It’s Herbie’s Time! Herbie Tsoaeli: “African Time” 2013 “Best Jazz” SAMA (South African Music Award) winner.

Through my life I have absorbed and experienced many things… love, joy, pain, and happiness – you name it. Good things have been many; bad things also. Everything you can think of! My music is an expression of all of this...” – Herbie Tsoaeli

On AFRICAN TIME (both the album name, as well as Herbie’s company name), Herbie says: “African Time Music is an ethos and value that is directed by life. It is the music of the present & future, guided by spirits, energies and vibrations from the past. There is no time limit. There is no strict structure and deadline. There are no written rules or barriers. It is a magic that comes naturally without forcing or directing. Instead it flows, and is inspired from the soil and soul of Africa – that in turn inspires its own unique elements of creativity and expression. AFRICAN TIME is a gift.”

A belated and much asked for debut record from a master and mentor with a simple message: “Jazz is alive and well – it will teach you – it will grow you.” If you have been listening to South African creative music in the past 20 years, you have probably been grooving and swinging to the bass of Herbie Motlatsi Tsoaeli. His sound carries history and memory. Adroit, uncompromising, yet always soulful, Tsoaeli’s voice as a bass player is alive and kicking in the South African songbook. Tsoaeli takes his turn to add his chapter to the continuing story of music in South Africa. Wielding the double bass and singing with it and through it. AFRICAN TIME is a celebration of what came before; and a contribution to what is becoming in our time.

Over the years, Tsoaeli has brought his simplicity and honesty into joyful performances in bars, clubs, concert halls and festivals alongside South Africa’s most gifted players of music. When on stage, his playing, his movements and his chants create encounters where the song becomes a bridge into the unknown. An improviser and lover of the free-jazz ethic, Tsoaeli delights in taking the audience to a creative space of deep feeling -assured, they always return feeling stronger.

“AFRICAN TIME celebrates a life of dedicated submission to a musical art-form that has been known to heal and inspire. This is a spiritual musical journey – it does not matter how you define it or where you practice it. This is a spirited work by men and women who dedicate their lives to create life-affirming music. It will touch you, and even make you dance. It is art with the intention of uplifting – an eloquent musical depiction of who we are and what we could become”… Steve Kwena Mokwena – More History and Background on Herbie Tsoaeli and the Music.

Having spent over two decades making music, as the preferred side-man to some of the country’s (indeed also international) celebrated jazz, as well as several commercial, artists- Herbie Tsoaeli enters centre-stage with his long-awaited and debut album, AFRICAN TIME. This work celebrates Tsoaeli’s love and mastery of the double bass. A composer, arranger, and instrumentalist who takes the sophistication and discipline of jazz, to tell a modern South Africa story whilst incorporating and honouring the past.

A testimony to musicianship – whilst still remaining wholly accessible – the album captures the many influences of a man who has been gigging professionally from the age of 19. Herbie’s sound has been a part of South African popular music since the 1980’s when he played with iconic pop band, Peto (which means ‘friends’ in township slang) headlined by Ringo Mandlingozi. Steeped in great jazz history, Herbie spent a long apprenticeship with among others, George Lee, Bruce Cassidy, Basil ‘Mannenberg’ Coetzee, Robbie Jansen, Mike Makhalemele, Tete Mbambisa, Hotep Galeta, Ezra and Duke Ngcukana, Max Diamond, Richard Schilder, Stompie Manana, Barney Rachabane, Don Tshomela, Alan Kwela, Winston Mankuku Ngozi and Louis Moholo. In 1995 he joined Zim Nqawana’s band, touring America and Europe and eventually lending his bass’ voice to the recordings, Vadzimu,

Live at the Birds Eye (Basel, Switzerland), and Zimphonic Suites. It was during this time that he was part of the formation of the band Voice, a jazz quintet following in the footsteps of the Jazz Epistles, Soul Jazz Men, and the Blue Notes. The loosely structured working band featured Andile Yenana (piano), Sydney Mnisi (saxophones), Marcus Wyatt (trumpet) and the late & legendary drummer, Lulu Gontsana, who was replaced by Morabo Morojele on the second of the group’s two albums. Over the years, he has lent his distinctive sound to over 20 albums in South Africa and has played alongside Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Sibongile Khumalo, Louis Moholo, Abdullah Ibrahim, Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Feya Faku, Simphiwe Dana and Zim Ngqawana – to name but a few.

2001 saw Herbie as bassist of choice of USA saxophonist David Murray – who created the “Mbizo Quintet” to tour the USA in honour of the memory of the late great Johnny “Mbizo” Dyani (who passed away in Berlin in 1986). It must be said this was a great choice – Herbie played with Dyani and several other SA exiles in the ‘70’s and 80’s, making him very familiar with the style involved – and his distinctive earthy bass lines, as well as his husky vocal timbre are comparable to this legends.

