Photo: Siphiwe Mhlambi. Courtesy of Blue Note.

Interview: South Africa's Nduduzo Makhathini On His Upcoming Blue Note Records Debut

We talk to the South African pianist about the otherworldly inspirations behind Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworld and much more.

Nduduzo Makhathini has never needed the blessing of a major label to make and share his music.

The 37-year-old pianist from South Africa's Kwazulu Natal province started his own independent label with his wife, Omagugu, called Gundu Entertainment, six years ago. Through it, he released eight of his own albums, including Ikhambi, a record that became a turning point for Makhathini—it won a South African Music Award for Best Jazz Album and it was issued under Universal Music, through a licensing deal with Gundu.

After three years of courting Makhathini, the major label finally signed him in 2017, opening a pathway that led to this past year, when Makhathini became the first South African to sign to Blue Note, Universal's renowned American jazz imprint.

Joining the label that carries catalogues from Miles Davis and John Coltrane is an honor Makhathini believes could have been bestowed on any one of the greats of South African jazz. But as he sees it, it's an embrace beyond just any one individual. "More than it is for Nduduzo Makhathini, it is for the South African jazz community," he says. "To find its way into a greater portal of this music, and to find a voice within that, and to have a say in those jazz discourses that are broader, that are coming from the US."

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