Saturday 19 March 2011

Jazz royalty, swinging bittersweet

Winston 'Mankunku' Ngozi - Golden Castle 1968 Jazzking of the Year

When the prohibition on the sale of ‘European liquor’ – beer, wine and spirits – to Africans was lifted in 1962, the South African alcohol industry was quick to capitalise on the existing mythologies and realities that had already indelibly associated jazz in South Africa with shebeen culture and drinking. The Cold Castle Jazz Festivals of 1961-4, sponsored by Castle Lager, are the best known of these attempts to link the drink industry with jazz, and resulted in a rightly celebrated series of recordings, including Jazz: the African Sound, the 1963 studio recording of Chris McGregor's Castle Lager Big Band, assembled after the McGregor group won the 1962 competition (available here; the 1962 festival record is available here).

The Cold Castle festivals promoted beer, and at this stage there was no serious industry attempt to market wine to African drinkers. But toward the end of the 1960s, as wine production in South Africa increased, a more concerted campaign to market wine products – often ‘sweet wine’ or ‘brandy wine’ – to African consumers seems to have been undertaken. As with beer marketing immediately after the end of prohibition, jazz music and imagery was once again employed to sell alcohol to an African market, with the E.K. Green distillery company even marketing a brandy wine named ‘Jazzman’ (slogan: ‘When it’s time for fun – it’s time for Jazzman!’) by giving away free records in Drum magazine. Also involved was the Castle Wine and Brandy Company (unconnected to Castle Lager, despite the name) whose promotion of ‘Golden Castle’ – a ‘swinging semi-sweet natural wine’ – involved a ‘Jazz King of the Year’ award, seemingly chosen by a popular vote. Paul Nugent, who generously supplied the images below, has posted about the wine industry here, where he also documents a some other Golden Castle adverts.

In 1967, the winner was Early Mabuza. In 1968, the same year as his landmark recording Yahkal’ Inkomo, the winner was Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi, and the music shared in this post is taken from the free promotional single that went with the title award. The single has absolutely no information about the music or lineup at all (both the laminated picture sleeve and the record labels themselves are identical on either side), but since the performance is in quartet the date might circumstantially suggest that the personnel is the same as that on Yakhal’ Inkomo (Mankunku being joined on that session by Lionel Pillay on piano, Agrippa Magwaza on bass, and Early Mabuza on drums). No song titles are given (if you recognize the tunes, please let us know in the comments). Both sides are bookended with alternate language versions of a jingle based on the Golden Castle slogan ‘You’re a king with a Golden Castle’.

Mankunku was one of the great tenormen, as authoritative with his instrument as his most illustrious US forebears and contemporaries. Like too many great South African jazz musicians, he has been denied an equivalent historical standing through circumstances that by now need no rehearsal here. Recordings of him in his late 1960s pomp are few in number. At this stage, a mere two more tracks is a lot. Enjoy.
With many thanks to Paul Nugent at the Centre for African Studies, Edinburgh.


  1. This one is just utterly gobsmacking. It is almost embarrassing to just sit by and have this marvelous treasure—all these marvelous treasures—be so generously provided. I am so deeply appreciative.

    And big cheer to Paul Nugent as well!

  2. Lekker soos soetwyn.

  3. yeah..mannkunku swings high!!!
    bra robs

  4. There is an Early Mabusa recording from Golden Castle
    which might be worth digitising as well. There is a copy in the Distell Archive in Stellenbosch. I imagine it likely that Mankunku played sax on that recording.

  5. Paul - we will have to find an available copy of the 45 first. I can imagine that gaining access to the Distell archive copy might be tricky. I'll put a wants post on the front in case any readers have a copy.

  6. Thank you, uplifting and sanctified by the blood of the innocents.


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