In celebrating Almon Memela's "Broken Shoes" album I promised to share a few recordings from my 78rpm collection that illustrate the depth of feel, beauty and diversity of Memela's musical reach.
First up Memela's soothing voice accompanies his maskandi guitar in painting a hauntingly beautiful, yet painful musical canvas of the impact of apartheid in the 1960s.
"Amapoyisa" takes the form of a 'letter' to his rural homestead, and loved one there, saying how afraid he is of the police in the city. Black migrant workers at the time were required to carry "passes" to enable entry to and residence in specific places. The police were active in enforcing the system, harassing and arresting black people for being in the "wrong" place at the "wrong" time - completely disrupting their lives.
Almon Memela tells how city life is spent running and hiding from the police, and says to his family in their rural area that it is much more peaceful there as there are no police to harass them.
"Lashona" is a maskandi love-song in which Memela is travelling a long distance to visit the love of his life. While walking he is playing guitar and singing a lament that he is not going to get to his destination before sunset and that he knows he has a lot of explaining to do, and does not know how he is going to do it. He has not been able to keep his promises and fears that because of this his relationship is now lost ("ngaliwe").
Amapoyisa / Lashona Link
This recording is a languid exploration of the twist style laced with guitar work that always leads my untrained ear to believe that Almon Memela was not only listening to rock and twist, he was also listening to what was coming out of sixties Congo.
Accompanying Memela is fellow master Rex Ntuli on rhythm. Ntuli is probably most famous as being the guitarist on the original line-up of the Elite Swingsters during the 1960s.
You can find Rex Ntuli and His Band in a great 78rpm compilation here, and with the Elite Swingsters here. and in Funky Mama here.
In Baca Twist Memela's lead glides across Ntuli's rhythm, referencing rock, soul and twist in a comfortable understated manner.
Umfezi Twist (an Umfesi is a Mozambican Spitting Cobra) is my current favorite, conjuring up moving images of a slowly swaying cobra - no drama this time, just delightful guitar that sometimes sounds like it could be one of the Diabate brothers from Guinea.
"Skilpad" (Afrikaans for 'tortoise') and "Uiydoda" are classic Marabi Jazz compositions framed by banks of (uncredited) horns and defined by rhythm and lead guitar.
Almon's Jazz Kings and Almon's Jazz 8 were but two of the bands Memela pulled together for various recording dates.
In addition to the Soul diversion on AM Stragglers, Memela played (and produced) a lot of Mbaqanga - producing "Mine Jive Special" which features Kid Moncho.
Bump Jive and Phata Phata also were blessed with Memela's attention. Give "Highway Soul" a listen for his melting-pot blend of soul, bump and mbaqanga.
If you do have access to other recordings that Memela was involved in - we would like to hear from you.
Uyidoda / Skilpad Link