Thursday 27 August 2009

A bagful of Afro souljazz from Allen Kwela

Thank you all for your positive comments, links and encouragement for our new blog. Do feel free to list your "holy grail" of out-of-print South African recordings - if we do not have it, we can help you look for it. And now, onto today's special offering:

Described as a “truly great guitar player” by Darius Brubeck, Allen Kwela’s “scarred features and edgy demeanour made him an emblem of the scars and madness of South Africa”. Born in Durban in 1939 Allen Duma Kwela eventually moved to Johannesburg and became, along with Spokes Mashiyane, the key originator of Kwela music. Kwela was the broody composer while Mashiyane took the spotlight as the showman penny whistler. An example of a 50s rock-tinged Kwela composition can be found here.

But it was for his jazz compositions and arrangements that Allen Kwela becomes another that – but for the circumstances - could have wowed the world with so much more. Like many South African musicians of the time, Kwela had some serious difficulties with the record companies.

Kwela hardly recorded - which makes today's offering all the more special. Allen Kwela’s Soul Bag was released in 1972. Other than listing producer David Thekwane, the LP packaging does not reveal who the other seven members of the Octet were. Please leave a comment if you have any ideas as to who these musicians may be.

The text below is by Frank Eisenhuth for the All Music Guide:
“After his musical partnership with Spokes Mashiyane had ended, he moved to jazz, jamming with well-known South African jazz giants such as Kippie Moeketsi, Barney Rachabane, and Duke Makasi and becoming one of the legendary South African jazz guitarists. After a long period of a rather shadowy existence, Kwela became increasingly active at the end of the '90s and -- apart from teaching guitar and performing live -- recorded his one and only solo album, Broken Strings (1998). However, the album did not receive the airplay he expected and left him struggling for his artistic comeback. Kwela died still rather poor in 2003, after an asthma attack. He was one of the key figures of South African music and should -- along with Spokes Mashiyane -- rightly be credited as one of the creators and popularizers of kwela music.”

"The Best of Allen Kwela" and Allen Kwela's 1998 recording "Broken Strings" are available on CD for less than R100 at a number of music sales websites.

Sunday 23 August 2009

Grooving two times with Letta Mbulu

Two criminally out of print South Africa soul LPs for your listening pleasure today:

Letta Mbulu - Letta (1970)
1. Mahlalela (Lazy Bones) (Caiphus Semenya) - 4:51
2. Use Mncane (Little One) (Letta Mbulu) - 3:27
3. I Won't Weep No More (C. Semenya/O. Drake) - 2:42
4. You Touched Me (C. Semenya/M. Dancy) - 3:41
5. Melodi (Sounds Of Home) (Caiphus Semenya) - 4:29
6. I Need Your Love (C. Semenya/O. Drake) - 2:45
7. Macongo (Hugh Masekela) - 3:15
8. What Shall I Do? (Hugh Masekela) - 2:30
9. Jigijela (Caiphus Semenya) - 4:19
10. Qonqoza (Caiphus Semenya) - 3:39
The players: Hugh Masekela (tp, background vcl); Wayne Henderson (tb, d); Wilton Felder (sax, el-b); Joe Sample (key); Arthur Adams, Wayne West (g); "Stix" Hooper (d); Francisco Aguabella (cga); Letta Mbulu (vcl); Murray Adler, Carroll Stephens (vln); Barbara Simons (viola); Nathan Gershman (cello); Frank Dale (string arr).
Produced by Stewart Levine and Hugh Masekela

Letta Mbulu - Naturally (1972)
1. Afro Texas (Wayne Henderson/Caiphus Semenya) - 3:31
2. Learn To Love (Caiphus Semenya/Letta Mbulu/Wayne Henderson) - 3:33
3. Noma Themba (Letta Mbulu/Caiphus Semenya) - 3:28
4. Kube (Caiphus Semenya) - 3:17
5. Hareje (Caiphus Semenya) - 4:06
6. Never Leave You (Caiphus Semenya) - 4:05
7. Now We May Begin (Joe Sample) - 3:35
8. Saddest Day (Caiphus Semenya) - 5:00
9. Setho (Wayne Henderson) - 4:20
10. Zimkilee (Caiphus Semenya) - 3:15

