On July 23, 1968, a now-legendary recording session took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, one that would ultimately prove a defining moment in the country's Jazz history and development. Led by tenor saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi
, a quartet that included pianist Lionel Pillay, bassist Agrippa Magwaza, and drummer Early Mabuza would record the album Yakhal' Inkomo
. Comprising two originals of Mankunku'sthe title track "Yakhal' Inkomo" and "Dedication (For Daddy Trane and Brother Shorter)"as well as John Coltrane
's "Bessie's Blues" and Horace Silver
's "Doodlin,'" the album would become one of the most important Jazz albums of South Africa, arguably the
As the album reaches the 50th anniversary of its release, we can look back on its creation, examine what it represented at the time, and explore its legacy today. Why is the title track"Yakhal' Inkomo" translates to "the bellowing bull"named this way? What was it about the album that resonated so deeply at the time in South Africa, and why has it continued to resonate in South Africa? Why is one of the most important and transformational albums of South African Jazz virtually unknown outside of South Africa? And what is the legacy of Winston "Mankunku" Ngozi, who passed away in 2009?
Four figures of South African Jazz today convened to discuss the album and its impact: Writer Percy Mabandu, author of Yakhal' Inkomo: Portrait of a Jazz Classic
, prepared a book that explored the album's deeper themes and concepts. Saxophonist Kevin Davidson, a longtime friend and performance partner to Mankunku, also is responsible for a book that contains complete transcriptions of Mankunku's playing on Yakhal' Inkomo
. Pianist Nduduzo Makhathini
, a dedicated scholar on the music and its social ramifications, also represents a generation of South African Jazz artists who grew up and came of age musically while standing on the shoulders of this album. Finally, saxophonist Salim Washington
, now a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has explored and studied the context of this album in the Black Atlanticthe diaspora of African musical expression. All About Jazz:
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the recording of Yakhal' Inkomo
. What does this album mean to you? Nduduzo Makhathini:
There are so many ways that we could read Yakhal' Inkomo
, and what it symbolizes. It's often paired with and almost aligned to the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. A lot of people that write about it would naturally think about that, but also about the cultural and spiritual significance. The whole idea of "Yakhal' Inkomo," as Percy Mabandu as well has noted in Yakhal'Inkomo: Portrait of a Jazz Classic
, is that there are so many ideas and stories around how the title came about.
But I'm not too sure if anyone has ever heard from Bra Winston himself in terms of what the title meant. So then we derive all of these meanings based on what we
think, and what was happening in that particular moment. [NOTE: Mankunku is on record on one occasion speaking about the title, in conversation with writer Gwen Ansell, noted here
Lately, I've thought about the sixties, a lot of musicians were going into exile, and I thought about what that meant for the ones left behind. It's easy to imagine loneliness and pain in exile. But we often do not think the same about the musicians that get left behind, not having people to play with. And I was just thinking, and maybe this an idea that we can play with, "Yakhal' Inkomo" as this lonely bull in the kraal [cattle enclosure] that doesn't really have company, in the case of Mankunku in terms of musicianship.
When I went to study in Durban, I spent a lot of time with Bab' Mseleku [Bheki Mseleku
], and he told me that one of the biggest reasons he left for exile was that everybody else had left, and he sort of felt that he had no one to play with. So, that was one of the things that I thought about. In terms of also thinking about the parallels, as a record, I was thinking what A Love Supreme
is in the US, whatever that means today, is actually what Yakhal' Inkomo
is to a lot of us as musicians in South Africa, in terms of how much it contributes towards what we call Jazz, or the actual aesthetic of the artform. AAJ:
Kevin, you recorded an album called Breathing Winston, Living John
, which indeed pays tribute to Mankunku and to Trane, and on it you recorded "Yakhal' Inkomo." You recorded the piece again on your album Our Land, Our Music
. To Nduduzo's comment of Yakhal' Inkomo
's relevance to South African Jazz matching A Love Supreme
's relevance to America's Jazz, can you talk about your perception on it? Kevin Davidson:
Well, the perception obviously for me between Winston and Coltrane is huge. Winston dedicated his album to "Daddy Trane and Brother Shorter." For me, the Coltrane imprint was really strong on Winston. I think I probably caught one of the last performed versions of "Yakhal' Inkomo"; Winston actually played it to me at the Jazz Workshop in Cape Town, which was then on Long Street. We stood in a room, and he played it to me a cappella
, just the horn. At the end of it, he said, "I don't play this tune anymore, there's too much pain." He was stating that it was incredibly painful for him to relive this tune. I mean, the title ostensibly means the cry of the bellowing bull in the slaughterhouse. The analogy with the Sharpeville Massacre is very strong, and Yakhal' Inkomo
was a beacon of light for many people. And it still is for me.
