It has been 20 years since the end of apartheid in South Africa, when Nelson Mandela was elected president. During the difficult times of apartheid people at least had music to keep their spirit alive, as the Four Peace Band demonstrated that Saturday night at Bethlehem's Godfrey Daniels. A packed house heard jazz and traditional music of the southern part of the continent performed by the group led by Bakithi Kumalo, bassist for Paul Simon and many others, including Kumalo's wife Robbi K.
Kumalo opened the show with "Kalimba," where he chanted and accompanied himself on thumb piano (which is also called a mbira or kalimba). He was later joined by Morris Goldberg on tin whistle. Goldberg switched to alto sax and Kumalo took up his six string bass as David Bravo on Roland piano and drummer Maciek Schejbal came on stage.
Their "Manenburg," "Criss Cross," and "Cape Groove" were jazz with Afro-Pop flavor, with melodic and light spirited lines by Goldberg and Bravo, backed by Kumalo's deep, insistent bass and Schejbal's unusual drum patterns, some no doubt influenced by his 10-year stay in South Africa.
Kumalo did not go for pyrotechnics, although he did a number of concise solos, taking the lead with his Elrick bass. He would occasionally put his hand over the top of the fretboard and reach down to pluck the strings. At a few points he used recorded loops to accompany himself while he did some slide work with his fingers. He also switched to a four string fretless bass a couple of times.
Between songs he spoke of life under apartheid. He recalled that people would shout Mandela's name without knowing what he looked like, since he had been in prison for 27 years. He regretted his lack of education, saying he had to use children's books to teach himself to read. Goldberg and Bravo, who are white, are from Capetown, and Kumalo told how the mixing of races was a problem for playing and recording together.
On a lighter note, he demonstrated how he used to speak English with the tongue clicks of his native language. He also told a moving story about how he met his sister for the first time three years ago, mentioning that he had never known his father.
"Madagascar" began the second set as a mysterious, minor key piece, which was followed with Hugh Masekela's "Khawuleza"; all four musicians have played with the South African trumpeter. Kumalo's own "Makhaya," from his CD "San Bonan," led to a call and response from the audience.
Robbi then came up to sing Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata." She asked, or actually demanded, that the audience stand up and clap along, and the enthusiastic audience was happy to comply. She led them in the chanting of "Omama," a song "for our mothers." Their daughter Didi joined Robbi as they shared vocals on a swinging "Route 66." They seemed to end with the "Spirit Song, "with Goldberg returning and playing two pennywhistles simultaneously.
In an ecstatically received encore, they did Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al," which featured both Kumalo, who was on Simon's original recording, and the pennywhistle soloist (Goldberg).
Kumalo remarked during the show, "I love this place so much." On Saturday the feeling was mutual.