Today, I jump on board the soul train and follow Chris with a similar selection of goodies. But rather than the disco-led sound of the later 1970s, I have gone back a few years prior to focus on the unique musical meld produced at the height of the soul era. Soul Jive Special features 20 fantastically groovy hits from The Sailors, The Planets, The S.A. Supremes, The Big Six, The Ribbons and a bevvy of other stars, all released between 1969 and 1976.
It was only natural that urban Africans should look towards their African-American counterparts for influence on fashion and music. Although SA was blessed with its own vibrant and rich musical scene, it was inevitable that artists such as Percy Sledge, The Temptations, Willie Mitchell, Booker T and the MGs and many other similar artists would gain huge followings there. The ‘sound of young America’ was eventually replicated through the formation of black soul outfits and even in the repertoires of popular mbaqanga bands.
We begin this compilation with a rather left-field soul recording from Amagugu, the last of a long line of mbaqanga girl groups to attain hugely lasting popularity in South Africa. The group was led vocally by Sannah Mnguni – originally lead singer of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje – and musically by lead guitarist Hansford Mthembu, an all-round musical mastermind who successfully experimented with both traditional African and western influences. On “Sanibonani” and “Izinsimbi Zomshado”, both Hansford’s virtuosity and the influence of the late 1960s American soul comes through marvellously. Hansford later reworked “Sanibonani” into a few instrumentals such as “Tomorrow’s Wedding” and “For Ever” (both available on Electric Jive).
From girl groups to something positively psych. “Tirimela” is a 1973 soul vocal from The Sailors. This was one of two hugely successful hits – the other was “Meja” – for this shortlived Tsonga soul band that recorded for Mavuthela during the early 1970s. The melody of “Tirimela” is more or less the same that appears on the equally delightful “Akulalwa eSoweto”, a hit from the same year for Irene Mawela and the Mgababa Queens. But while Irene’s sweet vocals give that particular song its underlying atmosphere of joy, “Tirimela” goes in a completely different and rather ominous direction. It is a brilliant track not to be missed.
‘Bops’ was the nickname of Rupert Bopape, director of the Mavuthela powerhouse that consistently pumped out the most successful African music during the 1960s, the 1970s and well into the 1980s – but Bopape only wrote lyrics, so why ‘Bops and Son’ is the artist credited with performing the fabulous instrumental “Chicken Soul” is anyone’s guess. But this particular number – one of my absolute favourites – has just the right ingredients: flute, electric piano, guitar, bass, drums and tambourine all combine to create a musical atmosphere that comes across as both dense and airy at the same time.
Three of the soul ballads in Soul Jive Special are provided by a group named The S.A. Supremes, a large boast but not one entirely misplaced. The S.A. Supremes – Star Mabaso (lead vocal), Ntsiki Gwabeni, Teddy Nkutha and Thembi Nteo – were formed in 1970 by producer David Thekwane at Teal Records. They were backed by The Movers and made a number of successful recordings and performances, until Thekwane’s harsh treatment sent the ladies on their way to EMI in 1973. Now under the direction of Martin Mdelwa Mhlanga, The S.A. Supremes re-recorded some of the hits they had created in conjunction with The Movers – such as “Okungapheli” – but also started to cover a large number of American hits. Check out the sublime cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”.
The popular mbaqanga girl groups of the day were not strangers to soul and often dispensed with jive to perform some delightfully upbeat grooves. Under a different pseudonym, the famous Mahotella Queens sing “Way Down Gear”, in which a young girl states that she intends to give up all her vices for her man – complete with oh-so-relevant shouts of ‘sock it to me!’. Izintombi Zomoya, on the other hand, simply sing about the delights of blatant dancing to the organ-led beat in “Mojiko Wa Soul”. Another of the big female groups, Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, follows up with “Nomali”, a ballad about a failed relationship – “Nomali, will you please come back to me… you’ll wash away all my troubles”, sing the ladies ardently.
Another of my favourite instrumentals is “Soul Mabone” as performed by The Planets – which, if one listens carefully, is actually a cover of “Six Mabone” by The Movers (without a credit to the original composer). But I love the driving beat of this reinterpretation, which substitutes the vocalists on the Movers version with an alto saxophonist. And do not miss out on Abafana Bamagoduka’s florid organ-led “Go Easy”, a wonderful cover of Paul Simon’s 1972 hit “Mother And Child Reunion”.
Many thanks to Laurent Dalmasso for providing Electric Jive with copies of tracks 9 and 13 - much appreciated, Laurent!
All you have to do now is to download, play and enjoy... it’s groovy, man!
SOUL JIVE SPECIAL
COMPILED BY NICK LOTAY
01) SANIBONANI – AMAGUGU (1972)
02) TIRIMELA – THE SAILORS (1973)
03) CHICKEN SOUL – BOPS AND SON (1976)
04) EVIL WAYS – THE BOOGALOOS (1972)
05) KAJEBANE – IZINGANE ZO MGQASHIYO (1969)
06) OKUNGAPHELI – THE S.A. SUPREMES (1973)
07) PRETTY BABY – THE PLANETS (1974)
08) AFRICAN FINGERS – SIPHO AND HIS JETS (1976)
09) WAY DOWN GEAR – THE JOLLY KIDS (1972)
10) T.Y. NO. 4 – SAMMYBOY NEZIMPISI (1976)
11) TSIETSI YATSILA – THE RIBBONS (1972)
12) KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH HIS SONG – THE S.A. SUPREMES (1973)
13) NOMALI – IZINTOMBI ZESI MANJE MANJE (1974)
14) HEY GIRL – THE BIG SIX (1976)
15) SOUL MABONE – THE PLANETS (1974)
16) MOJIKO WA SOUL – IZINTOMBI ZO MOYA (1969)
17) MAJIKEDUZE – DIMA SISTERS (1970)
18) GO EASY – ABAFANA BAMAGODUKA (1972)
19) DRIFT AWAY – THE S.A. SUPREMES (1973)
20) IZINSIMBI ZOMSHADO – AMAGUGU (1972)