'It’s a beautiful connection': Nduduzo Makhathini joins top US jazz record label

The SA pianist and composer plans to infuse his journey as a traditional healer into his music after signing with Blue Note Records

16 February 2020 - 00:04 By MASEGO SEEMELA
Nduduzo Makhathini has signed with Blue Note Records.
Nduduzo Makhathini has signed with Blue Note Records.
Image: Instagram/@nycwjt

As a boy growing up in Pietermaritzburg, Nduduzo Makhathini learnt to play the piano from his mother, who took formal classical piano lessons.

She did not pursue a career in music, but she inspired her son’s love of it.

Now Makhathini plans to infuse his journey as a traditional healer into his music after signing with  prestigious US  jazz record label Blue Note Records.

The composer and pianist told the Sunday Times this week that joining the label — home to the likes of John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk —  will  help spark conversations about jazz music in SA.

“I only started taking music seriously after 2001 when I went to study music and I realised that I was kind of a pianist.  

“[But] I learnt music at a young stage. From singing lullabies with mother and grandmother at home. I then learnt music from the township,” he said.

“There were always these guys who were teaching music, and we never used to pay them. We used to go to a community centre in Pietermaritzburg called KwaDambuza where there were great teachers who taught us music.”

After a standout performance at the Winter Jazzfest this month in New York, Makhathini is set to release his latest album, Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds, on April 3.

He has also released his song Beneath the Earth, featuring lead vocals by East London singer Msaki. A previous single, Yehlisan’uMoya (Spirit Come Down), has also been released, featuring vocals by KwaZulu-Natal  artist Omagugu.

WATCH | A clip from the music video for 'Beneath The Earth' by Nduduzo Makhathini

“I’m excited that I’ve been signed under Blue Note Records,” said Makhathini, who announced the record deal last year. “I think it’s a beautiful connection to some of the things I’ve been trying to do.”

He said people in the US will “get to learn about a very strong South African jazz culture and music we have been a part of, a legacy that comes from a big part of the world.

“At the same time I  will be thinking through new ideas of collaboration between African Americans and Africans in the continent.”

I  will be thinking through new ideas of collaboration between African Americans and Africans in the continent

Makhathini, who is married with three children, said he is  currently based in  Johannesburg and East London, where he is the head of the music department at Fort Hare University.

Asked if he would be moving to the US, he said he and his family still have to decide what will  work for them, as the main aim is to spread the jazz movement.

Makhathini said he believes the world still has a lot to learn about African culture.

“Being a torch bearer means I’m at the forefront of the conversation,  but it doesn’t mean that I’m the only one,” he said.

Makhathini’s international manager, Thomas Rome of  Xippi Productions, said from New York that Makhathini is the first South African Blue Note Records has signed. He is known to the label for his ground-breaking work with Senegalese superstar singer Youssou N’Dour, SA’s Abdullah Ibrahim and the late flautist Zim Ngqawana, said Rome.

“Nowhere do the parallel cultural identities of South Africa and the United States …  speak to us more intriguingly than through jazz,” he said.

“The jazz vernacular has thrived in both countries thanks to a visceral connection to cultural realities owned in common by our two countries. If you are hip to the richness of jazz in today’s South Africa, personified by Nduduzo and his circles, you can’t help but be heartened by Nduduzo’s plans to export his work. We need his healing here, as you do at home.”

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