Four years have passed since the last instalment in Strut Records’ critically acclaimed Next Stop Soweto series. At last, however, the wait is over. Recently, Strut Records have released Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. This is a double album, which celebrates the life and music of influential drummer, and political activist, Julian Bahula, whose career began in the late fifties.

It was around 1959, when Julian Bahula’s family were forced to move from Eesterust, a township a few miles west of Mamelodi. Their new home was Mamelodi, a township, to the north east of Pretoria. For the young Julian Bahula this could’ve been a turbulent time in his life. After all, he was leaving behind his friends and family. However, the move to Mamelodi resulted in Julian’s musical career unfolding.

In Mamelodi, Julian first met flautist Abbey Cindi and guitarist Philip Tabane. Abbey was also a newcomer to Mamelodi, having moved from Witbank. Phillip, however, had lived in Mamelodi all his life. Indeed, it was in Mamelodi Phillip’s career began. 

Ever since the early fifties, Phillip had been playing live. He had blossomed into a gifted and talented guitarist. Phillip played in a variety of groups, including jazz groups. Then as the sixties dawned, Phillip was a member of a jazz group, The Crotchets. However, he decided to form a vocal group The Lullaby Landers. 

Two of the other members of The Lullaby Landers were Abbey Cindi and drummer Julian Bahula. They were part-time musicians. Unlike Phillip, who was able to practice during the day, Abbey and Julian worked during the day. The only time they had to rehearse, was in the evenings, at the Mamelodi centre. Phillip would join them, and they became a trio.

The trio would meet in the evenings and play the music Phillip had composed. With Phillip’s guitar, Abbey’s flute and Julian’s drums, they were able to create a sound that ws very different to other groups. There was a reason for this. That was the type of drums Julian used. 

This became obvious during rehearsals. Phillip had composed the music for the band. The music he composed didn’t require trap drums. Despite this, when Julian played the music with a Western drum kit, it didn’t sound right. This was patently obvious. So, Julian made the decision to buy African drums.

Having bought a new set of drums, Julian returned to the Mamelodi centre to practice. Julian was proudly setting up his new drums, when the caretaker looked in. He was one of the Venda people, a group of Southern African people who live near the South African and Zimbabwean border. Straight away, he recognised Julian’s new drums. They were actually malombo drums, which traditionally, he explained, the Venda people play. However, there was another explanation of the word malombo.

A malombo, the caretaker explained is a word given to to ancestral spirits. Very occasionally, he told Phillip, Abbey and Julian, these spirits can make people unwell. The only way to cure this illness, is through dance and spirit possession. A healer puts the person into a trance, and calls upon the spirits. As the caretaker explained, Julian and Phillip remembered this. They had been told about this as they grew up. Still, the were fascinated by the story. Even more so, when the malombo drum was involved. After hearing this explanation of the drums’ origins and use, Phillip, Abbey and Julian decided that their nascent group be called The Malombo Jazz Men. Little did they know the effect the Malombo drum would have on their music.

The Malombo Jazz Men.

The Malombo drum brought a totally unique and innovative sound to African jazz scene. Rather than drawing inspiration from America, jazz’s homeland, the inclusion of the Malombo drum saw an Africanisation of jazz music. It was as if The Malombo Jazz Men wanted to reconnect with traditional African music, tradition and culture. This was a huge step, one that had never been made before. This made the Malombo Jazz Men Malombo musical pioneers, who were set to make their musical debut.

Originally, The Malombo Jazz Men were set to make their debut at the Soweto Cold Castle Jazz festival. The Malombo Jazz Men practiced, and practised hard. They were determined to tighten and hone their sound. As the festival neared, Phillip realised the band weren’t ready. A decision was made to delay their debut until a competition at Orlando stadium. That’s where The  Malombo Jazz Men made their debut. Their unique, innovative sound won over the audience and judges. When The Malombo Jazz Men returned home with the first prize, they were the all conquering heros. This resulted in the Malombo Jazz Men recording their debut album.

As part of their prize for winning the Castle Lager Jazz Festival in 1964, The Malombo Jazz Men got the chance to record their debut album. The Malombo Jazz Men featured on one side and the festival runners-up, the Early Mabuza Quartet, featured on the other side. For The Malombo Jazz Men, this looked like the start of a long and successful career. It wasn’t.

