Siyabonga Mthembu’s collaborative project Indaba finally comes to fruition
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Johannesburg - Musician Siyabonga Mthembu’s collaborative project took a few years before it could come to fruition.
He first came across the idea in 2017 at a dinner with his bandmates from Shabaka and the Ancestors in the UK at a record label dinner, when he discovered that the band leader had done the same sort of compilation for the London scene – introduce it to the world. In 2017, they were putting out the Australian compilation.
“I asked why they hadn’t done a South African one because SA is a global giant when it comes to jazz. They were actually just looking for someone to curate one.”
Mthembu sent through a proposal two years later to curate the South African compilation.
That compilation, which he curates with award-winning jazz artist Thandi Ntuli, is titled Indaba Is, a reference to Credo Mutwa’s work Indaba My Children. The album is an offering to the idea that the tradition of this music rests in how it is a product of indigenous knowledge and to show that the children have heard the news.
“The big reason was the fact that the big blossoming of the London scene and the international conversation was about the rejuvenation and reinvigoration of jazz as not a music for old people. It was a shoo-in that South Africa was next. The jazz world has been looking in this direction for quite a bit.
“The Nduduzo Makhathinis, Thandi Ntulis and Bokani Dyers all do the Lincoln Jazz Centre in the US. Shabaka and the Ancestors has been signed to one of the biggest jazz labels in the world – Impulse Records.”
Mthembu said a lot more jazz moments centred around South African artists were being created.
“A lot of it has to do with us being chosen. For this collaborative project, it was important for us to put across what we feel jazz could be. This is not everything that is South African jazz, but rather a particular part of Joburg jazz and avante-rock spaces. It becomes very important not to be stuck in what jazz used to be, but showing that the tradition is growing and has gone further.”
The brief from Brownswood Recordings, the independent London-based record label sponsoring the project, was to look for things that were “far-off centre”.
“They weren’t looking for things that sound like jazz. We then had to get as many players involved; the big part of getting many players is so that their names are out there. I learnt a lot more about my peers and South African music doing this project because this part of the music scene is not yet, in a commercial sense, given that authority at home.”
Mthembu said a lot of South African music was not curated well enough internationally for people to get their hands on the music.
The project took form from June last year. The first single off the project was Bokani Dyer’s track Ke Nako which came out on November 3. The next single, by Sibusile Xaba, is Umdali, which releases on January 15 and the full album comes out on January 29.
“I am really positive about the fact once touring opens a lot more of us hitting the road together is vital because we are not being seen in the same breath, and it is important for that to happen for our generation. Because then the consciousness can be maintained. South Africa is ageist, so things do not get passed down. It is vital for us to be able to first come together to know what needs to be built and passed down.”
The project featuring eight songs aims to bring the musical prowess of South African artists to the world stage.