Songs for our grandchildren
WINSTON MANKUNKU NGOZI
Abantwana be Afrika
Africans in space
Here is an excellent opportunity for those who have not yet discovered the richness of South African jazz to hear some of the best that is being produced down there right now. This is music full of sincerity and warmth, and at the same time hard swinging and powerful. In several cases, the same musicians play on several of these records, but each CD still renders its own version of contemporary S.A. jazz. Everything is incredibly well played and well produced, and at the same time full of vitality and bounce.
At this year’s version of Stockholm Jazz Festival we had a taste of the quintet Voice, who came over as a part of the cultural exchange between our two countries which has only just started. Besides obvious South African influences, their latest record Songs For Our Grandchildren includes both hard bop and a few ballads – especially the soaringly beautiful tribute that saxophonist Sydney Mnisi wrote to his mother, who passed away during this recording.
Unlike many other musicians, tenor saxophonist Winston Mankunku, born in 1943, remained in South Africa during the rough years of apartheid. Thereby he had less international fame than his exiled compatriots such as Johnny Dyani and Abdullah Ibrahim – although he actually toured Sweden in 1993. But back home he is a legend, who has meant a great deal to the development of jazz. Steadily rooted in tradition, his record has both a timelessness and an afro jazz feeling which could have made a swing through the U.S. to collect inspiration from the best moments of Coltrane, but which is of course also coming directly from Africa. This music is easy to love, not least because of this man’s incredibly vital tenor sax with its happily bouncing phrasing, which becomes obvious about 13 seconds into the first track when he, after a piano intro, plays his first notes.
These musicians belong to the top level among the younger generation of jazz musicians in S.A – not least pianist Andile Yenana, who also produced this record. His timing is wonderful, and he is often mentioned along with words such as bright or brilliant.
Marcus Wyatt’s CD is full of nice compositions. Several tunes have odd time signatures – for instance a mbaqanga-influenced thing in 11/8 which had a very warm audience response when performed by Voice at Stockholm Jazz Festival. Just like there, both Marcus and Sydney Mnisi show their talent as soloists, displaying great wealth of variety, both in melody and tone. Bass player Herbie Tsoaeli is playing on all three records, and with his distinct playing he leaves no doubt about why he is one of the most wanted studio bass players in South Africa.
Published in Lira Magazine #3/2005