Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Jive: 78s and 45s from the archives


There has been a wealth of wonderful melodies shared on Electric Jive this year, and we hope you have enjoyed each and every one of them. Over the past month, we have been celebrating the holiday season with a variety of compilations and mixes for your enjoyment, and I’m pleased to say that today – for it is Christmas Day – is no different!

It is our privilege to now offer you during this very special season a very special collection of music. Christmas Jive is the fourth of my compilations focusing on the sound of Mavuthela, bringing together 35 sax and vocal jive classics from the 1960s and the 1970s, all digitized from scarce 78s and 45s acquired over the last few years. The selections in this assemblage of wonderful music have all been chosen carefully in recognition of the festive period – there are no dud tunes to be found here. This is mbaqanga music at its most raw and its best.

A momentous day calls for momentous music, does it not…? And whilst you listen to each delightful number, allow me to give you a bit more insight into the style of music and the people behind it.

Mbaqanga music was often disparaged as being the music of the transistor radio. It was dubbed “msakazo” (“broadcast”, i.e., “radio music”) by those who saw it as a safe and sound music form, the creations of producers who were in collusion with the apartheid enforcers. They felt it was a style performed by country bumpkins who were working to order. There is no doubt that mbaqanga received heavy airplay on the SABC services because of the lack of anything remotely politically suspect, but to sully the entire style by focusing on the negative acts of the producers and disregarding the performances of the musicians is rather inane. Just listen to any of the best-selling jive records of the ‘60s and the ’70s: heavy radio promotion helped to shift a great deal of copies, that’s for sure, but it is not the only reason that these records were big sellers. It is largely because of the sheer genius talents of the musicians in the studio. The exploitation and lack of a correct payment system was a shocking situation and is best left in the past where it belongs. However, the music made during that time should not be shoved into the same category as apartheid. These musicians were not playing their guitars, beating their snare drums and singing their guts out to fulfill a government request – they were doing it because they loved it. Many of the producers were without doubt the big, bad creatures they were, lining their own pockets with money that deserved to go to their hard-working musicians, and ensuring all the resulting studio material was “safe” for broadcast – but the performers were performing simply because they identified with the spirit of this jovial, happy music. You only need to ask the likes of those who are still with us – Joseph Makwela, Elias Lerole, Joyce Mogatusi, and Hilda Tloubatla, among many others – to find that out. And surely that is as far away from the apartheid government and its oppressive laws as one could get?

A shining example of this opens Christmas Jive with a bang. The triumvirate of Mahlathini, the Mahotella Queens and the Makgona Tsohle Band – among the most famous mbaqanga performers of the '60s – drive at full speed with the Sotho vocal number “Haeso Lekoa”. The song, written by composer and sometime vocalist Hendrik Ramuhadi, was released in 1967 on the Motella label and was just one of a long, long chain of big hits that the group would produce in that halcyon 1964 – 1971 period of their career. Mahlathini and the Queens – here constituted by Juliet Mazamisa, Windy Sibeko, Hilda Tloubatla, and Ethel and Francisca Mngomezulu – provide a wonderful vocal contrast to the bouncy rhythm of the Makgona Tsohle Band.

The first instrumental in this collection features Mavuthela guitarist Harry Mathaba leading a team of three electric guitars and a bass in a great instrumental, “Igumbagumba”. This is a typical, fast-tempo 1960s mbaqanga arrangement. The word “igumbagumba” is a slang term along the lines of “party time”, and is seemingly derived from Botswana. A better-known usage of the phrase is as the name of one of the Mavuthela labels launched in 1964/5, Gumba Gumba. The Guitar Rhythm Session band (the Makgona Tsohle Band without the saxophonists and, here, without the drummer) was predominant mainly around the early 1960s, during the formative years of Mavuthela. Incidentally, Harry Mathaba was a member of the Gallo session team before Rupert Bopape’s 1964 arrival at the organisation, which resulted in Mavuthela’s birth. Mathaba was one of a few musicians at Gallo that were kept on, with many others made redundant and replaced with members of Bopape’s former team at EMI, as well as some new recruits – two of whom were Marks Mankwane and Vivian Ngubane, two of three key musicians who, with their excellent creative minds, radically redirected the sound of black South African popular music in the 1960s.

