Marabi piano style

Thomas Mabilesta – Zulu Piano Medley No.1


Thomas Mabeleta’s ‘Zulu Piano Medley’ is one of the few surviving recordings of  Marabi, a keyboard style popular in the shebeens. The influence of jazz, ragtime and blues is obvious, but its roots lie deep in African tradition. Early Marabi musicians were part of an underground musical culture, so were typically not recorded. As with early jazz in the US, this music confronted establishment culture. Nonetheless, the lilting melodies and catchy rhythms of Marabi found their way into the popular dance music of Southern Africa.


Jazz and the Left

Despite many attempts to vilify left-wing politics by equating jazz with liberal ‘democratic’ culture and free-market capitalism, it requred little digging beneath the surface of specious propaganda to reveal a different set of affinities.

Jazz & the Left


map anarchism

Black Jazz & Freemasonry

Here’s a different take on Freemasonry. Can’t say I’m comfortable with it, but these articles remind us that there were times, places and circumstances in which Masonic Lodges played a less suspicious role in society.

Guardian article

Disinfo article

Nevertheless …

Music & Fascism

‘Before the war it was not unusual to hear people of many sorts, (particularly of the so-called professional or intellectual type) express their admiration for the successes of fascism or for the personalities of their leaders. Perhaps, they said, fascism has really brought a new idea to the world. They have found a new solution for the social crisis that dominates our time. Success always has a certain fascination.

We musicians are apt to consider our art as something a little apart from life and its crises. But on the other hand music is extremely sensitive to all social trends.’ (Hanns Eisler, 1944) …  Read more of Eisler’s lecture

Trump welcomed to Scotland944x600-Trump-Mexico-Protest

Trump and Puccini


Flamenco and Fascism

‘Degenerate’ Music according to the Nazis

‘Yes We Have No Bananas’ was one of the songs banned in Nazi Germany, but its US presentation here begs just as many questions about attitudes to ‘the other’; attitudes that in certain circumstances readily migrate from entertainment to violence:


Fascism is authoritarian and intolerant, promoted in ‘peacetime’ through control by the State and its media. It is not a phenomenon of the distant past. For political reasons, the music of Ewan MacColl, Paul McCartney, The Cure, Bob Marley, 10cc and others has been banned by the BBC, for example … more


map anarchism


Jazz and Literature #1

Sidney Bechet is said to have been a model for the character of saxophonist and bandleader Pablo, in Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf (1927).

And as he spoke and conjured up a cigarette from his waistcoat pocket and offered it to me, he was suddenly Mozart no longer. It was my friend Pablo looking warmly at me out of his dark exotic eyes and as like the man who had taught me to play chess with the little figures as a twin.
“Pablo!” I cried with a convulsive start. “Pablo, where are we?”
“We are in my Magic Theater,” he said with a smile […]

He gave us each a little opium to smoke, and sitting motionless with open eyes we all three lived through the scenes that he suggested to us while Maria trembled with delight. As I felt a little unwell after this, Pablo laid me on the bed and gave me some drops, and while I lay with closed eyes I felt the fleeting breath of a kiss on each eyelid. I took the kiss as though I believed it came from Maria, but I knew very well it came from him.

Bechet appeared in the German film Einbrecher (1930), which perhaps echoes some of Hesse’s vision of jazz clubs of the period.

Einbrecher clip

Pablo 1
Hot Music, Ragmentation, and the Bluing of American Literature, by Steven Tracy

La La Land, jazz and race

With Oscars 2017 in mind, here are some varied opinions about the subtext of La La Land.

Jazz, race and diversity

Jazz on Film 1

Jazz on Film 2

“But, you know, no music is my music. It’s everybody’s who can feel it. You’re here…well, if it’s music, you feel it…then it’s yours too. You’ve got to be in the sun to feel the sun. It’s that way with music too.” Sidney Bechet, Treat It Gentle 




Hugh Masekela began playing the trumpet at the age of 14. His first instrument was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, then a parish priest in Sophiatown, later a stalwart of the anti-apartheid movement. Masekela joined the clergyman’s eponymous Jazz Band. “Huddleston’s greatest strength was that he stood against injustice against anybody. It wasn’t about black or white, he was just shocked that the people of Sophiatown were going through the shit they were going through,” explains Masekela.


There are many other South Africans whose lives were changed by Huddleston, including Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sally Motlana, (activist and vice-chair of the South African Council of Churches during the 1970s); Emeritus Archbishop Khotso Makhulu …

I’m delighted to have a family connection with Walter Khotso Makhulu. He married my father’s cousin, Rosemary. As well as getting political refugees out of South Africa, ‘Uncle Walter’ played a crucial role smuggling anti-apartheid funds into the country, at great risk to himself and his family.


‘Uncle Walter’ was kind enough to attend my inaugural lecture on the occasion of being awarded a personal chair at the Royal College of Music in 2007. Here are the conclusions of my talk, titled The Conservatoire in the Age of Diversity, the subtext being segregation takes many forms.

… we need to assert the importance of western art music, not apart from cultural diversity, but as a significant part of it. We also need to deal with the fact that other forms of music are less vulnerable and transient than in the past, largely because of a more egalitarian access to technology and communications. Quite rightly, automatic and unearned privileges are no longer afforded to those forms of expression that some continue to call high art. The old idea of musical study ‘rooted in a specific body of works’ is no longer tenable, as Nicholas Cook has reminded us; and this has significant implications for the ways that musical skills and knowledge are passed on, as well as for the organisation and funding of music education.

There are, of course, many ways that [the RCM] already promotes more intelligent attitudes. We do this through curriculum development, outreach and community projects; through the professional activities of our alumni and teaching staff; through performance of orchestral repertoire within and outside the mainstream; as well as through rigorous engagement with the creative opportunities offered by new technologies and media.

And since western art music is already so diverse, then conservatoires such as the RCM need not expect, or be expected to become ever more so, to the point of losing their cultural identity. That would serve no purpose at a time when diversity is an overarching aim.

But equally, the lessons of the last century cannot be ignored, so musicians and musical institutions can no longer expect any special favours just because they do classical music. In this environment, where do we draw the lines of demarcation? Some conservatoires are branching out into the study of oral music traditions. Jazz is already well established amongst the conservatoires; and applied courses such as composition for film, television and multimedia have come to be considered important disciplines.

Whatever else we do, liberating western art music from its doubly unhelpful and unnecessary image, as both cultural culprit and victim, is a fundamental educational project for the Royal College of Music as it embarks on its next exciting, but also challenging, one hundred and twenty-five years.