Tlale Makhene is one of South Africa’s most remarkable drumming talents. Highly regarded by musicians and musical fans alike, he is as much sought after teacher, session musician and performer. His album, The Ascension Of The Enlightened is a true spiritual offering from a truly enlightened man. Born in Soweto, Tlale moved to Swaziland at a young age and began drumming at the age of four.
With a sangoma for a grandmother, it was important for her to dance and ‘roll the bones’ to drumbeats. Tlale began playing drums in the church as well as leading the drum majorettes in his school. After leaving school he returned to his birthplace Soweto in 1992 and began studying drumming full time at the FUNDA Center. He was expelled after a year for having too many ‘outside activities’ but, ironically enough, it was hardly six months later when they approached him to the center.
Though the many workshops that Tlale held and attended, he came across a group of three Danish drummers known as Drums Across. They had been recruiting drummers in the country and it was a matter of time before they discovered Tlale and his talent. Starting in West Africa, the group traveled around looking for talent to work with. He was invited to return with them to Denmark for three months and work on musical projects. Subsequently Tlale left with them and went to record in Denmark.
Tlale had already been spotted by one of Gallo’s record executives who expressed interest in recording his work. On leaving for Denmark it was discussed that Tlale would record some songs whilst overseas for the forthcoming album. Within the three months he spent there he recorded six songs with Drums Across, adding two additional pianists and two bassists to the mix.
Tlale came back to South Africa, relieved to be back in his country, “Denmark is a very straight country”, he laughs, “you can even talk with your eyes closed everything is so straight forward.”
The rest of the tracks were recorded at SABC studios in Johannesburg. Produced by Africa Mkhize, the album is a mix of some our most loved songs, reworked and recorded with a slightly jazzier feel. “I jazzified them”, he states, “not throwing away the traditional part of the song, but rather adding more harmony to open them up to international markets”.
What is the meaning of “The Ascension of the Enlightened”? “Enlightened beings such as guardian angels, ancestors and of course God rose up for this occasion. They opened up for this project to happen. They chose for this to happen to me now, not only for me but for art and music all across the world”, he says.
“I am a very spiritual man, the great one, which everything comes from, gives me guidance through my ancestors. They remain close by to protect me”
Tlale talks about his grandparents, great grandparents and his farther in particular when he refers to the ancestors. He strongly believes drumming is the path they want him to be on. He is saying that, drumming is therefore a very spiritual experience for him.
“Not only the striking of the skin, but I feel like I am a messenger in some ways and as a musician it’s important that I have spirituality because I need to be clean in order for the public to get the positive messages I am sending out. If a person is broken hearted, my music can heal them. If their mind is closed, I can be inspirational to them. All that I have to give is positive vibrations to the people and myself.’’
Tlale indeed has an incredible energy around him. Gentle, focused and extremely wise for his years, he renders his listeners calm with his confident, soft-spoken voice. He speaks of drumming with a passion unlike any heard before. It is his life, and one can tell this purely from listening to his awesome album.
One of the finest jazz releases around, one can sense his strength of a character through the music. With many Latino influences, beautiful piano pieces and soothing African vocals, the album is a far cry from merely a drumming album – it is a celebration of musical styles. A fusion of raw talent and honed skills, blending with the traditional elements that make these songs some of the best loved around.
Tlale Makhene has indeed been blessed. As a debut album, the quality and sophistication of the Ascension of The Enlightened is a remarkable. In the year 2005 Tlale won the MTN SAMA AWARD for the Best Contemporary JAZZ Album, contending with established artists such as Hugh Masekela, Paul Hanmer, Water + Lights and Themba Mkhize – a testament to a man that puts his faith in the hands of his provider.
Kush Khoza is the voice behind kush.co.za; the spirit of kush kollective. he’s that voice that speaks the truth in all of us.