The Return Of The Malombo Jazz Makers

Julian Bahula and Strut Records announce vinyl re-issues of revolutionary jazz trio Malombo Jazz Makers, whose international breakthrough was thwarted by apartheid.

by GRIOT - Published on 22/04/2023

London-based label Strut Records have announced the first release from a brand-new catalogue deal with South African drummer, composer and anti-apartheid activist, Julian Bahula, former member of Malombo Jazzmen. On May 26th, in partnership with Bahula, Strut will be reissuing Malombo Jazz Makers Malompo Jazz (1966) Malombo Jazz Makers, Vol 2 (1967) on vinyl for the first time since their original release. Both albums are widely recognized as landmarks of South African jazz, with tracks like Sibathathu, Jikeleza, Emakhaya, Hhlezipi and Abbey’s Mood remaining popular amongst fans,

The influential collective was active at the height of the anti-apartheid movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They were formed in Mamelodi township near Pretoria, and rose to fame in 1964 as Malombo Jazz Men with guitarist Philip Tabane after winning the prestigious Castle Lager Jazz Festival. The band was managed by Peter Magubane, the legendary photographer whose work frequently appeared in the pages of The Drum—widely known as the first Black lifestyle magazine in Africa.

With Lucky Ranku replacing Tabane on guitar alongside Julian Bahula (malombo drums) and Abbey Cindi (flute, penny whistle), Malombo Jazz Makers would revolutionize South African jazz music, blending characteristics common in the work of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis with musical traditions and elements from their South African heritage.

Pivotal to their innovative artistic practice was the incorporation of the malombo drum, used by elders and ancestors as a conduit for physical and spiritual healing. Speaking on their decision to include homegrown instruments in their work, founder member and drummer Julian Bahula recalls: “We grew up listening to American jazz, but we wanted to mix it with what our forefathers were doing. Our ancestors used them to heal people who weren’t well, as did all the African doctors who would dance around the person as they were healing them. We thought this would be a lovely name for our band, because we saw what we were doing as music that heals.”

Touring under the apartheid regime

Amidst a politically fraught era in South Africa’s history, their music was one ot the many soundtracks to the resistance against apartheid, as it advocated liberation for Black South Africans. Becoming closely associated with distinguished activists Steve Biko and Saths Cooper, Malombo Jazz Makers used their music to raise awareness around the lengthy imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, leading to several tense encounters with the South African police.

Speaking on the conditions of touring under the apartheid regime, Julian Bahula recalls: “The struggle was heavy on us. We would get arrested often and the police tried to stop our shows several times. We had to tour in secret because we weren’t allowed to go from town to town as a result of the ‘Natives Land Act’. There were restrictions on where you could go and a curfew after 6pm—we weren’t supposed to be in certain areas.”

As a result of the immense institutional barriers the Malombo Jazz Makers faced under apartheid, the band never had the opportunity to break internationally outside of South Africa. Their history and legacy has largely survived due to oral histories and the anecdotes of figures who were on the ground to witness their story.

Malombo Jazz Men with trophy, 1964. Photo Credit: Julian Bahula

The group’s legacy and championing African artists in the UK

With these stories and albums now able to circulate internationally, Malombo Jazz Makers are set to be finally recognised as one of the most important groups of the early anti-apartheid movement, paving the way for generations of artists to infuse South African pride in their music and performances

The group’s legacy and tireless efforts in popularizing African music continued when Julian Bahula escaped South Africa in 1973 and settled in London. He struck up friendships with jazz icons Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis during their London tour dates and continued his work as a musician and drummer with a new band, Jabula, whose early line-ups featured Mike “Bami” Rose and Steve Scipio from renowned funk band Cymande.

Bahula would go on to promote African artists to UK audiences at The 100 Club and The Forum in London during the ‘70s. Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, and Hugh Masekela were among the performers whose first British appearances were organized by Bahula and his company, Tsafrika Promotions. Masekela, in particular, credited Bahula several times for opening the doors for him to become an internationally recognised household name. Bahula would later organize the 1983 Festival Of African Sounds at Alexandra Palace on the eve of Nelson Mandela’s 65th birthday, drawing a sizable crowd in support of Mandela and other political prisoners.

Malompo Jazz (1966) Tracklist:

A1. Abbey’s Mood
A2. Lullaby For Angels
A3. Grab This For Me
A4. Emakhaya
A5. Blues After Lunch 2.36
A6. Bababelo

B1. Intandane
B2. A Tribute To Birds
B3. Root Of Africa
B4. Vuma Mbari
B5. Lousy Fever
B6. Jikeleza

Malombo Jazz Makers Vol. 2 (1967) Tracklisting:

A1. Ngivulele
A2. Udondolo
A3. Soul Of Africa
A4. Jolly Journey
A5. Umkhosi
A6. Majazana

B1. Abbey’s Body
B2. Vukani
B3. Hleziphi
B4. Sibathathu
B5. Malombi Walk
B6. Emoubane

The music of Malombo Jazz Makers is being released by Strut Records. Both releases are available for pre-order from Strut Records now.

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