Many South African recording companies with trans-African commercial aspirations (not that dissimilar from their European counterparts such as Columbia and Gramophone Company), employed scouts or experts—Hugh Tracey at Gallo for example—to travel north beyond the borders and acquire indigenous recordings that would then be marketed back to consumers in those countries of origin. Though I would be curious to examine the ratio of discs made for the export market versus those retained for local consumption in South Africa. Were these recordings from many countries in Africa, marketed and distributed ‘evenly’ across Africa or was each market established primarily to connect local artists with local consumers?
|Historical Papers, University of Witswatersrand Library|
One often reads about the stylistic influence of Ndebele guitarists, such as Josaya Hadebe and George Sibanda, on any number of Zulu maskanda artists through the distribution of their recordings rather than access to live performances. Certainly it would be interesting to explore the role commercial companies played in the spread of musical influences across regions of Africa. In another thought, I also wonder what or who Josaya Hadebe may have been listening to?
|BB Records advert (Drum, March 1955)|
Perhaps ironically, this indexing of languages to a numbering system is not that far off from a more complex approach employed by ethnomusicologist, Hugh Tracey. His system is (partly) depicted in the map above used as the cover for this selection of music. Black borders containing names of countries are superimposed with red borders surrounding numbers denoting language groups. Incidentally, Tracey’s number for South Eastern Africa is 52 and within that, Nyanja would be classified as 52/3/1.
This is pure speculation, but it is probable that Tracey may have made the first recordings of G. Chimpele, one of the artists featured in this selection. Meta-data for the track Mwanakadzi in the ILAM Digital Archive dates that recording to February 21, 1952 with a matrix number of XYZ 7198 and issued on the Trek label as DC 238. The XYZ prefix was assigned to acetates cut from Tracey’s field recordings made across Sub-Saharan Africa. (Allingham) Tracey’s meta-data in the ILAM Archive also suggests that the Trek recording was made in Zomba, a city in Southern Nyasaland. Zomba was the capital of Nyasaland, and then Malawi, until 1974 before it was superseded by Lilongwe.
G. Chimpele employs what sounds like an accordion, which for me, gives this music a distinctly Creole flavor. While Elias Ziphondo includes at least two guitars, one strummed at great speed to almost sound like a banjo. Notably on his track Cheleka he introduces a whistle reminiscent of those used by mine dance groups in South Africa. All tracks are backed by an infectious up-tempo drum rhythm making them more than suitable for dancing.
Blackie Selolwane, a notable composer and saxophone player originally from Francistown, in Eastern Bechuanaland (Botswana) near the border with Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), introduces the second part of this compilation which drifts towards a distinctly majuba or African jazz sound.
The region around Francistown became the site of “Africa’s first gold rush” when the precious metal was discovered there in 1869. Subsequently, the town was also included in Cecil John Rhodes’ epic plan to build a railway from Cape Town to Cairo. During the great depression of the 1930s, the mining industry went into decline but the economy of the town was sustained as it became a transportation hub for companies that recruited workers from a number of African countries to work on the South African mines. Through mining interests and subsequent cross-border trade with Zimbabwe, Francistown grew into Botswana’s second largest city. Incidentally, Francistown was the location of Botwana’s first tarred road, a curious but significant anecdote, given that Blackie Selowane was a driver for Bailey’s Transportation.
As I was preparing this compilation, I initially focussed on the six BB tracks, their country of origin and why a South African company had chosen to market them. As research drifted from languages to borders, geography and styles, other tracks seemed relevant to the discussion and the selection grew.
By 1953 the majuba or African jazz sound was peaking in South Africa with groups like the African Quavers from East London. As I listen to the last six tracks here, recorded between 1953 and 1956, and compiled chronologically, I can hear a shift towards that jazz refinement, most notable in the final tracks by the Harari Hot Shots. It makes me wonder what records these guys were listening to? Where did they buy their records? And in turn, who was listening to their discs? How did styles travel? What role did commerce, mining, transportation and urbanisation play in the spread of this sound?
In closing, these anecdotes around geography and economics lead me to rethink the function of the discs. In as much as South African recording companies were exporting records to foreign markets, South African mining companies were importing labor from many of these same countries. It could be argued that another possible function of the music produced by these companies was to target home-sick foreign laborers, turning them into ‘domestic’ consumers by providing them with a taste of home in a distant land.
SHOMI THE WAY - BEYOND BORDERS (1953-1956)
Compiled from the flatinternational archive for Electric Jive
01) G. Chimpele and Company — Akazi Akahala — BB 859 — c1953
02) G. Chimpele and Company — Ayana — BB 870 — c1953
03) G. Chimpele and Company — Ainda Kaziwaselo — BB 870 — c1953
04) G. Chimpele and Company — Five-Five — BB 859 — c1953
05) Ziphondo Band — Cheleka — BB 871 — c1953
06) Ziphondo Band — Shomi — BB 871 — c1953
07) Selolwane Swing Stars — Baba Mkulu — Trutone — XU 254 — 1953
08) Selolwane Swing Stars — Marabi Ka 1953 — Trutone — XU 254 — 1953
09) Salisbury Hot Shots Band — My Girl Nellie — Trutone — XU 254 — 1954
10) Salisbury Hot Shots Band — Joyce Wakanaka — Trutone — XU 254 — 1954
11) Harari Hot Shots — Muchatizera — Troubadour — AFC 325 — 1956
12) Harari Hot Shots — Hatifunge — Troubadour — AFC 325 — 1956