You know, it's quite interesting how Coltrane was looking towards Africa and India, while Winston and [South African saxophonists] Duke Makasi and Ezra Ngcukana were looking towards Coltrane. You can almost see a cycle starting to happen between these musicians. I really wish that Coltrane could have heard Winston. I can't describe Winston's live sound, you had to kind of be there to experience it, but Yakhal' Inkomo
comes close to capturing that. When I think of Winston, I just think of warmth and love, but underneath that I sensed an incredible steel resilience. You know, just under the surface of the loving Winston that we all loved, there was a man of iron. I got the same feeling from Duke Makasi, as well. AAJ:
So this implies a large, interconnected network of saxophone sounds. KD:
Yes. If you listen to Coltrane playing on the Live at Birdland
album, he does cyclical repetition of a phrase beyond any point where you feel that he can actually still get away with repeating that phrase. And Winston had the same sort of situation. I just remember when I was playing with him that sometimes he'd find a phrase that he liked, and that would be it for the next five minutes in his solo. There would be a masterful manipulation of that phrase. I feel that a lot of that was a derived maybe from his huge love for John Coltrane. Coltrane was tapping into the oral traditional storytelling from Africa and India as well.
I love seeing this cyclical loop between the South African musicians. As I say, I was very lucky in the 1980s to be with Robbie Jansen
, Ezra Ngcukana, Duke Makasi, and Winston. Some great players. But Coltrane was always kind of hovering around. Even with my buddies in the Soul Jazzmen from PE [Port Elizabeth], there were these two towering figures: one was Coltrane and one was Winston Mankunku. Our universe went by those rules in a way. So the imprint is huge. AAJ:
Let's discuss the name "Yakhal' Inkomo" itself. Percy, on the album's liner notes, producer Ray Nkwe states that it's a tribute to John Coltrane, and that the title of "Bellowing Bull" directly references that. In your book on the album, you discuss the title as open to broader meanings and interpretations of the imagery. Can you talk a bit about that? Percy Mabandu:
For me, I thought a lot about the song as an artwork that marks time, and 1968 becomes very important in a lot of ways. Here, you have a couple of young guys. I mean, Winston is only 25 at the time. So this was a young man at the beginning of his career, though he's already in charge of his powers as saxophonist and a musical thinker. We referenced earlier on, thanks to Nduduzo, the Sharpeville Massacre. But if you think about the terror at large in 1968 is thatas I mentioned in the bookthe 1964 Rivonia Trial was still a very real psychological presence in how you thought about your prospects as a black person in South Africa at the time. There was very little organized resistance against apartheid, and therefore the chance for organized ideas of change were very small at that time. So the pathos that is in the song is a very real thing, as far as we think about the song as an artwork that marks time.
There's always this interesting interplay between traditional culture and notions of modernity in the way in which blackness expresses itself in this part the world. So, the idea of traditional belief systems, or even traditional cosmology, in the way in which the cow is a feature in black life is referenced in the song. The idea of slaughter as sacrifice or slaughter as a kind of ritual is something that you think about when you think about African traditions. Therefore, that might take you to a place where you think about rural life. But here, you have it invoked in the urban experience, in the way in which you think of yourself in the modern experience, yet you still are referencing a kind of motif that is traditional.
