Bheki Mseleku – Celebration
Celebration’s release trumpeted the emerging dawn of South Africa’s epochal changes. Sainted and blessed, Bheki Mseleku appeared as the herald of a new era, a prophet of rebirth and reconnection. This is a work signalling transition and change, and a sign of a South African music that was properly reconnected with global currents – a music that could journey far beyond the stifling combination of exile and oppression in which it had been bound.
Recognising Bheki as a kindred spirit to her late husband, Alice gave him the saxophone mouthpiece that John Coltrane had used during the recording of A Love Supreme. Coltrane was a permanent touchstone for the pianist, one of the few who Bheki felt had the same esoteric and spiritual focus as himself: ‘the only musicians I know of who were deeply into this were Coltrane, and Pharoah and Sun Ra’, he told an interviewer in 1992.
While the idioms of post-Coltrane spirit jazz are certainly to the fore on Celebration, they are energised by a swift and original musical vision, quite specific to Bheki’s music, in which whole musical systems – the marabi and mbhaqanga jazz of the townships, American jazz, European classical, and more – are seamlessly mended together by the pianist’s quicksilver musical sensibility and legendary technical ability.