“Isimanje Manje” (i.e. ‘isiManje-Manje’ – literally ‘now-now’, essentially ‘modern times’) is an early jive number by Abafana Bezi Modern, a group line-up featuring Mahlathini and a few other male vocalists (also featured in this song are the Mahotella Queens). The song, released on the Gumba Gumba label in 1965, serves as a promotional tool for the jive crazes that the company put out. There were several similar songs produced by the company during this period that referenced ‘isimanje manje’, ‘isimodern jive’ (or ‘s’modern jive’), ‘mgqashiyo’ (or ‘mqashiyo’), ‘mojikisa’ (or ‘mtshikisa’) and ‘sosolo’, all of these words being fabricated to describe the latest hit being in the melting pot of Mavuthela. Despite the advert-like nature, “Isimanje Manje” – with its interweaved vocals and raw instrumentation – is a delight to listen to. The group name, Abafana Bezi Modern, was mainly used for recordings between Mahlathini and the male vocalists heard here although female singers were sometimes present in spite of the "abafana" reference. This song, like a thousand other tunes created during the era of electric jive, is credited to Rupert Bopape. Bopape was the director of Mavuthela and served as its main producer (during the 1960s, along with Shadrack Piliso as a secondary producer, until more producers were recruited in the ‘70s), but he was not a musician. Nevertheless, Bopape was an active songwriter during his producing years. Aside from coming up with lyrics which were then arranged by his musicians into a proper song format, he also co-composed tunes with several of the vocalists and instrumentalists - but also took the lion's share of the due payment. Often, he instructed secretaries to assign his name to several songs that he hadn't contributed to (or had only vaguely helped compose). Bopape began pulling out of the day-to-day administration at Mavuthela in the latter part of the 1970s but continued to write simple tunes for the company's musicians. His presence finally left the music industry around 1982 when he retired to look after his personal business interests in Limpopo. Though Coplan refers to Bopape in his dense book In Township Tonight! as “the late Rupert”, the producer is still alive today, although he is more or less living in seclusion, various health problems (and old age) over the last thirty years having put paid to any form of activeness.

Trumpeter Elijah Nkwanyane (or Nkwanyana, depending on what the label on the disc says!) was one of those musicians whose talent shone through every pore. In a few short years he had made his mark on the industry, with many classic jazz records under his belt. But by 1964, when Gallo poached Rupert Bopape to set-up a new black music unit, the majuba jazz sound of the 1950s had been fading fast, having been usurped by a new concoction of sounds later to be referred to as mbaqanga – partly due to changing tastes and partly because the mbaqanga musicians (who, as we have mentioned many a time, were mostly migrant and unaccustomed to this technological business known as the black music industry) were easier for the likes of Bopape to control. Nkwanyane and his contemporaries, such as Ntemi Piliso and Ellison Themba, were among those who shifted with Bopape from EMI to the new Mavuthela operation at Gallo where the foundation stones for mbaqanga’s heyday were set. These jazzmen had to adapt in order to survive. “Rocsy Pie Conti”, released on the Motella label in 1964, is a great tune heralding the shift from the old swing style to the new electric jive of the 1960s. Nkwanyane is credited as the composer, although he was a trumpet-player and the only brass instrument on this record is an alto sax. Perhaps Nkwanyane was more talented than we think? Although it is true to say that the information printed on the disc label does not always correspond with the truth. Just look at the hundreds of singles pressed with the name Marks Mankwane and His Alto Sax, all of which featured Marks playing only on his electric lead guitar! Another tune featuring Elijah Nkwanyane as part of the studio band is “Lama”, an African jazz song (so the label says) released in 1965 on the Motella label. The guitar patterns here do indicate clear mbaqanga, but the rhythm still has that wonderfully swinging touch to it, a touch derived from those days of majuba or marabi or whatever you wish to call it. There is a collection of horns here mostly comprising saxophones, but Nkwanyane leads on trumpet – and throws the studio microphone a fantastic screaming solo in the middle of the tune. “Lama” was probably quite a successful tune – it was certainly memorable for West Nkosi, who re-recorded the tune over 25 years later for his instrumental album Rhythm of Healing. In typical West fashion, he renamed the tune “Shebeleza Mntwana” and credited himself as the composer. He may have been aggravated by Rupert Bopape’s stubborn studio management and attitude, but certainly followed in his boss’ footsteps in the songwriting department…! For more information on Elijah Nkwanyane and other likewise musicians, see Siemon’s informative posts on the topic of the indigenous 1950s majuba jazz sound.

