathima Bea Benjamin who has had two books written about her
in recent years as well as a chapter in Robin Kelly’s important study “Africa Speaks,
America Answers” and has been the subject of the sublime 2010 DVD `documentary film
“Sathima’s Windsong” written and directed by Daniel Yon. The enjoyable and enlightening
2011book “Musical Echoes: South African women thinking in jazz” co-
Against this background the reissue of her previously virtually unobtainable debut
album release “African Songbird” recorded with her former husband Abdullah Ibrahim
(then known as Dollar Brand) is very welcome news. Recorded in Johannesburg in 1976
shortly before the couple went into political exile, the album came at a crucial
point in both artists’ careers. The first track “Africa” is Sathima’s first recording
of what is surely her masterpiece. This lengthy version features not only Ibrahim,
and arguably the most important of all his musical collaborators: saxophonist/flautist
Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee but also no less than three bassists;, two kit drummers
and a trumpeter in a dense, complex arrangement which seems designed to evoke the
imagined music of Africa north of the Limpopo River. It would be 15 years before
Ibrahim could return to the recording studio with Coetzee and the impact on his music
was both profound and immediate. Their 1991 recording “Mantra Mode” was by far and
away Ibrahim’s best work since he went into exile. Benjamin had to wait even longer
before she got the opportunity to record in South Africa again -
Aside from its considerable historical importance, the album remains musically appealing and offers insight into the musical thinking of all the major players involved. While this first stab at recording “Africa” is nowhere near as good as Benjamin’s definitive 1984 version which can be found on her excellent compilation “Song Spirit”, the dense arrangement of bass players and drummers combined with Ibrahim and Coetzee’s contributions make for compelling listening. The attention and thought given to the arrangement are reminiscent of Ibrahim and Benjamin’s great idol Duke Ellington and his efforts to imagine Africa in his compositions. Moreover, much like Molelekwa’s newly released early version of “Rapela” this version of “Africa” captures the excitement of these great musicians recording this important composition for the first time. On the remaining two tracks, “Music,” and “African Songbird”, Ibrahim’s electric piano is absent and the instrumentation becomes simpler and simpler until only Sathima’s remarkable voice remains. These are not definitive versions of these compositions either. The third and best version of “Music” can also be found on the “Song Spirit” compilation while the best version of the title track “African Songbird” was recently reissued as a bonus track on the excellent “Sathima sings Ellington” album, Nevertheless, this reissue of Benjamin and Ibrahim’s 1976 album “African Songbird” can be warmly recommended to aficionados of both musicians and to Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee’s many devotees.
By far the most important new reissue of South African jazz is a compilation of tracks recorded in the first half of the last century which accompanies the new and expanded edition of Christopher Ballantine’s book “Marabi Nights: jazz, ‘race’ and society in early apartheid South Africa.” This revelatory compilation first appeared as a separate cassette tape that was available alongside the original 1993 first edition of the book. One of the tracks, the superb marabi workout “Zulu Piano Medley, No.1: Part 1” recorded in 1944 by the otherwise obscure Thomas Mabiletsa was subsequently released on CD by Gallo as the opening track of their excellent “From Marabi to Disco” compilation but the other tracks are new to CD .
Foremost among them are two tracks recorded in 1939 which the author describes as follows:
“Undoubtedly the most brilliant recorded examples of early South African big-
Of the two sides the Jazz Maniacs cut that day “Izikhalo Zika Zuluboy” is especially powerful, It is described by David Coplan, the other great scholar specialising in this period, as “the first marabi jazz recording” (“In Township Tonight,” 2008 2nd ed, p 164). It combines forceful swing trumpet with Marabi piano; a call and response lament about life in Johannesburg with memorable drumming and a horn section led by Zuluboy himself on first alto sax.
It is difficult to be certain of the exact personnel on these 1939 Jazz Maniac’s sides. From contemporary accounts by Walter M. B. Nhlapo and a photo of the band annotated by Ballantine in “The World of South African Music: A Reader” (Ed. Christine Lucia, 2005, p 187 it is possible to speculate but impossible to be certain about the exact identity of the trumpet soloist, lead vocalist an drummer. But the musical lineage between the Jazz Maniacs we can identify and later South African jazz is astonishingly direct. The greatest of all South Africa’s jazz stars,alto saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Kippie Moeketsi ,who played with and was idolised by Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor and many others, was himself inspired to take up jazz by his elder brother Jacob who was the Jazz Maniacs pianist. Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, like many of his generation, stressed that his primary inspiration lay not with Ibrahim and the other jazz exiles but rather with the musicians that had flourished in their absence:
"Abdullah [Ibrahim] inspired me to choose my direction and be confident in it. But the musical tradition I'm picking up on… is much more the jazz fusion tradition of great bands like Sakhile in the 1980s." (Molelekwa quoted in Mail and Guardian, 26 May 1995)
. Sakhile’s keyboard player,Jabu Nkosi,was the eldest son of the Jazz Maniacs’ most celebrated alumnus,, Issac “Zacks” Nkosi, who was second altoist at the time the 1939 sides wee made. Zacks Nkosi went on to become a major star in his own right in the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s prompting the reissue of three CDs of his material by Gallo and EMI n the early 1990’s. His exceptional gifts as a saxophonist and composer are exemplified by his beautiful track “”B.M.S.C.” (= Bantu Men’s Social Club) recorded in the 1950's or early 60's and reissued on the EMI CD “Our Kind of Jazz” CDORG (WL)1026 (40640942). His, son Jabu Nkosi, of the celebrated group Sakhile so beloved of Molelekwa and his generatuon, made only one solo album, recorded in 1997, entitled “Remembering Bra Zacks” consisting of cover versions of his father’s material.
