Pianist Sibusiso Mashiloane offers communal sounds from his people

Durban-based pianist, composer, arranger, Sibusiso ‘Mash’ Mashiloane, has moved from trio stage in earlier albums, including a solo piano album, into vocal chanting and other communal sounds of horns and percussion, including three tenor saxophones and a flute. This is Volume 1 of Music From My People, recently released, portraying music from Sibu Mash’s home ground. But he is far from finished. “Due to lockdown, my band had to record online and I didn’t have access to a long piano – the Yamaha – which is what I wanted to play on,” he laments.

Mash’s music is to be performed in the living flesh, in an acoustic setup, on a stage with that eager listening audience. As the Covid viral safari subsides somewhat, only now can he find solace to play live with his band, while still using a studio setting where he could record this latest album. “For live, I might do without the drums and just stay with percussion. Tlale* knows the sound. My wish, also, is to play with the singer, Siya Makuzeni, because her musicality transcends; she knows the nuisances of what sounds I want.” So there’s more to come.

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Sibusiso Mashiloane

Fifteen instrumentalists feature in the album along with three vocalists, giving varieties of texture, breath of sound, and instrumental melodies to Mash’s foundational expressions, especially in his left hand’s lower register which firmly grounds the harmonic vocals. The theme of 1976 Youth protests to freedom days of the 1990s onward are spelled out by these intergenerational musicians, including the younger Linda Sikhakhane on tenor saxophone, and the flute of Tseleng Mkhatla, who trained at the Moses Molelekwa Foundation school in Johannesburg.

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The album’s creatively pictorial cover and inserts, designed by Elashna Amruthlal, show stick figures of people reacting to those 1976 shootings of youth in protest, giving a haunting reminder that ‘home music’ was also surrounded by violence and tragic fatalities of young leaders. There are suitcases of people leaving, portrayed in ‘Umagoduka’ (always leaving); “people visit you, then quickly say they’re leaving now, suddenly. The door means we are going now, we are leaving now.” Little circles on the cover design depict the communality of people.

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Stylistic texture comes across, for example, from Bheki Khosa’s guitar in the bouncy ‘Sabela Uyabizwa’: “Bheki makes you respond to a call, like when your Mom calls you, you don’t hesitate to come inside to her!” Similarly, his guitar maintains that intimate rapport with Khaya Mahlangu’s tenor sax in ‘Between You & Me’. Mash’s wish is that the younger ones must listen carefully to the older musicians, like Bheki and Khaya. “I draw a lot on experience, like visiting a village. I want to visit Goema music and hear it. What is that ‘bokaap’ sound? In Europe, I want to hear how they hear our South African music. During my visit to the Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar, the most beautiful thing for me was to listen to a variety of musicians from the African continent. In my album, there’s lots of bass rhythm motion which is what I picked up from those African guys. Like in ‘African Communal’, you can hear the African rhythms in it.”

Mash’s doctoral studies, like for many actively engaged musicians, are challenging his energy levels. “Researching is at the expense of the music; there’s no time to align with playing music. When I write, this one [playing music] stops. While I was in full time research for several weeks, when I went to the piano, I made so many mistakes in my playing!! My notes slip. I got worried! A B flat became a B,” he moaned.

Are they mistakes, though? “It took me long time to get my ankle rhythm [wearing ankle shakes] and my hand rhythm just right. I’m afraid to lose that.” Mash’s honesty and trepidation perhaps makes him the fine teacher he is, as witnessed in some interesting videos he occasionally posts, and his passion to groom younger players.

Mashiloane will touch down in Cape Town the weekend of February 17, 2022 for more concerts to promote his brand of music from his people. Check his Facebook page! The album is available on all digital platforms and in CD format.

Sibu Mash –  piano/synth/composition/production; Mawande Kunene  –  Rhodes; Qhubekani Mthethwa –  Electric bass; Shaun Johannes  –  Double Bass; Bheki Khoza and Keenan Ahrends  –  guitars; Xolisa Roro Dlamini, Nomthandazo Madiya and Wandithanda Makhandula  –  vocals; Thabo Sikhakhane  –  Trumpet; Thembinkosi Khumalo  –  trombone; Khaya  Mahlangu, Buddy Wells and Linda Sikhakhane  –  Tenor Saxophones; Tseleng Mkhatla  –  flute; *Tlale Makhene  –  percussion; Billy Williams and Siya Xulu –  drums;

Mix and Mastering by Jonathan Eato, Deep Bit Audio. Recorded:  Unlockedkeys Studio. Overdubs by Moyasound, subflora studio and Maltre Productions. Artwork direction by Mzwandile Ntsele. Design by Elashna Amruthlal

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