A year later, in 1965 The Malombo Jazz Men split-up. Two separate groups evolved out of The Malombo Jazz Men. Philip Tabane formed a duo with drummer Gabriel Thobejane. Just like Phillip. Julian and Abbey decided to form a new band. They recruited guitarist and fellow Mamelodi resident, Lucas ‘Lucky’ Ranku.

Lucas was a self-taught guitarist. When he met Julian and Abbey, he was The Four Lads guitarist. He was also a member of another popular band, Jimmy’s Band. Julian and Abbey first met Lucas at the Mamelodi Community Centre, where The Malombo Jazz Men won a talent contest. The runners-up were Jimmy’s Band. Julian had complimented Lucas on his guitar playing, and as a parting shot, said “maybe we’ll play with you one day?” Little did anyone realise that, less than a year later, this would come true, when Lucas joined The Malombo Jazz Makers. 

From the get-go, The Malombo Jazz Makers were one of the hardest working groups in South Africa. Peter Magubane, who was the photographer for Drum magazine became their manager. He accompanied The Malombo Jazz Makers as they embarked upon relentless touring schedules. At first, The Malombo Jazz Makers ventured into neighbouring states. The constant touring honed The Malombo Jazz Makers’ sound. Soon, they were a tight, talented and innovative group, who were selling out venues big and small. Then gradually, The Malombo Jazz Makers travelled as far afield as Swaziland, for the 1967 Swaziland Jazz Festival. By then, The Malombo Jazz Makers’ recording career had began.

Malompo Jazz.

It was in 1966, that The Malombo Jazz Men released their debut album Malompo Jazz, on the Gallo label. It featured a guest vocalist, Hilda Tloubatla of Mahotella Queens. This was a coup for The Malombo Jazz Makers. Hilda was one of South African music’s top vocalists. She played her part in the sound and success of Malompo Jazz.

Four tracks from Malombo Jazz feature on Strut Records’ recent compilation Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984.  This includes the driving, hypnotic and rock-tinged Abie’s Mood and the understated, wistful and jazzy Bababelo. Equally understated is Abbey’s Body, a quite beautiful track that allows each of The Malombo Jazz Men to shine. Then Hilda Tloubatla’s vocal prowess features on Jikeleza,  an upbeat, joyous and dance-floor friendly track. These tracks showcase a tight, talented and pioneering band, who were able to seamlessly combine musical genres. It’s no surprise that The Malombo Jazz Men was such a well received debut album. The future looked bright for The Malombo Jazz Makers.

Malombo Jazz Makers Volume 2.

This proved to be the case. A year later, Malombo Jazz Makers Volume 2 was released by The Malombo Jazz Makers. They had been busy since they recorded their debut album. What with touring and recording radio sessions for SABC, the state broadcaster. However, the most important date in 1967, was the release of their sophomore album Malombo Jazz Makers Volume 2.

Just two tracks from Malombo Jazz Makers Volume 2, feature on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. They’re Hleziphi and Sibathathu, which fittingly, translates as “we are three.” The three members of The Malombo Jazz Makers had a lot more music to release over the next few years.

In 1968, The Malombo Jazz Makers decided to augment their sound. They added extra musicians and released two singles as The Malombo Jazz Makers Plus 2. The singles included Bahula Dithabeng, which is included on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. So is the B-Side, Away From Malombo’s which has a much more pensive sound. This expanded lineup shows another side to The Malombo Jazz Makers’ music. Their music was continuing to evolve. This was the case throughout the rest of the sixties.

Down Lucky’s Way.

As the sixties drew to a close, The Malombo Jazz Makers released another album Down Lucky’s Way. Released in 1969, Down Lucky’s Way is one of The Malombo Jazz Makers’ rarest albums. Little is known about the album. It isn’t even mentioned in the Gallo record label’s discography. Despite its rarity, a track from Down Lucky’s Way, Matshenyogo, features on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. Just like the two singles released as  The Malombo Jazz Makers Plus 2, Down Lucky’s Way features an expanded lineup. A bass and Hammond organ augment Julian’s drums and Lucky’s guitar on Down Lucky’s Way. Not on  Matshenyogo. It’s just Julian’s drums and Lucky’s guitar that feature on this captivating track, that brought the sixties to a close.

