Alan Skidmore & Ubizo
Ubizo is a sensational group combining the forces of the five core members of the legendary South African band, Amampondo, (Nelson Mandela's favourite group), with the powerhouse Alan Skidmore band.
Ubizo blends indigenous African music, played by African musicians on handcrafted instruments, with a contemporary jazz group, demonstrating in a highly accessible style, the course jazz has taken from its African roots.
In November 2003, the band embarked on what turned out to be a sell-out tour, making huge waves with audiences, promoters and critics alike. For example, selling out at Ronnie Scott’s for five of their six nights there, with a 90% capacity on the first, (Monday) night – even many overseas stars haven’t achieved that!
2004 was the 10th anniversary of the coming of independence in South Africa, and Alan Skidmore was the first British jazz musician to work officially in the country. He was invited by Amampondo to play with them, some of the dates being part of the official independence celebrations.
In October 2002, four years after Alan Skidmore travelled to Cape Town to record with Amampondo - South Africa's leading Xhosa band - he reunited with percussion masters Simpiwe Matole, Michael Ludonga, Mandla Lande, Mzwandile Qotoyi and Risenga Makondo to begin work on the follow-up to their highly acclaimed debut album, The Call:
'…it's a CD called The Call. It features Alan Skidmore, who's kind of like a wild bebop styled guy. He's playing with Amampondo. It sounds really wild and free. It's a record I play after everyone else has gone to bed. That's head music: the ones we play when everyone else has gone to bed.' JOE STRUMMER (Rolling Stone magazine 2001)
Now named UBIZO - roughly translated from the Xhosa it means the call (as in the vocational sense) – the band performed a short UK tour, (2002), before entering the studio to record a new set of original compositions and South African traditional tunes.
Commenting on the new album and band project, Alan Skidmore said, ‘As the first British jazz musician to visit South Africa after the abolition of apartheid, I was in a very special, privileged position. After years of segregation I was free to explore jazz with the people whose traditions are the roots of jazz. We were able to play together to discover, develop and share the unique universal language of jazz, a mixture of diverse cultures blending seamlessly in one art form. Ubizo is the result of that exploration, a very natural music, demonstrating a communication and understanding that crosses cultural and political divides. Jazz is the "Jewel of Africa" a very precious inheritance which, with this recording, I gratefully acknowledge.’Alan Skidmore & Ubizo at The East Village Douglas Co Cork 2004
The band, which also features musicians from Germany and Scotland, is:Alan Skidmore Tenor saxophone Michael Ludonga, African drums, percussion, vocals Simpiwe Matole, African drums, percussion, marimba, piano, Kudu horn, vocals Mandla Lande African drums, percussion, marimba, Kudu horn, vocals Mzwandile Qotoyi African percussion, marimba, Kudu horn, vocals Risenga Makondo African drums, percussion, marimba, vocals; Kudu horn Mike Gorman piano Aiden O’Donnell bass Paddy O’Flaherty kit drums Ingolf Burkhardt trumpet/flugelhorn
ALAN SKIDMORE started playing professionally in 1958 with dance orchestras and pop bands. In 1964, he joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and together with Eric Clapton recorded as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. In 1965 he worked with the Ronnie Scott Quintet and by 1969 had formed his own quintet with Kenny Wheeler, Tony Oxley, Harry Miller and John Taylor.
The list of musicians and bands Skidmore has worked with is vast: Weather Report, Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock, Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Nucleus, Van Morrison and Georgie Fame, among others. To date, he has toured and played in Europe, North America, India, South Africa and South East Asia.
Despite having played on more than 90 albums, Skidmore has released only a handful of solo albums, including the highly praised After the Rain, which was named Critics Choice of 1998 in the Observer, The Call, his 1999 collaboration with Amampondo, which led to the release of the best-selling CD, Ubizo, in 2003.
The South African members of UBIZO, with their handmade instruments and traditional dress, have helped turn indigenous South African music into a world phenomenon. They also form part of Amampondo, one of South Africa's longest established – they have been together for over 23 years – and most exciting groups, keeping alive Xhosa music and dance traditions.
Over the years, the band has been called upon to work with a great number of other drummers and percussionists, such as Brazilian legend Airto Moreira, Cuban master percussionist Changuito and Cameroonian drummer Brice Wassy. Their instrumental and vocal abilities, energy and enthusiasm also provide an infectious rhythmic underscore for Alan Skidmore and his quintet.