Ensemble touching on being born black
SHORTLY after releasing their South African Music Award-nominated album, Bhekisizwe, Amandla Freedom Ensemble are back with a new offering that once again looks at the nation.
The band’s second album, Born To Be Black, was recently launched in Joburg and Cape Town.
Founder and spokesperson Mandla Mlangeni is joined by Thebe Lipere (percussion), Oscar Rachabane, Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Sisonke Xonti (saxophones) and Brydon Bolton (bass).
For the launch events, the Amandla Freedom Ensemble featured guests such as veteran drummer Louis Moholo, Prof Salim Washington (tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute), Andile Yenana (piano) and Siya Makuzeni (vocals).
Asked about the recruitment of Moholo, Mlangeni said: “I’ve been twisting his arm ever since I met him – since about 2013. The first time I heard of him was around 2003 and I just definitely knew that this is where I want to be and who I want to surround myself with. Many people wouldn’t think to call him. He’s in the big leagues. There’s also this tendency for young people to forget the older people and chances are they can actually be informed and have a different sensibility that would bring new life to the music.”
This music is a beautiful mixture of loving oneself and also knowing when to stop loving others as can be heard on Sdwedwe Rag. The subtitle of Born To Be Black focuses on the conscious soul.
“It’s bringing a life to music and bringing music to life in the sense that for a large part this represents a unifying voice. It’s a generational mix of older established artists and younger musicians coming together to celebrate our musical heritage,” said Mlangeni.
“There’s a tendency for South African artists to think we’re not capable but we’re putting our best foot forward and celebrating ourselves. We want to create spaces where it becomes regular for us to give ourselves love because we know the resistance will be long, but while we’re doing that we need to nourish ourselves and remember why we’re here. It’s about taking pride in where we come from and creating narratives where we are our own saviours and our own heroes.”
This can also be heard on When Spirits Rejoice.
About the song, Mlangeni said: “Life is all encompassing. The music I make is a representation of what I’ve been through and where I want to see myself from the frivolities of life. The subject matter is very wide-ranging. I have different roles but in all those spaces, I still maintain my essence as Mandla. There’s seriousness but there’s also time to boogie and time to self-reflect.”
This is aided by the vocals of Zoe Modiga, who features on the 12-track album. “I really like Zoe’s voice,” Mlangeni said. “There are 12 songs and she’s on five. I’m a huge fan of her work and she features on two of my albums.”
A huge part of the Amandla Freedom Ensemble is the performance component.
Whether it’s playing Cape Town venues for the original Born To Be Black series a few years ago or the African Freedom Principle series of concerts that saw Mlangeni collaborate with jazz veterans, the music comes alive when performed.
Mlangeni said the group has big plans for this avenue.
“The plan is to tour the project, take it abroad and showcase it on international stages,” he said.
“This is our second album and my third offering as a band leader so the next few months will be about establishing a rapport with other musicians.
“We want to engage our audiences and make the music more accessible because the people who need to hear it are not hearing it. I want to take the music to places like Bara (Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital) because what if the next Miles Davis or Charlie Parker will come from there? It’s all about living the music and taking it back to the people.”
The Amandla Freedom Ensemble’s new album, Born To Be Black, is in stores and online now.
‘I want to take the music to places like Bara because what if the next Miles Davis or Charlie Parker comes from that part of our world?’
SWEET MELODIES: The Amandla Freedom Ensemble in action.
FOUNDER MAN: Mandla Mlangeni on the trumpet.