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Line-up, Review

CD Review by CAROL MARTIN

Trumpeter Lwanda Gogwana finds identity through his Xhosa roots in his latest album, Uhadi Synth (2016).

Album Cover: Uhadi Synth

Songs ring in his native tongue of isiXhosa as he probes cultural roots, deeply exhuming the mythical. A non-isiXhosa speaker won’t feel left out when Xhosa lyrics burst out … there’s excitement in the presentation alone. In this album, the language of jazz is a language of moods, emotions, and joys energized through traditional modalities with twists of unheard-of improvisation. That’s what Uhadi Synth is: the traditional Xhosa single stringed mouth bow, called the ‘uhadi’, made popular by the late Nofinishi Dywili whom Godwana studied at University, juxtaposed with the modern electronic synthesizer instrument.

Nofinishi Dyawili

But you won’t hear the actual ‘Uhadi’, just it’s interpretation as story-telling messages by several vocalists, and harmonics by Kyle Shepherd’s piano with a repetitive lower registry.

Composer, arranger and producer, Lwanda Gogwana, has composed for a number of artists and bands in South Africa. But it’s this second album which pegs his own signature to a music he has been exploring since the beginning, starting with his first album, Songbook, Chapter 1, which addressed various influences on this young master’s growth.

Gogwana explains: It’s about finding identity, now that young Black South Africans have the freedoms` to explore, harvest, and proudly spread their cultural expressions through song.

Don’t feel confused why a synthesizer enters: Shepherd is a lover of synths; he has used them concurrently with piano to enforce his love of the indigenous ghoema music of historical slave days in the Cape areas and original Khoisan culture. For Shepherd, synthesizers have a way of ‘bending’ the sounds. For instance, in “Umculo”, Shepherd’s spirit-bending chords and characteristic ghoema twist resonate with gospel nuances. Then, add the influx and settlement of Xhosa people from parts east who settled in the Cape urban centers helps to gel these sounds we hear on this album. The listener gets carried through South African jazz Standards of earlier urban sounds into a melange of more contemporary expressions from youthful inputs: tradition – meets- funk.

Vocalists, like Sakhile Moleshe, offer warm, laid-back, jazzy scats to “Qula Kwedini” with big band swing styles of the classic 1940s urbanized African jazz, and audio pronouncements about stick fighting in the olden days of Xhosa tradition among boys and men.

A stunning piece, “Yibhluz”, and the only song on the album with lyrics, sees history meet the blues: how the sordid colonial history is delivered with a diplomatic wit, which raises issues of whether society now is mirroring its past grievances. Here is a reflective tradition-meets-blues as Gogwana skilfully weaves a dialogue around Zim Ngqawana-influenced pride in culture while youth are pulled towards the secular and mundane. Xonti’s sax brings this sultry mood and sarcasm across nicely, as do the vocalists.

Sisonke Xonti at NAF 2015

Shepherd’s piano and repetitive baseline holds the uhadi form on several songs, while Gogwana’s horn echoes conversations between the rolling Xhosa hills of his homeland in “Maqundeni”. He would call this ‘a swing feel in Xhosa’. This leads nicely into “Ndiyagoduka” (I’m going home), an upbeat improvisational song with lots of trumpet triple tonguing and that uhadi-like piano supported by Amaeshi Ikechi’s bass sound. The penetration by the horns exudes an energy that leaves one quite breathless at the end of this album.

On the album with Lwanda Gogwana – trumpet and fugelhorn
Kyle Shepherd – piano and synthesizer
Sisonke Xonti – sax
Amaeshi Ikechi – bass
Lungile Kunene – drums
Dumza Maswana – vocals
Sandile Maleshe – vocals

Hear Gogwana perform at the Muizenberg Jazz Festival on Saturday, 17 November 2018 at 18h30 hours.

About Carol Martin

Carol Martin is a jazz enthusiast and blogger on www.alljazzradio.co.za, supporter of SAJE, former manager of two music education NGOs, and a Capetown resident after several decades working in education and social development in several African and Asian countries. She wrote the story of Grizelda Grootboom, a survivor from human trafficking, published as ‘EXIT’ by Jacana/Blackbird (2016).