Joseph Makwela and Rupert Bopape’s composition “Jabulani Mabungu” (“Be happy, boys”) is a superbly performed little tune. It is a simple song with few lyrics, written to reflect the heavy airplay that mbaqanga received on Radio Bantu, the SABC's service for black listeners. “Iyo-iyo, siyanisakazela thina,” sing Izintombi Zomgqashiyo (aka the Mahotella Queens). “Siyanisakazela thina... jabulani!” (we are broadcasting to you... rejoice!). “Jabulani ‘mabungu namatshitshi” (rejoice, boys and girls), shouts Mahlathini. Many other songs recorded in the Gallo studio offered praise to Radio Bantu – the umbrella term given to the SABC’s African-language stations – and sometimes, even referred to radio personalities like K.E. Masinga. (Masinga, referred to in songs mostly as “uK.E.” or “noma uK.E. ogibela igagasi” [K.E. who rides the airwaves], had most notably coined the term ‘mgqashiyo’ in 1965 in reference to the music being produced by Mavuthela). After its 1970s expansion, the SABC's black radio stations ranged far and wide: from Radio Lebowa and Radio Sesotho to Radio Venda and Radio Zulu. When artists like the Queens composed songs ready to record, the songs would be translated into different African languages and then recorded one after the other. This not only increased radio airplay, it also gave the chance for the intended message to be broadcast to the biggest audience possible.

Mavuthela produced some of the best and well-remembered mbaqanga music of the 1960s. However, from time to time, they did stray from the norm – as “Masibulele Ku Jesu” displays. The song, released in 1965 on the Motella label, is a traditional “Zulu sacred” number arranged by Simon Nkabinde. Notably, this is not the tried-and-tested electric rhythm band combined with male groaner and female quintet. Though the record is pressed with the name Emthunzini Girls, the personnel contains a sizeable delegation of Mavuthela vocalists led by soprano Hilda Tloubatla, backed by a single electric guitar and some thin percussion. The results make for pleasant listening and almost gives the listener the feeling the singers here are the dedicated congregation of a township church. A similarly rebellious tune (rebellious in as much as it doesn’t follow the usual Mavuthela factory-line sound – much!) is “Motho O Kgonwa Ke Sagagwe”, released on the Gallo New Sound label in 1965 with the name Honey Ray & The Star Beams. The record attempts to combine that classic Mavuthela sound with some kind of a neo-traditional twist. The Star Beams are actually the Mahotella Queens – as can be detected from Windy Sibeko’s very clear alto vocal – and they are fronted by so-so singer Ray Nkwe, who later became an A&R man for Teal before rejoining Gallo-Mavuthela as a producer and musician. The illustrious Makgona Tsohle Band, of course, backs Ray and the women vocalists.

