A layman’s thoughts on Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night

by | Jul 19, 2009 | Sound | 16 comments

Many moons ago, when I was a bit younger than I am now, my younger siblings attended high school in Grahamstown, a small town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Very much a school town, with Rhodes University at its core, Grahamstown didn’t have much by way of retail. Every school holiday, I would make the drive from Lesotho to pick my siblings up, usually leaving at 6am & spending about 12 hours on the road – 6 hours there & 6 hours back. On one of my many trips, I had a couple of hours to kill, waiting for siblings to be allowed out so I strolled into the local Musica to see what they had. This was around 1996 and as I was flipping through the pile of cassettes (yes, cassettes) I came across a tape by a fellow with a big afro called Maxwell.

I remembered having recently seen his music video for … Till The Cops Come Knockin’ and liking it so, on a whim, I picked up a copy of Urban Hang Suite for the drive back home. I played it, and only it, for the next couple of days, falling in love with Sumthin’ Sumthin’, which still remains one of my favourite Maxwell songs. From then, Maxwell became an integral part of and soundtrack to many a late night. Then he was gone. The music stayed, but he disappeared to wherever it is artists go when they seek to get away from our prying eyes.

Fast forward eight years later. I start hearing murmurings on Twitter about a new Maxwell single Pretty Wings.

Maxwell - 5 09Then someone sends me a link. I watch. I listen. I am hooked. I want more. I phone Sony Music in Johannesburg. I get onto the invite list for the Listening Session to launch the album BLACKsummers’ night in South Africa. That was last Thursday. I have listened to BLACKsummers’ night, and only BLACKsummers’ night, for 3 days now and, as I write this, it is playing in the background. The album is distinctly and unmistakably Maxwell. He may have been gone for a bit, but he has become the kind of artist who just needs to ‘do him’ and he will remain relevant. It is gentle, engaging and elegant. Every song. Track 1, Bad Habits, had me pulling faces in traffic mesmerised by every instrument and every ebb & flow of his voice. And it doesn’t stop.

Yes, I love the album. I am no expert but this is good music. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must sound like live. It’s meant to be heard live. Because he’s taken it to that space. To a place of honesty and purity in creation and performance. Others who know better may tell you about chords and notes and …. All I can tell you is ….

When it plays … I want to put the little one to bed early …. turn down the lights …. dance around the living room with the missus …. and …..

Or …. get a babysitter…. book into a spot somewhere …. with a fireplace …. and ….

(and that’s not my traditional modus operandi)

Maxwell - 3 09Every time I decide that one song is my favourite, another one comes on…. though … Bad Habits, Help Somebody and Fistful Of Tears tend to be repeated a lot more. And Pretty Wings? It keeps getting better every time I hear it.

The only disappointment is that, with 9 songs, of which the last, Phoenix Rise, is only 2.41min, it feels like there should be more. Also, the album itself only runs for just over 37minutes.

You’ve probably already heard how BLACKsummers’night is the first instalment of the BLACKSUMMERS’NIGHT trilogy with blackSUMMERS’night and blacksummers’NIGHT expected in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Hope the concept works.

For now, I will continue to submerge myself in the very beautiful BLACKsummers’night. A return to what soul music is. A return to a gentler, more open, more musical space. A refuge from the sex-driven and orgy-filled ‘music’ that seems to be the order of the day. Others have kept that space slightly open, Maxwell has just thrown the door open.

No, they aren’t paying me to say this. Get yourself a copy, if you haven’t already. There is a Limited Edition Deluxe CD/DVD with videos of old & new songs which is a nice to have, but it is still to hit Mzansi’s shores.


  1. Brown Shuga

    Wow! I know its about the CD but I’m caught by the style of writing! Beautifully written, so natural.

    Will defs check it out!

  2. Kojo Baffoe

    Thank you very much.

  3. Rethabile

    Sumthin’ Sumthin’ is a heck of a groovy tune. I’ll look into this new album he’s put out. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Maleho Eugene

    Well put, couldn’t agree more…

  5. Bantobiaz

    Oh WOW! A big fan of your work (but mind you, not a groupie at all:-]), you had me hooked on every word. You style of writing is indeed very beautiful; quite unique. I expected a good review, yes, but the way you wrote it just takes one on this incredible journey… Thank you for sharing, can’t wait to get my hands on the King of Neo-soul’s latest offering.

  6. @veezworld

    The CD is fantastic, but Maxwell sounds even more amazing live. It was great to see him really enjoying music, and his enthusiasm really comes through. Try to see him live if you can. Welcome back, Maxwell!

  7. suede

    Spot on! This album is a drop in the what I hope will soon be an ocean of musicians who will take music back to music. (Others include, Raphael Saddiq, Amel Larrieux, Q-Tip, Adele and Kanye’s 808 album.)

  8. Kojo Baffoe

    I am very jealous. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to catch him live somewhere.

  9. Rethabile

    What happened to his hair?

  10. Jimmy

    I’m am sold!
    His music is timeless!
    The last cd i enjoyed with my girlfriend like you describing, was Chante More and Kenny Latimore’s “Things that lovers do”. Looking forward to having a new memories. I’m going to buy it and wait for our weekend getaway to Mpumalanga first week of August to play it. That’s if i dont get tempted before that…lol

  11. Bee.Love

    I’ve recently witnessed him in action, and Maxwell…well he’s heaven sent!

  12. Bantobiaz

    Rethabile, he looks 10x better without the ‘fro, doesn’t he?

  13. Maleho Eugene

    I think Track 5 is the best in the album – Stop the World! Go get you a copy…

  14. Rethabile

    Looks younger. Like he’s going to the office.

  15. BrownSkinLady

    Hey Kojo

    I know this entry is untimely, considering my itunes play count for each song on this album ranges between 36 and 72. I love this album, obviously. Lol. It makes me happy, makes me smile. If you spot me on the train platform waiting for the train, ipod so loud my neighbours can hear each lyric, me swaying side to side coz I can’t help it, it’s coz of this generous offering from my favourite male vocalist, illustrious lyrical weaver.

    ‘Let the world rage outside, coz wen Im here wit u, the world stops for me…’ – This is my Maxwell song for the week.

  16. Kojo Baffoe

    Hey, Maxwell is the truth. I can’t wait till the next instalment comes out this year. Imagining you on a train platform in Japan.

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