Many years after the fall of Apartheid, Batsumi remains sublime… and transformative, and its resonance hasn’t faded at all over the years.
During the brutal era in South African history known as Apartheid, the minority-white ruling party forcibly moved millions of black South Africans from their homes to segregated areas, stripping them of their citizenship and reassigning them to tribal Bantu status. But even in the face of this outrageous oppression, South African music thrived. Artists like pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand), and multi-instrumentalist Hugh Masekela gained fame both within the country and beyond. But Ibrahim and Masekela were the exceptions, rather than the rule. Because they both lived and toured abroad, it was easier for their music to get attention. For local South African musicians, operating under the threat of state violence, breaking through to European and American audiences was much harder.
From this difficult environment came the self-titled debut from Soweto band Batsumi, one of the region’s most unusual and lush jazz albums. […] Batsumi doesn’t sound like afro-spiritual jazz in the vein of Alice Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders. Instead, it’s more beguiling and weightless; its five tracks flow seamlessly—blending flutes, saxophones, winding bass and soulful vocals into a gorgeous suite of nuanced melody.