Marks Mankwane was, without a doubt, the most well known and innovative mbaqanga guitarist in South Africa’s history. “Umkhumbi Kanowa” (“Noah’s ark”) is a decent example of Marks’ style of playing and of a typical late ‘60s sax jive song, but bear in mind that he plays lead guitar on the vast majority of tracks in this compilation! This song, featuring West Nkosi on alto saxophone, was recorded in 1967 and released on the C.T.C. Star Record label. Mankwane was born in Warmbaths (now Bela-Bela) in 1939. His older brother possessed a homemade guitar, which Mankwane began fooling around with when he was around twelve years old. Their father did not approve of such nonsense, and often the young Marks would receive a beating for his supposed tomfoolery. This did not deter him from wanting to play the instrument though. Before long, his older brother recognised that there was a talent being developed within Marks, and they managed to pool some money together to buy a “proper” guitar. The two boys pleaded with their father to refrain from destroying the expensive instrument. The Mankwane father allowed them to have their musical pleasure – just so long as they looked after the cattle when they were supposed to. Marks then began developing his own guitar skills into his teens (while also learning to play the pennywhistle). One of his early influences was the maskanda artist Josaya Hadebe, whose records Mankwane used to listen to ardently. Hadebe’s meticulous guitar work was a classic example of maskanda’s ‘ukupika’ style of playing, demonstrating the artist’s versatily and aptitude for the instrument. Mankwane loved Hadebe’s style of playing, and adopted his maskanda playing into his own music. By the mid-1950s, Mankwane had travelled to Pretoria to find work, and became a domestic servant. In his spare time he encouraged his own musical development, and soon was the leader of a small band of pennywhistlers. They often encountered another group of garden boys who called themselves the Pretoria Tower Boys, with whom Mankwane would become close associates in the next few years to come. Marks joined the music industry circa 1960, first under Cuthbert Matumba at Troubadour. At the company, Mankwane played pennywhistle and (later on) saxophone in the line-up The Downbeat Boys. He knew that he was more talented with a guitar in his hands, but disliked the fact that on guitar, he’d be playing second fiddle to a saxophonist, who would be stood in front of the band receiving nearly all of the audience appreciation – so he played up-front with a horn whenever he could. The introduction of the electric guitar around 1959 or 1960 into South Africa proved a vital turning point for the black popular music scene (for more information, see Siemon’s written history of the music of this period). However, guitar players merely played the same acoustic lines on the electric instrument. There were no pioneers or innovators of the mbaqanga sound until Marks Mankwane played the instrument in the studio at Gallo in 1964. He had been practicing after long sessions at Troubadour, creating a new up-tempo style of playing which was influenced by the ‘ukupika’ of Josaya Hadebe. When he heard that EMI’s Rupert Bopape had moved to Gallo and was on the lookout for new musicians, Mankwane auditioned for him. He played his electric guitar in the style inspired by Hadebe and, combined with the other musicians Bopape had assembled in the studio, managed to forge an entirely new take on the music played by session bands heretofore. (Incidentally, those musicians Bopape had put together with Marks as the new Mavuthela house band – Joseph Makwela, Lucky Monama and Wilfred Mosebi – had originally comprised the nucleus of the Pretoria Tower Boys with whom Marks had associated back in the ‘50s.) The end of the 1960s had set the mbaqanga that unites an electric lead, an electric bass, electric rhythm and drums in solid stone. Every single band in existence had its own guitarist playing in a style based on that meticulous Hadebe ‘ukupika’ method. Mbaqanga music owes a lot to Marks Mankwane. And, perhaps, to Josaya Hadebe!

Benoni-born Mildred Mangxola was a teenager when she joined the line-up of the Daveyton Sisters, a local close-harmony group that modelled its vocal stylings on the jive sounds coming from the record companies. Before long, the talented Mangxola was the lead singer of the group. They decided to travel to Johannesburg in 1965 (Mangxola was now 21 years old), where an encounter with Mavuthela drummer Lucky Monama set them on the road to the studio: Monama convinced his boss Rupert Bopape that the Sisters were worth recording. Among their first hits was the fast-tempo “Ulele Emini U Makoti” (“You rest at noon, bride”), released on the Gallo–USA label in 1965. The Sisters’ career within Mavuthela was sadly all too brief – but Mangxola, whose vocal ability was the driving force behind the Sisters, soon found herself being recruited into the regular recording and touring line-ups of the top-tier Mavuthela vocal group, the Mahotella Queens.

The mouth organ penetrated mbaqanga in the mid-to-late 1960s. Some of those who occasionally put down their alto saxes and picked up harmonicas included Selby “Bra Sello” Mmutung (check out two of his mouth organ jive numbers over at the flatint blog) and legendary sax jive star West Nkosi (pictured left, in 1967), the latter of whom achieved big hits with “Hip! Hip! Hooray”, released on the Inkonkoni label in 1972 (at the time, the bestselling and most popular of the Mavuthela labels) and “Amanzi Amancane No. 5” (released under the pseudonym Lucky Monama & His Partners, though Lucky was actually the drummer with the Makgona Tsohle Band which performed that very popular tune). The presence of the harmonica in mbaqanga was another in-thing – like the melodica and violin – that did not last very long (in comparison to, for example, the accordion), but nonetheless, the mouth organ provided a pleasant-sounding complement to the guitar rhythm. Nkosi’s headstrong attitude to life thrust him further and further into the spotlight as time went on: from recording for small, independent labels like Hit and Meritone, Nkosi managed to make an in at Gallo, where Reggie Msomi saw his potential. Rupert Bopape also recognised Nkosi’s talented sax skills, and he was a vital part of the new Mavuthela operation after 1964. When the order came from Gallo’s management to increase production, Nkosi was one of the first to be honoured by Bopape with a producing role in 1972.

