Sunday, 22 November 2015

Shomi the Way - Beyond Borders (1953-1956)

Late the other night I was digitising a number of 78 rpm records from the Johannesburg-based Bantu Batho or BB label and came across six curious, up-tempo band recordings that had been ascribed to Nyanja. Nyanja or Chewa is the national language of Malawi but is also spoken in Eastern Zambia, Northern Mozambique and parts of Zimbabwe.

Many South African recording companies with trans-African commercial aspirations (not that dissimilar from their European counterparts such as Columbia and Gramophone Company), employed scouts or experts—Hugh Tracey at Gallo for example—to travel north beyond the borders and acquire indigenous recordings that would then be marketed back to consumers in those countries of origin. Though I would be curious to examine the ratio of discs made for the export market versus those retained for local consumption in South Africa. Were these recordings from many countries in Africa, marketed and distributed ‘evenly’ across Africa or was each market established primarily to connect local artists with local consumers?

Historical Papers, University of Witswatersrand Library
This 1954 advertisement in the newspaper Bwalo La Nyasaland, published in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), showcases records produced by three South African companies—Trutone, Troubadour and Record Industries—with artists from Nyasaland (Malawi), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Bechuanaland (Botswana), available from shops in Blantyre and Lilongwe, Nyasaland.

One often reads about the stylistic influence of Ndebele guitarists, such as Josaya Hadebe and George Sibanda, on any number of Zulu maskanda artists through the distribution of their recordings rather than access to live performances. Certainly it would be interesting to explore the role commercial companies played in the spread of musical influences across regions of Africa. In another thought, I also wonder what or who Josaya Hadebe may have been listening to?

BB Records advert (Drum, March 1955)
Returning to the recordings at hand. The BB label owned by Record Industries Limited (RI) in Johannesburg employed a catalogue system to categorise the music thematically by language or style. So for example the BB 100 series was dedicated to popular tunes or "Special Hits!"; African jazz was represented in the BB 150 block; the BB 400 series for recordings in Sotho; BB 450 for Venda; BB 500 for Zulu; BB 600 for jive; BB 750 for Shangaan and so on. (Many thanks to Rob Allingham for these details.) Without too many discs to refer to, It is my guess that the BB 850 block was dedicated to recordings from Nyasaland (Malawi) and possibly Tanganyika (Tanzania).

Perhaps ironically, this indexing of languages to a numbering system is not that far off from a more complex approach employed by ethnomusicologist, Hugh Tracey. His system is (partly) depicted in the map above used as the cover for this selection of music. Black borders containing names of countries are superimposed with red borders surrounding numbers denoting language groups. Incidentally, Tracey’s number for South Eastern Africa is 52 and within that, Nyanja would be classified as 52/3/1.

This is pure speculation, but it is probable that Tracey may have made the first recordings of G. Chimpele, one of the artists featured in this selection. Meta-data for the track Mwanakadzi in the ILAM Digital Archive dates that recording to February 21, 1952 with a matrix number of XYZ 7198 and issued on the Trek label as DC 238. The XYZ prefix was assigned to acetates cut from Tracey’s field recordings made across Sub-Saharan Africa. (Allingham) Tracey’s meta-data in the ILAM Archive also suggests that the Trek recording was made in Zomba, a city in Southern Nyasaland. Zomba was the capital of Nyasaland, and then Malawi, until 1974 before it was superseded by Lilongwe. 

G. Chimpele and Company is represented by four tracks on this compilation, all from the BB label, recorded sometime in 1953. My further speculation is that the Trek recordings proved popular enough for a competing record company—Record Industries—to send out a recording unit to Nyasaland the following year… but it is more likely that they brought the musicians down to recording studios in Salisbury, Rhodesia or Johannesburg. Rob Allingham ruminates in a note on another group featured in this selection—the Ziphondo Band—that he could not recall if the tracks featured on BB 860 were recorded in Rhodesia or Johannesburg. (Allingham). Unlike the standard BB matrices that include an N prefix, some of the Nyanja recordings have an additional matrix number with the prefix MTS in front of the N number (for example MTS 53A/N 1682).

