reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings are so good at compilations that bring vibrant new sounds from around the world. This time they focus on South Africa, with a compilation of improvised music headed by Thandi Nthuli and Siyabonga Mthembu.
It is extremely helpful to read the commentary accompanying this release on Bandcamp, as it gives insight into the extremely wide range of influences at play here. It goes some way to explaining how the music can be approached from very different directions – jazz, classical, funk and soul to name just four.
What’s the music like?
As implied above, the eight tracks here have a musical freedom that proves to be intoxicating for the listener. The structures are impressive – The Ancestors, for example, give us eleven minutes of fluid music making on Prelude to Writing Together. Some of the issues raised are pertinent, too , few more so than The Wretched’s question What Is History, with hard hitting spoken word examples from Kwame Toure and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela complemented by a vibrant rhythm section.
Bokani Dyer finds a strong sense of purpose on Ke Nako, with its keenly felt references to the ANC, while iPhupho L’ka Biko ft Hymnself & Kinsmen build their way towards an ecstatic melodic loop on the invocation Abaphezulu, crowned by high vocals at the end. A sonorous vocal starts off Umdali, a collaboration between Sibusile Xaba, Naftali, Fakazile Nkosi and AshK, ending with what sounds like a theremin soaring high. The meditative and soulful Dikeledi, from Thandi Ntuli, makes a strong impression with its searching questions, as does the thoughtful Umthandazo Wamagenge from The Brother Moves On, complete with cool keyboards.
Does it all work?
Yes. Indaba Is celebrates musical freedom in a very important context, and rewards an open minded approach with vibrant, deeply felt music.
Is it recommended?
Without doubt. If like me you make irregular forays into jazz and improvised music, Brownswood prove to be an indispensable guide, opening up avenues to explore. At the same time, this is music offering hope for the future, resilient in difficult times and optimistic for where we could go from here.