Music – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za now-now, a pan African gazette - in print quarterly and online Tue, 28 Jun 2022 16:39:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/cropped-CHIMURENGA-LOGO-32x32.jpg Music – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za 32 32 MASELLO MOTANA’S VOCAL MUSEUM https://chimurengachronic.co.za/masello-motanas-vocal-museum/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/masello-motanas-vocal-museum/#respond Tue, 28 Jun 2022 11:19:48 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=19275 Live at the Chimurenga Factory

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We are proud to present a once-off performance of Masello Motana’s Vocal Museum at the Chimurenga Factory on 8 July 2022.

The Vocal Museum is a sonic documentary, a journey into collective memory, an activation of the Azanian songbook by singer-satirist, actress and performance artist Masello Motana, backed by a live band. This foray into the South African Black Ark follows Masello’s earlier musical experiments through projects such as the kwaito revivalist outfit Thath’i Cover Okestra, or the out-soundings of Louis Moholo’s Born To Be Black Experience.

This performance of Masello Motana’s Vocal Museum is presented in collaboration with Zeitz Mocaa Museum, in celebration of the publication of Tracey Rose’s monograph “Shooting Down Babylon”.

Masello is accompanied by Sibusiso Mkhize (vocals), Sibusiso Dlamini (keys), Bongani Nikelo (bass), Kegorogile Makgatle (drums); and DJs. Food provided by Kitchen Diaspora.

Doors open 7pm.
R120 pre-booked at https://qkt.io/lCs99C.
R150 at the door.

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SALIM WASHINGTON, DALISU NDLAZI, ASHER GAMEDZE… IN CONVERSATION https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/salim-washington-dalisu-ndlazi-asher-gamedze-in-conversation/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/salim-washington-dalisu-ndlazi-asher-gamedze-in-conversation/#respond Wed, 07 Jul 2021 10:44:16 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=17907 Chimurenga presented a musical conversation between Salim Washington (saxophone/flute), Dalisu Ndlazi (bass) […]

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Chimurenga presented a musical conversation between Salim Washington (saxophone/flute), Dalisu Ndlazi (bass) and Asher Gamedze (drums) at the Chimurenga Factory (157 Victoria Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town), Thursday, 24 June 2021.

This event formed part of the Stories About Music in Africa series.

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PASS LANDING AT LAVOIR MODERNE PARISIEN, PARIS https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-lavoir-moderne-parisien-paris/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-lavoir-moderne-parisien-paris/#respond Tue, 06 Jul 2021 14:12:59 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=pass_pop_up&p=17901 From 5-9 May 2021, Chimurenga’s Pan African Space Station (PASS) landed at […]

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From 5-9 May 2021, Chimurenga’s Pan African Space Station (PASS) landed at Lavoir Moderne Parisien in Goutte d’or, Paris, to imagine, re-examine and re-circulate sonic archives of black radicalism in the francophone world. This session dug into the “soundtrack” (bande-son), an underlying container of information and ideas that is seldom explored on its own terms.

We departed from cinematic practice, specifically films/filmmakers (Julius-Amedee Laou, Elsie Haas, Med Hondo, Kanor sisters, Sarah Maldoror, etc) represented in the printed archive we had recently installed in Centre Pompidou, and expanded the soundtrack beyond the screen to other areas of knowledge production: the street, the club, recording studios, kongossa, live performances, noise, even the magazine page.

We imagined a live in-studio soundtrack that responded to and expanded visual footage from the 2nd Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome 1959 – an event charged by the-then process of decolonisation and the unwelcome presence of younger, radical thinkers such as Fanon, Beti, Glissant, Beville and more. We took the cues from Fabienne and Véronique Kanor’s “La noiraude” to explore zouk as aesthetics of black transnationalism – a geography of unauthorised pleasure throughout the 1980s. We listened to Sarah Maldoror’s record collection, and her use of music on film.

In Julius-Amedee Laou’s “Solitaire a micro ouvert”, the brother of a man killed in a racist murder in Paris of the 1980s takes over of a black radio station to address the “community”. In “La Vieille Quimboiseuse et le majordome” he highlights the dialectic between the seen and the heard. We listened to the oral history of “La coordination des femmes noires” that writer Gerty Dambury continually produces; or Gerard Lockel’s development of gro ka moden as decolonial praxis; or the Paris-based afro/astrosonic network documented in the music Jo Maka, Ramadolf, Cheikh Tidiane Fall, Yebga Likoba and more, which not only connects directly to Maldoror’s film “Un dessert pour Constance” but also puts sound to the immigrant struggles of the post-May 68 era. And brought us to the ongoing gentrification and structural violence in Goutte d’or.

We considered Frank Biyong’s retelling of the war of decolonisation in Cameroun in his album “Ibolo Ini”, and more broadly his use of music as site of memorialising; and explored black ecologies through sound.

We presented “Act 2” of Christian Nyampeta’s acclaimed radio-play “The Africans”.

And live performances, talks, screenings, DJ sets. And more.

Recorded sessions from the landing are available for replay via PASS on Mixcloud.

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FESTAC 77 BOOK (Oct 2019) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/festac77/#respond Tue, 01 Oct 2019 11:40:01 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=13686 Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

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Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist cultural-political gatherings.

As told by Chimurenga, this is the first publication to address the planetary scale of FESTAC alongside the personal and artistic encounters it made possible. Featuring extensive unseen photographic and archival materials, interviews and new commissions, the book relays the stories, words and works of the festival’s extraordinary cast of characters.

With: Wole Soyinka, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Archie Shepp, Miriam Makeba, Allioune Diop, Jeff Donaldson, Louis Farrakhan, Stevie Wonder, Abdias do Nascimento, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Mario de Andrade, Ted Joans, Nadi Qamar,Carlos Moore, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Johnny Dyani, Werewere Liking, Marilyn Nance, Barkley Hendricks, Mildred Thompson, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Jayne Cortez, Atukwei OkaiJonas Gwangwa, Theo Vincent, Lindsay Barrett, Gilberto de la Nuez, Sun Ra and many others.

And featuring new writing from: Akin Adesokan, Moses Serubiri, Harmony Holiday, Semeneh Ayalew, Hassan Musa, Emmanuel Iduma, Michael McMillan, Dominique Malaquais and Cedric Vincent, Molefe Pheto, Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Hermano Penna, Alice Aterianus.
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Published by Chimurenga and Afterall Books, in association with Asia Art Archive, the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College and RAW Material Company, 2019.


The FESTAC 77 publication is available for purchase through our online shop.

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PASS LANDING AT KUNSTNERNES HUS, OSLO https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-kunstnernes-hus-oslo/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-kunstnernes-hus-oslo/#respond Wed, 12 Jan 2022 14:08:57 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=pass_pop_up&p=18835 From Wednesday, 17 - Saturday, 20 February, 2021, Pan African Space Station (PASS) broadcast a daily session, produced for ‘Actions of Art and Solidarity’, a group exhibition curated by Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) in Oslo and organised with Kunstnernes Hus.

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From Wednesday, 17 – Saturday, 20 February, 2021, Pan African Space Station (PASS) broadcast a daily session, produced for ‘Actions of Art and Solidarity’, a group exhibition curated by Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) in Oslo and organised with Kunstnernes Hus. These PASS transmissions unpacked and expanded stories and research published in the Festac ’77 book in which we revisited the imaginative (im)possibilities of pan African festivals (the PANAFESTs) that took place in the utopian moments of the post-independence era.

Day 1, Wednesday 17 February:
Benin 1897 to Festac 1977, re-membering Erhabor Emokpae.
What are the legacies of Benin 1897? And how did the art of Erhabor Emokpae, designer of Festac’s visual identity, reignite the debate? Considering restitution debates and politics and the significance of Erhabor Emokpae, PASS hosted a conversation featuring Emokpae’s son the visual artist Isaac Emokpae, his granddaughter Ese Otubu, and the late Erhabor Emokpae himself.

Day 2, Thursday 18 February:
Freedom and Control, Technology and Science: a conversation with Arild Boman.
On this day in 1977, Agege Motor Road in Lagos, Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic was infamously rampaged by military police. Arild Boman, a scientist, educator and experimental musician, witnessed the scene while attending Festac as a broadcasting consultant for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). In this PASS session we inquired how, with colleagues at the University of Lagos, Boman came to co-produce a remarkable Festac questionnaire and co-organise the Festac ’77 Video Art Workshop.

