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.


  1. yeaahh ! wonderful rich sound, great cover art! for me your best gift with Jazz Ministers a Hugh Maskela's second side "district six" ! thank you.
    my personal desire list :
    "Matshikiza/Moeketsi/Mpale : "our boys are doing it"
    Pops Mohamed : "night express"
    Barney Rachabane : "Blow Barney Blow" (the lp)
    Makhalamele : "the peacemaker"

  2. Great music being shared... it's absolutely fantastic to discover new sounds.

    As for requests, any classic hard-to-find mbaqanga from the '60s or '70s would be wonderful.

  3. wow !! great to see an allen kwela record I never seen any records from him but i saw him in stockholm around 1980 he was fantastic with only his guitar many thanks for sharing all this wonderful music

  4. what a great blog - thank you! so important to be able to hear these sounds, especially when the music has been surrounded by disinformation and neglect.

    also some great calls by others commenting on your blog, my personal request would be the soul jazzmen as well as any recorded interviews with artists.

  5. Had to come back to say how wonderful this album is - an absolute jo to listen to! Many thanks!

  6. Like many South African musicians of the time, Kwela had some serious difficulties with the record companies because the companies wants to earn almost all the money.

  7. Until today I discover this great album on your blog!
    Wonderful music!

  8. Sorry, do any of you know who the personnel on the "broken strings" album are?

  9. Hi Anonymous - we too cannot find any documentary reference on who was playing with Allen Kwela on a number of his recordings. If anyone does have further info, please do share it.

  10. thank you for these pearls...great blog :)


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