The search for our intrinsic nature – in search of the San

“…the evident longing of our times to understand through these delightful people the intrinsic nature of our species and of human alternatives.” – from Frontiers, by Noël Mostert.

When whites first settled at the bottom end of Africa they encountered a group of people they did not understand, a group so different from themselves they could hardly see them as human, and as a result they began to treat them quite literally as vermin.

This group of people were known by the Dutch settlers as “Bosjesmans” or “Bushmen” – people who lived in the “bush”, people who “could appear and vanish as though materializing from or dissolving into sand or grass.” (Mostert, Frontiers, p31).

From the 17th to the late 18th Century Bushmen, or San, as they were called by the Khoikhoi, were hunted as vermin by the settlers, and, to some extent, by the Bantu-speaking people who came into contact with them from the eastern regions of Southern Africa.

Only in the second half of the 20th Century were their real significance acknowledged and a beginning was made in an unbiased assessment of their importance in human history.

Sir Laurens van der Post, famous South African writer, published the first popular studies of Bushmen in his books The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958) and The Heart of the Hunter (1961). These books promoted a kind of “noble savage” image of the San, a highly-romanticised vision of them.

A very different view is that taken by photographer Paul Weinberg in his wonderful book In Search of the San (The Porcupine Press, 1997), a collection of Weinberg’s highly evocative photos linked by his commentary on his trips to Bushmen settlements in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana spanning the years 1984 to 1996.

In an introduction written by Riaan de Villiers the gut-wrenching reality of Bushman life in the late 20th Century is put into the context of the conflict between development and conservation.

Early morning - perhaps the most appealing of the photos in the book (at least I love it!)

The Bushmen suffered displacement on a large scale by the development of nature reserves and the destruction of the conditions which made their lifestyles viable. Some Non-Governmental Organisations are helping the Bushmen adapt to a market economy and to develop the skills needed for survival in the 21st Century, including the development of art schools and retail outlets for their arts and craft.

But, as De Villiers notes, “…these trends do not mitigate the dispossession of the Bushmen, and should not serve to obscure it. The vast majority continue to drift further and further away from their culture as they struggle to survive.”

Weinberg noted in his entry for Tjum!kui in Namibia: “At the weekend, social dislocation reaches a crescendo. Ghetto blaster rule: men and women alternate between traditional rhythm,s and township jive. Alcohol takes its toll; some people pass out, others fight. The modern world and a stone-age culture have met – with dire results, it seems.”

One of those dire results is the continuing exploitation of Bushmen and their culture as tourist attractions. Weinberg relates how a group of Bushmen in Kagga Kamma reserve near Ceres in the Western Cape are used to provide the illusion of Bushman culture: the advertising brochure reads “Enjoy a trip with the small people. Participate in an informal experience with a Stone Age culture.”

Admittedly, for all the inauthenticity of the experience, the Bushmen themselves are better off in this set up – Weinberg notes that the clan’s “standard of living has improved dramatically,” because they are able to keep the proceeds of sales of their crafts and have land on which to farm with chickens and turkeys.

Perhaps the saddest photo in the collection - buying liquor

The book is full of such interesting and insightful reading, mercifully free of the kind of sentimentalising that so often comes into writing about the San.

The main impact of the book is made by the superb photos which, in documentary style, show the contemporary lives of Bushmen in all their many facets – from typical hunting to drunken fights, from cute children to army recruits.

There is a richness in the images which helps the observer to get a strong sense of the impact of the collision of the modern world on the culture of what was a hunter-gatherer culture, and the impact is not always pleasant.

Another aspect brought out by the book is the fact that the Bushmen are not a homogeneous group – there are many different clans or groups which speak different languages and have different cultures.

Dusk - a hunter

The book is not a “coffee table” book and neither is it an anthropological text – though it has aspects of both. It comes across mainly as one person’s response to a continuing unfolding of a changing culture – a culture which in many ways provides a link between the reader’s time and a time in the almost unimaginable past.

