Wednesday 27 July 2011

Spotlight on... Mahlathini

Today, July 27, marks 12 years since the untimely passing of one of South Africa’s greats – Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde.

We at Electric Jive are paying tribute to Mahlathini in the first of a new, occasional series of posts entitled ‘Spotlight on…’. With this irregular series, we will be focusing on particular artists or groups who have contributed greatly to the rich musical history of Africa – and who better to kick-start this series than the King of the Groaners himself?

Simon Nkabinde was born in Alexandra township in November 1938 into a Zulu-Swazi family. Singing came naturally to the young Simon, who slowly but surely built up a reputation with his handsome voice. His talent blossomed and grew, and before long he was leading mbube choirs at Zulu wedding ceremonies. It was during one such festivity that a life-changing event literally occurred. An expressive number managed to help break Simon's voice into what he later called a gruff. The fiercely-traditional Nkabinde parents believed he had been "witched", but an isangoma provided the simple explanation that Simon was merely growing up. The gruff was here to stay!

His singing career brought to an untimely halt, Simon continued with his schooling until his parents died. Struggling to cope with the costs, he left school and looked for work. His brother Zeph was a regular member of a local pennywhistle group, Black Mambazo, which was recruited for commercial recording by EMI's black music producer Rupert Bopape around 1956. Aaron 'Big Voice Jack' Lerole, one of Mambazo's pennywhistlers and vocalists, had been using deep, guttural groaning vocals in street performances since the group's inception to attract attention, and Bopape decided to use this strange sound at the start of (and during) the group's recordings as a commercial gimmick. Jack was not a natural baritone and the straining put immense pressure on his throat - not to mention the various illegal substances he'd take to "enhance" the groaning. Zeph was a much more natural baritone and often stood in Jack's place. Simon, who was having little luck holding a job down, had had little to do with singing for quite some time, but Zeph realised that Simon's gruff may just be the key to his success. He convinced Simon to develop his own groaning and then auditioned him for the big boss. Rupert Bopape was impressed and it was around 1959/1960 that Simon joined the team of musicians at EMI, often fronting the legendary Dark City Sisters.

Simon began building up a new musical reputation and was soon affectionately known to his contemporaries and to the masses as "Mahlathini"... he who comes from the forest... the man with a voice like a goat... the Main Man... the Bull...

Mahlathini was among the handful or so of musicians who accompanied Bopape when he moved from EMI to Gallo in 1964. The newly-formed Mavuthela Music Company needed three things to gain some form of success: 1) a house band; 2) a female vocal team for the band to back; 3) and a groaner to front the vocal team. The house band, later named the Makgona Tsohle Band, came together with immense ease (fronted by Marks Mankwane on electric lead guitar, and Joseph Makwela on electric bass). The vocal team, under a wide variety of different pop-group-names (the most famous being the Mahotella Queens), was comprised of ten or so female singers. Mahlathini completed the triumvirate and music magic was to occur.

From the start, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens proved they were worth their collective weight in gold. The hits came fast and thick throughout the productive period of 1964 to 1971... from "Umoya" to "Sithunyiwe"... from "Umkhonto" to "Basibon' Izithutha"... from "Igugu Lezwe" to "Bophumthwalo"... and from "Uyavutha Umlilo" to "Sabela Zwide". Their public appearances were viewed through the eyes of a mad frenzy of kids, teens and adults.

Even when Mahlathini broke from Gallo-Mavuthela in 1971, his popularity refused to wane. He joined the Satbel Record Company under producer Cambridge Matiwane in 1973/4, where the golden gruff reigned supreme with such gems as "Ngibuzindlela", "Amagoduka" and "Bayasimemeza". All of these hits uncovered a newfound energy in the ibhodlo which had only been glimpsed before.

A reunion with his old musical companions at Mavuthela in 1983 and a meeting with two French talent scouts in 1987 opened up another chapter in Simon's life and catapulted Mahlathini to the world en masse... but it is the early success that the great groaner encountered that we spotlight today. It would be madness, however, to gloss over the injustice he suffered at the hands of greedy people with all the power.

