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Nduduzo Makhathini: Jazz Is a Shared Memory

Seton Hawkins By

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AAJ: Listening to Zim's work in particular, "Qula Kwedini" is on one of his earliest albums. Later, like on the live album from the Cape Town Jazz Festival, he's moved into a very free space. You can hear in his music what you're describing.

NM: It has to do with trying to deconstruct these aspects I was describing earlier. Things like him being a Xhosa person and thinking around the memories of his upbringing. He wanted, maybe not to disconnect, but to go beyond that, and it comes through in his improvisation. I don't know if you've heard the live recording from Linder Auditorium [50th Birthday Celebration], which is completely abstract, but you can feel connection to the hymnals he drew from Abdullah Ibrahim's music. You can feel connections to traditional music, but there is a constant movement away from that, too. He was into teachings about dissolving, this Zen state of No Mind. It plays in an interesting way in his music, especially when he was playing with people like Matthew Shipp at the Vision Festival. It was about creating an alternative space for people to freely express themselves, whether through music, dance, painting.

AAJ: It seems that with South Africa's Jazz history, there's a navigation of the roots an artist comes from, versus a question of universality. It ebbs and flows, and changes with different artists.

NM: I've been thinking about the South African Jazz aesthetic that developed in exile. It was using these musical memories and imaginations to try and create this connection with South Africa, but from a far-away land. It's interesting how the Blue Notes came from a mbaqanga foundation, and later in exile you see them gravitating to this robust proteus-like music. Jazz was always a music that could reflect people's pain, but in the Blues Notes' music, and Louis Moholo-Moholo's in particular, you find a confronting of what was going on in South Africa. There's an album of Louis Moholo-Moholo's called Bra Louis-Bra Tebs that has a song called "Sonke." On it, Bra Louis talks about how the music took them through pain, but also how it became a way of living and laughing together. It's such a powerful song, and also it sonically represents what it's talking about. It's got an ostinato in the bass, that to me represents the resistance, and then over that they develop these melodies over it and it goes abstract. But the ostinato remains. To me, it's a representation of what we've all been through, and Bra Louis captured the experience of exile in the 1960s in a profound way. He was trying to connect with a construct of home. It's interesting that Mseleku would later think of the construct of the home as a spiritual construct, rather than a physical space. They weren't able to practice these freedoms in South Africa, but they go to Europe, a foreign land, and are able to express themselves in the music.

There are debates about what I'm trying to explain. There are people who didn't leave—Salim Washington would call them "in-ziles"—who saw the exiles return home after 1994 and receive more recognition for the fight against apartheid for a democratic space. But there were people like Winston Mankunku Ngozi or Tete Mbambisa who stayed behind to create music. If you look at Bra Winston's Yakhal'Inkomo, which was recorded in 1968, it was about a slaughter of a people. Bra Winston was witnessing it in front of his eyes, rather than an exile who had to use his or her imagination to connect to the experience. But then you look at someone like Abdullah Ibrahim, who was in exile but also returned pre-1976. He records the masterpiece "Mannenberg," and it gets regarded as an unofficial national anthem for South Africa because of what it meant to the people during the uprising. So I think there's a very interesting discourse about the inziles and the exiles, but for me, they both contribute to South Africa's Jazz aesthetics in an interesting way, whether in the diaspora or here in South Africa. I'm trying to define these for myself, if that's possible. Taking Mseleku, can you look at his albums and say "this is the sound of exile," or look at the Home at Last album and say "this is the sound of South Africa"? You look at something like Beauty of Sunrise or Celebration that have a universality, whereas Home at Last has a longing that Mseleku has always had with his home. It embraces the mbaqanga and kwela styles, for the first time in his recordings, especially on a song like "Monwabisi." And he was dedicating songs to people like Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Dyani, and Bra Winston, but also to Monk, so even there he showed his links to American Jazz music.

My own thinking is in between what many of these artists had to think about. But also mine is directly linked with the idea of healing. We don't put enough emphasis on that in Jazz in South Africa. Someone like Philip Tabane with Malombo does directly try to channel that healing energy in music, but I think in general Jazz focuses too heavily on the intellectual side.

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