The players: Joe Sample (key); Arthur Adams, David T. Walker (g); Wilton Felder (b); Stix Hooper (d); Mailto Correa, Milt Holland (perc); Letta Mbulu (vcl), horns, background vcl, Wayne Henderson (arr, hrn orchestrations), Carroll Stephens, Barbara Durant (vln); Leonard Selic, Carole Mukogawa (viola); Nathan Gershman (cello); Marion Sherrill (music preparation); Jimmy Jones (string orchestrations); Caiphus Semenya (arr, cond), Wilton Felder (el-b); Joe Sample (key); Jay DaVersa, Larry Ford (tp); Maurice Spears, Britt Woodman (tb); Herman Riley, Fred Jackson (reeds); Nat Adderley (tp); Cannonball Adderley (as); background vcl.
Produed by Caiphus Semenya.

For much more on Letta's story check these links:

Monday 17 August 2009

Ilanga Visions Foretold - Zimbabwe

A quick step across the border to Zimbabwe for a quick post. Ilanga burned bright for three years, during which they played at the 1988 Harare Human Rights concert which also featured Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour and the Bhundu Boys.

Ilanga's blend of Shona, Ndebele and Western sounds was very popular in Zimbabwe – lots of keyboards and a strong bassline. “Visions Foretold” (1987) was their first album and quickly led to favourable comparisons with South Africa’s Ray Phiri and Stimela – another hybrid of traditional and jazz.

While Ray Phiri had to 'whisper in the deep' at the time, Ilanga could defy apartheid South Africa openly; as in the track "Botha" .. 'Botha, what you gonna do when Azania is free ... you just have to jump into the sea ... time is running out for you ... where you gonna run, where you gonna hide ...".

Ilanga produced two albums before splitting up. A greatest hits CD was released, but is nigh impossible to find new.

Recorded at the Frontline Studios. Produced by T. Mabaleka.
Andy Brown (guitar, vocals)
Busi Ncube (vocals, percussion)
Don Gumbo (bass, vocals)
Keith Farquharson (keyboards)
Gibson Nyoni (drums)
Charles Mangena (backing vocals)

UPDATED LINK (July 2015)

Thursday 13 August 2009

Groove Brother with Imperfect Timing

Now here’s a special one-of-a-kind recording – its just that Groove Holmes caused a stir by breaking the cultural boycott against apartheid to come and tour and record with some very good South African musicians in the 1980s: Barney Rachabane, Johnny Fourie, Pops Mohammed included.

From the cover notes: “This is an unique album of Afro-American Jazz. It combines South African Mbaqanga with North American funk and the mixture seems as though the music has one foot in Soweto and the other in New York. But both feet are firmly planted and the roots dig deep down into the earth. .. The combination explodes on such tracks as “Mannenburg”, “Barney’s Groove”, and “Mr Magic”. Benny Golson’s classic, “Killer Joe” is updated with an Afro-funk rhythm that underpins a lunging alto solo, some straight ahead guitar and a Groove Holmes outing that has him riffing and sustaining notes against his own intricate bass lines.”

Richard "Groove" Holmes is revered by the world’s soul jazz afficionados, and especially by those (myself included) with a soft spot for the Hammond Organ. The Acid Jazz set was turning on to him big-time in the early nineties before his untimely death in 1991 at the age of 60.

Barney Rachabane has already featured on ElectricJive. A new and welcome entrant is South African guitarist Johnny Fourie – also sadly departed. Fourie recorded with the likes of Billy Cobham and Charles Earland in New York (1972), and was a long-time resident guitarist at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. ElectricJivers will be further treated to Pops Mohammed in due course.

