Monday, 28 July 2014

Superb sax jive: Thala Thala (1971)

Electric Jive returns today to the delightful and infectious sound of South African sax jive. Thala Thala is a 1971 compilation LP that gathers together some of the biggest selling instrumental 45 rpm singles of the past year or two. The songs featured on this album are short, sweet, peppy and catchy - and if this LP doesn't get you up from your chair and dancing around the room, nothing else will! Thala Thala features a grand selection of sax jives (plus three accordion jives) from some of the greatest names of the era: Marks Mankwane & His Shaluza Boys, Sipho Bhengu & His Alto Sax, Big Voice Jack, Zwino Zwino Boys, Marubini and His Hot Shots, Mtabhane Ndima, and Noah Nduweni & His Sax. This album was released on the Inkonkoni label - which, at the time of release, was the most popular of the numerous Gallo-Mavuthela imprints.

The previous owner of this LP singled out Sipho Bhengu's "Tickey Dopies" and the Zwino Zwino Boys' "Tadima Tadima" as the two highlights with a black pen on the back cover. These two songs are certainly enjoyable (EJ readers may be aware that the former BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel had a 45 rpm copy of "Tickey Dopies" in his vinyl collection) but, to my ears, there are several other songs on this LP that stand out much more than those two. Sipho's excellent sax jiving can also be heard in the rhythmic "Isaluti" that opens Thala Thala with a bang. "Auwa-Auwa", performed by Marks Mankwane & His Shaluza Boys, is quite frankly excellent. West Nkosi opens up the tune with a quick play of his harmonica (or "mouth organ") and Marks plays his lead guitar in that distinctive Marks way - but with the help of a wah-wah pedal. The two take turns soloing in this number (West solos on both the harmonica and his usual alto sax) and are backed effortlessly by the rest of Mavuthela's superb house band, the Makgona Tsohle Band.

Marks, West and the Makgona Tsohle Band return to perform "Marks Special No. 4". The band released "Marks Special" - a tune that showcased Marks' undeniably brilliant guitar skills - on single in 1969 and it was so successful that they recorded a follow-up titled "Marks Special No. 2". The third installment can be found on another Mavuthela sax jive compilation LP, Game 1 - Game 2 (1970). The fourth Marks Special here on Thala Thala spotlights Joseph Makwela's bass as much as it does Marks' lead guitar - Makwela actually plays the same iconic bass line he performed on the Mahotella Queens' smash hit single "Lilizela" a year prior. Vivian Ngubane's iconic rhythm guitar is strangely lost in the mix on "Marks Special No. 4" but it shines very much so on Mtabhane Ndima's "Emahlanzini", a repetitive but enjoyable early accordion jive from one of the masters of the style.

Vivian Ngubane was the first to set a template that other rhythm guitarists innovated upon. Marubini  Sam Jagome, inspired by Ngubane's wonderfully elastic rhythm line, developed his own personal and recognisable style. Marubini played both rhythm and lead guitar, creating a uniquely beautiful and almost wistful sound that became a trademark of the Zwino Zwino Boys, the junior Mavuthela instrumental team. The Zwino Zwino Boys featured an almost-exclusively Venda line-up ("zwino zwino" is Venda for "now now" - as in "ultra modern"!). Aside from the late Marubini on lead guitar, the Zwino Zwino Boys also featured his brother Christian Piliso Nombewu on rhythm guitar, Eddie Ndzeru on drums and leader James Mukwevho on bass guitar. Words cannot describe the great melodic back-and-forth of the title track, "Thala Thala", played to perfection by these ultra modern lads. Just take a listen and you'll understand!

Aaron "Big Voice Jack" Lerole had long since given up the strained groaning that shredded his vocal chords by the time he recorded the sax jive hit "Space Age" for Mavuthela. The title was no doubt inspired by the 1969 moon landings but the melody itself actually sounds like sax jive with a slight dash of salsa to me. We previously shared this sublime tune on our compilation Sax Jive Special - Vol.  2 - check it out now if you haven't already done so.

Thala Thala... 12 amazing instrumentals from the heyday of mbaqanga. What's not to love? Download and enjoy!

compiled by Shadrack Piliso and Wilson Silgee
Inkonkoni LPBS 4


  1. Thanks, once again, Nick, for the exotic sounds that take us back in the day. We hope more & more will steadily but surely come out from wherever they may be hibernating. I remember stacks of these tunes but alas, neither the titles nor the names of the yesteryear lineups behind them.

  2. Thanks for your comment Manzo - I hope you enjoyed this album and perhaps it brought back one or two distant memories! We'll continue digging for more :)


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