Going back for the future

The midpoint of this week came with the news that singer Thandiswa Mazwai’s new album Belede would be released through the Universal Music Group.

The news was innocuous enough, except that, for South Africa’s faithful, waiting for a Thandiswa Mazwai album has become something of a national quagmire, a stasis we are forever trying to jolt ourselves out of.

In the meantime (insert Mgarimbe voice), time takes its toll. Mam Busi Mhlongo dies. Marikana happens and stains all hope. The Zuma Years send us into retrograde. The fees refuse to do the falling thing and, yes, the gargoyle-like Trump wins the United States election.

To put it into perspective, the last time Thandiswa blessed us with an album (Ibokwe, 2009), the diaspora was still drunk with the euphoria of Obama parties.

But, if you know something about praying women, their prayers are often answered, at least in the case of Thandiswa. Belede, named after her mother, is Thandiswa’s unexpected return after seven years of silence.

Okay, we are being a little dramatic. In between, there have been songs, collaborations, shows, jam sessions and, of course, the activism to which she is fated.

So perhaps it is fitting that Belede plays out like something of a night vigil. Check it out to see what we mean.

It is a jazz album, yes, but not in the way one might expect, regardless what a line-up of drummer Ayanda Sikade, pianist Nduduzo Makhathini and bassist Herbie Tsoaeli might suggest.

On this nine-track album, Thandiswa goes back into the annals of history to call in the future. It opens with a plaintive rather than a fiery, version of Letta Mbulu’s Jikijela, pointing to the university scene that is dragging on. It closes with Makubenjalo, an invocation that is a nod to “the decolonised national anthem”.

In between, Thandiswa revisits Ndiyahamba, perhaps saying that a reversal of the Nontsokolo/Jim-comes-to-Jo’burg saga is indeed possible. Anything is indeed possible when one’s voice returns.

An interview with Thandiswa Mazwai and a review of Belede will be published in Friday on November 25

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.
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