Roots is another must-hear chapter of the progressive South African Jazz scene – this reissue of the self-titled 1975 album is from the ever-trusty, Frederiksberg Records and features Barney Rachabane. Rachabane, described by Paul Simon as “one of the most soulful saxophone players in the world”, was born in Alexandra township on the fringe of the city of Johannesburg and began his career as a young penn,ywhistle prodigy, under the wing of South African jazz pioneer, Zakes Nkosi. Picking up the saxophone, he was part of the influential 1950s Dorkay House scene among the likes of South African jazz notables Dudu Pukwana and Gideon Nxumalo, later appearing on Chris McGregor’s iconic Jazz/The African Sound LP in 1963.
In 1975, Racahbane teamed up with trumpeter Dennis Mpale and fellow saxophonist Duke Makasi, to lead an ensemble named Roots. The reedmen were accompanied by a formidable young rhythm section comprised of Sipho Gumede on bass, Jabu Nkosi on keys and Peter Morake on drums. Roots emerged with a crossover sound that would later be explored by jazz fusion experimentalists, Pacific Express and Spirits Rejoice, in the late-70s.
Produced by Almon Memela and originally released on the Highway Soul label, Rachabane believes that the Roots album owed its sound to the unique combination of musicians featured: “We were just doing original music by a group of individual musicians. We just put out what we had. Not just one direction. As you can hear, the music is quite diverse,” he recalls in an interview for the reissue’s liner notes.
Despite commercial ambitions, the Roots ensemble was short-lived, but did manage a second recorded offering called Deeper Roots before disbanding. Rachabane’s career would take off in the 1980s through his participation in Paul Simon’s Graceland album in 1986 and its subsequent world tours. The 2020 reissue of Roots pays homage to the recently retired veteran of South African music and contributes to the growing interest in and documentation of the country’s jazz scene.
Andreas Vingaard says: “Frederiksberg Records is proud to announce the first ever reissue of the self-titled debut of 1970s South African jazz ensemble Roots. Blending jazz and funk with signature South African motifs, Roots was led by the master saxophonist and living repository of the story of jazz in South Africa, Barney Rachabane.”
Frederiksberg Records was founded in New York in 2013. Andreas had befriended renowned Jazz saxophonist, Carsten Meinert. The label reissued his sublime To You album in 2015. Subsequent releases have included Sons of Ethiopia by Admas and Klaus Schønning’s debut album Lydglimt, as well as ambient, jazz and disco.