Monday, 15 December 2014

Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela - Volume 3

We continue our survey series examining the history of the tin whistle in South Africa and the subsequent global popularity of kwela. Volume One and Two trace the early roots of this style and can be viewed here at Electric Jive along with an extensive discography at flatint. Volume Three covers primarily 1957 but also drifts into early 1958. This volume explores not only how the music captured the political and social shifts taking place in the country—the Treason Trial, the bus boycott, liquor bannings—but also the expansion of the stylistic form of the music through experimentation, some that included international collaborations with visiting American clarinetist, Tony Scott.


TIN WHISTLE JIVE AND THE ROOTS OF KWELA
Volume 3 (1957-1958)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 17)

01) ALEXANDRA CASBAHS - Azikhwelwa - 1957
(Mabel Mafuya, Mary Thobei, Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 429, mata 1835)

The spoken introduction or "sketch" common to many kwela tunes and most famously featured in Elias Lerole's Tom Hark was, by 1957, quite common. Troubadour however had taken the phenomenon to a new level. Topical issues of the day were reported upon, sang about, recorded and out in the public often within 24 hours of an event. The company had a pressing plant in the same building as their recording studio and this along with some key marketing skills by producer Cuthbert Matumba (for example he used a mobile-unit to test new recordings at railway stations and other public venues), made turnover rapid and the company unrivaled by its competitors. In many ways Troubadour operated like a news service or as Mary Thobei refers to it: “We had our own ‘Special Branch,’ a sort of bush telegraph, and as a result we knew in advance what would happen in our communities, be it social or political.” (Molefe) This is also most apparent at the beginning of some Troubadour records, which open with the announcement: “News in Record…” or “This is the Troubadour Daily News…” Often spoken in tsostitaal, a blend of Afrikaans and African languages, these sketches were often quite political, but because of their speed of production would get to the streets before sensors could block them.

Azikhwelwa (We will not ride), a tune by the Alexandra Casbahs, is attributed to Mabel Mafuya and Mary Thobei and operates as a form of news item alerting people to the bus boycott of 1957 in Alexandra. Thobei opens the tune saying: “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was on Monday morning, the 7th of January, 1957 when everybody was shouting Azikhwelwa…” The bus boycott had been implemented by residents of Alexandra against the Public Utility Transport Corporation (more commonly known as PUTCO) over a rate hike of 4 to 5 pence. During the boycott, residents chose other forms of transport to get to and from work, but most walked the 30km roundtrip journey. At its peak, 70,000 residents refused to ride the local buses and the action also spread to other townships including Newclaire and Mamelodi. The boycott lasted for at least three months and was only finally resolved on April 1st, 1957, when the 4 pence rate was restored. The protest drew the daily attention of the South African press and is generally recognized as one of the few successful political campaigns of the apartheid era.

02) FERNDALE HAPPY WHISTLERS - Brandys and Beers - 1957
(Motaung, Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 438, mata 1845)

The sale of alcohol to Blacks in South Africa in the 1950s was highly regulated. In 1957 it was still illegal for non-white consumers to purchase commercial brandy and beer, but rather they were forced to acquire alcohol through state-run systems of beer-halls. Of course this strategy led to an extensive underground business of 'home-brewing' and the rise of the illegal sheebeen or 'speak-easy'. Cuthbert Mathuba's introduction on Brandy's and Beers mocks the regulation by confirming the consumption of illicit alcohol in Sophiatown. Like Azikwelwa before Matumba does this without regard of the censors: "Johannesburg is a big city. Of which everybody is admiring to see. Listen to the boys playing in a big party in Sophiatown. Everybody was happy drinking beers and brandys. Listen to the boys." By aligning the penny whistle music with the illicit party and the illegal activity, Matumba transforms the 'rebellious' street music into a form of protest music.

