Zim Ngqawana is a world musician proficient on brass, keyboards and woodwind instruments in addition to being a penetrating vocalist. Born in Port Elizabeth along South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Ngqawana’s songs reflect on the experiences and the socio-economic condition of the people of South Africa. He uses many provincial tones, especially in the percussions, to convey the spiritual music of Africa, but Ngqawana’s compositions also have an ambient-jazz climate and a world music allure which may explain why his songs are attractive to theater and dance companies.
Ngqawana’s latest release Vadzimur, produced by himself and executive producer Damon Forbes, is a novella set to music. The album is segmented into four stages - Satire, Diaspora, Liberation Suite and Nocturnes with each stage containing three to five songs which all vary in content, ambience, purpose, and length. The songs are as short as 13 seconds like "Interlude" and as long as 9 minutes and 13 seconds like "Anthem," but all remain relevant to the story being told. It is a story which takes the listener through the struggles, the joys, the plight and the sanctuary of the South African nation.
The first stage Satire begins with a beating bongo segment and a chorus of vocal grunts and shouts delivered by migrant mine workers. The chorus is disruptive and antagonistic, but segue into a blissful melody with episodes of sprinkling harp strums seamed by angelic drums and guitar series which are joined by sprigs of twirling pinwheels of horns and Ngqawana’s heaving vocals. A march is projected in "Gumboot Dance" with stomping drumbeats and bold saxophone vibrations. Satire ends with a relaxing melody pouring from the piano bridges and softly pitched horns.
Satire transitions into the Diaspora stage as it opens with a soft cello and harp waltz on "Long Waltz To Freedom." The orchestral textures are plush and brighten by carnival-like horns and drums. The tune is very expressive of joy and elation as it dives into an exotic series of flutes and percussions on "Zanusi." The tune is soothing and tenderly melodic. The cha-cha tempo of "Mozambique" is enhanced by vocal choruses which follow the quick step motions as a fleet of horns and percussions straddle the springy, carefree movements. A preamble of trembling horns precede "Dirge" which manifests into a dark toned piano passage and bourbon hued saxophone notes imbibed in a morose mood and wandering in a dispirited stupor. "Dirge" is another expressive song where the music seeps into the listener’s skin.
Diaspora rolls into the Liberation Suite, which has songs that are cheerful in tempo and melodically strewn. "Tafelberg/Carnival Samba" starts the stage with a soft piano and saxophone tempo and move into a fiesta vibration with twinkling horns and dance rhythms exuding ambient-jazz tones. The horns glisten alongside the shimmers of harp and flute notes on "Unamaqhinga Na" and floats above the quick paced cymbal strikes on "Anthem."
The final stage Nocturnes contrasts the previous three stages beginning with a low pitched piano lament on "Umoya." The mood is dark and mournful as it travels into "Vadzimu" which has an avant-jazz template arching dissonant sounds and obtuse chord angles that feel irrational, confused, and rebellious. The album concludes with a soothing piano melody on "Thula Sizwe" sealing the novella with a gentle lullaby.
Zim Ngqawana’s latest release Vadzimur is a very poignant album that speaks of the South African nation and its transitions through four stages of life. Vadzimur follows Ngqawana’s albums San Song from 1996, Zimology from 1998, Ingoma from 1999 and Zimphonic Suites from 2001. His compositions blend elements of avant-garde, ambient, orchestral and traditional jazz complements with South African accents. The album paints a picture for the story being told and puts a vivid image in the listener’s mind. And at times the music penetrates into the listener’s skin, bringing them into the story.