Day 3, Friday 19 February:
Pan-Africanisms, Afro-Asian movement and Tricontinentalism.
Exploring red and black solidarities, PASS listened to a variety of voices, including Uhuru Phalafala and Christopher Lee, about conferences and festivals, Alex La Guma’s Soviet journeying, the project of Third-Worldism, and networks of writers and artistic groups culturally working for liberation.

Day 4, Saturday 20 February:
Amandla! Power to the people and poets: a conversation with Lindiwe Mabuza.
PASS welcomed an ambassador of cultural-politics, scholar-poet Lindiwe Mabuza to share stories of her consciousness-raising and activism in the USA, then at Festac ’77 and as the ANC’s Chief Representative in Sweden where she helped conduct the movements of Amandla Cultural Group.

(Photo from New Directions magazine)

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Denderah Rising with Georgia Anne Muldrow + Thandi Ntuli Quartet + The Monkey Nuts https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/denderah-rising-with-georgia-anne-muldrow-thandi-ntuli-quartet-the-monkey-nuts/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/denderah-rising-with-georgia-anne-muldrow-thandi-ntuli-quartet-the-monkey-nuts/#respond Wed, 21 Aug 2019 13:59:31 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=12380 In April 2018, we welcomed back Georgia Anne Muldrow and her “ancestral orchestra” feat. Thandi […]

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In April 2018, we welcomed back Georgia Anne Muldrow and her “ancestral orchestra” feat. Thandi Ntuli Quartet and The Monkey Nuts to Pan African Space Station (PASS). Below is an excerpt of that night. Breathe!

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PASS presents: FOKN Bois (LIVE at Greatmore Studios) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/pass-presents-fokn-bois-live-at-greatmore-studios/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/pass-presents-fokn-bois-live-at-greatmore-studios/#respond Wed, 24 Jul 2019 07:36:02 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=12431 On 10 September 2016, the Pan African Space Station hosted Gospel Christain […]

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On 10 September 2016, the Pan African Space Station hosted Gospel Christain Porn Rap duo FOKN Bois at Greatmore Studios, Cape Town.

M3NSA (the Ghanaian Hiplife Pioneer) and Wanlov the Kubolor (African Gypsy) of FOKN Bois unapologetically venture into territories that other Ghanaian musicians stay well clear of. Controversial, bold and shocking, the duo is known to entertain and challenge the status-quo of everyday Ghanaian society. The performance was broadcast live on PASS via the airwaves and can be revisted here.

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Floating Points LIVE at Gugu S’thebe Theatre https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/floating-points-live-at-gugu-sthebe-theatre/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/floating-points-live-at-gugu-sthebe-theatre/#respond Tue, 23 Jul 2019 14:10:15 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=12384 On 7 March 2015, Pan African Space Station (PASS) hosted UK musician, composer, […]

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On 7 March 2015, Pan African Space Station (PASS) hosted UK musician, composer, producer, DJ and neuroscientist Floating Points (aka Sam Shepard) LIVE at Guga S’Thebe Theatre in Langa.

His DJ work and love for vinyl records has taken him all over the world, with Brazil and Japan favourite regular destinations. This Pan African Space Station (PASS) show will be his first trip to southern Africa and shall see Floating Points perform a vinyl DJ set using his rotary “travel” mixer to combine his own productions with a vast array of influences.

As co-founder of the independent label Eglo Records (with Alexander Nut), Floating Points has helped create and shape a cutting-edge platform for contemporary soul and dance music. Since 2009, he has released a score of much lauded singles, remixes and EPs which continue to cause crowds around the world to dance. Hits including ‘Vacuum Boogie’ and ‘People’s Potential’. His debut album is due later in the year and is set to introduce even more audiences to Floating Points’ distinct and highly inventive sounds. In 2014, Eglo Records released the exceptional singer Fatima’s debut album, Yellow Memories. Floating Points wrote four tracks on this LP, including ‘Do Better’ with Theo Parrish.

This PASS performance was supported by the British Council, Connect ZA and New Music Connections grants and forms part of SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015 which is a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa and the British Council.

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PASS LANDING AT NATIONAL GALLERY OF ZIMBABWE, HARARE https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-national-gallery-of-zimbabwe-harare/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/pass_pop_up/pass-landing-at-national-gallery-of-zimbabwe-harare/#respond Thu, 09 Nov 2017 12:27:50 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=pass_pop_up&p=14775 From 9 – 12 November, the Pan African Space Station (PASS) landed in The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) in the centre of Harare.

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From 9 – 12 November, the Pan African Space Station (PASS) landed in The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) in the centre of Harare.

In collaboration with visual artist Kudzanai Chiurai, who launched his first ever solo exhibition in his home country titled ‘We Need New Names’, Chimurenga installed the PASS studio as a public research platform towards a Zimbabwe focused issue of the Chimurenga Chronic.

Looking into the inventions of Zimbabwe, the programming examined music as the paradigm through which the country and region’s political history is told and archived. Whatever Zimbabwe is, and is becoming, already exists in the sound-worlds produced in the region. PASS in Harare invited musicians, artists, writers, cultural producers and rebels based in Harare and beyond in studio to uncover these worlds, including:

Dwayne Kapula is a Zimbabwean DJ and vinyl archivist based in Johannesburg.
Irene Staunton and Njabu Mbono are publishers at the Zimbabwean publishing house Weaver Press.
Joyce Jenje is a Zimbabwean writer and ethnomusicologist.
The Monkey Nuts are an experimental music performance and production collective.
Netsayi Chigwendere is a Zimbabwean composer and vocalist.
Robert Machiri is a music researcher and archivist based in Johannesburg.
Rumbi Katedza is a Zimbabwean filmmaker and radio producer based in Harare.
Sbu ‘The General’ Nxumalo is a writer and artist based in Johannesburg.
Tinashe Mushakavanhu is a writer and editor based in Harare.
Tinofireyi Zhou (aka Aero5ol) is an artist and poet based in Harare.
Virginia Phiri is Zimbabwean musician from the iconic Zim-rock group Wells Fargo and many more.

Listen to recordings of some of these sessions at our Mixcloud page.

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SONGS FOR BIKO and other stomps, screams and prayers https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/songs-for-biko-and-other-stomps-screams-and-prayers/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/songs-for-biko-and-other-stomps-screams-and-prayers/#respond Tue, 13 Jul 2021 11:42:11 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=17950 September 12 is Biko Day. On this day in 1977, black consciousness philosopher, thinker, leader Steve […]

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Photograph: Gregory Franz

September 12 is Biko Day. On this day in 1977, black consciousness philosopher, thinker, leader Steve Biko died in police custody in 1977. This day also historically marks the start of the Pan African Space Station intervention.

The 24-hr marathon praise party held to launch PASS in 2008, titled “Songs for Biko, and other stomps, screams and prayers”, included DJs, musicians, soundists, poets and generally noise people presenting music and sound inspired by Steve Biko’s work; and read from his words in I Write What I Like.

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Georgia Anne Muldrow & Declaime LIVE at Guga S’thebe, Langa https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/georgia-anne-muldrow-declaime-live-at-guga-sthebe-langa/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/georgia-anne-muldrow-declaime-live-at-guga-sthebe-langa/#respond Wed, 24 Jul 2019 10:01:29 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=12467 Listen to Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley ‘Declaime’ Perkins, recorded live at the Guga S’thebe, Langa […]

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Listen to Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley ‘Declaime’ Perkins, recorded live at the Guga S’thebe, Langa on 2 October, 2010.

American funk-fusion chanteuse Georgia Anne Muldrow is, to have Mos Def tell it, ‘like Flack, Nina Simone, Ella, she’s something else. She’s like religion.’ Muldrow is a seeker, a journeywoman unafraid to chart new musical territories. Travelling side by side with soulmate, influential, purposeful and prolific executive producer/emcee/visual artist Dudley Perkins (Declaime), they forge the missing links between beat konductas like Madlib and Dilla and the early-1970s free soul and jazz pioneers like Pharaoh Sanders.

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Hip-hop rhythms are rewired, cracked up by odd meters and halting beats that bleed over improvisational forays, corrupted with tinges of electro, R&B, soul, and modern laptop mayhem.

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LIBERATION RADIO: PUNGWE 1 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/liberation-radio-pungwe-1/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/liberation-radio-pungwe-1/#respond Tue, 19 Apr 2022 14:24:22 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=19156 Selected and mixed by Robert Machiri

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Selected and mixed by Robert Machiri

This piece presents various operators of the liberation struggle, across countries and movements, through a mix that brings together speech, music and struggle song. Maybe an attempt at presenting a cacophony of political vocalisations.

