Recognising Bheki as a kindred spirit to her late husband, Alice gave him the saxophone mouthpiece that John Coltrane had used during the recording of A Love Supreme. Coltrane was a permanent touchstone for the pianist, one of the few who Bheki felt had the same esoteric and spiritual focus as himself: ‘the only musicians I know of who were deeply into this were Coltrane, and Pharoah and Sun Ra’, he told an interviewer in 1992.
While the idioms of post-Coltrane spirit jazz are certainly to the fore on Celebration, they are energised by a swift and original musical vision, quite specific to Bheki’s music, in which whole musical systems – the marabi and mbhaqanga jazz of the townships, American jazz, European classical, and more – are seamlessly mended together by the pianist’s quicksilver musical sensibility and legendary technical ability.
Celebration was originally released on compact disc and cassette in the middle of 1992 by World Circuit. It was Bheki’s first statement under his own name, and the first recorded presentation of his personal musical vision. This vision had been tempered across two decades which had combined intense professional playing with profound personal trials in both the spiritual and earthly domains, all set against the greater backdrop of South African political turmoil and exile in Europe.
The band brought together musicians hailing from three signally important points within the interconnected, communicating spaces of the Black Atlantic continuum – North America, post-colonial Britain, and southern Africa. With them, Mseleku created the first major South African-led musical statement to be produced after the sufferance of exile was ended. The ultimate and most egregious remnant of the centuries-long colonial era, apartheid, was finally being dismantled as they played. At this critical point, Mseleku’s musical spirit work, channelled from a higher source, spoke of a time to come where all divisions might be transcended by a greater unity.