Simon died on 27 July 1999, aged 61, following complications with a diabetic condition that had reduced his health to naught over the course of the entire 1990s.

Exploitation denied this great man the chance to reap the benefits of his life’s work – exploitation first from producer Rupert Bopape in the studio in the ‘60s, then from manager West Nkosi on the world tours of the ‘80s. At the time of his death, Simon Nkabinde should have been a rich man by rights. In reality, he had only a few rands to his name, and the only property he owned was a small three-roomed house. As Hugh Masekela once lamented, Mahlathini was so poor he didn’t even own a bicycle.

However, Nkabinde’s lasting legacy is that he is still remembered well into the 21st century for his iconic performance, decades after all those classic recordings and live shows. Courtesy of YouTube, here is a selection of music videos from after the international breakthrough - all of them well worth checking out:

Thokozile (1987)
Gazette (1988)
Mbaqanga (1991)
Stop Crying (1991)
Umuntu Ngumuntu (1999)

Electric Jive also plays its part, providing a modest but well-intended tribute to Nkabinde via the sharing of much of his early out-of-print work, hoping to keep the memory of King Mahlathini alive for years to come. To illustrate this point, we present to you the latest in a long line of Electric Jive mixes, featuring 25 classic Mahlathini songs recorded between 1966 and 1979, at the height of his early career.

Enjoy... ladum' izulu!

3. IGUGU LEZWE – with the Mahotella Queens (1972)
4. UMKHONTO – with the Mthunzini Girls (1966)
5. AMAKHAMANDELA – with the Mthunzini Girls (1966)
6. SABELA ZWIDE (1970)
7. ISINYOLOVANE – with the Soweto Stars (1966)
8. UMNUMZANE – with the Mthunzini Girls (1968)
9. AMAGODUKA – with The Queens (1974)
10. ISIDWABA – with The Queens (1979)
11. ABANGANI BAMI – with Izintombi Zomgqashiyo (1969)
12. BOPHUMTHWALO – with the Mahotella Queens (1970)
13. IMBODLOMANE (1967)
14. INYAMA – with Abafana Bezi Modern (1966)
15. SHWELE BABA (1970)
16. BAYASIMENMEZA – with The Queens (1974)
17. KUMNANDI EMGABABA – with The Queens (1974)
19. UYAVUTHA UMLILO – with the Mahotella Queens (1971)
20. LADUM’ IZULU – with The Queens (1976)
21. BASIBON’ IZITHUTHA – with Izintombi Zomgqashiyo (1969)
22. SHALUZA MAX – with the Mahotella Queens (1969)
23. MAFEHLEFEHLE – with the Mahotella Queens (1968)
24. AKEKHO (1979)
25. ITHEMBA ALIBULALI – with The Queens (1976)

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Friday 22 July 2011

South African Jazz 78rpm Mix

A delicious salad of 50s and 60s South African jazz lovingly digitised from 78rpm records and tossed into one continuous mix for your enjoyment. Quite a few of these records were found in a pile of  78s I picked up in Port Elizabeth at the end of last year. Port Elizabeth and surrounds are well represented by the P.E. Sisters, The Gaiety Brothers and the Merry Basies. The Ritz Band of P.E. did not make it this time round. among the 23 tracks there is a sprinkle of marabi, bop, vocal harmonies and jive. Durban is represented by Herb Manana and His Gals, along with Betty Khoza and friends; you will also enjoy a dash of early Masekela with the  Father Huddlestone Band, and a hidden juicy offering from Chris McGregor and His Blue Notes. Enjoy!
1. City Jazz Nine: Boogie Parts 1 & 2 - I. Nkosi (HMV)
2. Jake's Nu 8: Phazama - Williams (Troubador)
3. The Hometown Sextet: Mamelodi
4.  David Thekwane & Co: String Bass Taps. Thekwane (Envee)
5. Herb and His Gals: We Nobadula. Gideon Nxumalo (Envee)
6.  Chris McGregor and His Blue Notes - German Luger - Dudu Pukwana (Winner)
7.  P.E. Sisters: I-Bayi. M. Smandla (Colombia)
8.  The Merry Basies: Iziyolo. Lent Maqoma (Troubador)
9. The Third Avenue Cellars:  Ka Marao. A.S. Namethe (Merritone Big Beat)
10.  Jake's Nu 8: Molo Molo. Williams (Troubador)
11.  Father Huddlestone Band with Hugh Masekela: Vandi Blues. (Gallotone Jive Jive)
12. P.E. Sisters: U-Xham. R. Bopape (Colombia)
13. Father Huddlestone Band with Hugh Masekela: Mfishane. (Gallotone Jive Jive)
14. Elite Swingsters: Take it Easy. (Up - 45rpm)
15. Elite Swingsters: Soul Blues (Up - 45rpm)
16.  Elijah's Rhythm Kings: Dyke. E. Nkwonyane (HMV)
17.  Jazz Mikinikini. Isimanje Manje S. Piliso (Motella)
18. Miriam Sibisi and the Can Can Stars: Phazamisa.  M.Sibisi (Gallotone)
19. Betty Khoza, Khosie Bayeni, Nellie Shabalala, Tiny Gumede. Ngiyeke Ngiqome. Kosipi Bayeni (Envee)
20. Gaiety Brothers. Amakhanga E - Gaiety. Gaiety Brothers (Gallotone Xhosa Jive)
21. Manhattan Brothers. Baby Ntsoare.  Trad. (Gallotone Jive Jive)
22. Manhattan Brothers. LakuTshoni 'Langa. Mackay Davashe. (Gallotone Jive Jive)
23. Herb & His Gals. Ungishiyile. H. Manana (Envee)

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Monday 18 July 2011

The "lost" Letta Mbulu album - I'll Never Be the Same (aka Mosadi)

Thanks in part to an anonymous comment on the Lost Letta posting in February 2010 we were able to secure a copy of the rare South Africa only issue of the Letta Mbulu Mosadi album. The South African release was issued on the Tamla Motown label in 1973 and entitled I'll Never Be the Same. The US-based Chisa label lost its independence in 1971 and as a result the LP never appeared on the Chisa imprint despite being allocated a release number (CS809).

Half of the LP was recorded in 1968 and appeared on the Chisa sampler Africa 68 whilst the remainder of the tracks were recroded in 1971. Full details on the LP are available at Doug Payne's site.

Letta Mbulu - I'll Never Be the Same (1973, TamlaMotown South Africa, TMC5242)
I'll Never Be The Same
Now We May Begin
I Won't Weep No More
Because of You
Uyaz Gabisa
You Touched Me
We've Got To Learn To Love

The TV recording below features Letta on a Harry Belafonte Canada special from 1974.

For more Letta check out the blog Guitar and the Wing

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Ushaka (1977)

A special posting today on EJ - our first to highlight isicathamiya music, and who better to represent that genre than Ladysmith Black Mambazo?

The roots of this music go back hundreds of years into history. The proliferation of factories and mines brought scores of young Zulu men to the cities, away from their families and their lives, and into the unknown. The only way to ensure that the tradition was not lost among the men in the crowded hostels was to do that uniquely Zulu thing: to sing. And so, the men would spend their free weekends uniting in harmony and then forming their own groups to compete against each other - creating a tradition there and then that has lasted to this day. Even in 2011, Zulu hostel dwellers will still put on a show every Saturday evening and take part in all-night isicathamiya competitions.

After commercial releases of this music became popular, the style itself became widely referred to as mbube after the release of a song by Solomon Linda and his Original Evening Birds. (You all know that story!) But by the mid-1960s, the rather boisterous mbube had begun to fall out of favour after Enoch Masina's King Star Brothers cultivated a more soft, solemn and harmonious style, combined with likewise soft dance steps. But it was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, under the leadership of the golden-voiced Joseph Shabalala, who perfected this new style of music - first named cothoza mfana (slowly, boy) and later on isicathamiya (tread carefully).

