”Written byZenith Phaal
The Best Experiential Jazz of Our Generation
Some people seem destined for their future, for the path they’ve chosen in life. I can think of no young South African artist who exemplifies this better than Nobuhle Ashanti. She doesn’t just play the piano, or perform, she lives and breathes her art, something which becomes immediately apparent from her fantastic repertoire of songs and live concerts. I could talk about her ad nauseam, but I feel like I wouldn’t be saying anything that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll try to keep this article to the point. I want to focus on what I appreciate about her music rather than telling you every minute (yet interesting) detail I’ve learned about her life.
Ms. Ashanti is a proficient pianist, composer, session musician, educator, and lover of South African Jazz. Her love for music bloomed early, due to being brought up in a house with Jazz constantly being played by two musician parents, her mother playing sax, and her father, Sylvester Mazinyane, being an international Jazz pianist from Soweto. I believe his influence in particular was instrumental in shaping Nobuhle as a musician. Seeing her father jam with legendary South African Jazz icons from her formative years greatly inspired her musical tastes today. Nobuhle’s music is a celebration of those who came before, ancestors, and parents. This becomes evident when considering her tracks and how they relate to her life.
“I never felt pressure from my parents to pursue music but they always lovingly and willingly had me in their rehearsal spaces”
“Dear Mom” is a soothing Jazz track. The epitome of timing and restraint. It has self-control and doesn’t lose form or cohesive narrative, allowing nobuhle’s skills as a pianist to shine. This track focuses on Ashanti’s mother (shocker), but also the many women in her life who have supported her and been mother figures to her. Likewise, the piece “Dear Dad” is a thank you to her father for teaching her piano in her early days, which helped kickstart her musical career at the Beau Soleil Music Centre at the age of 10.
What inspires me when it comes to Ashanti is the source of her originality, what she draws from her life to compose her eloquent pieces. Her songs are narrations of her life and speak about her human experience in an honest way. They focus on the now that we’re living in, and heavily on the past and those who came before us, which has shaped us into who we are today. This inherently makes her work relatable to its listeners.
Her musical education deepened her appreciation for and understanding of the art of Jazz. She studied Jazz at UCT for 2 years before taking a break to pursue her musical career as a performer and full-time artist. Her love for the South African Jazz scene and American artists like “Col Train” would be obvious to anyone listening to her radio show, Tribal Gathering, on Hamshack Radio, where she explores the lives of musicians and their work. Educating and appreciating those great artists who came before her.
Her track “Bittersweet” exemplifies the shared human experience perfectly. I think it’s beautiful that she took the pain and loss of losing her older brother and turned her dreams of him into a physical, emotional piece to remember him by. Music to me is the true essence of living. Music makes us feel. And when we feel, we are alive. In this way, her brother will live on. With her and with all of us every time we listen to this song.
Ashanti’s music helps us to connect on a different plane, a level of emotional understanding. We as humans are all destined to feel loss. Nobuhle is no different in this regard but where we might only feel despair or regret, beauty in her art blooms. We’re all sharing similar experiences just with different interpretations, from different angles. I think understanding her work is vital and elevates the enjoyment of her music.
The biggest milestone in her musical career so far would be the release of “Choices”, and “Ancestors (Pt. I & II)” which is completely different from anything I’ve enjoyed before. This track is possibly the most South African thing I’ve ever heard and I love it. Every line, every verse, and every note feels “cool, calm, clean, and calculated”. It’s possibly her best song to date. If you somehow haven’t checked her music out yet I’d recommend you start with this song. It truly sets the bar high in regard to her debut album, “Bait For Steps Forward”, coming out soon. Even sooner is her 3rd single release coming out this Friday. “Unpredictable” will be joining the ranks of “Choices” and “Ancestors (Pt. I & II)” on Spotify.
The essence of Nobuhle’s work is healing. It is a healing process for her to create and a soothing ointment for those who listen. What makes her really special in my opinion, is not her exemplary technical skills, but rather the people she brings into her collective, “Ashanti Tribe”, to collaborate with. Tefo Mahola, Jodi Fredericks, and Shaw Komori to name a few. They add something to the music that can’t be described with words. Her evolving collective will always draw me in.
The Ashanti Tribe pushes every note to the highest potential of its capability and restrains them wonderfully with delicate melody and brilliant execution. I listen to a lot of music, but I have to say, I’ve never found a local artist from Cape town whose work I connect with so deeply. The music itself is so wonderfully meditative that I’ve been listening to it consistently while writing. I don’t think I could ever talk about everything I want to with regard to Nobuhle Ashanti. I highly urge you to give her music a chance, check out her website, and see her perform live. Her music is worth your time. It’s full of love and purpose. Every note will capture you. Every song will set you free.
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