Monday, 3 June 2013

Thomas Phale and Others - Sporo No. 4 (1979)

Today, we focus on one of my favorite early finds, Sporo No. 4, a fresh, zippy, late-mbaqanga project produced by Teal’s David Thekwane and featuring Thomas Phale with Lulu Masilela, Johnson Mkhalali and others. I included a track from this excellent album on my first FlatInternational mix hosted at Matsuli in 2008 and then later at flatint.

Recorded in 1979, this LP arrived at a time when South African interest in mbaqanga was beginning to wane in favor of disco influenced soul jive which happened to be peaking that same year. But the decline of mbaqanga in South Africa ironically came at the very moment it was to become an international phenomenon, launching South African music globally during the height of the apartheid years.

Of course, Thomas Phale, Lulu Masilela Johnson Mkhali, David Thekwane are all names that were, at various times in the preceding decade, associated with the very successful group the Boyoyo Boys. It was the Boyoyo Boys’ hit Puleng that in 1983 was appropriated by Malcolm McClaren in his dance hit Double Dutch and resulted in an extended legal battle. More significantly it was their track Gumboota featured on a compilation Accordion Jive Hits No.2 that in 1984 caught the ear of Paul Simon. Simon liked the tune so much he wanted to re-record it with the same musicians and controversially chose to break the cultural boycott by coming to Johannesburg to make the recordings. Other than Simon’s lyrics and two added saxophones, the resultant tune Gumboots was identical to the Boyoyo original and subsequently was featured on the classic album Graceland.

In Beyond Memory, Max Mojapelo mentions that Thomas Phale hailed from Benoni (now Ekurhuleni) and was inspired by the likes of Kid Margo, Sammy Boy and Boy Masaka. He began playing pennywhistle at the age of 17 but later was convinced to shift to saxophone by Bra Sello Mmutung. In 1968 he joined the Mabhoko Sisters and formed a group called the Gold Diggers before moving to RPM in 1969.

According to the liner notes of the Boyoyo Boys’ second Rounder LP, TJ Today, the Mabhoko Band was a four-piece, instrumental, mbaqanga group founded in 1969 by Vusi Xhosa (on guitar), with Vusi Nkosi (on bass), Lucas Pelo (on sax) and Phillippe Mziza (on rhythm guitar). Pelo also performed in another group (I am assuming the Gold Diggers) with Thomas Phale from whom he learnt to play saxophone. The nickname of the group’s first drummer happened to be "Boyoyo", but after some financial troubles he left and was replaced by Archie Mohalla. The group subsequently changed their name to the T-Bones.

Whether the Mabkoko Sisters is the same group as the Mabhoko Band, is unclear to me. Nevertheless Mojapelo’s account suggests Phale’s first major hit with the group was “Boyoyo”. The track was recorded in 1972 by the T-Bones and was so successful the group decided to change their name to the Boyoyo Boys. 

Mojapelo goes on to give a rather humorous account of how many classic mbaqanga tunes from this period got their names: "If a track was a huge hit, it would become a series, for example Rock Pata, Jackpot, Taxi Jive, Percy Jive, Jive Smoden Jive, Lekope Special, Mabone, etc. Other tracks were named after places or roads like Marabastad, Dube, Soweto, Durban Road, Platform 1, Mamelodi, Maokeng, etc. Events also got their share as in Apollo 11. Some instrumental hits gave birth to their vocal versions as in 12-0-12, which was titled Ingwe Idla Ngamabala. But the most interesting part was that there could be a track titled Taxi Jive No.1 followed by Taxi Jive 500 without having numbers 2 or 20." (Mojapelo)

Between 1969 and 1981 Phale recorded over twenty LPs including many with the Boyoyo Boys as well as a number of solo projects. He with his Teal colleague Lulu Masilela, also recorded with The Movers and can be heard on the classic, genre-defining album, Bump Jive (1974) and the best-selling, if not incredulous interpretation of Dollar Brands’ Manneburg, Repeat After Me (1976).

In 1985 Phale joined the very successful Soul Brothers and with their 13-piece band toured the globe. He also continued recording with the Boyoyo Boys and can be heard with Noise Khanyile on the 1988 LP, TJ Today (Boots, Rounder). Phale recorded his last solo LP, Phale Special, in 1991 and subsequently died in 2002.

Thomas Phale and Others
Sporo No. 4
Star Black
SKL 3010

1 comment:

  1. Certainly brings back memories (of Duck Rock. Thanks for sharing Siemon.



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