Monday, 24 November 2014

Soul Jive Special - 20 groovy hits from 1970s South Africa

Today, I jump on board the soul train and follow Chris with a similar selection of goodies. But rather than the disco-led sound of the later 1970s, I have gone back a few years prior to focus on the unique musical meld produced at the height of the soul era. Soul Jive Special features 20 fantastically groovy hits from The Sailors, The Planets, The S.A. Supremes, The Big Six, The Ribbons and a bevvy of other stars, all released between 1969 and 1976.

It was only natural that urban Africans should look towards their African-American counterparts for influence on fashion and music. Although SA was blessed with its own vibrant and rich musical scene, it was inevitable that artists such as Percy Sledge, The Temptations, Willie Mitchell, Booker T and the MGs and many other similar artists would gain huge followings there. The ‘sound of young America’ was eventually replicated through the formation of black soul outfits and even in the repertoires of popular mbaqanga bands.

We begin this compilation with a rather left-field soul recording from Amagugu, the last of a long line of mbaqanga girl groups to attain hugely lasting popularity in South Africa. The group was led vocally by Sannah Mnguni – originally lead singer of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje – and musically by lead guitarist Hansford Mthembu, an all-round musical mastermind who successfully experimented with both traditional African and western influences. On “Sanibonani” and “Izinsimbi Zomshado”, both Hansford’s virtuosity and the influence of the late 1960s American soul comes through marvellously. Hansford later reworked “Sanibonani” into a few instrumentals such as “Tomorrow’s Wedding” and “For Ever” (both available on Electric Jive).

From girl groups to something positively psych. “Tirimela” is a 1973 soul vocal from The Sailors. This was one of two hugely successful hits – the other was “Meja” – for this shortlived Tsonga soul band that recorded for Mavuthela during the early 1970s. The melody of “Tirimela” is more or less the same that appears on the equally delightful “Akulalwa eSoweto”, a hit from the same year for Irene Mawela and the Mgababa Queens. But while Irene’s sweet vocals give that particular song its underlying atmosphere of joy, “Tirimela” goes in a completely different and rather ominous direction. It is a brilliant track not to be missed.

‘Bops’ was the nickname of Rupert Bopape, director of the Mavuthela powerhouse that consistently pumped out the most successful African music during the 1960s, the 1970s and well into the 1980s – but Bopape only wrote lyrics, so why ‘Bops and Son’ is the artist credited with performing the fabulous instrumental “Chicken Soul” is anyone’s guess. But this particular number – one of my absolute favourites – has just the right ingredients: flute, electric piano, guitar, bass, drums and tambourine all combine to create a musical atmosphere that comes across as both dense and airy at the same time.

Three of the soul ballads in Soul Jive Special are provided by a group named The S.A. Supremes, a large boast but not one entirely misplaced. The S.A. Supremes – Star Mabaso (lead vocal), Ntsiki Gwabeni, Teddy Nkutha and Thembi Nteo – were formed in 1970 by producer David Thekwane at Teal Records. They were backed by The Movers and made a number of successful recordings and performances, until Thekwane’s harsh treatment sent the ladies on their way to EMI in 1973. Now under the direction of Martin Mdelwa Mhlanga, The S.A. Supremes re-recorded some of the hits they had created in conjunction with The Movers – such as “Okungapheli” – but also started to cover a large number of American hits. Check out the sublime cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”.

The popular mbaqanga girl groups of the day were not strangers to soul and often dispensed with jive to perform some delightfully upbeat grooves. Under a different pseudonym, the famous Mahotella Queens sing “Way Down Gear”, in which a young girl states that she intends to give up all her vices for her man – complete with oh-so-relevant shouts of ‘sock it to me!’. Izintombi Zomoya, on the other hand, simply sing about the delights of blatant dancing to the organ-led beat in “Mojiko Wa Soul”. Another of the big female groups, Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, follows up with “Nomali”, a ballad about a failed relationship – “Nomali, will you please come back to me… you’ll wash away all my troubles”, sing the ladies ardently.

Another of my favourite instrumentals is “Soul Mabone” as performed by The Planets – which, if one listens carefully, is actually a cover of “Six Mabone” by The Movers (without a credit to the original composer). But I love the driving beat of this reinterpretation, which substitutes the vocalists on the Movers version with an alto saxophonist. And do not miss out on Abafana Bamagoduka’s florid organ-led “Go Easy”, a wonderful cover of Paul Simon’s 1972 hit “Mother And Child Reunion”.

Many thanks to Laurent Dalmasso for providing Electric Jive with copies of tracks 9 and 13 - much appreciated, Laurent!

All you have to do now is to download, play and enjoy... it’s groovy, man!


10) T.Y. NO. 4 – SAMMYBOY NEZIMPISI (1976)
14) HEY GIRL – THE BIG SIX (1976)

Monday, 17 November 2014

Disco Soul Jive - Some More

In anticipation of year-end feel-good times, a selection of singles to warm you up. This offering continues the great groove set by Siemon and Nick in their very popular DiscoSoulJive and Disco Soul postings.

As a bonus, a different-style epilogue  of four tracks that Kabasa released as singles from their 1980 debut album "Kabasa". More on Kabasa's debut album at FlatInternational here. You can find Kabasa's second album here.

Looking at the EJ schedule two days ago I realised (a little belatedly) that my traditional Durban Office Party mix would have to be quickly brewed and appear in this post, or else the next slot for it might only be January. So, following a  rummage in my crates for singles I had not yet listened to, a pleasant evening was spent listening to and digitising. The result is a selection of tracks that stood out for me  - mixed and separated.

South Africa's blend of big-band disco-soul-jive produced some real crackers between 1975 and 1980 - tight vocals, banks of horns, funky key-boards, all held together by catchy, energetic and rubbery base-lines and rhythm guitars.

While The Movers played a strong genre-defining role for the South African scene, there was no shortage of very competent bands - some of them put together and given a name for a recording session only. The pool of musos came from mbaqanga, soul, rock and jazz to take the disco craze and make it their own.
The core of musicians were very often not credited as they would jump across labels and producers, being paid a cash fee per recording.

I had never heard of "The Suns of Thunder" before, and I am still not yet sure if they are the same band as the "Sons of Thunder" also featured. I was thrilled to find a really strong single by "The Sakie Special Band". Among these is a second mention for the Movie Movies  who recorded in Durban. There was even 'Shangaan Disco' with the Matanato Brothers and Gaza Queens' giving "Sporo Jive" its own twist.

All said and done - thanks for stopping by at Electric Jive this year. Despite a slow-down in post frequency, we continue to build on an archive of out-of-print and otherwise "lost" sounds.

Happy holidays!

Disco Soul Jive Some More

1. The Sakie Special Band:  Let Yourself - Atlantic ATS815 (1979)

2. The Suns of Thunder: Soweto Sporo -  Flash HS748 (1979)
3. The Movers: Onthekele Beer-  Disco Music Beat DMB 942 (1981)
4. The Sakie Special Band: Groovy Cats - Atlantic ATS815 (1979)
5. Lynette and The Soul Brothers: Groovy Time - Score SCO 160 (undated)
6. The Meritones: Soul Bump -  Lita Records LA 46 (undated)
7. Lynette and The Soul Brothers: Come On Baby - Score SCO 160 (undated)
8. Sons Of Thunder: Uzozizwela - Fire RE126 (1978)
9. Brand New Soul: Bumsie-Boogie -  Dice Dic 636 (undated)
10. Walter and The Beggers: Disco Jive - Disco Soul DCO 15 (1978)
11. Movie Movies: Inkosi Kala - C&G Records CAB504 (1980)

12. Walter and The Beggers: Sweet Miriam - Disco Soul DCO 15 (1978)
13. Movie Movies: Sene Lisiwe -  C&G Records CAB504 (1980)
14. Matanato Brothers & Gaza Queens: Sporo Jive - Motella MO 732 (1981)
15. Kabasa: Kabasa - Atlantic ATS 830 (1980)
16. Kabasa:  Burning Splinters - Atlantic ATS 830 (1980)
17. Kabasa:  Happy Together - Atlantic ATS 837 (1980)
18. Kabasa:  Uzozibona - Atlantic ATS 837 (1980)

Mixed-tape version download here
Separated tracks version download here

Monday, 10 November 2014

More Moyake mined from the Huntley Archive (1965)

Left to right: Peter Jackson Jjnr (drums), Nikele Moyake (tenor), Tete Mbambisa (obscured on Piano), Dennis Mpale (trumpet) Duku Makasi (tenor). Salt River Town Hall, Cape Town, 1965. (pic Ian Bruce Huntley)
One more contribution to the small handful of recordings of Blue Notes saxophonist Nikele Moyake in the year or so between his return home from Europe and his death. While this recording is also very much about Bucs Chonco (piano), Dennis Mpale (trumpet), Psych Big T Ntsele (bass), Peter Jackson Jnr (drums), Robert Sithole (flute), the more senior Moyake leads from the front, soloing often.

Tape 44 of Ian Bruce Huntley's archive slipped between the cracks in my first round of digitising and tagging close on sixty hours of music in the audio archive. Thanks Rose for picking this up.
Nikele Moyake (pic Ian Bruce Huntley)

First, an apology to regular  Huntley Archive on Electric Jive visitors for not yet being able to tweak those fixes and track title updates that you so kindly pointed out. I will get there.

This recording is probably the clearest made by Ian at the Ambassador's School of Dance in Woodstock, a venue with challenging acoustics in which to play and record with a few static microphones.

The five tracks spanning forty five minutes showcase an integration of Moyake's significant European experiences with an evolving jazz scene in Cape Town.

Besides the unusual choice of Jimmy Web's  "By the Time I get to Phoenix",  we have not been able to name the other four tracks. All help and suggestions are most welcome.

If you have not yet explored the Huntley Archive on Electric Jive, do yourself a favour and click on the image of the book cover in the right-hand column of this blog. Close on 58 hours of recordings are available for you to download and listen to. You can also download a free copy of the book. Hard copies of the book are still available, and you can order it from this site as well.