Reproducing the sound of the liberation struggle in southern Africa as a totality of voices and music produced by militants across the region and beyond. As an attempt to expand on the “struggle song” beyond the chronological markers of political freedom or independence of southern African states; thus approaching southern Africa as a borderless zone – beyond the borders installed by colonisation and reinforced by political independence of the various states.

I have punctuated these sound bites with Abdullah’s live piano solo recording of 1982, ‘South African Sunshine’ recorded live in Germany.  It comes in an out, in fact it’s the soundtrack of the piece.

Other excerpts include:
Thomas Mapfumo’s Kupera Kwevanhu (On war in Mozambique) from ‘Varombo kuVarombo’ (1989);
Soweto’s Children from Jabula’s ‘Africa Awake’ (1978) – a banned record in South Africa;
Narration by John Matshikiza on exiles;
The title song from the album Soweto (1986) by Robson Banda and the New Black Eagles;
Makorokoto (Congratulations) by The Four Brothers, from ‘Viva Zimbabwe’ (1983), a compilation of Zim Dance vibes;
Miriam Makeba’s Jol’inkomo from All about Miriam: Miriam Makeba Sings Love Songs, Folk Songs, Sad Songs (1966);
Uyo Ndiyani from ‘Ingalo’ (1982) by Dorothy Masuka And Job’s Combination;
Liberation fighter in interviews and radio splices featuring Tongogara (Zanu PF/ZANLA Military chief) (main voice) and Edgar Tekere (ZANLA);
Oliver Tambo announcing The Year Of The Women from the album ‘Radio Freedom: The Voice Of The African National Congress And The People’s Army Umkhonto Wesizwe’ (1985);
Liberation Songs sung by ZAPU Military wing ZIPRA and ZANU Military wing ZANLA;
Lead us Tambo by Amandla – African National Congress Cultural Group, directed by Jonas Gwangwa, off their self-titled album of 1982;
Stimela, from an ‘ILAM: The Sound Of Africa Series’ record with unknown Xhosa Voices

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Brice Wassy LIVE at Albert Hall https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/brice-wassy-live-at-albert-hall/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/brice-wassy-live-at-albert-hall/#respond Wed, 24 Jul 2019 09:50:08 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=12459 Listen to  legendary Camerounian drummer/percussionist Brice Wassy’s Trio performance, recorded live at the Albert […]

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Listen to  legendary Camerounian drummer/percussionist Brice Wassy’s Trio performance, recorded live at the Albert Hall on October 1 2010

Known as the ‘King of 6/8 Rhythm,’ Camerounian drummer/percussionist Brice Wassy has been a centrifugal force in African music for the past four decades. The former bandleader for Manu Dibango and Salif Keita, he has worked with Miriam Makeba, Mabi Thobejane, Madala Kunene, Toure Kunda, Moses Molelekwa, and Busi Mhlongo, as well as the likes of French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, Cuban percussionist Changuito, and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira.

Credentials aside, Wassy is a formidable talent who deserves to be listen to on his own terms. His music is a full-frontal rhythmic attack profoundly rooted in Africa, but opened to all genres. Bringing together jazz and Afro-pop, he mixes improvisation with sophisticated compositional imagination; elasticity and experimentation with timbre and harmony; instruments new and old. As Fela Kuti once put it, Wassy has ‘opened our minds with the militancy of his message and our hearts to the rhythms of Afrobeat.’

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LIBERATION RADIO: La Discothèque de Sarah Maldoror* https://chimurengachronic.co.za/liberation-radio-la-discotheque-de-sarah-maldoror/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/liberation-radio-la-discotheque-de-sarah-maldoror/#respond Fri, 25 Mar 2022 16:16:32 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=19037 Selected by Ntone Edjabe

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Selected by Ntone Edjabe

Sarah Maldoror and film crew on the set of The Battle of Algiers (1966)

*

01. ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO, Monangambéee, 1969 (Short film)

Monangambéee extract – Art Ensemble of Chicago

In the film, which marks Art Ensemble’s first appearance on record, they improvise in the space between the minimalist dialogue. The music was never released, though some of the themes would reappear on their debut LP titled People in Sorrow (1969). It was also Maldoror’s first collaboration with the then-emerging Tri-Continental creative black music scene in Paris, bringing together African-American, Antillean, and African musicians. These collaborations are mapped out under the heading “The Power of the Story” in Chimurenga Chronic: Imagi-nation Nwar (2021).

*

02. NGOLA RITMOS, N’biri Birin, 1964 (Alvorada)

Birin Birin – extract from Sambizanga

The Angolan folk song popularized by Ngola Ritmos appears in the closing scenes of Sambizanga (1972), through the voice of Belita Palma.The film also features “Caminho do mato”, a struggle anthem based on a poem by Agostinho Neto.

*

03. YEBGA LIKOBA, Un dessert pour Constance, 1980 (Feature)

Un dessert pour Constance extract – Yebga Likoba

The Cameroonian saxophonist and member of the Paris-based groups Intercommunal Free Dance Music Orchestra, West African Cosmos, and Edja Kungali, provides the free-jazz soundtrack of Maldoror’s satire on France’s pseudo-integrationist policies.

*

04. LES VOLTAGES 8, Roger a dit wha wha, 1973 (Magic’ Tirelir Disques)

Roger a dit wha wha – Les Voltages 8

Maldoror used her initial films on Aimé Césaire to feature the national music of Martinique and Guadeloupe. The gwo ka of Erick Cosaque and his group Les Voltages in Aimé Césaireau bout du petit matin (1977), and Max Cilla’s spiritual bélé in Aimé Césaire,le masque des mots (1986).

*

05. LÉON-GONTRAN DAMAS, Tu Étais Au Bar, 1967 (Folkways Records)

Tu Étais au Bar – Black Label – Leon-Gontran Damas

For her film-poem on Léon-Gontran Damas, Maldoror draws on the only recorded reading of his epic Black-Label (1956). Thetheme of exile, which is central to her narrative on Damas, is represented through songs from Geoffrey Oryema’s 1990 LP Exile.

*

06. MIRIAM MAKEBA, Umquokozo, 1968 (Reprise)

Umquokozo – Miriam Makeba

Maldoror met Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone during the Pan-African Festival of Algiers in 1969, and the trio remained friends throughout their lives. She uses her film Ana Mercedes Hoyos (2009) to pay tribute to the Colombian painter/sculptor and the South African singer, while also exploring Afro-Colombian heritage. The film is a sonic retrospective of Makeba, who had passed away during its making.

*

07. ARCHIE SHEPP, Scala Milan AC, 2003 (Short film)

Scala Mila AC extract – Archie Shepp

Another important encounter at the PANAF of Algiers in 1969 was with the saxophonist Archie Shepp. Maldoror uses his solo improvisation and rap (with lyrics by her) to soundtrack her fable on banlieue culture—not the instrumentalized black-blanc-beur produced by the state but a people-centered vision of French multikultism.

*

08. TOTO BISSAINTHE, Papa Danmbalah, 1977 (Arion)

Papa Danmbalah – Toto Bissainthe

Toto Bissainthe (1984) is a film-portrait of the great Haitian singer in her quest to reconnect with the African continent, and a tribute to the collaborative work of Maldoror, Bissainthe, Douta Seck, and other members of the theater troupe Les Griots during the 1950s.

*

( * With thanks to Annouchka de Andrade and Les Gardiennes de la mémoire – Pascale Obolo, Anna Tjé and Rhoda Tchokokam.)

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DIALECTIC SOUL https://chimurengachronic.co.za/dialectic-soul/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/dialectic-soul/#respond Fri, 01 Apr 2022 13:54:36 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=19127 Friday, 08 April 2022 - 7pm
@ Chimurenga Factory

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with
Asher Gamedze
Thembinkosi Mavimbela
Robin Fassie
Buddy Wells
Nono Nkoane

live at Chimurenga Factory (157 Victoria Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town)
Friday, 08 April 2022
Doors open at 7pm

R120 presale (bookings here)
R150 at the door

For further information: info@chimurenga.co.za | +27 21 447 1119

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iPhupho L’ka Biko – live at the Chimurenga Factory https://chimurengachronic.co.za/iphupho-lka-biko-live-at-the-chimurenga-factory/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/iphupho-lka-biko-live-at-the-chimurenga-factory/#respond Thu, 24 Mar 2022 09:08:05 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=19019 Thursday, 31 March 2022
7pm

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Pan African Space Station is pleased to announce the return of iPhupho L’ka Biko to the Chimurenga Factory (157 Victoria Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town).

Thursday, 31 March 2022
Doors open from 7pm, with limited capacity.

