Nduduzo Makhathini, headliner for the new Blue label

South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini. © Hugh Mdlalose

To highlight the continent’s jazz musicians, the legendary record company Blue Note recently launched a new company, in collaboration with the African branch of the Universal group. And it is the 39-year-old South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini who has been chosen to inaugurate Blue Note Africa, with his new album In the Spirit of Ntu.

Piano tones rise from the abandoned courtyard of a former military facility in central Johannesburg. The melody attracts the curious on their balconies and on the street, who in the middle of this open space discovers an inspired jazzman, wearing a black cap, his body moving in the rhythm of his improvisation. Thirteen pillars of fire rise before him regularly according to his interpretation.

Before embarking on a tour of Europe and the United States, Nduduzo Makhathini was on his way through his home in South Africa. He took the opportunity to engage in an experimental concert, a “ceremony to purify these places” with the symbolism of fire “representing a new beginning”.

Because despite his now international success, the musician never forgets his roots: “Look at the people who are here, they probably do not have the opportunity to go to chic neighborhoods and go to a music festival. It is our people, they are our fathers, our uncles, our moms … so we bring the music to them, that’s a very important part of my job. “

It is also the fire and the fire that nourished his new album. In the Spirit of Ntu, released on May 27, was created at the time of the violent riots that shook the country last year. “When I was recording the album, South Africa was on fire, especially in Durban and KwaZulu-Natal. It was not just looting, it revealed the shortcomings of the system, which has always been on the verge of collapse, for several years,” the pianist explains.

“So these are the sounds that came from all these fires.” Inspired by “Ntu”, an African philosophy that evokes the forces around us, Nduduzo Makhathini believes in the healing power of his music and its ability to provide answers: “Through disasters such as apartheid, colonization, slavery, something has been lost, to the depths of our humanity. And music is there to restore it. “

“As close to the development of jazz as possible”

Violent rhythms and percussion in the tracks Unonkanyamba and Mathongo, recitation in Zulu on a background of double bass in the beginning of Abantwana Belanga, re-dedication of the song about the fight against apartheid in Senze’Nina: not even there has Nduduzo Makhathini forgotten anything of the culture that nurtured it. And it is to celebrate these new forms of jazz as well as these tones on the continent that Blue Note Africa has chosen this tenth album by the South African musician to launch their new record label.

“In Africa, we are closer to the development of jazz,” explains Ttale Kentridge, of Universal Music Africa, who launched this African version with Blue Note. “This record company will help reinvent the South African and African music scene of Blue Note Africa’s headquarters located in South Africa, but we have mobile offices operating in different countries.”

Dialogue between two continents

A logic that also speaks to Nduduzo Makhathini, whose previous album Blue Note had already released, Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds. “In a way, the arrival of jazz in the US is the result of a shift from the African continent” somehow. “Somehow the memory of Africa was preserved there and then turned into sounds in these foreign places. These sounds grew, became jazz and echoed back to the African continent, so there is this very beautiful dialogue that takes place on both sides of the Atlantic. . “

It is also for the pianist to open doors for future generations. For this new album, the pianist has also trusted and highlighted the young saxophonists and trumpeters Linda Sikhakhane and Robin Fassie Kock, and he hopes that the record company will allow future great discoveries. “It is truly an important moment for African jazz to be exported internationally. People will now know that there is, for this music, this special sensitivity that comes from the continent.”

Nduduzo MakhathiniIn The Spirit Of Ntu (Blue Note Africa) 2022

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