Tuesday 7 December 2010

Elite Swingsters groove the "Funky Mama"

A special offering today – funky township grooving meets American soul-jazz in a most successful manner. And “that’s not all!” … this album throws in a generous sprinkling of sumptuous ska with a township twist. Stand back John Patton, it is for good reason that “Funky Mama” became an international hit for the Elite Swingsters. Their version of “Green Onions” isn’t half bad either.

Band leader and main composer Peter Mokonotela remains recognised as among the best saxophonists that South Africa has produced. He died of a stroke in May 2005.

Formed in 1958 the Elite Swingsters were a prolific hit-factory, at least until mbaqanga captured their target market’s music fashion sensibilities. “Funky Mama” was only the Swingsters’ third album, and was most likely produced before Dolly Rathebe joined them in 1964. (there is no date on the album and a discography cannot be found). See here for more on Dolly Rathebe.

“The Elites were first brought together in 1958 as a once-off combination of session musicians hired by Teal Record Company to record four songs for release as 78rpm singles on their RCA label. A Teal executive, Herbert Friedman, decided to issue the records using the name ’Elite Swingsters'. Rather unexpectedly, one of the four recordings, a tune called ‘Phalafafa' which had been composed for the session by the company’s African producer/talent scout, Lebenya Matlotlo, became an enormous hit. The musicians then decided to form a permanent band to capitalize on the success of ‘Phalafala' and adopted the Elite Swingsters moniker by way of advertisement.

“For the next ten or so years, the Elites were one of the most popular attractions in African music. Dubbed ‘The Magnificent Seven' by their township admirers, the band maintained an active performing profile that was centred around Johannesburg, the Vaal Triangle and down into the Orange Free State to Bloemfontein. The Elites also regularly toured Natal and the Eastern Cape under the auspices of the ‘Batfairs' sponsored by United Tobacco Company.

“The regular core of the Elite Swingsters' classic lineup consisted of the leader and string bass player, Johannes '‘Hooks'’Tshukudu, drummer Louis Molubi, Rex Ntuli on guitar, Jordan Bangazi on trumpet and Paul Rametsi on tenor sax. The two man alto saxophone section changed around more frequently and at various times used the following players: Jury Mpehlo, Chris Songxaka, Tami Madi, Shumi, Peter Mokonotela, Albert Ralulimi and Mike Selelo. Other musicians who sometimes formed part of the lineup were Elijah Nkwanyane and Johnny Selelo on trumpet, Blyth Mbitjana on trombone, Chris Columbus on baritone, and Dolly Rathebe on vocals." Excerpt from music.org.za.
As mbaqanga took hold and the original Elite Swingsters got older, injured, and tired of touring full-time they took on day jobs but kept playing gigs on the weekends, and still produced some hits in the 70s.

In the 1990s the Swingsters were reconstituted, including with original members Dolly Rathebe, Paul Ntleru (bass) Daniel Ngema (piano/sax/accordion) and Philip Mbele (keyboards) and delivered two successful CD’s – Woza and A Call for Peace. These and some other Elite’s recordings can still be found at Kalahari and elsewhere.

Produced and arranged by Chris Du Toit – Afrikaans master guitarist who you will hear more of on Electric Jive sometime soon. Du Toit composed two songs on this album: ‘Elite Ska’ and ‘Easy’.

We are looking for the two earlier known LP’s by the Swingsters: TEAL TL 1037 – “Happy Africa”; and R.C.A. 31-718 – “The Elite Swingsters Go Jazz”. Anyone?

Rapidshare here
Mediafire here


  1. My Boy Lollipop was an international ska hit in 1964. This suggests the LP is from 1964 or later.

  2. Hi Chris, thanks for the great album!
    I am going to wager 1967 or 1968.
    Only because its seems like Teal really got the organ jive thing going in the late 60s on their Atlantic City and City Special labels. I believe Sankie Chounyane formed The Movers around 1969 and Rob Allingham sites Booker T and the MGs as a significant influence on the whole SA soul genre. Just a guess!?

    The Elite Swingsters first LP came out in 1958 on RCA (31397). It came up on eBay a few weeks ago but alas did not sell.
    I have the LP posted on the flatinternatinal website.

  3. Herbert Friedman was my Grandad, I wish I had met him. I'm looking for anything I can about him, thanks for this info. :)


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