Slomon ‘Zuluboy’ Cele was at the cutting edge of South African jazz for a consuderable period, initially as a pioneering Marabi pianist and then, for the last ten years of his life as leader and alto saxophonist with the Jazz Maniacs. Scholars such as Ballantine situate his musical career in the political context of the day, with Ballantine in particular stressing that the now banned ANC Youth League was started by Nelson Mandela and his peers in exactly the same period and neighbourhood that Zuluboy Cele was murdered, This cocktail of radical politics and inexplicable violence resonates both with Sathima’s tireless and courageous work with the ANC for which she has since been decorated and with Moses and Flo Molelekwas’ senseless deaths and their commitment to Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness movement.
To sum up, as reissues go, hearing the Jazz Maniacs’ seminal 1939 recordings on CD for the first time is little short of miraculous – akin almost, to stumbling across that apocryphal Buddy Bolden 78. Absolutely unmissable.
It's much too early to say whether or not any of the crop of new jazz releases from South Africa will measure up to these giants of the past, but of the new releases two stand out as being worth a listen. Both feature musicians who have considerable reputations at home but remain virtually unknown abroad.
The mountainous and independent minded realm of Switzerland has long been a delightful
exception to such generalities. A cherished recording by the still hugely underrated
The same decade has seen the reputation and popularity of jazz songstress Judith Sephuma consistently rise within South Africa while failing to get off the ground anywhere else with recordings that have often sounded glib and saccharine, not helped at all by an almost unbearably self congratulatory and overblown performance on a concert DVD released last year to mark her first 10 years in the business. Her latest offering, unpromisingly, is an unashamed foray into full on gospel music in the form of another concert DVD entitled "The Experience In Concert." Happily, those able to endure or enjoy such material are in for a pleasant surprise. Sephuma's singing on this release is genuinely first rate and at long last one is able to appreciate what it is that appeals so much to her many fans. Improbable though it may seem, this is the best new release by an African female jazz vocalist of the year to date thus far and, in this critic's estimation, by a considerable margin Sephuma's best recording to date.
Track of the month – “Indlal'ibhokile” by Herbie Tsoaeli’s album “African Time” (South Africa)
Herbie Tsoaeli’s “African Time” has deservedly won the 2013 South African Music Award
(SAMA) for jazz. From the moment it came out, this supremely good album has been
winning more and more admirers not only forTsoael’s double bass playing, composing,
arranging and singing but also for the extraordinarily high standard of musicianship
of Tsoaeli’s collaborators throughout. It will surely be remembered as one of the
best South African jazz studio recordings of the current decade -
Other fine 2013 nominations for this most prestigious award in South African jazz
included Tutu Puoane’s “Breathe,” arguably the best African jazz recording by a female
vocalist since the start of last year and, to these ears, a better album than Angelique
Kidjo’s “Spirit Rising” which recently won Songlines magazine’s annual prize for
African music. Either way, Puoane is certainly a major jazz diva in the making. Likewise,
fellow nominee Kyle Sheppard’s “South African History !X” showcases an important
young talent. Indeed, many regard this gifted multi-
What it is also surprising perhaps, is that neither the winner nor any of the nominees
for South Africa’s other major jazz award – Metro FM’s prize for Contemporary South
African Jazz -
Other nominees for Metro FM’s contemporary jazz award include two young female singer
songwriters who sound like they’re more intent on achieving the kind of success enjoyed
by artists like Zahara and Asa than winning over jazz critics. Maleh’s “Step Child”
is certainly well sung and well played but the jazz content is slight. With its come
hither lyrics and a tilt at fame and celebrity, this is an album whose main intent
is surely commercial Whatever her true merits, Maleh has certainly won over the powers
that be at SAMA who awarded her the prize for Best Adult African album The other
Metro FM contemporary Jazz nominations which it has been possible to track down are
the equally commercial “Conquering Spirit” by Berita which won Metro FM’s Best African
Pop Album award but which also lacks much in the way of jazz interest but sounds,
nonetheless, rather less soulless than “Step Child.” Finally, female singer-
The apparent disconnect between Metro FM and SAMA about what constitutes jazz raises
some interesting questions. Drawing the line between jazz and the rest of music is
always a difficult business, especially in the case of vocalists but nowhere more
so than in contemporary South Africa. There are two fundamental reasons for this:
firstly, jazz is genuinely popular in South Africa, more so, arguably, than in any
other country on the planet. So musicians and audiences alike are generally more
aware of and alive to the possibilities of jazz than they are elsewhere which means
that elements of jazz tend to spill over into contemporary pop music much more than
they do elsewhere. Secondly, and more importantly, as right across sub-
While this may create a dilemma for those whose job it is to act as judge for jazz
awards in South Africa, for the rest of us it brings incalculable blessings. South
Africa’s popular music is infinitely more interesting to the jazz lover than that
of almost anywhere else and this year’s South African music awards and nominees for
categories other than jazz illustrate this point richly. Who for, example, is a better
Hammond organ player in contemporary jazz than the Soul Brothers Black Moses, whose
album “Isiphithiphithi” deservedly wins this musical institution their umpteenth
SAMA.? Black Moses’ many devotees with a jazz bent will also salivate at the prospect
of getting their hands on his latest release “Mbaqanga Jazz” recorded in partnership
with the great saxophonist McCoy Mrubata. Sadly, this mouth-
A good example of a younger artist who has dabbled in jazz and who at her best will excite jazz lovers is Kelly, Kumalo who’s “The Past, The Present, The Future” wins her the SAMA for Female Artist of the Year. From a jazz perspective, this is a rather patchy album. There is a duet sung in English with Sibongile Khumalo and some fine vocals on other tracks but this album isn’t as jazzy as her debut “TKO” which featured some great bone fide jazz performances.
