PRIOR to jetting out the country last week for the NYC Winter JazzFest, Nduduzo Makhathini likened the festival to umsamu, where the spirits of Jazz greats who’ve inspired him and continue to do so, dwell. And one spirit that continues to inspire him, is that of the late Zim Ngqawana who Makhathini was part of his Zimology Quartet the last time he played at the NYC Winter JazzFest in 2008 at the Knitting Factory.
Sharing knowledge with the audience during his performance at The Blue Note Jazz Club, Makhathini said “Thank you so much…there’s so many things that one could say, but I think what I have in my heart now is just one word, gratitude. I think there’s something special that happens, especially towards redefining what the anthology or cosmology of what an African people is about. And what I find to be very essential, is the idea or gathering, rituals or the coming together. We believe that when we come together, our ancestors are sort of with us and are enticed in that way .”
Makhathini played Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds Project at the iconic Jazz Club last night, alongside a fine ensemble of musicians who complimented him. He had Burniss Travis on Double Bass, Nasheet Waits on the drums, Aaron Burnett on Tenor Sax, Logan Richardson on Alto Sax and New York based South African Trumpeter Lesedi Ntsane. The latter three made up the horn section in the centre of the stage on Monday night in New York.
The ensemble only had their first rehearsal on Sunday, literally a day before taking to stage, but from the videos shared on social media, their chemistry was on par with their musicality. They performed before husband and wife duo, The Baylor Project.
The JazzFest is a weeklong festival which takes place in several locations around New York. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the festival attracts some of the finest musicians from around the globe to the Big Apple, all in the love of Jazz. Makhathini is also in New York with members of the Kaya FM team that includes station boss Greg Maloka, hosts Brenda Sisane and Collin Kgari.
The Blue Note Jazz Club is an abode of Jazz because of its rich history. It first opened its doors in 1981, hosting the genre’s masters; The likes of Sarah Vaughan, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles and Lionel Hampton are some prominent names which often frequented the club.
Makhathini’s appearance at the Blue Note Jazz Club received praise from his industry peers, including percussionists Azah and Tumi Mogorosi, writer Natalia Molebatsi, fashion designer Bathini Kowane and his life partner, singer songwriter Omagugu Makhathini.
In your music collection there’s at least one album created between 1998-2003 at the Electric Lady studios. That was the period which the studio homed the music collective The Soulquarians, the gods of the Neo-soul sound.
In 1998 D’Angelo moved into Electric Lady Studios in New York to record his Voodo album. He roped in drummer Questlove to work on the follow-up to Brown Sugar and because of the long studio hours, the drummer simultaneously moved the recording of the Roots LP Things Fall Apart to Electric Lady.
Questlove and D’Angelo’s chemistry was sparked by their love for classic songs from years gone by. The core of the Soulquarians was completed by composer James Poyser, Detroit genius producer J Dilla, Common and Erykah Badu. Although they never want to be tied to the genre, the Soulquarians are heavy influencers of the Neo-Soul sound we know today. Their influence can be heard in some of today’s artists such as Robert Glasper, Rayvn Lenae, NxWorries and MoRuf.
Not suggesting that these musicians no longer work together, because they do, but here are some of the classic albums that were produced in that period of them working together in one space sharing their gifts.
The 13 track album which was overshadowed by D’Angelo’s strip down and steamy down video in Untitled (How Does It Feel), which left a lasting effect on a lot of women. But it was a masterpiece from the music genius which had a funky soulful Hip Hop feel thanks to J Dilla’s sick sampling. D’Angelo featured Red Man and Method Man in Left and Right. Such was the level of artistry here that Q. Tip had initially laced a verse for the song but it was deemed lukewarm hence D’Angelo roped in the New York duo. The album bagged a Grammy.
THE ROOTS-Things Falls Apart
This was a follow-up to their Illadelph Halflife project which came out in ‘96. It’s this the project here that earned them critical acclaim from industry fundis and probably that ‘legendary’ tag too. It was the group’s novel experience at selling over 500 000 copies. The Roots won the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys for You Got Me featuring Erykah Badu. Stand out songs here include Act Too (Love of my life) and Step Into The Realm.
COMMON-Like Water For Chocolate
Common just sounds extra nice on J Dilla beats. Dooinit is one of the finest tracks where Common rips the beat and some rappers with the energy of Julius Malema at a rally behind the mic. While songs like The Light and 6th Sense remain classics till this day, Payback Is A Grandmother, Film Called Pimp and Song For Assata were gems that many never paid close attention to. There’s a great balance of social commentary, love, lyricism and musicality throughout the album.
ERYKAH BADU-Mama’s Gun
Mama’s Gun is probably the album that made a lot of the young fans of Badu fall in love with her music. It’s unbelievable how an album can be so cohesive with a cocktail different sounds. Cleva is a beautiful Jazz joint that doesn’t sound out of place alongside the sticky Jay Dee drums on Didn’t Cha Know. So many musicians consciously and subconsciously use this album as blueprint to creating a Neo Soul project. This is a classic-I can visualize myself listening to this at 60. Orange Moon and Bag Lady are just some of the classic joints in this album.
Some people said this album was Common’s regress after Like Water For Chocolate which came out two years prior. But this project was simply ahead of its time. It was great body of music by the Chicago rapper. It had influences of Rock, electronic and funk soaked in the Soulquarians sounds. Common once said that he wasn’t feeling Hip Hop at the time of creation and his choice of sound was influenced by Jimi Henrix and Pink Floyd. Stand out tracks here include Between Me, You and Liberation, Heaven Somewhere, Ferris Wheel and Soul Power.
What’s your favourite Soulquarians influenced album?