If you are interested in other posts in which Nikele Moyake features, have a look here and here and here.
Mediafire download of the recording here

Monday, 3 November 2014

Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela (1951-1962)

Tin whistle jive, also referred to as penny whistle jive—the music which subsequently became known as kwela around 1958—was one of the first indigenous popular musics from South Africa to enjoy commercial success and international notoriety. With its roots in the marabi tradition, the music at times blended elements of rock ’n roll, blues, jazz and swing into a language of irresistibly catchy tunes ideal for dancing, and as a result generated significant cross-racial appeal.

The appreciation of kwela by both black and white audiences is highlighted in this October 9th, 1958 image below from Jet magazine, an African-American weekly periodical published out of Chicago. Here a white “house-wife”, Jeanne Hart, dances the "kwela" with a transplant from Sophiatown, Cameron Mokaleng, in a London club. I suspect they may have been dancing to Tom Hark, Elias Lerole’s smash hit which topped the British Hit Parade around June 1958 and set the bar for kwela’s international rise.

In November 1958, a month later, the same image could be found 15 000 km away accompanying an article in the Singapore Free Press describing the new London scene with the headline “Now they’re all doing the kwela”. And a subsequent article in the Singapore Times compared the rise of kwela with that of rock ’n roll and pondered whether this new style would supplant rock in popularity. (“Kwela and Rock ’n Roll”, Singapore Times, January 10th 1959) Indeed for a brief period record executives seriously considered investing in the new craze as the next ‘big thing’ to follow the rock phenomenon.

By the end of the 1950s kwela LPs, EPs, 45s and 78s could be found in countries across the globe including the UK, USA, Argentina, Spain, France, Germany, Rhodesia and of course South Africa. It is from these varied sources (including many original South African 78 rpm recordings) in the Flat International archive that this chronological discography has been compiled.

I approached this project in a similar way to the Makeba Track Less Travelled compilation by first digitizing all the kwela and flute music in the Flat International archive. The total tallied up to a generous 516 tracks. Of course, many titles were issued multiple times on different formats and this process allowed me to select the best quality versions where possible. Using Apple’s Smart Folder system I was able to access all the tracks chronologically in a virtual single folder without having to duplicate massive amounts of data. Seeing the tracks as a list also generated possible scenarios for how aspects of the style developed. Screen grabs of this track list, or more specifically—Kwela Discography—can be viewed at flatint. I then combed through the list and selected the best material along with historically significant tracks to produce perhaps the first extensive survey of this music form. The post today, Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela, features Volume One (1951-1956) and Volume Two (1956-1957) in the series, but over the next few months we will continue to post additional volumes covering a significant gamut of the style up until its eventual demise around 1962.

The liner notes of many kwela LPs and EPs marketed in the UK and South Africa in the late 1950s describe the roots of the music in this way: “The Pennywhistle of today originates way back when African herd-boys fashioned a pipe from bamboo. They called this pipe a 'Mahlaka' and it gave them enjoyment in their lonely vigil whilst herding their fathers’ cattle.” (Columbia, SEYJ 105) “As time went on these were replaced by tin whistles as the bamboo was not strong enough and did not last. These tin pipes have been greatly improved and are what we now call ‘penny whistles’. The penny-whistle became the popular instrument of little African boys and they could be heard playing on street corners where they attracted much interest and attention.” (Columbia, SEYJ 102)

In the 1930s and 40s, as herdboys migrated to cities looking for work, the affordable German-made tin whistle became a reliable substitute for the indigenous reed counterpart. (Allingham, Rough Guide to World Music, p. 641) The versatile whistle could be stored in one’s belt, produced at a moments notice, or played while walking. “[M]usicians who could not afford band instruments imitated big band music on penny whistle [and] several of South Africa’s jazz saxophonists started their musical careers on this instrument.” (Lara Allen, Circuits of Recognition and Desire in the Evolution of Black South African Popular Music: The Career of the Penny Whistle; p. 39). Frederick Maphisa recalls buying his first tin whistle in 1936 for 2s 6d. Often he would walk to central Johannesburg from Western Native Township and busk outside cinemas where lines would queue. (Allen, p. 35) 

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
By the 1950s groups of pre-teens and teenagers could be seen playing in townships like Alexandra or attracting huge crowds on the street corners of Johannesburg. Sometimes a make-shift band was put together with any number of whistlers and a guitarist for rhythm; as can be seen in the extraordinary footage in Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 quasi-documentary Come Back Africa. Often these performers would play a “cat-and-mouse” game with police avoiding arrest for public disturbance (Allingham, p. 641). But clearly as the film reveals, the police like the rest of the racial-mixed crowd look on with awe at the street performances. Perhaps the presence of Rogosin’s camera tempered their typical reaction.

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
As Rob Allingham points out this music eventually “attracted a white following, particularly from rebellious suburban teenagers referred to as ‘ducktails’”. (Allingham, p. 641) Rogosin’s film shows a number of these ducktails viewing the penny whistle performers in various street scenes. Notably, it was the ducktails who would subsequently play a role in popularizing the music for white South African audiences.

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
Of course the penny whistle’s history in South Africa is more complex and can also be traced back to the influence of British military marching bands from as early as the 1910s. Some of the instruments and very often the clothing of these marching bands was adopted and adapted by black musicians as Lara Allen reveals: 

"In the late 1930s and early 1940s the marching style and parade costumes of Scots regiments had a marked influence on developing black urban popular culture. […] Scottish fife-and-drum and pipe-bands were more precisely imitated by groups of black males known as scottishes, playing penny whistles and drums. […] Willard Cele, Jake Lerole, and Ntemi Piliso, who became well known musicians later on, were all at various times members of the Alexandra-based Scottish band originally known as the Alexandra Scots and later as the Alexandra Highlanders. The membership of Scottish bands varied, but usually included fifteen to twenty-five penny whistlers and two to five drummers. Members ranged in age from adolescents to men in their early thirties. The most striking aspect of these bands was their uniform that, as far as cost would allow, simulated exactly the regalia of Scots Pipers: white spats, glengarries and tartan kilts with sporrans." (Allen, p. 33)

Very little, if any, of the music in this form was recorded; though there are hints at it, for example, in the 1957 tracks King Flute and Solid by the Aron (Jake Lerole) and Michael on the Troubadour label where the rhythm section almost alludes to a military-styled drumming.

Interest in the scottishes declined after the second world war. Many performers shifted to other instruments; for example Ntemi Piliso who was already playing saxophone in big jazz bands like the Harlem Swingsters. (Allen, p.36) Similarly artists such as Albert Ralulimi and Barney Rachabane all cut their teeth on the penny whistle before moving onto other instruments.

Many young aspiring musicians tried to emulate the sound of majuba or African jazz with this more affordable instrument. Jake Lerole recalls playing an early form of kwela in shebeens from 1948 with a dance band comprised of penny whistle, guitar, concertina and home-made percussion instruments. (Allen, p. 38) As the form developed, groups featured a lead flute accompanied by four or five rhythm flutes. While artists like Spokes Mashiyane would perform solo accompanied by guitar, eventually a variety of instruments including home-made ones became the standard. Some groups included a bassist operating a babatoni or refashioned tea-box as an upright bass. The tea chest bass was also common to many skiffle bands in the UK during this time, including Lennon and McCartney’s Quarrymen. As this 1958 Daily Mail headline suggests—“Kwela Scatters the Skifflers”—much of the popularity of kwela in the UK stemmed from its grassroots approach and similarity to the skiffle. (Columbia, JS 11014)

Willard Cele in Donald Swanson's Magic Garden, 1951.
The first recordings of the music that would eventually become known as kwela were in the form of a twelve bar blues made by Willard Cele in 1951 and featured in Donald Swanson’s classic film, The Magic Garden, but it was only between 1954 and 1956 that the commercial appeal of this music began to be recognised in South Africa, notably with the rise of Spokes Mashiyane. Prior to 1958 the music was generally categorized on record labels as flagelot jive, tin whistle jive, penny whistle jive, flute jive and so on. 

A British scout, looking for a catchy theme to accompany a new British television series about illicit diamond smuggling in South Africa, selected the 1956 tune Tom Hark by Elias (Lerole) and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes. The Killing Stones, was released on March 23, 1958 and its theme song prompted an interest by viewers leading to a UK record issue on 78 rpm and 45 rpm. By mid 1958, Tom Hark had sky-rocketed to the top of the British Hit Parade. 

The term kwela can loosely be translated as “step up” or “climb up” in a number of South African languages, but it was also a slang term that referred to apartheid-era police vehicles. When people were arrested policemen would order them to “step up” into the vehicle and the name stuck. In the introduction to Tom Hark, one can hear a re-enacted conversation of a street-gang playing an illegal game of dice. One of the individuals shouts out in tsotsitaal (an Afrikaans derived street-slang) “Hier kom die kwela-kwela! Stop […] want hulle gaan ons bo vat!” (Here comes the kwela-kwela! Stop […] otherwise they’re going to take us away.) 

Lara Allen in her detailed analysis speculates that it may have been British DJs who, in hearing this introduction, interpreted it as an announcement of the impending music and inadvertently applied the name to the style of music. 

The word kwela, sometimes spelled quela, was also the name of a popular dance of the 1950s and can be found in the titles of tracks recorded many years prior to Tom Hark. But here the term is used in its literal sense as in: Kwela Spokes translates as “Climb-up Spokes” or “Get into it, Spokes”… rather than “Spokes is recording a kwela”. 

The international success of Elias Lerole’s Tom Hark in 1958 further sparked a craze and a whole generation of penny whistle imitators in South Africa but by then the instrument’s eventual demise had already been written by its own stars who had replaced it with the saxophone. Complex arrangements with additional sophisticated instrumentation continued well into the early 1960s but by 1962 recordings of the style more or less faded away.

