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Mbadu, Spencer (South Africa)  
SPENCER MBADU - Pic © Steve Gordon

A STALWART whose grooves have underpinned many iconic jazz and fusion recordings, the soft spoken Spencer Mbadu was born in Kensington, Cape Town in 1955. However the family and neighbours were moved from Kensington to Nyanga West in 1958.

The bassman’s nimble fingers played their first notes on harp at the age of eight – his grandmother played harp at a local church – and he describes his childhood as “surrounded by music “: the shellac and vinyl of record collections, the choral voices, or neighbourhood bands.

As a teenager, Mbadu played as a drummer in a township “rock ‘n roll band”, before moving to bass guitar. By 1977 he was bassist in his first “serious” group, the band “Skyf” which he played in alongside Winston Mankunku Ngozi (saxophones), Roger Khoza (guitar), Windsor Ngabeni (drums) and Robert Sithole (penny whistle).

bass guitar, arranger
Genre: African, jazz, African Jazz, mbaqanga, fusion
After Skyf, Mankunku started a new group – “Siyabuya” (‘we are returning’), and although Mbadu retained close contact and did regular gigs with Mankunku, he soon branched out on the club circuit, working alongside groups with Khader Kahn (soprano), Russel Herman (guitar), Kevin Humbles (keys), Tony Cedras (piano and accordion), Bheki Mseleku (piano), Archie Fisher (tenor), and Steven Erasmus (vocals).

A significant and career-shaping experience for Mbadu, was the time he spent with the pioneering afro-jazz group Spirits Rejoice, which he joined in 1981 when its founder bassist Sipho Gumede departed to establish Sakhile. In ‘Spirits, Mbadu played alongside drummer Gilbert Matthews, guitarist Paul Petersen, keyboardist Mervyn Africa, and a wind section which included Robbie Jansen (alto sax, flute), Duke Makassi (tenor and soprano sax), Thabo Mashishi and George Tyefumani (trumpets).

Spirits Rejoice was indeed a watershed group in South African afro-jazz, and whilst acclaimed by serious music lovers, survival necessitated that many of its members shared time doing sessions elsewhere. Thus Mbadu did stints with the pop group “Joy”, which was fronted by the vocal trio of Felicia Marion, Thoka Ndlozi and Anneline Maleba.

The 1980’s had Mbadu working with a host of artists, and aside from outings on the national circuit, anchor groups included the jazz-fusion bands “McCoy” (alongside Victor Khula (sax) and Percy Kunene (drums), and then “Workforce” which was based in residency at the Villa-Revue venue in Maitland. Workforce was also homeband to musicians such as frontman Robbie Jansen, drummer Denver Furness, pianist Chris Schilder, and trumpeter Stompie Manana.

SPENCER MBADU - © S.Gordon / 2010
Mbadu regularly worked with the “Nkomo” label of pianist Mike Perry and saxophonist Mankunku Ngozi, often performing as part of Mankunku’s band, and with the Chorimba big-band led by Duke and Ezra Ngcukana. He recorded with Abdullah Ibrahim for the “Mantra Mode” album shortly after Ibrahim’s return from exile in 1991, where his bass was accompanied by the Monty Weber (drums) , Basil Mannenberg Coetzee and Robbie Jansen (saxophones), Johnny Mekoa (trumpet), and Errol Dyers (guitar). The 1990’s also saw Mbadu as a regular feature on the jazz circuit, most often in the bands of Mankunku Ngozi, and Ezra Ngcukana.

In 2000, he participated in the Mandela 46664 project, recording and performing alongside Queen and Bono. Spencer Mbadu has taught many musicians – informally – and also in institutions such as MAPP (Musical Action for People’s Power), The Jazz Workshop, and Hout Bay schools. In 2013, he recorded for Mountain Records as part of the “Cape Jazz Band”.

This biography written by Steve Gordon 2013

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