Julian Bahula

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This South African percussionist first garnered a reputation as a drummer in the band Molomo, one of the most popular proponents of a style known as kwela. Considered a kind of jazz, it was extremely…
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This South African percussionist first garnered a reputation as a drummer in the band Molomo, one of the most popular proponents of a style known as kwela. Considered a kind of jazz, it was extremely close in spirit to the sounds that were traditionally popular in the more congested and modernized areas of the South African townships. Flautist Abe Cindi and guitarist Philip Tabane were his regular collaborators in this group. In 1973, Bahula joined an influx of musicians immigrating from his country to England, changing the music scene in the latter land forevermore.

A combination of African music and rock filled out the set lists of the subsequently formed ensemble Jabula. Things got even better in 1977, when the extremely fiery saxophonist Dudu Pukwana literally combined his own group with this one to create Jabula Spear. Bahula has been as tireless a promoter of the music of his homeland in his adopted country as he is an on-stage rhythm activator. One of his most important moves was establishing a regular Friday night featuring authentic African bands at the London venue The 100 Club. He booked a lot of musicians who were also political refugees; his series began to symbolize a movement for change. Players such as Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, and Hugh Masekela were among the performers whose early British appearances were organized by Bahula. Later projects included the band Jazz Afrika, with whom he performed on a more occasional basis, and a brand new band making use of the old Jabula tag. Saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith made fine use of the percussionist in the '80s as part of his Electric Dream ensemble.