Ikhambi: Medicine for spiritual healing by Nduduzo Makhathini

Ikhambi: medicine for spiritual healing by a healer, Nduduzo Makhathini (piano). Photo: Thandolwethu Gulwa/Cue.

South African jazz artist Nduduzo Makhathini takes the audience through a quest he explains as healing. Ikhami is an isiZulu word for medicine. Fourteen blue lights illuminate the stage like stars paving the way as Makhathini plays the piano blue.

Big, black bass speakers stand tall on the stage. The microphones hang over the drum, the forestage and the piano. The viola lies on its side in elegance. You are about to have your ears soothed and your sorrows lifted. 

The saxophone blows its horn loose to play. The piano follows gracefully like a panther, and three melodic voices add to the jazz experience. It feels like a spiritual journey, where your ancestors meet as one to re-meet you in Makhanda, where their blood was spilled during the Egazini wars.

White piano keys deep in, up and down, on the keyboard in deep pianic sounds. The black keys add a softer feeling like your mother cleaning your wounds after you fell off your bicycle. The drums beat like the pulse of a septic wound – rapidly.

The sound of the saxophone massages one’s eardrums like John Coltrane. The drums beat continuously, in the same harmony with Makhathini’s piano. You are in the hands of a healer.

The viola spans into the music creating bass sounds. The drummer closes his eyes – his eyes follow the drums in the dark as the cymbals light up.

There is something about seeing  instrumentalists in an out of body experience. There is a certain spirituality in seeing them close their eyes while playing. The depth of the music intensifies as you testify of this image before you. Ingathi liyeza xa ulisela lithoba iintlungu (it is like drinking medicine to calm down the pain).

Makhathini and his jazz band take us further through the journey with songs like Ithemba (Hope) telling of the year 1976, Umthakathi, Ubuthongo and On the Other Side. 

Ubuthongo (an isiZulu song title which translates as sleep) awakens the audience from a spiritual healing with up tempo beats, which stream rapidly through one’s body. The singers snap their fingers. Makhathini follows the (signature) rhythm of his feet through tapping his feet in true Makhathini style.

Nomagugu Makhathini’s diversely textured voice tunes out: “Know that on the other side joy awaits you. It is a new life, yes, indeed! You will rise again and do the things you used to do when you were stronger. Let your spirit to the other side”.

Makhathini reminds each member of the audience that: it is a new day and a new dawn to start afresh and grab life by the lapels. The spiritual healing journey ends with Makhathini, his band and you. Yet, it individually continues for you as you gather your pieces.

By Thandolwethu Gulwa