“The Native Afro-Jazz Sounds of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman” – News, Reviews, Articles and Commentary from the London Jazz Scene and Beyond


The native afro-jazz sounds of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman
(WABB-090. Album review by Adam Sieff)

This is another very interesting South African vinyl reissue from Canadian label We Are Busy Bodies, which follows their recent releases The Heshoo Beshoo Group and The Drive. The artist this time is Dr Philippe Tabane, the guitarist, conductor and master of Malombo – “the drum and dance rituals of traditional healers” – which he learned from his mother, spiritual healer, Matjele.

Tabane has become one of South Africa’s most influential and respected musicians. He toured internationally with Malombo and spent some time in the United States in the 1970s where he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and performed with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. He received an honorary doctorate in philosophy and music from the University of Venda and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in South Africa. He died at the age of 84 in 2018.

Originally performing as a guitar, flute and drums trio, Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman broke through to large audiences in 1964 at the Third South African Jazz Festival at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. By the time this album was recorded five years later at Herrick Merrill’s studios in Johannesburg, the line-up was just Tabane on guitar, whistle, drums and vocals and Gabriel ‘Sonnyboy’ Thobejane, an outstanding young drummer, percussionist and Dipala (thumb piano) player, playing cowhide drums instead of a standard kit.

This music is a revelation if you’ve never heard it before. “Afro-Jazz Sounds” might be in the title of the album, but as Tabane said: “The jazz label – or any label – never worked for me. Once I went to play in a competition in Durban and at the end I got a special prize because I couldn’t be categorized. To this day, they still can’t categorize my music ”.

Regardless of genre, this is warm, witty, calming music and has been on my turntable constantly for the past few weeks. The vinyl mastering by Noah Mintz sounds excellent, and the original album cover art from the 1969 Teal / Gallo Record Company release is well reproduced.

Tabane is a wonderfully expressive guitarist, who plays with excellent timing and good feel and gets a delicious warm sound from his Gibson electric archtop. The strong melodies and the musical conversation between him and Thobejane on Kathloganao is positively cheerful, while Inhliziyo takes on a darker tone with beautifully executed fast runs. man feeling is pure deep blues and on the only vocal track, Ke Utlwile (I’ve had enough), Tabane sings her sister’s child.

At Tzela, a gorgeous piece (see video below), the guitar almost takes on a sitar voice as the two musicians swap fours throughout. The rest of the album’s repertoire is in a softer vein, focusing on songs performed primarily with whistle and dipala. It looks very beautiful and moving, the effect is pastoral and calming. Tabane’s whistle playing is no less skilful than his guitar; he is a masterful musician with great control.

I’m not convinced by the ‘Africa’s Sun-Ra’ tag given to Philip Tabane by some critics, it surely deserves respect as an important and original talent in its own right. But if it helps get the word out to a new audience, then why not? They will appreciate it.

Release Date: July 9, 2021

LINKS: Buy the vinyl on Bandcamp
2018 obituaries

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