“Ase (or às̩e̩ or ashe) is an African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change. It is given by Olodumare to everything – gods, ancestors, spirits, humans, animals, plants, rocks, rivers, and voiced words such as songs, prayers, praises, curses, or even everyday conversation. Existence, according to Yoruba thought, is dependent upon it.
In addition to its sacred characteristics, ase also has important social ramifications, reflected in its translation as “power, authority, command.” A person who, through training, experience, and initiation, learns how to use the essential life force of things to willfully effect change is called an alaase.
Rituals to invoke divine forces reflect this same concern for the autonomous ase of particular entities. The recognition of the uniqueness and autonomy of the ase of persons and gods is what structures society and its relationship with the other-world.” – Wikipedia definition of Ase’/Ashe.
It is not at all surprising that the deeply spiritual ‘jazz’ improviser, record producer and Healer Nduduzo Makhathini should begin his latest offering, Reflections, with a song tentatively titled Ase’.
Like many of his forerunners on the ivories such as Bheki Mseleku, McCoy Tyner, Abdullah Ibrahim, Randy Weston, Omar Sosa and many others; the humble yet wildly gifted Artist has chosen to immerse himself in the Spiritual aspects of the music. The aim is to channel the inspiration towards personal, social and cosmic transformation.
It is a serious and all consuming endeavor, to surrender ones being to the often psychologically overwhelming force of music and the unscripted energy of the Ancestors. One has to find some sort of balance or equilibrium between the world of the spirits, the departed, the higher realms and the waking life filled with so many rules, definitions and cares.
One has to make a commitment to venture into the music and the audience with a purpose driven attitude, to balance the aesthetic with the authentic. Sometimes what one composes takes on a life of its own, which may not sound beautiful in the conventional sense, but it is the reflection of true expression. Take for instance, the finishing refrains of the song Igagu, which begins quietly and unassumingly mellow, but ends in a flurry of notes played as if the Artist was momentarily possessed by IThongo ( the Great Bantu Spirit or the Universal Consciousness) or else an Ancestor seeking an outlet to vent.
Reflections, just like one of the albums of the aforementioned Randy Weston, called The Spirits of Our Ancestors, seems to pay homage to Makhithini’s musical and familial predecessors. In a language that is both deeply emotional and transcendentally universal, the Artist echoes the voices of the sung and unsung Ancestors.
The song, You’re In Chains Too, comes through as straight ahead Blues in the tradition of the Jimmy Smiths or even the Soul man Timmy Thomas. As a clear socio-political commentary reflecting the fact that anyone who oppresses another is in fact equally oppressed. In our world that is filled with as many social ills as it is with grace, it is always good to be reminded of such universal truths. To know that there is more to life than self-gratification and seeking after vainglorious things, there are those among us who are here to remind us all that we ought to practice as much Self Love as we practice Social Loving or giving Selflessly of ones gifts and being.
The way Makhathini approaches the piano is like how a medicine man prepares a a healing potion or the way a midwife approaches an expectant mother-to be – there is a reverence that is inexplicable. It is only the one who is engaged in the act who knows how it feels, but lucky for those whose ears and Souls are attuned to such subtle works, the wholesome Reflection is reflected back a million times.
Music is a language and this language we have come to know as jazz carries us across many troubled waters and brings us to the shores of inner-knowing. Just like Biko’s statement that Black Consciousness is an inward looking process, the music of Nduduzo Makhathini invites us on his inner journey, only to discover that we Are connected in more ways that we care to remember.
In a quiet and unhurried way, the album Reflections draws us into the a meditative trance where we willingly and collectively seek the good in all of us. It comforts the hurting and offers respite to the weary. It is both a celebration of the gifts of our Ancestors as well as the Bright as snow promise of tomorrow.
Menzi Maseko (c)