Monday, 3 November 2014

Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela (1951-1962)

Tin whistle jive, also referred to as penny whistle jive—the music which subsequently became known as kwela around 1958—was one of the first indigenous popular musics from South Africa to enjoy commercial success and international notoriety. With its roots in the marabi tradition, the music at times blended elements of rock ’n roll, blues, jazz and swing into a language of irresistibly catchy tunes ideal for dancing, and as a result generated significant cross-racial appeal.

The appreciation of kwela by both black and white audiences is highlighted in this October 9th, 1958 image below from Jet magazine, an African-American weekly periodical published out of Chicago. Here a white “house-wife”, Jeanne Hart, dances the "kwela" with a transplant from Sophiatown, Cameron Mokaleng, in a London club. I suspect they may have been dancing to Tom Hark, Elias Lerole’s smash hit which topped the British Hit Parade around June 1958 and set the bar for kwela’s international rise.

In November 1958, a month later, the same image could be found 15 000 km away accompanying an article in the Singapore Free Press describing the new London scene with the headline “Now they’re all doing the kwela”. And a subsequent article in the Singapore Times compared the rise of kwela with that of rock ’n roll and pondered whether this new style would supplant rock in popularity. (“Kwela and Rock ’n Roll”, Singapore Times, January 10th 1959) Indeed for a brief period record executives seriously considered investing in the new craze as the next ‘big thing’ to follow the rock phenomenon.

By the end of the 1950s kwela LPs, EPs, 45s and 78s could be found in countries across the globe including the UK, USA, Argentina, Spain, France, Germany, Rhodesia and of course South Africa. It is from these varied sources (including many original South African 78 rpm recordings) in the Flat International archive that this chronological discography has been compiled.

I approached this project in a similar way to the Makeba Track Less Travelled compilation by first digitizing all the kwela and flute music in the Flat International archive. The total tallied up to a generous 516 tracks. Of course, many titles were issued multiple times on different formats and this process allowed me to select the best quality versions where possible. Using Apple’s Smart Folder system I was able to access all the tracks chronologically in a virtual single folder without having to duplicate massive amounts of data. Seeing the tracks as a list also generated possible scenarios for how aspects of the style developed. Screen grabs of this track list, or more specifically—Kwela Discography—can be viewed at flatint. I then combed through the list and selected the best material along with historically significant tracks to produce perhaps the first extensive survey of this music form. The post today, Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela, features Volume One (1951-1956) and Volume Two (1956-1957) in the series, but over the next few months we will continue to post additional volumes covering a significant gamut of the style up until its eventual demise around 1962.

The liner notes of many kwela LPs and EPs marketed in the UK and South Africa in the late 1950s describe the roots of the music in this way: “The Pennywhistle of today originates way back when African herd-boys fashioned a pipe from bamboo. They called this pipe a 'Mahlaka' and it gave them enjoyment in their lonely vigil whilst herding their fathers’ cattle.” (Columbia, SEYJ 105) “As time went on these were replaced by tin whistles as the bamboo was not strong enough and did not last. These tin pipes have been greatly improved and are what we now call ‘penny whistles’. The penny-whistle became the popular instrument of little African boys and they could be heard playing on street corners where they attracted much interest and attention.” (Columbia, SEYJ 102)

In the 1930s and 40s, as herdboys migrated to cities looking for work, the affordable German-made tin whistle became a reliable substitute for the indigenous reed counterpart. (Allingham, Rough Guide to World Music, p. 641) The versatile whistle could be stored in one’s belt, produced at a moments notice, or played while walking. “[M]usicians who could not afford band instruments imitated big band music on penny whistle [and] several of South Africa’s jazz saxophonists started their musical careers on this instrument.” (Lara Allen, Circuits of Recognition and Desire in the Evolution of Black South African Popular Music: The Career of the Penny Whistle; p. 39). Frederick Maphisa recalls buying his first tin whistle in 1936 for 2s 6d. Often he would walk to central Johannesburg from Western Native Township and busk outside cinemas where lines would queue. (Allen, p. 35) 

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
By the 1950s groups of pre-teens and teenagers could be seen playing in townships like Alexandra or attracting huge crowds on the street corners of Johannesburg. Sometimes a make-shift band was put together with any number of whistlers and a guitarist for rhythm; as can be seen in the extraordinary footage in Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 quasi-documentary Come Back Africa. Often these performers would play a “cat-and-mouse” game with police avoiding arrest for public disturbance (Allingham, p. 641). But clearly as the film reveals, the police like the rest of the racial-mixed crowd look on with awe at the street performances. Perhaps the presence of Rogosin’s camera tempered their typical reaction.

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
As Rob Allingham points out this music eventually “attracted a white following, particularly from rebellious suburban teenagers referred to as ‘ducktails’”. (Allingham, p. 641) Rogosin’s film shows a number of these ducktails viewing the penny whistle performers in various street scenes. Notably, it was the ducktails who would subsequently play a role in popularizing the music for white South African audiences.

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
Of course the penny whistle’s history in South Africa is more complex and can also be traced back to the influence of British military marching bands from as early as the 1910s. Some of the instruments and very often the clothing of these marching bands was adopted and adapted by black musicians as Lara Allen reveals: 

"In the late 1930s and early 1940s the marching style and parade costumes of Scots regiments had a marked influence on developing black urban popular culture. […] Scottish fife-and-drum and pipe-bands were more precisely imitated by groups of black males known as scottishes, playing penny whistles and drums. […] Willard Cele, Jake Lerole, and Ntemi Piliso, who became well known musicians later on, were all at various times members of the Alexandra-based Scottish band originally known as the Alexandra Scots and later as the Alexandra Highlanders. The membership of Scottish bands varied, but usually included fifteen to twenty-five penny whistlers and two to five drummers. Members ranged in age from adolescents to men in their early thirties. The most striking aspect of these bands was their uniform that, as far as cost would allow, simulated exactly the regalia of Scots Pipers: white spats, glengarries and tartan kilts with sporrans." (Allen, p. 33)

Very little, if any, of the music in this form was recorded; though there are hints at it, for example, in the 1957 tracks King Flute and Solid by the Aron (Jake Lerole) and Michael on the Troubadour label where the rhythm section almost alludes to a military-styled drumming.