R150 presale (bookings here)
R180 at the door

For further information: info@chimurenga.co.za | +27 21 447 1119

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Studios Kabako presents ‘moremoremore…FUTURE’ – LIVE at City Hall, Cape Town https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/studios-kabako-presents-moremoremorefuture-live-at-city-hall-cape-town/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/african_live_events/studios-kabako-presents-moremoremorefuture-live-at-city-hall-cape-town/#respond Tue, 13 Jul 2021 12:12:33 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=african_live_events&p=17954 Listen to Kisangani (DRC) based dance collective Studios Kabako’s ‘More more more… Future’, recorded […]

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Listen to Kisangani (DRC) based dance collective Studios Kabako’s ‘More more more… Future’, recorded live at the City Hall on September 28, 2010

Infusing the hybrid rhythms of Ndombolo music with hefty doses of punk rage and cosmic energy, Studio Kabako deliver a pre-Sputnik space travelogue into the unknown. Flying in the face of fatalist perception of Africa, they merge explosive dance and experimental theatre, mysticism and militancy, riddle and confrontation, within a wholly new context, where weird worlds of sound open up before us.

To the seething poems of Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, choreographer Faustin Linyekula, makes dance boil over into trance, while fashion designer Lamine Badian Kouyate (Xuly Bët) gives inventive embodiment to the trailblazing harmonies and energies of the guitarist, Flamme Kapaya and his band. The result is a poetics of autonomy, conceived in sonic, social, aesthetic and economic terms, and prepared to sweating blood for a better future.

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CHIMURENGA@20: A Silent Way – Routes of South African Jazz, 1946-1978 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga20-a-silent-way-routes-of-south-african-jazz-1946-1978/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga20-a-silent-way-routes-of-south-african-jazz-1946-1978/#respond Tue, 22 Mar 2022 10:25:17 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18985 Where to begin? Which silences? There are many.

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by Julian Jonker
Photograph of Kippie Moeketsi by Basil Breakey

Acknowledgement
First, a warning. The writer approaching the intersections and digressions that comprise the history of jazz in – and outside – South Africa is confronted with the conundrum of finding a place to start. How does one tie up the mutiplicitous locations and trajectories of the jazz story and mould them into something resembling a linear narrative? Perhaps one can’t, and is left to juggle false starts and dead-ends.

My own endeavours to write about jazz in South Africa have been troubled. Too much assonance and syncopation; I am constantly frustrated. Am I tying up loose ends or am I twisting the tale into ever more frustrating knots? This time, perhaps I should start with some attempt at organisation. Allow the storyteller then to gather his mental paperclips and post-it notes. The evidence in full view: vinyl records scavenged from basements and collectors reluctant to part with their prizes; a pitifully meagre pile of CD re-issues; photographs published and unpublished; hours of interview tape; an untidy stack of green notepads scribbled full with detail.

Where to begin? There are, firstly, names:
Mankunku, McGregor, Brand.
Moeketsi, Moholo, Dyani.
Pukwana, Gwangwa, Coetzee.
Nkanuka, Ngcukana.
Mongezi Feza.

Just a few, to give you a taste. Don’t fret because you haven’t heard their records before. Say the names slowly, as you would recite a poem. Let the consonants roll languidly off your tongue and stretch your lips to pronounce each vowel, and you will already hear distant strains of music.

There are also photographs. Photographs by Basil Breaky, who documented the scene in Johannesburg and Cape Town just before its hottest players made their ways to Europe, leaving the cities to grow dark and silent. One picture: Abdullah Ibrahim, head bent over the keyboard of his piano, his arm stretched over into its gut, plucking its strings. Arched over, listening to some deeper music from the piano’s heart.

Photographs by Hardy Stockmann, who documented the Cape Town scene of the late fifties. One shows Hotep Galeta, then named Cecil Barnard. His face is bright with youth as he smiles intently at a white girl – a ‘friend’ – who is coyly eating an ice cream. The camera’s aperture traces a brief hiatus in the Immorality Act’s thick shadow.

There are the notes I made one summer trying to track down this thing called Cape jazz. In one notepad I’ve scribbled something next to transcripts of interviews and article references:
[January 2001] Listened to Vincent Kolbe and Alex Tabisher interviews today, came out of D6 [District Six museum] feeling dizzy. Leave with an intense feeling of place but I hardly see the people walking around me.

Several pages later, another note:
All these articles about oral history, but there seems to be no questioning of what history is for, except the recording of the past. But it’s really about the uncovering of secrets, secret places and secret meanings, it’s about that sense I felt on walking out of D6 and seeing something else around me.

But making lists of names, things and places, even this indulgent itemising of experience, doesn’t make sense of lives lived in jazz timing. Attempting to follow the syncopated trails of these individuals, attempting to uncover the secret histories of these places and people, requires something less fastidious. Perhaps one needs a device, as a playwright might use to manipulate her material into some semblance of a reality. A device that allows for movement, a device with an intimate knowledge of displacement and shifting centres of gravity. A device that edges towards the possibility of a narrative that can tie together all these loose pieces, or better yet, makes the tying unnecessary.

[February 2001] One of the reasons why writing about Cape jazz feels so urgent is because it is so under-researched. What attracts is me is seeing the process of writing and constructing history as it unfolds. … I think it’s Alessandro Portelli who says that the most important part of writing the “life and times” of somebody is the “and”. I think one way to show the importance of the “and” in the life and times of somebody like Jimmy Adams is by writing about the process of writing about him.

You see (the story-teller continues): narratives are never comprehensive, and the narratives which we fit to histories, political histories, social histories…jazz histories…are no more so. Where does one begin a story? By deciding merely to begin a story, one shapes the story, one makes a choice, consciously or not, about what to include and what to exclude. By starting, one silences other potential narratives, narratives perhaps of the same events but which don’t begin in the same place. The story-teller silences by ending too. The story-teller silences even by deciding which routes to take between beginning and end.

What happens to those silenced fragments which fall away from the story-teller’s false starts? Can one shape a story from forgotten but imagined fragments and silences as a designer might shape form from negative space?

Memory too, is narrative. Memory can be described as much by its narrative twists as by its blind spots, its unspeaking nooks. Think of the silences imposed by the public memories of our identities and histories, by the public narratives which we listen to and sometimes accept as describing who we are. “The struggle of man against power,” begins one story by Czech writer Milan Kundera, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. And yet there is no narrative without silence! Since silence cannot be avoided, perhaps let me make it an explicit part of my story, an admission, so that I can continue without guilt.

Psalm
Where to begin? Which silences? There are many.

Silences abound in the story of Kippie ‘Morolong’ Moeketsi, the hard living alto saxophonist and composer who outshone constant comparisons with Bird Parker, toured with Todd Matshikiza’s King Kong, and played on Jazz Epistles, South Africa’s first jazz long-player. After his frustration with the music scene in Johannesburg led him to bouts of drinking and violence, Kippie was admitted to a mental institution, where he suffered electric shock treatment. Was he schizophrenic, as some suggest, or suffering from alcoholic dementia? Or perhaps his spirit crushed from the daily defeats of ‘petty’ apartheid? … Silence. Police confiscated Kippie’s instrument while he was on tour in 1964, and he didn’t play saxophone again, until 1971. … Silence. How could Kippie have felt to have forsaken the music for so long; Kippie Morolong Moeketsi, whose very life essence was the music?

Silence.

Stories told and retold may portray Kippie Moeketsi as a brash, arrogant, even irresponsible man. But Jimmy Adams, the Cape Town saxophonist who was a pioneering band leader in the forties, tells otherwise. Jimmy met Moeketsi after finding himself stranded in Johannesburg. He tells how for almost a year Kippie would come and give him one pound for food, every day. Over Christmas of that year Jimmy went on tour to Lorenço Marques with Kippie, Winston Mankunku and Hugh Masakela. Kippie lent him money to buy badly needed clothes for the gig.

Jimmy, for his part, thought at the peak of his youth that he was living the dream, spearheading something as modern and gleaming as the post-war cars that appeared on the roads, all chrome and sleek suspended angles. His saxophone had a similar glow and tilt, as did the angular momentum of the flattened blue notes he played. He was a contemporary of other Cape Town vanguard jazz players like Harold Jephta, Kenny Jephta and Henry February. He was (some say) the leader of the first Cape Town jazz band. Jimmy never liked the Johannesburg scene – too many people imitating the American players. Even Kippie was practising over Charlie Parker records.

