I started this compilation initially as an end of year holiday mix, but one thing lead to another and it turned into something much larger. I suspect though that it will still meet the original requirements. This post builds on a number of previous excellent posts here at Electric Jive in particular Chris Albertyn’s Do you Remember Nick Moyake? After listening to the Moyake I thought about building a mix that would include significant South African artists in perhaps less well known contexts such as early bands of even later unknown bands. At that point I had in mind a 1956 recording of Willie Max en sy Orkes featuring a really young Dollar Brand as well as a very battered disc by the Nu Rhythm Down Beats led by Christopher Columbus Ncgukana or 'Mra'. ('Mra' or 'Bra' are slang terms that can mean "brother" but they are also an accolade and sign of respect if used as a prefix before a name.) As the mix grew, I realized that it was becoming something closer to a survey of a golden age of South African Jazz and it revealed how that music was transformed, over a decade, into something else that was distinctly more African. I suppose the subtitle of the post could have been how American swing became mbaqanga.
Majuba, msakazo, or what is more commonly referred to as African Jazz is a quintessentially South African sound. Originally it was a big band sound that took American swing and indigenised it with elements of marabi. From its hey-day in the 1950s it was created by and produced some of the key figures of South African Jazz.
By 1958 majuba jazz had split: one avenue taking a 'highbrow' approach with the influences of bop to become the sound of the Jazz Epistles and The Blue Notes; while another, some would say, 'lowbrow' approach took the music in the direction of sax jive. By 1964 sax jive had become mbaqanga.
The early roots of the majuba sound, can be traced back to some of the dance bands of the 1930s and 40s including Sonny Groenewald’s Jazz Revellers, Peter Rezant’s Merry Blackbirds, but most notably Solomon 'Zuluboy' Cele’s Jazz Maniacs. The sound at that time was American swing and Cele wanted to bring a more African flavour to the music. Cele, before forming the Maniacs in 1935, was a marabi pianist and he integrated elements of that style with the music. According to David Coplan, the Maniacs popular song Majuba gave the style its name.
But accounts about this history vary. For example, in his 1957 Drum article Jazz comes to JHB Todd Matshikiza wrote about how the Harlem Swingsters gave birth to this new style of music:
"We [the Harlem Swingsters] took him [Gray Mbau] with us to Potchefstroom on another trip, where African Jazz was reborn. The original product – Marabi – had died when American swing took over. Gray [Mbau], Taai [Shomang], Gwigwi [Mrwebi], and I recaptured the wonderful mood over an elevating early breakfast of corn bread and tea in the open air after heavy a drinking bout the previous evening. Gray put the corn bread aside and started blowing something on the five note scale. We dropped our corn bread and got stuck into Gray’s mood. And that is how some of the greatest and unsurpassed African Jazz classics were born. “E-Qonce”, “E-Mtata”, “Majuba”, “Fish and Chips” were born out of that combination of the Harlem Swingsters whose passing remains today’s greatest regret. We invented “Majuba” jazz and gave jive strong competition. We syncopated and displaced accents and gave endless variety to our ‘native’ rhythms. We were longing for the days or Marabi piano, vital and live. Blues piano, ragtime piano, jazz band piano, swing and modern piano had taken it away from us. And here now we are seedling it again with new blood in its veins. It was Tebejana’s [a famous marabi pianist] original material, but treated freshly with a dash of lime.” (Chris Ballantine, Ian Jeffery)
A further discrepancy can be noted in that the recordings of Majuba and E-Qonce on this compilation were performed by the African Quavers and attributed to David Mzimkulu and Willie Mbali respectively. Interestingly Mzimkulu was a member of the Jazz Maniacs.
Coplan goes on to say “by 1954 even penny whistlers were described as performing in ‘Majuba tempo’.” But he also points out that it was Gideon Nxumalo with his popular SABC radio show This is Bantu Jazz that was “principally responsible for the wide distribution of a new term for the majuba African jazz—mbaqanga.”
