For the Zulu and Xhosa communities in South Africa, an indaba is a meeting of elders and experts, who share their knowledge and wisdom to solve problems. This indaba — of 52 musicians from Xhosa and Zulu and many other backgrounds — was convened just south of Pretoria, at the height of the country’s midwinter lockdown last June. The cream of Gauteng’s jazz musicians, in different combinations and collaborations, created these eight meditations on the state of the nation three decades after the fall of apartheid.
The conveners and musical directors were the pianist Thandi Ntuli and the storyteller and singer Siyabonga Mthembu, one of the founders of the loose collective The Brother Moves On. Mthembu pitched the compilation to the London label Brownswood as a follow-up to its London and Melbourne anthologies. The pair join pianist Bokani Dyer for the opening “Ke Nako”. The refrain is Setswana for “It’s time”, a rallying cry for the ANC in the run-up to the first free elections in 1994, but the note of reproach is audible as they chorus “it’s time; let us help to build the nation; it’s time”.
Trumpeter Lwanda Gogwana and The Ancestors (best known outside South Africa for their record with Shabaka Hutchings) hark back to the big bands of the past and their blends of marabi and bebop on “Prelude to Writing Together”. By contrast, The Wretched’s “What Is History” loops sampled snatches of calls to action from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and from Kwame Ture who, as the Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, was a leading advocate of Black Power. “We find our humanity”, sings Gabi Motuba, “on the other side of death and despair.” Drums thunder.
Sibusile Xaba, the heir to Philip Tabane’s Malombo, channels spiritual experiences as an acoustic guitarist and is teamed with the producer AshK for disconcerting electronic smudges. “When will it end,” asks Ntuli on her own track, “Dikeledi”, amid hazy electric piano, “separating yourself from God?” The closing track, “Abaphezulu”, by iPhupho L’ka Biko featuring Kinsmen and a guest appearance from Mthembu, opens briefly with sitar playing from Dhruv Sodha before moving into a gospel-and-tabla workout with horns that sound as if the Rainbow Nation is once again standing proud.
‘Indaba Is’ is released by Brownswood