The sketch or introduction on many records was becoming a noteworthy component of kwela recordings and significantly was often reviewed along with the tune it accompanied, for example in Drum magazine. Sometimes it would even be mentioned in advertisements such as one for Trutone's Envee label:  “Meet a new flute player—Black Duke—who goes to town on—NV 3082—Dukes Blues, Skukuma Duke—The intro on this record will send you.” (Drum, March 1957)

The critique or review of the introduction implied that it had social value in addition to the music itself. Often these introductions were judged on their authenticity in catching a 'slice of life'; certainly humor played an important role but sometimes darker moments such as social strife or relationship problems were depicted, for example in Spokes Mashiyane's introduction to Odhla-Dhla below. Often these introductions influence the way we interpret the music.

03) BON ACCORD HITTERS - Pretoria Special - c1957
(Hit 78 rpm, HIT 38, NL 171)

04) BON ACCORD HITTERS - American Moguws - c1957
(Hit 78 rpm, HIT 38, NL 172)

Hit was another label issued by Troubadour and these two tracks both include interesting 'sketches'. The spoken introduction on American Moguws opens with Cuthbert Matumba role playing with Mabel Mafuya: "Sophie, I'm from America. Is there any good music around here?" to which she replies in a confident tsotsitaal something I am unable translate. But the tune implies interest in South African music from American visitors (I am not sure what the term "Moguws" refers to), something that would be affirmed later that year with the visit of Tony Scott.

05) BEN NKOSI - Lova - 1957
(Strike Vilakazi, Trutone 10" LP, TLP 1047. Original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 152, T 6677)

06) BEN NKOSI - Sponono Ndiye Bhai - 1957
(Ben Nkosi, arr., Trutone 10" LP, TLP 1047. Original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 152)

Ben Nkosi, Drum, April 1958
Issued on Trutone's compilation 10" LP Penny Whistle Jive, the liner notes describe Ben Nkosi as "the experimenter searching for 'New Sounds' and new heights of expression. [...] Ben, besides being an excellent guitar player has experimented with the recorder, the aristocratic cousin of the penny whistle - and clarinet. Experience on these instruments has strongly influenced his Penny Whistle technique." (TLP 1047)

Lova, I think, is a great example of someone pushing the limits of this instrument; something that Todd Matshikiza in Drum magazine issues of the time was encouraging. In a November 1956 review Matshikza quotes a colleague, Dale Quaker: "Shucks, once you hear one penny whistle, you’ve heard the rest. Like what Rezant said the other day, you go to a concert and after hearing the first number, you can go home ‘cause the rest will be the same’”. But by March 1957 Matshikiza was singing the praises of the instrument by comparing it to the string band: "I feel strongly now that the string band must try to be different from the past five years. They must put up the same struggle as the flutes are doing so gallantly. First, one man recorded the flute. Then a duet. Then a trio. Now there are six, seven and eight flutes with rhythm accompaniment available on record. Sometimes with a sax, piano and drums into the bargain." (Drum, March 1957)

Ben Nkosi, from Dube, along with Peter Macontela went on to lead one of Gallo's most successful kwela groups, the Solven Whistlers.

07) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Odlha-Dlha - 1957
(Spokes Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 149, T 6775)

As mentioned above, Spokes Mashiyane's Odlha-Dlha opens with a particularly interesting 'sketch' that illustrates the social strife within relationships. Here Spokes (I am assuming it is him speaking) questions his girlfriend: "Where were you this Sunday? I looked for you at your sister's in Entaga". She replies something about not being at Entaga Street, but rather at a friend's place on Goli Street. To which he replies: "You Lie. I saw you in Swartberg!" to which she responds with a comment I can't make out, and he ends it with "You think I'm blind!" followed by his whistle.

According to the liner notes of Tony Scott’s only South African LP, the track Odlha-Dlha was “the biggest African Hit of 1957”. The tune was recorded by a number of groups that year, but I'm assuming the notes are referring to Mashiyane's version on the Quality label that also attributes him as composer. The Alexandra Dead End Kids also made a recording of the tune (RCA 66) but interestingly that one is credited as "traditional". Tony Scott would record the track again with the Dead End Kids (RCA 99) in October.

