A celebration of youth

Hugh Masekela and Winston Mankunku are two very different characters, right down to the fact that one chose exile, while the other remained in the country in trying times. The two once performed together at a private birthday party in Cape Town.

The night they shared the stage Masekela wore a full-length leather coat, while Mankunku looked natty in a paisley cardigan. At first they seemed to be at loggerheads,

but a couple of tunes down the line Masekela resigned himself to the fact that Mankunku was the man.

I must confess, I started writing about jazz because of Mankunku. It was a gig some years back at the Yellow Door in Guguletu.

Mankunku was playing with a full orchestra behind him and a packed house in front of him. It was invigorating, honest and beautiful.

Mankunku has the power to elevate people. Musician Mac Mackenzie calls him “the papa of Cape Town”, and Andile Yenana says Mankunku is “the father of all this music”. Everybody talks about Mankunku — he is much loved.

And now this great father of music is set to release an album, Abantwana be Afrika, dedicated to the children of Africa and the late saxophonist Duke Makasi from Orlando.

Makasi was a tenor saxophonist in the Eighties band Spirits Rejoice. Robbie Jansen made a move from Cape Town to join that band and play with Makasi. Jansen and Makasi were soulmates. I didn’t know Makasi, but I know Jansen.

These musicians are bright eyed and beautiful guys, and the ones who have survived have remained youthful through much suffering.

It’s a paternal dedication that takes its launch on Youth Day. It’s a warm and generous release, but possibly not the most powerful and rousing masterpiece.

It has been 35 years since Mankunku released Yakhal Nkomo. Like Abdullah Ibrahim’s tune Mannenberg, the album was a landmark for the music of this country.

Mankunku earned the name “raging bull” and was elevated to the status of super-hip in the Seventies. Then the bull went out to pasture for many years before recording and performing with Mike Perry. A fruitful relationship between these men brought out three soft albums. The last album they did together was Molo Afrika in 1999. Yet, although it was powerful it was not timeless.

Mankunku’s 60th birthday is on June 21, winter solstice — the day Patricia de Lille launches her new independent party. For Cape Town it is a significant date as the winters here are cold and honest. This is the Mother City. And Mankunku is one of her fathers. He’s a musician who has played with everybody and inspired many. He has orchestras in his head — searing strings, walking bass and weeping horns. He has generations of support all the way from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape. There is much love for him here. There are venues, audiences and the media. Maybe next time it would be nice to see a birthday release — something for Mankunku.

Yet Mankunku was whipped up to Jo’burg for a five-day studio session. Andile Yenana from King William’s Town played piano and Herbie Tsoaeli from Langa was on the bass. Lulu Gontsana and Prince Lengwasa made up the quintet. The result is Abantwana be Afrika, a dedication to youthfulness. The launch on June 16 includes the Zimbabwean supergroup, Spirits Rejoice, as a support act. Chiwonisa, a promising young female mbira player, Oliver Mtukudzi, the lion, and Louis Mahlangu star in the line-up.

Winston Mankunku will perform with other well-known musicians at the Nelson Mandela Theatre in Jo’burg on June 16 from 7.30pm in A Meeting of Giants. Tickets are R90 at Computicket

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