As hinted earlier in this post, Nkosi was the ultimate champ and all-round good guy in front of Bopape, the big boss of the studio (pictured left circa 1974). But privately, one might say West thought Bopape was ill-suited to the music business: in an interview many years after Bopape’s retirement, Nkosi spoke about sitting down with his boss in the rehearsal rooms at Gallo and watching artist after artist audition for a contract. Though Nkosi could feel the potential in these musicians and singers, Bopape was the boss and had to have the final say – and often turned down the ones who Nkosi privately felt had the talent to prosper. His promotion to producer gave him the chance to have his decisions adhered to – and, in many cases, spotlight a talented act that, under Bopape, would never have shone. When West Nkosi came to Durban to search for a local male group whose cothoza mfana vocal styling had captivated everyone listening to Radio Zulu, he struck gold. He brought Ladysmith Black Mambazo in a Gallo minibus to the Johannesburg studios, where welcome faces and pats on the back greeted them. All except for Rupert Bopape, of course! Joseph Shabalala, the enigmatic founder and leader of the group, recalled in a late 1990s interview that Bopape was hesitant of signing the then-seven members to Gallo-Mavuthela. “He was hesitating about it,” remembered Shabalala. “He said, ‘there are groups like the King Star Brothers… we record them and black people don’t buy their music! It’ll be the same thing for these guys!’” West Nkosi insisted that these guys were so much more talented than any of the others. The hesitation continued for a while – but luckily, singer Irene Mawela happened to be in the studios that day and asked who these singers were. When told of the group’s name, she immediately recognised them from the constant Radio Zulu airplay – and insisted that they be signed up. West noted her approval and Bopape, who was Mawela's husband at the time, duly agreed. Ladysmith Black Mambazo began recording in August 1972 and, by the end of the decade, had become the biggest selling group in the country’s history. Alongside producing several more immensely popular acts, West Nkosi continued recording instrumental hits too: in the line-up West Nkosi Nabashokobezi (which included guitarist Marubini Jagome, bassist Jabu Zulu and drummer Eddie Ndzeru), he focused mainly on peppy sax jive tunes and recording many, many numbers in the ‘mabone’ series. With his longtime musical acquaintances in the Makgona Tsohle Band (also credited as the Makhona Zonke Band on several 1970s records), Nkosi also did sax jive but that bit more extravagantly, as well as later branching out into bump jive and soul.

“Sindiza Emoyeni” (“We fly in the air” [over the airwaves]) is an energetic number from the 1972 line-up of the Mahotella Queens. By this point in the group’s career, Hilda Tloubatla was the last original member, surrounded by newer recruits who had joined in the late 1960s – but Hilda was also soon to leave, joining the frontline of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje in later 1972. Many of the Mahotella Queens, including Windy Sibeko, Nunu Maseko and Nobesuthu Shawe, had left to join Izintombi between 1967 and 1972, and despite pleas from Mr. Bopape and arranger Marks Mankwane, Hilda followed them. She did return to the Queens in 1973 before moving back to Izintombi in 1976, where she remained until a reunion of the original Mahotella members in 1983. The reunion did not pick up much steam in South Africa, and it was only after yet another barren spell – during which time The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and Graceland made their respective marks in the music world – that the call came from the international community, bringing the group up to that full speed again. At the time that “Sindiza Emoyeni” was recorded, the Queens were literally royalty in the eyes of their fans: they had hundreds of successful numbers under their belts and had mostly protected their ruling place in the industry with immense ease. This song, written by regular member Hilda – with groaner Lazarus ‘Boy Nze’ Magatole providing the lead vocals – celebrates the prowess of the Queens and their regular appearances on Radio Zulu: “Kumnand’ ukuba yithi, sindiza phezulu emoyeni” (it’s nice to be as we are, we’re flying high up over the airwaves), sing the ladies. “Hamba minyaka! Hhayi kumnandi’ ukuba yithi” (go away, old age! It’s nice to be as we are), they plead. “Hamba minyaka!” sing the Queens and Boy Nze fervently and repeatedly. It would seem that the Queens’ passionate request – go away, old age! – has been fulfilled. The current Queens line-up, of which Hilda is the heart and soul, still defies audiences with their powerful vocals and energetic dance routines… they are well into their 70s now!