When the sixties became the seventies, The Malombo Jazz Makers were South Africa’s most popular jazz bands. However, they weren’t becoming rich. Far from it. Just like so many musicians before them, they were being exploited. They were paid, but not what they should have received. This must have been hugely frustrating. Especially considering how along with their contemporary Philip Tabane, The Jazz Makers had revolutionised South African jazz. Their influence, in what became known as the Malombo sound, would be heard throughout the next two decades.

For the next two decades, the Malombo drum, guitar and flute were the starting point for a generation of groups. These groups followed in The Jazz Makers’ footsteps in more than one way.

Peter Magubane, The Malombo Jazz Makers’ manager was an active member of the African National Congress. It had been outlawed by the government. For the last few years, The Jazz Makers’ had played a part in the African National Congress’ fight for equality. Their drums had hidden documents being smuggled across the border, to places like Botswana, where members of the African National Congress were in hiding. This was the start of the politicisation of The Malombo Jazz Makers.

By 1971, The Malombo Jazz Makers toured South Africa with African Follies’ stage and variety show. South Africa was a dangerous place. Especially for anyone involved in the Anti Apartheid movement. This included Peter Magubane, The Malombo Jazz Makers’ manager. During the tour, he introduced The Malombo Jazz Makers to Steve Biko, Saths Cooper and Strini Moodley. 

They were founder members of the Black Consciousness Movement and played an important part in the South African Student Organisation. Soon, friendships were formed. Steve Biko invited The Malombo Jazz Makers to become part of a musical cultural production, Into the Heart of Negritude. This offer was accepted, and The Malombo Jazz Makers embarked upon the riskiest tour of their career.

Throughout the tour, The Malombo Jazz Makers had to be on their guard. Constantly, the security services were watching The Jazz Makers. They risked arrest each day. Their every move was constantly watched. This continued after the tour.

Following the tour, The Malombo Jazz Makers were under the constant scrutiny of the security services. Things got so bad, that the three members of The Malombo Jazz Makers were followed by the police. Soon, they were having to change address. Things got so bad, that they were constantly moving house to avoid harassment and surveillance. As if this wasn’t bad enough, their families were harassed by the police. Still, The Malombo Jazz Makers continued to make music.

Music Of The Spirit.

In 1971, The Malombo Jazz Makers recorded a new album, Music Of The Spirit. This time, The Malombo Jazz Makers were billed as Malombo. Only 100 copies of Music Of The Spirit were pressed. As a result, it’s a real rarity. Two tracks, Malombo Workshop and Bird Meets Elephant feature on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo,Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. This was the last album from The Malombo Jazz Makers. However, they continued to make music.

Not only were The Malombo Jazz Makers playing live, but they became part of a multi-racial group. Concerts were clandestine affairs. It was a game of cat and mouse with the police. Then when the band came onstage, they wore masks. Other times, they had to play behind the curtain. For everyone involved, they must have been under tremendous pressure. It’s no surprise that when Julian got the chance to leave South Africa, he jumped at the opportunity.

In 1972, Julian got the opportunity to play malombo drums  in Hawk, with a white fusion band. They had just been offered a deal on the British based Charisma Records. Hawk were also due to tour Britain. For Julian, this was his chance to escape the constant oppression of South Africa. Having played a few warm up concerts in South Africa, he boarded the plane to Britain, never planning to return until the end of Apartheid.

Julian arrived in London on 19th February 1973. Straight away, he started trying to secure work permits for the other two members of The Malombo Jazz Makers. This couldn’t happen quick enough. They were under constant scrutiny, having to change addresses constantly to stay one step ahead of the police. Eventually, Julian was able to send a work permit and plane ticked to Lucas ‘Lucky’ Ranku. He never told a soul, and escaped from South Africa. 

Sadly, one member of The Malombo Jazz Makers was left behind, Abbey Cindi. Two years later, in 1975, Abbey was meant to make the journey to London. Sadly, this never happened. The Malombo Jazz Makers were no more.

London had been home to a number of South African musicians over the year. Julian and Lucas were just the latest to call London home, whilst in exile. Hawk however, offered no future for Julian. 

