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 speciality 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 musics 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…