The terms ijuba and amajuba in isiZulu mean dove or doves. Majuba, I have read, means “hill of doves.” Geographically, Majuba is the name of a hill near Volksrust in Mpumalanga. Historically, it is also the name of a battle that took place on that same hill in the First Boer War where the Boers defeated the British in 1881. But I digress…
By the late fifties and early sixties the popularity of majuba began to wane. 1958 marked a watershed moment in its unraveling when Spokes Mashiyane, famous for popularising kwela on the pennywhistle, took up the saxophone at the suggestion of Strike Vilikazi. The result Big Joe Special was a punchier, faster jive that satisfied younger consumers. Michael Xaba, trumpeter for the legendary Jazz Maniacs is said to have coined the phrase mbaqanga, or cornbread, to describe this new style of music. Some have interpreted his comment as a pejorative, but I wonder if it could be viewed in a more ambiguous light… given that we all have to eat!
The realities of majuba’s decline however saw really successful bands like the Sharpetown Swingsters, go by the wayside. The group, discovered by Rupert Bopape, was signed to a five-year contract in 1955. In that period they recorded 22 tracks for the Columbia label, many of which were major hits in the late 1950s. By 1960, their contract with EMI went un-renewed.
In many ways Ian Jefferey’s dissertation on the Sharpetowne Swingsters has been an invaluable window onto this period and his use of the term 'majuba' in describing this music urged me to examine where that came from.
But the majuba sound never did really die. It continues to be re-birthed. This is the sound that is revisited in the classic 1967 LP Kwela by Gwigwi’s Band featuring Gwigwi Mrewbi, Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor and Ronnie Beer. This is also the sound that is quoted on Dollar Brand’s archetypal Mannenburg from 1973. Rob Allingham has even pointed to a critique by Lulu Masilela that Mannenburg was simply a slowed down version of 'Bra' Zacks Nkosi’s Jackpot, a 1960 classic majuba track. After listening to both I think I disagree. Cultures build on their roots and this appropriation, if you want to call it that, does transform the original into a significant new animal that rightfully pays homage to its past.
Recently a number of excellent CD compilations that include this music have been issued most notably Albert Ralulimi and Rob Allingham’s Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 1 + 2. Generally though, most compilations include majuba jazz in the context of so many other great styles, mainly vocal jive and kwela. One compilation LP that does focus almost exclusively on this material is Jazz and Hot Dance in South Africa (1946-1959). This record, issued by Harlequin in 1985 is excellent but out-of-print. Copies do appear on eBay but not very often. In the interests of building a comprehensive narrative in this compilation I have included two tracks from that compilation here: these are by The Harlem Swingsters and The Shanty City Seven. Also check out Chris Albertyn’s South African Jazz 78rpm Mix and Matt Temple’s Pull Up! Sixties Jazz 78s here at Electric Jive
Before we commence with this holiday mix/survey, I would like to thank Laurent Dalmasso for kindly providing the namesake track Majuba by the African Quavers for this compilation. I would also like to thank the team here at Electric Jive: Chris, Matt, Nick and Francis for an amazing year of rich discussions. And I would especially like to thank Chris and Matt for inviting me, a year ago in January, to be a part of this wonderful endeavor!
This compilation is arranged chronologically and is split over three volumes. Today’s post will feature Volume 1 only. Volume 2 and 3 are now available at another post on Electric Jive. Some elements of the original mix may not necessarily fit into a strict definition of majuba jazz but have remained to give some historical context. Sources of content below have been listed at the bottom of each paragraph.
Volume 1: Swing to Majuba (1953 – 1956)
Volume 2: Majuba to Sax Jive (1957-1961)
Volume 3: Sax Jive to Mbaqanga (1962 – 1967)
78 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE – MAJUBA JAZZ FROM MRA TO BRA
VOLUME 1: SWING TO MAJUBA (1953 – 1956)
(flatinternational / Electric Jive, FXEJ 4)
1) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA - E-Qonce - 1953
(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1577)
2) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA - U-Maskhanda – 1953
(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1576)
3) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA – Ezibeleni – 1953
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1580)
4) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA – Umkhonde - 1953
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1579)
5) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA – Majuba – 1953
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 155, matrix 1581)
* thanks to Laurent Dalmasso for the Majuba track.