Jimmy Adams saw his opportunities narrow down towards the end of the fifties as other musicians left into exile. Jimmy couldn’t leave because he had a wife, he had settled down into his home. But the scene in Cape Town was already suffocating. Now, Jimmy works a job at Ratunga Junction, a garish Sun City-like theme park just outside the city.. He troops around accompanied by someone playing a large drum making “circus music” to entertain tourists. What happened in the intervening years?

Silence.

Jimmy told me once that he had been to the Green Dolphin, a jazz theme-pub at the sanitary tourist-oriented Waterfront complex. The pub had been decorated with pictures of early jazz pioneers: Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington. Jimmy complained about selective memory: what about us? What about us?

Silence.

After struggling with the SABC, Jimmy Adams eventually released a record with the Teal company. Once in the studio, the producer told him firmly: “You don’t play gam enough man! Play more coloured!”

Silence.

[March 2001] What was Jimmy Adams thinking on the train speeding back from LM, after playing with Kippie + Hugh + Mankunku, speeding back to (bury) the rest of his life in Cape Town?

Here’s a similar story. At the end of one year I spent a long Cape Town summer at the District Six museum, scavenging through their oral history archives in ever widening circles, looking for the feel of those years, the forties and fifties, when jazz felt like a brave new dawn; looking for that feeling as if it would have somehow survived the years, to be picked up by the crude technology of our recording machines. Henry February was a name that came up time and time again in this widening search; the most advanced jazz pianist of the time, perhaps he could have become a legend like Abdullah Ibrahim. But February stayed.

I saw Henry Feb play once on a double bill with Tribe, the recently formed Cape Town avant-bop quartet. February’s music was in stark contrast – lyricism of almost baroque complexity, like Stan Getz on Summer Rain. A stately elegance. Somebody that night compared him to Art Tatum. Listen also to February on Sathima Bea Benjamin’s Cape Town Love. Timelessness well-tempered.

Of course I tried to talk to Henry Feb during that summer. Valmont Layne, curator of the District Six oral history archive, warned me beforehand. “He’s a very difficult man”, he explained. “He’s very bitter. I mean, he’s a great pianist, some say technically even better than Abdullah Ibrahim. He’ll try and size you up first. He strung us along for quite a while, until we just gave up.” One day I phone February up and tell him that I want to talk to him about the heyday of the Cape Town scene. No, he says, no, no, no. I don’t have anything to say. I try to explain that I know it’s a difficult story – my nerves now suddenly kicking in – but that it’s one that has to be told. There’s a soft but abrupt click as he puts the receiver down.

Silence.

[January 2001, notes made from the District Six Museum oral archives] Vincent Kolbe interview, 5/10/99 … Henry ‘Martin’ February dropped the name February so he could play with white musicians …

Silence.

***

Imagine Winston Mankunku, sweat pouring from his forehead as his stand with his sax at full tilt, but hidden from the stage by a heavy curtain. The curtain prevents Mankunku from appearing on the same stage as the white band and thus from violating the apartheid laws against multiracial gatherings. Mankunku is heard but unseen.

Silence.


the scream of the sax
the whispers of the horn
bellows of the yoked bull.
kippie, dudu
mabacha, mankunku

(Vusi D. Mchunu, Stronger Souls, 1990)

***

Let me start again (but where to begin)? There are silences of other types: exile, for example, and death. Exile is one of the threads running continuously through the stories of South African jazz. Exile manifests itself not only in the stories of those who left the increasingly repressive atmosphere of apartheid South Africa, but metaphorically, in the stories of those who stayed.

[February 2001, notes from the District Six Museum oral archives] Vincent Kolbe interview, 5/10/99 .. moving to the Cape Flats, the township experience, is like emigrating …

And death. It is the deaths of young artists in exile that most attracts a sense of horrid fascination. Nat Nakasa, a bright young writer, outspoken when writing for Drum about the increasingly repressive apartheid government, eventually awarded a scholarship to Harvard. He was allowed to leave the country only if he agreed to go into voluntary exile. They called this an ‘exit permit’. Nakasa jumped to his death from a Harlem building, age 28. Why? 

And in 1975, Blue Notes trumpeter Mongezi Feza, dead in London at the age of 30.

Johnny Dyani, age 41, in Berlin. Or did he die on stage in Sweden in 1986, as Steve Gordon writes in Beyond the Blues? Or on stage in Paris, as Sandile Dikeni writes?

Silence.

Consider Nikele Moyake, tenor, teacher of Dudu Pukwana and Duke Makasi. Johnny Dyani tells a story about the normally shy Moyake at a party at which Dollar Brand introduced him to Wayne Shorter, then tenor with the Miles Davis Quintet. At some point Moyake got annoyed at Shorter’s arrogance, turned to him and said: “I used to play what you are playing.”

Moyake left South Africa with the Blue Notes in 1964, but like many so many of the exiles who suffered from distance and longing, he contracted an undiagnosed and fatal illness (What disease? check). He came home to battle it, and died in Port Elizabeth in 1969.

Singer Don Tshomela once called Moyake “more dangerous than danger…the bull that bullies the bull”.

Yakhal’inkomo – the cry of cattle at the slaughter house.
Dumile, the sculptor, told me that once in the country he saw a cow being killed. In the kraal cattle were looking on. They were crying for their like, dying at the hands of human beings. Yakhal’inkomo. Dumile held the left side of his chest and said that is where the cry of the cattle hit him … Yakhal’inkomo. The cattle raged and fought, they became a terror to themselves; the twisted poles of the kraal rattled and shook. The cattle saw blood flow into the ground.
I once saw Mankunku Ngozi blowing his saxophone. Yakhal’inkomo. His face was inflated like a balloon, it was wet with sweat, his eyes huge and red. He grew tall, shrank, coiled into himself, uncoiled and the cry came out of his horn.
This is the meaning of Yakhal’inkomo.
(Mongane Wally Serote, Yakhal’inkomo, 1972)

Resolution
So where to begin? There are so many stories here, they twist in and out of each other like that madman Charlie Parker’s horn lines. They are written over each other, like a medieval palimpsest. Or maybe a better analogy is transatlantic trade routes, crisscrossing between continent and culture.

Imagine Kippie Moeketsi in downtown Johannesburg, dressed pin-striped bright-shoed like Bird Parker, walking hips-swinging like Bird Parker, swaggering hard-drinking like Bird Parker, dying institutionalised caged beat-spirited like Bird Parker. The hipster ethic, across Atlantic trade routes to eGoli, the slumyard marabi blues, across Atlantic slave routes to Manhattan.

Many of these routes are routes of exile, outwards and in. Where to begin on these routes?

Perhaps with the musicians who crop up again and again in the photographs of Basil Breakey and Hardy Stockmann. McGregor, Moholo, Dyani. Pukwana, Moyake, Feza. The Blue Notes left the country in 1964. Formed by pianist Chris McGregor, this seminal band included the talents of bassist Johnny Dyani, drummer Louis Moholo, hornmen Dudu Pukwana, Nikele Moyake and the young Mongezi Feza. When they left they took with them the memory of home, and when they played they invoked home with each note.

But perhaps one should rather talk about this thing called exile, and what it means for blackness. Exile recurs in the routes of black migration. Does the black American have a return ticket across the middle passage? Can the black diaspora come home? Can the creole un-creolize? So one might name all these migrations ‘exile’. But the questions are double-edged. Is there a return across the middle passage? Can the black diaspora go home? Can the creole un-creolize? Where to? Perhaps exile is permanent.

All these routes; what then of jazz and blackness? Again – where to begin? With the importance of Black Pride movements to the jazz innovations of the sixties and seventies? With the importance of black culture to Black Consciousness generally?

It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realise that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth. This is what we mean by an inward-looking process. This is the definition of “Black Consciousness”.
(Steve Biko, I Write What I Like, 1978)

The Black Consciousness Movement emerged in South Africa as an organised front in 1968, the same year which saw the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It was also during that year that the Blue Notes recorded their first album in exile: Very Urgent.

The BCM, which later evolved into the Azanian People’s Liberation Organisation, advocated black unity and militant struggle against white oppression. There were American counterparts to the movement, as not only did the civil rights movement gain momentum there, but people such as Malcom X, Eldridge Cleaver and Leroi Jones began espousing radical separatist beliefs and advocating militant struggle in the name of black nationalism. There was a soundtrack to this surge of radical thought; while not all black musicians necessarily adopted similar perspectives, many were influenced by the rising frustration with the situation of black Americans, and a corresponding reclaiming of black African culture.

Free jazz, out jazz, the New Thing, the avant-garde, Black Classical Music…these terms are all used to describe the explosion of sound when black jazz musicians started pushing the boundaries of the art form, disgruntled with the inroads white musicians were making into bebop as well as the limitations of the form, and closely allying themselves with the radical politics of black nationalism.