G. Chimpele employs what sounds like an accordion, which for me, gives this music a distinctly Creole flavor. While Elias Ziphondo includes at least two guitars, one strummed at great speed to almost sound like a banjo. Notably on his track Cheleka he introduces a whistle reminiscent of those used by mine dance groups in South Africa. All tracks are backed by an infectious up-tempo drum rhythm making them more than suitable for dancing.

Ziphondo’s Shomi is a grammatical contraction of “Show me the Way” which, I assume, could be derived from a Western popular and/or religious tune. It is also the inspiration for the title of this compilation: Shomi the Way!

Blackie Selolwane, a notable composer and saxophone player originally from Francistown, in Eastern Bechuanaland (Botswana) near the border with Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), introduces the second part of this compilation which drifts towards a distinctly majuba or African jazz sound.

The region around Francistown became the site of “Africa’s first gold rush” when the precious metal was discovered there in 1869. Subsequently, the town was also included in Cecil John Rhodes’ epic plan to build a railway from Cape Town to Cairo. During the great depression of the 1930s, the mining industry went into decline but the economy of the town was sustained as it became a transportation hub for companies that recruited workers from a number of African countries to work on the South African mines. Through mining interests and subsequent cross-border trade with Zimbabwe, Francistown grew into Botswana’s second largest city. Incidentally, Francistown was the location of Botwana’s first tarred road, a curious but significant anecdote, given that Blackie Selowane was a driver for Bailey’s Transportation. 

Having said that, Todd Matshikiza in his August 1953 Drum review of the Trutone XU 254 disc does say that the Selolwane Swing Stars were from Bulawayo in Rhodesia, so it is more than likely that Selolwane moved around. This is confirmed when Matshikiza adds that the group actually travelled to Johannesburg to record Marabi Ka 1953 and Baba Mkulu. Unfortunately their pianist did not make it and Sol Klaaste stepped in. An aside, Selolwane, is the father of renowned guitarist John Selolwane who performs with Paul Simon on the classic Graceland.

As I was preparing this compilation, I initially focussed on the six BB tracks, their country of origin and why a South African company had chosen to market them. As research drifted from languages to borders, geography and styles, other tracks seemed relevant to the discussion and the selection grew.

The music on the first half of this compilation retains a kind of raw, 'indigenous' quality. While the majuba tracks on the second half represent a shift towards urbanisation through the language of American swing and its transformation into African jazz. For me, however, these tracks still retain a raw, perhaps local, 'indigenous' flavor reminiscent of the marabi sounds of the 1930s or tsaba-tsaba of the 1940s. The thumping rhythm section of Temba Tswara's Salisbury Hot Shots Band is a great example or simply the title Marabi Ka 1953 by the Selolwane Swing Stars says it all.

By 1953 the majuba or African jazz sound was peaking in South Africa with groups like the African Quavers from East London. As I listen to the last six tracks here, recorded between 1953 and 1956, and compiled chronologically, I can hear a shift towards that jazz refinement, most notable in the final tracks by the Harari Hot Shots. It makes me wonder what records these guys were listening to? Where did they buy their records? And in turn, who was listening to their discs? How did styles travel? What role did commerce, mining, transportation and urbanisation play in the spread of this sound?

Incidentally Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia, was renamed Harari, after its largest Township, in 1982. I wonder if the Salisbury Hot Shots have any relation to the Harari Hot Shots… and if so, whether this name change was a prefiguration of the coming post-colonial shift.

In closing, these anecdotes around geography and economics lead me to rethink the function of the discs. In as much as South African recording companies were exporting records to foreign markets, South African mining companies were importing labor from many of these same countries. It could be argued that another possible function of the music produced by these companies was to target home-sick foreign laborers, turning them into ‘domestic’ consumers by providing them with a taste of home in a distant land.

