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Sophiatown Jazz Encounters hosts Abbey Cindi’s Freedom Day South Afrika! at Sophiatown the Mix on April 27 at 19:00.
Abbey Cindi approaches his 80th year with a lifetime of music composition, performance and technique in flute, harmonica and pennywhistle. This almost-lost art on the pennywhistle is a uniquely ‘kwela’ sound made famous in so-called township jazz.
Connecting with Phillip Tabane, they invited their friend, Julian Bahula, on African drums. The band of three was called Malombo Jazzmen. Malombo means “spirit” in Tshivenda language. A few months later in 1964, the band took Orlando Stadium by storm during the Castle Lager Jazz Festival, where they won first prize. Unfortunately, due to their youthfulness and lack of management, the band split up in the same year.
Cindi then recruited guitarist, Lucky Ranku (who passed away in 2016). They were later re-joined by Bahula, forming the Malombo Jazzmakers in 1966. Cindi wrote and arranged all the songs for the band. The band produced an instant hit and recorded three albums with Gallo Records.
In 1967 Cindi and Bahula organised the first ever jazz festival by black South Africans at Mamelodi Stadium. In 1971, Malombo Jazzmakers participated in an Afrika Day rally in Durban that was organised by the South African Students Organization (SASO), under the leadership of Steve Biko. On their return to Pretoria, police were waiting to collect Cindi, as the leader of the band, for questioning. They became regular visitors at Cindi’s home, and eventually confiscated his passport. As a result, the band was unable to go on its American tour in 1977.
Bahula managed to leave South Africa with another band and tried to make a way for Cindi and Ranku to go to London. Ranku managed to leave and joined Dudu Pukwana and others in London. In 1983 Cindi’s passport was released and he was invited to London. In 1985 he recorded an album about migration workers titled January to December Emgodini. It was banned after three weeks of air play by the SABC.
In 2007 Cindi recorded an album dedicating it to all South Africans who participated in the country’s struggle for freedom. The album is called United States of Afrika featuring McCoy Mrubatha and Bheki Khoza.