[January 2001] a  friend intereviews Sathima Bea Benjamin, Cape Town-born jazz vocalist and wife of Abdullah Ibrahim. “I don’t come from Georgia, but you know what? I do. Because it’s the same, okay. You have to see where this music came from…this is just my theory, so people can disagree with that, I don’t really care. But I know that black Americans…were ripped away from the African continent, some 500 years ago, and taken to the plantations there in the deep South, right? That’s a long time ago. And I can just imagine that one day, or one evening, or early one morning, there was a woman out there, and she let out a wail, you know? And to me, that was the beginning of this music. That’s all.”

One main example of the new spirit in jazz was the continuous pioneering of Coltrane and its culmination in works like the 40 minute collective improvisation Ascension. Ascension had to be split over two sides of a vinyl record contain-ing all the wild uncentered movement of Coltrane’s spiritual yearning. It was a record which finally made true one critics’ description of Coltrane’s earlier playing as ‘sheets of sound’.

These experiments with tonality and rhythm were evident at the beginning of the sixties already in the works of Charlie Mingus, Sun Ra, pianist Cecil Taylor and Charlie Mingus’ sideman Eric Dolphy. Other musicians like saxophonist Albert Ayler and Coltrane-collaborator Archie Shepp continued this uncontainable sound into the saccharine seventies, and Chicago musicians such as the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago kept the tradition going into the eighties. The music, however, was given a name and an icon in 1960 already, when Ornette Coleman released his Free Jazz – A Collective Improvisation.

The breakthrough that Coltrane and Miles Davis had initiated was the more complex use of tonality, the way a song’s chord progressions will harmonically restrict which notes are available to a musician to play. They used more and more distantly related scales, stretching the bounds of western tonality and coming close to, even moving beyond what the European classical music tradition had achieved at the beginning of the 21st century. Free jazz then broke away from tonality absolutely, allowing players to play unrelated notes in a way that makes little harmonic sense to the western ear. This music doesn’t have a harmonic anchor, a tonal centre of gravity, nor even a rhythmic bedrock. Instead the music is about texture – ‘sound surfaces’ – not harmony. As Sun Ra said, “[t]here are about a thousand ways to play a single note”.

Material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills. And this latter effect is probably the one that creates mountains of obstacles in the normal course of emancipation of the black people.
(Steve Biko, I Write What I Like, 1978)

Black consciousness wasn’t the only form of consciousness circulating in the New Music, though all these forms of consciousness were closely tied together. Spiritual consciousness was another aspect. Listen to Coltrane: his music and his album covers reveal a life more and more haunted as he blazed forward. He has a solemn intensity, a gaze not of this world. Listen to the music of Sun Ra who told tales of alien abduction and Saturnian descent, mixed nationalist politics with future-primitive stage costume, and created a sonic collage of free collective improvisation and cooky sci-funk textures. His was a science fiction doctrine of faith that turned its eyes away from the cold, urban rationality of ghetto Chicago.

Riding in a freight train,
listening to Coltrane in the freezing rain
my reality went insane
and I thought I saw Jesus…
(Saul Williams, Twice the First Time, 2001)

Pursuance
Jazz is a music which has its roots in a life of insecurity, in which a single moment of self-realisation, of love, light and movement, is extraordinarily more important than a whole lifetime. From a situation in which violence is endemic, where a man escapes a police bullet only to be cut down by a knife-happy African thug, has come an ebullient sound more intuitive than any outside the US of what jazz is supposed to celebrate – the moment of love, lust, bravery, incense, fruition, and all those vivid dancing good times of the body when the now is maybe all there is.
(Lewis Nkosi, Jazz in Exile, 1966)

Where to begin? Perhaps with the New Thing, the sound born of the harmonic contortions and collective pyrotechnics of sixties innovators Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Ascension-eraColtrane; but as intepreted by the South Africans. More particularly, Chris McGregor. Who knows how it started? Perhaps when McGregor met Albert Ayler in London? Perhaps the New Thing was always innate in McGregor’s musical imagination?

After the Blue Notes, Chris McGregor formed the Brotherhood of Breath, an extended line up including many of the musicians who had played with the Blue Notes originally. Their music was an inspiration to an emerging ‘out’ scene in Europe. Their records, as well as those of members like Louis Moholo and Johnny Dyani have been released by European labels like Cuneiform and Ogun, labels who specialise in the bleeding edge of new jazz music.

Just last year Cuneiform released a Brotherhood of Breath live recording made in 1973 in Bremen, Germany. The recording, much like Abdullah Ibrahim’s 1973 album African Space Programme, is a stunning document of how free jazz could be melded with folk African cyclic structure. From rolling motherland melodies the band lets go in a paroxysm of collective improvisation, leaving behind all ideas of tonal structure, rhythmic order, timbral well-behavedness, as if exorcising these human created fetters.

But neither the moans of guttural animals nor the squawks of brass agonies are appropriate metaphors for what the players do on this recording. Rather say that the horn lines sound like the streaks of light one sees on closing one’s eyes while driving down neon-lit highways. Rather say that the sudden coalescing of harmony out of the chaos sounds like the cascades of sparks, red flushes one perhaps sees behind closed eyes after witnessing the mushrooming of an atomic cloud.

Freedom is not a positive strategy, it’s an absence. The Brotherhood of Breath never played ‘free’ or ‘out’. They just played. Each musician played as if an exuberant scribbling kid, or as if an artist throwing paint at a canvas seemingly without care about form.

Consider the original action painter Jackson Pollock, who scandalised the art world by throwing paint at his canvas in what some thought was a random fashion. In 1956 Time magazine called him the “bearded shock trooper of modern painting, who spread his canvases on the floor, dribbled paint, sand and broken glass on them, smeared and scratched them, named them with numbers”. Pollock threw out the subject and concentrated on process, creating an opus that vividly documents life in the Atomic Age. Pollock himself noted that “the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique.”

Basil Breakey once explained the aesthetic of that age to me. Breakey, whose book Beyond the Blues is the definitive portrait of the tragic demise of the sixties South African jazz scene, currently lives off the goodwill of a backpacker’s lodge in Kalk Bay. What happened to him in the intervening years?

Breakey was born in Port Elizabeth but moved to Johannesburg where he met up with the musicians on the jazz scene. In Johannesburg Breakey was reading Kerouac as well as Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer, banned at the time in South Africa. Another major influence at the time was William Burroughs, whose shuffle technique maybe captures best the disintegration that haunts Breakey’s later photographs of the jazz scene.

Breakey’s literary influences may explain why he was drawn to the music that Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana were making at the Dorkay House community centre. It was an avant-garde music, far ahead of its time. “Well it was like underground music”, Breakey explains, “first of all the music was ahead of its time, and it was like a disintegration and breaking up of things, like cubism. It was like cubism in a musical form. It was a protest.” The photographer mentions Ornette Coleman as well as Jackson Pollock as inspirations. Pollock’s White Light was used as the cover for Coleman’s groundbreaking 1960 album Free Jazz, and Breakey is specific about his attraction to the artist. “Those pictures were painted after they dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima. It’s like an explosion”.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo
in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural
darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz
(Allan Ginsberg, Howl, 1956)

A new reason to end Reason: like Ornette Coleman’s systematic unstructuredness. A system he named Harmolodics, it was a thing without a tonal centre, a way of understanding the world without seeking out a structural centre. This is the revolution in European classical music that Stravinsky and Schoenberg brought at the beginning of the twentieth century, forsaking the structuring process to remake music in a way that made sense of a new world. Its recurrence in the jazz of the sixties and seventies foregrounded a postmodernist aesthetic that forsook the centre – no, it recognised that the centre was always false. It embraced the hybrid multiple truths which we make and remake in silent protest against the stony Reason of Empire, of the Atomic Age, of Global Capital.

Black culture, jazz in its broadest form, never mind that it is not something which exists innate in a people, is – and it is anti-modernist, both in its pre-modern imagery and in its post-modern technology. Black science, as the hip-hop/drum ‘n bass generation have named it; making sense of the world without the linearity of culture bound by Enlightenment doctrine.

