Friday 9 December 2011

78 Revolutions Per Minute — Majuba Jazz from Mra to Bra — Volume 1 (1953-1956)

I started this compilation initially as an end of year holiday mix, but one thing lead to another and it turned into something much larger. I suspect though that it will still meet the original requirements. This post builds on a number of previous excellent posts here at Electric Jive in particular Chris Albertyn’s Do you Remember Nick Moyake? After listening to the Moyake I thought about building a mix that would include significant South African artists in perhaps less well known contexts such as early bands of even later unknown bands. At that point I had in mind a 1956 recording of Willie Max en sy Orkes featuring a really young Dollar Brand as well as a very battered disc by the Nu Rhythm Down Beats led by Christopher Columbus Ncgukana or 'Mra'. ('Mra' or 'Bra' are slang terms that can mean "brother" but they are also an accolade and sign of respect if used as a prefix before a name.) As the mix grew, I realized that it was becoming something closer to a survey of a golden age of South African Jazz and it revealed how that music was transformed, over a decade, into something else that was distinctly more African. I suppose the subtitle of the post could have been how American swing became mbaqanga.

Majuba, msakazo, or what is more commonly referred to as African Jazz is a quintessentially South African sound. Originally it was a big band sound that took American swing and indigenised it with elements of marabi. From its hey-day in the 1950s it was created by and produced some of the key figures of South African Jazz.

By 1958 majuba jazz had split: one avenue taking a 'highbrow' approach with the influences of bop to become the sound of the Jazz Epistles and The Blue Notes; while another, some would say, 'lowbrow' approach took the music in the direction of sax jive. By 1964 sax jive had become mbaqanga.

The early roots of the majuba sound, can be traced back to some of the dance bands of the 1930s and 40s including Sonny Groenewald’s Jazz Revellers, Peter Rezant’s Merry Blackbirds, but most notably Solomon 'Zuluboy' Cele’s Jazz Maniacs. The sound at that time was American swing and Cele wanted to bring a more African flavour to the music. Cele, before forming the Maniacs in 1935, was a marabi pianist and he integrated elements of that style with the music. According to David Coplan, the Maniacs popular song Majuba gave the style its name.

But accounts about this history vary. For example, in his 1957 Drum article Jazz comes to JHB Todd Matshikiza wrote about how the Harlem Swingsters gave birth to this new style of music:

"We [the Harlem Swingsters] took him [Gray Mbau] with us to Potchefstroom on another trip, where African Jazz was reborn. The original product – Marabi – had died when American swing took over. Gray [Mbau], Taai [Shomang], Gwigwi [Mrwebi], and I recaptured the wonderful mood over an elevating early breakfast of corn bread and tea in the open air after heavy a drinking bout the previous evening. Gray put the corn bread aside and started blowing something on the five note scale. We dropped our corn bread and got stuck into Gray’s mood. And that is how some of the greatest and unsurpassed African Jazz classics were born. “E-Qonce”, “E-Mtata”, “Majuba”, “Fish and Chips” were born out of that combination of the Harlem Swingsters whose passing remains today’s greatest regret. We invented “Majuba” jazz and gave jive strong competition. We syncopated and displaced accents and gave endless variety to our ‘native’ rhythms. We were longing for the days or Marabi piano, vital and live. Blues piano, ragtime piano, jazz band piano, swing and modern piano had taken it away from us. And here now we are seedling it again with new blood in its veins. It was Tebejana’s [a famous marabi pianist] original material, but treated freshly with a dash of lime.” (Chris Ballantine, Ian Jeffery)

A further discrepancy can be noted in that the recordings of Majuba and E-Qonce on this compilation were performed by the African Quavers and attributed to David Mzimkulu and Willie Mbali respectively. Interestingly Mzimkulu was a member of the Jazz Maniacs.

Coplan goes on to say “by 1954 even penny whistlers were described as performing in ‘Majuba tempo’.” But he also points out that it was Gideon Nxumalo with his popular SABC radio show This is Bantu Jazz that was “principally responsible for the wide distribution of a new term for the majuba African jazz—mbaqanga.”