It was not just the refined harmony that gave Mambazo the upper hand - it was the fact that their compositions were meticulously written and arranged by the astute Shabalala. The stories of life in the rural areas, the difficult adjustment to township life, and then (later on) the wonders of God and the church - together with the magic blend of one alto, one tenor, one lead and seven bass voices - all helped to cement the group's immediate popularity.

After some five or so years of airplay during Radio Zulu programming, Mambazo signed a record contract with Gallo Africa's Mavuthela division. West Nkosi, newly appointed producer at Mavuthela (and sax jive supremo), was to be Mambazo's producer for the next fifteen years. The public liked what they heard: Mambazo's debut LP, Amabutho (released in March 1973 on Motella LPBS/BL 14), sold over 25,000 copies and became the first LP by black musicians in South Africa to go gold.

Today, we present the tenth Mambazo LP, Ushaka, released in 1977 during their original domestic heyday.

Joseph Shabalala (lead)
Milton Mazibuko (alto)
Albert Mazibuko (tenor)
Groonwell Khumalo (bass)
Ben Shabalala (bass)
Olicent Madlala (bass)
Jabulani Mwelase (bass)
Russel Mthembu (bass)
Abednego Mazibuko (bass)
Jockey Shabalala (bass)
Funokwakhe Mazibuko (bass)


USHAKA (Ladysmith Black Mambazo)
Motella BL 129


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Thursday 7 July 2011

Tony Scott in South Africa (1957)

According to Drum magazine, when American clarinetist Tony Scott toured South Africa in August of 1957 he insisted on playing before multi-racial audiences and subsequently became the first artist to do so. The album Tony Scott in South Africa which documents in part aspects of his two week visit to the country was the first in a number of long playing records that featured international musicians collaborating with South African artists. Others would soon follow including Bud Shank and of course John Mehegan who would go on to record the 1959 classics Jazz in Africa - Vol. 1 and 2 with the horn section of the Jazz Epistles (Moeketsi, Masekela, Gwangwa).

Though recorded somewhat unevenly, the Scott album features a blend of studio and live tracks played before remarkably palpable audiences. The live tracks include Scott on clarinet with Noel Stockton on piano, Bob Hill on bass and Alan Heyes on drums; making up the Tony Scott South African Quartet. While its in the studio recordings that one finds some hidden gems. Here Scott performs with the Alexandra Dead End Kids bringing together pennywhistle and clarinet in an impromptu series of kwela collaborations. The Dead End Kids, including Shakes Molepo, Benjamin Masindi, Joseph Mahlatsi and Sophonia Namini (all on pennywhistle) can also be heard on the album Kwela which probably dates from the same period. 

Tony Scott in South Africa seldom appears on auctions sites like eBay and so Electric Jive takes great pleasure in presenting this rare album. For more information about the record check out the listing at flatinternational. For more about Tony Scott check out his official website: The Musical Universe of Tony Scott

For now, the album is best captured in its liner notes:

"Tony Scott, acknowledged in 1957 by the jazz critics and public alike as the world's greatest jazz clarinetist, had been away from America for eight months when he finally reached Johannesburg in August 1957. By then he had played his way round most of Europe (including France, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy and Yugoslavia) but his abundant energy was unimpaired and within two hours of arriving he was playing with South African musicians and astonishing them by his vitality and enthusiasm. His tour of the Union was organised by the Witwatersrand University Jazz Appreciation Society and took him to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. When he left for home after two very strenuous weeks, he had played every night to wildly enthusiastic audiences of all races. On his last night in South Africa he played right through the night and only just made the airport in time, but he arrived at Jan Smuts (followed by a band of supporters and musicians who had seen the night through) laden with packages, passport and ticket temporarily mislaid, still talking volubly and displaying no evident signs of exhaustion. He must surely be the most indefatigable musician ever to have visited South Africa."