Volume 1 (1951-1956)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 15)

01) LUTHENI SHANDU - Umfazi / Amadoda - 1955
(Shandu, Sound of Africa, ILAM, TR 10, matrix ILAM 16)

As mentioned above some of the roots of kwela can be traced to reed pipes played by young herdboys. Hugh Tracey documented a number of examples of what the rural origins of this music may have sounded like in his Sound of Africa series. Lutheni Shandu can be heard playing three tunes on TR 10 (matrix ILAM 16). According to Tracey’s notes Shandu “learnt or composed” these tunes during his childhood while tending cattle in KwaZulu Natal. The recordings were made in 1955 and as the description alludes must be from his recollections as an adult rather than as an actual “herdboy”. The tunes are played on an igekle flute made from a hollow stalk roughly 90 cm long and 3 cm wide at the mouth—a much longer and wider flute than the mahlaka described in the liner notes of the EPs above. David Coplan refers to a very similar Zulu instrument as an umtshingo. (Coplan, In Township Tonight!, p. 191)

Two of Shandu’s tunes from the original ILAM LPs are featured here in this compilation as a single track: Umfazi Ohlupingane (The woman who ill treats a child) and Amadoda e Lange (Men of Lange). In his notes on Umfazi, Tracey editorializes somewhat by suggesting that the “theme of the unkind mother is fairly common.” (Tracey, The Sound of Africa Series, p. 20). Immaculately remastered versions of both these recordings can be heard on the CD: The Nguni Sound: South Africa and Swaziland  (SWP 20), from Michael Baird’s excellent SWP Records reissue series.

02) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Blues (Take 1) - 1951
(Cele, Gallotone, GE 1123, matrix ABC 3804-1)

03) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Boogie - 1951
(Cele, London, 1038, matrix ABC 3806-2)

04) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Blues (Take 2) - 1951
(Cele, London, 1038, matrix ABC 3804-2)

Willard Cele, Drum, 1951
One former member of the Alexandra Highlanders, Willard Cele, became quite legendary as a solo performer on the streets of Johannesburg and was subsequently recruited by Donald Swanson into his classic 1951 film The Magic Garden. The film was the second major South African release to feature an almost all-black cast and was hugely successful propelling artists like Dolly Rathebe and Cele to stardom. The film release also just happened to coincide with the very first issue of Drum magazine, and a full page article on Cele in the debut issue, certainly would have contributed to his growing success.

His uniques style and approach to holding the instrument allowed for a fuller range of tones and this approach became influential on younger artists. Cele was crippled after a sporting accident in his youth and subsequently walked with a limp. As a result he swayed while he played and these movements were adopted by imitators as a stylistic manner in which to play the flute music. Lara Allen points out that many proteges from Alexandra, including Jake Lerole and Lemmy Mabaso, also adopted the swaying manner while playing; however artists like Spokes Mashiyane, who grew up in what is now Limpopo Province, north of Pretoria, did not. (Allen, p. 37)

The film was hugely successful and Gallo recorded two tracks by Cele: Penny Whistle Blues and Penny Whistle Boogie. The records were certainly popular enough to be reissued a number of times and released in the UK on the London label. In digitizing all copies in the Flat International archive, I was able to determine that at least two takes of Penny Whistle Blues were issued commercially. The most common being take two which is on most issues and reissues. Interestingly take one can be found on what I believe is the first issue of the record though oddly it is noted as the second take on the label. Perhaps the first take was issued here in error. It also happens to be the same as that used in the film soundtrack.

Remarkably the commercial potential of this music was not exploited by record companies at the time. According to Rob Allingham no other recordings of this music were made until three years later with a track by the Orlando Tin Whistlers at Trutone. (Rob Allingham in Lara Allen, p. 40) Also Lara Allen points to an August 1954 review of the Orlando Shanty Maxims in Bantu World which clearly predates Spokes Mashiyane’s historic sessions at Trutone. It is possible that the Orlando Tin Whistlers and the Shanty Maxims were one in the same group.

(Mashiyane, Rave LP, RMG 1107; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 24, matrix T 4080)

Although Gallo was the first company to record the flute phenomenon, it really was Trutone that popularised this street music and capitalized on its commercial potential with Spokes Mashiyane’s first four recordings on October 8th, 1954: Ace Blues (Quality, TJ 24, matrix 4080); Kwela Spokes (Quality, TJ 24, matrix 4081); Skokiaan (Quality, TJ 21, matrix 4082) and Meva (Quality, TJ 21, matrix 4083).

All four tracks are brilliant and in particular Ace Blues became a sales phenomenon. Notably, only Mashiyane’s interpretation of August Musarurwa’s Skokiaan has not been reissued on any subsequent compilations, EPs or 45s.

(Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 21, matrix T 4082)

It was Johannes 'Spokes' Mashiyane, more than any other, who would popularise penny whistle jive and transform it into a household name starting with four tracks recorded for Trutone on October 8, 1954. One of those, Ace Blues, became a hit, and by 1955 was receiving favorable reviews in the black press. Soon every record company in South Africa was looking to capitalize on an instrument that had been regarded as a mere toy relegated to the rural life of young herdboys.

Spokes Mashiyane was born in Vlakfontein near Pretoria on January 20th 1933. According to the liner notes of his first Trutone EP, Mashiyane taught himself to play on a reed flute while tending his father’s cattle. Albert Ralulimi in an interview with Lara Allen reveals that Spokes first played on a plastic toy penny whistle before moving on to a metal one. When he was eighteen, Mashiyane moved to Johannesburg where he met France Pilane with whom he formed a duo. Together the two busked with flute and guitar on street corners and in parks. Ralulimi goes on to say that Mashiyane's style at the time improvised on grassroots tunes played by "anybody" — the community in general, kids on street corners, and those at shebeens and stokvel gatherings.

It was on one such occasion at Zoo Lake Park (Yvonne Huskisson has it at Phomolong Train Station) that the duo was spotted by Trutone producer and talent scout Strike Vilakazi. According to Rob Allingham, Vilakazi cut at least four tracks with them in 1954. Huskisson, on the other hand, does suggest that Mashiyane’s first recordings were made in 1949. He would have been sixteen at the time and given that Allen’s account has him moving to Johannesburg when he was eighteen, the earlier recordings may be unlikely.

"The musical effects of the inter-relationships between the streets and the studios are most obvious in the changing instrumentation of penny whistle bands. In the early 1950s groups of youngsters busking in the streets played only penny whistles and guitars. Jerrypenny Flute’s ‘Ngiyabonga’ and ‘Kupela’, recorded by BB Records in November 1954 constitute some of the few recorded examples of how this original street music might have sounded. Although prior to his first recording Spokes Mashiyane played only with Pilane, double bass and drums were added at their first recording session, and this instrumental line up became the norm for penny whistle recordings thereafter. […] The bass and drums are very soft in Mashiyane’s recording of ‘Ace Blues’, making this the best available example of how he and Pilane may have sounded when they first played together in the Zoo Lake Park." (Allen, p. 41) These four recordings were followed by additional sessions with Mashiyane denoted simply as Spokes and William later that same year.

07) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Ndinovalo - 1954
(Eric Nomvete, Rave LP, RMG 1107; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 31, matrix T 4175)

Mashiyane here plays a composition by Eric Nomvete the founder of the influential majuba jazz big band, the African Quavers, that would later become the famed Havana Swingsters. What is curious here is that Eric Nomvete and his Havana Swingsters were also recording at the Trutone studios almost at the same time (eight takes later). Their compositions Rubber Neck (T 4181) and Phola Rapopo (T 4183) were issued on the next Quality release TJ 32. Nomvete also pens a number of tunes by other artists recording for Trutone around this time for example the Maestro Pearls. So my guess is that Nomvete may have been present at the Mashiyane recordings perhaps as a kind of producer.

The guitarist for the Havana Swingsters on their 1954 recording of Emaxambeni was none other than William Madyaka and it is my calculated guess that it is he who accompanies Mashiyane here on rhythm guitar. Emaxambeni was recorded September 10th, 1954 (Gallo, CDZAC 53) and I would be willing to bet that it also comes from a Trutone session perhaps a month or two before Ndinovalo. Martha Mdenga recorded a slower version of Ndinovalo (Quality, TJ 20, T 4071) roughly 100 takes before Mashiyane’s at Trutone, backed by, I suspect, the Havana Swingsters. If nothing else this recording directly links the roots of kwela to the majuba african jazz tradition.

08) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Mamlambo - 1954
(Mashiyane, Quality LP, LTJ 201; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 33, matrix T 4176)

09) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Daisy’s Blues - 1954
(Mashiyane, Quality LP, LTJ 201; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 31, matrix T 4177)

Though attributed to Mashiyane, it is interesting that Yvonne Huskisson credit’s Eric Nomvete with a Daisy’s Blues as well and given that Nomvete was likely at many of these Trutone recordings, I suspect this may be the same tune.

10) BOOM BROTHERS - Take It! - c1954
(Tshabalala, Harlequin LP, HQ 2020; original Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 204, MATA 1352)

The smart folder system employed to generate the kwela discography on my computer lists tracks based on matrix numbers as I researched and entered them. However without comparative discographies from one company to another, it was hard to determine which recordings from different companies in any given year came first. Unless the exact date is known, recordings would be grouped in chronological order based on the company’s matrix prefix. Gallo (ABC) would precede Troubadour (MATA) which would precede Trutone (T) but this may not represent the correct recording order overall.

Given that, it is my best guess that this track by the Boom Brothers on the Troubadour label actually precedes the famous sessions of Mashiyane’s at Trutone. This vocal jive number with flute accompaniment just sounds like it comes from an earlier era. The track is featured on the excellent Harlequin compilation Jazz and Hot dance in South Africa (1946-1959) but alas I suspect Horst Bergmeier’s date estimation of 1957 to be incorrect.

11) NEWCLARE JIVE WHISTLERS - Maglera - 1954
(Ben Mofokeng, Trutone 78 rpm, XU 307, matrix 4201).

A mere 23 takes after Mashiyane’s last session of 1954, Trutone recorded another penny whistle act, the Newclare Jive Whistlers with Ben Mofokeng’s Maglera.

12) BLACK DUKE AND HIS RHYTHM - Tickeyline - 1955
(Poosa, Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 277, matrix MATA 1510)

Besides recording this item for Troubadour, Black Duke, who I am assuming is Poosa, also recorded for Trutone’s Envee label and his track Baboon Shepherd was subsequently featured on the UK Oriole compilation Penny Whistle Jive (MG 10022) and can be heard on Volume 2 in this series.

13) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND FRANCE PILANE - Samson and Delilah - 1955
(trad, arr. Strike Vilakazi, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 56, matrix T 4503)

Samson and Delilah was also featured on what appears to be the first 10” vinyl compilation of kwela music, issued by Trutone as Penny Whistle Jive (TLP 1047) probably in 1957. The album included tracks by Ben Nkosi, leader of the Solven Whistlers, and Peter Makana. In what was then a typically patronizing tone the liner notes give the reader a sense of the pre-Killing Stones success of this music in South Africa: “The African has made the Penny Whistle his own, and tens of thousands of 'Flute Jive' records sold every week testify to its continuing popularity. There has been considerable demand for these records amongst Europeans and to help meet the demand in more convenient LP form, we complied this album from the township 'Hit Parade'.” (Trutone, TLP 1047)

14) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND FRANCE PILANE - Meadowlands Boogie - 1955
(Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 56, matrix T 4504)

Mashiyane’s Meadowlands Boogie was recorded just 24 takes after Strike Vilakazi’s iconic Meadowlands (Quality, TJ 52, T 4480) and issued four discs later. Made famous by Nancy Jacobs and her Sisters, the lyrics in Meadowlands appear to praise the benefits of moving to the new township of Meadowlands, but in reality this song was understood by listeners as a critique of the government’s forced removals of residents from Sophiatown. The success of the song spurred a series of similarly titled recordings at Trutone that, by implication, could also be interpreted as political  statements. Mashiyane’s Meadowlands Boogie was reissued in 1985 on the Harlequin compilation Jazz and Hot dance in South Africa (1946-1959) (Harlequin, HQ 2020). In his liner text, Horst Bergmeier notes that Mashiyane was only paid £20 for each recording that would then sell between 50,000 and 70,000 copies.

15) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Jumping Bean (New Year Eve Blues) - 1955
(Mashiyane, Rave EP, REP 27, original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 70, matrix T 4638)

Recorded probably in December of 1955 this track was issued as Jumping Bean on the Trutone EP Kwela Spokes! (REP 27) and as New Year Eve Blues on Spokes’ first LP King Kwela! issued around 1958 (Trutone, RMG 1107).

16) ROMANTIC BOYS - Jika Mthoria - 1956
(D. Pilani, New Sound EP, XEP 7027; original Gallotone 78 rpm, GB 2571, matrix ABC 15456)

17) ROMANTIC BOYS - Timitoy Baby - 1956
(D. Pilane, Gallotone Jive Jive 78 rpm, GB 2571, matrix ABC 15457)

These recordings appear to be the first tin whistle material made by Gallo since the seminal tracks by Cele of 1951, that is… as can be found in the Flat International archive. While it is often mentioned that the tsotsitaal spoken introductions to many kwela tracks began with Elias Lerole’s Tom Hark it is interesting to consider that these tracks by the Romantic Boys may have preceded it or at least were recorded in the same month. Notably, these tracks must have been recorded in the middle of October 1956 as the following take, ABC 15458 by the Skylarks was recorded on October 20th. Tom Hark, according to Lara Allen, was also recorded in October at EMI but no specific day is given. Significantly the introduction to Jika Mthoria also refers to the kwela-kwela (the police vehicle as heard in Tom Hark) and then mentions the title as Kwela Mthoria. What to make of the fact that both these introductions appeared in tracks at two different record companies in the same month is hard to say. But it brings up a strong connection indicating that one may have influenced the other.

Although first issued in 1956 on the Gallotone Jive Jive label these two tracks were later reissued on the B-side of a Spokes Mashiyane EP (XEP 7027) on the New Sound label in 1960; which makes me think that Gallo saw them as significant enough tracks to reissue in the 45 rpm format four years after their initial release.

18) ALEXANDRA BUSYBEES - Lo Afrika - c1956
(L. Choake, Gallotone Jive Jive 78 rpm, GB 2624, matrix ABC 15759)

Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso
This Gallo track also includes a spoken introduction though it was recorded in either December 1956 or early 1957 and therefore should have come after Tom Hark below. (Apologies!) The introduction is significantly unique. It opens with an almost avant-garde ‘noise’ of  late night listeners dialing through what sounds like radio channels, only to be interrupted by a white landlord complaining about the cacophony. Hearing whites speaking on black records seems unique as this is the only example I know of from this period. The set-up suggests that what we are hearing are domestic workers listening to the radio or to records late at night in one of the small residences known as “servants quarters” found at the back of most white homes in apartheid South Africa and that the white “boss” appears to confront the listeners and break their records.

Rob Allingham suggests that these could possibly be the first recordings by Lemmy Special Mabaso, here on lead flute (making him eight years old at the time) and could also include a tea-box bass or babatoni that rarely made it into the recording studio. (Allingham)

19) SHANTY ROBERT SAXES - Meiring - 1956
(Marapo, Troubadour, AFC 338, matrix MATA 1651)

20) SHANTY ROBERT SAXES - Tomatie Sauce - 1956
(trad.arr. Marapo, Troubadour, AFC 338, matrix MATA 1652)

Tomatie Sous is classic standard in the “Cape Coloured” tradition, though a 1953 Bantu Batho recording by the African Quavers credits the tune to trumpeter David Mzimkulu.

21) ALEXANDRA JUNGLE BOYS - My Sister - 1956
(Hadebe, Troubadour, AFC 372, matrix MATA 1712)

(Rupert Bopape, Columbia LP, JSX 9; original Columbia 78 rpm, YE 164, matrix CEA 5060)

Of course, the tune that would elevate kwela to the international stage in 1958 was Tom Hark recorded in October 1956 by Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes — a group that also went by the name Black Mambazo.

Black Mambazo (meaning Black Axe but no relation to LBM) originated from Alexandra Township and was "discovered" by Rupert Bobape in 1956. Generally the group included Elias ‘Shamba’ Lerole, his brother, Aaron Jake Lerole, Zeph Nkabinde, and sometimes his brother Simon Nkabinde, David Ramosa, Peter Khumalo and others. The group became South Africa’s top kwela band in the late 1950s. Under Bopape’s direction, by the early 1960s, they had developed a key deep-vocal style, known as "groaning", first with Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ Lerole and then, after his voice had deteriorated, Zeph Nkabinde. Though the most well known proponent of this style of singing would be Nkabinde’s brother, Simon, when he too went over to Gallo Mavuthela with Bopape and became famously known as Mahlathini.

It was not uncommon at that time for many groups to record under various names, possibly a strategy conceived by the record companies to give their competitors the impression that their catalogue was brimming with good talent and also perhaps as a way to avoid paying significant royalties to any one major group or artist. Black Mambazo was not immune to this and recorded under a number of names including the Alexandra Shamber Boys (sometimes Shamba), Alexandra Black Mambazo, and most famously Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes.

The title of this track, Tom Hark, was apparently a clerical error by EMI; the correct name should have been “Tomahawk” named for the Native-American axe, which makes sense given the translation of the band’s name: black axe. The B-side of the 78 rpm included the tune Ry-Ry and both were issued in South Africa on EMI’s Columbia label in 1956 (YE 164).

The tune enjoyed some success in South Africa for two years before a British scout, looking for a catchy theme to accompany a new British television series, heard it. Written by Wolf Mankowitz, The Killing Stones, was released on March 23, 1958 with six episodes that traced illicit diamond smuggling in South Africa. Interest by viewers prompted a British release of the theme song on 78 rpm (Columbia, DB 4109) and 45 rpm (45-DB 4109) and by mid 1958, Tom Hark had sky-rocketed to the top of the British Hit Parade.

Aron Jake Lerole
Lara Allen’s detailed analysis suggests that it is the spoken introduction to Tom Hark that gave this style of music the name kwela: “There are a number of theories as to how the term kwela came to refer to penny whistle music. The most plausible explanation is that kwela was originally used as a stylistic label by the British market: reputedly, the term was extracted from the phrase “Daar kom die kwela-kwela” that occurs in the spoken introduction to “Tom Hark”. In tsotsi-taal, the township lingua franca of the day, this phrase means “here comes the police van”, but it was understood by English disc jockeys as an announcement of the impending music. The introduction to “Tom Hark” consists of a tableau about street corner gambling during which the approach of a police van induces the gamblers to pocket their dice and pull out their penny whistles.”

In a 1990 interview with Allen, Elias Lerole translates for her the now famous tsotsitaal introduction: "Then I started to say: ‘Now gentlemen, let’s make little bits of speech before we play this number’. Then the guys, they say: ‘What are we going to say?’ I say: ‘Look – you know all the time when you are in the street we are afraid for these pickup vans?’ Always they used to come and arrest some people, you know? And I say: ‘Now look here, we are going to say: “Gentlemen, let’s play the dice.”’ And I throw the money and I check the dice. I throw them, I say, ‘I do!’ Then somebody says: ‘No can do!’ Then I draw again, I say: ‘I do!’ Then they say: ‘Popp!’ and I can grab the money. Then when you are going to grab the money I say: ‘Gentlemen, here comes the kwela-kwela. Let’s play our penny whistles to keep the police busy so that they musn’t arrest us’. You see? Then we start to play the flute." (Elias Lerole Interview in Allen, p. 44)

EMI issued in the UK a number of other kwela singles by the group including Vuka Magcwabeni / Zeph Boogie (Columbia, 45-DB 4146); Fuzzy Night / Matshutshu (Columbia, 45-DB 4135) by Black Mambazo; and Dintho / Holom Toe (HMV, POP 496) by the Alexandra Shamber Boys; but none were as successful as Tom Hark. A four track EP tilted Kwela from South Africa featuring the Alexandra Shamber Boys and the Benoni Flute Quintet (HMV, 7EG 8369) was also issued, along with as a full length compilation LP Flute Kwela Africa (Columbia, 33JSX 60) featuring Black Mambazo, Little Kid Lex, Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes, the Inkintsho Brothers and the Swing Tone Whistlers.

Controversially, the copyright for Tom Hark was held by Rupert Bopape, who also owned thousands of other South African EMI titles. As a result the group unfortunately was never able to receive full royalties from the success of their tune.

23) BENONI FLUTE QUINTET - Sanny Boy Special - 1956
(E. Mtsima, HMV 78 rpm, JP 2069, matrix 0AS 934)

24) BENONI FLUTE QUINTET - Skanda Mayeza - 1956
(Rupert Bopape, Columbia EP, SEYJ 105; original HMV 78 rpm, JP 2056, matrix 0AS 965)

This Bopape classic can also be found on Eddy De Clercq's wonderful compilation, Township Jive Kwela Jazz - Volume 2, sourced from the ILAM archive in Grahamstown. Apologies, Eddy, I think the recording date might be closer to 1956.   : )

Volume 2 (1956-1957)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 16)

01) PIETERSBURG STAR BOYS - In the Mood - 1956
(Joe Garland, Trutone, TLP 2000)

In the Mood, Glen Miller’s iconic 1939 swing-band hit, was a favorite of South African shebeens in the 1940s. (Allen, p. 39) This kwela version does not disappoint and was included on Trutone’s compilation Jazz from the Township. I suspect this group may also be the Pietersburg Flute Kings below based on the rather thin evidence that both recorded for Trutone around the same time.