…breakbeat science, as I see it, is when Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc and all those guys isolate the breakbeat, when they literally go to the moment of a record where the melody and the harmony drops away and where the beats and the drum and the bass moves forward. By isolating this, they did something comparable to switching on a kind of electricity, by making the beat portable, by extracting the beat. … They more or less grabbed a kind of potential beat which was always there, by severing it from the funk engine, by materializing it as actually a portion of vinyl that could be repeated.
(Kodwo Eshun, Abducted by Audio)

One can talk about jazz as having a modern aesthetic, if one could talk about modernity as a ‘purely aesthetic’ feature. Jazz critic Francis Davis has written about the sense of modernism in the disjointed chord progressions of bebop, the sense of future that is missing from the rehashing of contemporary neoclassical bop. This futurism is instead exactly what was heard in the jungle and Detroit techno which burst out during the nineties. It is the otherworldliness, the gentle alien-ation of the music of contemporary producers like LTJ Bukem and Carl Craig.

They drew cars too. If someone had made them a present of a magazine, or if they’d pooled their allowances and saved their pennies, they took the publication home and traced the automobile designs on paper, adding their own interpretations and trying to make their vehicles as modernistic and sleek-looking as possible.
(JC Thomas on John Coltrane’s childhood, Chasin’ the Trane, 1975)

But there is also modernity in a theoretical sense, the modernity that has come under continued attack by the post-World War II intellectual left. This is the modernity of post-Enlightenment Europe with its Truth and Science and Commerce and High Culture and the inscrutable divides between each. The modernity that Europeans brought to the natives, to teach them to talk properly, sing properly, worship properly. This is the modernity that imposes one Truth where there are many, that sanitises truth with its Science, the same Science that sanitised with Scientific Racism, with Social Darwinism, and eventually with Hiroshima.

Jazz, like black culture generally, is anti-modern. In some senses it attempts pre-modernism: look at the primitivist iconography of groups like Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Motherland yearnings of the black nationalist jazz musicians. In other senses it is post-modern. Listen only to any of the musicians so far mentioned. Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, even Miles Davis on Bitches Brew. Their music was about letting go of the stability of pre-imposed structures, whether tonal, rhythmical, philosophical. The centre cannot hold.

The result is the perfect expression of what cultural theorist Paul Gilroy has articulated in his book The Black Atlantic: the idea that blackness on both sides of the Atlantic has been a counter-culture of modernity. Gilroy explains how blacks in the west “had to fight – often through their spirituality – to hold on to the unity of ethics and politics sundered from each other by modernity’s insistence that the true, the good, and the beautiful had distinct origins and belonged to different domains of knowledge.” An organic anti-modern intellectualism, expressed through the discourse of black culture. “The history and utility of black music,” continues Gilroy, “…enables us to trace something of the means through which the unity of ethics and politics has been reproduced as a form of folk knowledge.”

And what of the black nationalism and the naive pan-Africanism that marked much of the American avant-garde? Paul Gilroy points out that the history of black political ideas has been shaped by European ideologies in its focus on rootedness. This explains much of the home-land mythologising of black separatism. Instead perhaps blackness should be made sense of by understanding routes of black migration and hybridisation; the “successive displacements, migrations, and journeys (forced and otherwise) which have come to constitute these black cultures’ special conditions of of existence”. Routes, not roots. It is this sense of homelessness which, though often disguised by Motherland yearning, is a foundational aesthetic of black cultural expression.

***

It is time to end, and yet I haven’t yet begun. If the stories continue to knot around each other with their assonances and their silences, then here at least is one meaningful tangle – an intersection of the routes of the South African exiles, and the routes of the avant-garde jazz pioneers, and the routes of the anti-modern hipsters, and the pan-Atlantic routes of black migration. Those routes converge in their wild search for a home, a single truth, a tonal centre which is no longer there, a place from which to begin. They converge, momentarily, in an exile of the heart.

Out of respect, let me then end where I began (or, where I first attempted to begin). Not with the noisy exuberance of black classical music, but with silence.


In commemoration of our 20th year, we will be digging through our extensive archive.

This story, and others, features in the very first Chimurenga publication – Chimurenga 01: Music is the Weapon! (April 2002). In this edition we discuss artists that have demonstrated militancy in response to neo-colonial powers, fighting their “own” governments– rather than fictitious oppressors. We try to achieve what people like Fela Kuti and Tosh attempted with their music.

To purchase as a PDF, head to our online shop.

The post CHIMURENGA@20: A Silent Way - Routes of South African Jazz, 1946-1978 first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

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CHIMURENGA@20: Talkin’ ‘bout Survival – The Repatriation of Reggae https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga20-talkin-bout-survival-the-repatriation-of-reggae/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga20-talkin-bout-survival-the-repatriation-of-reggae/#respond Thu, 03 Mar 2022 12:51:59 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18929 Where Apartheid and broadcasters divided South Africans culturally, here comes bongo natty dread to motivate U-N-I-T-Y.

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By Steve Gordon

Black Gold to Black Vinyl

CHANT down the dominance of Western media and culture, for sure, but sometimes it’s best left to trip itself up.

One of the most beautiful contradictions ever to play flip side to that Western domination must surely be Reggae, particularly the manner in which Reggae and its associated package of Rastafarian and pan African message, was able to catch a ride back to Africa courtesy the multinationals.

Intrinsically African it may be, born of displaced Africans and Diaspora culture, but Reggae, for South Africans – and indeed most Africans – was an imported music. Four hundred years of history aside, and these are sounds you file under Caribbean, Jamaica.  Written there, played there, recorded there.

Reggae did not emerge in Africa, it glorified Africa. Reggae was not literally the voice of South Africans, but figuratively, ideologically, by proxy and intent, what more powerful and soulful message ever permeated music culture during the struggle?

Indigenous freedom songs gave voice to the struggle for activists and politicised masses, but reggae’s arrival in South Africa injected a new pan African thinking and flavour into the popular culture of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The impact was sufficient to serve as a cultural catalyst which would have impact way beyond the negotiated demise of the Apartheid State.

Reggae was certainly not the first imported music to hit it big with the homeboys and girls in South Africa: the impact and influence of African Americans, from Swing Jazz to Armstrong, from Kool and the Gang to Coltrane, were always major. But Reggae had an unprecedented lyrical dimension: uncompromised, unambiguous, Militant Message.

Concealing the Weapon

SO how does so militant a message permeate the frontiers of Apartheid South Africa? For a start, buried within the ‘respectful’ packaging of a Western commodity (yes, it was packaged in the studios of London and Miami).

But so was “Black Beauty”, and that fell foul of Apartheid censors. Mention ‘Mandela’ or ‘ANC’ or ‘Communism’, and (mostly white) ears pricked up at a variety of state interception points: Security Police, Publications Control Board, State Broadcaster.

Reggae would never have been as widely listened to, had its lyrical content been appraised by the censors. It was a by-product of colonialism which offered the perfect cover: Patois.

Militance packaged in Patois. Brand new second hand, rub-a-dub English. Misunderstood and remixed English.  Antiquated pronunciations, mutated usages, phrases, syntax. An ear bender for the interrogating westernised ear, especially the large, prickled up ears of Apartheid’s agents.

Rastaman? Babylon? Bible? Jah? Selassie King of Kings? Jahovia? Marcus? Too much confusion!  Mandela? Some red lights flash, but 90% is incomprehensible. Write it off to stoned darkies.  I and I?  Kaffirs could never speak English, could they? And “reggae” was not even in the Dictionary….

It must have been unsettling. The weapons were being shipped in broad daylight, and in bulk.

The Shipment Arrives: Message Received

Verse, Chapter, and Volume, streaming into the record stores, imported copies (often militant, independent label releases) pumping through soundsystems, onto the cassette tape circuit.

Message. Inspiration, affirmation of a Humanity which included Blackness, and defined “The Whole World is Africa”. It was 1976 – the year of the Soweto Uprising and Massacre – when South African’s first started to hear “All the way from Kingston and Jamaica, Bob Marley and the Wailers LIVE!”  recordings. Steve Biko was also still alive, Mandela on Robben Island. “Get Up Stand Up” / Don’t Give Up, We NAH Give Up!

Reggae exploded with meaning for South Africans, and at a time when the local recording industry was actively complying with Apartheid’s agenda. It reflected, described and analysed a shared reality of the oppressed and downtrodden: Poor man feel I t/ Uniforms of brutality/ War ina Babylon/ Police and thieves…The Message and images were potent, pertinent, and beckoned. Ridim, groove and reggae’s musical compatibility to African audiences helped seduce, but it was Truth and Affirmation which won the ears of a generation.

A deeper rewind on what was going down in South Africa is necessary, in order to appreciate the significance of Reggae in the “Deep South”.

What Gaan Aan South Africa?

Let’s synchronise calendars. A very important “STOP AND PAUSE”. What was happening with South African music in the 1970’s? 

