Nduduzo Makhathini is a South African pianist, vocalist, and bandleader who seems to be at the forefront of a group of young musicians from that country. This new South African jazz has a strong spiritual element, tying it to the work of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane as well as Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim, but the players—including Makhathini, keyboardist Thandi Ntuli, and saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane, among others—have their own identities. Like Kamasi Washington and his cohorts in the US, they are doing much more than just reflecting or responding to the past, and they seem to be reaching an audience that hasn’t had much interest in jazz until recently.
Sikhakhane, currently living and studying in New York, worked with Makhathini on his debut album, Two Sides, One Mirror. (Makhathini has produced several albums for other South African artists, some of which have been nominated for awards in that country; he himself has received several nominations for his own work.) Sikhakhane says, “Makhathini is an important figure to the South African jazz scene. Beyond being one of the greatest pianists of our time, he deliberately uses his gift of divination and healing through music. In a very short space of time he independently released six albums, and his latest offering, Ikhambi, [through] Universal Music Group. All of these albums have a clear narrative. Makhathini’s contribution plays a big role in decolonization and the recovery of indigenous knowledge.”
The band on Ikhambi features tenor saxophonist James Allsopp, alto saxophonist James Mainwaring, flautist Eddie Parker, trombonist Dennis Rollins, bassist Magne Thormodsæter, and drummer Ayanda Sikade. There are also orchestral instruments—harp and strings—and African percussion, and a vocal chorus. The tunes surge with energy, mixing deep bluesy vamps from the rhythm section with exhortations from the horns. The first section of “Umthakathi,” a three-part suite (one of two on the album), blends heavy piano blues reminiscent of Alice Coltrane‘s Journey in Satchidananda with passionate, old school-meets-free jazz saxophone that recalls David Murray., as a female singer offers sardonic-seeming commentary not unlike Jeanne Lee‘s performance on Archie Shepp‘s “Blasé.” The second movement, by contrast, is a solo piano interlude, with some delicate percussion, while the third is all rhythm (including tablas), handclaps and chanting, with a feeling that’s more North African than South.
The second suite, “Impande,” sounds inspired by Archie Shepp‘s late ’60s work, with pounding piano, muscular saxophone, and deeply resonant trombone. Some of the other tracks have English-language titles which reflect Makhathini’s spirituality—”Holy, Holy,” “Innocent Child,” “Windows of Our Hearts.” Ikhambi, the album title, is a Zulu word used by traditional doctors and herbalists to refer to a blend of healing herbs. Clearly, he intends his music to offer healing to the listener. It’s possible that his reputation will begin spreading beyond Africa soon, as he’s also a member of Shabaka Hutchings‘ group Shabaka and the Ancestors, who will be recording their second album this year.
The video for the opening track, “Amathambo,” is fantastic. (It’s a five-minute edit of what’s actually an 11:30 track.) Watch it below:
Ikhambi is out now. Stream it below: