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Earthy grunts of Zulu Blues: A Journey with pianist Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane

Slow Life’s Olympia Bakery came to life again Saturday eve, 4 November, with an eclectic array of Zulu blues, impressive  improvisational arrangements of contemporary standards, such as in ‘Amazing Grace’,  and stunning solos by bassist Dalisu Ndlazi, drummer Riley Giandhari, and the multi-award pianist, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, who leads The Mash Trio.

           Sibusiso Mashiloane

The huge full moon was rising over the Kalk Bay waters of Capetown’s southern Peninsula where this delightfully vibey venue hosts almost weekly quality jazz concerts, thanks to its passionate owner, Paul Kahanovitz.

Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay, Capetown

One felt not only the magnetism of moon-waters caressing the soul, but also the earthy beats of Zulu music grunting through the listeners’ bones.  The sounds were raw and danceable, persistent, then mellowing. Mashiloane’s leadership takes one on a journey of cadences, with tones of African rhythm and blues Zulu-style, and fused with swing-bop, hip hop, gospel and funk. Often, a blues rock unfolds, then Mashiloane’s piano sets the fast pace, and finally, crescendo!  The criminal is caught.

Bassist Dalisu Ndlazi

One song was reeling: a Zulu boot dance rhythm followed by orchestral chords from the synthesizer with the bass pounding out that beat, then a contemporary jazz swing improv followed by that same dance rhythm that took the song home. Another song starts with earthy Zulu funk, then mixes in refrains of ballads with shades of Bheki Mseleku styles, adds voice hummings, and then returns to that funk to end a song full of innovations and character twists. Quite a journey!

S. Mashiloane & drummer Riley Giandhari at Olympia – courtesy Neil Frye

This group is nothing less than exciting at macro levels. They obviously display an utter pride and joy in their inherited music of the soil.  The three musicians hail from Durban where they schooled in jazz studies at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban.   Saddled with a Masters Degree in Jazz Performance, plus various awards for best jazz artist, including his debut album, ‘Amanz’ Olwandle’ (released in 2016) winning best jazz album awards, ‘Mash’ has grown his musical and teaching skills through festivals, guest lectureships  in the USA and South Africa, and two recorded albums.

His most recent album was recorded at the time of his mother’s death; hence, the title ‘Rotha – a Tribute to Mama’ (2017 Unlockedkeys Records).  A very listenable album, with songs written from 2003 that seem to document his fifteen year musical journey, one hears memories of South Africa’s past and present, with female backing vocalists and two horns as well as the occasional guitar.  The live performance in Capetown offered completely different styles and tricks compared to the mellow and melodic jazz arrangements on this album, all mixed with down-home South African musical roots. For instance, ‘Song for Bheki’ clearly portrays allegiance to this late legend from the homeland, pianist extraordinaire Bheki Mseleku.

Bheki Mseleku – courtesy GettyImages

Mashiloane’s passion is to support African musical heritage by captivating his students’ minds to decolonize their ways of thinking, and to exercise pride in, and ownership of, the local cultural expressions.  This is why his ‘crossover jazz’ can include a variety of motifs, such as bop, blues, and funk, wedded to South African tribal and spiritual sounds.  Such Afro-centered fusion makes this album all the more meaningful, in such songs as the bluesy ‘Unlockedkeys Blues’,  the boppish ‘Mr SJ’, or the soft, sung ballad, ‘Meditation’.   Videos tell his story, also:   Mr SJ at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDWV6ImrCD0  and  ‘My Lyllah’ at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybh1MBVSNkI.

One soon concludes that Mash has explored a wide variety of composers such as McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, and fellow South Africans Themba Mkhize and the late Zim Ngqawana.

This CD ‘Rotha’ is very different from Mash’s live performances.  It offers a mellow, bluesy, and thoughtful message with reminiscence of a dear Mama who was graced by life herself, and who graced others, particularly her son.

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