Apartheid South African airwaves were under jealous broederbond and SABC control – separate stations / separate nations / separate musics / separate cultures. Resistance and Freedom Songs lived as spoken word, grapevine, oral tradition. They were not Product. And they were certainly NOT broadcast (except through Radio Freedom across the frontline, normally frequency blocked by the Apartheid Security, and bombed as part of ‘pre-emptive strikes’ or ‘terrorist elimination’ ventures.)

Mbaqanga was the most significant ‘domestic product’ of the SA record Industry. It made money, especially targeting the income of migrant labourers in the urban centres. The record industry continued to invest in its fantasy of creating a white pop product to “make it big” in London.

Mbaqanga which was broadcast, was for the most lyrically inane. Maybe that is harsh, because there is such beautiful mbaqanga, but the sentiment is summed up by a Xhosa speaking rasta, whom I interviewed in 1981:

“The main thing that makes me turn away from my music is this:
Whenever they sing, they don’t speak the truth. They always go
around and round.  They tell you what things is happening, and who
is doing it… but they don’t tell you WHY those people are doing that
thing. Rasta music, I prefer, because it tells me what the story is all
about, it gives me the full story.”

Music was just to be entertainment, sanitised entertainment for people destined to be semi-literate, exploited. A classic opiate. Repression was the Agenda, culturally and commercially. Mahlathini or Ladysmith Black Mambazo were never envisaged as exports at the time. No surprise that Gallo – the most significant recorder of indigenous music – sponsored recordings to raise money for Apartheid’s Army.

South Africa was at war with itself and its neighbours. Beyond the frontline, SA was supporting the last stand of the white Rhodesian regime, and taking up the baton of destabilization duties as the Portuguese rulers exited from Mozambique and Angola. South Africa was Isolated, boycotted, economically and culturally. Frontiers sealed, and internally, Towns and townships surrounded.

And in comes Reggae. Not just for any particular “population” (read: race) group, but for anybody with a basic level of English usage. Where Apartheid and broadcasters divided South Africans culturally, here comes bongo natty dread to motivate U-N-I-T-Y.  The common denominator to the patois was English. The first disciple, a man of mixed heritage: Bob Marley.

Early releases – by virtue of their multinational distribution deals – were

the Island Records catalogue, most notably Marley. Next up, some EMI releases. The foundation pillars for reggae internationally, followed the major releases – Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer.

The relatively sophisticated packaging of these products should not be underestimated. Album jackets and sleeve images in the pre-video era augmented the aural message. During the darker days of apartheid, a simple visit to the “imports” rack at the record stores provided an alternative history lesson: “Christopher Columbus, was a damn blasted liar!”

And Reggae was growing at home and abroad.  From England, LKJ’s “Black Petty BooShwAH” cut loose of the Jamaican & Rasta paradigm. Class analysis in music? Reggae won respect with trade unionists, activists and internationalists. It asked questions, its reference points were “ghetto”, “oppressor”, “survival” and “uprising”. It was no longer just a music; it was Message at work.

Beyond The Frontline

As much as its prophets might declare the ‘Whole World is Africa”, Africa was only a second phase marketplace – or ‘territory’ as the record industry uncannily designates physical spaces for licensing. But it was a territory catching a fire of its own.

From the spiritual “Africa must be free” of Hugh Mundell, to Marley’s “Zimbabwe”, the message was an intense and truthful one for South Africans labouring the brutality of Apartheid. “Africa Unite” urged Marley, while Mutabaruka pointed finger at America’s covert support for the apartheid regime’s regional destabilization: “Just when you thought America was a friend, Dem invade Angola Again”, cautioned Muta, – while Tapper Zukie made “MPLA” an anthem.

From the Diaspora, the displaced were observing, sharing a global view, vocalising an alternative black history. Perspective which for the most, correlated closely with the prerogatives of the liberation movements in the region. Information and analysis not otherwise readily available. Fresh from the record store.

Bob Marley’s participation in the Zimbabwe Independence Celebrations underscored and popularised the significance of power transitions in the region, and the epic “Survival” helped define the epoch. Next, Peter Tosh visited Swaziland – as with other artists supporting the cultural boycott, this was a way to play TO South Africans, without playing IN South Africa.

The frontline was also a place of exiles-in-transit, an interface with the liberation movements, a step closer towards Africa. A military and cultural frontline.  Reggae music was consistently prominent, riding alongside the music of exiles banned back home: Makeba, Gwangwa, Masekela, Amandla, Semenya…

Marley and Tosh prompted cultural pilgrimages. South Africans, where travel permits allowed, made the journey, further affirmed the message, and returned as warriors.

Product and Redemption

As state repression intensified, Reggae was targeted. The SABC prohibited airplay, government gazette listings prohibited either “distribution” or “possession”, and record companies pre-censored.

But Product is Product. From a “shifting units” perspective, Reggae was extremely popular – the record industry in SA acknowledged the significant market sector. Local Jamaican wannabes? Many came, but few were chosen. South Africans were rendering poor musical (and Jamaican patois) imitations. Most important, lyrically crippled by the oppressive context, they were far from touching the essential Message which underpinned Reggae.

It was to be golden voiced mbaqanga star, Lucky Dube, who plugged the gap. Repackaged with dreadlock add-ons and Tosh-leaning harmonies, (the very Lucky) Dube moved swiftly to assume significant market share, one he maintained and grew into the new millennium. A major market share, but no significant “Message Share”.

Elsewhere in Africa, similar transitions to “local product” rolled out. Alpha Blondy emerged as EMI’s African Reggae star. And again, while the beautiful music to behold, the message was confusing: “America, America”, he pleaded, “Break the neck of this Apartheid”. A u-turn from Mutabaruka’s cautionary instruction about American war games in Angola, a focus which coupled uncannily with Cote d’Ivoire “friendship” with the Apartheid’s state.

The manner in which Reggae was interpreted differed throughout Africa, with the anglicised areas linguistically advantaged when it came to deciphering Jamaican patois. Context differed, and Blondy’s message sounded confusing to those who, in the heart of the battle, had grown to trust the music to afford an articulate and alternative worldview. 

But Reggae’s influence went beyond Reggae. It was not just the music which had made the journey back to Africa, it was Message, and moreover, the ACT of spreading Message. Mzwakhe Mbuli’s 1980’s progression (from poet to dub poet, to Mzwakhe & band) is illustrative. Spoken word, questioning, challenging were some of the lessons learned and inspired from the school of Reggae.

The First Psalm, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”, had spread the ultimate message: “None but ourselves can free our minds”, a slogan and call to a myriad of weapons other than AK’s.

Ultimately, Reggae served not only to shift the musical lexicon for Africans, but to inspire an awakening of consciousness. Messages from Jamaica and the Diaspora held valid currency at the time, but in essence, it was the affirmation and ownership of voice which served as the greatest gift.

By providing a recipe toward the reclaiming of history, imported reggae was to be the bridge not only for its own ridims, but for other streams of Africaness and blackness. From rap and hip hop, through the growing acknowledgement of African musics which echoed off the Reggae explosion, its impact extended massively beyond its own form.

Messages that came back home courtesy black vinyl had germinated in the fertile soil of the motherland. Roots and Culture were about so much more than Reggae, their messenger to Africa.


In commemoration of our 20th year, we will be digging through our extensive archive.

This story, and others, features in the very first Chimurenga publication – Chimurenga 01: Music is the Weapon! (April 2002). In this edition we discuss artists that have demonstrated militancy in response to neo-colonial powers, fighting their “own” governments– rather than fictitious oppressors. We try to achieve what people like Fela Kuti and Tosh attempted with their music.

To purchase as a PDF, head to our online shop.

The post CHIMURENGA@20: Talkin’ ‘bout Survival - The Repatriation of Reggae first appeared on The Chimurenga Chronic.

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FESTAC AT 45: FESTAC ’77, a mixtape by Chimurenga https://chimurengachronic.co.za/festac-77-a-mixtape-by-chimurenga/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/festac-77-a-mixtape-by-chimurenga/#respond Wed, 29 Jul 2020 14:08:15 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=15274 In this mix, we decompose, an-arrange and reproduce the sound-world of FESTAC ’77 to address the planetary scale of event, alongside the personal and artistic encounters it made possible.

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Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the black diaspora assembled in Lagos for FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. With a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, FESTAC ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of a half-century of pan African cultural-political gatherings.

In this mix, we decompose, an-arrange and reproduce the sound-world of FESTAC ’77 to address the planetary scale of event, alongside the personal and artistic encounters it made possible. And to ask: Can a past that the present has not yet caught up with be summoned to haunt the present as an alternative?

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