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Thembi Dunjana: God Bless iKapa. God Bless Mzantsi.

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Thembi Dunjana: God Bless iKapa.  God Bless Mzantsi.
In January of 2024, Ropeadope announced a partnership and co-directed initiative with City of Gold Arts dubbed AfricArise—a new imprint intent on promoting music from the titular continent, with a specific focus on South African artists. Showcasing musicians at once rooted in their heritage and boldly branching out into today's knowns and unknowns, the label quickly established its vision. April saw its inaugural releases, with two singular saxophonist-led albums—Steve Dyer's Enhlizweni: song stories from my heartland (AfricArise, 2024) and McCoy Mrubata's Lullaby for Khayoyo (AfricArise, 2024); and the seam separating June and July introduces a stunner in the form of this Thembi Dunjana set.

The sophomore album from the rising-star pianist and vocalist finds strong footing in fertile sounds and soil. A paean to her homeland—"iKapa" and "Mzantsi" translate to "Cape Town" and "South Africa," respectively, when moving from ixiXhosa to English—it proves to be a work of incredible pride and vision. Across ten tracks, Dunjana reveals all of the beauty, mystery, magic and warmth connected to the environment that nurtured and supported her.

"Absenti (Intro)," built on the eponymous hand game that Dunjana played as a child, uses vocals to bridge percussive and pianistic grounding at album's entryway. "Indlele Ikhona" follows, offering an odyssey in light. A hopeful head gives way to the leader's thematically-fueled soloing, well-matched stands from altoist Zoe Obadia and trombonist Siya Charles, melodic returns and a sparkling sendoff that further reflects pure optimism in delivery and intent. "Langa Lam," for Dunjana's young daughter, moves in different ways, singing and soothing while it goes. Clearing space for bassist Tim Norton to shine, it also showcases the strong connection between pianist and saxophonist. "African Child-Isidubada (Interlude)," referencing a manufactured language used by elders looking to carry on conversation apart from youth, works a hypnotic refrain. And "iKhwezi," dealing with sanctified soul in straight time, nods to Jesus with grooving glories.

"iKapa," one of two tracks where Darrian Douglas takes to the drum throne otherwise occupied by Jerome Jennings, kicks off the second half of the album with a swinging statement of praise to the Mother City. Then "In Jesus' Name," in a steadfast three, brings things back to resolute religious belief. "They've Got The Map!," acknowledging South African musical influences such as pianist Andile Yenana (and his "Who's Got The Map?"), transmits both nimble and noble impressions. "Echoes of Gugulethu," looking toward the township where Dunjana was raised, explores memories and treasures, first in reflection and tenderness, later in bounding sound. And "A City Dream" puts a finger right on the pulse of nightlife and bright life.

Prior to the label launch, AfricArise Curator and album Executive Producer Seton Hawkins noted that "South Africa's Jazz scene represents some of the most remarkable, distinct, and creative art in the world today," and God Bless iKapa. God Bless Mzantsi. certainly supports that statement and reflects its truth. A standout right as it comes out, this album is likely to resonate long into the future.

Track Listing

Absenti (Intro); Indlele Ikhona; Langa Lam; African Child-Isidubada (Interlude); iKhwezi; iKapa; In Jesus' Name; They've Got The Map!; Echoes Of Gugulethu; A City Dream.

Personnel

Album information

Title: God Bless iKapa. God Bless Mzantsi. | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Ropeadope


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