Interest in the scottishes declined after the second world war. Many performers shifted to other instruments; for example Ntemi Piliso who was already playing saxophone in big jazz bands like the Harlem Swingsters. (Allen, p.36) Similarly artists such as Albert Ralulimi and Barney Rachabane all cut their teeth on the penny whistle before moving onto other instruments.

Many young aspiring musicians tried to emulate the sound of majuba or African jazz with this more affordable instrument. Jake Lerole recalls playing an early form of kwela in shebeens from 1948 with a dance band comprised of penny whistle, guitar, concertina and home-made percussion instruments. (Allen, p. 38) As the form developed, groups featured a lead flute accompanied by four or five rhythm flutes. While artists like Spokes Mashiyane would perform solo accompanied by guitar, eventually a variety of instruments including home-made ones became the standard. Some groups included a bassist operating a babatoni or refashioned tea-box as an upright bass. The tea chest bass was also common to many skiffle bands in the UK during this time, including Lennon and McCartney’s Quarrymen. As this 1958 Daily Mail headline suggests—“Kwela Scatters the Skifflers”—much of the popularity of kwela in the UK stemmed from its grassroots approach and similarity to the skiffle. (Columbia, JS 11014)

Willard Cele in Donald Swanson's Magic Garden, 1951.
The first recordings of the music that would eventually become known as kwela were in the form of a twelve bar blues made by Willard Cele in 1951 and featured in Donald Swanson’s classic film, The Magic Garden, but it was only between 1954 and 1956 that the commercial appeal of this music began to be recognised in South Africa, notably with the rise of Spokes Mashiyane. Prior to 1958 the music was generally categorized on record labels as flagelot jive, tin whistle jive, penny whistle jive, flute jive and so on. 

A British scout, looking for a catchy theme to accompany a new British television series about illicit diamond smuggling in South Africa, selected the 1956 tune Tom Hark by Elias (Lerole) and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes. The Killing Stones, was released on March 23, 1958 and its theme song prompted an interest by viewers leading to a UK record issue on 78 rpm and 45 rpm. By mid 1958, Tom Hark had sky-rocketed to the top of the British Hit Parade. 

The term kwela can loosely be translated as “step up” or “climb up” in a number of South African languages, but it was also a slang term that referred to apartheid-era police vehicles. When people were arrested policemen would order them to “step up” into the vehicle and the name stuck. In the introduction to Tom Hark, one can hear a re-enacted conversation of a street-gang playing an illegal game of dice. One of the individuals shouts out in tsotsitaal (an Afrikaans derived street-slang) “Hier kom die kwela-kwela! Stop […] want hulle gaan ons bo vat!” (Here comes the kwela-kwela! Stop […] otherwise they’re going to take us away.) 

Lara Allen in her detailed analysis speculates that it may have been British DJs who, in hearing this introduction, interpreted it as an announcement of the impending music and inadvertently applied the name to the style of music. 

The word kwela, sometimes spelled quela, was also the name of a popular dance of the 1950s and can be found in the titles of tracks recorded many years prior to Tom Hark. But here the term is used in its literal sense as in: Kwela Spokes translates as “Climb-up Spokes” or “Get into it, Spokes”… rather than “Spokes is recording a kwela”. 

The international success of Elias Lerole’s Tom Hark in 1958 further sparked a craze and a whole generation of penny whistle imitators in South Africa but by then the instrument’s eventual demise had already been written by its own stars who had replaced it with the saxophone. Complex arrangements with additional sophisticated instrumentation continued well into the early 1960s but by 1962 recordings of the style more or less faded away.


TIN WHISTLE JIVE AND THE ROOTS OF KWELA
Volume 1 (1951-1956)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 15)

01) LUTHENI SHANDU - Umfazi / Amadoda - 1955
(Shandu, Sound of Africa, ILAM, TR 10, matrix ILAM 16)

As mentioned above some of the roots of kwela can be traced to reed pipes played by young herdboys. Hugh Tracey documented a number of examples of what the rural origins of this music may have sounded like in his Sound of Africa series. Lutheni Shandu can be heard playing three tunes on TR 10 (matrix ILAM 16). According to Tracey’s notes Shandu “learnt or composed” these tunes during his childhood while tending cattle in KwaZulu Natal. The recordings were made in 1955 and as the description alludes must be from his recollections as an adult rather than as an actual “herdboy”. The tunes are played on an igekle flute made from a hollow stalk roughly 90 cm long and 3 cm wide at the mouth—a much longer and wider flute than the mahlaka described in the liner notes of the EPs above. David Coplan refers to a very similar Zulu instrument as an umtshingo. (Coplan, In Township Tonight!, p. 191)

Two of Shandu’s tunes from the original ILAM LPs are featured here in this compilation as a single track: Umfazi Ohlupingane (The woman who ill treats a child) and Amadoda e Lange (Men of Lange). In his notes on Umfazi, Tracey editorializes somewhat by suggesting that the “theme of the unkind mother is fairly common.” (Tracey, The Sound of Africa Series, p. 20). Immaculately remastered versions of both these recordings can be heard on the CD: The Nguni Sound: South Africa and Swaziland  (SWP 20), from Michael Baird’s excellent SWP Records reissue series.

02) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Blues (Take 1) - 1951
(Cele, Gallotone, GE 1123, matrix ABC 3804-1)

03) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Boogie - 1951
(Cele, London, 1038, matrix ABC 3806-2)

04) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Blues (Take 2) - 1951
(Cele, London, 1038, matrix ABC 3804-2)

Willard Cele, Drum, 1951
One former member of the Alexandra Highlanders, Willard Cele, became quite legendary as a solo performer on the streets of Johannesburg and was subsequently recruited by Donald Swanson into his classic 1951 film The Magic Garden. The film was the second major South African release to feature an almost all-black cast and was hugely successful propelling artists like Dolly Rathebe and Cele to stardom. The film release also just happened to coincide with the very first issue of Drum magazine, and a full page article on Cele in the debut issue, certainly would have contributed to his growing success.

His uniques style and approach to holding the instrument allowed for a fuller range of tones and this approach became influential on younger artists. Cele was crippled after a sporting accident in his youth and subsequently walked with a limp. As a result he swayed while he played and these movements were adopted by imitators as a stylistic manner in which to play the flute music. Lara Allen points out that many proteges from Alexandra, including Jake Lerole and Lemmy Mabaso, also adopted the swaying manner while playing; however artists like Spokes Mashiyane, who grew up in what is now Limpopo Province, north of Pretoria, did not. (Allen, p. 37)

The film was hugely successful and Gallo recorded two tracks by Cele: Penny Whistle Blues and Penny Whistle Boogie. The records were certainly popular enough to be reissued a number of times and released in the UK on the London label. In digitizing all copies in the Flat International archive, I was able to determine that at least two takes of Penny Whistle Blues were issued commercially. The most common being take two which is on most issues and reissues. Interestingly take one can be found on what I believe is the first issue of the record though oddly it is noted as the second take on the label. Perhaps the first take was issued here in error. It also happens to be the same as that used in the film soundtrack.

Remarkably the commercial potential of this music was not exploited by record companies at the time. According to Rob Allingham no other recordings of this music were made until three years later with a track by the Orlando Tin Whistlers at Trutone. (Rob Allingham in Lara Allen, p. 40) Also Lara Allen points to an August 1954 review of the Orlando Shanty Maxims in Bantu World which clearly predates Spokes Mashiyane’s historic sessions at Trutone. It is possible that the Orlando Tin Whistlers and the Shanty Maxims were one in the same group.

05) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND HIS RHYTHM - Ace Blues - 1954
(Mashiyane, Rave LP, RMG 1107; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 24, matrix T 4080)

Although Gallo was the first company to record the flute phenomenon, it really was Trutone that popularised this street music and capitalized on its commercial potential with Spokes Mashiyane’s first four recordings on October 8th, 1954: Ace Blues (Quality, TJ 24, matrix 4080); Kwela Spokes (Quality, TJ 24, matrix 4081); Skokiaan (Quality, TJ 21, matrix 4082) and Meva (Quality, TJ 21, matrix 4083).

All four tracks are brilliant and in particular Ace Blues became a sales phenomenon. Notably, only Mashiyane’s interpretation of August Musarurwa’s Skokiaan has not been reissued on any subsequent compilations, EPs or 45s.

06) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND HIS RHYTHM - Skokiaan - 1954
(Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 21, matrix T 4082)

It was Johannes 'Spokes' Mashiyane, more than any other, who would popularise penny whistle jive and transform it into a household name starting with four tracks recorded for Trutone on October 8, 1954. One of those, Ace Blues, became a hit, and by 1955 was receiving favorable reviews in the black press. Soon every record company in South Africa was looking to capitalize on an instrument that had been regarded as a mere toy relegated to the rural life of young herdboys.

Spokes Mashiyane was born in Vlakfontein near Pretoria on January 20th 1933. According to the liner notes of his first Trutone EP, Mashiyane taught himself to play on a reed flute while tending his father’s cattle. Albert Ralulimi in an interview with Lara Allen reveals that Spokes first played on a plastic toy penny whistle before moving on to a metal one. When he was eighteen, Mashiyane moved to Johannesburg where he met France Pilane with whom he formed a duo. Together the two busked with flute and guitar on street corners and in parks. Ralulimi goes on to say that Mashiyane's style at the time improvised on grassroots tunes played by "anybody" — the community in general, kids on street corners, and those at shebeens and stokvel gatherings.

It was on one such occasion at Zoo Lake Park (Yvonne Huskisson has it at Phomolong Train Station) that the duo was spotted by Trutone producer and talent scout Strike Vilakazi. According to Rob Allingham, Vilakazi cut at least four tracks with them in 1954. Huskisson, on the other hand, does suggest that Mashiyane’s first recordings were made in 1949. He would have been sixteen at the time and given that Allen’s account has him moving to Johannesburg when he was eighteen, the earlier recordings may be unlikely.

"The musical effects of the inter-relationships between the streets and the studios are most obvious in the changing instrumentation of penny whistle bands. In the early 1950s groups of youngsters busking in the streets played only penny whistles and guitars. Jerrypenny Flute’s ‘Ngiyabonga’ and ‘Kupela’, recorded by BB Records in November 1954 constitute some of the few recorded examples of how this original street music might have sounded. Although prior to his first recording Spokes Mashiyane played only with Pilane, double bass and drums were added at their first recording session, and this instrumental line up became the norm for penny whistle recordings thereafter. […] The bass and drums are very soft in Mashiyane’s recording of ‘Ace Blues’, making this the best available example of how he and Pilane may have sounded when they first played together in the Zoo Lake Park." (Allen, p. 41) These four recordings were followed by additional sessions with Mashiyane denoted simply as Spokes and William later that same year.

07) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Ndinovalo - 1954
(Eric Nomvete, Rave LP, RMG 1107; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 31, matrix T 4175)

Mashiyane here plays a composition by Eric Nomvete the founder of the influential majuba jazz big band, the African Quavers, that would later become the famed Havana Swingsters. What is curious here is that Eric Nomvete and his Havana Swingsters were also recording at the Trutone studios almost at the same time (eight takes later). Their compositions Rubber Neck (T 4181) and Phola Rapopo (T 4183) were issued on the next Quality release TJ 32. Nomvete also pens a number of tunes by other artists recording for Trutone around this time for example the Maestro Pearls. So my guess is that Nomvete may have been present at the Mashiyane recordings perhaps as a kind of producer.

The guitarist for the Havana Swingsters on their 1954 recording of Emaxambeni was none other than William Madyaka and it is my calculated guess that it is he who accompanies Mashiyane here on rhythm guitar. Emaxambeni was recorded September 10th, 1954 (Gallo, CDZAC 53) and I would be willing to bet that it also comes from a Trutone session perhaps a month or two before Ndinovalo. Martha Mdenga recorded a slower version of Ndinovalo (Quality, TJ 20, T 4071) roughly 100 takes before Mashiyane’s at Trutone, backed by, I suspect, the Havana Swingsters. If nothing else this recording directly links the roots of kwela to the majuba african jazz tradition.

08) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Mamlambo - 1954
(Mashiyane, Quality LP, LTJ 201; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 33, matrix T 4176)

09) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Daisy’s Blues - 1954
(Mashiyane, Quality LP, LTJ 201; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 31, matrix T 4177)

Though attributed to Mashiyane, it is interesting that Yvonne Huskisson credit’s Eric Nomvete with a Daisy’s Blues as well and given that Nomvete was likely at many of these Trutone recordings, I suspect this may be the same tune.

10) BOOM BROTHERS - Take It! - c1954
(Tshabalala, Harlequin LP, HQ 2020; original Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 204, MATA 1352)

The smart folder system employed to generate the kwela discography on my computer lists tracks based on matrix numbers as I researched and entered them. However without comparative discographies from one company to another, it was hard to determine which recordings from different companies in any given year came first. Unless the exact date is known, recordings would be grouped in chronological order based on the company’s matrix prefix. Gallo (ABC) would precede Troubadour (MATA) which would precede Trutone (T) but this may not represent the correct recording order overall.

Given that, it is my best guess that this track by the Boom Brothers on the Troubadour label actually precedes the famous sessions of Mashiyane’s at Trutone. This vocal jive number with flute accompaniment just sounds like it comes from an earlier era. The track is featured on the excellent Harlequin compilation Jazz and Hot dance in South Africa (1946-1959) but alas I suspect Horst Bergmeier’s date estimation of 1957 to be incorrect.

11) NEWCLARE JIVE WHISTLERS - Maglera - 1954
(Ben Mofokeng, Trutone 78 rpm, XU 307, matrix 4201).

A mere 23 takes after Mashiyane’s last session of 1954, Trutone recorded another penny whistle act, the Newclare Jive Whistlers with Ben Mofokeng’s Maglera.

12) BLACK DUKE AND HIS RHYTHM - Tickeyline - 1955
(Poosa, Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 277, matrix MATA 1510)

Besides recording this item for Troubadour, Black Duke, who I am assuming is Poosa, also recorded for Trutone’s Envee label and his track Baboon Shepherd was subsequently featured on the UK Oriole compilation Penny Whistle Jive (MG 10022) and can be heard on Volume 2 in this series.






13) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND FRANCE PILANE - Samson and Delilah - 1955
(trad, arr. Strike Vilakazi, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 56, matrix T 4503)

Samson and Delilah was also featured on what appears to be the first 10” vinyl compilation of kwela music, issued by Trutone as Penny Whistle Jive (TLP 1047) probably in 1957. The album included tracks by Ben Nkosi, leader of the Solven Whistlers, and Peter Makana. In what was then a typically patronizing tone the liner notes give the reader a sense of the pre-Killing Stones success of this music in South Africa: “The African has made the Penny Whistle his own, and tens of thousands of 'Flute Jive' records sold every week testify to its continuing popularity. There has been considerable demand for these records amongst Europeans and to help meet the demand in more convenient LP form, we complied this album from the township 'Hit Parade'.” (Trutone, TLP 1047)

14) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND FRANCE PILANE - Meadowlands Boogie - 1955
(Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 56, matrix T 4504)

Mashiyane’s Meadowlands Boogie was recorded just 24 takes after Strike Vilakazi’s iconic Meadowlands (Quality, TJ 52, T 4480) and issued four discs later. Made famous by Nancy Jacobs and her Sisters, the lyrics in Meadowlands appear to praise the benefits of moving to the new township of Meadowlands, but in reality this song was understood by listeners as a critique of the government’s forced removals of residents from Sophiatown. The success of the song spurred a series of similarly titled recordings at Trutone that, by implication, could also be interpreted as political  statements. Mashiyane’s Meadowlands Boogie was reissued in 1985 on the Harlequin compilation Jazz and Hot dance in South Africa (1946-1959) (Harlequin, HQ 2020). In his liner text, Horst Bergmeier notes that Mashiyane was only paid £20 for each recording that would then sell between 50,000 and 70,000 copies.

15) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Jumping Bean (New Year Eve Blues) - 1955
(Mashiyane, Rave EP, REP 27, original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 70, matrix T 4638)

Recorded probably in December of 1955 this track was issued as Jumping Bean on the Trutone EP Kwela Spokes! (REP 27) and as New Year Eve Blues on Spokes’ first LP King Kwela! issued around 1958 (Trutone, RMG 1107).