08) TONY SCOTT with the ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Ou-Dhladhla - 1957
(trad., RCA LP "Tony Scott in South Africa", RCA 31104. Original RCA 78 rpm, RCA 99)

09) ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Ou-Dhladhla - 1957
(trad., RCA 78 rpm, RCA 66, 8HBB-11)

After touring Europe for eight months, American bebop clarinetist, Tony Scott was invited by the Witwatersrand University Jazz Appreciation Society to perform in South Africa. His visit lasted just ten days but in that time he performed tirelessly in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and recorded with a number of local artists for at least three record companies including Teal, Gallo and Trutone.

His arrival in South Africa was a big deal, not only because he was an American jazz celebrity, but because of the political stance he took, and is reflected in the title caption of the extensive Drum article: "SCOTT, RED HOT — Tony Scott, the great American jazzman, refused to play to Whites only in South Africa." The unattributed article goes on: "And yet, you know, it nearly didn't happen, this Scott visit. Back in America Scott's friend's told him "Don't go to South Africa. That is Jim Crow country that. You'll never meet the darkies. They won't let you play for them" But Scott got talking to Dave Katznelson, the South African who was arranging the tour, and told him: "If I can't play to everyone, I'm not coming. I must play for the Non-Whites. I insist." (Drum, October 1957)

And thus it came to be that Tony Scott became the first, white [American] to perform with and before multi-racial artists and audiences in South Africa. "He was no White musician playing second-fiddle concerts for the Non-Whites. He was in the country to play music. If you liked his music it didn't matter what your color was." He mixed with some of South Africa's leading jazzmen; in Johannesburg, he jammed with Kippie Moeketsi; while in Durban he performed with pianist, Lionel Pillay. The Durban event was fondly acknowledged with a "Thank You" postcard from Scott to club owner Pumpy Naidoo, and published in the November 1957 issue of Drum.

Tony Scott with Kippie Moeketsi, Drum, October 1957

Along with the live performances, Scott was also eager to collaborate with local musicians and made a number of recordings with penny whistle groups, most notably with Teal's Alexandra Dead End Kids and Gallo's Solven Whistlers. The article points out that he also recorded with Lemmy Special Mabaso's Alexandra Junior Bright Boys, though I have yet to find these recordings. At Trutone he made at least one track with the African Penny Whistle Serenaders.

10) TONY SCOTT with BENJAMIN MASINDI - Ben's Bounce - 1957
(Ben Masindi, RCA LP "Tony Scott in South Africa", RCA 31104)

11) TONY SCOTT with the ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Mangamanga - 1957
(S. Molepo, RCA LP "Tony Scott in South Africa", RCA 31104. Original RCA 78 rpm, RCA 98)

RCA Advert, Drum, October 1958.
Some have criticized Tony Scott's recordings with the South African penny whistle groups as being merely neocolonial insertions of American authority onto South African idiom. Perhaps criticisms similar to those pointed at Paul Simon 30 years later. But in many ways, as awkward as these tracks may sound, I do find these moments of seeking to collaborate, documenting a dynamic clumsiness that becomes symbolic of an honest attempt to collaborate across racial, national and generational differences.

Scott's recording session at the Teal studios are warmly described in the liner notes of his LP: "By this time the word had got round town that Tony Scott was playing with Penny Whistles and within half an hour most of the African population of the city seemed to have arrived at the studio. Disregarding protests from the recording and repertoire staff they invaded the studio (among them many photographers) and started joining in, singing and clapping. The tape machine was still running but it was impossible from the Control room to see what was going on or which microphone was which. If the result was, to say the least of it, unbalanced (and, let it be confessed, something of a shambles) it was felt to be sufficiently interesting to reproduce on the record [...]" (RCA 31,104)