The one thing, the SAMA and Metro FM judges do agree about is the Kalawa Jazmee label’s gifted protégé Professor who’s “The Orientation,” reviewed here in January, deservedly wins both their prizes for Best Kwaito Album of 2013 ; However,. those wishing to hear Kalawa Jazmee’s best and most popular current offering simply must check out Mafikizolo’s ccomeback album “Reunited”.
Mafikizolo’s many successes include “Ndihamba Nawe” from their 2002 album”Sibongile," winner of Song of the Decade at the 10th Metro FM Awards and a massive hit everywhere that mattered from London’s Naija dancefloors to Joseph Hellon's shows in Nairobi The long awaited new album “Reunited”, their first since 2006, currently dominates South Africa’s music charts. The interesting thing,in relation to this column,is that Mafikizolo are easily the jazziest major Pan African pop act today and have spent more than a decade skilfully blending contemporary dance floor rhythms (notably kwaito and South African house)with retro elements of South African jazz (marabi, kwela, jive, etc.) reflected in a visual image that evokes the dress sense and style of Sophiatown and the heyday of South Africa’s jazz
Their new release maintains their high standards and combines all these elements in a rich and delicious selection of songs which is like a box of delicious Belgian chocolates. The chief ingredients are the contributions of Mafikizolo’s two surviving members Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza, the third, Tebogo Madingoane, having been shot and killed in an incident on Valentine’s Day 2004 which illustrates that the Johannesburg Mafikizolo inhabit is at least as edgy and violent as Sophiatown ever was. After their long period apart, Nhlanlha’s sensitive singing of Theo’s lyrics sounds even better than of yore . She has an unmistakable and subtle way of shading notes and phrases which, along with the combination of her voice with Theo’s are the most instantly recognisable aspect of their sound. The weight of years and ,doubtless, the experience of tragedy have added depth to their music and as a male and female vocal duo, on “Khani Mjongeni” for instance, they are now undoubtedly the greatest Africa has known since the heyday of the partnerships between Mbilia Bel/Tabu Ley Rochereau and LettaMbulu/Caiphus Semenya.
Another distinctive feature of their sound,in today’s world, is their love of live instruments. Listen for example to the gorgeous but uncredited sax and flute duet on Spikiri’s characteristically and irresistibly melodic “Saka Harabe Bone;” the sparse, graceful, Ellingtonesque piano and keyboards throughout the album, exemplified by Ma Piano’s solo on the hit single “Khona,” and the equally compelling guitar work from Khaya Mthiyane,Ggodfrey Sleso and Sunnyboy Mthimunye. As ever, the University of Kalawa Jazmee’s dance orientated production rewards careful listening too; for example,in their intriguing reworking of the beat from Professor’s superlative “Shoba Shobane” on “Happiness” The production is so sophisticated and discreet that, at times, it is difficult to know what is played by live instruments and what is electronic. What is beyond doubt is that the contributions of both are superb and include on the electronic side Mafikizolo’s long term collaborator Oskido and new Kalawa recruits Uhuru (DJ Clap, Maphorisa and Xelimpilo) together with , on the live instruments side, left handed electric bassist Tshepo Mohlala,and drummer Bethuel Mbonani . The artistry of Kalawa stalwart Bruce “Dope” Seblito in mixing all this into a seamless and unmistakable Mafikizolo album is considerable. In doing so, he had to contend with a cosmopolitan variety of international styles too: such as Naija jam, (“Happiness”) Latin (“Amor Da Mia Vida”), afrobeat (“Kuze Kuse”) reggae (“Luna Mandla”) and old school kwaito (“Ngenxa Ka Thixo”).
All these ingredients make “Reunited” even better than that box of Belgian chocolates because you can swallow the whole lot guilt free and grin from ear to ear while you dance. What is more, repeating the experience can only mutiply the elation and exercise. In short Makikizolo’s “Reunited” is a cure all and currently the outstanding front runner in the contest for African jazz party album of the year.
