Sunday, 24 May 2015

Mixin' It with Medumo (1975)

A few of the jazz lovers among you have sent polite e-mails, thanking me for the last post of "Message", but also to say that you hope there can be more jazz on Electric Jive than there has been recently.

So - here is a quite special record made by contemporaries of  Batsumi and the Dashiki Poets, a further document of the cultural vanguard of the Black Consciousness movement in the mid 1970s.

In a recently published compendium on Steve Biko (here), Mphutlane Wa Bofelo
quotes Lefifi Tladi of the Dashiki Poets as having worked within the political structures of “Black Consciousness with absolute independence. The BC Movement used to book places where we could perform, whatever we wanted. That was one of the best outreach programmes. From there we started organising other groups like Batsumi, Medumo, ya bra Paul Motaung ... we went into universities broadening the consciousness of students.

Descriptions of those mid-seventies times highlight a collective approach that built a creative, politically-focussed nucleus among poets, artists, and musicians in Pretoria and Johannesburg:

"Jim Baker, the first African American diplomat in South Africa, was another source of inspiration. He introduced the recordings of The Last Poets to the artists in 1974. These had a profound effect on them, redefining their direction dramatically. Resistance art was born: poetry, music and art were no longer meant for pleasure. In addition, the poem Africa My Africa, by David Diop, as well as literature by other African authors and philosophers, like Leopold Senghor and Frantz Fanon, impacted heavily on their pan-Africanist consciousness. Baker's home at 252 Loveday Street, Pretoria, was like an arcade. It was open to all and people came and went without hindrance. His collection of literature was freely available, with no reservations on his part that some of his books might disappear. Knowledge, according to him, could not disappear; it could only feed other minds.

"Workshopping in the township environment and exhibitions outside the mainstream galleries and museums were initiatives born of the communal spirit that prevailed among the artists. Their motive was political and their aim, equity, peace and liberation. The diverse platforms were implemented with the express purpose of educating and conscientising: African people about their own Africanness and worth as equal human beings; the broader public about the role of art in terms of the liberation struggle; and the international world regarding the injustices of apartheid.

"The key role of art in bringing about change underpinned the artists' efforts. Workshopping became fundamental to every activity; most important were the discussions and workshopping of ideas or initial plans preceding the practical workshops, the success of which was due to the fact that intense dialogue, covering a broad spectrum, not only of the arts but life itself, was always a prerequisite to the former. Music was like a 'life cord' and was, without exception, an essential part of these sessions." (notes by Freda Hattingh - see the Third Ear website here for more).

 The liner notes tell us that this Medumo album came about because producer M.J. Maphutha stumbled across the band "blowing up a storm" at a festival in Mamelodi: "The jazz fans were shouting and jumping all over the place. ... There and then I decided to .. (record)." (Medumo were playing a cover of Dollar Brand's "Tintinyana").

Forty three minutes on the little-known "Coronet" label showcase a raw, mostly joyful, sometimes discordant celebration of subversive soul-jazz self-expression. Medumo's jazz is powerful and evocative, it possesses both swing and discord - though on some occasions the discord is that of musicians who were still learning. You will not hear the sophisticated and complex horn arrangements you heard on the last post - "Message". Rather, here is a raw, emotive soul jazz held together by Dan Phaleng (piano) Solly Temba (drums), and Elias Modisakeng (bass). Upfront, Paul Motaung (alto) and Jacob Moloi (tenor) are stripped down to simpler phrasing, sometimes nailing most beautiful passages, sometimes free and elegantly discordant - sometimes out of tune and out of time. I do wonder if some of the tracks on this album might have been recorded at an earlier time? There is a difference in audio ambiance across the tracks, suggesting they were not all recorded in one session, or even at the same studio.

However you may experience this music, it is an important document and record of a small window of  jazz and its practice directly challenging young people to engage. It grows on you!

Link here


  1. I'm one of the SA jazz fans who is "responsible" of this post:).
    I completly agree with Chris: sometimes this post is full of beautiful melodies and at other moments, the horns are playing very raw and simple tunes. The main interest of this post is the playing of the Dollar Brand tune, Tintinyana.

  2. This looks more than a little interesting - thank you - much appreciated


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