Music from My People

Music from My People

On his sixth studio album, Music From My People, pianist and composer Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane bridges eras of South African jazz. In a multifaceted sonic archive, the Durban-based musician distills the sounds that lay testimony to the nation’s societal conditions. “This is music that carries narratives of our people,” he tells Apple Music. In this case, it’s music from people I’ve come across and experienced living with, growing up in different townships and listening to traditional music with all the indigenous resources the music carries.” Over 10 richly textured songs, the virtuoso channels his inspirations while rhythmically imagining new directions for his art form to embark upon. “When I composed this music, I was reflecting deeply on the sounds that relate the most with the people I grew up listening to,” he says. “So, within this album, there’s a connection between the young generation and the old generation. That’s what South African jazz is all about—connecting generations. It all comes from our people from ages ago, and we’re putting together the pieces. It’s a consolidation of all these sounds and nuances that the music brings—the music as a carrier of all our social experiences.” With contributions by guitarist Bheki Khoza, drummer Billy Williams, saxophonist Buddy Wells, and guitarist Keenan Chas Ahrends, among others, Music From My People synthesizes the unique traits of the South African jazz songbook. Here, he talks us through the album, track by track.
“1976” “This was the first song that I actually wrote for this album. We commemorate the day June 16, 1976, and I composed this song on that day [in 2021]. Every year, I watch what was going on and try to relate it to what is going on now. On that day, I decided to try to find meaning and see what the instrument reflects. The best way, for me as an artist, is to try to find the melodies and try to find those cries that were happening in the moments people were going through. I found the cries and within those cries there are also the joys...I’m trying to narrate that in a musical form.”
“African Communal” “‘African Communal’ came in 2020, when I attended Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar. [There were] people from all walks of Africa bringing all their rhythms and melodies. That’s why I called it ‘African Communal,’ because we were all together as people, embracing the notion of ubuntu. Being where Africans are together and singing in one voice sparked something in my creativity—a lot of concepts, rhythms, and basslines started flowing. It’s amazing how we, as a people, can be in community. The song itself is all-embracing and when you hear the song, it's all-encompassing.”
“Umnyanya” “This is an upbeat, celebratory song. ‘Umnyanya’ is a Ndebele term that means a celebration, event, or ceremony. It can be ancestral or just anything traditional. I was reflecting on my growing up with amaNdebele-speaking people in Mpumalanga. Every now and then, people would just break out in song, so I was just capturing those moments.”
“Between You & Me” “Growing up in a family where people would just pick each other up and dance is what this song is all about. There’s nothing else to it but that love for each other and the love for ubuntu. I feel it is special that in the cultures I grew up surrounded by, you say my name is ‘so and so’ and I’m from ‘so and so.’ The notion of home carries so much because for me, when traveling around the world, the most important thing to say is who I am and where I come from. For me to look back at home is to try to understand all the nuances and characteristics that make me who I am.”
“Beyond Words (We Blues)” “‘Beyond Words’ is one of those things that you say. I just have to say, ‘Hmmm’ and you get it; I don’t have to put words to it. This basically comes from the experience of listening to Ziyoni. They would just hum, and you get what’s in their hearts. You get their worship and the essence of their feelings. I’m saying, as a people, we speak beyond words.”
“Sabela Uyabizwa” “‘Sabela Uyabizwa’ means ‘respond to your calling.’ All of us have a specific gift and some of us are not attentive in responding to our gifts. I believe that all of us have something to leave in this world, and if I don’t respond to my calling, I rob you of my existence. It’s not only about me, but it’s about my surroundings and the universe at large.”
“Freedom Day” “This is another song I wrote on Freedom Day. I was just contemplating and thinking hard about what freedom is. This came from my hero Zim Ngqawana, who was about freedom and didn’t believe in rehearsals. The essence of freedom is living outside the boundaries that were created ages ago. With freedom, there’s no protocol and you live in your fullest form. The song itself doesn’t have freedom, and musicians will tell you that it’s a hard one to play. It’s forever moving and carries those harmonic compositional elements that John Coltrane used. He was trying to claim that jazz is not always nice, but it carries narratives. From the hardship of the music, you get to hear where people are in their socio-politics and socio-economics.”
“Omalume (Uncles and Aunts)” “Well, here I was, just thinking of the people that have carried through the sounds. I was looking at all the ingredients that made up the music and just saying, ‘Thank you.’ Musically, Bab’Andile Yenana and Tete Mbambisa are my uncles, but I’m also referring to my aunts and uncles at home who kept this music alive. When this song plays, you can refer to Sipho Gumede and all the guys that played this music from the ’70s and ’80s. I recorded it in a way that sounds like how they would have done it and just added some things, so the music continues and lives in our time.”
“Umagoduka” “I come from a township, and in a township we live out of each other. If you don’t have sugar, I’ll give you sugar and that’s the setup—we make life together. The systems have already robbed us of our existence, but we still have each other. In that environment, there was Brenda Fassie, whose sound was of that landscape. There’s that ‘danciness’ to it, and our people want to participate in the music because that’s our nature. This is responsive music. I say something with my instrument, and you respond. It’s all communal, and it comes from that living out of each other. So, ‘Umagoduka’ represents those people that are forever in motion. They’re always leaving and on the move for greener pastures or better resources.”
“Isivaleliso” “‘Isivaleliso’ is the closing. I got this from Mam’Busi Mhlongo, who’s one of the people that carried our sounds, narratives, and conversations. In one of her songs, she says, ‘Goodbye,’ and now that she’s no more, we know she said, ‘Bye.’ It’s a gesture within African society to greet when you arrive and say goodbye when you leave. It’s part of our culture, and these traditions need to exist in how we compose and arrange our art forms.”

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