As Weinberg notes in a sort of foreword: “I join a long line of outsiders who have studied, filmed or photographed Bushmen over the past 100 years or more. With these image, I hope to depict a once harmonious culture in a state of flux and struggle. I hope they bring the reader closer to the real San of southern Africa.”

The book, and espcially the photos,  is a constant reminder that people, however we might classify them, remain people with their own sense of dignity and worth. The Bushmen are not tourist attractions but real people with the needs and wants of all people for respect, understanding and involvement. In that Weinberg has achieved what he set out to do.

A book for all South Africans now

“We were on a coast of centuries of sea tragedies, and of millennia of prehistoric habitation. A great deal of the strange and incomprehensible surrounded one there, and one was credulous of many things that one would not believe elsewhere. Such belief is a form of affirmation of that sense of wholeness that is so distinctively African, and upon which I have several times remarked, a purity of bond with the unfathomable, the unknowable and the long reach back that reduces the human immediate to a great littleness. It was what I chose to remember throughout the writing of this book.”

These final sentences of Noël Mostert’s great, wonderful book Frontiers: The Epic of South Africa’s Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People (Pimlico, 1992) are really a summing up of the experience of reading this long and absorbing book. There is so much in this book of the unknowable, of the “long reach back”, and the final littleness of our human existence.

On one level the book is a chronicle of the incredible arrogance of white encroachment on black existence, the piecemeal and yet dogged conquest and appropriation of the land which the Xhosa-speaking peoples of the Eastern Cape regarded as their ancestral birthright.

At another level the book is an exploration of humanity, of what makes us human, what leads us to forget our common humanity, and so the book rises above mere history to become a philosophical meditation on the human condition, and especially on that condition in the South Africa in which we find ourselves in the early years of the 21st Century.

On this level the Frontiers of the title are not only the moving borders on the colonial map but also the interface between two civilisations – the white European and the black African. On this “frontier” the missionaries who came to “civilise” the black people in South Africa were key, and highly controversial, players.

The missionaries mostly brought a high Victorian sensibility to their work among the Xhosa-speaking peoples, which caused misunderstanding and conflict. The attempts at “civilising” the blacks meant that the missionaries became associated with the colonising forces in the eyes of the Xhosa-speaking people, and their message of salvation was treated respectfully but critically. This “frontier” remained largely intact even as the lines on the map shifted and changed.

In a sense, if we want to understand South Africa now, this book is essential reading. If we want to understand our fellow-citizens in this strange land, black and white, this book will deliver deep insights.

Mostert, Cape Town born and of a long line of ancestors stretching back to the early white settlement of the Cape in the mid-17th Century, is a masterful writer who manages to hold attention while delivering masses of information; drawing on a wide variety of sources his narrative has a weighty authority.

Chief Maqoma

From the background of the broad sweep of the historical events colourful characters abound who stand out and command attention. There is the frontier giant at almost seven feet tall Coenraad de Buys who married many women (none of them white) and fathered a people, the Buysvolk of the northern parts of South Africa; there is the very human and yet very interesting James Read (Snr) who came to South Africa fired with enthusiasm to uplift the “Hottentot” (Khoikhoi) people and lived as one of them, marrying a Khoikhoi woman and championing their cause against the white settlers; there is the brave and ultimately tragic chief Maqoma who in the end wanted nothing but to live like a white farmer; the little braggadocio governor Sir Harry Smith who, understanding almost nothing of Xhosa culture, claimed himself to be their “Paramount Chief”; there is the sad chief Sarili who had a deformed leg and was regarded by many as a weakling, but who was the “last great independent chief of the Xhosas” and whose final tragedy was to be the chief over the great cattle killing of 1856 which brought about the end of the Xhosa-speaking people’s independence.

Sir Harry Smith

As Mostert notes, in spite of the way the British had treated his father and his people, “…there had never been anything in Sarili’s demeanour that suggested a hatred or a longing for vengeance. He appeared in every respect to be a larger man than that.”