Recent efforts by similarly minded South African multi voice jazz/popular music outfits such as the Bala Brothers’ DVD “Live at Emperors Palace “,” and the Jaziel Brothers “The Journey Defined” are enjoyable too but neither comes remotely close to the, potency and popular appeal of Mafikizolo.
Two CD/DVD set retrospectives “Dorothy Masuka: The Ultimate Collection” and “Sipho Mabuse: The Ultimate Collection” illustrate that the delicious intertwining of jazz and popular song in South Africa goes back decades. The documentation for both sets is lamentably poor but both feature excellent compilation CDs and accompanying DVDs of latter day live performances. A particular treat is the last track on the Sipho Mabuse DVD – a ravishing, raucous live version of the hit song “Harare” performed in a theatre in South Africa circa 1990 featuring Hotstix himself and a youthful Sibongile Khumalo in a wonderful vocal and dance duet backed by, among others, Hugh Masekela on flugelhorn, Khaya Mahlangu on flute and a teenage Moses Taiwa Molelekwa on piano. This is, by a considerable margin, the earliest performance by both Molelekwa and Khumalo available on DVD and also the earliest example on film of Masekela playing back in South Africa after his decades in exile. More importantly, the performance is a tour de force for everyone involved.
The wide appeal of jazz in South Africa is also evident in devotional music. At this years SAMA awards gospel organist Sizwe Zako, deservedly won a lifetime achievement award. Anyone doubting the jazz content in his playing is strongly advised to check out his solo instrumental albums as well as his better known work with gospel stars such as Rebecca Malope. But the biggest jazz star on the South African gospel scene is unquestionably the guitarist composer and vocalist Jonathan Butler whose superb album “Grace and Mercy” was nominated for Best Contemporary Faith Music Album. Butler’s vocals on this album are simply sublime and the compositions catchy: an an irresistible album even by this great artist’s high standards.
Heaven knows how the critics and panels of award judges will categorise the newly
released “A Celebration of Togetherness” by the Southern Rhythms All-
None of the original sources of this music constitute jazz but the album will garner
the attention of the jazz fraternity for two reasons. First off, by any reckoning,
Pops Mohamed is part of Africa’s jazz aristocracy with an extensive discography and
a devoted following. Judged as a Pops Mohamed album “A Celebration of Togetherness”
is superb -
Track of the month -
The expression “tradi-
From Congo Brazzaville, comes “Sur La Route Des Caravannes” by Les Tambours de Brazza.
This large percussion ensemble, founded in 1992, play in an abundance of styles
featuring rumba, hip-
In many world music lovers’ minds however the real centre of Africa’s tradi-
Not even Kouyaté however can match the raw f excitement generated by the Ethiopian
krar virtuoso Mèssèlè Asmamou on the CD “Maratch Musica” by Trio Kazanchis. Anyone
doubting this needs to hear the standout track “Ayné hulgizé vèsasaleshal,” on which
the other members of this superlative Switzerland-
Those looking to chill out after such high octane offerings are advised to check out Monoswezi’s “The Village” on which Zimbabwean traditional instruments and music meet Scandinavian jazz. Attractive delicate interaction between mbira, sax and double bass are the order of the day for example on a lovely track entitled “Nhemamsasa.” This is a well thought out, coherent release which will appeal to many at the end of a busy day – a beautiful and relaxing listening experience.
South African saxophonist, composer and music impresario Steve Dyer’s “Ubuntu Music” is equally chilled but despite the presence of his son Bokani Dyer on piano, who is excellent throughout, and the highly rated young trumpeter Lwanda Gogwana, this pleasant sounding album is ultimately rather dull. Steve Dyer’s sax and compositions simply aren’t sufficiently inspiring. On the plus side the album includes a fitting tribute to Dr Philip Tabane and his group on atrack entitled “Malombo” and one other track “Threads 2 of (for Marie)” which is appealing but on balance one is left with the impression that this is a rather calculatingly commercial cocktail kind of jazz destined to be used as Muzak in the less adventurous South African household. The inclusion of this release in the short list for this year’s South African mMsic Award (SAMA) i for jazz s therefore a bit surprising.
A not quite so chilled but much better South African jazz album is Norman Chauke’s
“Jazz Dikas No. 2” justly subtitled “Smooth Shangane Jaaazzz.” This Chauke album
is even better than the promising 2008 solo debut by this fine Trinity College London
educated pianist, composer and vocalist who cites Abdullah Ibrahim, Ellington and
Zim Nqawana as influences. On this second solo album, he uses the same top flight
trio as on the first consisting of Jeph Nomvete on alto sax; Steve Mabona on bass
and Jerry Dibakoane on drums. But on the best track “Song of Samuel,” the bassist
is omitted creating space for Chauke to demonstrate the excellence of his left hand.
