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Universal launches Blue Note Records Africa to sign jazz artists from across the African continent

Legendary Jazz label Blue Note Records and Universal Music Group Africa have launched Blue Note Africa,.

The new imprint will be dedicated to signing Jazz artists from across the African continent.

Blue Note Africa will launch this Spring with the release of South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini’s new album In The Spirit Of Ntu.

In 2018, Universal Music Group Africa signed the pianist and composer, a prominent member of the South African Jazz scene whose second UMG album Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds was released jointly on Blue Note Records.

According to Blue Note, in 1947, legendary American Jazz drummer and Blue Note legend Art Blakey visited Africa for the first time, a trip that was meant to be a few months but ended up lasting a couple years as Blakey traveled to Nigeria and Ghana.

Blue Note says that the experience had “a profound effect on Blakey both religiously and musically” and led to a series of Blue Note albums that were influenced by African percussion.

Those albums included Orgy In Rhythm (1957), Holiday for Skins (1958), and The African Beat (1962), the latter of which featured traditional African drummers including Solomon Ilori who would release his own Blue Note album African High Life in 1963.

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Around the same time in the late-50s, a Jazz scene began to develop in South Africa led by The Jazz Epistles, a group inspired by American Jazz groups including Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers that featured trumpeter Hugh Masekela and pianist Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim).

As the restrictions, censorship, and violence of apartheid worsened in the early-60s, Masekela and Ibrahim left the country and went on to become global ambassadors of South African Jazz.

Pianist McCoy Tyner further explored African-American connections on his late-60s and early-70s Blue Note albums with pieces like African Village, Message from the Nileand Asante,

In 2008, Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke released Karibu, the first of several Blue Note albums that blended the sound of both continents.

“African music has been a major creative tributary for nearly every album in Blue Note’s extensive catalog.”

Don Was, Blue Note

“African music has been a major creative tributary for nearly every album in Blue Note’s extensive catalog,” said Blue Note President Don Was.

“So it’s a great honor for us to partner with Sipho and his talented Universal Music Africa team in this new endeavor. Together, we will shine a global light on the incredible music emanating from Africa today.”

Sipho Dlamini Universal Music

“Blue Note has stood the test of time by continuing to adapt but keeping its focus on discovering and introducing Jazz talent to the world.”

Sipho Dlamini, Universal Music Africa

Sipho Dlamini, CEO of Universal Music Africa, added: “Blue Note has stood the test of time by continuing to adapt but keeping its focus on discovering and introducing Jazz talent to the world.

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“The opportunity to create Blue Note Africa and provide a channel for African Jazz talent to have a home in the US, with a dedicated and passionate team lead by a legend in his own right – Don Was, is very exciting. We can now walk the African Jazz journey, from Cape to Cairo to California.”

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