Nduduzo Makhathini

Christof Turnherr03-13-20243 min. read

Nduduzo Makhathini makes art that transcends borders. In his music, he not only combines the sound of South Africa with that of the global North. For him, improvising is a way of accessing spirituality, both for the musician and for the audience.

For more than ten years, the charismatic pianist has been impressing audiences on all continents and at many performances. For example, in the summer of 2022 at the festival in the Swedish coastal town of Ystad, where he performed with his quartet, tenor saxophonist Karl-Martin Almqvist, bassist Magne Thormodsæter and drummer Ayanda Sikade. The four musicians from the south and north were bursting with joy of playing, dedication to making music together and mutual empathy - the other musicians seemed to be literally infected by the leader's energy. "I recorded the album 'Listening to the Ground' with these musicians in 2015," Makhathini told JAZZ'N'MORE in an interview a few weeks after this performance. "It's a very important album for me, because it was the first to focus on the fact that music can be a language for cross-cultural activism."

Music as activism

You can hear in Makhathini's compositions that the social function of music is important to him and, above all, that he is aware of it. This certainly has something to do with his origins. The pianist comes from uMgungundlovu in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. At the age of 13, he was given the gift of helping - in a dream - and so today he describes himself as a "healer". "Our existence is connected to and characterized by a level that is not readily accessible to us. When we come up against limits in our lives - when we have personal problems for which we cannot find a solution - it is often because we cannot see the whole picture. We often focus on singular aspects that blind us and prevent us from seeing the whole picture." For Makhathini, such moments are therefore about delving deeper into this level that may be difficult to access. In music, especially in improvisation, he has found a way to make this accessible for himself and for others. "Through improvisation, I embark on a search with the aim of seeing more clearly and thus finding new paths."

Intercultural understanding

Makhathini himself sees his music in the tradition of "spiritual music". At the same time, however, he differs from this in terms of the vehemence of his expression, as he explains: "We live in a time of urgency.Healing is necessary.It is therefore high time that we became aware again of those aspects that have been lost in a modern, western world.And we must learn to integrate them into our lives again."For Makhathini, it is no coincidence that music from his homeland can help people, including Westerners, to find their way back to themselves. Due to the historical catastrophes in South Africa and the centuries-long struggle against an unjust regime, his society is characterized more deeply than others by a sense of "insistance". "For us, it was vital not to lose the connection to our own pre-colonial history.To a culture in which the connection to the spiritual was still lived."The South African has found a suitable language in jazz. "Jazz is really nothing more than a manifestation of the collective memory of the oppressed. It is a ritualized form of refusal to forget."Makhathini's jazz is music from an Africa of today, with many expected elements: the circular form, the structural motifs, the rhythmic complexity, the exciting foreign tonality. The pianist clearly weaves Western elements, well-known melodies and familiar harmonies into these.Seemingly seamlessly, foreign cultures flow into one another in his music, making his art an effective and at the same time accessible mediator between the worlds: As difficult as it may be to find one's way in the foreign, Makhathini makes it easy to surrender to it and let oneself fall into it. And thus perhaps find access to another world, a world that is currently buried.By Christopf Turnherr
The article about Nduduzo Makhathini appeared in the issue March/April No.2/2024 of the Swiss Jazz & Blues magazine JAZZ'N'MORE.
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