And as Nathaniel Nakasa, describes in an extensive article on the penny whistle groups in Drum: "No wonder Tony Scott, the top Yankee clarinetist and the bosses of Tevlevision and the screen say, "Wow! These boys have talent in their fingers!" [...] With his famed black rod, Tony Scott dogged the footsteps of these lads, and loved every minute he was with them." (Nathaniel Nakasa, "Penny Whistle is Big Time Now", Drum, April 1958)

Shakes Molepo, Drum, 1958
Scott's collaborators on these sessions, the Dead End Kids, comprised of four youngsters from Alexandra township: Shakes Molepo, Benjamin Masindi, Joseph Mahlatsi, and Sophonia Namini. Mangamanga, issued on 78 rpm (RCA 98) and the first track on Scott's LP, was penned by the group's leader, Shakes Molepo who is described in Nakasa's article as: "This lad—he's five foot, no more—couldn't manage school and the whistle at the same time. One of them had to suffer, and it wasn't that silver pipe. [...] They made two discs with Tony Scott, the American jazzman, when he was here. The dough bought neat togs." [...] The Dead End Kids led by Shakes Molepo, are another bunch of boys who make the penny whistle tick. They are loud and always exciting entertainment for their audience. But they lack the showmanship that rocketed Lemmy Mabaso into fame." (Nathaniel Nakasa, "Penny Whistle is Big Time Now", Drum, April 1958)

12) ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Evaton - 1957
(W. Khokhone, RCA 78 rpm, RCA 66, 8HBB-12)

In an interesting self-concious moment, the banter between the Dead End Kids in the introductory sketch alludes to the recording coupling number—RCA 66—which suggests to me that catalogue numbers must have been prearranged before recordings rather than assigned, post-production, as one might assume.

Evaton is the flip side of Ou-dhladhla, featured earlier.




13) SOLVEN WHISTLERS with TONY SCOTT - Something New In Africa - 1957
(T. Mokonta, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

14) SOLVEN WHISTLERS with TONY SCOTT - Solven's Hoch (SNFA) - 1957
(Mokonotela, Decca LP "Something New From Africa", LK 4292, ABC 16935)

Recorded for Gallo, these two tight collaborations with the Solven Whistlers mark the pinnacle of Tony Scott's collaborations with penny whistle groups. Something New In Africa was featured as the first track in an amazing compilation LP of the same name; and issued in 1958. Oddly the track does not credit Scott but he is later acknowledged on the UK, similarly titled, LP Something New From Africa (LK 4292), where the track Solven's Hoch is retitled as "...from..." with the spoken introduction from "...in..." collaged on. As the introduction was only pasted on the tune intended for British audiences, and is already featured on their first track, I have edited out in the latter.

Oddly, the title track was seemingly only issued by Gallo on 78 rpm (GB 2770) a year after Scott's visit to South Africa, around August 1958, and as reflected in the exuberant five star review Bloke Modisane gave the disc in Drum: “This is a real gasser. There are things happening here, The wild frenzy is taken out of the quell. This is cool, with a modern alto and clarinet playing melodic lines over the harmony of a penny whistle ensemble. A big winner.” (Drum, September 1958)

15) TONY SCOTT and his AFRICAN PENNY WHISTLE SERENADERS
African Pennywhistle Song - 1957
(Tony Scott, S. Molepo, Trutone LP "Kwela-Kwela", RMG 1129)

This track finds Tony Scott's recording with a third South African company, Trutone. At first I assumed he was performing with a number of unnamed Trutone penny whistlers, but later I realized the track is credited to Shakes Molepo of the Alexandra Dead end Kids and so I imagine that the Kids and Scott simply recorded for Trutone and adjusted their name accordingly. This track starts out in the most conventional manner reminding me of generic kwela tunes typically found on soundtracks, maybe for films by Jamie Uys and others. But the track eventually heats up and saves itself from exclusion.

