This album is a compilation of the now deleted recordings first released in 1995 under the heading of Outernational Meltdown South Africa with 3 titles then called “Free At Last” “Healers Brew” and “Jazzin’ Universally”. There is a rare cardboard 3 CD pack which can be found in collectors circles. This compilationalbum contains a couple of Q videos which can be viewed on your PC or Mac.
The energy of these recordings lies in the spirit of exchange; an exchange of rhythms and colours between musicians who came together to break the isolation that had too long been forced upon a people – the year is 1994 and it was time for the musicians of South Africa to join with the rest of the world.
The game plan was vague but under the loose direction of two South African musicians, bassist Sipho (pronounced ‘Seepo’) Gumede, Pops Mohamed and Brazilian master percussionist, Airto Moreira. The two weeks of recording in Cape Town and Jo’burg were fired by the winds of spontaneity. Kicking off the set, ‘Hungry On Arrival’ is exactly as the title suggests. Airto and São Paulo born guitarist, José Neto, along with two North Londoners, trumpeter Byron Wallen and drummer Andrew Missingham, had flown into Jo’burg, dumped their bags at the hotel and headed for the Downtown studio. It took no more than bass-man Fana Zulu to drop a funky 5/4 B-line for the rest of the posse to jump right on it. Listen to percussive touches of pianist Moses Molelekwa, the momentum whipped up by Airto, the sweeping muted horn of Byron, the sensual but ecstatic guitar of Neto and the feverish vocals of Shaluza Max. I think Miles Davis might have ventured a smile at this cut. If music is the healing force of the universe, then in South Africa it has a special role. This is a nation where a spiritual undercurrent underpins everything, where tribal traditions are tuned to the past present and future through the spirits of the ancestors – the Amadlozi. Coming from the spiritual tradition in Brazil, where his father was a healer, Airto Moreira was naturally keen to make contact on a musical level with this tradition in South Africa. Appropriately, a day of special recordings had been arranged through Pops Mohamed. There was to be a session with a group of sangomas: traditional healers, the direct line to the spirit world and the ancestors of the sky people. Once in the recording booth, they switched their street clothes for traditional dress. Their presence was magnified as they revealed themselves in plumed head dresses and toting fly whisks with short spears. They were adorned with complex, patterned beads and protective amulets. They gathered in a circle beneath the microphone. As they knelt on the floor, khambas (traditional beer pots) before them, Susan launched into a spoken but charged invocation that was to stir the spirit world, praise the god of the sky, Nkulunkulu, and bless the season in progress. Incense was burned as the hair whisk flashed through the air. The drums were like rolling thunder. The local musicians had piled into the studio and like me were checking the goings on beyond the glass. They were clearly unused to such happenings in the recording studio. Under the guidance of Pops the next song was soon underway and Airto, who had slipped quietly into the recording booth, joined them. There was a serious intensity in the air, everyone felt it, especially Airto, who was playing one of the drums. It wasn’t until much later that we discovered that the percussionist had directly encountered a spirit from the other side. Playing a central role was the late Sipho Gumede, whose band, Sakhile, was a crucial creative force during the seventies. Here we find him united with
both older musicians like Cape Town pianist Tete Mbambisa and brilliant new talents of the early nineties like the late Moses Molelekwa – savour his solo tribute to his piano-playing grandfather, Bo Molelekwa. The freestyle spirit is maintained but strong distinctive melodies reign. Along with Airto Moreira, José Neto, Byron Wallen and Andrew Missingham there’s Valerie Naranjo – a brilliant vibes, marimba, conga player of native American origin – this outernational crew add a distinctive edge. From saxophonist/flautist Zim Nggwana‘s homage to the hostel dwellers and migrant workers to Sipho’s deceptive compositions, which seem to owe a debt to Dave Gruisin and the GRP sound, to the lilting melody lines of Moses uplifting re-interpretation of ‘Nobohle’, there is always the joyous element of surprise. Listen to Amampondo – majestic marimbas and ancestral drums – reachin’ for new spiritual heights; or the sensuous but gravel tones of the old man, Madala Kunene; or the sweet vocal exchange between Max and singer/guitarist Mxolise ‘Dave’ Mayekane. It was a joy to watch the Durban girls trio, Lindiwe Ngwane, Tsidi Manye & Nonhlanhla Ngcobo, along with fellow vocalist Henry ‘Faca’ Kulu rehearse acapella style in the kitchen and then hook it up in the studio with the powerful congas and Malombo drums of ‘Mabi’ Thobejane.
Paul Bradshaw, Straight No Chaser