Jazz at 100 Hour 82: Jazz From South Africa

Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand)

The brutal repression of the subversive mixed-race jazz subculture in South Africa led to the emigration of several important musicians whose work in the United States and Europe helped focus the world’s attention on the apartheid regime in the 1960s and 1970’s. Prominent among the emigres are pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who originally recorded as Dollar Brand, trumpeter Hugh Masekela and bassist Johnny Dyani.

The Jazz Epistles and The Blue Notes
“In 1959, [Dollar Brand, later known as Abdullah] Ibrahim, Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Johnny Gertze, and Makaya Ntshoko formed the Jazz Epistles. It was a diverse group—[band members who were classified as] Coloureds and Africans, local heroes and relative unknowns, men from Cape Town and from Johannesburg–united by their allegiance to modern jazz. The Epistles emulated New York-based African-American musicians … whose music constituted a substantial part of their repertory, as did their own compositions … Although modern jazz (or bebop) formed the basis of the group’s repertory, Ibrahim, at least, drew on local musical idioms in private. Masekela, for instance, recalls that Ibrahim “often regaled” fellow musicians “with folk songs from Cape Town’s colored [sic] minstrel carnival.” … In public, however, Ibrahim and the Epistles avoided local music. The single album that they released might as well have been recorded in New York or Detroit. The sound is pure bebop, pure modern jazz.” – John Mason

The Cape Town band, The Blue Notes, was perhaps the other most influential South African jazz band. Pianist and composer Chris McGregor, the sole white band member, was joined in the classic lineup by Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Dudu Pukwana on alto, Nick Moyake on tenor, Johnny Dyani on bass, and Louis Moholo on drums. The mixed-race band suffered police harassment. Like the Jazz Epistles, to play freely, the band needed to escape South Africa, emigrating to Europe in 1964. This emigration gave the players performance opportunities that expanded their influence and has given us access to their recorded legacy. Also like the Epistles, their South African recordings were largely straight-up hard bop.

Vary-Oo-Vum. The Jazz Epistles.
(Hugh Masekela-tp, Jonas Gwangwa-tb, Kippie Moeketsi-as, Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim)-p, Johnny Gertze-b, Makaya Ntshako-d). From Jazz Epistle, Verse 1. 1/22/1960
Composed by Dollar Brand

Dick’s Pick. Blue Notes.
(Mongezi Feza-tp, Dudu Pukwana-as, Nick Moyake-ts, Chris McGregor-p, Johnny Dayani-b, Louis Moholo-d). From Township Bop. 1964 (unreleased until 2002)

Hugh Masakela and Dollar Brand
“Despite its small audience, modern jazz perplexed the apartheid state, which attacked it (and less obscure jazz styles) relentlessly during the repression that followed the Sharpville massacre of March 1960. The police progressively shut down racially integrated nightclubs and enforced statutes which prohibited both black musicians from playing before white audiences and musicians of different races from performing together …The Jazz Epistles broke up, and, in 1962, Ibrahim left South Africa for Switzerland and, eventually, the United States. – John Mason

The Jazz Epistles trumpeter Hugh Masakela emigrated in 1960 first to Britain and then the US where he married singer and composer Miriam Makeba, with whom he had worked in South Africa. They both had great success in their musical pursuits while also raising American consciousness of the apartheid rule. Before he recorded his chart-topping single ‘Grazing In The Grass,’ Masekela was introduced to American audiences through a live recording, which has been reissued as The Lasting Impressions Of Ooga Booga a compilation of two records taped live at the Village Gate.

Dollar Brand emigrated to Europe in 1962, where he came to the attention of Duke Ellington who made his first recordings possible. In 1965, he moved to the US, where he played at the Newport Jazz Festival and attended Julliard on a Rockefeller Foundation grant. His early masterpiece, African Sketchbook was recorded in 1969. “In later years, Ibrahim said that he did not listen to other music. That’s already implicit here. He seems so self-determining that on those occasions when he stumbles across pianistic clichés, one senses he isn’t aware of them as such, but they have simply emerged in the process of improvisation.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Abangoma. Hugh Masekela Quartet
(Hugh Masekela-tp/voc, Larry Willis-p, Harold Dotson-b, Henry Jenkins-d). From The Lasting Impressions Of Ooga Booga. 11/1965
Composed by Miriam Makeba.

