It has to be said Ayanda Sikade cuts a somewhat reluctant figure as a bandleader. This impression isn’t just inferred from the front cover, in an interview with Metro FM’s Nothemba Madumo he explained that “I’ve dedicated my life to be a disciple..of this music, other than to be someone who leads a band or.. a project”. Sikade did not become a musician in search of fame and fortune then.
This sense of diffidence is even more apparent in the back story to the album. Recorded, mixed and mastered in 2010 it has remained on the shelf until this year. Sikade has not been idle during this time, far from it, recording and performing with top South African artists like Nduduzo Makhathini, Herbie Tsoaeli, Simphiwe Dana, Andile Yenana, Thandiswa Mazwai, Tete Mbambisa, Kenya’s Aaron Rimbui and in Europe with Bänz Oester and The Rainmakers. No, it seems that it took Sikade some time to appreciate his art; we shouldn’t see this in a negative light and I for one am thankful that he has recognised the merits of this thoughtful, captivating recording.
The “Movements” in question are described by Sikade as the stages of his “development as a human being and improviser”, people, events, and places that have shaped his musical creativity. This biographical account is music of identity through which we learn of the role of music in Xhosa traditions learnt through his grandmother, of rites of passage, of time spent as a boy observing the local Jazz bands, before being allowed to play the drums, and of the influence of the inimitable Zim Ngqawana, with whom he spent 8 years playing, learning his craft and so much more. The importance of Bra Zim cannot be underestimated, during this time he was not only exploring music, but through Zimology, a much broader philosophy regarding personal freedom and inner self.
Like Ngqawana and “fellow traveller” Nduduzo Makhathini a lot of these ideas crystalise in the music of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, a touchstone recording for all three, and it’s the openness to explore spirituality, tradition and freedom that we should see and hear “Movements”.
For the recording date, Sikade brought together an intergenerational group of musicians – in the rhythm section he is aided and abetted by fellow Zimologists, Makhathini (Piano/Rhodes) and Herbie Tsoaeli (Double Bass). Horns make up the front line with Mthunzi Mvubu (who plays with Shabakah and the Ancestors) on alto and soprano sax, the under-recorded Nhlanhla Daniel Mahlangu on tenor and soprano sax, as well as contributions from Sydney Mavundla and Feya Faku on trumpet and Malcolm Jiyane on trombone.
Compositional duties are shared amongst the group with an emphasis on thoughtful, instinctive soul-searching. In truth there isn’t a weak track. “Ilungelo” bursts forth with joy, rousing solos by Mavundla and Mahlangu before exiting on the beefy exuberance of Jiyane on trombone. There’s a real sense of camaraderie through this piece as there is running through the album. “Sensible Soul” opens with slow, somewhat ominous drumming, picking up from the album’s opener, “Dedication”. Mvubu’s beautifully accented alto breaks the tension if not the brooding mood, with expressions lingering in the air, completed by Makhathini’s punctuation, intensity slowly building.
Makhathini’s contributions, “A Little Prayer” and “Kindred Spirits” give us a taste of what was to come in his own recordings, the former gentle like rain falling to ground, the latter a more muscular spirituality encapsulating the ethos of the album as a whole.
“Blues for Abadala” shows Sikade in a smaller setting with two of South Africa’s Jazz elders, Tsoaeli and Fezile ‘Feya’ Faku. Sikade doesn’t just see the drums in terms of rhythmic meter but as a voice in it’s own right making the drums sing, around Tsoaeli light, skittish bass and Faku’s chirpy, talkative trumpet.
The album closes with “I Remember Somagwaza”, a visceral recollection of male initiation and the song that forms an integral part of the ceremony. This time it’s Mvubu on Soprano Sax, leading a sombre evocation with Makhathini on Piano and Rhodes.
Forget that this album was recorded 8 years ago, it sounds as fresh now as I’m sure it did then. Whilst the inspiration and narrative is distinctly South African it fits within a broader context of what we call Spiritual Jazz.
For all the good news there is a downside I’m afraid. At the time of writing “Movements” is only available on CD in South Africa. I had delayed the review hoping that it might get a digital release, but with the year slipping by it’s too special an album to leave undocumented. Hopefully there will be wider distribution next year.