02) PIETERSBURG FLUTE KINGS - Phendula - c1956
(Bantu Batho, BB 2008, T 228/2)

03) PIETERSBURG FLUTE KINGS - Lale Lake - c1956
(Bantu Batho, BB 2008, T 228/5)

04) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND HIS RHYTHM - Tsa Lefatshe Hadi Fele - c1956
(Mashiyane, Quality, TJ 172, T 5299)

05) BLACK DUKE AND PETER MAKANA - Baboon Shepherd - c1956
(Peter Makana, Oriole, MG 10022; original 78 rpm, Envee, NV 3062, T 5349)

Black Duke, who I am assuming is Poosa, based on the credits on his Troubadour releases, also recorded for Trutone’s Envee label. His track Baboon Shepherd was featured on the UK 10” Oriole compilation Penny Whistle Jive (MG 10022) which appears to be a UK reissue of the South African Trutone LP of the same name (TLP 1047), however almost all the track are different. The liner notes of the South African issue suggest that Peter Makana is the “cool boy” of kwela compared with Spokes Mashiyane the “champion” and Ben Nkosi the “experimenter”.

06) STONE TOWN CRACKERS - No. 15 - c1956
(Ben Nkosi, Quality, TJ 127, T 5651)

No. 15, credited to Ben Nkosi who would go on to lead the Solven Whistlers at Gallo, has an amazing cyclical structure that reminds me of the majuba big band jazz sounds. As mentioned above, Nkosi was considered the “experimenter searching for ‘New Sounds’ and new heights of expression.” Not only was he an excellent flutist but also a skilled guitar player and accompanied Spokes Mashiyane on a number of tracks and Peter Makana on Black John below. He was known to explore additional instruments including the recorder and clarinet which greatly influenced his flute technique. (Trutone, TLP 1049). While many of his early recordings are for Trutone, tracks by him were also issued by EMI on their HMV label (JP 843) as well as Gallo. Interestingly Nkosi and the Solven Whistlers recorded at least  two versions of the notable Something New in Africa with visiting American clarinetist Tony Scott in August 1957 (Gallotone, GALP 1015; Decca, LK 4292).

07) PETER MAKANA - Black John - c1956
(Makana, Arlequin, 1009, T 5825)

Peter Makana is accompanied here by Ben Nkosi on guitar and, as mentioned above, was considered the “cool boy” of kwela. Black John must have been a significant hit for them as it was issued at least four times: on the original 78 rpm (Envee, NV 3085); a Spanish EP “Pennywhistle Jive” (Arlequin, 1009); and is the one of the few tracks common to both 10” compilations, “Penny Whistle Jive”, issued in South Africa (Trutone, TLP 1047) and the UK (Oriole, MG 10022). The tsotsitaal introduction showcases a wonderful example of sexual banter between a jealous girlfriend and her philandering boyfriend. Notably the introduction is absent from all the international vinyl releases and had to be rescued from the original South African 78 rpm recording.

08) BOIKE LEMAO - Thusa Baby - c1956
(B.J. Lemao, BB Records, BB 1039, T 5869)

09) BOIKE LEMAO - Fly Baby - c1956
(B.J. Lemao, BB Records, BB 1039, T 5870)

10) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Kallas Special - c1956
(Mashiyane, Trutone, TLP 2000; original 78 rpm, Quality, TJ 109, T 5907)

11) STONE TOWN CRACKERS - White and Black - c1956
(Ben Nkosi, Quality, TJ 127, T 5943)

12) BEN NKOSI AND MAFUTHA AMAHLOPE - Ben’s Special - c1956
(Ben Nksoi, Trutone, TLP 1047)

Ben’s Special is another track common to both 10” compilations, Penny Whistle Jive, issued in South Africa (Trutone, TLP 1047) and the UK (Oriole, MG 10022). Interestingly, Ben Nkosi’s colleague here is Mafutha Amahlope and according to Chis Albertyn this is a pseudonym that literally translates as “Fat Whitey”. ‘Mafutha Amahlope’ also penned the tunes for the Pond’s face whitening cream advertisement featured here at Electric Jive. In that recording the author was Christoffel Nicolaas Du Toit, but it is unclear if he was involved on Ben’s Special, or whether the term was applied generically to any white musician that happened to get involved.

13) PETER MAKANA - Peter’s Blues (Cool Mood) - c1956
(Peter, Makana, Trutone, TLP 2002)

This track was issued on the Trutone compilation Music was Born in Africa (TLP 2002) as Peter’s Blues but then also included on the UK Oriole 10” (MG 10022) compilation as Cool Mood.

14) SIX KEYS - Thimela - 1957
(Nkwanyane, Tropik, DC 709, ABC 15971)

15) SIX KEYS - Uyandibambezela - 1957
(Gray Mbau, Tropik, DC 709, ABC 15972)

Two iconic figures of the majuba African jazz era, Elijah Nkwanyane and Gray Mbau are credited as composers on these two great tunes respectively which makes me wonder if the Six Keys included members from one of the big jazz bands of that time — perhaps the City Jazz Nine or the Brown Cool Six. Uyandibambezela is a classic, including saxophone and some wonderful male vocals — perhaps a precursor to the “groaning” style that was being popularized by Black Mambazo.

16) LITTLE KID LEX - New Year Rock - 1957
(Elex, Columbia, JSX 9; original 78 rpm, YE 177, CEA 5092)

17) LITTLE KID LEX - Alex Special - 1957
(Elex, Columbia, JSX 60; original 78 rpm, YE 177, CEA 5093)

Little Kid Lex
According to Rob Allingham, Alex Hendriks was eight years old when he recorded these two tunes for EMI, though the liner notes from JSX 9 claim he was eleven. Here he is backed by Black Mambazo. New Year Rock features an interesting dialogue in tsotsitaal about rock ’n roll in America. The one voice is quite clearly a young boy, possibly Hendriks, but strangely the other voice refers to him as “my sister”, implying that the hi-pitched voice could be that of a woman. These two tracks were issued together on a single Columbia 78 rpm, YE 177. New Years Rock was also included on the Columbia compilation LP Africa - Music and Life of Today (JSX 9) while Alex Special can be found on Flute Kwela Africa (JSX 60).

18) ELIAS AND HIS ZIG ZAG JIVE FLUTES - Vuka Magcwabeni - 1957
(Bopape, Columbia, 45DB 4146, CEA 5103)

Translated as “Back from the dead”, Vuka Magcwabeni was one of the tracks issued by EMI UK after Elias Lerole’s smash success with Tom Hark. The record, however, did not sell very well. Of course, the group here was also known as Black Mambazo.

(Bopape, Columbia EP, SEYJ 102; original 78 rpm, YE 197, CEA 5104)

Here Black Mambazo include an early example of the deep-vocal style known as “groaning”. It is probable that Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ (Jake) Lerole is the groaner. The track was issued on 78 rpm and on a Columbia EP: Africa - Music and Life of Today - Volume 1 (SEYJ 102).

20) FRANS AND JERRY - Butone No. 3 - 1957
(Mutshutshu, Troubadour, AFC 410, MATA 1746)

I am wondering if Frans may be France Pilane who accompanied Spokes Mashiyane on guitar in his early recordings at Trutone. Mutshutshu may be a pseudonym used by Troubadour. Notice on the two tracks by Aron and Charles that the credit is spelt differently—Mutshutshuru.

21) ARON AND MICHAEL - King Flute - 1957
(Ngubane, Troubadour, AFC 391, MATA 1751)

22) ARON AND MICHAEL - Solid - 1957
(Ngubane, Troubadour, AFC 391, MATA 1752)

Aron here is likely to be Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ Jake Lerole. Likewise for the Aron and Charles tracks below. As mentioned above, the percussion on these two tracks almost sounds like military-styled drumming and may give us a hint at what the very early Alexandra scottishes may have sounded like.

23) ARON AND CHARLES - Frans Special - 1957
(Mutshutshuru, Troubadour, AFC 407, MATA 1791)

24) ARON AND CHARLES - Pola Grace - 1957
(Mutshutshuru, Troubadour, AFC 407, MATA 1792)

25) NOCKS BALOYI - Askiem to Nocks - 1957
(Baloyi, Troubadour, AFC 425, MATA 1827)

26) NOCKS BALOYI - New Boogie - 1957
(Baloyi, Troubadour, AFC 425, MATA 1828)

Volume 1 (1951-1956)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 15)


Volume 2 (1956-1957)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 16)



Monday, 27 October 2014

Bra Sello - The Battle of Disco (1977)

Today we feature Bra Sello Mmutung's ironically titled: The Battle of Disco. Recorded in 1977, the LP features two long, single-sided tracks stylistically in the bump jive form. Perhaps its his pensive expression on the cover or the music itself, which, though wonderfully mellow, nostalgically refers back to an earlier time. Ironic, for sure, in that bump jive as a style can be traced back to Abdullah Ibrahim's Mannenburg (The Sun, SRK 786134) recorded a mere three years before this LP in 1974. Maybe Bra Sello's "battle" is more a generational critique of the coming disco soul jive explosion that was already sweeping younger consumers and would dominate record sales in South Africa until at least the early 1980s. Ironic also in that Bra Sello helped build the mbaqanga dance sound with hits like Lulu Come Back that led to the disco soul era. The album could also be viewed as a lament for the big band sounds of the majuba era. A lament, however, that certainly is uplifting!

Bra Sello Mmutung can be heard on the 1967 compilation Modern Sax Stars and the 1975 album Butterfly here at Electric Jive.

The Battle of Disco
SWA 14018


Monday, 20 October 2014

For the Love of Africa: Guest tribute to John Peel

Hello electricjive readers – warm greetings from a Glaswegian music nut!

Firstly, I must thank Chris, Nick, Matt and Siemon not only for their wonderful posts over the years - but for allowing me in as a hijacker! I’ve been a keen follower of the blog for some years - a veritable tour-de-force in the promotion of Africa’s rich musical heritage, and surely world leading when it comes to the priceless preservation of South African treasure in particular?

