South African composer and pianist Nduduzo Makhathini Credit: Hugh Mdlalose photo

It has been announced that the iconic jazz record label, Blue Note, founded in 1939, has constructed a new imprint under the label’s umbrella. Blue Note Africa has emerged as an outlet and platform for jazz musicians hailing from the African diaspora.

The first release on Blue Note Africa will come this spring from the South African composer and pianist, Nduduzo Makhathini, whose new collection of music is titled, “In the Spirit of Ntu.” Makhathini was most recently heard on Rwandan and Ugandan recording artist Somi’s celebrated 2022 album “Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba.” Somi is the first African woman in history to be nominated for a Grammy in any jazz category.

“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.”

This new imprint is a momentous season in music history, launching an important support system and pipeline for artists emerging from all over the African continent in the jazz arena.

Blue Note writes, “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 of years as Blakey traveled 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.”

In 2018, Makhathini was signed to Universal Music Group, finding support due to his incredible music and stature as a leader in the South African jazz community. His second UMG album was released in collaboration with Blue Note Records “Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds.” The album was received very positively and was named one of the “Best Albums of 2020” by The New York Times, and Downbeat named Makhathini “25 for the Future,” making the album critically acclaimed by critics and also by jazz music lovers across the world.

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