Statements of elegance and the sparkle of confident talent have a longstanding currency in jazz history. However, in the age of cheap thrills and the allure of base frills, it’s refreshing to see a band like Africa Plus restate thoughtfulness as a marker of cool. The trio gave their first performance in #Jazztown at the Standard Bank Jazz Café last night. They played a set comprising cuts from their recently released and eponymously titled album.
They opened with a neat composition penned by pianist Lungelo Ngcobo titled Brothers. We know from the onstage ad-lib by bassist, Prince Bulo that the tune is intended to underscore the brotherhood they share as musicians and as friends.
At face value, this shared connection is evident in the smiles and nods they give each other after every successful improvised solo. These are young men who enjoy their technical facility and are not afraid to share it with their audience.
The colourful music took on a measured political note with a tune African Roots, ballasted by a voice clip of former president Thabo Mbeki. It’s an excerpt from the historic speech Mbeki gave in parliament on the occasion of the adoption of the Constitution in 1996: I’m an African.
Its bright and bristling music asks us all to ponder what it means to be African. Though this is to be considered in the context of our hyper-digital age of Instagram and branded caps and sneakers. And if you listen closely, you can hear in Bulo's propulsive bass line, the rhythmic rumble of the toyi toyi, the African army at march or heartbeat and daily drill of an ultramodern Africa going on with life.
The trio’s improvisations are slick and intellectually driven, which is not to say they are devoid of emotion. At the least, the flurry of colours conjured up by Sphelelo Mazibuko on drums shores up this fact. He plays with startling energy that drives the band into exciting corners. It’s in the way they work their way around each other’s played propositions that makes their show a beautiful dialogue to watch. It’s the colourful magic of the music they bring to the stage.