The fifteen-piece kaleidoscopic ensemble IzangoMa might only be releasing its debut offering on the esteemed UK-based label Brownswood Recording this coming Northern Hemisphere Spring, but the collective’s roots stretch back to the meeting of Sibusile Xaba (vox/keys) and Ashley Kgabo (synths/snare drum/drum machine) in 2016. The album is the logical next step in a journey.
Sibusile Xaba reveals a side to his virtuosic talent at cardinal opposites with the familiar folk sound the largesse knew him for.
Kings rejoice in laughter on album opener “Agenda Re-member”, while the music cascades carefree over frequencies expressing joy and positive living. In this world, IzangoMa’s world, the moon sings sweet melodies and the children rejoice in laughter. Worries are but a distraction, and joy is the ultimate quest. It’s a declaration of love in its highest, lucid, uninhibited form.
“Yes you photo man, yes you video man, we love you, we really really do,” he sings on “Johnny Dyani”, his punching voice puncturing dimensions and acting as a vessel that expresses unity with the multiplicities of the creative communities he’s involved with. It’s also a hat tip to the late, influential Johnny Mbizo Dyani, he of the mighty Blue Notes alongside Louis Moholo-Moholo, Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza, et al.
“Birds (Of A Feather)” is frantic, searching, surfing — a shroom trip laced with ones and zeros; a galactic self-serve of Astronomical importance. If the assignment is to explore and then break the limits of free expression, this song encompasses the better set of results of that experiment. It’s neither beginning nor end, only a constant seeking — for truth, for satisfaction, for more. It recalls visions of ones who existed before time; the very First Nations of this land we call Southern Africa, with all its combinations and permutations, all its complexities laid bare for all to ‘ear. Method is eschewed in favour of madness, and that’s just how the band digs it.
“Le Nna Mfana” is what happens when Nyabhingi drum riddims escape to the future. “I pledge my allegiance to the Almighty/ zonke ke lezinye bullshit,” Xaba assured us, his voice projecting until it transcends the hills and valleys of ancient dwellings and courses through cursed modernity as well as city-limit encampments where the natives have been banished. It spells freedom for the Black universal imagination, and pleads to African people worldwide to look beyond the daily shackles of Capitalism, chains imposed upon by systems not of their own construction. Le nna mfana — me too, my man. By the time he sings “education bullshit,” one can’t help but think of Pink Floyd and Dead Prez, polar musical opposites united in their dislike of the formalisation of a knowledge that shuts plenty of people across race and creed out; a filter to prop up subservience over independence.
“Out Of This World” is a two-step and ispantsula gravy train. The rhythm carries keyboards, synths, and all manner of percussive overload to ’the beautiful being’ that Xaba shouts out when the song starts. Mother on earth, mother in all. Songs for mothers worldwide, this is the message and the theme. Conception beyond; no deception in this pond. Ponder the quest, ride along, ignore the bumps and trample upon hindrances. Be free.
The only way to extrapolate meaning from this future-forward debut is by viewing it as a collective effort, not the top-down composition of any one person. While the duo of Xaba and Kgabo forms the backbone, it’s the collective which feeds into the cycle that expands each time, adding something new on each iteration.
“It’s never effort; it’s always joy,” says Ashley, reflecting on the fluid nature of how ideas find them while they’re jamming to the tunes of their own creation, to which Sibuile adds: “Even this idea of this music being a voice of remembering the feminine energy — that wasn’t there. It developed as the music was leading us. And funny enough, every song is talking about mothers. This wasn’t something that we planned.”
The ensemble is a Southern African link-up of Mozambican and South African musicians. Sibusile tells it best: “I had this idea of working with my students from Mozambique. When I first met them [during exchange workshops], they were young men. We’d return every year to find these great human beings growing into these phenomenal musicians. We felt like it would be nice to incorporate them into this thing that we were doing.”
IzangoMa are Cosmic sgubhu with the alchemic powers of Sun Ra mixed with township styles ranging from pantsula to bubblegum, wrapped up and delivered in layers of spiritual chants, healing harmonies, and all manner of electro-analogue sonics transmitted in a big band-style ultrasound exploring themes of Creation as seen through the all-knowing feminine energy that transcends time and space, standing assured in its position as the cornerstone of their foundation. This is rhythm music; it spills into crevices ever-evolving, and revolts against a revolution yet to be finalised.