"It's all about freedom man," says drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo and the softness in his voice belies and underpins the experience behind his words. "It becomes really important, the most important thing in the world, especially after all I've been through."
The telephone connection to South Africa is not great, from where Moholo-Moholo speaks, where he was born and has again made his home since 2005. It has indeed been a long journey, Moholo-Moholo having left his homeland in 1964 with the racially integrated Blue Notes, finally settling in London in 1966. His role in the international big band Brotherhood of Breath, not to mention his voluminous body of succeeding work, is well documented; not so his return to South Africa and subsequent activity.
"I've got a big band now," Moholo-Moholo states with evident pride, "A mixture of more established folks and young peoplesome of them have never even had the opportunity to be on the bandstand before!" The band, called "Hear our Heart's Vibrations", is using a book made up, in large part, of the material played by Moholo-Moholo's long-running England-based Dedication Orchestra, the new musicians seeing some of this music for the first time. "I'm hoping to breathe some new life into South African jazz."
Revitalization through repetition is nothing new for the veteran drummer. This year, he will be playing in New York, at the 12th annual Vision Festival with Kidd Jordan, William Parker and Dave Burrell, all of whom appeared with him on his last Vision performance in 2001. "It will be fantastic! I'm really looking forward to performing with my friends again!" The comment might as well apply to his whole career and especially to Viva la Black Live at Ruvo, the newest non-archival album to feature Moholo-Moholo. An extremely high-energy collaboration with long-time musical associates Keith and Julie Tippett, the largely Italian Canto General Orchestra charges through a series of well-known compositions, most notably from the Brotherhood period and reminiscent of the Dedication Orchestra. One of the disc's most memorable moments is a suite of music taken from Keith Tippett's 1971 composition and recording, Septober Energy, written for Centipede, a 50-piece ensemble in which much of the Brotherhood/Blue Notes axis participated. "That was huge fun," Moholo-Moholo remembers fondly. "We were young, but it was a serious band." The 13-minute précis hints at the grandeur, still often underrated, that was Centipede, the final "United Liberation" section carried off extremely well by the seven vocalists in the orchestra.
Every composition on offer is rendered with as much, if not more, power and energy than on the original recordings, a hallmark of every project in which Moholo-Moholo is involved. Comparisons with the originals reveal fresh intensity and commitment, certainly things of beauty where many revisitations fail. "This is my family," Moholo-Moholo explains. "I have known these people for many years, we grew up together and while I certainly like doing new things, you can't avoid your family." His actions bolster his words and the last 40 years have seen many Brotherhood/Blue Notes-related projects and homages, too numerous to mention here, as well as collaborations with fellow artists from the fertile late '60s Euro-free improv scene. There are career- spanning small-group offerings with Evan Parker (Bush Fire on Ogun), duets and trios with Larry Stabbins (Turn on Atavistic) and big band projects with Peter Brötzmann (Alarm on Atavistic.) On the American front, there is the staggering Remembrance, a live duo date with Cecil Taylor. "Oh yes, he'll make you play in areas you never thought you'd enter," laughs Moholo-Moholo. Each of these dates demonstrates the drummer's diversity, from the muscular playing of absolute freedom to the sinewy reactive interplay born of the most intense listening.
Moholo-Moholo's base was always England and while he traveled fairly frequently, it seemed that England was where he would stay. When the second Foxes Fox disc, Naan Tso, was released on Evan Parker's Psi label, it stated, intriguingly, that the music was recorded on the eve of his return to South Africa. As he'd been going back since 1993, it seemed certain that his return was permanent, but why? "I looked around and all of my friends were goneHarry Miller, Johnny Dyani, Mongezi Fezaknow what I mean? I was alone and home is home, that's my home." He seems to be the lone survivor of a truly prolific era, bearing the torch, as it were, without regret and with continually renewed vigor. "Sure, it's hard to relocate, but I have my wife and the climate is certainly much different now than it was when I left 43 years ago." He counts Dr. Zweledinga Pallo Jordan, current minister of culture and a foreign music enthusiast, among his friends and associations like this have made all the difference.