On this fabulous song he and saxophonist Nomvete evoke comparison not so much with
Ibrahim and Zim Nqawana but with pianist/composer/vocalist Pat Matshikiza, the peerless
alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi and their timeless jazz standard “Tshona.” To these
ears “Song for Samuel” is easily one of the greatest South African jazz tracks of
the decade to date and deserves to be widely heard: It’s one of those performances
which simply sounds out of this world and gets better and better as it progresses
to a beautiful solo towards the end by the pianist who then exchange is exquisitely
lly timed phrases with the saxophonist who sounds equally good. This breathtaking
work out would romp into the track of the month slot were it not for the fact that
although the album has only just emerged on the global market, it seems to have been
released in South Africa back in 2011. Expertly chilled “Smooth Shangane Jaaazzz”
it may be, but did the marketing really need to be quite so laid-
Another notable feature of Norman Chauke’s album is that although highly effective
in evoking shangane tradition, he doesn’t actually use traditional instruments. His
chanting and rhythms combined with call and response patterns with his musicians
are more than enough to create a convincing and enchanting tradi-
So could it be perhaps that tradi-
Track of the month – “Yakhal' Inkomo” by Winston Mankunku Ngozi from his 1968 LP “Yakhal' Inkomo” (available from iTunes)
In the sleeve notes for the original 1968 LP, Ray Nkwe, President of the Jazz Appreciation Society of South Africa, commented on “Yakhal’ Nkomo,” the title track of tenor saxophonist and composer Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s debut album:
“… Literally translated “Bellowing Bull.” The sound of the bull bellowing mournfully at the loss of one of his kind, is one from deep down in his heart. It is with this sound captured musically, that Mankunku expresses his deep grief at the loss of one of the greatest tenor players in the world, Daddy Trane, as he called the late John Coltrane.”
The track quickly established itself as a South African jazz standard and to this day can be heard performed every night in jazz clubs all over the country. There is no jazz lover or jazz musician in the country that doesn’t know “Yahal Nkomo” and there have been myriad recorded cover versions. Recent examples include drummer Vusi Khumalo’s ambitious rearrangement on his double CD “Reasons for Seasons;” Nomofundo’s vocal version with Buddy Wells on sax on her promising debut album “Kusile” reviewed on this site in March and above all the Kevin Davidson Ouartet’s version on their CD “Breathing Winston Living John” for which robust tenor player Davidson concisely explains the spirit of “Yakhal’ Inkomo” in his own sleeve note :
“This ain’t no background music album. Play this music LOUD/ It’s rock that needs to be played softly not jazz.”
But what was it exactly that the 23-
The contribution that musicians like Mankunku made to the struggle against apartheid is incalculable and will always live on as a permanent testimony to the power of jazz and “Yakhal’ Inkomo” will live on as a piece of music with which to vent one’s spleen. It remained the greatest expression of raw hurt and mournful rage in African jazz until the release of Franco’s monumental “Attention Na SIDA” in `987.
Coltrane’s role was not inconsiderable either, nor has his influence on African jazz been restricted to the southernmost tip of the continent. Lágbájá, the great masked Nigerian saxophonist, composer, singer and band leader cites Coltrane as a major influence as of course do Ghana’s unique small band Accra Trane Station. Their extraordinary Coltrane inspired music features Nii Noi Nortey on afrifones (an array of traditional Ghanaian wind instruments modified to incorporate sax mouthpieces),and Nii Otoo Annan on a drum kit played with jazz drum sticks but assembled from traditional drums together with American academic Stephen Feld on squeeze box bass (ashiwa). Feld gives an account of his role in these recordings in his recent book “Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra.” A compilation/companion CD of the same name has been released separately. This purportedly scholarly work is in fact a thoroughly humane and endearing narrative account of Feld’s attempt in Ghana, encumbered by the title “prof,” recording and photographic equipment, a car, and many of the resources one expects from a citizen of the wealthiest nation on earth,to try and engage with and understand Accra’s musical landscape and especially those aspects of it which relate to jazz. It’s a joy to read and includes priceless accounts of incidents such as Ghanaba’s (Guy Warren’s) extraordinary funeral in which he was cremated standing up having been embalmed in this fashion and with his drum sticks in his hands; and Warren’s marvellous anecdotal account of Louis Armstrong’s recollections of his first visit to Ghana, which is arguably, one of the defining moments in the history of jazz. Indeed, Guy Warren, who Robin Kelly in his marvellous book “Africa speaks, America answers” so justly describes as “enigmatic” looms large throughout Feld’s book and much of the music it prompted. Feld summarises the key issue about Warren as follows:
“… I can only continue to feel an anxious irony about how Guy Warren, Ghana’s most famous jazz musician, comes into the ring swinging that the whole narrative of American jazz as a site of racial pride is a racist insult to Africans because it freezes them in the past and denies them both a real historical and contemporary presence.”
In relation to the discussion of the term “trad – modern” in this column last month, Warren’s perspective would surely be that Africans play contemporary African music regardless of whether they use traditional instruments or not. It is likely that he would be suspicious of the expression which has been coined to describe contemporary African music played on traditional instruments. and might well argue that the expression has a racist undertone. The definitive answer however is to be found in Warren’s own music, two important examples of which are to be found on the “Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra” companion CD. “Eyi Wala Dong” (That Happy Feeling) comes from his legendary and hitherto completely unobtainable 1957 album “Africa Speaks, America Answers” which was the firsr African jazz LP. The second is his extraordinary “Hallelujah Finale” which combined a new performance of “That Happy Feeling” with Ghana’s National Anthem and the climax of Handel’s “Messiah” recorded towards the end of his career, recorded and filmed live by Feld and previously only available on a prohibitively expensive teaching aid DVD. These tracks alone make the “Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra” CD a must have issue. They also demonstrate that Ghanaba/ Guy Warren’s jazz defies categorization.
