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When pianist and composer Moses Taiwa Molelekwa died in February 2001, fans and fellow musicians alike were swept away by grief. He was so young – not yet 30 – and had shown such musical promise.
Genes and Spirits was his second album, released a year before his death. While the composer’s voice and pianist’s touch are instantly recognisable from his debut, Finding One’s Self, the ideas underlying the music mark a conscious step into the unknown: what he called “finding a range of rhythmic alternatives,” inspired by the rhythmic complexity he was hearing in both pan-African music and the New Music he had been exploring in Europe; and by the possibilities of electronic club music – jungle in London, and kwaito in Soweto.
Inspired like many of his musical age-mates by the optimism of the post-liberation 1990s in South Africa, Taiwa crafted what he described as ragga with a kalimba groove; Tswana vocals over a programmed drum
track; a duet with Chucho Valdez and more, across eleven tracks combining the talents of multiple South African and world musicians, including Valdez, Flora Purim and Cameroonian drummer Brice Wassy. With Genes and Spirits, Molelekwa was stepping into the kind of genre-busting territory we associate today with players such as Robert Glasper, but he was doing it almost a decade earlier: asserting a new jazz identity that was young, popular and African. This re-release also includes one additional track, Wa Mpona, recorded for, but omitted from, the original release.


STAFF COMMENTS

Patrick says: Currently killing it for the Piccadilly Jazz Club, this is an overlooked masterpiece of modern jazz. Released in 2000, a year before the South African pianists’ untimely death, “Genes And Spirits” marries the African jazz stylings of Dollar Brand or Hugh Masekela with jungle, soul, kwaito and hip hop, sounding like a lost studio session between Brand, Masekela, Hancock, Larry Heard and Goldie. Sublime!

Militant jazz, fusion, funk and soul from mid-seventies Manenberg, outside Cape Town, with a set of roots in club dance traditions like ballroom ('langarm'), Khoisan hop-step and the whirling 'tickey draai' ('spin on a sixpence') of the mine camps; others in jazz-rock and the New Thing, from Santana and Chicago to Shepp and Coltrane.


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