Album of the Week: SPAZA, UPRIZE! (Music from the Original Motion Picture)

SPAZA is a loose collective of musicians based in Johannesburg, South Africa — the idea of SPAZA is to jam around a concept rather than to coalesce into a fully-fledged band.

In South Africa, 16 June 1976 is unanimously recognised as the definitive turning point in the tenor and intensity of the fight against apartheid. It comes as the internal capacity of the major liberation movements such as the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress is nearly depleted; with many of its leaders in jail or in exile. Black Consciousness (BC) arises from these ashes and the apartheid regime scrambles to contain it in the form of assassinations, banning orders and trials. High school youths in Soweto, having already imbibed BC from their teachers (a group of newly-recruited university radicals), begin planning protests that would attain an incredible kinetic thrust. These demonstrations were supposedly to rally against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, but as student leader Tsietsi Mashinini says in the documentary film UPRIZE!, the situation in South Africa had been explosive for a long time and any issue could have delivered the shift in momentum that June 16 would symbolise.

This new SPAZA release is the original motion picture soundtrack of the film UPRIZE!, but it serves a parallel function. Recorded in Yeoville, Johannesburg, during a three-day improvised scoring workshop in 2016, the recording is almost the underside of the film, which strikes a defiant pose both in the selection of speakers and in the tone of much of the archival footage.

The UPRISE! lineup:

Ariel Zamonsky – upright bass
Gontse Makhene – percussion and vocals
Malcolm Jiyane – vocals, piano & trombone
Nonku Phiri – vocals & FX

Recorded over three days in July of 2016 in an apartment in Johannesburg, the band watch documentary footage of the Soweto uprising while they played and improvised. I’m reminded of Miles Davis and his band who watched footage from Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’échafaud while they played and improvised to create that soundtrack.

UPRISE! is a powerful musically broad beautiful joyous yet mournful and moving record that certainly stands as a work of art on its own terms. Generally classified as jazz, I suggest discarding that genre limitation because it doesn’t fit the scope of UPRISE!. Instead, give the full album a listen and let its vocals, music, and sampled voices tell you its story.

From the opening of the track, “The Black Consciousness Movement”: There is no greater force in this whole world than an idea whose time has arrived.