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South African Jazz Artist Nduduzo Makhathini Releases Highly-Anticipated Blue Note Records Debut

Listen to South African jazz artist Nduduzo Makhathini's new album 'Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds.'

South African pianist, composer, and healer Nduduzo Makhathini has released his Blue Note Records debut Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds. The 11-track album is characterized by Makhathini's trademark piano keys, hissing percussions that collide with expressive vocals. As is always the case with Makhathini's work, spirituality is a huge part of the album deals with humans' connection to the ancestors and the spiritual realm.


"I create this idea of a letter as a metaphor that there are constant letters that are sent to and from the ancestry dimensions, and we could engage those letters as some forms of technology," said the musician during a press junket at the Universal Music Group Joburg headquarter two months before the release of the album. "So that's more at a philosophical level. At a musical level, the album is really covered in quite a lot of ground in terms of the musics that exists within my culture. I was brought up in a semi-rural space. I used to herd cattle. You get bored while watching the cattle, and you start whistling. And so most of this music also tries to look at childhood and how that develops a kind of lens at which we understand life anyway, and how, in embracing childhood, we're able to understand ourselves better."

The album features the American alto saxophonist Logan Richardson with a South African band including tenor saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane, trumpeter Ndabo Zulu, bassist Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere, drummer Ayanda Sikade, percussionist Gontse Makhene, and vocals by Msaki as well as Nduduzo's wife Omagugu Makhathini, and background vocals by their children Nailah, Thingo, and Moyo.

Makhathini who, in the last six years, has released eight albums under his label Gundu Entertainment, which he co-founded with his wife Omagugu. Ikhambi, his SAMA-winning 2018 album was released under Universal.

Through the label, Makhathini got to sign with the iconic jazz label Blue Note Records through which he released debut Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds.

Stream the album below on Apple Music and Spotify. Revisit our interview with Nduduzo Makhathini here.



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6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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