The terms ijuba and amajuba in isiZulu mean dove or doves. Majuba, I have read, means “hill of doves.” Geographically, Majuba is the name of a hill near Volksrust in Mpumalanga. Historically, it is also the name of a battle that took place on that same hill in the First Boer War where the Boers defeated the British in 1881. But I digress…

By the late fifties and early sixties the popularity of majuba began to wane. 1958 marked a watershed moment in its unraveling when Spokes Mashiyane, famous for popularising kwela on the pennywhistle, took up the saxophone at the suggestion of Strike Vilikazi. The result Big Joe Special was a punchier, faster jive that satisfied younger consumers. Michael Xaba, trumpeter for the legendary Jazz Maniacs is said to have coined the phrase mbaqanga, or cornbread, to describe this new style of music. Some have interpreted his comment as a pejorative, but I wonder if it could be viewed in a more ambiguous light… given that we all have to eat!

The realities of majuba’s decline however saw really successful bands like the Sharpetown Swingsters, go by the wayside. The group, discovered by Rupert Bopape, was signed to a five-year contract in 1955. In that period they recorded 22 tracks for the Columbia label, many of which were major hits in the late 1950s. By 1960, their contract with EMI went un-renewed.

In many ways Ian Jefferey’s dissertation on the Sharpetowne Swingsters has been an invaluable window onto this period and his use of the term 'majuba' in describing this music urged me to examine where that came from.

But the majuba sound never did really die. It continues to be re-birthed. This is the sound that is revisited in the classic 1967 LP Kwela by Gwigwi’s Band featuring Gwigwi Mrewbi, Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor and Ronnie Beer. This is also the sound that is quoted on Dollar Brand’s archetypal Mannenburg from 1973. Rob Allingham has even pointed to a critique by Lulu Masilela that Mannenburg was simply a slowed down version of 'Bra' Zacks Nkosi’s Jackpot, a 1960 classic majuba track. After listening to both I think I disagree. Cultures build on their roots and this appropriation, if you want to call it that, does transform the original into a significant new animal that rightfully pays homage to its past.

Recently a number of excellent CD compilations that include this music have been issued most notably Albert Ralulimi and Rob Allingham’s Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 1 + 2. Generally though, most compilations include majuba jazz in the context of so many other great styles, mainly vocal jive and kwela. One compilation LP that does focus almost exclusively on this material is Jazz and Hot Dance in South Africa (1946-1959). This record, issued by Harlequin in 1985 is excellent but out-of-print. Copies do appear on eBay but not very often. In the interests of building a comprehensive narrative in this compilation I have included two tracks from that compilation here: these are by The Harlem Swingsters and The Shanty City Seven. Also check out Chris Albertyn’s South African Jazz 78rpm Mix and Matt Temple’s Pull Up! Sixties Jazz 78s here at Electric Jive

Before we commence with this holiday mix/survey, I would like to thank Laurent Dalmasso for kindly providing the namesake track Majuba by the African Quavers for this compilation. I would also like to thank the team here at Electric Jive: Chris, Matt, Nick and Francis for an amazing year of rich discussions. And I would especially like to thank Chris and Matt for inviting me, a year ago in January, to be a part of this wonderful endeavor!

This compilation is arranged chronologically and is split over three volumes. Today’s post will feature Volume 1 only. Volume 2 and 3 are now available at another post on Electric Jive. Some elements of the original mix may not necessarily fit into a strict definition of majuba jazz but have remained to give some historical context. Sources of content below have been listed at the bottom of each paragraph.

Volume 1: Swing to Majuba (1953 – 1956)
Volume 2: Majuba to Sax Jive (1957-1961)
Volume 3: Sax Jive to Mbaqanga (1962 – 1967)

VOLUME 1: SWING TO MAJUBA (1953 – 1956)
(flatinternational / Electric Jive, FXEJ 4)

(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1577)
(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1576)
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1580)
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1579)
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 155, matrix 1581)
* thanks to Laurent Dalmasso for the Majuba track.

