Review – Tumi Mogorosi’s Project ELO

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A review of Tumi Mogorosi’s Project Elo by Mamsie Ntshangase, chairperson of EJazz Appreciation Society.

SAMA 2014 nominated album Project Elo by Tumi Mogorosi
SAMA 2014 nominated album Project Elo by Tumi Mogorosi

I have this habit of dozing off after a hard day’s work while the music is playing from one of the playlists I prepare. It happened that the other day I woke up to this most exquisite sound of voices that made me think I was dreaming of heaven or being in some cathedral. From the first note, you are struck by the voices that accompany the booming bass and the drum, elegantly keeping time. By the time the saxophone and guitar entered the “fray”, I knew then that I was on some “celestial journey” through sound…mentally in orbit to somewhere in outer space. This is how I got introduced to Tumi Mogorosi’s “Project ELO”. I took deep breaths, allowed the music in, and boy, did it get under my skin. The tune was “In The Beginning”. How apt. This is Tumi, creating a world through music that his chosen will inhabit.

The musicians are the main man himself on drums, Thembinkosi Mavimbela on double bass, Sibusile Xaba (guitar), Nhlanhla Mahlangu (tenor sax), Mthunzi Mvubu (alto sax) and Malcolm Jiyane (trombone). The inclusion of the “celestial voices” of Themba Maseko, Ntombi Sibeko, Mary Moyo and Gabisile Motuba is a masterstroke. The album itself is produced by Tumi himself and the soon-to-be-legend, pianist Nduduzo Makhathini whose body of work already has tongues wagging from here to all corners of the earth. This is no exaggeration.

See Project Elo live at the 2014 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown
See Project Elo live at the 2014 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown

On to “Inner Emergence”, and what I now call the “celestial voices” carry on opening “clouds” and “bringing in the light”. The guitar solo by Sibusile Xaba, plus trombone play by Malcolm Jiyane are especially haunting. Tumi on drums the ever present director of proceedings. Make no mistake, this is very much this amazing drummer’s album. The percussive sounds are very much the core, as it soars to the heavens, there’s the gravity of the earthly drum that centres it. The young maestro delivers something masterful.

“Princess Gabi” starts with Thembinkosi Mavimbela’s bass slowing my breathing down even further, with Malcolm Jiyane’s trombone has me hypnotized. The voices and the wailing saxophone wake me up from the delicious stupor I’ve been slipping into, such a glorious mesh of voices, Tumi’s drumming, Mthunzi Mvubu’s and Nhlanhla Mahlangu’s horns and young Jiyane’s trombone. It’s almost as if that chorus is paying homage to the Princess – the effect is too exquisite.
“Slaves Emancipation” brings me “down to earth”. Images of years of struggle and hardship play in my head as I listen and feel like I’m one with the oppressed ones experiencing the freedom they’ve been craving probably for hundreds of years. Thembinkosi Mavimbela’s booming contrabass (which he plays with amazing dexterity, you could swear he’s holding it as one would an electric bass guitar) shines through beautifully.

On “Thokozile Queen Mother”, Mavimbela’s bass kicks off slowly, Tumi keeping steady time and Mthunzi’s alto sax and then that angelic voice singing the praises of the Queen Mother. It is clear that Tumi is concerned with the universe, and how everything connects. I get the sense that these are the things that influenced the creation of these beautiful compositions.

“Metatron Angel of Presence” is where Mogorosi stretches out and showcases his prowess on the instrument of his choice, the drums. I couldn’t help but think that the legend Louis Moholo would listen to this, nod his head and smile.
The set ends with a triumphant “Gift of Three”, where my now favourite celestial voices, bass and horns combine with Tumi to present something that makes this heart of mine soar.

The musicians assembled here complement and play off each other so beautifully, making it one of those albums that will endure for all time.

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