Trumpeter, Vocalist Mandisi Dyantyis emotes stories in ‘Somandla’: a CD Review

Trumpeter, vocalist, composer, arranger, director, Mandisi Dyantyis, has birthed his first jazz album, Somandla, which spellbounds. This lyrical album contains not your ordinary love themes, but queries, confusions, dark spaces conveying loneliness and searching for acceptance, from family, a loved one, even from God.

A deeply emotional story, Somandla (which means ‘the all-powerful’, a reference to God) calls us to try to understand laments in relationships. While a few songs are just instrumental, mostly in ballad form, highlighting the talents of the Quintet, most sung lyrics by Dyantyis with his voice-overs effectively displaying multiple harmonies that skillfully weave messages of forlorn or crass warnings to parents to wake up and behave! Remarkably, Dyantyis has chosen to sing in isiXhosa which adds to the authentic nature of his stories, and, indeed, adds diversity to the South African jazz repertoire.

Band members add dimension to Dyantyis’ sometimes troubled horn and lyrics: Established tenor saxman Buddy Wells and pianist Blake Hellaby match well with the younger hopefuls, drummer Lumanyano Unity Mzi and double bassist Sean Sanby. No electronic instrumentation exists in this very moving album, acoustically recorded in the Capetown Milestone Studios in 2018. Other guest pianists are Andrew Lily and Bokani Dyer.

The lyrics strain the ear with unexpected messages. [For non-isiXhosa speakers] Our society remains stagnant and needs to improve in ‘Kuse Kude’; don’t pretend you’re not having pain in ‘Inzingo’; are we producing a nation of moral cripples in ‘Esazalwwa Sinje’; the orphan is vulnerable in ‘Ingoma Yenedama’; a prayer to the All Powerful One in ‘Somandla’; a longing for that beautiful lady to be my soulmate in ‘Molo Sisi’; how love is unmeasurable in the love ballad, ‘Ndimthanda’; and I cry for your love until my eyes bleed in ‘Kobe Kube Nini’. Rarely has a jazz album evoked such emotion, from Dyantyis’ voice inflections and mellow controls to the instrumental tightness and loyalty of fellow musicians who so expertly understand how music and emotion work together. You will too.

Although this is his first jazz album, Dyantyis boasts an impressive work history composing for musical theatre, scoring plays, and traveling worldwide with drama troupes. Now resident in Capetown, Dyantiyis and his Quintet perform on Sunday, 24 Feb, at Langa’s Guga S’Thebe Community Center starting 4pm.  Another exciting sponsorship by Jazz in the Native Yards and ConcertsSA. 

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