THE SOUND OF HEALING
PERCUSSIONIST THABANG TABANE’S DEBUT ALBUM, MATJALE, IS A TESTAMENT TO HIS DEVOTION TO LEARNING AND HIS STRONG CONNECTION WITH TSHIVENDA CULTURE
Growing up in someone’s shadow can be hard, although a shadow can provide protection from the sun’s harsh rays, enabling one to grow within a gentler environment. Some of us grow better without the attention. However, some shadows are deeper and wider than others – which seems to be the case for Thabang Tabane, son of legendary musician Dr Phillip
Tabane, who passed away last year at the age of 84, was more than a guitarist and creator of malombo music. He was also a healer, a spiritualist and a philosopher of sorts, who carved his own path, rooted in SA, even when he had ample opportunity to make a home in the USA and beyond. An oft-told story is that he turned down the chance to work with Miles Davis to come back home to Mamelodi.
But this story is about his son, percussionist Thabang Tabane. Asked about the challenges of having such a legendary father, he replies humbly: “My family’s very simple. I’ve never felt any pressure. I guess I was lucky. I’m my own person. I’m not in my father’s shadow.”
According to Oxford Dictionaries Online, malombo has two definitions: “1. A Venda rite of exorcism and healing conducted by a diviner, accompanied by drumming, singing and dancing, which causes a high
state of nervous excitement. Usually attributive.
A style of music combining elements of the music performed in traditional malombo ceremonies, especially the drums and drumming style, with elements taken from jazz and African popular music.”
Thabang Tabane performed and toured with his father from a young age, forming an integral part of later iterations of The Malombo Jazzmen. He connected not with his father’s public image, but rather with the meaning and resonance of the music. And with his debut album, Matjale, he taps into the malombo spirit in all its forms in songs that are both contemporary and ancient, forward-looking and rooted in the past.
He’s been around music all his life – not just through performing with his father, but also by living in the same home in Mamelodi, Pretoria – so you’d think he’d already have a number of albums under his belt. However, he says: “This is the right time. I’ve been learning all along, playing with different musicians, playing with my father, touring extensively, etc. This is the time.”
Matjale reflects Tabane’s devotion to learning and his strong connection with Tshivenda culture. It reflects a musical heritage that goes far beyond his father. You inhabit each song, rather than merely listening to it. “I want to create good music that can heal people,” says Tabane. With Matjale, he does just that.