16) SOLVEN WHISTLERS - Penny Whistler's Kwela - 1957
(Solven Whistlers, Gallotone LP, "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

17) SOLVEN WHISTLERS - Hamba Kwela - 1957
(T. Mokonta, Gallotone LP, "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

As mentioned earlier, Ben Nkosi along with Peter Macontela lead this very successful group. Without matrix numbers it is hard to date these recordings but I suspect them, along with those of the Basement Boys below, to be quite seminal. All four tracks are also featured on the Something New in Africa compilation LP. After listening to Tony's Scott's clarinet collaboration with the Solven Whistlers, I noticed the inclusion of the saxophone here. At first I thought it was a clarinet, or maybe even Scott on saxophone, but then I recalled that Nkosi also played clarinet, and ultimately came to the conclusion that it was a saxophone. To my knowledge these are the first kwela tunes to include the saxophone.

Sax jive, the stylistic precursor so mbaqanga, has its roots in kwela, and is generally often traced back to when Strike Vilikazi convinced Spokes Mashiyane to record three tunes with the saxophone around March 1958. But it seems to me that the four tunes featured here might predate that famous Mashiyane session. Without matrix numbers, it is hard to say! Certainly Todd Matshiza's Drum reviews of flute music refer to the occasional inclusion of sax and piano as early as March 1957 and kwela's historical obligation to majuba african jazz could not exclude the possibility of other wind instruments 'crashing'. Many young aspiring musicians who could not afford big instruments cut their teeth on the penny whistle and would often perform in groups of five or six often emulating the big band sound. So it is almost obvious that at some point these musicians would eventually upgrade to more sophisticated instruments or start incorporating them into their penny whistle arrangements.

Nevertheless, if these four tunes do follow those made with Tony Scott, then I wonder if the initial collaboration between flutes and clarinet, between American and South African, may have indirectly induced the clarinet to be substituted for the saxophone, an instruments that in turn would ultimately replace the flutes entirely and dominate South African music for the next twenty years. Mere speculation?

18) BASEMENT BOYS - Kwela Bafana - c1957
(A. Strike, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725. Original Gallotone 78 rpm, GB 2728, ABC 16338)

19) BASEMENT BOYS - Upstairs Jump - c1957
(A. Strike, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725. Original Gallotone 78 rpm, GB 2728)

It is my estimate that these two tunes by the Basement Boys were recorded around December 1957 roughly three months before Spokes Mashiyane would record Kwela Sax, Sweet Sax and Big Joe Special (TJ 500). Interestingly the spoken introduction literally documents the historic collaboration between flutes and saxes: "Where are you going, my Bras? We're going with those other guys who are playing saxophone... and we're going to play flutes. And I don't know what's going to happen. Kwela Bafana!"

The Basement Boys, as Lara Allen reveals, were formed in 1956 by none other than Albert Ralulimi along with Specks Rampura, Simon Majassi, and Sam Hlongwane. "The circumstances that led to Ralulimi’s graduation from street busker to recording artist typify those of many contemporaneous penny whistlers. Albert Ralulimi grew up in Sibasa in the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province), and spent much of his childhood herding cattle and playing the traditional ocarinas and reed flutes of his area. Aged eighteen, he moved to Johannesburg and worked his way from employment as a golf caddy to a telephone operator. In 1954 he became friends with Spokes Mashiyane and they spent many Sunday afternoons together at Zoo Lake where Ralulimi learnt ‘the finer points’ of penny whistling. [...] Busking in front of a Berea hotel one Saturday afternoon, the Basement Boys impressed Roy Evans of Gallo Record Company so much that he invited them to make a recording. Ralulimi recorded for Gallo until 1958 when he signed a contract with Trutone." (Allen p. 42)

20) MSAKAZO SWINGSTERS - Kiss Me Hard - c1958
(Hit 78 rpm, HIT 109, NL 308)

21) ALEXANDRA JUNIOR BRIGHT BOYS with LEMMY SPECIAL MABASO - Joburg Kwela - c1958
(AJBB, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