City Press reveals that he co-founded the African Quavers in East London. The Quavers were hugely popular at the time and included Willie 'Sax-o-Willis' Mbali on alto sax, Boyce Hashe on alto sax, David Mzimkulu on trumpet and Absalom Mtyeku on trumpet. The group would later become the famed fifteen-piece band the Havana Swingsters. Allingham lists the personnel of the Swingsters on the 1954 recording, Emaxambeni, as Douglas 'Sax' Manuel on 1st alto, Boyce Hashe on 2nd alto, Eric Nomvete on 1st tenor, Vuyisile Mjamba on 2nd tenor, David Mzimkulu on 1st trumpet, Mqaqbane Mlubi on 2nd trumpet, Absolom Mtyeku on 3rd trumpet, Zama Mati on 1st trombone, Graham Nobaxa on piano, William Madyaka on guitar, Daniel 'Kgomo' Morolong on bass and Pavia Gwenisa on drums. (Listen to tracks at SAMAP) (Molefe, Allingham)
Born in October 1920, Nomvete studied at Adams College in Natal where his teachers included none other than Reuben T. Caluza and William Mseleku. It is here that he also met fellow-student Todd Matshikiza, a future member of the Harlem Swingsters and composer of King Kong. After receiving a diploma in social work, he moved to Umtata and there formed the Rhythm Swingsters in 1946. It is at this point that Nomvete learned to play the alto sax with the help of Gwigwi Mrwebi. In 1949 Nomvete moved to Duncan Village outside East London and it is here that he is said to have formed the African Quavers. He composed his first tune, Xapa Song, in 1951 with aid from fellow band members David Mzimkulu and Willie Mbali. (Huskisson, Molefe)
|Willie Mbali from Coplan|
Eric Nomvete is said to have ‘discovered’ Mongezi Feza and in 1962 introduced him on trumpet in his band The Big Five at the now classic Castle Lager National Jazz Festival. The track Pondo Blues also featured Dick Khoza on drums and though at the time only received third prize, is by far one of the best tracks on the album.
It is not totally clear whether Eric Nomvete actually performs on the African Quavers recordings, but I suspect he probably does. So far I have found at least nine tracks from this same recording session including U-Toki (BB 653) which is listed in Huskisson as a Nomvete composition. On this track the band performs with a vocal group, the Chocolate Sisters.
Rob Allingham has it that Willie Mbali was the leader of the group at the time of these recordings in 1953. He also maintains that these were the only sessions recorded by the group, the result of a field-unit sent to East London, hence the varied quality of the recordings.
Most of the tracks appear to be composed by Mbali or Mzimkulu, notably Majuba (GB 155) by Mzimkulu and E-Qonce (GB 156) by Mbali. Majuba is the same composition that gave name to this style of music in the 1950s. Some discrepancies are evident over the authorship of Majuba. For example in his August 1957 article in Drum magazine, Todd Matshikiza implies that it was the Harlem Swingsters with Gray Mbau, Taai Shomang, Gwigwi Mrwebi and himself that came up with both Majuba and E-Qonce. Huskisson also has Matshikiza as the composer of E-Qonce. But Coplan points out that it was the Jazz Maniac’s popular recording of Majuba that gave the style its name and of course David Mzimkulu at some point did perform with the Maniacs. So my guess is more research needs to be done in this area.
One final note, in his interview with Lars Rasmussen, Tete Mbambisa mentions performing with the African Quavers, though I am sure he was too young to be present at the time of these recordings. Also Willie Mbali is the grandfather of saxophonist, Ndithi Mbali.
