The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman (Album Review)
Updated: Jul 25
9 July 2021
Album Rating 4/5
Favourite Songs 'Kathloganao', 'Ke Utlwile', 'Babedi'
This seminal album from Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman has been reissued on the Canadian label, We Are Busy Bodies. Originally hitting the shelves in 1969, the album is packed with guitar-grooving goodness from an iconic South African legend.
The reissue arrived on the 9th July 2021.
Philip Tabane came from a family of guitarists in Riverside, Pretoria. Brought up by a spiritual-healer mother and a devout Christian father, Tabane channelled concepts of spirituality into his unique guitar-playing style and has been rewarded with the title as Africa’s Sun Ra.
Tabane did not like labels and shook off associations as a jazz guitarist; he merely liked to play for the spirit, and not for money, as he stated in an interview comparing him to Miles Davis.
Philip Tabane’s ‘Malombo Jazzman’ group refers to ‘Malombo’: a drum-and-dance performance ritual with the intention to open up portals to other realms of perceiving and being.
The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman is a spiritual and liberating album, showing off Tabane’s wonderful technique on the guitar alongside hypnotic rhythms.
In keeping with the style of Malombo, the group uses cowhide drums rather than a modern drum kit, a move that sought to resist the Euro-American dominance of jazz culture in the 1960s and anchor itself in South African traditions.
The album opens with tones of peace on ‘Kathloganao’. Sweet guitar melodies intersect between the drums before the music starts to rise in texture and tone.
A common feature of the album is for each song to open with quiet, tranquil guitar moments before ascending to thick-textured frenzies.
‘Inhliziyo’ follows this pattern with a two-note bass foundation and chiming guitar ornaments.
The third track is called ‘Man Feeling’, a disjointed piece, where guitar and drums waft in and out in an almost free manner.
‘Ke Utlwile’ opens with beautiful vocals in dialogue with Tabane’s guitar. It’s a hypnotic and fragmented track that will have you in a trance.
To hear Philip Tabane live would have been a real treat. He often wore cowboy outfits blended with traditional African clothing and at times would make his guitar shriek and shout, while at other times bring it down to a whisper.
‘Tsela’ opens with soothing tones on the guitar and ripple in and out between the cowhide drums. As is the theme with the other tracks, it rises in crescendo to moments of ecstatic thrills and ends on a high.
‘Babedi’ was a standout track from the album with marimba, woodwinds and bass coming together in wonderful ambience. The groove is not intrusive but gentle and beautiful.
Next follows ‘Dithabeng’, which sounds like the second part to ‘Babedi’. It continues the groove with the same instruments.
‘Mahlomola’ rounds off the album with marimba and woodwinds at a quicker pace and thicker texture. This shift in instrumentation from guitar-focused to woodwind and a marimba dialogue brings nice versatility to the album and leaves it on a satisfying final note.
Philip Tabane died in 2018 at the age of 84 in Pretoria with a rich trove of music behind him.
Like so many gifted jazz-oriented African musicians during the 1960s and 1970s, Tabane stands as an unacknowledged gem that hasn’t quite made the jazz canon in the eyes of the mainstream.
With a reissue such as this, the gems are beginning to be uncovered.
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