“Like thunder on a bright and sunny day – that’s the only way you can describe the invasion of Walter and The Beggers into the record scene. And like lightning, they are already sweeping the boards. And like a brook, they are destined to go on … and on!”
The words of then-showbiz editor of the Sunday Post, Elliot Makhaya, grace the back cover of Everybody Say Yeh, the first LP from the soon-to-be hit group Walter and The Beggers. Produced by Marks Mankwane, the album was released on the Disco Soul label in 1978.
|Walter Dlamini, 1978|
Keen guitarist Marks Mankwane had began his career in the late 1950s as part of the session team at Troubadour Records. He had already started to perfect a brand new style of guitar playing, shifting the familiar ‘ukupika’ sound of maskanda onto the electric guitar and fusing it with a “pop music” twist. However, it was not until he joined Gallo-Mavuthela in 1964 that he was allowed to exploit it to the full extent. He was the bedrock of the company’s new popular session team the Makgona Tsohle Band, and his guitar playing became a trademark of the sound of Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens. In 1972, executive head Rupert Bopape promoted West Nkosi – one of the company’s big sax jive stars and another key member of Makgona Tsohle – to producer. Nkosi’s fresh and varied roster of stars added greatly to his prestige at Gallo. Mankwane, who by now had become the main arranger of the Queens, was promoted to producer in 1976 and (like Nkosi) continued to play on numerous recording sessions at the same time. In 1977 Bopape suffered a mild heart attack and decided to step down as head of Mavuthela. Makgona Tsohle, who had until now backed the company’s top mbaqanga groups, was disbanded so that the members could jointly fulfill the role Bopape had left. It was Nkosi who beat the others to the position of executive head, and immediately fell out with friend Mankwane. Nkosi considered the Queens to be an act that was long past its sell-by date, even though their popularity was still very strong. Mankwane continued to produce the group and all but stopped speaking to Nkosi for some years.
By the point, the preferred sound of the townships was the soul-infused mbaqanga as mentioned above. Mankwane decided to form a new backing team for his own artists (including the Queens) and gave it a distinct name – The Beggers. The pool of musicians that comprised The Beggers included: himself (guitar/producer), Mike Nyembe (guitar), Marubini Jagome (guitar), Mzwandile David (bass/organ), Thamie Xongwana (organ), Mike Stoffel (drums) and Elias Lerole (saxophone). The Beggers were also aided by composer-vocalist Irene Mawela, as well as Rupert Bopape who now focused his attentions on songwriting and arranging. When Walter Dlamini arrived at the company, it was at the right time. Mankwane immediately signed him up and Elias Lerole penned two English numbers – “Everybody Say Yeh” and “I Told You” – for Walter to sing, backed by a trio of girls (Thandi Radebe, Emily Zwane and Irene Mawela) and the instrumentation of The Beggers. This particular 45-rpm became an unexpected smash hit, and before long, Walter and The Beggers was ruling the local music scene with their wonderful brand of “disco jive”. The songs were simple tunes that called upon the usual things – love, relationships and partying. Notably, all the material recorded by the group was in English, perhaps intentionally targeting the post-1976 youth audience who so dogmatically rejected the tribal nature and apparent political subtext of traditional mbaqanga music. What is quite ironic is that the songs produced by groups like this one are merely English-language mbaqanga songs - the same topics are explored, the same lyrics are sung (albeit in a language other than Zulu or Sotho). Although the English lyrics may sound awkward, they will give you an idea of what the musical intention was.
Walter and The Beggers continued to be successful and popular for three or more years, until the singers fell apart and brought an abrupt end to the act. Walter himself was recruited under West Nkosi’s wing, recording as part of a new group called Kataki. Nkosi and Mankwane were reunited when the Makgona Tsohle Band came back together for their own television show Mathaka. The Beggers continued to back Mankwane’s own artists until he left Gallo-Mavuthela in late 1984, when the Mathaka series fell through. He set up his own eponymous independent label, Mankwane, which saw Walter return to his former producer in a new disco-funk male trio entitled Wataja (Walter was the "wa" of the group name; Thapelo Khomo and Jack Tsatsimpe were the other two). Walter later left the music business, returning only to make a one-off album in 1992, once again under Nkosi’s production. And, as fate would have it, Nkosi and Mankwane reunited once more in 1987, with a rejuvenated Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens spreading their music round the globe.
Everybody Say Yeh provides an insight into what was a very popular sound of its day... and as with everything we share, it helps to contribute to the vast and growing understanding of South African music of the past. Can you dig it? Enjoy!
EVERYBODY SAY YEH (Walter and The Beggers)
Disco Soul BL 156
1. EVERYBODY SAY YEH
2. I LOVE YOU BABY
3. HAPPY DAY
4. DON’T MISS MY LOVE
5. YOU’VE BEEN GONE
6. YOU’LL NEVER KNOW
7. LET’S GO TO THE DISCO
9. I MUST GO HOME
10. DISCO JIVE
11. SWEET MIRIAM
12. I TOLD YOU