by Opiyo Oloya

September 1996

Brice Wassy

Pushing the Borders of Jazz

In the free South Africa, the kind of jazz pioneered by Dollar Brand and Hugh Masekela is still alive. But, judging from their latest work, artists like Sipho Gumede and Madala Kunene are relentlessly pushing the border of jazz, weaving strands from numerous musical traditions. Gumede's album titled Ubuntu (B+W) retains a mere hint of the doughy mbaqanga township beat that kept South Africans jiving through much of the 70s and 1980s. There is instead a delightful flirting with American pop jazz, Latin percussions and uniquely raucous South African horns. There is unerring sensitivity to the mood of the lyrics. The track "Don't Mess With Me" adopts an aggressive, frontal attack with Mabi Thobejane beating a hole in the congas, while Moses Molelekwa burns the Grand Piano. On the tune "Township Jive", lively joie de vivre oozes to the surface, scattering happiness on the faces of the beholders. Both "Hayi Bo" and "Sandile" speak directly to the wounded hearts. The former is a song about a woman who loses her husband to the violent city. The sadness in the music is palpable as the wailing voice of Busi Mhlongo teeters on the brink. Indeed, by succeeding on this album, Gumede speaks to Ubuntu (humanity).

In Kon'Ko Man (B+W), Madala Kunene who is known as the "King of Zulu Guitar", has moved away from the purely township jive in order to mint a sophisticated sound that defies category even as it soothes the soul. On this album, he is swift-footed with his rich celebration of traditional Zulu songs. Yet, with some deft finger movements, he sidesteps the high flying guitar style of the Soul Brothers for the more moody acoustic sound reminiscent of the Malagasy sound of D'Gary and Jihe. He brings to the album a rare spontaneity one discerns in village ritual dances. Yet, the cast of musicians chosen for this project reads like the Who-is-Who of international music. The brilliant pace is set by the percussive power of Brazilian drummer Airto Moreira, meanwhile the voices of Flora Purim and Busi Mhlongo propel the music with a spiritual trance-like energy. There is positive vibes everywhere. One imagines sweat falling to the parched ground and dust rising into the twilight as dancers twirl and sway with abandon.

For the music lover eager to sample the delectable sounds of the new South Africa but is too modest to afford all the new cds, African Solution (Indigo) offers the best package. This compilation includes the lilting guitars of the Soul Brothers, the deep esoteric voices of the acappella group called the New South Africa, the sheer magic of an obscure band known only as IPCC and the beautiful reggae rhythms of Jambo and Free at Last. And then there is the established name of Mbogeni Ngema, he of the internationally acclaimed musical "Sarafina". He is featured on two hot tracks that open and close the album. All the tracks on this album possess the innovative spirit, a willingness to try something new.

However, the problem with being innovative is that one may produce a piece of work that few understand or appreciate. This is the case with Brice Wassy. He is the world famous Camerounian Master drummer who has played with the likes of Salif Keita, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, and many others. On his new album N'Ga Funk (B+W), Wassy blends jazz, rock and traditional Bikutsi beat into a potent musical cocktail. To ears of the uninitiated, the music is at once complex, tantalising and seemingly random. But in order to reach the sweet nectar at the core, one must patiently peel through deep layers of often infuriatingly discordant rhythms. It's sheer hard work, but once inside this album, you can sit back and enjoy.

The previous edition of Afrodisc is available

Opiyo Oloya is the host of the radio program Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM Radio, Toronto. The show airs on Saturday 4:00 PM- 5:00 PM.

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