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).