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JuJu: Message From Mozambique


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JuJu: Message From Mozambique
There are many historic albums among the fifty or so titles released by the Strata-East label in the 1970s. But few have acquired the quasi-mythological stature of 1973's politically charged spiritual-jazz masterpiece Message From Mozambique by Bay Area tenor saxophonist Plunky Nkabinde and his band JuJu. The only disc to come close is Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's proto-rap classic Winter In America (1974). Yet while that album has always been readily available on LP and CD, Message From Mozambique has remained a collector's item. There were limited edition CD releases in the US and Japan in 1994, but this Strut LP is—incredibly, given how freaking wonderful it is—the very first reappearance on vinyl.

Nkabinde's primary influences were Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane. Of the three, his sound most closely resembles that of Sanders, a combination of blues sensibility, high-energy screams and middle and lower register broken-note vocalisations. As a band, JuJu resembled the theatrical, percussion-rich ensembles Sanders led in the late 1960s and early '70s. In Al-Hammel Rasul, it also included a pianist who shared Sanders' pianist Lonnie Liston Smith's mix of muscle and cosmic mellifluousness. Like Shepp, Nkabinde presented a radical, outspoken socio-political stance. JuJu actively supported the anti-Vietnam war movement, African liberation struggles, African American campaigns for equal rights and justice, and counterculture figureheads such as the Black Panthers and Angela Davis. The photograph of the band on the front sleeve of Message From Mozambique was taken at an anti-war rally in the Bay Area.

Message From Mozambique resonates strongly with Sanders' Karma (Impulse!, 1969) and Juan Les Pins Jazz Festival '68 (Hi Hat, 2018), reflecting both the tempered melodicism of (much of) the first and the paint-stripping intensity of (most of) the second. There are echoes, too, of Shepp's Attica Blues (Impulse!, 1972). While Message From Mozambique is an essentially instrumental album, its track titles—"Struggle (Home)," "Soledad Brothers," "Freedom Fighter," "Make Your Own Revolution Now"—are coming from the same place as Shepp's libretto. Late period Coltrane is behind it all, with a particularly clear connection to the long-form title track of Kulu Sé Mama (Impulse!, 1967) featuring Sanders and conga player Juno Lewis.

Message From Mozambique can stand alongside each of the albums cited above without being found wanting. It really is that good. Check the YouTube clip below of "Struggle (Home)."

Postscript: The backstory of Message From Mozambique reads like something out of a contemporaneous blaxploitation movie...

Part One: 1970. Saxophonist James Branch leaves the US Army and relocates to San Francisco, where he becomes involved in the anti-Vietnam war and black nationalist movements. He ekes out a living playing in jazz bands, organ trios, R&B groups and avant-garde ensembles. Along the way, Branch meets a South African emigrant musician named Ndikho Xaba, who he comes to regard as a musical mentor and source of political wisdom. He joins Xaba's band, Ndikho & The Natives, which also includes future JuJu members Ron Martin (vibraphone) and Kent Parker (bass). At some point, reflecting their Afrocentric political awakening, Branch becomes Plunky Nkabinde, Martin becomes Lon Moshe and Parker becomes Ken Shabala. The band's high energy, percussive performances gain them an underground following around the Bay Area.

Part Two: 1971. Nkabinde, Moshe and Shabala are recruited as musicians for a stage production of playwright Marvin X's Resurrection Of The Dead, which explores the political and spiritual rebirth of African Americans. The band includes three other musicians who will change their names and become founder members of JuJu: pianist Rasul and percussionists Babatunde Lea and Jalango Ngoma. (Also in the play is Victor Willis, who will later become lead singer of Village People). When the production ends its run, Nkabinde, Moshe, Shabala, Rasul, Lea and Ngoma form JuJu. Ngoma's room-mate Bill, a percussionist, wants to join the band too, but Nkabinde decides to keep it a sextet; Bill Summers goes on to join Herbie Hancock's Headhunters.

The rest of the story can be read in James "Plunky" Branch's Juju, Jazz Funk & Oneness (Coolgroove Press, 2015). Someone ought to buy the film rights and get busy.

Track Listing

Struggle (Home); Soledad Brothers; Freedom Fighter; Make Your Own Revolution Now; Father Is Back; Nairobi / Chants.


Plunky Nkabinde
saxophone, tenor
Lon Moshe
Babatunde Lea
Jalango Ngoma
Additional Instrumentation

Plunky Nkabinde: tenor and soprano saxophone, vocals; Ken Shabala: bass, double bass, flute, vocals; Lon Moshe: flute, piccolo flute, vibraphone, vocals; Al-Hammel Rasul: piano, shekere, vocals; Babatunde Lea: congas, drums, percussion, vocals; Jalango Ngoma: timbales.

Album information

Title: Message From Mozambique | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Strut Records



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