Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman – The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of (We Are Busy Bodies)


As we lamented in our sprawling end of year list the abundance of great music released in 2021 made it difficult to keep up. We aim to rectify that with this new summer series where we cover the music that we are ashamed to admit we never quite managed to highlight, yet have found ourselves returning to again and again.

In July we received what looked like a curious ethnological record, The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman. Tabane was a South African jazz guitarist, though on this recording he also played Penny Whistle and contributed vocals to one track. He’s joined by percussionist Gabriel “Sonnyboy” Thobejane, who also plays thumb piano on the album. The key is really about this duo’s interplay. Electric guitar and cow hide percussion is really an unlikely combination, and even so they manage to combine it such a restrained unlikely way that it had me thinking about the relationship between sitar and tabla – particularly in the way that they built in momentum together. In terms of genre its basically unclassifiable. There are jazzy/ blues type allusions throughout thanks to his versatility on the electric guitar yet the percussion adds this real ‘other’ element that pushes in a really unique direction. There’s also plenty of space which is really refreshing.

It’s all so sparse and unusual. It was originally released in 1969 and this reissue was released by Canadian label We Are Busy Bodies. It’s fascinating to listen to this music now. It feels so unhurried, unencumbered, like random half thoughts, where the rest of the band are missing, but they don’t seem to notice and the sparseness only makes it more powerful. There’s a real looseness, a real mysticism to the music. The label calls it spiritual jazz, but it’s not spiritual jazz the way I’ve understood it. There’s undoubtedly a power to the ramshackle lightness of the music, it does connect to the soul, but it feels like genre pigeonholes can only dilute it. It’s the kind of music that you let wash over you. In a way it feels absent itself, like the players have not just removed the ego from playing but the self as well.


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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