Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane ‘iHubo Labomdabu’ CD (UnlockedKeys) 4/5

Mashiloane is a piano player who is not that well known even in his native South Africa. He is based in KwaZulu-Natal and apparently culture from there does not get featured prominently in the main media. Well on this showing that’s both South Africa’s and our loss – he is well worth a wider audience.

What many critics and reviewers do on hearing South African music is immediately reference Township Jazz and often criticise the music for not being directly related to that broad category. Let’s get that one out of the way first – this is not that kind of music and that’s by no means any kind of criticism.

As I’ve referenced before, Abdullah Ibrahim covered this in A Brother with Perfect Timing the video about him decades ago. In commenting on the impression that every time an African musician picks up an instrument the critics expect a particular kind of performance, he said something like, “We are African composers,” the implication being that there is so much more to African and South African music than just a good time.

And that is evidenced completely in this new recording by Mashiloane. He does play a slight trick on us at the beginning by starting with Sabela Uyabizwa a rhythmic track with a strong left hand repeating figure, which does have hints of what most would recognise as a South African feel, but after this statement, the record becomes a very personal and impressionistic suite quietly exploring feelings and ideas.

But this doesn’t mean the music is not about Africa – it very much is. The music was composed during lockdown and Mashiloane talks about it in an interview on IOL a South African website: “This album is informed by an imagination of my personal life experiences, political climate, and imposed life. We can infer that the music tells of social awareness and interprets our daily life as it has changed. I hope my album offers introspection, peace and love.”

Not all musicians are adept at describing their own music but Mashiloane is – he goes on to say that the album sounds meditative, like a prayer. This is spot on and the music is also impressionistic bring in wider genres such as jazz and classical as well as African influences.

Interestingly this collage of influences is mentioned in the interview and I can’t put it any better: “His music is steeped in rich, indigenous history and scholarship that doesn’t try to erase the West’s influences in shaping how we see ourselves and our individual and collective relationship to music.”

The album title Ihubo Labomdabu translates as Indigenous Hymn and this together with the track listings give another angle on the influences and ideas at play with a mix of Zulu and English: Sabela Uyabizwa – Respond You Are Called, Uncertainty, Ihubo Lasekhaya – Home Hymn, Injabulo Echichimayo – Abundant Joy, Ukuthula Makubenani – Peace be With You, Impilo Yomdabu – Indigenous Life, Ingane Obhuqwini – A Child in the Dust, Uthando Olunameva – Thorn Love, Colours of Peace, World of the Free and Choices of Life.

A beautiful album, quiet for the most part, personal and deep which rewards listening with no other distractions. And although quiet, there is strength in the expression and development of the ideas. It is all too easy in culture and politics to think that strongly felt ideas have to be presented loudly. Here’s an example of how to do it differently.

Mashiloane gets the last word: “I have an aspirational view in raising awareness about the value of our works as Africans. And I aim to be one of the influences in a new generation of musicians, music collectors and live music audiences who will pride themselves about their African heritage.”

Brian Homer