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Spirit of Malombo

South Africa
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It’s hard to know where to start with Julian Bahula, truly one of the under-sung cultural heroes of the ANC’s struggle against apartheid.

A jazz percussionist by profession, Bahula’s first LP – with the Malombo Jazz Makers – was released in South Africa in 1964 and was remarkable for its development of the whole genre of Afrocentric jazz.

Bahula was at the heart of the struggle against apartheid, smuggling documents abroad for the ANC, working with Steve Biko and at times performing in disguise.

He went into exile in Britain in 1973, leaving South Africa on a fake passport. Settling there, he and his wife Liza promoted South African music and, in 1983, they staged the first Nelson Mandela birthday concert (with Hugh Masekela) in London.

Featuring 25 tracks from Bahula’s bands – Jabula, Jazz Afrika and the Malombo Jazz Makers – Spirit of Malombo is a compilation of music recorded between 1966 and 1984 in both South Africa and Europe.

For a long time available only on premium-priced rare LPs, this is a fantastic chance for a wider audience to experience Bahula’s punchy compositions. There’s a warmth in these vintage recordings that does not detract from the sheer artistic and political daring of Bahula and his band.

If you’d like to hear Bahula in action, take a look at a video of the first music event to raise awareness of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa: the ‘African Sounds’ concert at Alexandra Palace, London, in July 1983.

Featured interviews include Julian Bahula, concert promoter and founding member of the bands Malombo and Jabula, his wife Liza and Jerry Dammers of The Specials.

Inspired by seeing Jabula’s ‘Mandela’ performed live at the concert, Dammers went on to write the massive Special AKA hit, ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and set up Artists Against Apartheid in the UK.

While the concerts did much to raise awareness for Mandela and the politics of apartheid in South Africa, Bahula and Dammers ponder the fuzzy overlap of politics and entertainment as later, international stars dominated large-scale Mandela tribute events at Clapham Common and Wembley.

Review by Louise Gray.

Spirit of Malombo is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes and the Strut Store.

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