Nduduzo Makhatini In the Spirit of Ntu album
Nduduzo Makhatini In the Spirit of Ntu album tickets

Nduduzo Makhathini makes an exclusive Cape Town appearance at the Norval airing In the Spirit of Ntu, writes SHIRLEY GUELLER

Nine albums, with the 10th one mixed, mastered and awaiting launch, the Standard Bank Jazz Artist for 2015, and SAMA and All Africa Music Awards winner, jazz composer, singer, pianist and PhD candidate, Nduduzo Makhathini is one of the most powerful figures in the world of jazz in South Africa today – and one who is larger than life!

He also heads up the music department at the University of Fort Hare, writes a blog, and is a family man with Omagugu Makhathini – his singer and teacher wife – who together have three children aged 10, 13 and 19.

He will be in Cape Town on Friday, 1 October and Saturday 2 October 2021, to present an exclusive preview of his latest album, In the Spirit of Ntu, both at the Norval Foundation in Tokai and streamed online through the Quicket platform for two days.

Joining Nduduzo Makhathini for these performances will be three young men from the National Youth Band, which he mentored during the Virtual National Arts Festival this year: Jed Petersen (saxophone), Dane Paris (drums) and Stephen de Souza (double bass).

His has prestigious international (New York Winter Jazz Fest, Blue Note Jazz Club and Lincoln Centre in New York, plus US tour with Wynton Marsalis) and national gigs to his name, and he has previously appeared in the Mother City in several Cape Town International Jazz Festivals.

But his reach goes deeper than appearances with Hugh Masekela, collaborations with Black Coffee and Dacapo and online with Brazilian artist Hamilton De Holanda. He has also produced albums for Msaki and Thandiswa Mazwai.

Makhathini’s roots are his very ethos.

Cosmology has played a role in most of what he has done, and it was the riots, looting and burning in KZN that inspired In the Spirit of Ntu, roughly translated as ‘vital force’ – so it is not hard to understand that healing is his goal.

A Blue Note artist

Makhathini, a Yamaha artist in the US, released his first album on Blue Note in 2019, and would have recorded the new one with Blue Note in America had Covid not intervened.

For him, that was serendipitous, because the turmoil that South Africa, particularly KZN, was going through earlier this year, in part caused by the riots, galvanised him into action.

“I needed to give voice to the expression of the people and this album, recorded in Cape Town, is the result. The sounds are the voices from the past, our heritage and what I have tried to do here is engage people in re-instilling their culture and their values. It’s a spiritual experience I hope my listeners will embrace,”  he says.

As he has often stated, his idea of playing the piano is like the throwing of the bones, and he should know since he is a sangoma, and has been affected by the troubles South Africa has experienced since the 1990s. He sees his talent for improvisation as one to be used to heal a nation.

So what were his influences? Princess Magogo KaDinuzulu and her wonderful songs. “She was an amazing imbongi (praise singer), a composer who also played the ugubhu and the isithontolo. Her archive of oral traditions are critical to our understanding of our heritage, and what I am trying to do is take this further by putting music to our oral history. It’s all possible by using sound. She allowed me to perceive how my ancestors heard music. Being a part of academic life allows me the opportunity to make sure the stories we tell are authentic.”

Nduduzo Makhatini received an MMus from the University of Stellenbosch, where he is a now a PhD candidate writing a thesis on the concept of sound in African life, an elaboration of the thought which focuses on those sounds in a human way – what does sound look like in cosmology? It is all about being a cultural insider.

Church, jazz, family

Makhathini was also influenced by church music, and was known by several congregations in the area and he went from church to church seeking the best music. Of course there were many South African jazz icons such as Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa, and Abdullah Ibrahim whose music he admired, often for the emotions they expressed.

Above all, he was influenced by his family – his mother was a keyboard player and singer and his father a guitarist. Then of course there’s his wife, Omagugu, also a lecturer at Fort Hare, and whose own thesis was on the demise of jazz venues in South Africa.

It was the Standard Bank Award that changed his life. “This award allowed me to reach more people. It was at the time that Listening to the Ground had been released, and thanks to the award it became my most important work until now. It allowed me to do what I wanted to do, and the people there gave me the necessary infrastructure to support my ideas. It was a beautiful year.”

While all the awards have been beautiful for Makhathini, this concert is also going to be beautiful!

Makhathini performs on a Fazioli piano generously supplied by Ian Burgess-Simpson Pianos.

Who: Nduduzo Makhatini In the Spirit of Ntu
When: 1, 2 October 2021, 5pm, online for a week thereafter
Where: Norval Arts Foundation Cape Town
Tickets: Quicket R250 concert, R70 online https://www.quicket.co.za/events/152204-nduduzo-makhathini-in-the-spirit-of-ntu/#/