NEW MUSIC: Next Stop…Soweto Vol.3: The Giants, Ministers & Makers: Jazz in South Africa 1963-1984

Dennis MapleOrlando (from Next Stop…Soweto Vol.3)
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Strut Records released volume 3 in the three-part  “Next Stop… Soweto” series, exploring the musical soul of South Africa. While volumes 1 and 2 focused on township jive and soul, hip-hop, funk and R&B, volume 3 takes retrospective glance to a vibrant and sophisticated jazz scene in the midst of apartheid.

With imported influence from American legends such as Count Basie Orchestra, Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker and a local infusion of more traditional marabi, a hipnotic rhythm, and kwela, a happy pennywhistle-based rhythm, South African jazz blossomed into its own category, mbaqanga, and in the 1950s found prominence on the world stage. Harsh apartheid restrictions, however, made it very difficult for any black musician to perform in the country at the time, and as a result many South African jazz musicians were forced into exile. Fortunately, many continued in their craft abroad, attracting international attention to the state of South African affairs, and returned home with the end of the apartheid in the 1990s.

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Next Stop Soweto Vol. 3 chronicles the jazz musicians who stayed in South Africa and performed in defiance of the apartheid government, with a slight twist of irony. The complex, cultivated, upbeat and even swanky rhythm does not depict the pain and suffering of a people under the auspices of apartheid, but rather celebrates an imported African-American brand of music imbued with local culture in a way that illustrates the freedom those musicians deserved and, yet, were denied. It is not the music of the downtrodden, but the proud and hopeful.

The two-part album features South African ‘jazz giants, ministers and makers,’ like saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, drummer Early Mabuza, pianist Dollar Brand, the Soul Jazzmen, Heshoo Beshoo Group and The Drive.

The album also features an unreleased track, Dollar Brand’s ‘Next Stop Soweto’ from the archives of the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Soweto was the home of the Cold Castle Jazz Festival, where many of South Africa’s jazz legends performed. In 1961, Dollar Brand, trumpet player Hugh Masekela and alto saxophonist Kippi Moeketsi played together, as the Jazz Epistles, at the festival and won first prize for jazz band.

As with previous volumes, the physical album features rare photos and sleeve notes by South Africa author on music and culture, Gwen Ansell.

This album comes highly recommended, if anything for its rich history, but primarily for its unique mode and elevated approach. Listen, and you’ll see what I mean.