Jazz pianist Nduduzo Makhathini's new album to be released in April. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA

Jazz composer-pianist Nduduzo Makhathini describes his music as a spiritual gift for healing people, similar to what a traditional healer does.

The first African artist to sign to Blue Note Records, a US based jazz record label owned by Universal Music Group, Makhathini is set to release his new album titled Modes of Communication: Letter to the UnderWorld in April.

He recently returned from performing at the NYC Winter Jazzfest, where a Stereogum jazz critic Phil Freeman mirrored his composition skills and performance to that of legendary jazz arists, McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders.

He says this album is a continuation of his pursuit to deliver work that reminds Africans of their identity and how that relates to a broader understanding of cosmology, historical silences and casting the spotlight on the importance of connecting with one’s ancestors, among many things.

“When you look closely at the title of this album, the letter is a kind of metaphor that I use as constant communication or a kind of text that is always sent between our ancestors and ourselves. It also speaks to the alertness we need to assume in order for us to receive these messages,” he explains.

“It is also worth mentioning that the work itself is connected to these vortices and these energy fields and therefore emerges from these spaces. So it’s difficult to divorce it from its mother energy, where these things are derived in essence.

“So executing my work as a healer within this work of music, acknowledging that I am a pianist via the gift itself, I come to jazz already as a sangoma.

“And the reason why I am positioned this way is because the essence of what I am doing is carried by the spirits of the ones that have given me the gift,” he adds.

The new album includes songs such as the single release Yehlisan’uMoya (Spirit Come Down) featuring impassioned vocals by his wife, Omagugu Makhathini, and the recently released single Beneath the Earth, featuring lead vocals by Msaki.

On the new album, Makhathini features an impressive band that comprises of tenor saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane, an alto saxophone solo by Logan Richardson, trumpeter Ndabo Zulu, bassist Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere, drummer Ayanda Sikade, percussionist Gontse Makhene and even vocals his three children Nailah, Thingo, and Moyo.

“I have a lot of chosen artists that are on the album and the music assumes a very communal sort of outlook. Collaborations for me are attributed to the broader ensemble that is part of the work, which is important to the work that I am doing.

Despite gaining international fame, Makhathini believes that local accolades and recognition holds more weight in his career.

“I think some of my greatest performances have been at home, playing for my people.

So there is a particular way in which things that are done outside of this country are elevated too much, and I am really not caught up in this idea that international things are higher than what we already have here.”

Modes of Communication: Letter to the UnderWorld will be released on April 3, worldwide.

The Sunday Independent