They were a talented band, but they didn’t want to get involved in the anti apartheid movement. Julian wanted to use Hawk as a platform to tell people about what was going on in South Africa. Hawk didn’t want to get involved. So Julian and Hawk went their separate ways.

Julian became involved in the UK and Western Europe branch of the African National Congress. They were aware of what The Malombo Jazz Makers had been doing in South Africa. Julian was keen to do the same in Britain. So, Julian decided he would tour Britain, in an attempt to increase awareness of Apartheid.

The concerts had to be promoted independently, as the African National Congress didn’t have the funds to pay musicians. These concerts, as well as raising awareness of apartheid, would raise much needed funds for the African National Congress. It was a win-win situation.

For his new band, Jabula, Julian recruited British, Caribbean and African musicians. They became the focal point for the African National Congress, as they set about raising awareness of apartheid in South Africa. Before long, Jabula were a popular band, who were attracting a lot of attention. This time, for the right reason.

Ever since he arrived in Britain, Julian had been looking for a record deal. Initially, he was trying to interest labels in The Malombo Jazz Makers. He had no luck. His luck changed when he formed Jabula.

Simon Draper was an A&R man, who just so happened to be  a cousin of Richard Branson. He had previously attended Natal University. That was where he first heard The Malombo Jazz Makers. When he met Julian, he offered Jabula a deal with Virgin imprint Caroline Records. Jabula released their debut album Jabula Happiness, in 1975.

Jabula Happiness.

Two tracks from Jabula Happiness features on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. That’s the genre-melting Let Us Be Free. Elements of Afrobeat, jazz, funk, rock and soul melt into one. The other track, is the title-track Jabula Happiness, which features a joyous, vocal powerhouse from Vicky Busiswe Mhiongo. These two tracks were a tantalising taste of what Jabula were capable of. For Simon Draper and Virgin Records, they must have thought Jabula had a big future ahead of them. After all, they oozed talent.

Thunder Into Our Hearts.

That was apparent on Jabula’s sophomore album Thunder Into Our Hearts. It was released on Caroline Records in 1976. Thunder Into Our Hearts was dedicated to Julian’s fellow countryman, Mongezi Feza, the former Blue Notes’ drummer. Two tracks, Thunder Into Our Hearts and Ithumeleng Ba Mamelodi, feature on  Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. Both tracks show Jabula evolving as a group, honing and tightening their sound. Sadly, Thunder In Our Hearts was Jabula’s last album for Caroline Records. The political activists weren’t selling enough records.

By 1977, Jabula were at the forefront of the Antiapartheid movement in Britain. They played up and down Britain. All the time, they publicised the injustices happening in South Africa. They were advocates for justice and change. Another thing changing, was Jabula’s lineup.

What is perceived as the classic lineup of Jabula took shape in 1977. Julian’s drums and Lucas’ guitar were central to Jabula’s sound. They were augmented by flautist Michael Rose and Steve Scipio of Cymande, and Pinese Saul a South African vocalist. Adding the finishing touch was trumpeter Peter Segona. This was the lineup that played on the 1977 live album, Jabula in Amsterdam. 

Jabula in Amsterdam.

Among the highlights of Jabula in Amsterdam, were Journey Into Africa and the uber funky All For One. These tracks feature on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984, and are a reminder of just how good, Jabula were live. No wonder. Jabula toured relentlessly. This was Julian’s way of making a difference. He was one of the lucky ones. After all, Julian had escaped the oppression of inequality of Apartheid era  South Africa.

Sadly, people in South Africa didn’t get the opportunity to hear Jabula in Amsterdam. On its release, Jabula in Amsterdam was  banned in South Africa, because of its lyrical content. This didn’t stop Julian, Lucas and the rest of Jabula trying to bring about change in South Africa.

Afrika Awake.

A year later, Jabula would release their third studio album. However, they were without a record deal. So, Jabula formed Jabula Records. It released Afrika Awake, a ten track album. Just two tracks, Sorrows and the mellow Mathome, feature on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. Afrika Awake would be Jabula’s last studio album until 1982.

