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Tumi Mogorosi

Tumi Mogorosi is a South African jazz drummer, composer, and social activist. A founding member of Shabaka & the Ancestors, he has also worked in the Amandla Freedom Ensemble and Nicola Conte's Spiritual Galaxy. Mogorosi won global notice for his debut album, 2014's Project Elo, which featured a jazz sextet and four classically trained singers. After touring and recording with several of the aforementioned groups at home and in Europe, Mogorosi co-founded the Wretched with singer Gabisile Motuba and bassist electronicist Andrei Van Wyk. They offer a sonic interpretation of the philosophy of Frantz Fanon, author of the liberation classic the Wretched of the Earth. They recorded and released an acclaimed self-titled album in 2020 and appeared on the Brownswood South African showcase, Indaba Is. In 2022, Mogorosi released Group Theory: Black Music, that included his quintet, three vocal soloists, and a nine-voice choir. Mogorosi was born in Johannesburg in 1987. A musical fan from early childhood, he began learning to play guitar at age 13 and in 2004 he enrolled at the Allenby College campus in Bramley, Johannesburg to study the instrument. He eventually dropped out, switched his primary instrument to the drums and attended Tshwane University of Pretoria in 2012. He showed a natural affinity for his new kit and won performing spots with the Gauteng Jazz Orchestra, and played in the groups of several legendary South African jazz artists including trumpeter Feya Faku, the late saxophonist Zim Ngqawana, bassist Herbie Tsoaeli, and pianist Andile Yenana, who eventually became his producer. In 2014, England's Jazzman label released his debut album, Project Elo. His idea was to wed jazz and choral classical music. The musicians consist of a jazz sextet (including alto saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu and guitarist Sibusile Xaba) and four chorally trained vocalists whom he had met at university. The set offered seven Mogorosi compositions recorded in a single day without overdubs. It was produced by famed South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini. Upon its release critics celebrated it and claimed it was influenced by historic works that attempted the same thing: Mary Lou Williams' Black Christ of the Andes, Donald Byrd's New Perspective, Max Roach's It's Time, Andrew Hill's Lift Every Voice, and Billy Harper's Capra Black. Heady praise though it was, it was erroneous: Mogorosi had never heard any of the aforementioned works, his attempt was based in uniting post-bop jazz with modern South African classical and sacred singing. Project Elo stands for Project Elohim, named after the angelic entities of the Hebrew scriptures, which are part of the drummer’s philosophy and symbolic for accomplished human beings. The spirituality the album conveys is attuned to a 21st century syncretic, non-dogmatic, esoteric vision. Following its release, Mogorosi and his group played large festival stages in Africa. The album was shortlisted for a South African Music Award in 2014 and won the Standard Bank Ovation Award in the same year; it was also named "Jazz Album of the Year" by the Mail & Guardian newspaper. In 2015 he and Mvubu joined the Amandla Freedom Ensemble to record the full-length Bhekisizwe. During the recording sessions he met Hutchings, who also performed on them. The drummer joined Shabaka & the Ancestors, a group that placed the Caribbean-born, London-based saxophonist in the company of seven South African musicians. In 2016 they performed and recorded his Afro-futurist "psalm in nine parts," in a single day in a Johannesburg studio. Issued as Wisdom of Elders by Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label, the set married the modern South African jazz tradition introduced by the Blue Notes, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Hugh Masekela to Afro-Caribbean folk and calypso, Sun Ra's space age blues, John Coltrane's spiritual modalism, and Miles Davis' spectral late-'60s work. That same year, Mogorosi recorded Sanctum Sanctorium, with Project Elo singer Motuba, Brazilian pianist Malcolm Braff, Swiss cellist Andreas Plattner, and German double bassist Sebastian Schuster. That same year he cut Deliverance with veteran pianist Pule Pheto, a collaborative intertextual jazz project that saw the involvement of Mzwandile Buthelezi with his paintings, and the spoken word oratory of Percy Mabandu. Two years later, Mogorosi, Makhathini and conguero and percussion master Abdissa Assefa joined Nicola Conte's Spiritual Galaxy to record the uplifting, modal groove outing Let Your Light Shine On for MPS. The South African joined a large international ensemble that also included Americans Logan Richardson (sax) and Theo Croker (trumpet), and Italians Pietro Lussu (piano/keyboards), Conte (guitars), and Gianluca Petrella (trombone), among others. In 2020, Mogorosi re-teamed with Shabaka & the Ancestors on Impulse! for the universally acclaimed, charting, We Are Sent Here by History. Given the drummer's absorption in history, social activism, and critical theory, he co-founded the Wretched with vocalist Motuba, and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Andrei Van Wyk. Their eponymous album showcased the intertextual performing ensemble offering a sonic reflection on Frantz Fanon's seminal text, The Wretched of the Earth. Through it all, Mogorosi's commitment to and exploration of jazz only deepened. In late 2021, when COVID-19's quarantines were lifted, Mogorosi assembled a new sextet and choir and vastly expanded the reach of his music from Project Elo. Mvubu and Motuba remained, but the rest of the studio ensemble was exclusive. It was co-produced by the drummer and South African jazz pianist Andile Yenana, who also appeared on four of the recording's 11 tracks. Two versions of the folk song/spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" were offered by soloists Motuba and Siyabonga Mthembu (also a member of Shabaka & the Ancestors), while the set's final cut, "Where Are the Keys?," featured rapper Lesego Rampolokeng. Titled Group Theory: Black Music, It was released collaboratively by Mushroom Hour Half Hour and New Soil in July 2022.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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