While legions of South African jazz artists left the country in the '60s to escape apartheid, saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi stayed home, and he paid a heavy price for his choice. Expatriates like Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela circulated within American and European jazz communities, earning exposure and recognition. Mankunku labored under a regime which restricted his personal and musical freedom, sometimes performing under a psuedonym or behind a curtain. But his 1968 record Yakhal' Inkomo stands as one of the greatest masterpieces in South African musical history.
In contrast to that forward assertion of identity, Mankunku's music has become much more soft and meditative in recent years, with Molo Africa (1998) an optimistic highlight. The all-acoustic Abantwana Be Afrika ("Children of Africa") represents a return to roots, a middle ground for the saxophonist, with ten traditional jazz cuts in a (mostly) quintet setting.
His band brings together heavy hitters from the present day, most notably pianist Andile Yenana, whose firm but understated support recalls similar '60s efforts by McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. Drummer Lulu Gontsana has an unerring sense of swing that regularly adopts light shades of Latin and funk styles. And Mankunku himself sounds calm, self-assured, warm, and articulate. The title tune (with vocals and a melody that beckon "Children of Africa" to dance) has an irresistibly catchy groove; the other selections tend to be more serious and reflective.
Abantwana Be Afrika represents a dramatic return for Winston Mankunku Ngozi, a reminder that he hasn't forgotten his roots or lost the ability to express depths of emotion through deceptively simple words.
Track Listing: Give Peace a Chance (Een Liedtjie vir Saldanha Bay), Ndizakuxhela Kwamajola, Bantwana Be Afrika (Children of
Africa), George & I, Lakutshon' Ilanga, Dedication (to Daddy Trane & Brother Shorter), Inhlupeko, Tshawe,
Ekuseni, Thula Mama.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.