Matsuli Music continues its reissue program of rare indigenous afro-jazz sounds from South Africa with the release of Sowetan group Batsumi's self-titled debut from 1974. The reissue has been lovingly re-mastered from the original tapes and features material compiled on the recent Next Stop Soweto series from Strut.
The album arrived amidst a period of intense political, intellectual and artistic ferment stimulated in large part by the teachings of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement. ‘“Say it loud! I’m black and I’m proud”. This is fast becoming our modern culture,’ wrote Biko in 1971, ‘a culture of defiance, self assertion and group pride and solidarity.’ Drawing partly on the insights of Frantz Fanon and the poets of Négritude, and partly on the contemporary US Black Power politics of figures such as Eldridge Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael, Biko forged a visionary and potent message of South African redemption, pride and defiance. It took culture to its heart, and in the wake of Biko’s message a burgeoning arts scene rooted in the black and African experience began to flourish.
Batsumi is a masterpiece of spiritualised afro-jazz, and a prodigious singularity in the South African jazz canon. There is nothing else on record from the period that has the deep, resonant urgency of the Batsumi sound, a reverb-drenched, formidably focused pulse, underpinned by the tight-locked interplay of traditional and trap drums, and pushed on by the throb of Zulu Bidi’s mesmeric bass figures. The warm notes of Johnny Mothopeng’s guitar complete a soundscape that is at once closely packed with sonic texture and simultaneously vibrating with open space, and in whose shimmer and haze Themba Koyana and Tom Masemola soar. A sonorous echo emanating from an ancient well, reverberant with jazz ghosts and warmed by the heat of soul and pop, Batsumi is nothing short of revelatory.
Many groups from this period did not issue recordings at all, and Batsumi are unusual in even having left an official recorded legacy. Out of print since the 1970s, and never issued outside of South African in its entirety, Batsumi is a landmark South African jazz recording, and a key musical document of its time. Out of sight for far too long, Matsuli Music is proud to be able to bring this back into view, and award it the prominence it so richly deserves.