Compiled from the flatinternational archive for Electric Jive

01) G. Chimpele and Company — Akazi Akahala — BB 859 — c1953
02) G. Chimpele and Company — Ayana — BB 870 — c1953
03) G. Chimpele and Company — Ainda Kaziwaselo — BB 870 — c1953
04) G. Chimpele and Company — Five-Five — BB 859 — c1953
05) Ziphondo Band — Cheleka — BB 871 — c1953
06) Ziphondo Band — Shomi — BB 871 — c1953
07) Selolwane Swing Stars — Baba Mkulu — Trutone — XU 254 — 1953
08) Selolwane Swing Stars — Marabi Ka 1953 — Trutone — XU 254 — 1953
09) Salisbury Hot Shots Band — My Girl Nellie — Trutone — XU 254 — 1954
10) Salisbury Hot Shots Band — Joyce Wakanaka — Trutone — XU 254 — 1954
11) Harari Hot Shots — Muchatizera — Troubadour — AFC 325 — 1956
12) Harari Hot Shots — Hatifunge — Troubadour — AFC 325 — 1956

MF Enjoy!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Classic mbaqanga: Sishong Sa Melodi (1969)

A special treat for EJ readers today: a compilation LP featuring 12 of the best hit vocal jive tunes of the past year, Sishong Sa Melodi, released on the Gumba Gumba label in 1969.

The single format was more or less the preferred choice for the African consumer during that bygone era of Radio Bantu, the days when mbaqanga music blasted through transistors and filled the air across the South African townships. Although the first African 45 rpms were produced from the mid-1960s, 78 rpm singles remained in production until around 1969. The story goes that the country's African population simply couldn't afford the expensive hi-fi systems needed to play the more durable 45 rpm, so gramophones continued to rule the roost for years onwards. Record companies later collected some of the highest selling singles (and often those that weren't shifting as many copies) on 33 rpm format to produce (at best, excellent, and at worst, interesting) compilation LPs. Sishong Sa Melodi was but one of several LPs issued in 1969 by Gallo's Mavuthela Music division and arguably features some of the finest mbaqanga recordings put down on 78 and 45 rpm in the late sixties. Despite the... questionable condition of the LP jacket, the disc itself is in remarkably strong condition with unobtrusive surface noise. All the better for hearing the music then!

Inevitably, the African girl group features prominently, with cuts from no less than four ensembles - Dima Sisters, Izingane zo Mgqashiyo (a.k.a. the Mthunzini Girls), Izintombi zo Moya, and Marula Boom Stars (a.k.a. the Mahotella Queens). "Taba Tsela" is a great if somewhat sober introductory tune from the Dima Sisters featuring some solid harmony work and easygoing guitars. Though track number 2 is listed on the jacket and the disc label as being "Esale Ke Ngola" by the Dima Sisters, the track on the LP is actually "Sponono" by the Jabavu Queens. Weird! Similarly, track 4 is listed as being "Sekoloto" by the Marula Boom Stars, but is - for now - an unidentifiable 'African jazz' instrumental. No matter though... they're both cool tunes.

One of my favourites on this LP is "Kajebane" by Izingane zo Mgqashiyo. Such a fun number, complete with catchy late '60s organ soul beat! The very next tune is pretty much a similar affair but by no means a repetition of what came before - "Mojiko Wa Soul" by Izintombi zo Moya. Gorgeously fat, warm organ sound. That sound carries over onto side 2 in the excellent "Matlare" by the equally excellent Mahotella Queens. For those of you who care for nerdy details like I do, you'll be interested to know "Matlare" was later re-recorded by the Queens in 1988 as "Mme Ngwana Walla" for the album Melodi Yalla. Nothing beats the original though.

Izingane zo Mgqashiyo returns for two classic Sotho vocal jive hits, "Dikuku" and "Sophie". The former is based on a popular wedding song pointing out the juxtaposition between the delicious taste of wedding cakes and the sourness that marriage can sometimes produce.

The closer is "Tshiwanyana" by the Marula Boom Stars - excellent up-tempo beat from the Makgona Tsohle Band combined with the tightly layered vocals of the Queens at their youthful best. Just delightful!!