Sarili, as he comes through in this great book, epitomises the tragedy of the Xhosa-speaking peoples. The various groups of Xhosa-speaking people seem to have gone out of their ways to accommodate and appease the colonists in hopes of being left in peace to continue their lives in the way they most wished to, and at every turn, they were frustrated by the demands of Britain and the colonists. They saw their land and cattle taken from them and even when they were innocent were accused of cattle rustling.

The cruelties visited on the Xhosa-speaking people were unbelievable. And yet they tried to maintain their dignity, to maintain as much of their customs and beliefs as they could in the face of the colonial and missionary onslaught. Their land they lost. As they said, “ilizwe lifile (the land is dead)” – “You kill our country by taking away our customs.”

Paramount Chief of all the Xhosa-speaking peoples, Sarili

So, as Mostert says, South Africa was born in a great tragedy, symbolised by the death of Sarili, who died in hiding at the age of 83, in 1893.

With the defeat of the amaZulu in neighbouring Natal the British had “achieved the military conquest of the two great black groups which had offered the main resistance to the white domination of South Africa.

In a final ironic twist of history, though, as Mostert noted, “It was through the Xhosa-speaking peoples, however, that African political leadership in South Africa mainly continued to express itself.” The list of 20th Century leaders who came from among the Xhosa-speaking peoples and have shaped the new democratic South Africa is impressive, among them Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Steven Bantu Biko, Chris Hani, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, to name but a few.

Frontiers is an essential and absorbing read for anyone wishing to understand South Africa today, and an enjoyable trip through history, thanks to the skill of the author.

© Text copyright by Tony McGregor. All illustrations from the book Frontiers: the Epic of South Africa’s Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People by Noël Mostert (London, Pimlico, 1992).

South African jazz – a historical introduction to the beautiful music of a beautiful country


Herbie Tsoaeli playing at the old Bassline club with the Zim Ngqawana Quartet

South African jazz started not long after the great explosion of the music in New Orleans more than 100 years ago – or it started long before then, depending on how you look at it.

“Almost as soon as jazz went on record in America, in the early decades of the twentieth century, those wax impressions arrived in South Africa. They landed on fertile ground, for South Africans had a rich and dynamic musical culture of their own, into which they had already drawn aspects of earlier and parallel African-American musics.” – from Gwen Ansell’s lovely book Soweto Blues (Continuum, 2004).

The rhythms and sounds of African traditional music are of course the well-spring of jazz, taken to the “New World” in the cruel holds of slave ships. The music of Africa, far from being “primitive” or simple, is in fact a highly complex music, with sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic structures which, when combined with elements from western composed and folk musics, grew into the music which, for all its variety and rich diversity, we tend to lump together under the not-so-elegant term “jazz.”

In South Africa, of course, these African sources and influences are far more directly audible. The music of Africa which we encounter in South Africa comes from many different ethnic sources, Khoisan, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Venda and many others. Each has given a particular flavour to the music of South Africa.

The Xhosa contribution

Lulu Gontsana who played in the band “Xhosa Nostra” (among many others). Here he is with the Zim Ngqawana Quartet


To take just one example of the richness of roots of African music, musicologist Dave Dargie in his outstanding book Xhosa Music (David Philip, 1988) speaks of the complexity of rhythmic structure of Xhosa songs: “It is the combination or multiplication of rhythms which brings the body to life in the song.” Of the harmonic richness of the songs he writes: “Some songs are particularly rich in vocal parts, with over thirty or even more parts being sung at the same time if there are enough singers.” He points out that “it is highly unlikely that any song will be sung in exactly the same way twice.” Sounds like jazz to me!

Dave Dargie’s transcription of “uGqongqothwane”

A Xhosa song which achieved world-wide fame is the so-called “Click Song” popularised by Miriam Makeba. The traditional (or accepted canon) song on which this is based is the song “uGqongqothwane”, the name the amaXhosa call the dung beetle. The name is onomatopoeic, mimicking the knocking sound the beetle makes on hard surfaces, the “q” being pronounced as a “click” produced by creating a vacuum behind the tongue against the palate and then releasing the tongue with a sudden jerk to produce that click, much as people would make the sound of horse’s hooves on a hard road surface. The “g” in front of the”q” serves to accentuate the click, making it harder.

