Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Unh! Music of the Spirit (updated!)

Gabriel 'Mabi' Thobejane and Philip Tabane, Market Café 1976 (Photo: David Marks)

Philip Tabane is the founder of the group Malombo, a Venda word for spirit. Today he is known as Dr Malombo and whilst the group has been through many iterations over the past 45 years they are still performing and astounding audiences worldwide.

My introduction to Malombo was at University in 1982 when a friend passed on a dubbed cassette copy of The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman. Later I saw him play at the Rainbow Jazz Club in Durban and at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. In 1984 I worked in a team to put on a series of concerts by Malombo under the auspices of the United Democratic Front - a non-racial coalition of about 400 civic, church, students', workers' and other organisations. We organised three concerts including one at the University's Old Main Hall from where the live recording being shared today comes from.

Guitar scorcerer Philip Tabane at the Old Main Hall, University of Natal Pietermaritzburg, South Africa 1984 (Photo: Natal Witness)

I find it difficult to express the power and beauty that comes from his performances. So I will leave it to a sleeve note writer to paint a picture: "Malombo's music is a blend of the sophisticated and the primeval, of electric and traditional instrumentation, of tone poems about the natural world and its close link to human communities. Malombo has strong roots in traditional African music but they draw from such a broad spectrum of influences as to render categorizations difficult. If you can imagine an African Chuck Berry who plays six flutes at one time awhile humming and singing, you're beginning to visualise the persona of Philip Tabane - leader of the group." (from the sleeve notes to the Kaya self-titled release)

For a long time I've lamented the fact that the Malombo back catalogue has fallen into disarray. Currently only five from a total of 13 releases are commercially in print. And of these five there is one obscure release - SIlent Beauty - not even credited to Phiip Tabane or Malombo. So for the record I've compiled the following comprehensive (let me know!) discography with a plea to the owners to make the recordings available once more.

Malombo Discography

Studio and Live Recordings:

The Castle Lager Jazz Festival (JCLP 62, 1964)*

Malompo Jazz with a 'P' (Gallotone, GALP 1464, c1967...without Philip Tabane, thanks to Siemon for this addition)

The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman (UPL 5009, 1969)

Music of the Spirit (3rd Ear Music, 1971) (without Philip Tabane)

Malombo Jazz Makers Vol 2 (Continental Records, ZB 8162, c1971...thanks again to Siemon for the image and detail)

Pele Pele (ATC 8003, 1973)*

Sangoma (ATH 4024, 1978)

Malombo (KAYA (e) 300, 1984)

Silent Beauty (Erdenklang Music, 1989)*

Unh! (Electra/Nonesuch, 1989)

Ke A Bereka (Gallo, 1997)*

Muvhango (Gallo 1998)*


Philip Tabane and Malombo (Kajima, 1987)*

Man Phily (PAM, 1989)

*In print on CD

For a whole lot more background and some interesting anecdotes head over to David Marks' 3rd Ear Website for an insight into the Malombo genre.

VIDEO SHOT BY Thomas Ditlhoiso


Wallofsound said...

It's great to see a discography for Malombo. I am a big fan myself. By coincidence I recently created a discography for Tabane's original Malombo collaborator Julian Sebothane Bahula. You can find it at

I'll do a link to your Malombo discography.

matt said...

Thanks for that link. At one stage this post was going to be longer exploring the individual journeys of all the Malombo Jazz Men. I'm pretty certain that Julian appeared on some of the Hawk records...anyway there is a facinating photo of Julian alongside the Hawk blokes with them all dressed in Zulu skins midst very cold London passersby....

ubu said...

Great post!

One track from a live concert by Malombo can be found in my South African compilation here:

I only have that first disc of Malombo's so far (Castle Lager Festival). Will have to look for more - now I know just what to look for, thanks!

ubu said...

May I please put up another little comment, with another link?

I hope this doesn't bother you, otherwise please let me know and delete this comment! (I can't seem to find a way to get in touch with you personnaly via your blog, otherwise I'd have asked for your consent first).

I shared two nice BBC broadcasts by the Zimbabwe group The Real Sounds, lovely music that alas in the jazzy surroundings of my blog found almost zero interest so far - so please do drop by and check out the great and cheerful music there:

Anonymous said...

malombo also had two songs on the video the indestructible beat of soweto released in 1989 by island rythms of the world.
also mahotella queens and a mahlatini did some fine performances.

david said...

Great concert.....thank you for sharing! Always loved the Malombo track on the second Indestructable Beat of Soweto comp, but then bought Unh! which wasn't too great. Thanks for the reminder of how good Philip Tabane was...wish someone would make more of this stuff available again. Reminds me of an electric township version of Joseph Spence crossed with jazz.

david said...

Can anyone tell me about or recommend these two Malombo recordings. How do they differ?

Castle lager Jazz fest 1964
Pele Pele

All the other Malombo records seem to be Out of Print and hard to come by but apparently Gallo in South Africa has released the ones i've listed.

Any info would be appreciated. Thanks!

Matt Temple said...

David- Go with Pele Pele...


david said...

Thanks, Matt---any thoughts on the 1984 (s/t Kaya) lp?

matt said...

The Kaya LP is very similar to the live concert. Well worth list. My favourites Malombo LPs are:
Pele Pele
Kaya self Titled LP
The Indigenous....

Take care and happy hunting for these gems

david said...

Great.... thanks again for your insight!

Anonymous said...

a few years ago i bought a remix from philip tabane and malombo.
remixed by west nkosi on the kariba label dated 1997
three times the song ke a bereka and one called bokgarebe

Anonymous said...

I have to congratulate Matt for the work he has done here,but when there is one South African musician where there could be no comparison with a live set,it must be Malombo,no album has ever done them justice!

Darryl said...

Kove the music! Where can I buy?

david said...

I bought a copy of Pele Pele from this guy on Ebay. He was very nice and it's a great disc: