Philip Tabane: musician extraordinaire

Johannesburg - One often runs across the word genius but seldom do we run into people who truly fit the description. Philip Nchipi Tabane, musician extraordinaire is one such South African who falls within that category of a small group of people that we could aptly call pure genius.

The present Malombo is made up of Oupa Mahapi Monareng, Mphunye Raymond Motau - both joined Philip in 1976 - and Thabang Tabane have synergy and communication rarely found and experienced by few outfits.

A doctorate of Philosophy in Music degree was conferred on Philip Tabane by The University of Venda in 1998 and he was also a winner of the Best Single for 1998 at the Annual FNB Samas for his single Ke a Bereka.

Tabane was born in Riverside, Pretoria where at a very tender age he and two friends formed a trio called Malombo Jazzmen.

"My mother, who was a Sangoma, was my main spiritual influence," he says of his earlier forays into music. Although he is now known more as a guitarist than anything else, he started off by playing flute, drums and the Mbila, a thumb piano. Through that earlier experience in his musical development Tabane has been able to do the virtually impossible: to fuse ancient African rhythms with western instruments in a manner that doesnÆt cheapen the former.

This fusion of sounds and worlds is what made world renowned musicians like Miles Davis stand in queues to play with Tabane, an event which happened at the Kiston Corner Jazz Club in San Francisco. This was during a four-year sojourn in the United States in the early 1970s. This, Tabane says is by far his most memorable performance in that land.

This was at the height of Malombo's popularity, a popularity that saw them perform everywhere from Orlando Stadium in Soweto to Village Vanguard in New York City. For a man who has had a legend beg to share the stage with him, Tabane remains curiously humble, not dropping any names at all.

After more than 40 years of enthralling people with his skills, where does he see himself in the near future? Not worshipping at some Western altar of entertainment, selling his soul for financial reward, but picking up the baton and taking his musical calling forward.

What the critics have said about Dr Philip Tabane and Malombo:

"Philip Nchipi Tabane is an unparalleled music force, he is a class of his own. No one rivals this national treasure, who seems to be in a world inhabited by celestial beings when he is on stage. His music continues to defy pigeonholing and commercialisation. It is spiritual, mesmerising, unique and spell-bounding." - Patrick Phosa, Star Tonight, April 5, 2000.

"To an American listener, Mr TabaneÆs music has some echoes of Wes Montgomery, he uses a hollow-bodied electric guitar. But his easy-rolling rhythms, soothing major chords and occasional bursts of speedy playing or impassioned singing evoke a wide-open countryside, where something different might turn up over the next hill." û John Parales, New York Times, June 14, 1989.

"Talk of Dr Philip Tabane and you talk of music of infectious quality and effortless superiority." û Vukile Pokwana, City Press Showbiz Editor, October 7, 1999.

"The signals he sends through his brand of music are what reasserts the right of African people, especially artists to determine their identity and responsibility." û Sandile Memela, Editor Hola, Sowetan Sunday World.

"One of the most pleasurable finds of the Newport Jazz Festival this year was Malombo from South Africa, Malombo create some weird and haunting music on a variety of African instruments." - Jet Magazine, Chicago, 1971

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