Indaba Is

Indaba Is

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Brownswood Recordings are proud to present Indaba Is – a compilation of current South African improvised music and jazz. The project is a collaboration with two luminaries of the South African Music scene, pianist / songwriter Thandi Nthuli and The Brother Moves On's Siyabonga Mthembu who act as curators / musical directors on the project.

Bokani Dyer's "Ke Nako" (now's the time) opens with an irony, because that was a slogan used to get voters to the polls in the first post-apartheid election. Now, Dyer's using it to remind us to think again about who we are and where we're going. That's always been the question for The Brother Moves On (TBMO: a genre-refusing, personnel-revolving performance collective named, with a twist, for The Wire's assassin: Brother Mouzone). Here, it's embodied in a meditation on relationships refracted through the distorting-glass of their context. It's the singing voices on both those tracks that reference roots even as they engage with contemporary spoken flows and instrumental improvisations.

Explicitly, trumpeter
 Lwanda Gogwana bookends his track with the idioms of the Eastern Cape – galloping rhythms, harmonies from bow music and split-tone singing, a spluttering trumpet reminiscent of Mongezi Feza – and grows from them a chill contemporary meditation: no spatial or temporal barriers here. Chill, though, is the last term you'd use for Wretched, vocalist Gabisile Motuba's Fanon-inspired project with drummer Tumi Mogorosi and sound artist Andrei van Wyk and the voices of Black Panther Kwame Toure and liberation leader Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: "What is History?.."

That, like "Ke Nako" and The Brother Moves On's bitter allusion to "black yellow and green" (the colours of the ruling ANC) is the thread of another kind of tradition – the reminders and remainders of South Africa's struggle not yet won – weaving through the album. Balm is offered by what guitarist Sibusile Xaba has described as his "modal, groove-oriented roots music". It is, he says, inspired by dreams; he sees himself as a diviner not a performer and his music as functional for healing. That echoes one of his musical masters, the late Dr Philip Nchipi Tabane. "Umdali" is a reference to the Creator, inspirer of such service.

The Ancestors weave Siyabonga Mthembu's voice into a web of musical references forward-looking and historical, including bluesy instrumentals that hark back to what South Africa's jazz bandleaders of the ‘70s and ‘80s conjured up – another aspect of South Africa's musical tradition. Then pianist/composer/vocalist Thandi Ntuli returns to the theme of identity in "Dikeledi" (‘Tears'). "Who are you?' she asks. "What do you call yourself?.. the illusion [of who you are] emerges from you." Ultimately, the song concludes, rootedness in community trumps image.

But community isn't unproblematic. The persistent fractures in South African society were deliberately engineered by apartheid, results of an attempt to impose unitary, racially-constructed identities on all. All the tracks in this collection challenge that: they demonstrate the unifying power of collective hard music work. In that context, iPhupho L'ka Biko's "Abaphezulu" ("They are coming, those who are above" – an invocation to ancestors, including the spirit of Steve Bantu Biko) is a fitting conclusion. Opening with the notes of Kinsmen's Druv Sodha's sitar, it smashes another of the walls apartheid tried to build against Black unity: between South Africans of African and South Asian heritage. The classically-inflected gospel voices of Mthembu's dialogue with Indian and modern jazz rhythms and free horn improvisations in joyous heterophony.

LP1

  1. Bokani Dyer - Ke Nako
  2. The Brother Moves On - Umthandazo Wamagenge
  3. Lwanda Gogwana - All Ok
  4. The Wretched - What is History

LP2

  1. Sibusile Xaba with Naftali, Fakazile Nkosi, & AshK - Umdali
  2. The Ancestors - Prelude to Writing Together
  3. Thandi Ntuli - Dikeledi
  4. iPhupho L'ka Biko ft Siyabonga Mthembu & Kinsmen - Abaphezulu

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