The LP on offer today does not seem to officially exist in the published Richard Groove Holmes discographies – another vinyl I can’t find reference to on the internet. No doubt, the furore created by Groove Holmes’ country-wide tour of South Africa in the early 1980s was not the stuff that made for international popularity. After all, Groove Holmes was known for opening a Malcolm X Los Angeles rally in 1963 with 45 minutes of Jazz organ.
This LP was released in 1988 quite some time after it was actually recorded. Produced by Rashid Vally. Enjoy!!

Killer Joe
Dark Clouds
Since You’ve Been Gone
Barney’s Groove
Mr Magic

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Journey from Fanagalo to African Jazz

Another of South Africa’s jazz greats – Victor Madoda Ndlazilwana: pioneer, composer, and band-leader. The Jazz Ministers were the first South Africans to play the Newport Jazz Festival (1976) – some say in place of the Soul Jazz Men who were first selected (but that is another story).

In the late 1940s and early 1950s black South African artists began to blend American Jazz to more local styles, which became known as tsaba-tsaba. This new music was written to reflect the experiences of its target audiences. Victor Ndlazilwana was at the forefront, developing and arranging songs in close-harmony jazz. The song featured here was arranged by Ndlazilwana with the Woody Woodpeckers and refers to the pidgin zulu language (fanagalo) that was developed for communication between the white mine bosses and their black labourers – very much a master-worker instructional medium with no courtesies. As with many mbaqanga songs twenty years later it does not overtly make a mockery of its subject matter – but provides the carnivalesque space for its audience to have a subversive laugh behind their sleeves while having a good dance anyway. (Thanks to Soul Safari – for the MP3).

While it was a synthesis with jazz, tsaba-tsaba music, like mbaqanga later on, appealed more to the working classes. Jazz was seen as more the preserve of the educated elites. Ndlazilwana was key in taking elite jazz and giving it a much more locally accessible idiom. The 1972 LP featured here today is a great example of a matured blending process.

The young pianist featured on the cover is 11-year-old Grace Nomvula Ndlazilwana, Victor’s daughter – who later married jazz pianist Bheki Mseleku. Mseleku died in London in 2008 - another insufficiently recognised great.

Victor Ndlazilwana died in 1978. Trumpeter, and tireless teacher of jazz, Johnny Mekoa took over leadership of the Jazz Ministers. The last record I could find of the Jazz Ministers playing was at the 2003 Joy of Jazz Festival held at Moretele Park in Mamelodi. Nomvula came out from London to play with the band.

Victor Ndlazilwana – Tenor Sax
Grace Nomvula Ndlazilwana – Piano
Johnny Mekoa – Flugelhorn
Daniel Sehloho – Bass
Shepstone Sothoane – Drums
Produced by Ray Nkwe – 1972.

Friday 7 August 2009

Rabbit meet the Bull and the Lion at the Jungle Money studio

From the original sleeve notes: "I first knew Mankunku back in 1968, though only as a groupie then. I turned onto "Jakal Inkomo" and all of a sudden it didn't seem so neceesary to be President of the Chubby Checker Fan Club any longer (No offence meant to Chubby - he really was very funky!) As a columnist - cum -hustler on the Pretoria News I gave Mankunku and the 1968 Castle King Jazz Festival in Memlodi two ecstatic columns of review. I took about 50 snaps which I will always cherish, but may never reveal. This album brings the maginificent Mankunku together with another very special person - a new and very bright star - Mike Makhalemele. Mike as the Lion could not be more gentle - Winston as the Bull is strong yet alone.The Bull and the Lion will make you feel sexy - and your wash will be whiter - Patrick van Blerk."

