Monday Notes

Dollar Brand and Johnny Dyani, Ntsikana’s Bell. Two voices from Africa

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[Monday’s Notes No. 104] Dollar Brand’s music is rich in spirituality and brings us the sounds of his native South Africa. Together with double bassist Johnny Dyani, Dollar Brand performs a duet dedicated to the prophet Ntsikana, who was among the first to translate and explain Christian ideas to the Xhosa people (South Africa).

Ntsikana’s Bell is a hypnotic and evocative piece built on a few simple elements. The song opens with an a cappella sung part. The phrase is descending and built on the pentatonic scale; the similarity of this passage to the blues is evident.

Ntsikana's Bell - Dollar Brand, parte prima senza tempo
The first part, sung timelessly and performed on the pentatonic scale

Each phrase is repeated twice, then the voices are joined by piano and double bass (0’49”) playing two chords, G and A7, in a slow 6/8 time.

Ntsikana's Bell - Dollar Brand, parte seconda

Further on, the piano plays a tremolo (3’48”) and the two vocal lines intersect, performing a crescendo. The piece reaches its climax when the highest voice launches itself into a very high register (4′ 50”), singing in falsetto and transfiguring itself into an animal verse.

The sounds of Africa thus erupt into music, leaving us awestruck. Leading us on this incredible journey are two musicians, not a whole orchestra, but just two men.

Probably for political reasons, Dollar Brand converted to Islam in the 1960s. Nevertheless, the bell of Ntsikana draws the faithful and speaks to all, atheists, Muslims and Christians, perhaps even to the animals of the savannah that the voices of Abdullah Ibrahim and Johnny Dyani often seem to imitate. As they play and sing, they tell us about a very ancient land, Africa, from which mankind and much of the music I love the most derives.

Until next Monday!

Download the lead sheet of Ntsikana’s Bell

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