The transcription shown here is by Dave Dargie of “uGqongqothwane” as played on the uhadi bow by the late Nofinishi Dywali, a traditional musician who collaborated with Dargie in his research.

Considering the sophistication and complexity of Xhosa music it might be no surprise to discover that a great number of South African jazz musicians came from that ethnic group. Indeed there was in the 1980s a group of Xhosa jazzmen who called themselves the “Xhosa Nostra”!

Cape jazz – what is it?

A Sunday afternoon jam session at the home of the late Vincent Kolbe

But jazzmen in South Africa have come from all ethnic groups in the country. Jazz is a music that doesn’t know boundaries of race, even though it grew out of the black experience.

The rich cultural heritage of the indigenous people was added to by the influx of slaves into the Cape Colony, which, like the slaves which were taken to the Americas, brought their own musical traditions with them, traditions which soon were part of the great cultural melting pot of South African music. So in the music of the Cape, which is often called “Cape Jazz”, can be heard the influences of Khoi-khoi and San music intertwined with the melismatic styles which came from Malaysia and Indonesia and the rhythms and harmonies of the amaXhosa who came to the Cape in search of work in the 19th Century.

The rich diversity of jazz in the Cape is emphasised by Cape Town musician the late Vincent Kolbe in an interview with jazz expert Colin Miller, who, in his article “What is Cape Jazz,” quotes Kolbe at length:

“Now naturally you hear a lot of music. You learn to dance, you listen tentatively to the music; you listen to the rhythm, and you listen to things that encourage you to move. So you become sensitive to music. You also go to church. And there’s the organ grinding away and the hymns of all the ages and chants. And then Christmas! But on your way home from school, there’s a Malay choir practising ‘Roosa’ next door and there is even African migrants living in a kraal nearby singing Xhosa songs or hymns or something and you could have the Eoan Group practising opera at the church. Then there’s the radio and the movies. And you see this man conducting and his hair flowing in his face so naturally you go and fetch your granny’s knitting needles and you let your hair fall over the face and you conduct. So that’s the whole thing, movement and dance and imitation and living it.”

The marabi foundation

“I’ve always loved trains. And marabi music for me always seemed to have that same quality as the sound of a train: it just goes on and on, but as it goes on it always changes and you know it’s going somewhere.” Trombonist Jasper Cook who played with the African Jazz Pioneers, as quoted in Ansell, Soweto Blues.

Jasper Cook

In his indispensable introduction to the history of jazz in South Africa, Marabi Nights (Ravan Press, 1993), Professor Chris Ballantine notes: “If there is one concept which is fundamental to any understanding of urban black popular music in South Africa, it is that this music is a fusion – vital, creative, ever-changing – of traditional styles with imported ones, wrought by people of colour out of the long, bitter experience of colonisation and exploitation.”

The “marabi” of Ballantine’s title is an important concept to understand in order to get an full appreciation of South African jazz and its history. Marabi was a “style forged principally by unschooled keyboard players who were notoriously part of the culture and economy of the illegal slumyard liquor dens” which were part of every black township in the early part of the 20th Century. One can hear some echoes of the birth of jazz in New Orleans here, perhaps?

Peter Rezant in the early 1990s. Photo by Denis Martin

Ballantine continues his exposition on marabi and its importance to South African jazz:

“A rhythmically propulsive dance music, marabi drew its melodic inspiration eclectically from a wide variety of sources, while harmonically it rested – as did the blues – upon an endlessly repeating chord sequence. The comparison is apt: though not directly related to the blues, marabi was as seminal to South African popular music as the blues was to American. (The cyclical nature of each, incidentally, betrays roots deep in indigenous African musics.)”