The late South African saxophonist, multi-
Despite the fact that this set is recorded on conventional jazz instruments, subjectively
it sounds more convincingly rooted in African traditions than Accra Trane Station’s
four albums The singing and the audience’s enthusiastic response are factors in this
because it is self-
Recent reissues of Blay Ambolley’s superb first albun “Simigwa,” Ebo Taylor’s “Conflict” and early Osibisa albums “Heads” and “Happy Children” all demonstrate the lasting impact of danceband highlife. Ambolley has a Coltrane connection too in that more recently he has developed, arguably, into Africa’s greatest and most distinctive purveyor of cover versions of African American jazz standards such as “All Blues” and “Round Midnight” but it’s the question about Guy Warren’s influence on all these stalwarts of 1970s Ghanaian music that is more interesting. Kevin Davidson, the Mankunku devotee quoted above, wouldn’t approve of Osibisa’s highlife derived rock but the band’s trumpeter, Mac Tontoh, who began his career as a dance band highlife musician, was one of the few people able to coax the elusive Guy Warren into the recording studio in the latter part of his career. Warren appears on Torontoh’s excellent Ghana recorded solo CD “Rhythms and Sounds.” Osibisa’s own early albums sound dated but remain historically importance because Osibisa’s music and their success had an impact on on musicians such as Masekela, Pukwana, Feza, Julian Bahula, Black Moses Ngwenya of the Soul Brothers as well as rock musicians all over 1970s Africa, proving as Mensah and Warren did, that in music, Ghana pinches above her weight.
Track of the month -
Hugh Masekela, one of the best-
This boxed set by Masekela and the African American pianist Larry Willis is dedicated to John Mehegan who was both musicians’ tutor in New York in the early 1960s. Masekela’s association with Mehegan dates back even further because they had met and recorded together in South Africa beforehand in 1959 The set is a celebration of the friendship and musical relationship between him and the now near lifelong friendship between his two pupils.
Fittingly, the set kicks off with “Body and Soul” a version of which was the best
track on Mehgan’s 1959 “Jazz in Africa” LP. Back then, Masekela stood aside allowing
Kippie Moeketsi to play a beautiful extended solo. The new version showcases Masekela’s
own playing and sets the tone for the four discs that follow which feature mainly
instrumental versions of African American jazz standards. In this respect the new
release is a follow-
Their four disc set is also like Masekela’s recent two disc release “Playing @ Work,” reviewed on this site in January, in that one of the dominant themes is mortality.
“Judgement day’s almost here”
Masekela sings before scatting on his version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rocking Chair” forever associated in jazz lovers’ minds with the 1929 version featuring Hoagy himself and the great Louis Armstrong who, later in life, sent schoolboy Masekela one of his trumpets.
The bulk of the release is made up of three discs of mainly instrumental duos. As
one might expect of musicians of this calibre who have worked together for five decades
and entitle their project “Friends” the tone of these performances is relaxed, reflective
and conversational. All the tunes are played at slow to mid tempo and at no point
does either musician try to show off or attempt anything flashy. Like all great conversationalists
they’re much too busy listening to one another to do that and listening to the results
one feels like a privileged eavesdropper. This is a promising idea in two respects.
Firstly, what we hear is a side of Masekela that the majority of his fans have hardly
heard before and secondly because, this format is perfect for his latter-
Some of this distinguished duo’s new recordings are unforgettable too: “Laura” for example. There are others one wouldn’t want to be without such as the aforementioned “Rocking Chair” and it is wonderful to have a recorded performance by Masekela of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” which is the number he and Sibongile Khumalo performed at Flo and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s funeral in 2001 At that tragic juncture in the recent history of African jazz, the funeral and Masekela’s performance in particular set the tone for the many breathtakingly beautiful musical tributes to Moses and his late wife which form one of the most astonishing and moving bodies of work in contemporary jazz. Virtually all the artists involved in these various tributes were in the congregation that sad day and heard what Masekela and Sibongile did.
However, despite such treasures there are obvious criticisms to be made of this huge set. First off, it is indigestible and frankly difficult listen to. It isn’t hard to see why jazz musicians rarely do anything on this vast scale. This is a release best enjoyed in small doses and as such the listener will find him or herself returning to it to listen intently to one or two tracks at a time. . Moreover, while this release is fascinating in what it tells us and shows us about Masekela and Willis; one can’t help but wonder whether or not anyone would listen to if it didn’t feature these elder statesman of the music .Posterity will digest and judge this large body of work over a lengthy period of time during which Masekela’s many fans together with the critics and scholars will hold these performances up against the great trumpet piano duets of the past such as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines “Weatherbird” and Bill Coleman and Herman Chitson’s immortal 1936 Paris rendition of “I’m in the Mood for Love.”
