JJ 02/81: Zila, The Africa Centre, London

Forty years ago, Barry McRae thought that what Zila lacked in subtlety it made up for with a sense of purpose and rhythmic verve. First published in Jazz Journal February 1981


Zila’s music is a three-way fusion that seems to comprise in equal part, jazz, rock and Zhosa folk music, but most of all it has the explosive power of communication.

At the Africa Centre they delighted an appropriately multi-racial audience with music that compensated for its lack of subtlety with a sense of purpose and rhythmic verve that made it irresistible.

Leader Dudu Pukwana wasted some time on keyboards, but in the main produced the slashing alto and soprano lines we have come to expect. The three-man trumpet section, Harry Beckett, Peter Segone and Dave DeFries, delivered a high-life punch, and each had distinctive and inventive solo moments.

Singer Peggy Phango was a joy. There was a dramatic sense of the theatrical in what she did, her gestures included hints of the soft shoe shuffle, but she really sang. At heart she showed she was a swinger, although it came as no surprise to hear her moving into more gentle areas with touching poignancy.

The only drawback was the rhythm section. Churchill Jolobe’s drums tended to smother Peter Saberton’s bass line and in so doing brought about a lack of balance. This was a small point, however, particularly when the group were stirring up such fervent audience reaction.