Accordion jive was one of the most successful forms of mbaqanga from the very end of the 1960s up to the early-to-mid 1980s. Among those first stars of accordion jive in the 1970s was Mzwandile David (pictured left, in 1979). David, born in Transkei, came to Johannesburg in 1973 at the age of 20. He played his accordion for Rupert Bopape in his Gallo office and was immediately ensconced in the music industry. So began a long career of association with an extensive list of studio musicians, and an able and active music life: not only could he play the accordion, he could play the bass guitar, as well as the keyboard (or as the musicians referred to it, the ‘organ’). His main role in the 1970s was as an accordion jive star, recording under the name Mr. V. Mzwandile. One of his early numbers, “1968 Special” – composed by rhythm guitarist and bassist Sipho Mthethwa – was released in late 1973 on the Up Mavuthela label. Another accordionist whose mbaqanga numbers cultivated him a following was Delford Ngcemu (who recorded under the name Delford Ngcem’…!). Ngcemu arrived in the industry around 1970 and managed to gain some noteworthy hits: “Sea Water 800”, “Zaphela”, “Zola 500” and “Kumnandi Egoli”. One track in which he plays the accordion greatly is “Iphepha Lamarabi”, released in 1972 on the Inkonkoni label. Though backed by the Makgona Tsohle Band, the track was pressed with the name Joseph Makwela & His Comrades (Makwela is of course the wonderful bass player). Another accordion jive hit-maker was Mtabhane Ndima. He entered the music industry circa 1969, soon making his name with hits like “Sea Water” and “Nyamazane”. In “Impunga Yehlathi”, he puts aside his accordion and takes up singing – none too successfully! – with a trio credited as the Mash Sisters and a band of session musicians. Though Ndima’s talent really lies with the accordion than the voice, this track – released in 1973 on the Motella label – is still an interesting listen.

Izintombi Zomoya was born out of the late 1960s roster of session singers at Mavuthela, put together by producer Bopape as a third regular unit beneath the first place Mahotella Queens and the second place Mthunzini Girls. At its formation, Izintombi Zomoya comprised a very loose line-up that included Caroline Kapentar, Thandi Nkosi, Constance Ngema, Beatrice Ngcobo, Olive Masinga, Thandi Kheswa and others. From the early 1970s onwards, the divide between the lower two groups – the Mthunzini Girls and Zomoya – began to be blurred after the departures of several female singers. Eventually, with the departures of Mthunzini male vocalists/groaners John Moriri in 1972 and Robert ‘Mbazo’ Mkhize in 1973 (who departed to fill the slot left by Simon Nkabinde when he left the Queens), the Mthunzini Girls name fizzled out. Those who had performed in the Girls during their late ‘60s heyday joined other Mavuthela groups, and the most talented of Izintombi Zomoya joined the Queens: Mthunzini leader Julia Yende became an Izintombi Zomoya member, with Mthunzini singer Virginia Teffo and Zomoya regulars Thandi Nkosi, Constance Ngema, Beatrice Ngcobo and Caroline Kapentar joining the Mahotella Queens. The membership patterns are often very confusing and puzzling, but the bottom line is that they were all talented singers and, consequently, fantastic music was produced. Backing up our point, we present a vivacious number from Zomoya entitled “Bekumnandi Emshadweni” (It was nice in the wedding), recorded in 1977 for the Motella label and featuring groaner Robert ‘Mbazo’ Mkhize. The song, co-composed by alto vocalist Joana Thango and bass guitarist Meshack Mkhwanazi, hails the joyous atmosphere of a Zulu wedding. “Bekumnandi emshadweni kaNomakhosi” (It was nice in Nomakhosi’s wedding), sing the girls. “Sadl’ amakhekhe saphuz’ amahewu, kwabamnandi ugcwele…!” (We ate cake and drank amahewu [a maize drink], it is nice to be full up…!”