Now all you have to do is download Sishong Sa Melodi, have yourselves an mbaqanga party and play these MP3s at full volume. Enjoy!

produced by Rupert Bopape
Gumba Gumba LMGG 4
Sotho Vocal Jive

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Lafayette Afro Rock Band: 'Voodounon' (1974)

Time for something a little different – hard-grooving funk from an African-American group that migrated in 1971 to Paris’ African-migrant melting pot, the Barbesse district.

Originally formed as the "Bobby Boyd Congress" in New York, the band morphed into the Lafayette Afro Rock Band, and became the house session band at the ParisSound studio of Pierre Jaubert.

This 1974 recording made in Paris was originally entitled ‘Soul Makossa’, but it was issued in the USA by Roger Francis at the African Record Centre in Brooklyn, New York as “Movin & Groovin”. Breaks from the track ‘Hihache’ having been frequently sampled, including by Janet Jackson.

Roger Francis started the Makossa label and issued, for his USA market, records by the likes of Fela Kuti, Franco and Manu Dibango,among others, going on to organise US tours by some African artists.

The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band band included: Michael McEwan – composer arranger and acoustic guitar, Lafayette Hudson –bass guitar, Frank Abel – keyboard, Arthur Young – horns and percussion, Donny Donable – drums, Keno Speller – percussion, Bobby Boyd – vocals, Rony James Buttacavoli – horns.
Download link here

Friday, 30 October 2015

The Fragile: Reggae Bump

The more regular visitors among you might have noticed less frequent posts lately. Not to worry, we still have plenty of out of print and deleted material that we would like to document and share by means of this blog. It is just that all four of us have recently found our "other" lives demanding lots of our time.

While the recording shared today is well worth a listen, this post also addresses an oppressive issue that many South African musicians in the 60s and 70s were faced with - feeling forced to "allow" producers to claim they wrote songs that were actually written by band members. Some say similar dynamics still happen with the DJs and producers of today?

Not only did producers active during the 1960s to the 1980s falsely claim compositions in their own name, these producers then registered copyright and pocketed all subsequent composer royalties. In the sound-clip below you can hear Johnny Sello Mothopeng of Batsumi telling it like it is .... "David Thekwane, Hamilton Nzimande, West Nkosi, Strike Vilakazi, Rupert Bopape, they all stole songs". This sound-clip was recorded when I visited Johnny Mothopeng in Johannesburg earlier this year, and is shared with his permission.

Back to the music shared here. As a producer for the small independent record label "Meritone". Naftali Dali is credited with writing these three chilled out South African "Manenburg-inspired" 70s bump-style tunes. These particular tunes have a little extra with an mbaqanga and blues influence.

It is again a pity that the session musicians gathered for this recording are not credited - they are pretty good. I particularly like the tone and approach of the saxophonist, the solo runs providing ample evidence of this likely being a well known musician moonlighting for an extra flat fee payment. 

  A quick search of my digitised records shows that Naftali Dali is credited with more than fifty tracks in the 1960s and 1970s, often associated with the Meritone label, On 78rpm he features for "Hi-Fi Big Beat". Dali dabbled in soul, bump and mbqanga. He is credited with writing many tracks for "Dudu and the Bigtime Boys". "The Moonlight Expressions" and even had a band, "Dali's Beauty Queens". I have no evidence to suggest that Naftali Dali was among those producers who "stole" songs.

Download link here

Monday, 26 October 2015

Huntley Archive to be housed at ILAM

I am excited to announce an important milestone in preserving and making Ian Bruce Huntley's extraordinary archive of jazz audio and images accessible.

In celebrating this deposit agreement Electric Jive shares some recordings from the archive that have been re-mastered by Miloš Latislav as a voluntary contribution to demonstrate how such recordings can be enhanced. Thanks again Miloš.

Ian has preserved around 1500 images of jazz performance from all over South Africa, and also in Lesotho when Dizzy Gillespie visited. Ian selected 120 of these images to be presented in the book "Keeping Time" - click on the cover image to the right of this post if you have not yet visited the Huntley Archive on Electric Jive website. In addition to freely accessing 58 hours of music, you can also download a free copy of the book there.