In the late 1920s and early 1930s black musicians started to incorporate the sounds of the big bands from the US swing era into their marabi-based music, and the dance craze took off in the townships – marabi music played in swing style. A number of early African jazz bands started to flourish, building sizeable followings in the townships and even beyond. Their names have become iconic in the story of South African jazz – the Jazz Maniacs, the Merry Blackbirds, the Rhythm Kings, the Jazz Revellers, and the Harlem (yes, indeed!) Swingsters.

The leader of the Merry Blackbirds was Peter Rezant, and his name is still revered by musicians. His band had the edge over many of the others because all of his players were schooled, and could read music. The Merry Blackbirds even played to white audiences in Johannesburg before apartheid made this impossible.

Now and into the future

Reedman McCoy Mrubata

While Johannesburg on the Witwatersrand had the edge in terms of the number of people there looking for entertainment that could be provided by jazz musicians, a little town in the Eastern Cape also achieved renown as the “Little Jazz City” because of the thriving jazz scene there and the number of influential and famous musicians who came from there. This was Queenstown, at one time the centre of the wool trade in the Eastern Cape and a thriving centre from which wool was transported to the ports for export. Jazz fans in Queenstown had a reputation for being highly critical and knowledgeable about the music.

Jazz was, and still is, played and enjoyed in all the major centres in South Africa, though it has two centres of gravity, as it were: Cape Town and Johannesburg. But players and fans can be found in every corner of this great land.

Andile Yenana

There were a number of jazz musicians who left South Africa during the apartheid era because the tension between the freedom demanded by the music and the oppression of the regime was too great to bear. Many of these great musicians died in exile, and South Africa is considerably the poorer for having lost these great souls. Some did return to further enrich the great mix that is South African jazz today.

Master guitarist Themba Mokoena

And many brave ones managed to keep the faith and the music alive in South Africa through those dark and turbulent years.

There is now a new generation of jazz musicians building on the deep heritage of the music in South Africa.  There is Paul Hanmer who brings a new, almost cross-national flair to the music, with strong classical ties. There is Carlo Mombelli with deep roots in the avant garde European jazz scene and equally deep roots in South African music. There are the young musicians like Marcus Wyatt delving into the roots and coming up with fresh ideas and sounds.

So jazz is unlikely to die anytime soon. Though of course it is a living music and so is always changing, always finding new sounds and ways of doing things.

And that’s great by me – I love it all.

© Text and photos copyright Tony McGregor

Winston Mankunku Ngozi – South African jazz’s bellowing bull

Back in those unenlightened, un-wired days of 1967, I and my then girl-friend used to attend art classes at the old Cape Town Art Centre on Greenpoint Common. And every Sunday evening there was a jam session there which we also often attended.

Mankunku at the Cape Town Art Centre. In the background Monty Weber on drums

One of the players at these sessions was one Winston Mankunku Ngozi. He was dynamite  in a cloth cap indeed.

Those sessions, usually with Midge Pike on bass and Monty Weber on drums, were incredibly good. There was a pianist also but I can’t remember who he was.

Of course Mankunku was the one who released into the South African soul that instantly-recognisable anthem which electrified the townships much better than Escom ever could, “Yakhal’ inKomo”!  And he is best known for that wonderful song.

The album on which it appeared, also called Yakhal’ inKomo, has been re-released many times and is still one of the top selling South African jazz albums of all time. One only has to listen to the album to understand why – those sounds are just dripping in soul and emotion, gripping and beautiful.

Having heard Mankunku play the song live, however, just makes the recording sound rather flat. No recording could ever capture the soul of the man in full-throated roar. It was simply awe-inspiring to hear.

Which is not to say the recording doesn’t merit serious listening – of course it does. It is an amazing album with some pretty amazing musicians on it.

The story of the album and its title is sometimes disputed, but in essence I think the reason it found such resonance in the townships (and, of course, elsewhere) is that it touched on a particularly raw edge at the time, the raw edge of the pain of apartheid, the pain of life in the townships, in a way that had never before (and not since either) been touched.