Between 1978 and 1982, Julian continued campaigning with the African National Congress. He was determined to bring about change, in his home land. Mostly, he did this through his music. So in 1979, he took Jabula to Sweden.

Stamping Out Apartheid.

In Sweden, Jabula recorded a live album with the South African Freedom Singers. Jabula featured on side two. They contributed four tracks, and joined with the South African Freedom Singers on the Stamping Out Apartheid album. However, Jabula’s finest hour was the impassioned Siakala. It features on Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984 and ia heartachingly beautiful track. 

Jabula With Me.

Right through until 1982, when Jabula released final album, Jabula With Me, Julian used music to draw attention to the plight in his homeland. Jabula With Me was a delicious fusion of Afro-beat, disco, funk, jazz and soul. Botlokwa which features on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984, epitomises everything that’s good about Jabula. Dance-floor friendly, funky, soulful, joyous and full of hooks, this is one of Jabula’s finest moments. It meant that Jabula bowed out in style.

Jabula With Me was Jabula’s swan-song. They never released another album. His next album was with his new group, Jazz Afrika.

Son Of The Soil.

After Jabula, Julian formed Jazz Africa. They fused Afrobeat with and funk. Their debut album was Son Of The Soil. It was released on the newly founded Tsafrika Records. Two tracks from Son Of The Soil feature on Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. They’re Woza Cindi and Tlhompho. These tracks are a tantalising reminder of what Jazz Africa could have become. Sadly, Son Of The Soil was their only album. Julian had other things on his mind.

Throughout his career, Julian didn’t stop trying to make a difference. In doing so, his career suffered. Julian sacrificed fame and riches to make a difference. Not many people would be will willing to do this. Julian Bahula was. He was determined that Apartheid would be defeated. By 1983, his and the African National Congress’ efforts were rewarded.

The Release Mandela and All Political Prisoners’ campaign started in 1980. Oliver Tambo and the African National Congress were determined to raise the profile of Nelson Mandela, and the other political prisoners in South Africa. By 1983, the campaigned had grown. It had international backing. Especially in Britain.

1983 was a landmark year for Nelson Mandella. He would celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday on the 18th July 1983. Julian had an idea. He wanted to put on a concert in London that would gain publicity for the anti-apartheid movement. This took a lot of planing and persuasion. Eventually, the African Sounds concert took place on the 17th July 1983, just a day before Nelson Mandela’s sixty-fifth birthday. 

The African Sounds concert was a huge success. A mixture of South African and British musicians took to the stage. This included Jazz Afrika, Julian’s new group. They helped raise much needed funds and more importantly, the profile of the Antiapartheid movement. This was the first step in the Free Mandela campaign.

For Julian Bahula, at last, he was making a difference. For three decades, he had strived to bring about change in homeland. He was doing this from a distance. Exiled in London, Julian made a difference through what he did best, making music. 

From his days with The Malombo Jazz Makers, through his time with Jabula and latterly, Jazz Africa, Julian Bahula had used music to help spread the Anti-apartheid message. This took time and patience. However, eventually, Apartheid was defeated. Nelson Mandela was freed in 1990. South Africa was no longer a divided country. Only them was Julian Bahula able to return from exile. 

His time as a political activist, and then in exile cost Julian Bahula. His family were persecuted. They suffered at the hands of the secret police. Julian was forced to flea South Africa, and until Apartheid was defeated, he was unable to return home. This was a huge sacrifice. Another sacrifice was his career.

Just like Lucas ‘Lucky’ Ranku, Julian’s career suffered. Who knows what height he might have reached if he hadn’t become involved in the antiapartheid movement? He was a truly innovative and pioneering musician, who was capable of creating groundbreaking and genre-melting music. However, for much of his career, Julian sacrificed critical acclaim, fame and riches, in an attempt to change South Africa for the better. This he did. Julian Bahula was part of the Antiapartheid movement, who transformed South Africa, and made it a better place. Only now, is Julian Bahula receiving the recognition he deserved. 

Recently, Strut Records released Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. It’s a double album featuring twenty five tracks that cover Julian’s career. The best way to describe Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984 is  lavish, and lovingly compiled. Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984 is also a celebration of the life and music of musician, political activist and humanitarian, Julian Bahula, who played a an important role in transforming and modernising South Africa. 









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