Ndudzo Makhathini – The First South African Artist signed to Blue Note Records

Visionary South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini will be releasing his debut album on Blue Note Records this April – the first South African artist ever to sign to the prestigious jazz label. The album, titled Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds, is musically anchored by Makhathini’s expressive piano and blends lyrical, plaintive horns with percussion, pained yelps and urgent lyrics.

Watch the album trailer HERE.

After experiencing Makhathini’s powerful set at NYC Winter Jazzfest on January 11, Stereogum jazz critic Phil Freeman wrote “As a player and a composer, he sits right beside McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders, playing a forceful but lyrical style of modal jazz that incorporates African rhythmic concepts … The pieces they performed had a swelling, passionate quality, exploratory but never losing an essential earthbound feeling.”

Nduduzo Makhathini grew up in the lush and rugged hillscapes of umGungundlovu in South Africa, a peri-urban landscape in which music and ritual practices were symbiotically linked. The area is significant historically as the site of the Zulu king Dingane kingdom between 1828 and 1840.

Through his mentor Mseleku, Makhathini was also introduced to the music of John Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner. “I came to understand my voice as a pianist through John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme,” he says. “As someone who started playing jazz very late, I had always been looking for a kind of playing that could mirror or evoke the way my people danced, sung, and spoke. Tyner provided that and still does in meaningful ways.” Makhathini also cites American jazz pianists including Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, and Don Pullen as significant influences.

Active as an educator and researcher, Makhathini is the head of the music department at Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape. He has performed at renowned festivals including the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and the Essence Festival (in both New Orleans and South Africa), and in 2019 made his debut appearances the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City, as well as Jazz at Lincoln Center where he was a featured guest with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on their 3-night musical celebration The South African Songbook in Rose Theater.

Makhathini is a member of Shabaka Hutchings’ band Shabaka and the Ancestors appearing on their 2016 album Wisdom of Elders and the forthcoming We Are Sent Here By History, and has also collaborated with artists including Logan Richardson, Nasheet Waits, Tarus Mateen, Stefon Harris, Billy Harper, Azar Lawrence, and Ernest Dawkins.

Makhathini’s 2017 album Ikhambi was the first to be released on Universal Music South Africa and won Best Jazz Album at the South African Music Awards (SAMA) in 2018.

Stream the second single from the Ndudzo Makhathini’s forthcoming album, “Beneath The Earth”, HERE.