Mankunku at the Cape Town Art Centre. Midge Pike in the background and Monty Weber partially obscured

As soon as those opening notes from Agrippa Magwaza’s bass come from the speakers one knows one is in the presence of a very special musical experience. The soulful funky groove laid down by Magwaza and pianist Lionel Pillay in the title track makes a fine foundation for the entrance of Mankunku’s declamatory horn. It is a moment of jazz magic, one that is unique among South African jazz albums.

By the time Mankunku died in October 2009 he was a true legend of South African music, a tenorman without peer in the land.

At a time when many of his contemporaries were leaving South Africa to escape the strictures of apartheid Mankunku refused to go. He stayed on in the country in spite of all the hassles of trying to stay alive in a society that was not just oblivious to his greatness, but actually in many ways sought to deny it.

As a result Mankunku had to suffer many indignities and try to fend off the deleterious effects of them on his physical health. In one famous incident, to circumvent the law against mixed bands, he played his tenor behind a curtain while a white musician mimed his moves in front of the curtain. I don’t think many listeners were fooled, but it kept the authorities at bay.

Mankunku on stage at the Carling Circle of Jazz gig on Greenmarket Square, 1987

To survive such things takes enormous ego strength and self-belief. And yet Mankunku was almost self-effacing, not pushing himself into the limelight at all. Hence for many he was more of an absence than a presence, and yet when one experienced him in the context of a group playing he was powerful and energetic.

Mankunku was born in 1943 in Retreat on the Cape peninsula outside Cape Town. He was born into a musical family and as a teenager he began to tenor and alto saxes. John Coltrane and Horace Silver were major influences, as were famed Cape Town reedman “Cup and Saucers” Kanuka and bassist Midge Pike.

It was in Midge Pike’s band that Mankunku began his career as a professional musician. It was a career that would include working with many of the greatest names in South African jazz: Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Barney Rachabane and Victor Ntoni.

The last time I heard Mankunku live was at the Carling Circle of Jazz gig on Greenmarket Square, Cape Town. On that occasion Mankunku gigged with the Victor Ntoni big band and guest artist Chris McGregor. It was a beautiful moment.

On that occasion old friends played with him: Barney Rachabane, Duke Ngcukana, Ezra Ngcukana and Johnny Mekoa, among others. There was also a strong contingent of the younger generation of players like Rashid Lanie, Vusi Khumalo and Bakhiti Khumalo.

However great his other accomplishments, however, the song that remained linked with Mankunku in the minds of jazz lovers in South Africa was “Yakhal’ inKomo.” It was such an important song – in much the same way as Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Mannenberg” would become – in social terms too.

As Mongane Serote wrote about Mankunku: “He just went deep, right down to the floor of despair, and reached the rim of fear and hatred. He just spread and spread out and out in meditation, with his horn, Mankunku, Ngozi, that guy from the shores of South Africa, and he said: ‘That was it.’ For that is what he was doing with his horn, Yakhal’ inKomo…” (Quoted in Michael Titlestad’s Making the Changes, Unisa Press, 2004).

Partial discography

At the time I was listening to Mankunku in Cape Town his seminal and most famous album, Yakhal’ inKomo, had not yet been released and he was not the famous tenorman he became. This album was released in 1968, and has since sold well over 50000 copies – an astounding achievement for a South African jazz which album. The title track is one of those songs that is almost instantly recognised by music fans – they only have to hear the first bar or two and they are already excited! The personnel on this album included, as mentioned, Agrippa Magwaza on bass, Lionel Pillay on piano, with Early Mabuza laying down the beat at the drumkit. The story behind this album seems to depend on who tells it. My own friend Ernest Mothle shared with me his version. Whatever the truth, it remains a superb, exciting, moving album from a musician who was only 24 when he made this recording.

