You Ain’t Gonna Hear Me ‘Cause You Think You Hear Me: South African jazz’s struggle against European cliché

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In the introduction to Maxine McGregor’s book Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath, Denis-Constant Martin recalled the Blue Notes’ European debut at the 1964 Antibes festival in memorable terms:

"They were fire, modernity with roots and fragrance, feeling and emotion; they were moved by an incredible energy which made their disappearance backstage almost painful. These musicians, in less than a decade, were to exercise a major influence on the evolution of jazz in Europe; but that could not yet be foreseen; nor is the extent of that influence always realised today."

Eighteen years on from Martin’s statement, and forty-nine years after the performance he describes, acknowledgement of the impact that the Blue Notes – as well as their subsequent groups – had on jazz in Europe continues to gain momentum.

However in attempting to identify the musical nature of this influence, we run in to difficulties. A large part of it seems to depend on a perceived South African sonic cultural identity that, in Martin’s terms, infused modern jazz in Europe with South African ‘roots and fragrances’. These traits are often tagged as ‘South African’ or ‘township’ but it is not at all clear that there was a consensus regarding what was being heard as South African.

Reviewing the Brotherhood of Breath’s Country Cooking in a 1988 issue of The Wire magazine, Tony Herrington stated that McGregor’s late Brotherhood of Breath work had become more and more distanced from the earlier ‘radical, cross-cultural hybrid’ he so clearly admired, instead becoming part of an overcrowded European mainstream. However, McGregor regarded this album as more successfully South African than his earlier work in Europe.

Using McGregor’s late Brotherhood of Breath work as a case study, this paper will question what was being heard as sonically South African in late twentieth-century European jazz circles.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2013
EventRhythm Changes II - Re-thinking Jazz Cultures - University of Salford, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Apr 201314 Apr 2013


ConferenceRhythm Changes II - Re-thinking Jazz Cultures
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityUniversity of Salford

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