Ian has now agreed that his original reel-to-reel tapes will become deposited and preserved at the International Library of African Music. The Director of ILAM, Prof Diane Thram, has also agreed to upload the full audio files to the ILAM website and make them freely available for anyone wishing to download these. It is agreed that "ILAM will make no sale or commercial use of the audio archive or its contents nor will it allow anyone else to make sale or commercial use of the audio archive".

In addition to committing staff time to processing the archive and making it accessible, ILAM has committed a sizable sum of money for "professional re-touching of a further 350 images selected by Ian for the purposes of re-sale via editorial e-commerce". Africa Media Online have already scanned these images and are in the process getting them ready to go online. Ian will benefit from some of the income generated from any sales of these images.

The enhanced audio shared here today is three tracks recorded on the occasion of the very last time that Johnny Dyani and Dudu Pukwana performed in South Africa, days before going into exile with Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes via the Antibes Jazz Festival in July 1964. Captured at “The Room At The Top” in Cape Town by Ian Bruce Huntley, this live gig represents a poignant last union and “point of fracture” from which six very talented artists struck out to seek their respective musical fortunes.

Also shared are four tracks recorded by the Jazz Disciples in the same year.

Before Dudu Pukwana joins in for the last two tracks, Ronnie Beer demonstrates his class with the band rendering his own upbeat composition, ‘Immediately’. Bra Tete does his own bit of vocal scatting following his fingers in joyful moments of letting go.

The towering Dudu Pukwana summonses attention in the opening of ‘Green Dolphin Street’ before the conversation meanders comfortably along, providing spaces for exploratory solos. It is an historical sadness that a beautiful Pukwana solo is abruptly interrupted for what was the end of one side of Ian’s reel-to-reel tape.
Each listening of Dudu Pukwana’s plaintive alto sax on the essentially gloomy final track, “Close Your Eyes” sparks my own imagining of emotional turmoil and uncertainty. Introduced by Dennis Mpale on trumpet over an ever-swinging Dyani-Dayimani rhythm, and preceded by Ronnie Beer on tenor sax, Pukwana enters in the seventh minute in muted protest, which unwinds over ten minutes of exquisite contemplation. But then, approaching seventeen minutes in, the ever playful Tete Mbambisa (piano) starts to swing with Dyani and Dayimani, letting out yelps and whoops of appreciation in the music’s moment. Following a brief Dyani solo, Ronnie Beer interjects on tenor sax in the 21st minute to ‘hayibo’ shouts of appreciation, followed by Dennis Mpale’s uplifting trumpet. Somehow, after that Pukwana’s final and brief closing re-entry sounds more resolute.
Johnny Dyani - Bass; Dudu Pukwana - Alto Saxophone (tracks three and four only); Ronnie Beer - Tenor Saxophone; Dennis Mpale - Trumpet; Tete Mbambisa - Piano; Max Dayimani - Drums
1. Immediately – (Ronnie Beer) (15:46)
2. Green Dolphin Street (16:01)
3. Close Your Eyes – Bernice Patkere (23:55)
Download HERE
The Jazz Disciples: Thibault Square Recording Studio, Cape Town - 1964
In May 1964 "The Jazz Disciples" went into Cape Town's SABC studios to record for Radio Bantu, without Ronnie Beer. In "Black Composers of Southern Africa", Yvonne Huskisson documents the SABC recording as being made by Tete Mbambisa (piano), Sammy Maritz (bass), Max 'Diamond' Dayimani (drums), Dennis Mpale (trumpet) and "Bunny" (Barney) Rachabane (sax). Ronnie Beer was also considered a member of the Jazz Disciples. We can only speculate as to why he was not included in that particular Radio Bantu recording session. Perhaps it was to do with the SABC's own racial policies at the time?
Shortly thereafter, Ronnie Beer rented the Thibault Square recording studio in Cape Town for an hour and he and the Jazz Disciples laid down four tight tracks - one of which we need some help in identifying. Ian Huntley happened to tag along and plugged his reel-to-reel into the sound desk, and here, nearly fifty years later the recording comes to light. We do not know what Ronnie Beer did with the recording he made of that session. Maybe he wanted to press an LP - four songs, thirty minutes - but it just never worked out?
Of all Ian's recordings, this is the only one capturing Sammy Maritz on bass. Maritz played in the Dollar Brand trio in the early 1960s, and then in early incarnations of Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes. He subsequently played most frequently with Tete Mbambisa and Max 'Diamond' Dayimani. Ronnie Beer and Sammy Maritz played in Chris McGregor's band at the 1962 Moroka-Jabavu Jazz Festival in Soweto, while Dennis Mpale and a seventeen-year-old Barney Rachabane joined them all on the legendary 1963 recording, Jazz: The African Sound.
Ronnie Beer and Tete Mbambisa at Thibault Square 1964
Pic by Ian Bruce Huntley
Ronnie Beer (saxophone); Barney Rachabane (saxophone - age 18); Dennis Mpale (trumpet); Tete Mbambisa (piano); Max 'Diamond' Dayimani (drums); Sammy Maritz (bass).