Other than Spokes Mashiyane, Lemmy Special Mabaso was probably one of the most well known and successful kwela artists. He and his group the Alexandra Junior Bright Boys came to prominence after a dazzling performance at a memorial concert for comedian Victor Mkize and journalist Henry Nxumalo whereafter they soon signed a recording contract with Gallo. As Lara Allen points out Lemmy Mabaso's "most frequently commended attribute was his showmanship and charisma, largely manifesting in the extraordinary choreography integral to his performance style" Allen continues by quoting a journalist in World describing one of his performances: "Lemmy was in terrific form. He played his instrument with one hand while he pirouetted like a ballerina.’" [Peter] "Macontela elaborates: he holds the penny whistle ‘with one finger and jives around. He lies on his back, he kicks, and these [other penny whistlers] keep on backing him. That’s how Lemmy became popular in town.’” (Allen p. 43)

Interestingly Bloke Modisane in his Drum reviews of Mabaso was not as enthusiastic, at least at first. In an August 1958 review of the 78 rpm Mix Masala and Magwinya (GB 2752) he laments: “Lemmy Special is a fabulous little trouper, but he’s primarily a visual artist. For that reason he doesn’t come off on record. It lacks that extra something, that snap of a live performance. It’s a pity there are some lovely moments on this wax. But even without that all-essential dimension, his personality generates.” (Drum, August 1958) Whereas Nathaniel Nakasa in an April 1958 article raves: "If the man in the street had his way, Lemmie Mabaso, of Alexandra Township, would be declared the greatest flute player we've got. This lad, who says he's 12, is a showman with dazzling personality. When he blows his silver rod with his Alexandra Junior Bright Boys men and women go wild." (Nathaniel Nakasa, "Penny Whistle is Big Time Now", Drum, April 1958)

22) ALEXANDRA SHAMBER BOYS - Holom Toe - 1957
(Rupert Bopape, HMV 78 rpm, POP 496, 0AS 951)

A May 1957 Polliacks advertisement in Drum lists the original HMV version of Holom Toe as JP 2071 backed by Lil' American.  The group that also went by the name Black Mambazo is most famously known as Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes. This UK 78 rpm was issued in the wake of their meteoric success with Tom Hark in 1958.

23) SOLVEN WHISTLERS - Golden City Kwela - c1957
(T. Mokonta, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

24) HARRY MAKHAYA and FRANS PILANE - Nut Brown Girl - c1957
(Arlequin EP "Penny Whistle Kwela", 1009)

Spokes Mashiyane in front of Trutone House, Drum, April 1958. Photo: Peter Magubane.

25) SPOKES MASHIYANE and his RHYTHM - Umpinda - c1958
(Spokes Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 172, T 6930)

26) SPOKES MASHIYANE and FRANS PILANE - Boys of Joburg - c1957
(Spokes Mashiyane, Arlequin EP "Penny Whistle Kwela", 1009)

27) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Bennie's 2nd Avenue Twist - c1958
(Spokes Mashiyane, Quality LP "Sweet Sax, Sweet Flute", LTJ 201)


TIN WHISTLE JIVE AND THE ROOTS OF KWELA
Volume 3 (1957-1958)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 17)




5 comments:

  1. Thanks Siemon! I agree, it's great to hear Tony Scott playing with these kwela musicians... as for critics saying these were 'neocolonial insertions of American authority onto South African idiom' the other way of looking at it is that he just did what he could do as a U.S. musician. He won't be the last player with heaps of jazz chops to struggle to play mbaqanga changes and last a whole track! If it's not what you do, it's difficult... Jonathan.

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  2. What a seasonal treat. Looking forward to enjoying this! Thanks, as ever, so much.

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  3. A delight! I haven't heard a note of it yet but I love it...the first two volumes were so excellent. ELECTRIC JIVE is a wonderful thing, truly. I wish everyone involved all they hope for in 2015.

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  4. It's great post! Thanks for sharing!

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