You’re probably wondering how it comes to be that we Westerners come to be so heavily into African music. For me personally, and, I suspect, for many others, it’s all down to my musical hero – the great BBC DJ, John Peel.

I listened to his nightly shows regularly from 1983 until his untimely death from a heart-attack on 25th October 2004, taping highlights and following them up wherever possible.

During the course of his shows, John Peel brought the Planet closer together, with a weird and wonderful mix of all that was musically interesting – there were no borderlines in his musical world.
Even since before my time, Peel was playing Osibisa, Sipho Bhengu and Fela Kuti way before they were “trendy”.

Over the 21 year course of my listening timespan, I was thrilled by the rush of the Congolese sebene, exhilarated by the dance rhythms of the Zimbabweans, and captivated by the exotic chanters, percussionists and instrumentalists from all over the continent. The nuances of chimurenga, mbaqanga, highlife or soukous were all on the agenda!

I would make up mix-tapes packed with gems from the Soul Brothers, Papa Wemba, the Harare Mambos, Diblo Dibala, Shalawambe, Pépé Kallé, Mahlathini, John Chibadura, Thomas Mapfumo and countless others – it was a pleasure and an education, and it fuelled a lifelong passion.

At the tenth anniversary of the passing of the great man I feel the time is right to acknowledge the huge influence made by John Peel – his support may not have suddenly turned any of those African musicians into mega-millionaires (alas, the world’s tastes are not so well developed) but at least it opened eyes and ears. Thanks to John Peel (and of course his wonderfully entertaining friend and DJ colleague, Andy Kershaw), doors were suddenly open to possibilities - tours were well attended, and thousands of new fans were made where none previously existed. Kershaw continues to be the BBC’s African specialist ‘til this day.

The tunes on this compile were mostly featured in the John Peel show at some stage, although I have allowed myself to include tracks which were discovered by my own adventures. After all, my explorations were as a result of my musical education via the “wingding”, as we John Peel fans liked to refer to his show.

To ensure that my tribute does not demonstrate bias towards my favoured hotspots of Kinshasa, Harare and Johannesburg, I have laid down a simple criterion for the selections – no country can repeat. Apart from the special "bonus track" end selection ;-)

For John Peel and for the love of Africa, I hope you will join me in my celebration!

Peace out,

The Jukebox Rebel

1. Hiran'ny Tanoran'ny Ntao Lo - Oay Lahy E (Traditional)

Recorded in Paris in the 1930s and originally issued on 78. Remastered on the album “The Music of Madagascar: Classic Traditional Recordings of the 1930s” (Yazoo 7003, 1995).

Translates as “Oh Dear Friend”. Recorded evidence of Africa's musical power and beauty has available for well over a hundred years – our fine opener, several decades old, originates from one of the remotest parts of the continent, and serves as an exhibit for the case. Whilst the exact recording / release date for this piece is not known, an enthusiastic collector who goes by the name of jw (Jonathan Ward) (at provides a lot of great information. 

Although recordings were being made in Madagascar from 1929, this particular piece was recorded in Paris, and is believed to have been primarily marketed to the French, in the slipstream, no doubt, of the Colonial Exposition of 1931. You're hearing the unforgettable sound of the valiha, the traditional Malagasy plucked tube zither, pronounced vahLEE, together with a leading lady singer, and her small, but perfectly formed, vocal backing cast. Stylistically, this music is called “kalon’ny fahiny”, or “songs of the past” – with a song type deriving from theatrical Malagasy operetta. 

jw notes: “Malagasy music varies across the island nation, and has been influenced from so many sources – East Africa, Europe, Indonesia, and even Yemen. Compared to other traditional music from Africa, it is often described as more melodic, or “lyrical,” because of some of these influences. Kalon’ny fahiny songs certainly fit that description. The style is primarily from the high plains of the country, and the theatrical tradition is still practiced today in major cities of Madagascar.”

2. Lourdes Van-Dúnem - Ngongo Ya Biluka (?)

Recorded in 1972. Original release unknown. Compiled on “Angola 70's: 1972-1973” (Buda Musique 82992-2, 1999).

This legendary songstress was born in Luanda, and rose to stardom in the 1960s with the group Ngola Ritmos. She recorded her first album, “Monami”, with this group. She toured several times in Portugal, Algeria, and Brazil, in addition to performances in her homeland. After her first album, most of her career was spent with the group Jovens do Prenda, and it’s they who provide the backing on our featured track. Angola’s first recording studio only opened in 1969 – what had we been missing out on ‘til then I wonder? Who can resist this easy style of Semba? Samba without the sweat - yes please! There’s a sense of hope within this tune but Angola, yet a colony, could not fully settle during these troubled times. She died in 2006, aged 70, of typhoid fever, just as some degree of stability was returning to the Republic. The President of Angola, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, attended her funeral, recognising her outstanding contribution as a cultural ambassador for Angola.

3. Jali Nyama Suso - Kedo (Traditional)

Field recording in February 1974 in Bakau Village, The Gambia. First issued on the LP “African Journey, Vol. 1” (Sonet 666, 1975).

Samuel Charters was the compiler of the above mentioned western release. On the original LP he notes: “These recordings were made during extended journeys among the peoples of West Africa [namely The Gambia, Senegal and Mali] whose lives and culture have become part of the Cultural history of America.”

Mohamadu Lamin Suso (born circa 1925; died 1991) is heard here singing and playing the kora, this being the ceremonial instrument of choice for his folk – a 21-string bridge harp used by the Mandinka people of north-western Africa. On this track, there’s an immediate intimacy between listener and performer – a hypnotic warmth which is not easily generated by just one man and his stringed instrument. There’s something about Jali – he’s a soul stirrer.

His was an eventful life – he lost his leg at the age of just 16, but did not allow this to prevent him from making the most of his time. By the mid-1960s he had become an extremely popular figure on Radio Gambia. By the time of recording his first album in 1971, he was teaching at the University of Washington. In the 1980s he toured in England, France, Germany, and Sweden, as well as working on TV soundtrack music. He was trusted to do an arrangement for the Gambian national anthem; such was his level of respect. In 1991, he died of tuberculosis after several years of illness.

4. Marijata - Mother Africa (Pat Thomas, Kofi Addison, Bob Fischian, Nat Osmanu)

From their LP “Pat Thomas Introduces Marijata” (Gapophone Records GAPO LP-013, 1976).
Formed from the ashes of the Sweet Beans, this Ghanaian highlife crew were smokin’ hot. Core members were Pat Thomas (vocals), Kofi ‘Electric’ Addison (Guitar), Bob Fischian (Organ) and Nat Osmanu (Guitar). I’ve long regarded the JBs as the world leaders in the art of the hard and fast funk trance-out but, as you can hear, Marijata run them all the way to the wire.

5. Boyoyo Boys - Son Op (Johnson Mkhalali)

B-side to “Lekker Krap” (Plastik PKB-1078, 1977).

Accordion jive of the highest order, completely exhilarating from start to finish. It’s easy to hear why these boys topped 70s Township Jive charts with gold records galore. On the worldwide stage they will, of course, forever be renowned as the inspirational catalyst for Paul Simon’s excellent “Graceland”. Hey, at least Paul Simon paid them their dues. Unlike that cad Malcolm McLaren. Peel continued to play the new Boyoyo Boys material all the way throughout the 1980s.

6. Kanda Bongo Man - Amina (Kanda Bongo Man)

From his debut LP “Iyole ● Mazina” (Afro-Rythmes AR 001-81, 1981).

After a somewhat innocuous beginning, this piece lifts at least thrice, and, before you can say “Congo Bongo”, you’re embroiled in an intoxicating swirl of head-spinning brilliance.
Having played together back home in Zaire with Bella Bella, it was quite natural that Kanda Bongo Man should once again team up with his old friend when, at the start of the 1980s, both ended up in Paris. The fact that Diblo Dibala was probably the hottest Soukous lead guitarist on the planet was an added bonus for Kanda. Not for nothing is “Diblo” the most famous mid-recording shout-out in all of African music.

In 1992, John Peel and Andy Kershaw, on learning Diblo was making an appearance at Stern's African Records, raced there to get his autograph. Dibala repaid the compliment by giving name checks to both of them on “Matchatcha Wetu”. This is why we love these DJ’s – zero pretence; they are music fans first and foremost!

Speaking in regards to a live Diblo concert, Peel said “believe me, to hear Diblo singing your name on stage is one of the greatest things that's happened to me in my entire life… I know it's an amazingly stupid thing to say that somebody is the best guitarist in the world, but if there is such a person it could well be Diblo Dibala.”

In June 2003, the performance of Kanda Bongo Man at Glastonbury Festival so enthused John Peel that he was to be heard waxing lyrical about it on TV and Radio at every available opportunity in the days that followed. Not that this was some idle, casual fling with the exotic. He had been doing the same thing on his Radio Show for nigh on two decades.

7. Amayenge - Mao (2 X 2) (Traditional)

Recorded 1985. Original release unknown. Included on the v/a compilation “Zambiance” (Globe Style ORB-037, 1989).

The name Amayenge is derived from a dance frequently performed by the Lamba people in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. This dance is traditional and involves vigorous hip movements in line with the drumming. It is always performed by the Lamba people when they have something to be happy about it. Not that this group are at all associated with any particular region of the country – quite the opposite is true in fact. Whilst “Mao” is sung in the Tonga tongue, I’m hugely impressed by the fact that they’d be just as likely to sing in any one of Zambia’s mind boggling array of language variations - up to 78 of them according to whose count you believe. Especially impressive is the fact that they are well respected across all the tribes in this regard, and are thought of as authentic all over the country. I am reliably informed (from “Zambian Music Legends” by Leonard Koloko) that the celebratory tone of their music often belies a tendency towards socially conscious lyrics, something which further endears them to me.

In 2003, when the group’s leader, Chris Chali, passed away, a glowing tribute was paid to him by Zambia’s ambassador to Japan, Godfrey Simasiku. Part of it read:

I wish to pay tribute to a fallen hero, our very own Chris Chali of the Amayenge Cultural Ensemble. None other than Chris himself founded Amayenge. The group became one of the best-known ambassadors of Zambia through their vibrant, indigenous music. They took the U.S.A. by storm and mesmerised the Russians not far from the Red Square in Moscow. Their kalindula music vibrated, as many a patron gyrated in Zambia and beyond. Yes, the Amayenge became a national cum regional household name.

