Saxophonist and flautist, Norway-based Ivan Mazuze, has chosen a stellar set of international musicians who journey with him in his 2012 album, Ndzuti, which means ‘shadow’ in the ancient language of Xichangana of Mazuze’s native southern Mozambique.
This album has elements from both southern and West African traditions with Jazz based structures, suggesting how widely Mazuze extends his sounds while fusing northern European tonalities as well. His fellow African and Norwegian musicians reside in Scandinavian countries with guest artists like Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and the bassist/ vocalist from Ivory Coast, Manou Gallo, adding loads of sonic colour.
Mazuze’s other albums on his EM label have met with great success also: His debut album Maganda (2009) brings out his ethnomusicology training, reflecting on an exploratory journey with African ‘worlds’ of music. His articles about music and trance in ritual practices are found in the educational magazine “The Talking Drum”. Maganda was awarded the Best Afro World Group in the Oslo World Music Festival 2009, and the Best Contemporary Jazz Album at SAMA awards 2010 (South African Music awards). Mazuze’s third album, Ubuntu (2015) became highly acclaimed within the Nordic media circles and features Norwegian and South African-based musicians.
But its Ndzuti that grabbed my best ear. It was the recommended album at African Jazz Network 2012 and hailed as a key album by Music Information Center Norway (MIC) in 2012. Besides these cudos, it’s the songs themselves that shine out Mazuze’s careful melodics, zappy rhythms, and ethnic understandings of a society’s musical wizardry. He includes soukous rhythms the Congo, always full of glee and gay, danceable swings, as in “Nwana wa ku kasa” which features his Norwegian sax wife and fellow student during Capetown days, Ragnhild Tveitan, also in backing vocals. Vocalist and bass player from Ivory Coast, Manou Gallo, noted for her ‘Afro-groove’ renditions and for playing her bass like a percussion instrument, enthralls. Born in 1972, Gallo plays the tambour (percussion drums ), normally only reserved and allowed for men to play in the Ivorian culture.
Raised by her grand-mother who was looking after her like her own daughter, Manou was rather autonomous from early on. Her newest album, “AFRO GROOVE QUEEN” is a musical love triangle and adventure between Africa, Europe and America. Gallo helps Mazuze focus his funk, jazz and Afro groove sounds in delightfully lyrical songs that could have a healing quality to the ultra-stressed.
One can even hear some influences from raising his two small daughters, and from the Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, or the Latin swing of Nordic singer Hanne Tveter. ‘Celina” is admirably melodious. In ‘Chant des Immigrants’, phrases are heard that come from Norwegian improvisational influences, as per Tveitan’s sax, as well as African beats from Mazuze’s home areas of Mozambique and South Africa. ‘Pe Descalco’ features Tveter’s masterful vocal scat which also provides a breathy and enticing bid in ‘Ritmo de la Vida’, with its distinct Latin salsa and bossa nova. Mazuze’s added boppish sax makes this song one of the most grabbing on the album.
Rhythmic Afro and Latin grooves abound. ‘Conversations’ and ‘Nguni’ features Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, the latter song with Nigerian high life rhythm reminiscent of Fela Kuti, with shades of Sosa’s Cuban swing thrown in! This is a bouncy piece, similar to Mazuze’s consistent style of fusing Afro-influenced sounds. ‘Mosambik’ is played in a Mozambique groove characteristic of Mazuze’s usual improv voicings. Another Oslo resident, Trinidadian singer/actor Sheldon Blackman, provides backing vocals with Mazuze’s storytelling sax in ‘Ma’gogo’.
All percussion comes from Sidiki Camara from Mali who plays djembe, doundounds, and ‘talking drums’.
So after all these wonderful sonic tonics whirling about, the catchy sing-along tune ‘Satyagraha’ ends the album, with ears aching for more! This is Ivan Mazuze and his crew at their very creative best.
See him perform at the upcoming Muizenberg Jazz Festival on Saturday, November 17, at the Masque Theater with local musicians. https://muizenbergjazzfestival.com/event/ivan-mazuze/