Monday, 16 April 2012
Disco Soul - 20 grooves from 1970s and 1980s South Africa
The influence of America – in particular black America – on the popular music of South Africa can never be underestimated. The marabi sounds of the 1930s shebeens had their roots in ragtime music – the shebeen itself evokes memories of the US prohibition era. The unique African jazz sounds (both instrumental and vocal) that developed afterwards – peaking at its highest during the 1950s – were a home-grown take on that flavoursome mixture played by the likes of Duke and Ella. Stompie Manana and Hugh Masekela (to name but two) credit Louis Armstrong as one of their strongest influences in the early days of their careers. Then, the mbaqanga music that came into being into the 1960s was developed and popularised on electric instruments that had emerged in the US. The Shirelles, The Supremes and Martha and The Vandellas were an influence on the girl groups that sprung up in Johannesburg and Durban. And so the story goes on.
After the infamous riots of 1976, the opinion that the popular township sound of the time – mbaqanga – was oppressive radio music that only served to keep the blacks in their place was becoming more and more widespread among the dissenting youth of the country. Where did the youngsters turn to for something a bit more new? The US. Elements of mbaqanga slowly merged with the pop sounds of the States to create a synth-led, unique South African disco/soul/pop fusion that enjoyed immense popularity in the townships from the mid-to-late 1970s to the mid-1980s. It is this sound that we highlight today on EJ, with a special mix of 20 tracks originally released between 1978 and 1982. The title of this mix… as well as the cover!... is inspired by one of the many record labels churning out this music at the time.
Jacob “Mpharanyana” Radebe was perhaps one of the most successful and well-known soul singers in South Africa in the 1970s. A music lover from childhood, he became interested in soul and pop music and sang his way into a recording contract. The Wavelets were replaced by The Cannibals who were then in turn replaced by The Peddlars. His biggest hits were with the latter two bands, among the successes he scored were “Hlotse”, “Khotso”, “Uyazicabangela”, “Morena Re Thuse Kaofela”, “Ramasedi” and “Freak Out With Botsotso”. But the captivating sound remained of the highest quality all the way through Radebe’s career, no matter the backing team. “Hela Ngwanana”, recorded in 1979 shortly before his untimely death at the age of 29 in August of that year, is one of his best tracks. That searing smooth voice glides across the on-time accompaniment of The Peddlers with utter style. Radebe harmonises with himself effortlessly (there are three or four “Mpharanyanas” on this song!)
Radebe was the biggest-selling singer of this era. It is impossible to reiterate his stardom with the black public, but you may get a clue with “Dithoko Tsa Mpharanyana”, a tune recorded in 1979 after Radebe’s death. This oddity is a tribute put together by rival producer David Thekwane, who chants (and coughs) about the late star with a session team providing a subdued backing accompaniment. A truly peculiar song but interesting nonetheless and possibly an indication of how deep Radebe’s talent sank into the consciousness of the mass, including those in musical opposition!
The Cannibals, led by lead guitarist Ray Phiri, changed gears and joined the wing of producer Marks Mankwane in later 1979. Their sound mixed that famous soul brew with disco, creating a unique new post-Mpharanyana sound that found favour with the public. Joining the team on vocals were Paul Ndlovu and Anna Sikwane. Their first LP with this line-up was Get Funky (available here). Another notable LP included Put Your Dancing Shoes On, released in 1981 – see Afro-Synth for some info about that release. Four of The Cannibals’ tracks from this Mankwane era – two from their 1980 LP Tired Of The Past and the other two from their 1981 LP Total Rejection – are included in this mix.
After Mpharanyana, a wealth of male vocalists attempted to take his place. The Cannibals introduced Paul Ndlovu… The Peddlars moved forward with A. B. Lechuti… Marks Mankwane produced the likes of Walter Dlamini, Morgan Mokgopa and Jacob Khoza… but one of those male vocalists who had a greater degree of success was Duke Ndlovu. Ndlovu perhaps scored success because he wasn’t emulating Mpharanyana – he did his own thing, at times with a dash of Percy Sledge thrown into the mix! It isn’t clear how or when Ndlovu entered the industry, but the team of West Nkosi and Marks Mankwane produced some of his early (to our knowledge) recordings in 1976 under the name The Herbalist, released on the Soul Jazz Pop label. After some years flitting from producer to producer and from pseudonym to pseudonym, Ndlovu settled under the production of Joseph Makwela from 1982, using the recording name Black Duke. His material, released mostly on the Majavajava label, was perhaps “mbaqanga gone badass” (if you’ll excuse the language). I have included four of Black Duke’s numbers in this mix purely because I love his thick, treacle-like singing style combined with the heavy Western-influenced sound.