The penultimate vocal song in this mix is provided by the always-wonderful Dark City Sisters. “Koloi Ya Malume” was composed by leader Joyce Mogatusi, recorded in 1977 and produced by West Nkosi. The Sisters, formed in 1958, had put their musical career on a hiatus in 1971 and didn’t regroup until around 1974, by which time Mogatusi was married and blessed with two children. The Sisters reunited at their new recording home of Gallo-Mavuthela, having spent the first part of their career at EMI under Rupert Bopape (until 1964) and then Hamilton Nzimande (until 1967). Mavuthela was directed by their former boss Bopape, but the ladies were under the production of West Nkosi, who – as a musician – was more hands-on, creative and had a great deal of input in the day-to-day goings on. The Sisters were at the company, releasing their material predominantly on the Gumba Gumba label, until 1981, when they joined Roxy Buthelezi’s Black Cat Productions (under the distribution of EMI). The Sisters once again split not long afterwards. Joyce Mogatusi returned to Mavuthela in 1984, recording a solo album under the title Joyce And The Shoe Laces, under old producer Nkosi (with Joyce singing all the group harmonies herself via multi-track, backed by West’s small unit of session players). The Sisters reunited once more towards the end of the 1980s, and although Joyce and the other longest-serving member Grace Moeketsi still keep the fires burning, it is only on a very small local scale. The Sisters’ earlier material is often elusive – the infamous Star Time LPs are hard to get hold of for a reasonable price, let alone the masses of 78s and 45s they produced in the 1960s and 1970s. “Koloi Ya Malume” is a great example of the ladies in fantastic voice, with excellent studio backing and also a guest groaner (who sounds like Joseph Mthimkhulu, one of the bass voices of Abafana Baseqhudeni).

The “mabone” (car headlights) craze, which began in 1973 and lasted well into the next year, was so big it took the meaning of “craze” to new heights. The first recording, “Two Mabone”, released on the FGB label in 1973 and recorded by West Nkosi Nabashokobezi, surpassed sales expectations in South Africa by a long margin. It was so popular that London Records obtained the U.S. distribution rights to the single. It was such a craze in South Africa that it became a series of recordings, with each black production company putting out their offerings: “3 Mabone”, “Four Mabone”, “6 Mabone”, “Twelve Mabone”… and so on! One view for the creation of jive mabone was in support of the battle to increase profits for the parent organisation by formulating a new craze for the black public to grab onto. The spoken introduction (or “rap”) tells the listener that this record is a biggie; it is something that every hip-to-the-jive African fella should own a copy of. The catchy beat and rhythm swiftly takes over from the shouting producer, and the music wins the listener over in a flash. Producer promotion via shouting + talented musicians = big hit! In the previous Mavuthela compilation, Jive Smodern Jive, we shared four of the big ‘mabone’ hits up to “6 Mabone”. “17 Mabone”, recorded by the Zwino Zwino Boys, was released on the FGB label in 1974. The mandatory (and perhaps unintelligible!) promotional rap – by whom else but the big boss Bopape – opens the tune. Car horn sound effects pierce the air before James Mukwebo’s bass launches the song. Before you know it, the guitar rhythm and infectious percussion kicks in and Noise Khanyile joins the band on violin, together with Elias Lerole on alto sax. The Boys are surely driving the Impala in top gear in this number.

Irene Mawela was one of those vocalists whose beautiful voice appears uncredited on a galaxy of records pressed with a variety of wonderful group names. Her musical life has seen her rubbing shoulders (and singing with) the likes of the Killingstone Stars, Dark City Sisters, Radio Stars, Sweet Sixteens, Young Stars, Rain Drops, Zoo Lake Rockers, Black Sea Giants, Trotting Sisters, Mgababa Queens… the list goes on. When she joined Gallo-Mavuthela in 1972, she entered into a romantic relationship with director-producer Rupert Bopape. The two were later married. Bopape was a forceful operator, and had complete control over the goings on in the company. So, when he said to Irene that he didn’t want her to go on tour with any of the Mavuthela artists, she obliged. Instead, he kept her busy in the studio penning hundreds and hundreds of classic mbaqanga songs. When Irene joined back in 1972, she became a part of a small line-up called the Mgababa Queens. When her relationship with Bopape became more intense, he began working more closely with her to develop her own music and talent: Irene & The Sweet Melodians was originally another small group with four to five singers, but by 1975 had reduced in numbers – the only vocalist now was Irene, who multi-tracked her voice to create a smooth female group harmony. One notable number, featuring Potatoes Zuma as the groaner, was “Moratoa Ke Batho”, released in 1975 on the Motella label. From around early 1976, Bopape and Irene began working more closely: ill health was forcing him to reduce his role in the administration of the company, and so the two formed a less strenuous composing partnership to create many mbaqanga classics, usually featuring Irene’s voice (or voices!) paired with a male groaner (or indeed quite a few male groaners) and, sometimes, Bopape's oddly melodious spoken word. A great example of one of these tunes ends our celebratory holiday compilation. “Zodwa Ntombi Yami” (“This girl is only for me”) was released on the Motella label in 1976 with the group name Mahabula Joza. It is a love song with a girl and a boy proclaiming undying love for each other. It features a startling accordion introduction, before the guitar rhythm of the Makgona Tsohle Band kicks in. Irene sings her way through the song beautifully, accompanied by members of Abafana Baseqhudeni including Robert ‘Mbazo’ Mkhize, Potatoes Zuma, and Elphas ‘Ray’ Mkize, bringing Christmas Jive to a smashing finish.

