Thursday 31 March 2011

Almon Memela - Funky Africa (1975)

Today we pick up the A.M Stragglers thread (sewn by fortherecord in February) with Almon Memela’s super rare Funky Africa. Information on Memela, like his records, is hard to come by and much of what I have gleaned below has been sourced from various auctions and the research of Yvonne Huskisson.

Composer, guitarist and later producer for WEA Records in South Africa, Almon Sandisa Memela was born in Donnybrook, KwaZulu Natal in 1936. His first guitar was homemade, but his parents were not supportive of his musical endeavors and so he taught himself to play on borrowed instruments. After briefly working at the United Tobacco Company in Durban, Memela moved to Johannesburg in 1956 to work on the mines. While there he sought to take guitar lessons at the legendary Dorkay House in 1958. The three-storey education and performance centre was purchased by Union Artists (with proceeds from the 1954 farewell concert for anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston) and became a fulcrum for artists to meet and share ideas. As it turned out, Memela, rather than becoming a student was asked to teach the guitar lessons!

Memela made his first recordings in 1959 and his early career included band work with the United Artists’ productions of King Kong, In Township Tonight and Mhobelo as well as background music for the Jamie Uys film Dingaka. His first recording as composer was the track Nozizwe with the Travelling Singers in 1960. In 1963 his work began shifting toward instrumentals exclusively—interestingly, the same year that he formed his group, Almon’s Jazz Eight.

The Jazz Eight recorded and performed throughout the 60s and 70s (listen to their HMV 78s in the Ballantine Archive) and the line-up included amongst others, future Drive members, Henry and Stanley Sithole (who joined the group around 1966) and Bunny Luthuli (in 1968). In 1969 the Sithole Brothers formed the Heshoo Beshoo Group before they and Luthuli established the Drive in 1971. In the meantime Memela and his group The A.M Stragglers recorded Soul Bandit (1969, Little Giant, G2) the album featured here on Electric Jive in February.

Memela is remarkably versatile and his style shifts from soul jazz with the Stragglers to bump jive with Abafana Bamaswazi (on Highway Soul and the Swaziland Likwindla Festival, both 1977); from straight mbaqanga on some 45s to the rich afro funk textures featured on today’s offering: Funky Africa.

In the world of eBay, Funky Africa has been elevated to “holy grail” status making this rare album even harder to come by and excessively expensive. The album is tight and excellent, but we might reserve the title of “holy grail” for Memela’s even scarcer album Broken Shoes (1976, Highway Soul, HSL 2009)… or at least until we listen to it!

For a limited discography of Almon Melmela go to flatint.

One final note… I was surprised to see the cover—that stark, hot African landscape—show up again on a Turkish pressing of Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper At the Gates of Dawn… odd!

Funky Africa
ATC 9583

Download link here


  1. Stumbled across your blog because it was in the roll of another and I saw the cover for 'Funky Africa' and everything looked clean and intriguing. Anyway, very glad I checked your blog and this album out, it's a real treat. Thank you so much for sharing, and I'm looking forward to getting better acquainted with your world :-)

  2. very great album--thank you!

  3. Thanks for sharing this great album. What a smooth ride! I can see why it's so sought-after on vinyl. I came across this blog by way of another, so I look forward to checking out what's been posted in the past. Very funky!

  4. Hi, this is Paul who requested a repost over at the Broken Shoes post - I thought I had already thanked you for this, clearly the memory does deteriorate with age!

    So - Many many thanks for re-posting Funky Africa! What an incredible album and I am so happy to hear it after falling in love with the 'The Things We Do In Soweto' track on the Strut 'Next Stop Soweto Vol. 4' that came out this year.

    These albums are so rare that usually all you get is the odd one or two tracks, so it is a real privilege to hear it in its entirety. A sign of is rarity lies in the fact that a copy has never even surfaced for sale on Discogs!

    Personally, it's the title track that is the absolute stand-out for me, it contains everything I love about African disco music, so joyous and life-affirming. The take on the Barrabas classic 'Hi Jack' (re-entitled Highjack) is fascinating - to hear Latin fused dancefloor rhythms re-imagined through a South African consciousness is a real treat.

    Also many thanks for biography you have managed to piece together, that was so interesting, to read about Dorkay House. The real mystery though, is how the artwork for the album ended up the cover of the Turkish issue of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn - well spotted! The mind just boggles at how that came into being!

    There is another vastly expensive Almon Memela produced disco album for sale (£218!) on Discogs by The Disco Cats called 'Freak It Out' from 1980 - the album was released in France on Reprise Records but I wonder if, like many African records, it was originally released on African label?

    1. Paul, thanks so much for your kind words!
      I suspect Chris may have re-posted the link... and so mega thanks Chris!!!

  5. hello everybody I am looking for an african jive funk somg almost 8 years now any chance sombody could help me here is the link


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