“I am an African,” proclaimed Pixley ka Isaka Seme in 1906, asserting his race in protest against a colonial lens that sought to warp — and ultimately erase — his unique image. “I am an African,” declared Thabo Mbeki in 1996 at the passing of the Constitution of South Africa following the transition of our country from an overt apartheid state to a democratic order.
The speech given by Mbeki in parliament played and faded into the sound of Africa Plus playing “African Roots” at Saints Bistro in 2017 — blocks away from Rhodes University campus where students have protested for a decolonised education.
“Our influences come from Africa. We are very proud to be African. We cannot deny the fact that we have been given the opportunity to come and learn. To study music. And we learn all the time — even now as we play. That is where the ‘Plus’ came from in the name,” announced bass player Prince Bulo at the end of a marathon opening 26 minute medley of “Brothers”, a tune describing the brotherhood between him and pianist Lungelo Ngcobo, and drummer Sphelelo Mazibuko. Next up was “Drums in Orbit” and “Who Am I?”, which concluded with a chord progression that took giant steps to Bulo’s clear statement of the band’s identity.
The trio moved into “Mehlclate Suite”, composed by Ngcobo, who opened the tune with elegant right hand work on a solo that provided some deft left hand work for multiple chord progressions that sustained the overall blue tone of the tune. The central refrain of the suite repeated in a chorus that moved through octaves to make a comprehensive statement of the pianist’s instrumental prowess.
Not to be left out, Mazibuko (who has had my ears perked up since an amazing gig at The Orbit with the Bokani Dyer Trio) brought his unique take to the trio’s compositions. When I hear and see him play — the sound, the style of dress, the attitude — I think new jack swing. It is not superficial swagger but the melding of jazz, funk and hip-hop that I observe in this gifted drummer.
The best part of watching Africa Plus play is seeing the genuine enjoyment from the band members. The sense of brotherhood is palpable, from my sightings of them around town wearing Bulo leisure-wear, to the smiles or closed eyes my camera caught, it is apparent that while there is a story of identity to tell, the sense of camaraderie between the atomised parts of Africa Plus truly is a sight to behold.
“The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world. The African is not a proletarian in the world of science and art. He has precious creations of his own.” — Pixley ka Isaka Seme.
By Mandisa Mpulo