There are two great mbaqanga-flavoured numbers by Patience Africa that I could not resist including in this mix. Patience’s wonderfully strong and impassioned vocals on these two tracks – taken from her 1982 LP Ebang Le Mohau – are captivating, particularly “Monna Waka”, an ode from a woman to her lover. After a subdued musical start and then a long period of family life, Patience joined West Nkosi in around 1976 and spent some six or seven years under his production recording successful solo material, backed by West’s various soul teams including The U-Vees, The Shoe Laces and (most successfully) The Peddlars. She was awarded “Best Female Vocalist” numerous times by the SABC in its unnamed blacks-only version of the SARIE Awards. Though these ceremonies were more or less shambolic and by and large insulting to the musicians they were supposedly rewarding, Patience really was a top talent deserving – like all her contemporaries, no matter the style of music – of so much more. If any EJ readers out there own any of her older material from the ‘70s and ‘80s, please do drop us a line… we’d love to hear.
There are many more artists and songs I have neglected to mention in full, but all of them are goodies. The famous and fabulous Steve Kekana, complete with his smooth, slinky harmonies, is present with one of his popular early ‘80s numbers; the duo Willie & Paul (Willie Motala and Paul Hlatshwayo) pop up with a lovey-dovey tune; Walter and The Beggers insist that “Disco Jive” is for the young and the old; the Mahotella Queens give us one uncharacteristically hot soul-fuelled rendition; soul band Marumo is represented by two slow ballads; Sunset’s one offering is an appropriately hot tune; and Teaspoon Ndelu – through his sax and his resonating voice – tells the story of men abandoning their wives and families to seek solace in alcohol. The recordings here were released on various labels, the most notable being: Disco Soul, MSE, One Way, Soul Jazz Pop, Majavajava, Soul Soul, Hit Special, and Music Machine.
This isn’t often a period of South African music that we focus on here at EJ. It is also something of a departure from the mbaqanga sounds that I proffer your way. Those who are into that sound can relax – normal service will be well and truly resumed with my next post next month! But I couldn’t resist the temptation to share such a collection of tunes so far away from the norm. I hope some of you out there will enjoy listening to these grooving tunes as much as I have done. Dig it, man!
1. NOT ENOUGH FOR ANYONE – THE CANNIBALS (1980)
2. HARE KHUMAMENG – STEVE KEKANA (1982)
3. MOHLALEFI – SUNSET (1982)
4. EBANG LE MOHAU – PATIENCE AFRICA (1982)
5. NYALANANG – WILLIE & PAUL (1980)
6. MAMAKI – BLACK DUKE (1982)
7. DISCO JIVE – WALTER AND THE BEGGERS (1978)
8. HELA NGWANANA – MPHARANYANA AND THE PEDDLARS (1978)
9. DITHOKO TSA MPHARANYANA – DAVID THEKWANE (1979)
10. DIKGUPA MARAMA – MAHOTELLA QUEENS (1982)
11. MODIEHI – MARUMO (1982)
12. O MPHOQILE – BLACK DUKE (1982)
13. I’M TIRED OF THE PAST – THE CANNIBALS (1980)
14. I LOVED YOU IN THE MORNING – DUKE NDLOVU (1982)
15. SPUTLA – TEASPOON NDELU (1981)
16. TIME FOR LOVE – THE CANNIBALS (1981)
17. O LERATO MORENA – MARUMO (1982)
18. MOHOKARE – BLACK DUKE (1982)
19. TOTAL REJECTION – THE CANNIBALS (1981)
20. MONNA WAKA – PATIENCE AFRICA (1982)
RS / MF