For the Zulu and Xhosa communities in South Africa, an indaba is a gathering of elders and experts who share their knowledge and wisdom to solve problems. This indaba – with 52 musicians from Xhosa and Zulu and many other backgrounds – was convened south of Pretoria at the height of the country’s winter lockdown last June. The cream of Gauteng’s jazz musicians created these eight meditations on the state of the nation three decades after the fall of apartheid in various combinations and collaborations.
The organizers 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 presented the compilation to the London label Brownswood as the successor to its anthologies in London and Melbourne. The couple accompanies the pianist Bokani Dyer to the opening of “Ke Nako”. The chorus is Setswana for “It’s Time”, a rally for the ANC ahead of the first free election in 1994, but the accusation can be heard when they sing “It’s Time”. Let’s help build the nation. it’s time”.
The trumpeter Lwanda Gogwana and The Ancestors (known outside of South Africa for their record with Shabaka Hutchings) are reminiscent of the big bands of the past and their mix of marabi and bebop on “Prelude to Writing Together”. In contrast, The Wretched’s “What Is History” loops brought together some calls to action from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Kwame Ture, who was a leading Black Power advocate as the Black Panther Stokely Carmichael. “We find our humanity”, sings Gabi Motuba, “on the other side of death and despair.” Drums thunder.
Sibusile Xaba, the heir to Philip Tabanes Malombo, channels spiritual experiences as an acoustic guitarist and works with producer AshK to help clear up electronic pollution. “When will it end”, asks Ntuli on her own track, “Dikeledi”, in the midst of a steamy electric piano, “part with God?” The final track “Abaphezulu” by iPhupho L’ka Biko with Kinsmen and a guest appearance by Mthembu begins briefly with a sitar play by Dhruv Sodha before turning into a gospel-and-tabla with horns that sound like the Rainbow Nation -Workout passes stands proud again.
‘Indaba Is’ is published by Brownswood