16) ROMANTIC BOYS - Jika Mthoria - 1956
(D. Pilani, New Sound EP, XEP 7027; original Gallotone 78 rpm, GB 2571, matrix ABC 15456)

17) ROMANTIC BOYS - Timitoy Baby - 1956
(D. Pilane, Gallotone Jive Jive 78 rpm, GB 2571, matrix ABC 15457)

These recordings appear to be the first tin whistle material made by Gallo since the seminal tracks by Cele of 1951, that is… as can be found in the Flat International archive. While it is often mentioned that the tsotsitaal spoken introductions to many kwela tracks began with Elias Lerole’s Tom Hark it is interesting to consider that these tracks by the Romantic Boys may have preceded it or at least were recorded in the same month. Notably, these tracks must have been recorded in the middle of October 1956 as the following take, ABC 15458 by the Skylarks was recorded on October 20th. Tom Hark, according to Lara Allen, was also recorded in October at EMI but no specific day is given. Significantly the introduction to Jika Mthoria also refers to the kwela-kwela (the police vehicle as heard in Tom Hark) and then mentions the title as Kwela Mthoria. What to make of the fact that both these introductions appeared in tracks at two different record companies in the same month is hard to say. But it brings up a strong connection indicating that one may have influenced the other.

Although first issued in 1956 on the Gallotone Jive Jive label these two tracks were later reissued on the B-side of a Spokes Mashiyane EP (XEP 7027) on the New Sound label in 1960; which makes me think that Gallo saw them as significant enough tracks to reissue in the 45 rpm format four years after their initial release.

18) ALEXANDRA BUSYBEES - Lo Afrika - c1956
(L. Choake, Gallotone Jive Jive 78 rpm, GB 2624, matrix ABC 15759)

Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso
This Gallo track also includes a spoken introduction though it was recorded in either December 1956 or early 1957 and therefore should have come after Tom Hark below. (Apologies!) The introduction is significantly unique. It opens with an almost avant-garde ‘noise’ of  late night listeners dialing through what sounds like radio channels, only to be interrupted by a white landlord complaining about the cacophony. Hearing whites speaking on black records seems unique as this is the only example I know of from this period. The set-up suggests that what we are hearing are domestic workers listening to the radio or to records late at night in one of the small residences known as “servants quarters” found at the back of most white homes in apartheid South Africa and that the white “boss” appears to confront the listeners and break their records.

Rob Allingham suggests that these could possibly be the first recordings by Lemmy Special Mabaso, here on lead flute (making him eight years old at the time) and could also include a tea-box bass or babatoni that rarely made it into the recording studio. (Allingham)

19) SHANTY ROBERT SAXES - Meiring - 1956
(Marapo, Troubadour, AFC 338, matrix MATA 1651)

20) SHANTY ROBERT SAXES - Tomatie Sauce - 1956
(trad.arr. Marapo, Troubadour, AFC 338, matrix MATA 1652)

Tomatie Sous is classic standard in the “Cape Coloured” tradition, though a 1953 Bantu Batho recording by the African Quavers credits the tune to trumpeter David Mzimkulu.

21) ALEXANDRA JUNGLE BOYS - My Sister - 1956
(Hadebe, Troubadour, AFC 372, matrix MATA 1712)

22) ELIAS AND HIS ZIG ZAG JIVE FLUTES - Tom Hark - 1956
(Rupert Bopape, Columbia LP, JSX 9; original Columbia 78 rpm, YE 164, matrix CEA 5060)

Of course, the tune that would elevate kwela to the international stage in 1958 was Tom Hark recorded in October 1956 by Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes — a group that also went by the name Black Mambazo.

Black Mambazo (meaning Black Axe but no relation to LBM) originated from Alexandra Township and was "discovered" by Rupert Bobape in 1956. Generally the group included Elias ‘Shamba’ Lerole, his brother, Aaron Jake Lerole, Zeph Nkabinde, and sometimes his brother Simon Nkabinde, David Ramosa, Peter Khumalo and others. The group became South Africa’s top kwela band in the late 1950s. Under Bopape’s direction, by the early 1960s, they had developed a key deep-vocal style, known as "groaning", first with Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ Lerole and then, after his voice had deteriorated, Zeph Nkabinde. Though the most well known proponent of this style of singing would be Nkabinde’s brother, Simon, when he too went over to Gallo Mavuthela with Bopape and became famously known as Mahlathini.

It was not uncommon at that time for many groups to record under various names, possibly a strategy conceived by the record companies to give their competitors the impression that their catalogue was brimming with good talent and also perhaps as a way to avoid paying significant royalties to any one major group or artist. Black Mambazo was not immune to this and recorded under a number of names including the Alexandra Shamber Boys (sometimes Shamba), Alexandra Black Mambazo, and most famously Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes.

The title of this track, Tom Hark, was apparently a clerical error by EMI; the correct name should have been “Tomahawk” named for the Native-American axe, which makes sense given the translation of the band’s name: black axe. The B-side of the 78 rpm included the tune Ry-Ry and both were issued in South Africa on EMI’s Columbia label in 1956 (YE 164).

The tune enjoyed some success in South Africa for two years before a British scout, looking for a catchy theme to accompany a new British television series, heard it. Written by Wolf Mankowitz, The Killing Stones, was released on March 23, 1958 with six episodes that traced illicit diamond smuggling in South Africa. Interest by viewers prompted a British release of the theme song on 78 rpm (Columbia, DB 4109) and 45 rpm (45-DB 4109) and by mid 1958, Tom Hark had sky-rocketed to the top of the British Hit Parade.

