KUP LUB ODBIERZ W NASZYM SKLEPIE
By the early 1970s, the two major anti-Apartheid parties—the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress—had been outlawed by the ruling National Party, and were operating underground. Batsumi leader and guitarist Johnny Mothopeng’s father had been the president of the Pan Africanist Congress and was subsequently imprisoned. The younger Mothopeng saw Black Consciousness as a way to “keep the fires burning.” That heat and resilience can be heard throughout Batsumi. Batsumi was released in 1974 on the Records & Tapes imprint, a subsidiary of Satbel. Yet in an all-too-familiar pattern, Records & Tapes—a white-owned company—paid the band next-to-nothing, and barely promoted the album. Still, Batsumi was incredibly popular on tour, and for years played to large crowds at festivals and stadiums across South Africa. Batsumi doesn’t sound like afro-spiritual jazz in the vein of Alice Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders. Instead, it’s more beguiling and weightless; its five tracks flow seamlessly—blending flutes, saxophones, winding bass and soulful vocals into a gorgeous suite of nuanced melody. Most of the band couldn’t read or write sheet music, and learned to play by ear instead. Their saxophone player, Themba Koyana, listened to jazz legend Charlie “Bird” Parker until he sounded just like him. Throughout the album, the band sounds equally relaxed and intense, as if they knew their music meant a great deal to the community it served. On “Lishonile” and “Anishilabi,” in particular, Batsumi is both free and electrifying.