Thursday 6 January 2011

Change through 'African Jazz and Variety'

‘African Jazz and Variety’ has been described as a programme somewhere between concert, dance and burlesque – with a touch of sensation and stereotyping. While it is certainly a mixed bag, this landmark 1952 ten-inch 33rpm recording presented by the South African Institute of Race Relations is an important archive of top African musicians deployed in a broad effort to convince white South Africans that blacks were capable. Musicologist Chris Ballantine has described this as “the liberal” approach to the use of music in the project of emancipating South Africa.

In this ‘liberal’ approach, the role of music in social change “was to demonstrate to whites that blacks were worthy of better social and economic treatment – in short ‘moral persuasion’; musical performance as an ‘eye-opener’. A second role was to ‘explode the theory’ that ‘the black man is mentally not the equal of the white man’ - as opined by the newspaper Bantu World in 1935 on the eve of black American Paul Robeson’s planned (but then aborted) tour to South Africa.

African Jazz and Variety was hailed by critics ‘as the greatest non-European show they had ever seen.’ In July 1952 the Durban City Hall attracted 55,000 (whites) in the 3 ½ weeks it ran there.

Whatever African Jazz and Variety was, it gave exposure and impetus to stellar careers of some great South African artists, including Dorothy Masuka, Dolly Rathebe, and Thandi Klaasen. Victor Ndlazilwana was at the core of the ‘The Woody Woodpeckers’ and went on to great success with the Jazz Ministers. Ben Satch Masinga, who has already featured here on Electric Jive, went on to write the first musical in the Zulu language, ‘Back in your own Backyard’, amongst a host of important musical achievements.

David Serame, who has had a long and distinguished career, modelled himself as a “sob-rocker” in the 1950s. Serame remains active, recently performing on Adam Glasser’s award-winning album “Free at First”. A 78rpm recording of Serame doing great Paul Anka covers can be downloaded from the links provided below.

1. Rock Around The Clock - King Jeff and the African Jazz Troupe
2. I Apologise - Ray Makelane
3. Fanagalo - The Woody Woodpeckers
4. Tell the Lady I Said Goodbye - David Serame
5. Pickin' A Chicken
6. Gumdrop - The Woody Woodpeckers
7. Ebb Tide - Sonny Pillay
8. Six Foot Three - Ben (Satch) Masinga
9. My Yiddishe Mama - Sonny Pillay
African Jazz and Variety: Rapidshare here - Mediafire here
David Serame: Rapidshare here - Mediafire here


  1. great post and a welcome addition to
    my own 'African Jazz & Variety -Alfred Herbert 1952' post on this 10". Absolutely stunning document.

  2. Great album. Thank you!

  3. What a treat for us!
    Thank you.

  4. Didn't realize the importance of
    this album when it was first given
    to me, but have finally cleaned it
    up suitable for release on a project I am doing. Do you know of
    the documentary Dolly & the African
    Ink Spots?

  5. Pork Chop, are you referring to the doccie done by the Schaderbergs in the early 90s? I am aware of it, but have not had chance to see it.


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