Herbie’s respect and honour of the true greats of SA jazz cannot be over-emphasised. 1996 saw Tsoaeli collaborating in the SA/UK “New Notes” concept band, that paid tribute to the “Blue Notes” (feat Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwana, and of course Johnny Dyani). A tour that saw performances in both the UK and SA – with artists from both countries taking part and including Keith Tippet, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, bassist Paul Rogers and drummer Tony Levin.

With credible jazz musos Andile Yenana, Macus Wyatt, Sydney Mnisi & the late Lulu Gontsana – Herbie created the hard be-bop group “Voice”; styled in the “Blue Notes” format the group produced two albums “Quintet Legacy” and “Songs for our Grandchildren”. Following on from this band; and Herbie’s obvious knowledge, love and respect of old school jazz styles – 2005 saw Herbie as the bassist in the “Exile Re-Initiation Concerts” – funded and originated by the Department of Arts and Culture to foster the memories of our amazing jazz heritage and artists.

Big-Up to the man who has more than paid his dues on the bandstand, working to make music but always having to wait to be paid… Lovers of South African jazz have waited too long for the AFRICAN TIME album. We celebrate the reward of time in the mature sound of an indomitable spirit. We share in the musical journey of another ghetto-bred jazz master who has finally earned his place amongst the truly gifted!

AFRICAN TIME is a glimpse into the story of a church dodging, soccer crazy urchin with a “hip mom” and mbhaqanga bass playing uncle coming of age in the streets of Nyanga, Cape Town. Herbie’s sound comes from informal and communal mentoring through a musical patronage and tutelage network encompassing the rhythms from his uncle’s shebeen.

AFRICAN TIME is like the slowly brewed traditional beer, ‘umqombothi’, where time has been allowed to do its magic in the maturation of the music. Not rushed, this record is a potent concoction of the multi-ethnic sounds from a nearby men’s hostel, and the sonorous chorals from various local churches. When he entered the Community ART Center in Nyanga and picked up the electric bass at the age of sixteen, no one could have known that he would one day define the sound of the double bass in South African jazz.

AFRICAN TIME – like its maker – reflects an eclecticism of genres and a soaking-in of a good part of many musical styles which make up South Africa’s contemporary music history. The piece, Indlal’ ibhokile, has a touch of Victor Ndlazilwane, and is reminiscent of the swing of the Jazz Minister’s Zandile album. AFRICAN TIME anthems or hymnals, such as the piece Thixo, echo Winston Mankuku Ngozi’s brilliant horn orchestrations, particularly on his 2003 album, Abantwana Be Afrika. This is a tribute album to everyone who fought for our freedom (they know who they are), and with the song I wish I knew you, a loving response to Mongezi Feza’s You Think You Know Me, Tsoaeli gives thanks. The music is accessible without being simplistic; it is complex but not forbidding. These are enjoyable tunes that carry the essential groove that makes South African creative music so special. [See in the CD package Herbie’s colourful and heartfelt tribute poem to many past greats].

“Although influenced by the global sound of jazz, AFRICAN TIME is an African statement,” says Herbie, “I wish to sound like Herbie Tsoaeli, and have my own sound,” adding that, “I am not the first one, I am following in the footsteps of the great bass players, I honour the legacy jazz players, like Johnny Dyani, Johnny Gertse, Martin Mgijima, Victor Ntoni, Spencer Mbadu, Ernest Mothle, Tony Saudi, Basil Moses , Big T Ntsele amongst the others… You search, search, search, until you find your voice – I am still searching…” AFRICAN TIME is a present day musical contribution that will delight and inspire the next generation of musicians and listeners.

Long overdue, AFRICAN TIME is a piece of jazz history from a formidable voice.

Abridged Discography:

Although “African Time” and “African Time Quartet in Concert” are Herbie Tsoaeli’s first releases under his name alone, he has worked on many prestigious albums with several masterful artists (saying a lot regarding his ability and creativity);

  •  Zim Ngqawana: “Zimology”; “Zimphonic Suites” & “Vadzimu”
  •  McCoy Mrubata: “Hoelykit”
  •  Winston Mankunku Ngozi: “Abantwana base Afrika”
  •  Vusi Mahlasela: “Myela Afrika”
  •  Sibongile Khumalo: “Live at the Market Theatre”
  •  Bheki Mseleku: “Home at Last”
  •  Andile Yenana: “We Used to Dance”
  •  VOICE: “Quintet Legacy” & “Songs for our Grandchildren”
  •  Marcus Wyatt: “Gathering” & “Africans in Space”
  •  Louis Mhlanga: “Tinganekwane”
  •  Suthukazi Arosi: “Ubuntu”
  •  Musa Manzini: “My Bass”
  •  Jimmy Dludlu: “Essence of Rhythm”
  •  Feya Faku: “Tacit”
  •  Miriam Makeba: “Reflection”
  •  Oliver Mtukudzi: “Tuku Music”
  •  MAHUBE: “Live at the Market Theatre” [CD/DVD]
  • Simphiwe Dana: “An Evening with Simphiwe Dana: Live in Concert”


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