JOHNNY DYANI / Johnny Dyani Mixtape

Because I was smitten early on by the piano work of Abdullah Ibrahim, I found myself deeply in love with the bass sound of Johnny Dyani (30 November 1945 – 24 October 1986). He played with a solid authority and expert timing, reminded me of a modern combination of Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers. This was over twenty years ago. At the time I did not know anything about Mr. Dyani’s background other than that he was probably South African.

Turns out he was not only South African he was an original member of the Blue Notes, the most important jazz ensemble to emanate from South Africa. During the apartheid era The Blue Notes were an integrated band with non-black member Chris McGregor (piano), joining Mongezi Feza (trumpet), Dudu Pukwana (alto), Nick Moyake (tenor), Louis Moholo (drums) and Johnny Dyani (bass). Needless to say, they could not survive as a unit under apartheid.

In 1964 they went into exile, as did a number of other South African musicians. But it was hard to live in Europe and maintain South African sanity and sensibility. Moyake returned to South Africa shortly after leaving. Except for Moholo, who is alive and recording in the new millennium, all the other original Blue Note members died in exile. At a later date I will feature the music of The Blue Notes.I had the opportunity to hang out for a minute with Dudu Pukwana in London. The scene was one of the most trying mixes of joy and pain this side of Mississippi. How these musicians missed their homeland was as palpable as a scar or the tender stump of an amputated limb. Their music made you want to dance and simultaneously made you want to cry.

These musicians played as though jazz was in their blood, as though jazz was their musical mother tongue. South African musicians are the international separated-at-birth twins of Black jazz musicians from the United States. And yet, at the same time, they have their own distinctive heritage that manifests itself in a distinctive sound and distinctive approaches to the universal music known as jazz.

Whereas you can find individuals worldwide who are extremely proficient jazz musicians, only in South Africa do we get communities of significant jazz players who easily match their overseas kin. Moreover, even in this regard, Johnny Dyani is extraordinary. In the history of jazz there have been very few bass players who lead the way as innovators, composers, band leaders and/or performers.

Of course Charles Mingus comes immediately to mind, and some might point to Ray Brown but after that, acoustic bass players as leading lights become a dim picture. Although I wish he had recorded more music, I am extremely grateful for the double handful of recordings featuring Johnny Dyani’s beautiful music.

I have always marveled at how well Dyani could excel in a wide variety of musical styles: from straight ahead swing to free jazz, from classics to traditional South African melodies, no one else had such command and breadth of music. Whether in duet or larger ensemble, playing originals or traditional music, Johnny Dyani was a major musical force.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

  Johnny Dyani Mixtape Playlist


Suburban Fantasies

01 “Suburban Fantasies”

02 “The Walk Street”

Straight ahead duet with pianist Joe Bonner, who was an alumnus of Pharoah Sanders and spent many years living and working in Europe.






03 “Grandmother's Teaching”



Song For Biko

04 “Jo'Burg - New York”



 Witchdoctor's Son

05 “Heart With Minor's Face”

06 “Ntyilo Ntyilo”

07 “Mbizo”


Black Paladins

08 “Black Paladins”

This album featured legendary Black Arts Movement poet Henry Dumas working with the trio, which itself featured two members (Joseph Jarman and Don Moye) of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.



Echoes From Africa

09 “Lakutshonilanga (When The Sun Sets)”

10 “Zikr (Remembrance Of Allah)”

 This duo with Abdullah Ibrahim features a mix of traditional South African folk music and jazz.


Good News From Africa

11 “Ntsikana's Bell”

12 “The Pilgrim” Technically listed as an early album under the name Dollar Brand, which was how Abdullah Ibrahim was initially known internationally. Maybe because this is where I was first introduced to Johnny Dyani, or maybe because I have always loved Abdullah’s deeply spiritual music (preferably solo), or maybe it’s because this is music of the highest order at an emotionally meditative pitch, or whatever… who knows, who cares, this is my favorite recording featuring bra Dyani with one of my two favorite pianist (Abdullah Ibrahim is the other).  

This entry was posted on Monday, April 16th, 2012 at 5:25 pm and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “JOHNNY DYANI / Johnny Dyani Mixtape”

kevin Says:
April 19th, 2012 at 6:09 pm

One of the greats,I saw him play in london several times.Thanks for reminding me how great he was.

David Sefiri(Miles) Mokgonyana Says:
June 14th, 2015 at 1:55 am

musician like Johnny Dyani aren’t known to South Africans, Department of Arts and Culture must come on board, so that this musicians like Johnny Mbizo Dyani,

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