Eric Nomvete died in September 1999 and his obituary in City Press reveals that he co-founded the African Quavers in East London. The Quavers were hugely popular at the time and included Willie 'Sax-o-Willis' Mbali on alto sax, Boyce Hashe on alto sax, David Mzimkulu on trumpet and Absalom Mtyeku on trumpet. The group would later become the famed fifteen-piece band the Havana Swingsters. Allingham lists the personnel of the Swingsters on the 1954 recording, Emaxambeni, as Douglas 'Sax' Manuel on 1st alto, Boyce Hashe on 2nd alto, Eric Nomvete on 1st tenor, Vuyisile Mjamba on 2nd tenor, David Mzimkulu on 1st trumpet, Mqaqbane Mlubi on 2nd trumpet, Absolom Mtyeku on 3rd trumpet, Zama Mati on 1st trombone, Graham Nobaxa on piano, William Madyaka on guitar, Daniel 'Kgomo' Morolong on bass and Pavia Gwenisa on drums. (Listen to tracks at SAMAP) (Molefe, Allingham)

Born in October 1920, Nomvete studied at Adams College in Natal where his teachers included none other than Reuben T. Caluza and William Mseleku. It is here that he also met fellow-student Todd Matshikiza, a future member of the Harlem Swingsters and composer of King Kong. After receiving a diploma in social work, he moved to Umtata and there formed the Rhythm Swingsters in 1946. It is at this point that Nomvete learned to play the alto sax with the help of Gwigwi Mrwebi. In 1949 Nomvete moved to Duncan Village outside East London and it is here that he is said to have formed the African Quavers. He composed his first tune, Xapa Song, in 1951 with aid from fellow band members David Mzimkulu and Willie Mbali. (Huskisson, Molefe)

Willie Mbali from Coplan
Willie 'Sax-o-Wills' Mbali a saxophonist and band-leader, hailed from Queenstown and must have been a notable dancer as David Coplan shows an image of him as a Queenstown Ball Room Champion in the 1920s. In the early 1930s he led, with pianist Meekly 'Fingertips' Matshikiza, the Blue Rhythm Syncopaters a group that was preceded by the Big Four. In 1937 Griffiths Motsieloa organized a country-wide tour for the Merry Blackbirds and Darktown Strutters and in February 1938, Mbali wrote about that tour in Bantu World: “Let me add as a footnote that the local orchestra will benefit through the visit of the Merry Blackbirds, and will make use of whatever tips they received from these artists.” Interestingly, trumpeter, David Mzimkulu actually recorded with the Merry Blackbirds Orchestra when they backed the Manhattan Brothers on Pesheya Kwezo Ntaba (GE 973) in 1949, though it is unclear to me whether he would have been in the Blackbirds during the time of Mbali’s article. In the 1940s David Mzimkulu also performed with the legendary Jazz Maniacs. (Coplan)

Eric Nomvete is said to have ‘discovered’ Mongezi Feza and in 1962 introduced him on trumpet in his band The Big Five at the now classic Castle Lager National Jazz Festival. The track Pondo Blues also featured Dick Khoza on drums and though at the time only received third prize, is by far one of the best tracks on the album.

It is not totally clear whether Eric Nomvete actually performs on the African Quavers recordings, but I suspect he probably does. So far I have found at least nine tracks from this same recording session including U-Toki (BB 653) which is listed in Huskisson as a Nomvete composition. On this track the band performs with a vocal group, the Chocolate Sisters.

Rob Allingham has it that Willie Mbali was the leader of the group at the time of these recordings in 1953. He also maintains that these were the only sessions recorded by the group, the result of a field-unit sent to East London, hence the varied quality of the recordings.

Most of the tracks appear to be composed by Mbali or Mzimkulu, notably Majuba (GB 155) by Mzimkulu and E-Qonce (GB 156) by Mbali. Majuba is the same composition that gave name to this style of music in the 1950s. Some discrepancies are evident over the authorship of Majuba. For example in his August 1957 article in Drum magazine, Todd Matshikiza implies that it was the Harlem Swingsters with Gray Mbau, Taai Shomang, Gwigwi Mrwebi and himself that came up with both Majuba and E-Qonce. Huskisson also has Matshikiza as the composer of E-Qonce. But Coplan points out that it was the Jazz Maniac’s popular recording of Majuba that gave the style its name and of course David Mzimkulu at some point did perform with the Maniacs. So my guess is more research needs to be done in this area.

One final note, in his interview with Lars Rasmussen, Tete Mbambisa mentions performing with the African Quavers, though I am sure he was too young to be present at the time of these recordings. Also Willie Mbali is the grandfather of saxophonist, Ndithi Mbali.

