This album is a collaboration between singers from KwaZulu Natal in South Africa and musicians from Leeds, combining to produce a blend of music with roots in jazz, traditional Zulu music and contemporary African styles. Its title, Ubunye, mirrors this, being translated as “unity” or “oneness”.
The band has played quite extensively, doing live gigs mainly in the north of England but also at the Pizza Express in London, receiving favourable reviews. This album serves as an introduction to their music and possible encouragement to look out for their shows.
The music is energetic and vibrant, and the vocals in particular are attractive and harmonious. Some have a noticeably strong African sound (Ubunye, Try To Notice, Meet You In The Morning, Our Time); others, like I’ll Sing For You and Come Find Me, less so. At times the backing band would benefit from being less fusion-directed, over-reliant on electric keyboard, synthesizers and what sounds like the dull thud of drum pads. A horn or two would add variation.
However, Alex Wibrew’s drumming on Ubunye, Rain (Xolani Mbatha’s brief vocal percussion a feature), Unity and particularly Meet You In The Morning is direct and propulsive. The interaction between his drums and the bass of Kenny Higgins is impressive on Our Time, on which the keyboard/synthesizer is programmed to sound like a marimba and the vocals include a soulful contribution from Nokuthula Zondi.
Ubunye; Rain; I’ll Sing For You; Unity; Try To Notice; Meet You In The Morning; Come Find Me; Our Time (37.20)
Xolani Mbatha, Thandanani Gumede, Nokuthula Zondi (v); David Evans (p, synth); Kenny Higgins (b, g, synth); Alex Wibrew (d, pc); Nik Rutherford (g). Possibly 2021.
33 Jazz 286