Aron Jake Lerole
Lara Allen’s detailed analysis suggests that it is the spoken introduction to Tom Hark that gave this style of music the name kwela: “There are a number of theories as to how the term kwela came to refer to penny whistle music. The most plausible explanation is that kwela was originally used as a stylistic label by the British market: reputedly, the term was extracted from the phrase “Daar kom die kwela-kwela” that occurs in the spoken introduction to “Tom Hark”. In tsotsi-taal, the township lingua franca of the day, this phrase means “here comes the police van”, but it was understood by English disc jockeys as an announcement of the impending music. The introduction to “Tom Hark” consists of a tableau about street corner gambling during which the approach of a police van induces the gamblers to pocket their dice and pull out their penny whistles.”

In a 1990 interview with Allen, Elias Lerole translates for her the now famous tsotsitaal introduction: "Then I started to say: ‘Now gentlemen, let’s make little bits of speech before we play this number’. Then the guys, they say: ‘What are we going to say?’ I say: ‘Look – you know all the time when you are in the street we are afraid for these pickup vans?’ Always they used to come and arrest some people, you know? And I say: ‘Now look here, we are going to say: “Gentlemen, let’s play the dice.”’ And I throw the money and I check the dice. I throw them, I say, ‘I do!’ Then somebody says: ‘No can do!’ Then I draw again, I say: ‘I do!’ Then they say: ‘Popp!’ and I can grab the money. Then when you are going to grab the money I say: ‘Gentlemen, here comes the kwela-kwela. Let’s play our penny whistles to keep the police busy so that they musn’t arrest us’. You see? Then we start to play the flute." (Elias Lerole Interview in Allen, p. 44)

EMI issued in the UK a number of other kwela singles by the group including Vuka Magcwabeni / Zeph Boogie (Columbia, 45-DB 4146); Fuzzy Night / Matshutshu (Columbia, 45-DB 4135) by Black Mambazo; and Dintho / Holom Toe (HMV, POP 496) by the Alexandra Shamber Boys; but none were as successful as Tom Hark. A four track EP tilted Kwela from South Africa featuring the Alexandra Shamber Boys and the Benoni Flute Quintet (HMV, 7EG 8369) was also issued, along with as a full length compilation LP Flute Kwela Africa (Columbia, 33JSX 60) featuring Black Mambazo, Little Kid Lex, Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes, the Inkintsho Brothers and the Swing Tone Whistlers.

Controversially, the copyright for Tom Hark was held by Rupert Bopape, who also owned thousands of other South African EMI titles. As a result the group unfortunately was never able to receive full royalties from the success of their tune.

23) BENONI FLUTE QUINTET - Sanny Boy Special - 1956
(E. Mtsima, HMV 78 rpm, JP 2069, matrix 0AS 934)

24) BENONI FLUTE QUINTET - Skanda Mayeza - 1956
(Rupert Bopape, Columbia EP, SEYJ 105; original HMV 78 rpm, JP 2056, matrix 0AS 965)

This Bopape classic can also be found on Eddy De Clercq's wonderful compilation, Township Jive Kwela Jazz - Volume 2, sourced from the ILAM archive in Grahamstown. Apologies, Eddy, I think the recording date might be closer to 1956.   : )



TIN WHISTLE JIVE AND THE ROOTS OF KWELA
Volume 2 (1956-1957)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 16)

01) PIETERSBURG STAR BOYS - In the Mood - 1956
(Joe Garland, Trutone, TLP 2000)

In the Mood, Glen Miller’s iconic 1939 swing-band hit, was a favorite of South African shebeens in the 1940s. (Allen, p. 39) This kwela version does not disappoint and was included on Trutone’s compilation Jazz from the Township. I suspect this group may also be the Pietersburg Flute Kings below based on the rather thin evidence that both recorded for Trutone around the same time.




02) PIETERSBURG FLUTE KINGS - Phendula - c1956
(Bantu Batho, BB 2008, T 228/2)

03) PIETERSBURG FLUTE KINGS - Lale Lake - c1956
(Bantu Batho, BB 2008, T 228/5)

04) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND HIS RHYTHM - Tsa Lefatshe Hadi Fele - c1956
(Mashiyane, Quality, TJ 172, T 5299)

05) BLACK DUKE AND PETER MAKANA - Baboon Shepherd - c1956
(Peter Makana, Oriole, MG 10022; original 78 rpm, Envee, NV 3062, T 5349)

Black Duke, who I am assuming is Poosa, based on the credits on his Troubadour releases, also recorded for Trutone’s Envee label. His track Baboon Shepherd was featured on the UK 10” Oriole compilation Penny Whistle Jive (MG 10022) which appears to be a UK reissue of the South African Trutone LP of the same name (TLP 1047), however almost all the track are different. The liner notes of the South African issue suggest that Peter Makana is the “cool boy” of kwela compared with Spokes Mashiyane the “champion” and Ben Nkosi the “experimenter”.

06) STONE TOWN CRACKERS - No. 15 - c1956
(Ben Nkosi, Quality, TJ 127, T 5651)

No. 15, credited to Ben Nkosi who would go on to lead the Solven Whistlers at Gallo, has an amazing cyclical structure that reminds me of the majuba big band jazz sounds. As mentioned above, Nkosi was considered the “experimenter searching for ‘New Sounds’ and new heights of expression.” Not only was he an excellent flutist but also a skilled guitar player and accompanied Spokes Mashiyane on a number of tracks and Peter Makana on Black John below. He was known to explore additional instruments including the recorder and clarinet which greatly influenced his flute technique. (Trutone, TLP 1049). While many of his early recordings are for Trutone, tracks by him were also issued by EMI on their HMV label (JP 843) as well as Gallo. Interestingly Nkosi and the Solven Whistlers recorded at least  two versions of the notable Something New in Africa with visiting American clarinetist Tony Scott in August 1957 (Gallotone, GALP 1015; Decca, LK 4292).

