It was at the 1964 National Jazz Festival at the Orlando Stadium, Johannesburg, that the Malombo sound hit us. It was a dynamic sound that made long-established musicians sit back and listen. Two of the men playing on this disc - Abbey Cindi and Julian Bahula - were right there on stage with their former leader, Philip Tabane, revolutionising the South African jazz scene.
The Malombo Jazzmen, as they were known then, had been in circulation for some years, but they were becoming national property for the first time. They are now the Malombo Jazzmakers, with Abbey as leader, Julian Bahula still around,and Lucky Ranku taking over from Tabane. The sound remains essentially the same as three years back.
The scope of our jazz has been widening in the past few years, but it took young men like Abbey Cindi to improve - drawing from many sources - and inject into it something that has been lacking—originality.
The Malombos are one of the groups that have come up with this originality - the mainstay of art. It's known that the shaping of a mature jazz combo is a long slow process. Not with the Malombos. After their hit at the Festival, where they got away with the first prize, they became a household name, demanded at almost every jazz concert, throughout the country.
Their popularity is not surprising: the blues is their forte.
Says leader Abbey Cindi: "Our music is indigeneous and soulful. It is tribal—all African tribes."
In spite of what he says, they remain basically a jazz combo. To the Negro blues, the Malombos have added indigeneous African tribal rhythms—their main departure from the mainstream jazz we have been listening to. They also use the decades' old 12-bar structure in most of their tunes, but with the pulsating Malombo drums of the Venda tribe in the Northern Transvaal.
The music in this album is composed and arranged by the 28-year-old flutist. Abbey Cindi. "When the applause has died after an evening show, when I have said goodnight to my friends, when I reach my lonely Pretoria room, and when sleep refuses to come... that is the time I write my music," he says. "I work best in 3/4 time. It seems to purge me of that blue feeling. I use the sounds and rhythms that I have been hearing around the townships since I was intelligent enough to hear."
What he says is demonstrated in a Zulu rendition in the 12-bar mould, Ngivulele, meaning "Open for me." The tune is sung by Hilda Tloubatla. And this is the first time that the Malombos have used a vocalist in their recordings, although they have backed a number of leading singers on our stages.
The story of the Malombos is simple to tell: Abbey, Philip, and another three lads started their music career in 1959 as a close harmony vocal group, titling themselves the Lullaby Landers. When the group disbanded in 1962, Abbey transferred his interest to the flute and harmonica while Julian started playing the then generally unknown Malombo drums, which give a conga-like sound. The guitarist of their vocal group. Philip Tabane, teamed up with them. Results: Birth of the Malombo sound.
As they themselves explain, the word "Malombo" is Venda for spirit. The spirited performance of Julian Bahula on the tall, traditional drums sent thousands of fans into frenzies and in less than eighteen months the Malombos had climbed to the top. Incidentally when a session gets really hot, Julian is forced to remove his shirt and shiny sweat streams down his brown torso.
It was only when Tabane left the group that young Lucky got his lucky break and joined the group as guitarist.
Lots have been written about "Malombo", but they remain a capable combo expressing a great variety of emotions within the blues framework happy abandonment, great sadness.
Their music keeps the blood warm.
The simple act of listening will be self-explanatory.
COVER PHOTO: H. OBERSTEIN
MALOMBO JAZZ MAKERS
This is the third LP featuring Abbey Cindi and Julian Bahula and their second as the Malombo Jazz Makers. Their first LP as the Malombo Jazz Men included guitarist Phillip Tabane and was recorded after they won first prize at the 1964 Castle Lager Jazz Festival. When Tabane left the group, Lucky Ranku joined on guitar and they recorded Malompo Jazz with Hilda Tloubatla on vocals. Bahula and Ranku would later go on to form the London-based group in exile, Jabula.
Dating both LPs has been quite difficult. Malompo Jazz could have been recorded as early as 1965 though based on the matrix numbers I estimate that it could be 1966. This version of Volume 2 is a reissue dating from 1971. The original LP issued on Gallo's Continental label (ZB 8162) is featured on a compilation LP Music Sounds of Africa (SGALP 1578) issued in 1969. The liner notes suggest Cindi's age to be 28 at the time of the recording and Huskisson gives his birthdate as October 15th, 1937. This would put this recording as early as 1966. The publication date of the original Continental issue was 1967.
The 1969 compilation Music Sounds of Africa features the track "Umkhosi" while Strut's 2010 compilation Next Stop Soweto Vol.3 includes the only Ranku track on the LP: "Sibathathu."
Thanks to Olivier Ledure for supplying the date of the original Continental issue.