6) MERRY SWINGSTERS with VICTOR MKIZE and JOYCE FOLEY
– Hambela eBhayi – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11470)
7) MERRY SWINGSTERS with VICTOR MKIZE and JOYCE FOLEY
– iTyala Lami – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11472)
8) SHANTY CITY SEVEN – Unoya Kae – 1953
(Lottie Masilo, Gallotone, GB 1955, ABC 12310)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA
9) BENNY G. MRWEBI & the HARLEM SWINGSTERS + TAAI SHOMANG
– U-Mgibe – 1954
(Gideon Nxumalo, Troubadour, AFC 166, MATA 1251)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA
|Gwigwi Mrwebi from Shaderburg|
Kwela with Gwigwi’s Band issued in 1967 on Doug Dobell’s 77 Records. Since then this album has been reissued by Honest Jons. You will also find the track Nyusamkhaya on the compilation London is the Place For Me 2. The October 17, 1970 issue of Billboard magazine reveals that Mrwebi won a grant to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. The grant was awarded by Chisa Productions headed by Hugh Masekela. Mrwebi died of a heart attack in Boston in 1973 (Shaderburg, Billboard)
10) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND
– Nonzwakazi Alias Fat Cookies – 1954
( Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12814)
11) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Trotters – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12813)
12) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Fishcake – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13073)
13) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Tikoloshe – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13076)
City Press reveals that he received his first instrument, a clarinet, in 1947 as a donation from a local Alexandra resident. In the early 1950s he played with Gwigwi Mrwebi’s Harlem Swingsters. Though Molefe in the obituary does say that Taai Shomang led the Swingsters. Piliso formed the Alexandra All Stars in 1953 after leaving the Swingsters and with this group put out some of the most memorable tracks in the majuba style. Remarkable these early recordings by this famous group included the band personnel on the label, which is rare. The group at this point included Edmund 'Ntemi' Piliso as the leader on tenor sax, David 'Boy Maska' Mope and David 'Bra' Sello on alto sax, Shadrack Piliso (Ntemi’s older brother) on trumpet, Fortesque 'Edgar' Mazibuko on bass, S. 'Booikie' Mokone on drums and Aaron Lebona on piano.
In 1975 Ntemi formed The Members with his brother Shadrack and African Swingster’s Ellison Temba and they released a number of albums with long form single-sided tracks in a style that was by then called bump-jive. Bump Jive in many ways has its roots in the majuba sound of the 1950s as is discussed at length in Rob Allingham’s excellent notes on the CD reissue Bra Ntemi (CDXU1). In 1981 Ntemi Piliso founded the African Jazz Pioneers, a very successful band that brought many of the sounds of the 1950s to a new generation. (Molefe, Allingham, Bergmeier)
14) BOOYSE GWELE & his CITY JAZZ GIANTS – Half Mpaqanga – c1955
(Gwiri, Philips, SB 21, AA30020.1H)
15) ORLANDO JAZZ COMBO – Umjiva – c1955
(Kika, Philips, SB 13, AA30012.2H)
Zulu Jazz composed by Christopher Songxaka in the SAMAP archive. (Tropik, ABC 16203) Gwele also solos on Esingeni by King Jury and His Band on the CD Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 2 (Coplan, Rasmussen)
Track 15 here by pianist Sidwell Kika’s Orlando Jazz Combo featured P.N. Gumbie on trumpet, M. Dludla on alto, S. Kubeka on tenor, and B. Makhubedu on drums.
16) NU RHYTHM DOWN BEATS of PE – Emlanjeni – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.2H)
17) NU RHYTHM DOWN BEATS of PE – Intlombe – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.1H)
|Chris Columbus from Huskisson|
18) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHM – iMali – c1955
(“Money”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.1H)
19) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHM – Umsindo – c1955
(“Noise”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.2H)
Matshikiza began working on the music for the historic “all African Jazz opera”, King Kong, around late 1957. The show opened to huge success in Johannesburg in 1959 and then was taken to London and opened in February 1961. Matshikiza also scored the music for Alan Paton’s Mkhumbane which opened in Durban, March 29th 1960, one week after the Sharpeville massacres. A political play that came at an unfortunate time which also proved to be its deathnail. Post Sharpeville, King Kong travelled to London and gave opportunity for many of its cast and musicians, including Matshikiza, to leave the country. Matshikiza stayed on in London and eventually moved to Zambia. He died there in 1968. (Huskisson, Ballantine, Glasser)
20) The WOODY WOODPECKERS – Ndivume – c1955
(“Accept Me”, Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 10, AA 30009.1H)
21) The WOODY WOODPECKERS’ SWEETHEARTS
– Nandi Nabhuti – c1955
(Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 39, AA 30038.2H)
Castle Jazz Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu stadium. At that point the group included Ndazilwana, Bennet Majango, Johnny Tsagane and Boy Ngwenya. In 1970, Ndlazilwana formed the group the Jazz Ministers and recorded a number of albums including Nomvula's Jazz Dance which can be viewed here at Electric Jive. His album Zandile recorded in 1975 included Ngwenya from the Woody Woodpeckers and can be viewed at flatinternational. After Ndlazilwana's death in 1978 trumpeter, Johnny Mekoa, assumed leadership of the Ministers. Mekoa would later perform the title track Zandile as a tribute to Ndlazilwana with the Jazzanians, the first nationally recognised group to emerge from the University of Natal's seminal jazz courses.
