New imprint Blue Note Africa launches to promote jazz artists from across African continent

Blue Note Records and Universal Music Group Africa have partnered to launch a new imprint dedicated to signing jazz artists from throughout the African continent.

Launching this spring, Blue Note Africa was created to help these artists reach a global audience. It’ll kick off with the release of South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini’s new album In the Spirit of Ntu.

Makhathini’s last album Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds drew wide acclaim across Africa, Europe and the United States, with The New York Times naming it one of the best jazz albums of 2020 and DownBeat listing Makhathini among their “25 for the Future.”

In the Spirit of Ntu is Makhathini’s 10th studio album. You can hear the lead single Senze’Nina below.

There’s a long history of the musical exchange of ideas between American jazz artists and the African continent.

In 1947, legendary drummer Art Blakey visited Africa for the first time and ended up spending a couple of years travelling to Nigeria and Ghana. The experience inspired Blakey both religiously and musically and led to a series of Blue Note albums that were deeply influenced by African percussion, including 1957’s Orgy in Rhythm, 1958’s Holiday for Skins, and 1962’s The African Beat.

Around the same time, a jazz scene began to develop in South Africa led by the trailblazing band The Jazz Epistles, a group that featured trumpeter Hugh Masekela and pianist Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim) and that was inspired by American jazz groups including Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

Pianist McCoy Tyner further explored African-American connections on his Blue Note albums in the late-’60s and early-’70s that included pieces such as African Village, Message from the Nile and Asante. In 2008, Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke released Karibu, the first of several Blue Note albums that seamlessly blended the sound of both continents.

“Blue Note has stood the test of time by continuing to adapt but keeping its focus on discovering and introducing jazz talent to the world,” Sipho Dlamini, CEO of Universal Music Africa, said in a statement. “The opportunity to create Blue Note Africa and provide a channel for African jazz talent to have a home in the U.S. … is very exciting. We can now walk the African jazz journey, from Cape to Cairo to California.”

“African music has been a major creative tributary for nearly every album in Blue Note’s extensive catalogue,” added Blue Note president Don Was. “Together, we will shine a global light on the incredible music emanating from Africa today.”

Nduduzo Makhathini’s In the Spirit of Ntu will be released on May 27, marking the beginning of the Blue Note Africa catalogue.