07) PETER MAKANA - Black John - c1956
(Makana, Arlequin, 1009, T 5825)

Peter Makana is accompanied here by Ben Nkosi on guitar and, as mentioned above, was considered the “cool boy” of kwela. Black John must have been a significant hit for them as it was issued at least four times: on the original 78 rpm (Envee, NV 3085); a Spanish EP “Pennywhistle Jive” (Arlequin, 1009); and is the one of the few tracks common to both 10” compilations, “Penny Whistle Jive”, issued in South Africa (Trutone, TLP 1047) and the UK (Oriole, MG 10022). The tsotsitaal introduction showcases a wonderful example of sexual banter between a jealous girlfriend and her philandering boyfriend. Notably the introduction is absent from all the international vinyl releases and had to be rescued from the original South African 78 rpm recording.

08) BOIKE LEMAO - Thusa Baby - c1956
(B.J. Lemao, BB Records, BB 1039, T 5869)

09) BOIKE LEMAO - Fly Baby - c1956
(B.J. Lemao, BB Records, BB 1039, T 5870)

10) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Kallas Special - c1956
(Mashiyane, Trutone, TLP 2000; original 78 rpm, Quality, TJ 109, T 5907)

11) STONE TOWN CRACKERS - White and Black - c1956
(Ben Nkosi, Quality, TJ 127, T 5943)

12) BEN NKOSI AND MAFUTHA AMAHLOPE - Ben’s Special - c1956
(Ben Nksoi, Trutone, TLP 1047)

Ben’s Special is another track common to both 10” compilations, Penny Whistle Jive, issued in South Africa (Trutone, TLP 1047) and the UK (Oriole, MG 10022). Interestingly, Ben Nkosi’s colleague here is Mafutha Amahlope and according to Chis Albertyn this is a pseudonym that literally translates as “Fat Whitey”. ‘Mafutha Amahlope’ also penned the tunes for the Pond’s face whitening cream advertisement featured here at Electric Jive. In that recording the author was Christoffel Nicolaas Du Toit, but it is unclear if he was involved on Ben’s Special, or whether the term was applied generically to any white musician that happened to get involved.

13) PETER MAKANA - Peter’s Blues (Cool Mood) - c1956
(Peter, Makana, Trutone, TLP 2002)

This track was issued on the Trutone compilation Music was Born in Africa (TLP 2002) as Peter’s Blues but then also included on the UK Oriole 10” (MG 10022) compilation as Cool Mood.

14) SIX KEYS - Thimela - 1957
(Nkwanyane, Tropik, DC 709, ABC 15971)

15) SIX KEYS - Uyandibambezela - 1957
(Gray Mbau, Tropik, DC 709, ABC 15972)

Two iconic figures of the majuba African jazz era, Elijah Nkwanyane and Gray Mbau are credited as composers on these two great tunes respectively which makes me wonder if the Six Keys included members from one of the big jazz bands of that time — perhaps the City Jazz Nine or the Brown Cool Six. Uyandibambezela is a classic, including saxophone and some wonderful male vocals — perhaps a precursor to the “groaning” style that was being popularized by Black Mambazo.



16) LITTLE KID LEX - New Year Rock - 1957
(Elex, Columbia, JSX 9; original 78 rpm, YE 177, CEA 5092)

17) LITTLE KID LEX - Alex Special - 1957
(Elex, Columbia, JSX 60; original 78 rpm, YE 177, CEA 5093)

Little Kid Lex
According to Rob Allingham, Alex Hendriks was eight years old when he recorded these two tunes for EMI, though the liner notes from JSX 9 claim he was eleven. Here he is backed by Black Mambazo. New Year Rock features an interesting dialogue in tsotsitaal about rock ’n roll in America. The one voice is quite clearly a young boy, possibly Hendriks, but strangely the other voice refers to him as “my sister”, implying that the hi-pitched voice could be that of a woman. These two tracks were issued together on a single Columbia 78 rpm, YE 177. New Years Rock was also included on the Columbia compilation LP Africa - Music and Life of Today (JSX 9) while Alex Special can be found on Flute Kwela Africa (JSX 60).

18) ELIAS AND HIS ZIG ZAG JIVE FLUTES - Vuka Magcwabeni - 1957
(Bopape, Columbia, 45DB 4146, CEA 5103)

Translated as “Back from the dead”, Vuka Magcwabeni was one of the tracks issued by EMI UK after Elias Lerole’s smash success with Tom Hark. The record, however, did not sell very well. Of course, the group here was also known as Black Mambazo.







19) ELIAS AND HIS ZIG ZAG JIVE FLUTES - Bomma - 1957
(Bopape, Columbia EP, SEYJ 102; original 78 rpm, YE 197, CEA 5104)

Here Black Mambazo include an early example of the deep-vocal style known as “groaning”. It is probable that Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ (Jake) Lerole is the groaner. The track was issued on 78 rpm and on a Columbia EP: Africa - Music and Life of Today - Volume 1 (SEYJ 102).

20) FRANS AND JERRY - Butone No. 3 - 1957
(Mutshutshu, Troubadour, AFC 410, MATA 1746)

I am wondering if Frans may be France Pilane who accompanied Spokes Mashiyane on guitar in his early recordings at Trutone. Mutshutshu may be a pseudonym used by Troubadour. Notice on the two tracks by Aron and Charles that the credit is spelt differently—Mutshutshuru.