That just about rounds up the last post of my first year here at Electric Jive. It has been a real pleasure to be a part of a team bringing such amazing music to the fore once again, and it is truly an honour to receive praise for what we do here.

Christmas Jive has been handpicked from several 78s and 45s originally released between 1964 and 1977 on the various Gallo-Mavuthela record labels: Motella, Gallo New Sound, Gumba Gumba, C.T.C. Star Record, Gallotone, Gallo-USA, Inkonkoni, FGB Producers, and Up Mavuthela. Out of the 35 tracks contained in this collection, 6 numbers were kindly provided by Siemon Allen, and 2 numbers were kindly provided by Laurent Dalmasso – a tremendous thanks to both of you for taking the time and effort to assist me. The baton is now thrown from me to Matt, who will ring in the New Year with another assortment of goodies in a week or so. Hopefully normal service will resume from 2012!

So many of the tunes within Christmas Jive have been hidden for so long, so naturally, I am pleased to share such a fantastic selection of rarities with you. These musicians are truly playing from their hearts… I just know that you will all enjoy these songs as much as I have.


MOTELLA MO 124 (1967)

GALLO NEW SOUND GB 3648 (1965)


MOTELLA MO 89 (1965)

MOTELLA MO 116 (1966)

MOTELLA MO 12 (1964)

MOTELLA MO 136 (1967)

C.T.C. STAR RECORD TA 734 (1969)

MOTELLA MO 121 (1966)

GALLOTONE GB 3666 (1967)

MOTELLA MO 129 (1967)

C.T.C. STAR RECORD TA 733 (1969)

MOTELLA MO 79 (1965)

C.T.C. STAR RECORD TA 702 (1967)

GALLO-USA USA 330 (1965)

MOTELLA MO 111 (1966)

GALLO NEW SOUND GB 3657 (1966)

GUMBA GUMBA MGG 516 (1967)

GUMBA GUMBA MGG 538 (1969)


MOTELLA MO 235 (1970)


GUMBA GUMBA MGG 587 (1972)


MOTELLA MO 408 (1973)


GUMBA GUMBA MGG 561 (1971)


MOTELLA MO 527 (1975)


MOTELLA MO 693 (1977)


GUMBA GUMBA MGG 757 (1977)


MOTELLA MO 677 (1976)

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Siemon Allen said...

Rosemary-imbedded lamb, tofurkey or glazed ham, roasted half potatoes, butter-laced gem squash, steamed rice, sweat petite peas, gravy, mint sauce... and this mix!
Nick it hits the spot!
Thanks so much!
Have a wonderful holiday.

Anonymous said...

Another year of great music shares--you are too kind!

david said...

It's at this time of year that I pause and give thanks to my own god of choice, Simon "Mahlathini" Nkabinde. Long may He be remembered for leading us out of the darkness. and a big "Yebo" for Nick!

Best Jazz CDs said...

Yes there have been many great music listens you have provided. I am a music addict and it's been awesome.

Rhythm Connection said...

simply stunning, Nick. thank you, and have the happiest of holidays.


matt said...

Thanks Nick. And for the record: roast duck, roast potatoes, onions and carrots, bean+mange tout+hazelnut salad, pomegranate/mint/cucumber/feta salad and a lime and lemon tart....

Anonymous said...

As an American who's relatively new to South African music, I want to thank you and your colleagues for the incredible job you're doing. Robert in Tucson AZ USA

iggy said...

A world of thanks from a newcomer in Oregon. Can't wait to sink my teeth into your music. Happiest of New Years to you!


donpiper said...

Thanks Nick, great music and excellent notes.

Best Wishes for the new year.

FredrikO said...

This is the best Christmas gift I was ever given. A big thanks to you, Nick, and of course all the artists whose music we're all enjoying.