The legendary Jazz label Blue Note Records and Universal Music Group Africa have announced the creation of Blue Note Africa, an exciting new imprint dedicated to signing Jazz artists from across the African continent, bringing them to a global audience, and promoting a cultural exchange of ideas that transcends borders. Blue Note Africa will launch this Spring with the release of South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini’s luminous new album In The Spirit Of Ntu.
“Blue Note has stood the test of time by continuing to adapt but keeping its focus on discovering and introducing Jazz talent to the world,” says Sipho Dlamini, CEO of Universal Music Africa. “The opportunity to create Blue Note Africa and provide a channel for African Jazz talent to have a home in the U.S., with a dedicated and passionate team lead by a legend in his own right – Don Was, is very exciting. We can now walk the African Jazz journey, from Cape to Cairo to California.”
“African music has been a major creative tributary for nearly every album in Blue Note’s extensive catalog,” says Blue Note President Don Was. “So it’s a great honor for us to partner with Sipho and his talented Universal Music Africa team in this new endeavor. Together, we will shine a global light on the incredible music emanating from Africa today.”
If you trace the roots of American Jazz back to its source, the path leads to Africa, and the exchange of musical ideas between the two continents is a thread that runs throughout the entire progression of Jazz music throughout the 20th century to this day. In 1947, the legendary American Jazz drummer and Blue Note legend Art Blakey visited Africa for the first time, a trip that was meant to be a few months but ended up lasting a couple years as Blakey travelled to Nigeria and Ghana. It was an experience that would have a profound effect on Blakey both religiously and musically and led to a series of Blue Note albums that were deeply influenced by African percussion including Orgy In Rhythm (1957), Holiday for Skins (1958), and The African Beat (1962), the latter of which featured traditional African drummers including Solomon Ilori who would release his own Blue Note album African High Life in 1963.
Around the same time in the late-50s, a fertile Jazz scene began to develop in South Africa led by the trailblazing band The Jazz Epistles, a group inspired by American Jazz groups including Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers that featured trumpeter Hugh Masekela and pianist Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim). As the restrictions, censorship, and violence of apartheid worsened in the early-60s, Masekela and Ibrahim left the country and went on to become global ambassadors of South African Jazz. But generations of South African Jazz musicians also stayed, enduring the hardships of apartheid but managing to create a distinctive and vibrant Jazz scene that continues to flourish today.
The pianist McCoy Tyner further explored African-American connections on his late-60s and early-70s Blue Note albums with pieces like “African Village,” “Message from the Nile,” and “Asante.” In 2008, the brilliant Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke released Karibu, the first of several boundary-pushing Blue Note albums that seamlessly blended the sound of both continents.
In 2018, Universal Music Group Africa signed the visionary pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini, a leader of the current South African Jazz scene whose 2nd UMG album Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds was released jointly on Blue Note Records. The album drew wide acclaim across Africa, Europe, and the United States, with The New York Times naming it one of the “Best Jazz Albums of 2020” and DownBeat naming Nduduzo among their “25 for the Future,” a short list of Jazz artists with the potential to shape the genre.
Now the partnership between Blue Note Records and Universal Music Group Africa expands with the creation of Blue Note Africa.