Thankfully, those to whom this task falls and the rest of us will be able to turn
for some relatively light relief to the remaining disc in this extravagant but perhaps
It’s very difficult to sum up a release on this scale. What does one compare it with? Armstrong’s “Musical Autobiography” perhaps? But it will be surprising if this release doesn’t turn out to be one of the more remarkable jazz releaseof 2013. But then delightfully and of course, the year is still young and Masekela for one, and despite his advancing years, is in prolific form and full of surprises. After a good two disc set a couple of months back we now have this monumental four disc effort. What on earth will he do next?
In the unlikely event that he needs any inspiration,he might turn to two other recent
fine African jazz trumpet duet albums. “Ancestors” by the African-
Better still is Lil’ Noise’s first album “Case Closed,” an amalgam of hip-
The keynote track “Hip Jazz” features excellent rhymes on the history and character
of jazz in South Africa memorably delivered and presumably composed by Garlic Brown
together with more of Bryce Anderson’s fine vocals and lyrics. As further demonstrated
in the instrumental version, “Hio Jazz” features great jazz performances by all three
trio members too. In short this entire release is an uplifting, high-
Lastly, there is “Kusile” an excellent debut recording from South African songstress Nomfundo featuring Botswana’s Bokani Dyer on piano and the excellent Buddy Wells on sax. She has a fine voice, a good ear for jazz and this is a strong debut. Listen for example to her vocal version of the John Coltrane tribute “Yakhal 'Inkomo” composed by Winston Mankunku, one of the great African jazz gurus listed by Garlic Brown in “Hip Jazz” and proof, if it were needed, that not all the greatest jazz standards derive from African Americans.
Track of the Month -
Salif Keita has one of Africa’s most instantly recognisable and best loved voices.
The experienced music lover, however, will feel nervous when reading the marketing
blurb on the sticker afixed to his new CD “Talé” which reads “Un album digital vintage,
Lesotho’s Tsepo Tshola isn’t as well known outside Africa as Salif Keita but his voice, best known from the “Stop the War” anthem with the group Sankomota, is just as distinctive and powerful. His new album “The Quintessence of Tsepo Tshola” sports some marvellous musicians, notably Kevin Gibson whose drumming is excellent throughout and Mpumi Dhalmini on keyboards and sax. There are strong tracks to open and close the album plus three gorgeous Dhalmini compositions demonstrating that he has developed a real talent for multi voice arrangement but the album is marred by clichéd rock guitar solos and the presence of less than convincing gospel tracks which not all listeners will enjoy. Although it’s always good to hear this great singer he, as so often in the recording studio, doesn’t quite sound at his best. He seems to be one of those artists who, more often than not, requires the presence of an audience to fully open the throttle and perform at his best.
Salif Keita’s and Tsepo Tshola’s young rival Ferre Gola, by contrast, is bewitching
and sublime on his live CD/DVD set “Nuit des Oeuvres: concert live Kinshasa” which
consists largely of cover versions of classic compositions by OKJazz alumni: Madillu
System, Carlyto Lassa and Papa Noel. Ferre’s vocal chords aren’t as powerful as Keita’s
but with repeated listening one starts to appreciate why so many lovers of Congolese
music are beginning to say that of all that country’s array of immortal male vocalists,
Ferre Gola is the greatest. Scholars and rival singers are going to be dissecting
his magic for decades, trying to understand exactly how and why he moves his audience
so much. Partly, his gift seems to lie in what he does at the end of high notes when
his voice seems to detach from the humdrum world around us and soar skywards not
in tone or volume both of which can be diminishing but rather with extraordinary
timing. Josky Kiambukuta has the same ability but at a lower register which makes
his listener want to dance and hear his songs over and over again but when Ferre
Goka does this with high notes the effect is indescribably moving. His greatest rival
is Carlyto Lassa whose works Gola often features but not even Carlyto has ever been
quite as mesmeric as Gola. A small light footed, loose limbed and nimble backing
band provide subtle and delicate music which will delight listeners, especially on
the CD. The DVD, although technically accomplished and atmospheric, is less satisfactory
because the musicians are often hidden behind an array of backing singers and rather
indifferent dancers interspersed with lengthy chitchat between numbers and long shots
of the glitzy audience sipping their drinks -
Reddy Amisi like Gola guested on Le Poète Lutumba Simaro’s last studio album “Salle
D’Attente,” and on his current live CD/DVD set “Concert Live Maman Angebi” it’s not
difficult to hear why. He may not be in the same league as Gola as a singer but he
has a tight band, better dancers and singers than Gola and is a fine composer. Thankfully
and unusually “Maman Angebi” is reasonably well filmed and has genuine hi-
Lágbájá’s eagerly anticipated new album “200 Million Mumu (The Bitter Truth)” (digital
download), features the two strong singles and B-
Track of the month -
“Playing @ Work ,” Hugh Masekela’s new double album features much the same small band as his excellent 2011 CD/DVD “Live at Carnival City.” However, this new studio recording, produced by Masekela himself, has a more intimate, after hours feel and finds Bra Hugh in a reflective mood – quite different from that encountered at his live shows and most previous recordings.