22) GWI GWI AND HIS GWIGZAS – Emhlabeni – 1956
(Michael Xaba, Troubadour AFC 320, MATA 1599)
23) GWI GWI AND HIS GWIGZAS – Libala – 1956
(Michael Xaba, Troubadour AFC 320, MATA 1600)
24) JAZZ MANIACS – Sent For You Yesterday – 1956
(Count Basie, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14629)
25) JAZZ MANIACS – Tamping At The Tappa – 1956
(Billy May, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14630)
flatinternational archive. These rather late recordings featuring compositions by Count Basie and Billy May date from 1956. The Jazz Maniacs were formed in 1935 by pianist Solomon 'Zuluboy' Cele; and the group included in time Wilson 'King Force' Silgee, 'Bra' Zacks Nkosi as well as Mackay Davashe. According to Coplan, the band began with four members in Sophiatown.
The Maniacs unlike their contemporaries the Merry Blackbirds led by Peter Rezant, who opted for more western styled arrangements, wanted to indigenize or “Africanise” big band jazz. After all, their leader, Cele was a marabi piano performer prior to forming the group and he introduced elements of that sound to the music. In short the Maniacs blended American swing with marabi. The group made their first marabi jazz recording Izikalo Zika Z-Boy (XU 9) in 1939 almost a decade after the rough piano style had faded.
Wilson 'King Force' Silgee an icon in his own right joined the Jazz Maniacs in the mid-30s as a saxophone player, and later led the group after Cele was murdered in 1944. In the 1950s Silgee would go on to form his own band the Jazz Forces. Huskisson has Zacks Nkosi as the leader of the group after Cele’s death. By the 1940s the band had grown to twelve and included: Cele on piano, Silgee and Jacob Medumo on sax, Vy Nkosi on trombone, David Mzimkulu (later of the African Quavers) and Ernst Mochumi on trumpets, Victor Hamilton on guitar and Jacob Lepere on bass. Mackay Davashe performed with the group from 1944-45. Also in the group Jacob Moeketsi on piano, Zakes Seabi, Edward Sililo and trumpeter, Michael Xaba who famously coined the term “mbaqanga” describing aspects of where the music was going. (Coplan, Ballantine, Huskisson)
26) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BAND – Regtrek Kwela – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5274)
27) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BAND – Hot Toddy – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5275)
In 1958 Ibrahim toured the Eastern Cape with Mackay Davashe’s Shantytown Sextet who were then backing for the Manhattan Brothers. That same year he formed the Dollar Brand Trio. In August 1959 he recorded My Songs for You (an album which I think remains as an unissued acetate only) with his soon-to-be wife Sathima Bea Benjamin. That same year Ibrahim formed the Jazz Epistles with himself on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Johnny Gertze on bass, Makaya Ntshoko on drums. On January 22nd, 1960 the Jazz Epistles recorded their classic album Jazz Epistle Verse 1. The band would soon dissolve and in 1962 Ibrahim left South Africa and embarked on an international career. He would return many times in the future to live and record. (Rasmussen)
28) THE FLASHES – We Matsoale – 1957
(arr. Davashe, Gallotone Jive, GB 2717, ABC 16062)