VISIONARY SOUTH African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini is set to release his Blue Note Records debut Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds on April 3, with the third single “Indawu” available to stream and download now.
The single pays tribute to the spirits of the Nguni people that live in and underneath water,” explains Makhathini.
“These spirits are known for their fondness towards music and dance, hence the riverbank becomes a central ritual space visited to appease the ancestors.”
“Indawu” features the American alto saxophonist Logan Richardson along with a South African band including Linda Sikhakhane on tenor saxophone, Ndabo Zulu on trumpet, Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere on bass, Ayanda Sikade on drums, and his wife Omagugu and daughter Nailah Makhathini on background vocals.
It follows the previous singles “Beneath the Earth” featuring lead vocals by Msaki , and “Yehlisan’uMoya” (Spirit Come Down) featuring vocals by Omagugu.
Makhathini’s distinct playing can also be heard on tracks 2 and 4 of the latest Shabaka And The Ancestors album We Are Sent Here By History, set for release on March 13.
Nduduzo Makhathini grew up in the lush and rugged hillscapes of umGungundlovu in South Africa, a peri-urban landscape in which music and ritual practices were symbiotically linked.
The area is significant historically as the site of the Zulu king Dingane kingdom between 1828 and 1840. It’s important to note that the Zulu is deeply reliant on music for motivation and healing.
This embedded symbiosis is key to understanding Makhathini’s vision.
The church also played a role in Makhathini’s musical understanding, as he hopped from church to church in his younger days in search of only the music.
The legends of South African jazz have always heavily influenced Makhathini, including Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa and Abdullah Ibrahim. “The earlier musicians put a lot of emotions in the music they played,” he says. “I think it may also be linked to the political climate of those days.
“I also feel there is a uniqueness about South African jazz that created an interest all around the world and we are slowly losing that too in our music today. I personally feel that our generation has to be very conscious about retaining these nuances in the music we play today.”
Through his mentor Bheki Mseleku, Makhathini was also introduced to the music of John Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner. “I came to understand my voice as a pianist through John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme,” he says.
“As someone who started playing jazz very late, I had always been looking for a kind of playing that could mirror or evoke the way my people danced, sung, and spoke. Tyner provided that and still does in meaningful ways.”
Makhathini also cites American jazz pianists including Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, and Don Pullen as significant influences.
Makhathini has released eight albums of his own since 2014 when he founded the label Gundu Entertainment in partnership with his wife and vocalist Omagugu Makhathini.
His 2017 album Ikhambi was the first to be released on Universal Music South Africa and won Best Jazz Album at the South African Music Awards (SAMA) in 2018.