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Afropop Debut: “Spirit of Malombo” Album Stream

Ahhh man. Do we have a treat for you, fair readers.

We are super excited to offer the debut album stream of Spirit of Malombo, an astounding compilation of the South African avant-jazz produced by drummer Julian Bahula and guitarist Lucky Ranku between 1966 and 1984. The band began their musical career recording in South Africa, where they developed a stripped-down sound that emphasized the traditional swing of the malombo drums. Heavily involved with the anti-apartheid politics and organizing of leaders like Steve Biko, the group grew adventurous, developing a swirling, intricate style that connects it to the free jazz of American musicians like John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman.

Forced into exile by the repression and constant harassment of the South African government, the group finally escaped to England where they connected with the thriving ex-pat scene, eventually growing into a driving, funky big band, screaming horns over a lock-step rhythm section. Yet despite being fleshed out by a larger group,  the music maintained its raw angularity. As a result, many of these tracks share a strange resemblance to NYC no-wave bands like James Chance or Liquid Liquid, the music playing in the space between the repetition of funk and the passion of free jazz.

While the early cuts collected on the first cd of Spirit of Malombo are fantastic, the later tracks are really what make the compilation stand out. Politics in instrumental music can be hard to pin down, but there’s no mistaking the powerful rage in cuts like the standout “Let Us Be Free.” But unlike the nihilism of the punk rock being recorded at the the time, this was anger with a purpose, tied to hope for a better future.

While this compilation includes everything from three-person jams and raging funk to semi-orchestral soul-jazz pieces, it’s firmly held together by a sense of compositional intelligence and melody. Taken as a whole, it’s an astounding body of work: kudos to Strut for bringing it the attention it so richly deserves.  Plus, it’s nice to know what the office is going to be listening to for the next week.

Check it out!

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