Bird Song Album - Kemang Wa Lehulere’s Edition for the
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

The role of a trumpeter in a jazz band can be compared with that of a striker on a soccer field, says Mandla Mlangeni. The South African musician demonstrated what he means by this during a concert at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. Together with six young musicians, the trumpeter presented the Bird Song Album, the record edition accompanying Kemang Wa Lehulere’s exhibition Bird Song. He composed all of the tracks together with the artist. In a performance at the KunstHalle, Mlangeni’s Bird Song Band played together for the first time in this form—with astonishing nonchalance. The sound that thrilled the audience can be described as melodic free jazz. The concert itself was a kind of acoustic dialog in which the solos of the different musicians responded to one another and absorbed and varied motifs, with Mlangeni directing the whole thing as the “striker.”

Mandla Mlangeni is not only a composer, arranger, and bandleader, but is also regarded as one of South Africa’s best trumpet players. His band Amandla Freedom Ensemble combines Bebop references with traditional South African sounds and music played in churches in black townships. Just as Kemang Wa Lehulere brought protagonists of South Africa’s black culture back into public awareness, including Gladys Mgudlandlu and Ernest Mancoba, the Amandla Freedom Ensemble tries to stoke the young generation’s enthusiasm for the country’s rich musical legacy. Above all for jazz, which stands in a decidedly political tradition in South Africa. Singer Miriam Makeba, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and trumpeter Hugh Masekela provided the soundtrack for the struggle against apartheid. Moreover, in the jazz scene it was always taken for granted that blacks and whites could play music together on an equal footing.

Mlangeni und Wa Lehulere not only share an interest in black culture from the apartheid era. For both artists, the collective is the basis of their work. An example is Bird Song, the exhibition at the KunstHalle. The artist does not view it as a solo show, but as a dialog in which different voices speak. Apart from Wa Lehulere, the exhibition includes Gladys Mgudlandlu and his aunt Sophia Lehulere, who got him interested in tracking down the missing mural of the artist called “Bird Lady.” Then there is the architect Ilze Wolff, with whom he did research on Mgudlandlu, and the author Gladys Thomas, whose poems inspired him. And now also Mandla Mlangeni, who adds an acoustic dimension to “Bird Song,” turning the exhibition project into a synthesis of the arts.

The Bird Song Album is limited to 300 copes. As an edition accompanying the exhibition, 30 copies are supplemented by an art print showing a detail of the mural by Gladys Mgudlandlu that was thought to be lost and which was partially uncovered by Kemang Wa Lehulere. The edition and the album are available in the ArtStore at the KunstHalle as well as online.