All of these things for me point to the complexity of identity as far as modern African life is concernedor the politics or even the ideas of spiritualityand how it functions for a young person still looking to find meaning for an unfolding life. He's 25, you know, so he probably thinks "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" When he's 25 and living at what we call High Apartheid, the beast is large. In 1968, the beast is very self-assured. It just put away Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, and Steve Biko is not yet fully formed at a level of organization. Only at the end of 1968 does SASO [South African Students' Organization] elect Steve Biko. So at the time, even the Black Consciousness Movement is not fully formed. It's still something of a murmur, or a quickening, that is taking place on the university campuses, and not with the same kind of force that today's Fees Must Fall is doing. So there's very little hope in 1968, and to be 25 and to be Winston Mankunku Ngozi or any of his peers is a very terrifying proposition when I think about it. AAJ:
Salim, you mentioned in an earlier interview encountering Winston Mankunku's playing for the first time and thinking, "How did I not know about somebody who's this
good?" Earlier, Kevin referenced the ties to a network of sound and spirituality that connects to people like Coltrane and Shorter on the American side. What was your experience coming to this piece, and what it represents for South Africa, for the first time? Salim Washington:
I was flabbergasted. I had already developed a love for South African Jazz, but it was primarily through those who went into exile, because that's what was available to us Stateside. But when I came to South Africa and discovered Mankunku, it was really astonishing. Somebody who could play at that level would normally be known by what we call the "cats": the other people who play this music and especially the people who play their instruments. They would know about these people. Even if they were not famous to the general public, they would be talked about among the musicians.
So, how somebody like that escaped me first of all was a mystery, and it highlighted the degree to which South Africa had been marginalized. I wrote an article called "Exiles and Inziles," in which I talked about difference of public perception of those who were in exileor as people who I interviewed called them, "those who ran away"and those who remained in South Africa. So for me, this is like "Exhibit A" for the difference between Winston and somebody like Abdullah Ibrahim
I'd like to say also, Trane used the metaphor of a reservoir, and this is true of all artists when you talk to them: they always reference somebody before them, somebody they got something from. Oftentimes they were people who were not well known, people who did not achieve the same level of notoriety. And Trane said that there's a big reservoir that we all dip into. I feel, as I was listening to Kevin and to Percy talk, this is another case of that. For instance, when I went to interview Bra Winston, he talked about being visited by Coltrane, a physical spiritual visitation that occurred. This occurred, of course, because of the spiritual and musical affinity that they shared.
Bra Winston also told me that he thought Coltrane was a Xhosa musician, and that the way Trane played was based on those cultural concepts. It's just very fascinating to me to also listen to Kevin saying something very similar. For me, the repetition approach that Coltrane uses obviously comes from Africa. I think that there are links that are missed sometimes, so I would say it comes from the black homiletic tradition. This is something that I think is under-theorized, the degree to which the homiletic practices of black preachers influenced the music. For instance, take the notion of the Blues scale, it's not something that Blues musicians practice. But the thing that is reduced to the "blues scale" comes from the melodic/rhythmic gestures that preachers use, and it's something that the congregation also uses in the musical liturgy of the Black church. But where does this come from?
This all goes back to Africa, of course. So for me, the notion of black modernism is something that I hear in Mankunku's playing, certainly in "Yakhal' Inkomo." For example, the way that he uses the kind of I-II harmonic progression you hear so much in Xhosa music, but also the way he employs the major seventh, reminiscent of the tuning of the of the Shona people. These elements all point toward a certain kind of Afro-Modernism. The music presages this.
To the idea that Percy was talking about, that effective black consciousness was not fully formed yet in 1968. I wonder if you mean that the organizational force of it was not yet in place. But the idea of it is there in the zeitgeist, as part of Afro-Modernism. Like Trane and like Shorter, Mankunku created works to prefigure these ideas before it reached its fruition as an organized force, it is there in the music already. This is why music is so important, because it presents the world as we wish it could be, and it fights against the constraints of the world. These are some of the ideas that were swimming around when I first heard Yakhal' Inkomo.
