Differing axes of South African jazz during late apartheid

The late apartheid era in South Africa yielded two axes of local jazz. The first, pertaining to a teleological trajectory (from late apartheid to the beginnings of democracy), describes an evolving aesthetic which moves from protest to celebration. The second axis defines the difference between the possibilities and the formations of jazz by musicians who left the country and those who stayed. To analyse these axes the author draws on critical notices, biographies, interviews, and especially on commercial recordings. These are focused around the exile, Chris McGregor, and the inxile, Winston "Monwabisi" Monkunku Ngozi. The author asserts that having left the racially-constrictive apartheid South Africa, McGregor engages actively with the incorporation of a South African voice into the European jazz aesthetic which conversely also allows him a development of a more dissonant and avant-garde style. In the case of Ngozi, the author presents an aesthetic rooted in more traditionally South African forms of "musicking", which then draws on the influences of American jazz artists such as John Coltrane. In the case of his early music, similarly to the African American artist suffering under racial oppression, he reflects on and engages with the politics of the Apartheid regime. The essay concludes with a return to the first axis which is made evident in the recording of "Home at last" (2003) by Bheki Mseleku (an exile returned) and Ngozi. This recording sees the artistic merging of the exile/inxile yielding a celebratory exuberance which still manages to be rooted in a complexity that challenges the consensus-type politics of the post-apartheid regime.

Journal South African Music Studies
Year 2012
Volume 32
Pages 91-112

Washington, Salim (2012) Exiles/inxiles: Differing axes of South African jazz during late apartheid. In: South African Music Studies, Vol. 32, pp. 91-112. Available at https://openmusiclibrary.org/article/214488/.


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