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.


  1. another deep dig! wow! what else are you going to treat us with?

  2. fantastic music on this blog !!!!!!
    many many thanks

  3. Thank good people for the positive feedback - requests are always welcome ... if we do not have it, perhaps another blogger might?

  4. Just found your blog via Global Groove.
    I love South African Jazz and Jive, but i'm only familiar with the big names.
    You share some amazing stuff i've never heard of before.
    Thanks a lot!

  5. Mutual admiration for Guitar and Wind site - thanks all round.

  6. THANK YOU for sharing this beautiful music !!! I'm fan of South Afican Jazz and now everyday I'm checking if on your blog there is new gem...Do you have "our boys are doing it" by Matsikhiza/Mpale/Moeketsi ?

  7. Thanks assu - we hope to keep you happy ... I know of a Hugh Masekela recording with a similar name, but not by the artists you mention .. we will help you look and find out more - anyone else know?

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  9. I think this is the one you're looking for...very rare, I will keep my eyes and ears peeled...

  10. Fabtastic Matt - thank you - osmt the intenet wonderful! I believe we will find this recording.

  11. yes, you make me very happy! everyday a new surprise...thank you!
    and what about of "Black night disco express" by pops mohamed ? do you know this record ?

  12. Hey Assu - Dabulamanzi is out for a little while - but I do believe when he gets back to a computer he may be able to add to this conversation. It seems there are a few incarnations of the "Black Disco" series .. and some will land up on this blog.

  13. man i have followed your blog since Matt first exposed it
    love love love it!

  14. Wooaaahhh !!


    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you

  15. this looks great.
    much appreciated!

  16. just to let you know...
    I recently posted the Jazz Ministers' Sekumaxa, and
    I've linked through to this post.
    Keep up the great work!


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