AAJ: That's an interesting point. We've got this piece that has in its title a reference to a central aspect of Zulu and Xhosa cultures, but at the same time we've got Jazz with a more universalist impulse. Then you have a band with guys like Mankunku and Lionel Pillay, that by the apartheid standards shouldn't be allowed to be a band. How do those issues get navigated in this piece and this recording overall?
KD: I think Lionel was an inspired choice for the album. Lionel Pillay at his greatest is one of the best pianists that I've ever worked with. Winston was in tears when Lionel took his solo on the title track, because Winston had an incredible depth of humanity. I think that is the thing that sticks out in Winston's playing, in fact. It doesn't matter what he's playing. On a track from his album Jika, for example, the sound did something to me that happened to me when I heard Coltrane play "Lush Life." I was only a teenager then, and that sound hooked me; I've never recovered from that sound. Winston had it, Ezra had it, Duke Makasi had it, but for Winston, it just felt more powerful. That was incredible power in the sound of his sax.
AAJ: In fact, you wrote in the forward to your book of Mankunku transcriptions, "the live tone said to me, 'this is truth. This is now,'" which I thought was very profound.
KD: Yes. I can't describe the feeling. Just standing next to Winston, he could have been playing anything, an American standard like "East of the Sun." It didn't matter. Whatever he was playing, you felt like he owned it; it's the same way as when Bill Evans plays the melody, you feel that's the way that the melody should be felt. So with Winston, it's this deep feeling and it's also a linear style of playing. It's a narrative. There's a lot of speaking his playing, and sometimes he's not actually all that concerned with what chord he's playing on either. That's where we differ: my playing is incredibly harmonically based, his playing is incredibly linear based. Having said that, he could catch all of the harmonies whenever he wanted to. But sometimes making the changes wasn't the bottom line for him.
AAJ: You definitely hear that on that piece, this very vocal quality. Kevin, you raised some interesting points about Lionel Pillay's piano playing. Nduduzo, can you weigh in on that, too?
NM: You know, that's the only record of his I was able to get access to, and I would love to dig some more. But when I came into Durban and started meeting people like Bab' Melvin Peters, I started sort of hearing this kind of playing. I wouldn't really mention Bab' Mseleku in this context, because he's more on the modal kind of sound, and Bab'Pillay really had the BeBop thing down. But what's really interesting on the title track, is when Bab'Pillay starts superimposing the Blues scale, or the 'Blues as a narrative' as Bab'Washington once mentioned. Bab'uMankunku coming from Traneand actually also Pharoah Sanders and Charles Lloydthose people really play the major seventh kind of sound over such a vamp. So it is really surprising how, coming in after Bab'uMankunku's solo in the major tonality, Bab'uPillay would almost suggest a minor tonality on the vamp on the first section. I think this is a very special moment in the song. Metaphorically too, in ways we could begin to think of what musicians and the black people were going through in these times.
On the contrary, we feel a sense of release again when his solo goes to the B section. He just nails the bridge, you know, like in a BeBop style like. For me that's really amazing, and I would have loved to know who his references were. I mean there are the ones that come out clearly, he listened to Bud Powell for sure, Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, and those people. But that is not everything, and I would have really loved to know him more [Pillay passed away in 2003]. That's the only reference I have of him, that's the only thing I've heard of him playing.
