Honouring Our Jazz Legends: Ndikho Xaba

7 June 2016 Film Latest Music

By Nomali Cele

When the Encounters Film Festival opens Thursday 2nd June 2016 it will bring to the public a documentary about the jazz legend Ndikho Xaba and his contribution to African jazz. The documentary, which is directed by Nhlanhla Masondo, gets its name (Shwabada) from the first track on Ndikho Xaba’s “Ndiko Xaba and the Natives” album.

Ndikho Xaba has spent over 50 years making music albeit most of those years (1964 – 1998) were spent exiled in the United States of America. Xaba was born in 1934 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, but chose to stay in America after entering the country as part of “Sponono” the musical by Alan Paton in 1964.

A pianist, percussionist and bullhorn player, Xaba is one of the pioneers of African jazz on the international landscape. His sound was heralded as “spiritual and groundbreaking” and many reviewers noted how his music – particularly his 1971 album Ndikho Xaba and the Natives – fused the best of American and South African jazz. Music historian Francis Gooding heralded the album as “arguably the most complete and complex South African jazz LP recorded in the USA”. It stands out as a critical document in the history of transatlantic black solidarity and the jazz culture of South African exiles on the linear notes of the reissued album.

The album was lauded and critically acclaimed for how it drew parallels between the civil rights movement in the United States and the South African liberation struggle of the day. Jazz lovers cannot study the evolution of African jazz and how South African exiles in North American, Europe and African countries influenced the sounds they found in those jazz cultures and let their own evolve without studying Ndikho Xaba.

In the early years of his time in exile his American life was coloured by artistic friends, including the writer Ntozake Shange and he collaborated with fellow South African artists such as Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. Ndikho Xaba and the Natives –the band – performed at a “Free Angela Davis” rally, which was seen as a nod to the intersection of the struggles happening in both his country of birth and his adoptive country.

Shwabada the documentary is directed by Nhlanhla Masondo and promises to be a must-see for those devoted to the history and evolution of jazz.


Cape Town – June 4

Johannesburg – June 12

Show times and booking information can be found here.