A moving document of Molelekwa’s artistic progress, Wa Mpona includes two live tracks recorded in 1994 at a rare session at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre , where he worked with international musicians for the first time. His genius as a jazz improviser shines through the album’s closing track, a live version of “Ntate Moholo”, of Genes and Spirits fame, performed at the Cape Town North Sea jazz festival with his youthful band, including Moses Khumalo.
The title track of the new album, “Wa Mpona”, has been described as the granddaddy of progressive kwaito. Produced during the recording of his seminal second album, Genes and Spirits, this entirely new composition was considered too advanced and too remote from mainstream jazz tastes to be included on that album. It features the additional rarety of Molelekwa on lead vocal, backed by Lungiswa Plaatjies. Several of the other compositions on Wa Mpona will be familiar to those who know Genes and Spirits and the other album released during Molelekwa’s lifetime, Finding One Self. But, with one exception, they appear in startlingly new guises. The cool keyboard and programmed drumming of “Spirits of Tembisa” surfaces, transformed, in two remixes, one a tasteful arrangement with additional saxophone parts by Buddy Wells and his combo, Tribe. The latino rhythms of “Ntate Mohole” are amplified by the addition of congas and timbales to the piano support of Chucho Valdez. “Sing Along”, previously released only on the limited South African edition of Barungwa’s album, The Messenger, will be fresh to all but a tiny band of Molelekwa aficionados. A galaxy of local jazz stars feed their talents into these works, including Jimmy Dludlu, Vusi Khumalo, Fana Zulu, McCoy Mrubatha and Sipho Gumede.
The fact that Molelekwa’s voice and fingers have been stilled forever gives special poignancy to these performances. The quality of the musicial inspiration, and the sense of so much promise waiting to be tapped, underline how much has been lost to South African music. Lyrical and powerfully energetic by turns, they are both distinctively South African and part of larger world idiom. Perhaps more than any other South African musician of the modern period, Molelekwa looked back into the country’s past while pointing to its future.