"One afternoon he dropped in at the RCA Recording studios at Johannesburg while an African recording session was in progress. Four small boys, known as the Alexandra Dead End Kids, were playing a popular Marabi dance tune on penny whistles. Tony listened for a bit and within a few moments he was in the studio, unpacking his clarinet. He seemed just as familiar with the African idiom as the European one and he was soon joining in as though he had been playing African tunes all his life. The tape machine was running and the result can be heard on Side One of this record, recorded without any rehearsal, preparation or premeditation. A further cut was made of "Ou-Dhladhla"—the biggest African hit of 1957. By this time the word had got round town that Tony Scott was playing with penny whistles and within about half an hour most of the African population of the city seemed to have arrived at the studio. Disregarding protests from the recording and repertoire staff they invaded the studio (among them many photographers) and started joining in, singing and clapping. The tape machine was still running but it was impossible from the Control room to see what was going on or which microphone was which. If the result was, to say the least of it, unbalanced (and, let it be confessed, something of a shambles) it was felt to be sufficiently interesting to reproduce on the record and it can be heard on Band 3 of Side Two. Also included here is a duet between penny whistle and clarinet, "Ben's Bounce" — recorded at Tony's suggestion. After the recording the soloist, Benjamin Masindi, made Tony Scott a present of his penny whistle and this Tony would produce on the platform at his concerts and blow it with great gusto, much to the delight of his audience."

"The remaining cuts on this disc were recorded at one of Tony Scott's African concerts, among them the haunting "Moonlight in Vermont" and two numbers in which he is heard playing Baritone Saxophone. In "My Friend Dave"—a conversation piece between Bass Clarinet and String Bass—Tony features as a Scat singer. These improvisations, as well as his introductions, have been left on the disc for they recapture something of the spirit of the concerts.

Tony Scott in South Africa (1957)
RCA, Teal, South Africa

As an added bonus, herewith another recording made by Tony Scott on his extensive 1957 tour. These two tracks were recorded on 20th March 1957 in Sweden. Walkin (Williams-Steele) with Niels Foss responsible for the bass solo. Night in Tunisia (D. Gillespie). The other musicians recorded with Tony Scott comprising: Rune Ofwerman (p); Gunnar Johnson (b); Egil Johansen (dm).
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Saturday 2 July 2011

Early Mabuza - Golden Castle Jazzman of the Year 1967

Our Winston Mankunku ‘Golden Castle Jazzking 1968’ post (here) set us off on the trail of a different Golden Castle related 45 – the promotional single from the previous year, when the ‘Jazzman of the Year’ award was handed to legendary drummer Early Mabuza. Paul Nugent, who kindly helped us with the Mankunku post, tipped us off to the existence of a copy in the Distell breweries archive, and thanks to his introduction and the kind cooperation of Distell we can present here recordings of the 1967 Jazzman of the Year single.

The beverage, and the upcoming end-of-year competition that Mankunku would win, were advertised with a photo of Mabuza throughout 1968 in Drum magazine (see the Mankunku post linked above for a scan of this ad). However, anyone who actually obtained a copy of the single expecting a brace of hard-swinging jazz sides from the drummer and bandleader who had triumphed at the 1964 Cold Castle Festival (when the award was shared with the Malombo Jazz Men) might have been a little disappointed. Instead of the modernist small group sounds that might rightfully have been expected, by far the majority of the single is taken up with jazz-style jingles for the drink, with vocals based on the slogan ‘You’re a King with a Golden Castle’.

With three of these jingles per side, there isn’t much room for much else, and the revered and brilliant Mabuza himself is only represented by four short drum solos, which crack and tumble along with brio before stopping so the listener can be treated to a further rendition of ‘You’re a King…’. By 1967, Mabuza had long been held in the highest regard by the jazz community and public. Even if the Castle Wine and Brandy Co., cashing in on the perennial link between alcohol and jazz, had honestly hoped to reflect this, a handful of 30-second solos generously padded by adverts for booze seems a mean coronation.

We are proud to be able to present these recordings from the Distell archive, which holds the only known copy of the single. It would have been impossible to make this historical document public without the generous assistance and enthusiasm of Mareza at Distell, and the work and knowledge of Paul Nugent. You can visit the Distell website here. Many thanks from all of us at Electric Jive.