Bab'uWashington and Davidson earlier both touched on how they experienced Mankunku. I think I was lucky enoughthough I had never gotten a chance to play with him, and I was too young when he came to Durbanbut I caught one of his gigs. It was at the BAT Centre in the early 2000s. For me it was one of the most beautiful feelings, because it was part of who I am in many ways. As students, we would go and check out almost every gig that came in town. So this one time at the BAT Centre, Bab'uMankunku came and I think they were presenting, if I'm not mistaken, his latest album Abantwana Be Afrika. Bab'uLengoasa [trumpeter Prince Lengoasa] was also in the band. Everyone was excited about this new offering, this new material, but there was sort of an unresolved feeling in the house. For me personally, that unresolved feeling was, "when are we going to hear 'Yakhal' Inkomo'?" I mean, this is such beautiful music, but when are we gonna hear 'Yakhal' Inkomo'? Eventually, towards the end of the set, we started hearing the bass ostinato, and in that moment you could feel the room becoming very much alive. And from the beginning of that song, I had my eyes closed to the last note of Bab'uMankunku's solo. Then when he finished his solo, I looked, and he walked across the stage and he was in tears, you know. So I got to experience that. Since that day I wondered; some of my interests have been around ways of speaking about Jazz. I'm really interested in the monologue that Bab' Mabandu wrote because it sort of taps into some of the things that I'm thinking about, and that I feel are important to note when we speak about Jazz in our context.
Most of the literature, when we read about Jazz in South Africa, doesn't speak about some of these cultural and spiritual symbolisms. And I understand why, it's really focusing on capturing the history and how music was trying to speak to the political times. And so, since that day when I heard "Yakhal' Inkomo" being played like that, I wondered. And what Bab'Davidson also said about how Bab'uMankunku said he always found it hard to play that song, I'm interested in finding out about some of the feelings that the musicians are going through when they play this music. And I know music can make us smile, can make us laugh, cry and everything, but there seems to be something that we're all feeling when we listen to Yakhal' Inkomo. And I'm just struggling with ways of articulating it, like what are we really feeling?
And I think we're actually talking about that, the languaging of this experience. I don't think we've gotten far with the language. How do we speak about this? And I guess maybe this is one of the things that challenge me now.
AAJ: To that end, Percy, your book describes several fascinating, yet divergent responses to Yakhal' Inkomo. You bring up a story of Bra Willy [poet Keorapetse Kgositsile] hearing it and almost feeling disappointed, feeling it sounded so much like Trane and less like what he felt would be a "South African" sound. At the same time, you bring up the story of Mongane Wally Serote writing a poem that places "Yakhal' Inkomo" as a kind of centerpiece in a reflection on moving forward. That's a huge range of responses. Can you talk a bit about that reception and the perception of the work?
PM: With all great art, you find a convergence of interests and people wanting to, I don't want to say "weaponize," but kind of "instrumentalize" the artwork in the service or what they perceive to be lofty ideas. Bra Willy was one of our better thinkers, creatively and otherwise. He was one of our better human beings. I imagine him in exile, longing for home and he's hearing rave reviews of this album, and it's brought to him by Pharoah Sanders and his wife Thembi. You can imagine: one Coltrane devotee presenting this to another Coltrane devotee from across the water and saying, "Hey, this is something fresh that's coming in from South Africa, your home." And I imagine Bra Willy was hoping for a particular sound of home, and what he got perhaps was a different formulation of what home is than what he was hoping for. Bra Willy talks a lot about how when you were in exile, the whole country becomes your home in your imagination. But when you're at home, your own corner of the country, that's where home is, right? And that kind of thing I think is at play there. But, then somebody like Mongane Wally Serote, who is in the country, hears something different, is this function of spatiality at play here? Interestingly, Bra Willy and Wally Serote are both poets. But they're listening for different things; unlike Bra Willy at the time, Wally Serote benefited from having been close to [visual artist] Dumile Feni as well, who created a suite of drawings that were a response to Yakhal' Inkomo. The drawings have almost become apocryphal because they're hard to trace.
Dumile is central because he sets off this idea of cattle that are raging in a kraal as they witness the slaughter of their kind. That motif that even producer Ray Nkwe moves with, is actually a story that Wally Serote tells that he's heard from Dumile Feni as a response. And it becomes very interesting because it enriches the metaphor even further, when you think about the kind of violence that takes form in the townships where the poor black people are hurting each other in the rage of the response against apartheid. When people are burning schools in Vuwani, in our perception it's property that should be theirs. It's not unlike these cows that are raging in a kraal, and as a result, stabbing each other with their own horns in protest against humans who are out there. And these humans have slaughtered their kind. The ways in which the title acquires meaning from various listeners I think speaks to the power of the metaphor that Winston is working with here. Notwithstanding all the various narratives around how we arrived at the actual title, "Yakhal' Inkomo." There's a lot there that needs further theorization.
