Haven't updated, I know
I haven't updated in forever because I haven't felt like writing about music. I haven't enjoyed music lately, and I considered leaving the industry completely for a while.
This is what an MBA program will do to you. Be warned. But I largely got over it (still unemployed at the moment, so I have to wonder at the utility of the MBA), and so I'm returning to blogging
I wanted to write on a question to which I don't have the answer, but for which I would love feedback.
There is a piece by the magnificent (late) composer and saxophonist Zacks (sometimes Zakes) Nkosi called Ama Swati.
If you don't know it - check out his album to give it a listen.
I first heard this track on my iPod in shuffle mode. Without looking at the track info, I heard the melody and knew immediately it was a South African jazz piece.
No, I'm not bragging. Rather, I'm curious what specifically triggered my recognition. The melody is a beautiful, singing melody with consonant major harmonies backing it. It might be the grouping into threes of the notes themselves, but I'm not certain. There were no Zulu or Xhosa vocals backing it, nor the choked guitar sound of mbaqanga.
So I ask the question what makes a piece a South African jazz piece? What are the qualities that we feel link Abdullah Ibrahim, Chris McGregor, Hugh Masekela, Louis Mhlanga, Busi Mhlongo, et al together?
Is there a common tie here, or must we scrap the catch-all term as useless beyond noting composer origin? (and if so, how then do we address the American composers who copied Ibrahim's music or the folks like Darius Brubeck?)
Musicologically, what was in in Ama Swati that triggered immediate recognition as South African jazz?
More generally - is it useful to even distinguish jazz pieces as South African jazz? American jazz pedagogy and general viewpoints already like to diminish the artistic merit of jazz created outside US borders, so is creating this distinguishing note hurting the ability to try to incorporate it into the general lexicon of jazz?