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6 days ago

Shane Cooper & Mabuta, expanding Joburg jazz

The South African bassist and his band unveil Finish The Sun, a sophomore album rooted in experimentation, 70s African music and sunny mornings.  

In late 2020, I would start every day by having a cup of coffee and playing guitar”, Shane Cooper recalls in a voice note he sends us from Johannesburg. “Because I hadn’t played it in years and I didn’t have habits on it, I felt very free and I just let it flow. Without overthinking it, I ended up naturally gravitating towards playing groove, funk, and things that were around various African styles that I heard over the years”. The freedom, comfort and delight of starting the day with coffee and guitar are easily transmitted in Finish The Sun, the second project from the bassist’s band Mabuta. The compositions sound loose and free of constraints, and the tracks flow effortlessly from genre to genre, switching from a Malian groove to an Afrobeat pattern and a hip-hop bounce to end up in maskandi rhythms, all embedded with a summery and joyful feel. “I was just exploring”, Shane sums up.

To explore has been the credo of Mabuta, founded in 2019 by the South African musician alongside Bokani Dyer on keyboards, Sisonke Xonti on sax, Robin Fassie on trumpet and Reza Khota on guitar. While all members are known for their role in the local jazz scene, Shanes assures that he has “always wanted this band to be a band that could play for any audience, whether it’s 30 people in an intimate club or 2000 on a festival stay”. On Finish The Sun, he decided to channel this experimental energy into a groovy and funky sound, with a particular focus on 70s psychedelia. “We reused the analog synths and the African music of this era, when guys were mixing the traditional elements from those particular regions with the influence of funk music from the west”, he explains. “Stuff coming out of Senegal, Benin, Cameroon…”. The Mabuta band members immediately agreed to it: “We all listen to a lot of music from the continent and are big fans of it. It’s part of the band’s DNA!”

Yet, the sound showcased in Finish The Sun, beyond the obvious references on tracks like “Where The Heart Is” and “Kucheza”, stays rooted in South African jazz, proving once again the scene’s incredible capacity to reinvent itself. “Because everyone in the band comes from really deep jazz, we all play rhythms a certain way, we play harmony certain ways, we have extended solos, long intros…”, Shane says. In a way, Mabuta are never as close to Johannesburg jazz as when they try to experiment, bring new sounds and ironically get the furthest away from the scene and its standards. A coherent move, in a dynamic and bustling music environment. “There’s a particular vitality and creative energy in Joburg, a lot of experimentation and boundary pushing”, Shane adds. “The sounds of South African jazz are evolving and a lot of people are trying to find what is next.” In our earphones, it’s definitely Mabuta. 

Finish The Sun by Shane Cooper & Mabuta, out on May 13th. 

Listen to “Finish The SUn” in our Songs of the Week playlist on Spotify and Deezer.

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