AAJ: Percy and Nduduzo have both raised these points of the emotional punch of the piece and its varied responses felt by listeners. Can we explore that further?
SW: Can I actually ask a question here? There's a song, "Inhlupeko," which is almost identical in certain respects to "Yakhal' Inkomo." It has the South African township vibe in E-flat, it does the BeBop ii-V progression going down whole steps in the bridge. It's very similar. It's also about suffering, given the title ["Inhlupeko" translates to "Melancholy"]. I'm told that it's Duke Makasi playing saxophone, but when I listen to "Inhlupeko" it sounds so similar to Mankunku, in terms of the sound. Of course there is a South African tenor saxophone sound and both of these men had that, but even some of the melodic gestures by Makasi are identical to Mankunku's. I know that "Inhlupeko" didn't have the iconic status that "Yakhal' Inkomo" has, though it's recorded around the same time. But when Nduduzo talks about this kind of emotional language, it hear it there as well. Can it really be an accident that they have the same harmonic structure?
NM: Bab'uWashington, just to add something. I think, if we think of my song "Ithemba," we could also think about a similar thing as well. That's a newer composition, but in terms of what you're describing and perhaps even zooming into the tonality, the mood, the key, as it's also in E-flat. There seems to be something that happens here, there are a lot of songs that we can think of l that are based on this similar thing and carry common characteristics. I think what really informs the ways in which saxophone players in South Africaespecially in that periodplay, is all the other traditional musics that surround Jazz in this country. It really comes from some of the traditional musics, and the Zionist church for me in particular, because the Zionist church generates this emotional feeling that we're trying to articulate. It's a similar thing that I get when I go to the Zionist. I was just talking to someone earlier in an interview and they asked me about some of my influences. When I was trying to think back, I realized that some of my early counterpoint lessons were actually in the Zionist church, because the one person just sets up the melody and the other people just respond in various melodies and counterlines. They are spontaneous every time they come. And we're doing this one day as well, talking about counterpoint and parts. Bab'uFeya Faku was telling us how Bab'uMankunku refused to be given a part, even in a section. If you listen to, for example "Monwabisi" [from Bheki Mseleku's album Home at Last, featuring Mankunku], I doubt that the melody that he's playing when it goes to the key changes were written by Mseleku. I mean, there's a general theme, but every time he plays he's got a different take to it. I think that's really a uniquely South African thing. Bab'uBarney Rachabane has a similar thing, in which he plays the parts once, but the second time they come he starts playing all of these counterpoints. But I know I've diverted completely from what Bab'uWashington was asking!
AAJ: Well, given the earlier discussion about the Xhosa influence, it seems appropriate. David Dargie wrote that Xhosa singers "like to put salt in their songs," meaning they added so much variation to each performance.
AAJ: Earlier, you brought up the 2003 album Abantwana Be Afrika, which is interesting as Mankunku records a version of "Inhlupeko" on that. Kevin, is Salim's question of these two pieces' similarities relating back to your earlier point about this interconnected network of saxophonists' sounds and approaches?
KD: I'm agreeing with everything that everyone's saying. There definitely is a South African timbre, or approach to saxophone. You get it with many players. Barney was mentioned, and he's a master of this. I'll never forget, I was doing a big band gig with Bob Mintzer, and when Barney started soloing the look on Bob's face just told me everything. I mean Bob had stood next to Michael Brecker, he's played with everyone, but then he heard what Barney inflected with his sound, and his life force was just so strong in that solo. It was classic Barney, which was BeBop blues, there's no one that plays it like him. But just to see Bob Mintzer's face, he'd never heard anything like that. And that's the quality that Salim was talking about. Duke Makasi had it, Ezra had it. This isn't necessarily a saxophone thing though, it's an African inflection thing. To me, this is a tribal language. It's an oral tradition that gets passed down from one generation to the next through playing together, and that's what I love about music. I remember doing blows with Nduduzo, where we were winding down the tune, but winding down the tune took five minutes to do! I just loved it. That's what we live for.