This pensive mood can be heard in tracks such as “A Person is A Sometime Thing,”
a cover version of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and, above all, on a
lengthy reworking of “Mama” which is one of three unusually long tracks that form
the core of the album. The other lengthy tracks are a cover version of “Sister Fania”
by the late Hotep Idris Galeta, to whom the album is dedicated, and who was an excellent
pianist for Masekela until the 17-
Close observers of the South African jazz scene will be aware that Skippers, drummer Leroy Sauls and Paliani all worked with the singer Zamajobe for several years before joining Masekela and also know that Paliani was the composer and leading light in this group of talented young musicians. Replacement, Cameron Ward, is a fine guitarist too and one of the few South Africans that can make a reasonable stab at playing in Congolese and West African styles but he is not quite in the same league as Paliani whose absence is a factor in making this Masekela album perhaps a shade less strong than “Live at Carnival City.”
However, “Playing @ Work” has one incalculable advantage which is the extraordinary ongoing development of Masekela’s flugelhorn playing. In recent years,Bra Hugh’s stamina as a horn player has been in decline but it is a mark of this truly great musician that despite his failing powers, his musicianship becomes more and more appealing. How does he do it? In recent live appearances, he usually limits himself to shorter and less frequent solos but as a result he seems to put more and more thought into what he does to the point where the melodic structure, phrasing and timing of his solos is more beautiful than ever. The recording studio offers an even better environment for Masekela to exhibit these qualities and in years to come when music lovers and jazz historians come to place Masekela in the hierarchy of the world’s greatest jazz trumpet and flugelhorn players, they will surely return again and again to “Playing @ Work” and marvel at this 73 year old’s inventiveness and subtlety. Bra Hugh’s singing voice isn’t quite what it was either but his interpretations of tracks such as Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel,” the highlife tune “Rekpete” and the aforementioned “Mama” are just as skilful and memorable as his instrumental solos. The album also benefits from superb bass playing throughout by Fana Zulu, percussion from long term collaborator Francis Fuster plus Masekela’s characteristically beautiful arrangements for backing singers. In summary, this is a must have release for the serious jazz lover.
Those seeking a more party orientated trumpet/flugelhorn release, more in the mould of Masekela albums of the past, need look no further than “Nadabazbantu,” the new album from Lesotho’s Peter Nthwane which is also excellent from first to last The album features hip swivelling bass lines, soaring compositions/ arrangements, superb vocals and, although somewhat more sparingly thane one might wish, Nthwane’s distinctive gravelly flugelhorn.
By happy coincidence, there is also a new release from the enigmatic singer Zamajobe whose former musicians make up much of Masekela’s recent bands On “Trail Blazer, ” her third album, she too, like Masekela, faces the difficult problem of how to replace Erik Paliani. The list of personnel in the booklet accompanying the CD suggests she did so by recruiting not one but two of the best jazz guitarists in Africa: Mozambique’s Jimmy Dludlu and Nigeria’s Kunle Ayo. This, however, is slightly misleading because although much of the guitar playing on the album is tasteful there is relatively little of it apart from a dubious rock solo on the opening track. Her real replacement for Paliani is not a fellow guitarist at all but rather the keyboardist and composer Mpumi Dhlamini who, one senses, is the main source of the beautiful music which can be heard throughout this fine recording. Zamajobe’s understated vocals and sophisticated percussion from Lebo and Jimmy Dludlu’s first rate John Hassan are contributing factors too but the presiding talent here is Dhlamini and the overriding influence is that of the late Moses Taiwa Molelekwa of whom Dhlamini is clearly a devoted musical disciple in much the same way that Kyle Sheppard is of Abdullah Ibrahim. Of course, Shepherd isn’t as good as Ibrahim, nor is Dhlamini as good as Molelekwa but they are both seriously good keyboard players who are a pleasure to listen to. The sleeve notes don’t identify the saxophonist on “Trail Blazer” but it is also probably Mpumi Dhlamini, for like Kyle Shepherd, he is gifted on this instrument too
So many of Molelekwa’s former collaborators (Magesh, Oskido, Spikiri) and admirers
(Ringo, Speedy, Brickz, Stoan) can be heard on “The Orientation,” Professor’s keenly
Certainly, Fela would have been taken with “Shoba Shobane” the keynote track on “The Orientation.” This song, featuring Professor’s star pupils Ray Phiri on lead vocals (also known for his work with Paul Simon), Avante as a vocal chorus formerly known as a gospel group) and rapper Sbo, is ostensibly about a massacre that occurred on Christmas Day, 1995 when supporters of the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party clashed causing much lamented bloodshed and loss of life. Fela, however, would immediately smile and recognise, as every South African who hears it does, that ‘though “Shoba Shobane” is carefully oblique, it is a pronouncement on the tragedy that occurred recently at the Marikana platinum mine near Rustenburg when police fatally shot 34 miners and wounded 78 more. Jazz or not, this is a track we all need to hear: not only for its moving and universal message, which brings to mind Miriam Makeba’s dictum that she wasn’t political, she just sang the truth; but also because Professor’s rhythms mak e all South Africa dance and have applicants queuing ‘round the block to enrol at an unparalleled university.
|2000 - 09|
|About this Site|
|Moses Taiwa Molelekwa|