Mike Makhalemele and Winston Mankunku Ngozi - The Lion and the Bull (Jo'Burg Records, TJL13010, 1976)
1. Togetherness
2. Snowfall
3. Rainyday
Recorded at SATBEL Recording Studios. Produced by Robot, Cloud, Rabin and van Blerk.
Ronnie Robot (bass), Neil Cloud (drums), Trevor Rabin (Guitar), Mankunku and Makhalemele (Voices)
Togetherness and Snowfall Makhalemete comps and Rainy day from mankunku

Rapidshare here
Mediafire here

The SA pop sensation Rabbit who provided backing for this jazz recording.

Mash it up with Mahlathini

Time to get up and dance with a collection of Mahlathini’s early 70s singles, published on the Soweto label. Simon Nkabinde owned his “Mahlathini” moniker with vigour and joy, celebrating all that embodied the challenges of rural men negotiating their migrant relationship with South African big-city culture. Simply put, ‘Mahlathini’ refers to someone who has recently emerged from the bushes.

The improvisation and instrumental solos in Mbaqanga music – says Gwen Ansell in her excellent “Soweto Blues” – have their roots in the 50s African jazz idiom. By the 1970’s mbaqanga’s musical resonance had, much like its migrant worker listenership, changed from “home cooking to fast food”.

Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens were a cut above the churn-them-out production-line of three-chord mbaqanga hooks – a joy to watch live. Nkabinde wowed southern Africa for more than three decades with his energetic playing and groaner singing. Sadly, he died a poor man – a terrible testament to exploitative contractual arrangements where it was a norm for artists to be paid a once-off recording fee only.

Looking at Matsuli’s site, it seems that quite a few of the original 45s that comprise this 1974 collection are still available for sale.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Bump and funk with Barney Rachabane

Saxophonist Barney Rachabane belongs comfortably in the top-drawer of South Africa’s jazz iconography. Search the internet and be amazed at how many blogs about other great South African musicians describe having played and recorded with Barney. But try and find out more about the man, maybe even a posting focussing primarily on him, and there is very little. Forget about finding a discography.

This 1976 vinyl of Barney’s own compositions we share with you today is so rare that it just draws a blank on google.

Born in Alexandra, Johannesburg in 1946 Barney Rachabane undertook his apprenticeship carrying instruments and running errands for the likes of Kippie Moeketsi. In the 1960s Barney played with the Early Mabuza Quartet, Chris McGregor, the Soul Giants (more of them in another post), and Tete Mbambisa. Rachabane’s international recognition came through becoming Paul Simon’s saxophonist of choice during and after Graceland. In 2003 Rachabane took up a one-year tenure as leader of South Africa’s National Youth Jazz Band.

Leaving the exciting African bebop wave in the 60s, Rachabane and the remaining “in-ziles” had to negotiate a 70s decade that saw diminishing opportunities for black jazz musicians in South Africa. Political and economic factors conspired to make life hard for black people who played jazz. Much like American vinyl sales shifted from jazz towards rock and funk in the early 70s, the most viable markets in South Africa were the jive and mbaqanga niche, or the pop, funk and disco direction.

And so it was that in 1976 Barney Rachabane and a collection of other musos found themselves gathered in Johannesburg as the backing band for Richard Jon Smith’s national tour – (who remembers his number one “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” in 1979?). Seizing the opportunity of a few days to spare during rehearsals, Barney and the band went into the studio to record Sweet Matara. The personnel comprise some solid jazz musos mixed with the core of evergreen pop and (then) soul/funk band “The Rockets” – who are still playing today. Described by Black Music Productions as “one of the best jazz/funk albums”, this sweet and short recording deserves to be heard again … and perhaps again. Give it a try.
Barney Rachabane – Alto Saxophone
Stompie Manana – Flugel Horn and trumpet
Willie Netti – Trombone
Ezra Ngcukana – Tenor Saxophone
Molly Barron – Drums (Rockets)
Frankie Brown – Bass (Rockets)
Jerry Watt – Guitar (Rockets).