Story Tellers : A Review by Nduduzo Makhathini


Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments and indoor

Though this concert was billed as ‘Tete Mbambisa SA-UK Big Sound 2017 Tour’ sitting [or rather standing as the music had kept me on my feet the entire time] in the audience at ‘The Rainbow’ jazz club in Pinetown, KwaZulu Natal, Sunday the 9th of July 2017, I felt as though the responsibility of allowing us on this journey was equally shared between Mbambisa and the great Bab’uBarney Rachabane on alto saxophone, there was a strong sense of trust which obviously was supported by the great talents of brother Ayanda Sikade on the drums and Mbambisa’s UK connection featuring; Julian Argüelles (tenor), Chris Batchelor (trumpet) and Steve Watts (bass).

I walked into the venue on the last song of the first set, the room was buzzing and I was content from hearing the last couple of bars of the last  tune of the 1st set in this fully charged room. The blending of the horns was beautiful, exceptionally as well as thoughtfully arranged by the great Mbambisa himself, those who know will remember that harmonies have been his specialty from the early days of the ‘Four Yanks’ vocal group.

You could also tell that a lot of this music brought quite a nostalgic feeling in the room for a lot of the older folks in the audience. I am particularly very sensitive to talking audiences during a performance, but yesterday was an exception, I started hearing these conversations as part of the greater narrative that the music was seeking to address regarding our journey as a country and its extremely interesting layers of history. I also felt a very strong presence of our ancestry in the room, the venue is indeed historic.

The conversation/dialogue between Mbambisa and Rachabane came out quite robustly throughout the concert, this was a history class to those that had ears to hear.

These two jazz giants started playing together in the 60’s at the height of South Africa’s trying times and in the middle of the 76 uprising recorded the ‘Big Sound’ with an octet. There is something really deep, touching and moving with their articulations of ‘Marabi’ it reflects our past and present in a deep way and of course they are the fathers of this music.

Perhaps this conversation also captures the mood of what Prof Salim Washington terms as ‘inxiles’ referring to musicians that never left the country during apartheid, but saw it all, and documented it in their music. Washington describes it as ‘an evolving aesthetic that move from protest to celebration’ Washington 2012.

But again, through the concert we witnessed yet another layer to the discourse, a manifestation of nuances of Southern African jazz that developed and evolved outside the country in exile as half of the ensemble of Mbambisa’s ‘Big Sound’ was British and had never been in South Africa before but instead absorbed this music through a movement orchestrated by South African musicians in exile such as the ‘Blue Notes’ and others that were in London. You could tell that the British musicians were equally comfortable with the vibe in the music and understood where it came from.

Another piece that personally touched me very deep was a song called ‘Black Heroes’ it made me once more to believe that this certainly is a very symbolic time for our country, there is a need to listen, so much is being told and said through the music. There is a certain level of awareness that these music’s project and cultivate that when properly assimilated can liberate our people and inspire a restoration of culture.

Lastly, I also saw something really special during this performance, maybe it’s my imagination, but perhaps we might see this later when our brothers and sisters behind the lens start sharing the images from the concert, looking from above it looked to me as if the band had deliberately set up in an X-shaped angle as a way of symbolizing and visually addressing the racism, social injustice and all the inequalities in society, so how I read it was; the (X) represented a big no to these social ills. Through the ‘Big Sound’ we tasted a possibility of a rainbow nation as ‘The Rainbow’ stood as a backdrop to the bandstand.

Love to the team behind this very important initiative…

Nduduzo Makhathini



4 thoughts on “Story Tellers : A Review by Nduduzo Makhathini

  1. Menzi Maseko Mkhulu this is an exceptional review …this was indeed a most moving occasion,I am still at a loss for words to describe it.Usually at jazz concerts I come in with pen and paper and gradually sketch poetic messages from what I receive for the music.This time i left pen and paper in the car and wanted to absorb the vibe.Yes the venue was packed beyond capacity,the food was Soul full I had ujeqe nemfino…
    But indeed Rachabane and the whole horn section were in such perfect harmony and seemed to be in love or deep reverence for each other …flowing seamlessly and improvising dexterously over the most melodic distinctly South Afrikan accents.As I mentioned to you and Sikade izolo, the whole band seemed to understand at least the written IsiXhosa/Nguni language in the music,but it was the proverbial undertones and overtones of the Bantu idioms that some times ‘threw’ the otherwise very capable UK guys off kilter.But then that’s the beauty of improvisational music, you learn to flow with the spontaneity of the heated moment.


  2. Nduduzo thank you so much for your comments. I really wanted to write something myself, but I danced instead! I was also cognizant that this concert was occurring on the same day of the celebration of life for Baba Phil Cohran in Chicago on the beach of Lake Michigan where Phil and others have made historic music in the windy city. Africa’s wings spread far and wide!


    1. Indeed the Sun never sets on Afrika’s children … there was so much warmth and beauty at this gathering. I had to leave early due to the Triplets needing me home, but I fully enjoyed and learned a lot just from listening.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s