Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Icilongo: The African Peace Suite’ CD/DIG (Gundu Entertainment) 5/5

nduduzo-makhathiniIt seems that you don’t have to wait very long for a new album from Nduduzo Makhathini. We only reviewed his third album, “Listening to the Ground” in February and now we have his fifth release “Icilongo (The African Peace Suite)”. Mr. Makhathini we can’t keep up!
Nduduzo’s music is rooted in spirituality. It’s the means by which he was initially introduced to music as a child, through his family and the church, and as a young adult it was the way he was able to connect Jazz to his musical upbringing.
The theme at the heart of this album is one advocating peace and unity within Africa, with the inspirations coming from Nduduzo’s background. The title, “Icilongo”, the Zulu word for a trumpet/horn has several levels of symbolism. Most immediately it can be seen as heralding a call for people to come together and is drawn from the significance of the trumpet in the Bible as marking an important event or change.
Icilongo also refers to Icilongo Levangeli, a popular Zulu hymnbook, which was taught to Nduduzo by his Grandmother. This book has significance because as Nduduzo explains “not every family could afford to own a copy, when it was time to sing a song from this particular book people would form groups sharing the 10 or so copies we had among the whole congregation then we would start singing, the sound of the voices would be magical you could feel a strong sense of unity the power of coming together”.

Enough about symbolism, and on to the music itself. The album contains 9 original compositions featuring Nduduzo on piano, vocals and water effects, the UK’s very own Shabaka Hutchings on Tenor sax, Nduduzo’s regular drummer Ayande Sikade, Benjamin Jephta on double bass, Justin Bellairs on alto and soprano sax and the voice of Sakhile Moleshe.

Stylistically the album encapsulates Nduduzo’s key musical influences – South African jazz, traditional Zulu music, Gospel and the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane.

The album starts, just as a church service would, with a prayer, in this case delivered by Nduduzo’s Grandmother, Alphinah. It’s fitting that the second track is a song of tribute to his grandmother and is a traditional South African blues.

For me the Peace Suite starts in earnest with “Resolution”, which I can only assume is another tribute of sorts, this time to Love Supreme. It’s not a cover version, although both are spiritually motivated. Nduduzo’s piano playing really stand out on this track, whilst there’s passion in those key strokes there’s also real nuance as the track ebbs and flows.

“Imagined Race” is Nduduzo at his most euphoric and reminds me of those classic Pharoah Sanders/Leon Thomas albums. The tune builds slowly, at first around Sakhile Moleshe’s deep, full vocals and then as it progresses Nduduzo explores some great spiritually driven piano lines, rising and falling in energy and power, with passionate support by the saxophones. The lyrics are full of hope and optimism, although for me the chorus doesn’t quite work for me.

“Inkululeko (Freedom for all)” is a hearty, emboldened call and response. “Ubumbano (Unity)” also features much of this passionate energy and emotion within a long intro.

“Shwele (Amnesty)” and “Ivangeli (The Gospel)” are much darker compositions featuring impassioned, emotive readings from Sakhile Moleshe. Moleshe ‘preaches’ over improvised passages of music before giving way to Nduduzo’s piano and some inspirational saxophone playing. Without doubt this is my favourite track.

Overall this album is full of spirit and real emotional and musical integrity. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I hope that this will be the springboard to wider recognition.

Andy Hazell