African Sun. Dollar Brand / Abdullah Ibrahim solo
(Dollar Brand-p). From African Sketchbook. 5/16/1969

Mannenberg is Where It’s At.
Displaced in New York amid the swirl of black nationalist and revolutionary currents, Abdullah Ibrahim, reassessed his musical direction and, as John Mason writes, may have reflected, “What, he would have wanted to know, were his blues? What were his spirituals? What were his roots? … Concerned that his music had become too esoteric, he had begun to employ a musical language that was rooted in the working-class and traditional cultures of the South Africa.” He returned to South Africa. “On a winter’s day in 1974, a group of musicians led by Abdullah Ibrahim (or Dollar Brand, as most still knew him) entered a recording studio on Bloem Street, in the heart of Cape Town, and emerged, hours later, having changed South African music, forever. Together, they had created ‘Mannenberg,’ a song which quickly became a national and international hit. The album on which it appeared, Mannenberg is Where It’s Happening, sold more copies in 1974 and 1975 than any jazz LP recorded in South Africa and reestablished Ibrahim as South Africa’s leading jazz musician. But the song was much more than a mere best seller. In the years after its release, ‘Mannenberg’ gained almost universal recognition as “the most iconic of all South African jazz tunes.” The release of ‘Mannenberg’ was also the moment when it became clear that a new musical genre had emerged. Known internationally as South African jazz and locally as Cape jazz or the Cape Town sound, it was something towards which Ibrahim had been working for over a decade. ‘Mannenberg’ was not the first and, perhaps, not even the best example of this new style. But the song was the first to bring it to a wide public. Just as significant, however, was ‘Mannenberg’s’ second act, which began several years after its release. During the climax of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, many South Africans embraced it as ‘a popular metaphor for all the townships where trouble brewed.’ Giving voice to the dreams of the dispossessed, it was the sound of freedom or, as many called it, South Africa’s ‘unofficial national anthem.’” – John Mason

Mannenberg. Abdullah Ibrahim Quintet
(Robbie Jansen-as/fl, Basil Coetzee-fl/ts, Abdullah Ibrahim-p, Paul Michaels-b, Monty Weber-d). From Mannenberg Is Where It’s Happening (Cape Town Fringe). 1974

Johnny Dyani.
In Europe, former members of The Blue Notes’ followed divergent paths into the European avant-garde, progressive rock and afro-rock, while bassist/guitarist/singer Johnny Dyani incorporated more and more South African folk influences in his work while still maintaining a place as a beloved contributor to European free jazz. As John Mason says, like Abdullah Ibrahim, “the experience of being ‘not home’ made him feel more South African.”
“The music is strongly politicized but never programmatic. [The LP Witchdoctor’s Son] and the slightly later Song For Biko, also with fellow [Blue Notes] exile [Dudu] Pukwana … come from Dyani’s most consistently inventive period. A lot of the material here is traditional, arranged by Dyani with the horns and bass in mind … Dyani never played better; less than a decade later, he was gone.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Ntyilo, Ntyilo, Take 1. Johnny Dyani solo
(Johnny Dyani-g/voc). From Withdoctor’s Son. 3/15/1978

Song For Biko. Johnny Dyani Quartet
(Don Cherry-cor, Dudu Pukwana-sa, Johnny Dyani-b, Makaya Ntshoko-d). From Song For Biko. 7/18/1978

Mbizo. Johnny Dyani Sextet
(John Tchicai-as/ss, Dudu Pukwana-as/ts, Alfredo Do Nascimento-g, Johnny Dyani-b/p/voc, Luez “Chuim” Carlos de Sequaira-d, Mohamed Al-Jabry-cga/per). From Withdoctor’s Son. 3/15/1978

Johnny Dyani died suddenly after a performance in 1986 at 40 years old.

Hugh Masekela returned to South Africa in the early 1990s following the liberation from apartheid and the establishment of majority rule. In 2016, Masakela and Ibrahim performed together at the Emperors Palace in Johannesburg, reuniting the Jazz Epistles for the first time in over 50 years. Masekela died at 78 in January 2018. Ibrahim is still active at 83 years old.

Jazz-rock fusion or, often, simply “fusion” emerged in the late 60s as the child of many mothers. Characterized by electric instruments and rock rhythms, it could be loud and fast, but just as likely, could be melodic or lyrical or funky. The Charles Lloyd Quartet, the Gary Burton Quartet, Tony William’s Lifetime and the Joe Zawinul Group all showed elements of what became the best-selling strain of jazz in the 1970s. And once again, of course, Miles Davis was in the center of things. The Road to Fusion, in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

The Jazz Epistles. Jazz Epistle, Verse 1. Celluloid 66892
The Blue Notes. Township Bop. Proper Records PRP CD 013
Hugh Masekela. The Americanization Of Ooga Booga. MGM SE 4372
Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). African Sketchbook. Enja ENJ 2026
Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). Mannenberg Is Where It’s At. The Sun ‎SRK 786134
Johnny Dyani. Witchdoctor’s Son. SteepleChase ‎SCS 1098
Johnny Dyani. Song For Biko. SteepleChase ‎SCS 1109

Mason, John. 2007. “Mannenberg”: Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem. African Studies Quarterly. Volume 9, Issue 4. http://www.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v9/v9i4a3.pdf
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Hugh Masakela. The Lasting Impressions Of Ooga Booga
Dollar Brand, African Sketchbook.
Johnny Dyani. Witchdoctor’s Son

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