Jonas Gwangwa is a genius!
He’s undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most accomplished and versatile musicians, and possibly one of the most under acknowledged musical heroes of our times.
Alongside other luminaries, he ignited the famous Sophiatown era of the ‘50’s; and played trombone with the Jazz Epistles – the first South African band to record an LP; before being exiled for over thirty years.
As an artist with the intrinsic belief that “politics and culture cannot be separated”, Gwangwa’s life and work are intricately interwoven with South Africa’s struggle to end apartheid, and its triumphant emergence as a democracy.
His contributions as a cultural worker are immeasurable, and besides being the leader of “Amandla” [the ANC cultural ensemble tour], for ten years; he worked on numerous significant commissions including scoring the soundtrack for the epic movie ‘Cry Freedom’.
Since returning to South Africa in 1991, he’s released consistently solid albums – all are well conceived statements, which inspire national solidarity with irresistible melodies, and hs latest, “Kukude (Lapho Si Vela Khona)” is no exception.
Loaded with all the Gwangwa ingredients, it extends this legacy with homegrown authenticity and an accessible appeal that inspires one to sing along; and simultaneously satisfies international standards of jazz excellence.
“Kukude” also has his signature – a sensibility that stems from the ‘toyi-toyi’ of mass strikes – it‘s music that incites collective action! While he has clearly evolved out of, and beyond his homeland’s torrid past, one can easily assume that these are calls for a more humane, universal unity.
The track listing is beautifully balanced, alternating between jubilant incitations and dirge-type seriousness.
The album opens with happiness, as ‘Umyalo’ instantly establishes a sense of celebration, a contemporary call that conjures images of urban African as a community village.
The irresistible ‘Malenda’ has a heroic quality, and a friendly militancy that’s fitting as a tribute to Mandela, and it’s also a play on the days that this name was deemed unmentionable.
Gwangwa’s personal favourite, ‘Love and Patience’ is one of the soulfully sublime serenades, while ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ is pure unadulterated funk – South African style!
The album confirms Gwangwa as a master of arrangement and orchestration; and the be-bop, Marabi and contemporary groove elements prove this veteran’s still got the swing!
‘Ma Africa’ is an inspirational appeal for solidarity, from this elder statesman; but the title-track, translated as ‘It is Far (Where we have Come From)’ ,says it all – it shouts ‘victory’, and affirms this album as an opus!