Chris Chali motivated and inspired his recruits and initiates into Amayenge Cultural Ensemble when the rewards in our own indigenous music were peanuts. Yes, over the years a prophet has been recognised in his own land, so was Chris. He composed music in all the Zambian languages and translated into it vocal vibrations that few would fail to respond to. He took the Amayenge to all corners of the country either through hundreds and thousands of live shows or on cassette and compact disc. We remember “Be Helena”, “Ten Kwacha”, “Munise Munise”, “Fili Uko Tuleya” and dozens of new compositions.

Chali was a gentleman, a diplomat, and a family man who interacted with many kinds of people in his life. Chris earned the respect of everyone he met in his various roles in society. He cut across tribal barriers with his infectious smile and trademark chuckle or laugh.”

Good old determination and perseverance has held the band together ‘til this day under the stewardship of Chris’s wife, Alice Mwenge Chali, and Fraser Chilembo.

8. The Four Brothers - Ngatipindukewo (Marshall Munhumumwe)

From their LP “Rudo Chete” (Kumusha/Gramma Records KSALP-124, 1988).

Any track. Any album. The Four Brothers never let you down. This one features the “classic” line up of Marshall Munhumumwe (drums, lead vocals), Never Mutare (bass, vocals), Aleck Chipaika (guitar, vocals) and Frank Sibanda (guitar). It seemed like John Peel played every track on “Makorokoto” when he got his hands on it, and the band were perennial favourites for as long as I can remember. I rate “Rudo Chete” as one of the ten greatest albums in my own collection – and this is no mean feat as, in doing so, it beats off competition from nearly ten thousand others!

Peel famously rated the track “Pasi Pano Pane Zviedzo” as his second favourite of all-time, in conversation on “Desert Island Discs”, broadcast on Radio 4 in January, 1990. Later, in the Guardian newspaper in 1997, he included “Makorokoto” in his all-time Top 20 album list. On more than one occasion he has been quoted as describing The Four Brothers as “the best live band in the world”. Yes, it’s fair to say this was real old-fashioned doe-eyed fan-worship – and who could blame him?
Quite often, John Peel’s home in Suffolk would become a bit of an unlicensed social club – there’d be much pouring of wine, inevitably centred around a musical happening of some sort, often with hilarious results broadcast on his Radio 1 show. Magically, late in the summer of 1989, The Four Brothers made it all the way from Harare to Great Finborough or, to be more precise, “Peel Acres”, to indulge in one such party.

Writing in “Margrave of The Marshes” (the half-finished autobiography which she bravely finished after her husbands’ premature death), Sheila Ravenscroft offered some lovely insight into the couples’ fondness for Africa, and for Zimbabwe in particular:

Our most memorable and enlightening trips were those promotional jaunts organised by the BBC to promote the World Service. These were wonderful times, and often dramatically illuminating, such as our visit to Sierra Leone, which Dave Tate from the World Service arranged in conjunction with the British Council. John visited the university, and did a question-and-answer session with the students, who were all very charming and shy.

The British Council did some splendid work in the country, and John enjoyed engaging with the people there, despite his own shyness. But it was quite an upsetting trip; we witnessed a level of poverty that left us feeling physically shaken. After a while, we realised that we hadn’t seen any elderly people on our travels. That’s when our guide explained that few people lived beyond forty.
Our favourite trip had been another joint venture between the British Council and the World service, this time to Zimbabwe in 1988. John’s role on this occasion was to open a pop-music exhibition in Harare, though he was careful to remind himself that he had only been asked after Dave Lee Travis had turned it down. “I’m only here because Dave Lee Travis couldn’t be” – that’s the kind of thing that will always keep a man from getting ideas above his station.

Dave didn’t know what he was missing. The trip was a complete joy from the moment we touched down in Zimbabwe; by the time we left, John was seriously considering moving there. We spent a lot of time travelling into the townships to sample the local music scene. There was dancing everywhere. In one bar that we visited just outside Harare, an elderly man approached John and asked why he wasn't dancing. John replied, “I don't like to”, to which the man responded by proffering the bottle of beer he was clutching. “Have this and you’ll feel like dancing”, he beamed.

Another night, we went with Biggie Tembo to see a local band, the Four Brothers, who were performing at the Saratoga Club. John first met Biggie when Andy Kershaw took him to see “New” Biggie’s band, the Bhundu Boys, in London. Halfway through the gig, Andy turned to John and realised that he had plump tears cascading down his cheeks, so uplifted was he by the music. Much the same can be said for the Four Brothers. John and I felt so exhilarated by their songs; they could lift you up on the darkest days. I danced with Biggie during three numbers, and when we left the dance floor there was enthusiastic applause; John said afterwards that he felt rather proud.

When the Four Brothers had finished, John said wistfully that he wished they could play at his birthday party. And they did. I arranged for them to perform in our garden, and even as John was entering the marquee on his fiftieth birthday, he had no idea which band he was going to find there. It had been quite an effort keeping it a secret. John and I had been at the Reading Festival a few days before his birthday, where the Bhundu Boys were playing - and where Biggie babysat for Thomas, who insisted on pronouncing his name as Big Ears - and friends kept approaching me and asking me about the party. But when John set eyes on the Four Brothers in the marquee, he was completely surprised, as well as speechless.

That trip to Zimbabwe was also important because we got to visit Victoria Falls, which John had always wanted to see ever since he saw a photograph of it as a child. There were four places, in fact, on this wish list that he had compiled in his youth. As well as Victoria Falls, he got to see the Taj Mahal, and he also visited the Pyramids, where he had his photograph taken riding a camel - a pose that he'd wanted to replicate since seeing a picture of his father doing the same. The fourth place on John’s list was Machu Picchu.

Our excursion to Victoria Falls was memorable for more than just the grandeur of the location. Once we were there, we hired bicycles and rode by The Falls; the spray was momentarily cool and refreshing on our faces, but it dried in an instant in the thick heat. We cycled on to what was formerly the Zambian border with the intention of crossing to see The Falls from the other side. The border guards didn’t seem too keen to let us pass until John commented that he was hoping to go into Livingstone to buy some records. One of the guards wanted to know which records, and when John mentioned a few names, he seemed suddenly interested. “Do you know “Samora Michel” by Shalawambe?” he asked. “Of course!” replied John. And after he'd duetted with the border guard on a few verses of the song, we had our passports stamped and were waved cheerfully through.”

9. Orchestra Marrabenta Star de Moçambique - Tsiketa Kuni Barassara (Conjunto Boa Vontade)

From their LP “Independence” (Piranha pir-12, 1988).

Two things struck me when I first heard this – i) there is utter joy within these souls and ii) what tempo is THAT? Of course, these immediate feelings are all very well to the uninitiated. Beyond that, why was this recorded in Harare? Why did they call their album “Independance”, 13 years after the event? Like so many other African nations, the joy of independence was short-lived in Mozambique, as unrest and civil war ravaged the hopes and dreams of the people in the following decades. The back cover of their CD quotes from “Nhimba Ya ‘Dota”, a song written by the groups’ leader Wazimbo, who lays down his thoughts thus: “Is it natural that the rich people with big stomachs own and decide everything? Is it natural that it was decided that Africa is the poorest of all continents? With the great World Wars the other continents took the chance to grow and rule the world. And we Africans, we live at their back and pass the years lamenting.”

Which just goes to show – never judge a record solely by its cover. No fewer than fifteen of them, dressed for carnival, looking bright eyed and funky. Whatever they’re all about, there’s no denying this brilliant music. Lively percussion and horns, unusual rhythms and great vocalists, with Wazimbo (m), Mingas (f) and Dulce (f) rotating lead duties. In the case of this chosen track, it’s Dulce who takes centre stage to charming effect.

10. Les Têtes Brulées - Za Ayi Neyi (Jean-Marie Ahanda, Martin Maah, André Afata, Théodore Epeme, Roger Bekongo)

From their album “Ma Musique a Moi” (Bleu Caraïbes 82803, 1990).

Les Têtes Brulées (The Hot Heads) were founded in ’86 by music critic Jean-Marie Ahanda as a counter-reaction to the flashy, gold-studded style pervasive throughout the dominant zouk dance music scene. Unlike the extravagant Cameroonian stars that preceded them, Les Têtes preferred a stripped-down, rough edged sound. Their rapid-fire performances at the time were based upon the rural traditional music known as Bikutsi, an ancient rhythm from the rainforest region of western Cameroon. Bikutsi is the music of the Beti tribe, traditionally played on a balafon (African marimba) and danced by the clan’s women in a jerky, hypnotic fashion.

Their take was fresh – and their image was striking. Whilst many zouk and makossa artists went for costumes and a very Western look, Les Têtes Brulées sported shaved heads and tribal body paint, with the intent of evoking traditional Beti scarification. Their songs contained lyrics which addressed social issues – but they didn’t forget to have fun. Virtually every live concert would involve a football being kicked or thrown all around the venue between group and audience. This feel-good tomfoolery was recognised by “The Lions” and Les Têtes Brulées were invited along to the World Cups of 1990 (Italy) and 1994 (the USA), their riotous nature being seen as a key ingredient in keeping spirits high within the camp. It worked too – who could ever forget the exploits of Roger Milla leading Cameroon to within tantalising distance of the World Cup Semi-Finals? In his mind, he was dancing to Les Têtes Brulées at the corner flag! Pam Pam Cameroon!

The group burnt out though and Jean-Marie Ahanda would later lament: “We've never been able to make a living from our music. We had great highs when we were out on tour, but the rest of the time we found ourselves battling against this impossible contradiction - there we were, the most famous group in Cameroon, but we didn't have any work and we were basically 'persona non grata' wherever we went! The bikutsi system totally rejected us. I eventually decided to call it quits, but other members of the group insisted on going on, looking for venues where they could play and express themselves no matter what. That only seemed to do more damage in the end because a series of bad experiences eventually tore apart the remaining core.”

11. Alan Namoko and Chimvu Jazz - A Namoko Akulira (Alan Namoko)

From their album “Ana Osiidwa” (Pamtondo PAM-004, 1992).