21) ARON AND MICHAEL - King Flute - 1957
(Ngubane, Troubadour, AFC 391, MATA 1751)

22) ARON AND MICHAEL - Solid - 1957
(Ngubane, Troubadour, AFC 391, MATA 1752)

Aron here is likely to be Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ Jake Lerole. Likewise for the Aron and Charles tracks below. As mentioned above, the percussion on these two tracks almost sounds like military-styled drumming and may give us a hint at what the very early Alexandra scottishes may have sounded like.

23) ARON AND CHARLES - Frans Special - 1957
(Mutshutshuru, Troubadour, AFC 407, MATA 1791)

24) ARON AND CHARLES - Pola Grace - 1957
(Mutshutshuru, Troubadour, AFC 407, MATA 1792)

25) NOCKS BALOYI - Askiem to Nocks - 1957
(Baloyi, Troubadour, AFC 425, MATA 1827)

26) NOCKS BALOYI - New Boogie - 1957
(Baloyi, Troubadour, AFC 425, MATA 1828)


TIN WHISTLE JIVE AND THE ROOTS OF KWELA
Volume 1 (1951-1956)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 15)






TIN WHISTLE JIVE AND THE ROOTS OF KWELA
Volume 2 (1956-1957)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 16)

14 comments:

  1. When a blog is overflowing with magnificent music, beautifully presented and annotated, the way Electric Jive is, it seems churlish to pick favourites from the delights offered, but I have to say that – for me – the compilations in Siemon Allen’s FXEJ series represent the jewels in the crown. Just incredible. And this one lives up to the impossibly high standards set by the others - wonderful music, great illustrations and unfailingly fascinating reading to go with it. Thank you so much for this one, and for all of them.

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  2. Magnificent, Siemon! Fabulous in-depth text with amazing selections - downloading both compilations right now and I cannot wait to listen. Thanks! :)

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  3. Thanks for these wonderful selections. I have a couple of the re-release New Sound eps in my collection, and once lent them to the late, great, British DJ John Peel. He played Timitoy Baby in particular quite a few times in the early 1980s before returning them to me some years later.

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  4. Brilliant! I am one of the people whose first touch of 'kwela' was via Elias and his ZigZag Jive Flutes 50-odd years back (and how scary it is to be able to say that!) and that gave me a fascination for the music that was frankly hard to fulfill here in the British Isles - until I found ELECTRIC JIVE. So much good music, so much excellent information, so well presented. This is really what the internet is for! Many thanks.

    And these two sets from the early days are just a joy, great sides with the added context of history, and so well annotated. I feel like I'm in danger of just repeating everything gracenotes said earlier - but then, why not....?

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  5. Fantastic research, truly the best of what music fanatics can offer!

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  6. Fantastic! thank you for this! MB

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  7. This looks splendid - I look forward to delving in.

    Pop trivia: After being off-air for several months due to industrial action, "Tom Hark" was the first song to feature when "Top of the Pops" returned to the screen in 1980.

    The Piranhas version was one of the first singles I ever bought. I had to do a double take when I seen that cover image for the Alexandra Shamber Boys EP.

    Not only did the Piranhas nick the old tune they also ripped the front cover image to boot. Craftily, they changed the face colours from black to white. Ha ha - did they think no-one would notice?

    http://www.roxcalibur.com/pix2/e32360.jpg

    Is this the World's first ever "double cover" cover version?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Jukebox Rebel for the comments!

      Yes, the Piranha's cover is a re-interpretation of the Alexandra Shamber Boys EP cover, but its history does not end there. The Cape Carnival cover was first used (I think) on Albie Louw's LP "Kwela! In Tune With South Africa Volume 5" (HMV, JDLP 10008) where its carnival theme 'more closely' [my irony] reflects the music and the liner notes... after all Louw was considered "Capetown's Keyboard King". The original cover made for a white audience may also explain its problematic racial caricature.

      The use of the image for the Tom Hark EP does strike me as rather decontextualized. The record is a UK pressing and I suspect the EMI designers were simply looking for a cover from South Africa that roughly fitted their needs and chose the Louw cover. The text on the back of the EP does mention the carnivals but then incorrectly suggests that the penny whistle music was "spontaneously created by Coons during carnival time."

      Anyways... perhaps it is then with further irony that the Piranha's chose to appropriate this appropriation with a twist for their cover.

      Thanks again!

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    2. The Jukebox RebelFriday, November 07, 2014

      Indeed. I've just noticed another wee Piranhas twist - for the first time after all these years! They've thought about it a little bit. If you look closely, their carnival is taking place on the South coast of England - the illustrator has included Brighton pier from their hometown in the background.

      Albie Louw does Kwela? I take it that's a bit like Guy Mitchell doin' Little Richard? I found the cover.

      http://www.vetseun.co.za/anarkans/prentea/albielouw52.jpg

      It's not the first time old Albie has been involved with an "interesting" cover - you've probably already read this, but I include the link here just in case. Evidence perhaps that he wasn't always in control of the artwork.

      http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/uncovering-the-mystery-of-albie-louw

      Delete
  8. Wonderful and precious documents, thank you very much !

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  9. Yes,only the best !!! We are some lucky bastards to get this stuff. We should thank you guys on our bare knees.

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  10. Thanks all for your amazing comments!!!

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  11. Amazing post. Thanks so much.

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  12. Many thanks indeed, and nice to be able to return the favour to Siemon and the Jukebox Rebel: seeing you have just posted a great tribute to John Peel and as a blogmate of mine has recently posted the Peel sessions by the Pirahnas and the Vaultage '78 LP they first appeared on, here they are - no Tom Hark, but great Brighton power-pop all the same:

    http://dieordiy2.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-pirahnas-complete-peels-sessions.html
    http://dieordiy2.blogspot.com/2014/08/various-artists-vaultage-78-two-sides.html

    Cheers and thanks again, Dave Sez.

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