The next album featuring Mankunku is a strange one, though also beautiful. It is called The Lion and the Bull and pairs Mankunku with fellow-tenorman Mike Makhalelemele in front of, of all things, a white pop group called “Rabbit” which comprised wizard guitarist Trevor Rabin (who later joined Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson in “Yes“), bass guitarist Ronnie Robot and drummer Neil Cloud.  This album (plus a large number of other South African classic albums) can be downloaded free at Electricjive. As journalist and later record producer Patric van Blerk wrote about this album at the time: “This album brings the magnificent Mankunku together with another very special person – a new and very bright star – Mike Makhalemele. Mike as the Lion could not be more gentle – Winston as the Bull is strong yet alone.The Bull and the Lion will make you feel sexy – and your wash will be whiter.”

In 1986 Mankunku was involved in the recording of yet another classic of South African jazz, Jika, recorded in both Cape Town and London, which featured pianist/arranger Mike Perry and some other great South African musicians living in the United Kingdom like guitarist Lucky Ranku, pianist Bheki Mseleku, trumpetter Claude Deppa and percussionist Russell Herman. As Perry notes, “Jika was composed and recorded during the period here known as ‘the bad years’,  ie. when the system of racial oppression called apartheid was at its height under P.W . Botha ‘s ‘Imperial Presidency'”.  The word “Jika” mean to turn around, to change. Clearly what was on the minds of those who played the music and produced the album. This album is available for download (though not free!) at Rhythm Music Store.

In 1996 Mankunku recorded another album in collaboration with Mike Perry. This was a much more laid-back sort of album, on which bassist Spencer Mbadu particularly shone. The album, called Dudula, meaning “Forward”, is notable especially for the tracks “Khawuleza (Hurry Up)” which features a great solo by Mbadu, and the great song “Shirley” on which Mankunku really shines. This album was recorded in Cape Town. Other tracks on this album are “Amanzi Obomi” (Water of Life); the mbaqanga “Masihambe” (Let’s Go); and “Green and Gold”. Other musicians on this album are Richard Pickett, Errol Dyers, Charles Lazar, Buddy Wells, Marcus Wyatt, Graham Beyer,  and the Merton Barrow String Quintet.

Mankunku’s next album was the SAMA award-winning Molo Africa of 1999 (released in 1998). Writing about this album on the All About Jazz site Nils Jacobsen said: “If you listen carefully to what Mankunku has to say, he lingers on melody in the same way Albert Ayler used to, deeply aware and celebrating each note.” A great list of artists appears on this album, including Feya Faku, Tete Mbambisa, Spencer Mbadu, Vince Pavitt, Vusi Khumalo, Graham Beyer, Sylvia Mdunyelwa, Jack Van Poll, Lucien Lewin, Errol Dyers, Basil Moses, Bongiwe Gcabe, George Werner, Octavia Tengeni, Themba Fassie, Boytjie Philiso, Lionel Beukes, Soi-Soi Gqeza, Blackie Thempi, Denver Furness, Sipho Yhintsa, Nopinkie Ngxengane, Mzwandile Ngxengane.

In 2003 Mankunku released his final album (though no-one was to know that) called Abantwana be Afrika (Children of Africa). This album is a “return to roots” type of venture, with a relatively small group backing and Mankunku himself in quiet mood. The musicians around the master on this album are all of the younger generation of jazz musos in South Africa, but no less interesting for that. Apart from Mankunku on both tenor and soprano saxes the group consists of Prince Lengoasa – flugelhorn, Andile Yenana – piano, Herbie Tsoaeli bass, Lulu Gontsana – drums. All the musicians also share in performing the vocal chores. This is a stunningly beautiful album showcasing Mankunku at his best in terms of warmth of tone and emotional expressiveness. The track listing is “Give Peace a Chance (Een Liedtjie vir Saldanha Bay)”, “Ndizakuxhela Kwamajola”, “Bantwana Be Afrika (Children of Africa)”, “George & I”, Makaya Davashe’s incredibly beautiful “Lakutshon’ Ilanga”, “Dedication (to Daddy Trane & Brother Shorter)” which Mankunku debuted on the Yakhal’ inKomo album, “Inhlupeko”, “Tshawe”, “Ekuseni”, “Thula Mama”. A treat indeed.

© Text and photos copyright Tony McGregor