SW: I played the recording of "Inhlupeko" for a friend of mine in New York, and he is an Africanist, a specialist in African culture. When he heard the song, he started yelling, like "this is the people apartheid was oppressing?! The people who came up with this? I hate apartheid all over again!" He recognized that deep humanity that comes out in South African Jazz.
PM: I'd be curious about how much of choral music we're checking out with this very same idea. Listening to a lot of choral music, it often invokes some of the same ideas you guys are touching on. And choral music is very central in South Africa. I know when we talk about black modernity in this part of the world, Jazz becomes an easier place to think about this, but I think there's a force in choral music, because the church is central there as well. Musicality is shaped as a communal force in there. And Winston is very much in that tradition. We know his motherwho in fact gave him musicwas one of the most celebrated singers in the church and community choir. She was one of the better sopranos in her neighborhood. So it'd be very interesting to maybe just to throw it to you guys, if you're thinking about that musical form in the way in which it makes certain moves in South African Jazz possible. Knowing how big a part of our imagination choral music is.
NM: To add on to what Mabandu is saying, a lot of those guys that come from that period, in terms of how they read music, they were using a lot of tonic-sol-fa as opposed to staff notation. And that was part of the culture in terms of the choral music. People like Bab'uMahlangu [saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu] can deal with the staff anytime, but when they're singing something to you, they give it to you in tonic-sol-fa. So there is a big influence of choral music for a lot of Jazz musicians, especially the horn players. But it's something that I'm thinking about now, as Mabandu is suggesting, that we think towards that direction as well. It's not necessarily something I hear in Bab'uMankunku's playing, but perhaps a way in which he understood intervals, as I was struggling with explaining how then choral music comes through in his playing.
Like I was saying, I hear a lot of the traditional Xhosa music in Bab'uMankunku, where people play with this idea of overtones and fifths and that sort of moving. Obviously, there are people like [Reuben] Caluza, that were writing that kind of choral music, but I don't hear that much of it in Bab'uMankunku's playing. Actually, free players, someone like Bab'uLouis Moholo, suggests more of that choral influence in his singing, like when you think about "Sonke." He did a lot of reimagining of those choral tunes, and I think this is how it contributed a lot in creating that sort of free music, but almost through like a South African perspective. They were using a lot of the hymns, and breaking that music. On the contrary, I hear uBab'uMankunku really coming more on the modal thing and dealing a lot with these ii-V-Is as well. So I would struggle to place or to locate these influences of choral music except for the obvious thing that most of them were using tonic-sol-fa, which is maybe bottled from that sort of culture.
SW: That's very interesting. I think also the choral tradition presents at a very deep level in African culture and in black South African culture in particular. Some of my favorite musical momentsand not even with the professional musiciansare with the 'audience' singing along. The way that the people in South Africa understand how to harmonize and how to do the I-IV-V thing spontaneously, these are people who are not formally recognized as performers and yet are able to spontaneously send out beautiful multi-part harmony. It seems to me that's something endemic in the culture, and that those who become Jazz musicians have that background too. This is part of their birthright. The way that people negotiate Jazz's ubiquitous ii-V-I harmonic progression is imbued with the I-IV-V feeling of mbaqanga that is endemic to South Africa, the way that a lot of black Americans infuse the Blues and its feeling in their approach to ii-V-I. So for the choral thing, I think you're right: in this tradition, there's something special about South African singing cultures.
AAJ: It seems to be widespread with many musicians. I was just reading about Johnny Dyani's upbringing, singing in a vocal quartet with Tete Mbambisa and Tete's brother Fats.
PM: The Four Yanks. That's right.