Although these days Africa, as well as humanity at large, is rightly concerned about contagions of all sorts, some infections can be quite beneficial. Good music, for example, has always been viral in nature no matter where it comes from, what languages coalesce in it or which influences entwine in its social and cultural genetic codes. One, therefore, could say that once such musical expressions make their way to our brains, an infection has occurred. Vaccines, on the other hand, are controlled mediums of exposure and infectivity to organisms in order for a body to develop defense mechanisms. Some recordings can vaccinate our neural networks from things such as taste zealousness, stagnation or even fixated cleverness, which many a Jazz audience suffers from. Herein a musical health code advisory that should be heeded: Afrika Vukani
is a cure offered by the African Jazz Pioneers (AJP).
This ’99 South African production is the last recording to date of the AJP, with the exception of a collection of hits under the same distinguished Gallo label. On its 11 tracks, we find the final testament of the felicitous sensibility and low-heat-sizzling strength of Edmund ‘Bra Ntemi’ Piliso. Such virtues show in his saxophone playing, as well as in the arrangements and overall production. He already died, but he is not lost and this recording gives us two of his tasty solos to enjoy in remembrance of an influential South African son.
The blissfully mottled feel of this recording, however, owes much of its success to the variegated contributions of the band at large. Its Big Band tendencies have been tempered by proven South African flavorings such as Majuba, which arose from a ‘50s hit by the African Quavers and later begat the Jazz voicings of mbaqanga. Ska and Caribbean cognates, the 2/3 Cuban clave in one tune, loungy riffs, laid back driving sabor coming through a thickly brewed horn section, a judicious use of technological resources and good ol’ Jazz playing and soloing, rounded up with contemporary vocals that manage to reverberate into the most ancient linguistic roots of Transvaal, manage to give us a keeper of an album that shines in its healthy feel refusing to be cornered into any exclusive kraal.
Afrika Vukani is also the one album with the largest vocal sway in the AJP repertoire, which, due to the percussive character of South Saharan African languages, should not represent a problem for those of us with little or no knowledge of such idiomatic universe. One could only wish, conversely, that the lyrics in at least a couple of major European tongues would have been included in translation as they are rather meaningful for this production.
The AJP wants to heal you and these fellows can play to that effect.
Personnel: Backing Vocals: Bongani Masuku, M V Nxumalo, Deborah Fraser & Mandisa Dlanga. Bass: Fana Zulu (5), (Felix) Philly Tau (7-solo), Joe Nina (10). Bass Guitar: Makhosini Xaba (1), (Felix) Philly Tau (2, 8), Programmed by Joe Nina (3, 11), Fana Zulu (4, 9), Programmed by Hilton Schilder (5). Drums: Isaac