The Blue Notes were a South African jazz sextet, whose definitive line-up featured Chris McGregor on piano, Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Dudu Pukwana on alto saxophone, Nikele Moyake on tenor saxophone, Johnny Dyani on bass, and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums.
After moving away from their home country in 1964, they established themselves on the European jazz circuit, where they continued to play and record through the 1970s.
They are now considered one of the great free-jazz bands of their era, whose music was given a unique flavour by their integration of African styles such as kwela into the progressive jazz ideas of the time.
The Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra concert at the DSG Hall in Grahamstown on Sunday served as my first proper interaction with the arrangements of the Blue Notes, who after going into exile didn’t quite enjoy the pomp and celebration they deserved by local audiences.
This new movement, led by Marcus Wyatt, began in 2011 and aims to correct this blunder by us, the listeners.
Like the original Blue Notes, the band features musicians predominantly from the Eastern Cape.
In between the music, Wyatt told the packed DSG Hall that if they didn’t know who the Blue Notes were, they should hit Google.
Which I did. I was alarmed to find that one of the first things that pops up is Meek Mill, with a song titled Blue Note. I ultimately found a decent Wikipedia page.
All risks considered when interacting with a page there, it went on to further cement why this band, and many other heritage projects like this, are important.
The tribute orkestra itself is a gift, because hearing the mastery of Andile Yenana and Ayanda Sikade where Chris McGregor and Louis Moholo-Moholo once played, is a gift that keeps on giving.
Romy Brauteseth, one of the two women who performs in the orkestra, owns the bass in such a way that if Johnny Dyani were alive and able to see her perform, I believe he’d nod in appreciation.
A song in the performance that left me deeply moved was Dear Africa, with vocals by Titi Luzipo.
The sombre plea for guidance and strength was brought back to life again with renewed urgency: the need for those two principles has never been more relevant.
And Luzipo’s voice is textured so beautifully that your senses literally get lost in the music.
But this performance also makes you want to find the original Blue Notes music in order to appreciate fully what you see before you.
Who knew a history lesson could be so much fun?
You can listen to the skill of the Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra on their 2017 album, 'Live At The Bird’s Eye'.