Growing up in the small town uMgungungdlovo near Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, Makhathini was surrounded by music as a child. Coming from a very musical family- his mother was a pianist and his father a guitarist- he was exposed to a range of music including traditional Zulu music. He recalls turning the knob on the radio until it reached the end, where he would listen to Indian music. He was part of the choir at school and would sing at church, and until he was finished school, his voice was his instrument. It was only after High School that he started to study jazz piano.
“I reached a point where my voice limited me from expressing the music, and that’s when I focussed on the piano”.
He feels his career has developed in what he describes as an organic process, starting with his upbringing and the influence of his mother being his first piano teacher. “Over the years I have learnt that if you submit yourself to the music or whatever your dream is then mother-nature has a way of taking care of the rest”. After school, in 2001, he went to study music at the Durban Institute of Technology. Here he learnt under the guidance of Neil Gonzalvez, Demi Fernandez and Susan Berry.
In 2006 Makhathini performed with voice featuring Marcus Wyatt, Herbie Tsoaeli, Morabo Molajele and Sydney Mnisi. Following that he toured Europe with internationally acclaimed Simphiwe Dana and shared stages with Herbie Hancock and Miriam Makeba- to name a few- at the Avo Session Jazz Festival in Basel. In 2008 Makhathini joined legendary jazz saxophonist Zim Ngqawana’s Zimology Quartet and toured with them throughout Europe and the United States. Following that, in 2009 he joined Carlo Mombeli’s band and continued to tour with the Zimology Quartet. He has also worked with musicians to the likes of Andile Yanana, Kesivan Naidoo, Sidney Mavundla, Ayanda Sikade, Omagugu, Feya Feku, McCoy Mrubata, Mthunzi Mvubu and Malcolm Jiyane, Xolani Sithole, Mbusi Khoza, Lindiwe Maxolo, Tumi Mogorosi, Sisa Sophazi and Jonathan Crossley. He performed in Swaziland with Adam Glasser featuring Concord Nkabinde.
He has performed at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Jazz in the Cradle at Nirox, The Lagos Jazz Series Nigeria and Ljubljana Jazz Festival in Europe.
Aside from his impressive experience on both the local and global jazz scene composing, producing and assembling music, Makathini is a teacher and a philosopher. This father of three, attributes his role on the music scene as one of a translator. He feels the music comes from an external source and he is the path through which it is communicated to the audience. “My family also has a gift of healing and music was the only way I could best express and celebrate these gifts.”
Makhathini reminisces about spending time with Malcolm Braff and Ayanda Sikade at The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, discussing a shared connection between music and spirituality. He has fond memories of the festival and reflects: “I first went to National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2005 spending two weeks just playing music. I had an amazing time, jamming every night.” The following year Makhathini joined musicians in the jazz line-up at the festival. “Collaborating with people makes it possible for us to go out there and do what we can” he elaborates.
Nduduzo Mhakhatini has produced a number of albums over recent years with acclaimed jazz musicians. The album Zilindile with Omagugu won Metro Fm’s Best Contemporary Jazz in 2013, and the album Time with Lindiwe Maxolo was a SAMA nominee. Mother Tongue was his first album of his own work. It is about his home language of Zulu and its traditions and how his mother introduced sounds and songs to him before the language of Zulu itself “Mother tongue speaks of my childhood memories, my heritage and trying to define my history, my present, and my future. It is dedicated to my mom.” Sketches of Tomorrow he attributes to his children and he says is about painting pictures of sounds to come. Makhathini is currently working on a project called Listening to the Ground which is a follow up from Mother Tongue.
Makhathini, who spends his days practicing, listening to music and running to rehearsals, says “The award means a lot to me and it came as a surprise. I am very grateful to the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards for the opportunity they give to artists to share their story. For an artist it doesn’t get better than being given a platform to express oneself, and for this I am grateful.”
The recipients of the 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist Award are Christiaan Olwagen (Theatre), Luyanda Sidiya (Dance), Musa Ngqunqwana (Music), Athi- Patra Ruga (Performance Art), Kemang Wa Lehulere (Visual Art) and Nduduzo Makhathini (Jazz).