Who can resist this raggle-taggle pounding? Not me, that’s for sure. There’s something about this humble ensemble that gets you – something magical which transcends language.

Alan Namoko was a thoroughly inspirational character. Blind from birth, he was an underdog from the very start. He literally developed his own unconventional style and was the world leading authority on his own home made banjo cum guitar, of which he was complete master. Picks, rhythms, sub rhythms, bass lines, you name it, he could produce from it, song by song, in any which way that took his fancy. And what a wailer - the blues from his moans were tangibly loaded with soul, and his lyrics, delivered in a well themed Chewa and Nyanja inclined vocabulary, tore out the hearts of many.

On our chosen song his wails translate: “Namoko is in mourning for his grandmother, she is gone to the graveyard on one of those one-way journeys, dear brother, Namoko is in mourning, his grandmother has deserted him, she has gone on a one-way trip to the grave.”

The rootsy, lo-fi ensemble was complete with tea chest percussion from his brother Laisani and cousin Rabson Matiya, the trio usually dubbed Alan Namoko and Chimvu River Jazz Band, a name borrowed from the river a couple of kilometres from the Namoko’s home.

Alan was only 7 when Malawi gained her independence in 1964. For the vast majority of his life he knew only one system – and Banda’s authoritarian single party state in Malawi meant that a lot of musicians could not fully express themselves. Lyrics of a political, controversial, or sexual nature in a largely conservative country would almost certainly result in a jail term.

The recording industry in the country was low key to the point of being almost inconsequential – his only route to eking an existence of any sort was to play at the road sides and rely on the kindness of strangers.

Soon, they came to realise that perhaps there was another way – perhaps if they could gain support and recognition from the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) they could receive regular royalty cheques if they could impress enough to gain sufficient airplay?

Namoko and his band got wind that the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation in Blantyre, the only radio station in the country, had arranged for recording sessions with acoustic artists at the then Kudya Entertainment Centre.

On one of the recording days, Namoko and his companions set out from their Thyolo homes and headed for Kudya, over 30 kilometres away. Upon their mistimed arrival, the sessions were about to wind up - but Namoko was not ready to let his opportunity pass so easily!

After his insistence and pleas for a chance, the recording team Davies Mussa and the late Merkas Munthali and the late Lawson Chaluluka gave him a try and the rest is history.

He did pieces like “A Unyolo” and “Che Phuwela” and the place went wild” recalled Mussa who worked with MBC for a time long enough to know how to separate wheat from the chaff.
They had secured a future of sorts – they could now queue regularly at the radio stations’ royalties issuing window and gauge how popular their latest tunes had been with the selectors / public via the size of their pay cheque.

It’s commonly told that they were the Number One act in the 1970s and 1980s – yet still the royalty payments were barely enough to get bye.

In 1990, Namoko and company flew to Europe for a whistle-stop three-week tour of the mainland. It was reported that, in one Finnish venue, they sold more tickets than The Beatles who had played their nearly 30 years earlier!

These highs always seemed temporary – and never lucrative for Alan or his group.
According to his relatives, it was on November 20, 1995 that Namoko passed on after a failed battle with tuberculosis, still a pauper.

As fate decided it, Namoko died a man laden with poverty and want. It would take a dozen long years before his grave could be acknowledged with a tombstone.

Amid pressing poverty after the demise of their bread winner, there was very little that his family could do to honour a fallen soul; they had to struggle to smooth the way of the souls still living.
In 2007, Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) came to their rescue and took care of Namoko’s grave, as well as the graves of Laisani (who died in 1994) and Rabson (who died in 2001): “The reason why we are building this tombstone, which we are calling the Allan Namoko Memorial Tower, is because at ZBS, we believe that as much as Namoko came from an ordinary background, he was not an ordinary man. It was within our belief that there are so many people out there that have achieved big things but have not been recognised, one of whom is Allan Namoko” Zodiak’s managing director Gospel Kazako told Society.

We strongly believe that Allan Namoko can still be honoured because our culture tells us that we can still respect the dead. In our view, Allan Namoko does not deserve to sleep in a leaking house, or in no house at all as was the case” he said.

Kazako remarked that the gesture reflects Zodiak’s desire to respect art and talent in Malawi.
For us, it only makes sense for a pure Malawian radio station to put up a memorial tower for a true Malawian legend. We wish we had all the money so that we could have done memorial towers for Daniel Kachamba, Robert Fumulani, Maikolo Yekha or Black Paseli” he said.

Note: I’m indebted to an internet article entitled “Pain of Namoko's penniless legacy” by Herbert Chandilanga (2007), for the source of most of this information.

12. Le Zagazougou - Allah Ma Diana (Korotoum Kamara)

Recorded in Abidjan, April 1992, included on their self-titled debut album (ACSB-001, 1992), a local cassette-only release.

Cote d’Ivoire? Halfway to Colombia by the sounds of it! If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my African adventures it’s that all pre-conceived notions about the region’s music do a great dis-service to the creative talents that are lurking within every corner of the continent. For every Womad-led snooze-fest with jaded session musos, there’s a fresh, sparkling ensemble just around the corner, waiting to be discovered. Of Le Zagazougou, All Music Guide have this to say: “Formed in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in 1990 by the sons and nephews of Mamadou Ouattara (who, having been given an accordion by a missionary, had introduced the instrument into the traditional music of Cote d’Ivoire), Le Zagazougou continued to develop the role of the accordion within the music of their country. They created a brand of fast-paced, acoustic roots pop which also featured vocals and massed percussion. Led by Ouattara’s son Bakary, a.k.a. Abou Ouatt, and featuring up to 15 instrumentalists and singers, they soon became the most popular roots-based group in Abidjan. 

Their debut cassette for the local market outsold more commercial African and Anglo-American releases on its release in 1992 to become the Cote d’Ivoire’s bestseller of that year. This was something of a coup for traditional-based music, hence the title of their debut international release “Zagazougou Coup”, which featured tracks from that initial release alongside material recorded in Abidjan a year later.”

13. Magic Black Men - Can 2002 (?)

From their album “Lume” (Invasion Records, 2002).

An inventive trio who answer to the names Don Mizero (Hamidou Cissé), Philosophy (Attino Doumbiaand) and Titi (who has managed to retain anonymity). Their originality is widely applauded by the Malian public. They all speak the dialects of Mali as well as several foreign languages – you will get an immediate sense of this on our selected track, which was played by both John Peel and Andy Kershaw. They somehow manage to stylistically bridge their sound to incorporate Rap, Ragga, Soul, Zouk, Salsa, the traditional, and even a little bit of Rock n Roll. Now that’s magic ;-)

14. Béla Fleck and Ateso Jazz Band - Jesus Is The Only Answer (Traditional)

From his album “Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3: Africa Sessions” (Rounder 0634, 2009).

Rounder Records press release tells the background: “Throw Down Your Heart chronicles banjo virtuoso and 9-time Grammy award winner Bela Fleck’s musical journey to Africa to explore the little known African roots of the banjo. Bela’s boundary-breaking musical adventure takes him to Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali, and provides a glimpse of the beauty and complexity of African music. Using his banjo, Bela transcends barriers of language and culture, finding common ground and forging connections with musicians from very different backgrounds.”

There are simple joys at every second turn of this set – a must have for any collection. Who needs a £100,000 studio when the people’s park of Jinja is available for free? What a charming adventure...

15. Soweto Gospel Choir - Asimbonanga [live dec. '13] (Johnny Clegg)

Field recording at Woolworths Parkview Store in Pretoria, Saturday 7th December 2013.

I finish off this mix-tape with a song which was originally written and performed by Johnny Clegg and Savuka, away back in 1987. Johnny Clegg was an artist given great support by Andy Kershaw and John Peel, since way back in the 1970s, when he played with Juluka.

Peel’s politics were in line with Mandela – he too was a social democrat. A firm supporter of the anti-apartheid movement, his shows were suitably littered with words and music aligned with the cause for as long as I can recall. His listeners voted “Free Nelson Mandela” as one of the best songs of the year in 1984, with Peel wryly commenting afterwards, “Should have been higher, brothers and sisters.” In June 1988, Peel attended the “Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert” at Wembley Stadium, and followed up with encouraging words on air aimed at solidifying the significance and meaning of the event beyond pop music. From Zambia, Amayenge arrived in London the following month to play in session, and included their own song, also titled “Free Nelson Mandela” – the hour was nearing at last.

Mandela was “the one man on earth that I would really like to meet” said Peel on air – a wish unfulfilled, although Andy Kershaw did get to meet him briefly at the “46664” concert in London in 2008.

As for our chosen version of “Asimbonanga”, The Soweto Gospel Choir had been singing this song in their repertoire for many years, usually bridged wonderfully with “Biko”. The choir had been booked to appear at a Woolworths store on 7th December 2013, where, as part of the store’s “Operation Smile Xmas campaign” they would perform James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and hand out flowers to the customers. The idea was that they would be incognito, posing as shop workers, and suddenly burst into song from out of nowhere, to the surprise of passers-by and anyone else who happened to be in the store at the time. So it came to be that in Woolworths Parkview Store in Pretoria, Saturday 7th December 2013, 10:15am, they duly performed – but with a late change to the planned track selection! Rolihlahla Mandela had passed away the night before last and an appropriate dedication was in order!
Asimbonanga (we have not seen him)
Asimbonang' uMandela thina (we have not seen Mandela)
Laph'ekhona (in the place where he is)
Laph'ehleli khona (in the place where he is kept)
Sithi: Hey, wena (We say: hey, you)
Hey, wena nawe (Hey, you and you)
Siyofika nini la' siyakhona (when will we arrive at our destination)

I was very proud that my own hometown honoured Rolihlahla Mandela with the Freedom of Glasgow in 1981. Prouder still when St George's Place in our City Centre was renamed as Nelson Mandela Place in 1986. At Glasgow City Council HQ in George Square we have a plaque bearing words from his infamous speech / statement dating back to 20th April 1964:

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

These words from Mandela’s defence statement during the Rivonia Trial in 1964 were repeated during the closing of his speech delivered in Cape Town on the day he was released from prison, on 11 February 1990. He was a brave, selfless and noble man who broke the supremacists through sheer will and determination. He never changed for South Africa. South Africa changed for him.

Rolihlahla Mandela, with my fist clenched and right arm aloft, I salute you.

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