1. Billie's Bounce - (Charlie Parker) (7:11)
2. Leads Dwana (Tete Mbambisa) (8:13)
3. Immediately (Ronnie Beer) (7:55)
4. Green Dolphin Street (7:20)
Download HERE

Monday, 19 October 2015

Atte (aka Dudu Pukwana and Friends) - Sondela (1977)

Following our post last week featuring exiled South African bassist Harry Miller here is another long forgotten gem from Dudu Pukwana's catalogue, named the album Sondela which is credited to the group Atte - The Sound of South Africa. Released on the Irish label Claddagh Records back in 1977 this features the likes of Dudu Pukwana (keyboards, alto sax), Churchill Jolobe (drums, percussion), Ernest Mothle (bass), Sello Josh Makhene (convos), Frank Roberts (keyboards) and vocals from Sonia Lekhela, sisters Lindiwe and Tiny Conco and Mphiwa Yengwa.

An impressive discography of Dudu Pukwana can be found at the Wall of Sound blog here.

Atte - Sondela (1977, Claddagh Records)
01. Suganga
02. Malaika
03. Suliram
04. Nome
05. Seth Gaza
06. Sondela
07. Ngomso
08. Soon One Morning
09. Siphamandla
10. Saduva
Produced by John Wood

Listen via MF

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Harry Miller - Children at Play (1974)

Today's share comes from the back catalogue of the mighty Ogun label and features label co-founder  Harry Miller on double bass, flute, percussion and effects. For those that love the sound of solo bass this is a lovely South African tinged recording. Sadly most of South African jazz bassist Harry Miller's recorded output is no longer in print, although if you are resourceful you may be able to track down original vinyl and some of the CDs. (Try the discog's site for a view of Harry Miller's impressive and near complete discography with some items for sale).

Miller was born in Cape Town and in his youth played in rock and pop bands such as the Vikings and Manfred Mann. In the early 1960s he left to settle in England and soon became an established part of the South African exile jazz community that re-invigourated British jazz in the sixties and seventies. He recorded with the likes of Mike Westbrook, Chris McGregor, John Surman, Mike Cooper, Louis Mofolo, Keith Tippett and Elton Dean. Towards the end of the seventies he moved to the Netherlands before tragically passing away in 1983.

His widow Hazel Miller still runs the Ogun record label today. If you can get hold of a copy then the 1999 compilation and retrospective "The Collection" is well worth seeking out. Until then try this vinyl transfer that we're sharing today. 

Harry Miller - Children at Play (Ogun OG200, 1974)
1. H and H
2. Children at Play (Phase I and II)
3. Homeboy
4. Foregone Conclusion
5. Children at Play (Phase III)

Multi-track recorded, mixed and edited by Keith Beal in Hastings
Produced by Harry Miller and Keith Beal
Cover drawing by Gerard Eaves
Cover design by John Eaves
Photography by George Hallett
All compositions by Harry Miller and published by Ogun Recordings Ltd.

LINK (Updated 16/10/15)  MF