Hambela eBhayi – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11470)
iTyala Lami – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11472)

iBhayi (or eBhayi in this track) is the isiXhosa name for Port Elizabeth the largest city in the Eastern Cape. The whole region seems to have been a major centre for jazz in South Africa and Coplan points out that “the Eastern Cape contributed so many talented instrumentalists and vocalists to the Johannesburg African entertainment world that Xhosa became something of a lingua franca among its musicians.” Victor Mkhize, a famous comedian performed with the Alfred Herberts’s African Jazz and Variety. After a show in Durban he and a number of others in the cast including Miriam Makeba travelled late back to Johannesburg. The van was in a collision with another car that killed a number of white passengers. After receiving no help from police or medical staff for almost 48 hours, he died from his wounds. The tragic story is recounted in Makeba’s biography My Story. (Coplan, Makeba)

8) SHANTY CITY SEVENUnoya Kae – 1953
(Lottie Masilo, Gallotone, GB 1955, ABC 12310)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA

Mackay Davashe
Born 1920 in East London, Sherwood Mackay Davashe started playing sax with the Merry Mischiefs, a seven-piece band led by Dale Quaker, in 1943. Prior to that he had studied at the Wilfred Sentso School of Modern Piano Syncopation. The school was established by Sensto at the Mooki Memorial College in Orlando between 1937 and June 1938 and became an important education outlet for many young performers. Between 1944 and 1945 he played with the Jazz Maniacs who by that point were being led by Wilson Silgee. In the 1950s Davashe led the Shantytown Sextet a group that included Kippie Moeketsi (who joined the band in 1950) on alto, Jacob Lepere on bass, General Duze on guitar, Boyce Gwele on piano, Norman Martin on drums and at times Dollar Brand. Their 1953 recording Msakazo (GB 1955) which happens to be the B-side of this tune also gave this style of music a temporary name and is mentioned by Coplan. He goes on to say that it was a somewhat derogatory term meaning “broadcast.” The A-side, Unoya Kae, featured here is billed as the Shanty City Seven and on this track Robert Pule appears on trumpet with W. Adams on bass.

Kippie Moeketsi
In 1959 Davashe led the King Kong Orchestra that included Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela, Jacob Lepere, General Duze, Sylvester Phahlane and Gwigwi Mrwebi to name but a few. A year before that in 1958 he had formed the Jazz Dazzlers who recorded at least three tracks in November and are featured on the CD Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 1. On the occasion of that recording the Dazzlers included Kippie Moeketsi on 1st alto, Gwigwi Mrwebi on 2nd alto, Davashe on tenor, Kleintjie Rubushe on trumpet, Dugmore 'Darkie' Slinger on trombone, Sol Klaaste on piano, General Duze on guitar, Jacob Lepere on bass and Willie Malan on drums. The Jazz Dazzlers went on to perform at the famous Cold Castle National Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu Stadium in 1962. The personnel by that point included Pat Matshikiza on piano, Saint Moikangoa on bass, Early Mabuza on drums, Kippie Moeketsi on alto sax, Blythe Mbityana on trombone and Dennis Mpali on trumpet. Some of Davashe’s most notable compositions include Lakutshon’ Ilanga made famous by Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers as well as Izikalo Zegoduka, the original version of Kilimanjaro also made hugely popular by the Manhattan Brothers. (Huskisson, Ballantine, Coplan, Bergmeier, Beinhart)

U-Mgibe – 1954
(Gideon Nxumalo, Troubadour, AFC 166, MATA 1251)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA

Gwigwi Mrwebi from Shaderburg
Folks! Doesn’t this introduction sound very much like the opening of Pata Pata that would make Miriam Makeba so famous 13 years later? Benny 'Gwigwi' Mrwebi was the leader of the legendary Harlem Swingsters in the early 1950s. Though in Ntemi Piliso’s obituary in City Press, Taai Shomang is said to have led the group. This large fourteen-piece big band hailed from Alexandra and established itself as the leading group in the 1940s. This is also the same band mentioned above in Todd Matshikiza’s Drum article where he reveals the story of how the Swingters gave birth to the majuba style of jazz. At times that group also included Gray Mbau, Todd Matshikiza, Gideon Nxumalo, Ntemi Piliso as well as Kippie Moeketsi for a brief period in the late 1940s before he went onto the Shanty Town Sextet in 1950. In 1951 the Swingsters toured Mozambique with Dolly Rathebe. A major hit for the group included Mgibe Special composed by Gideon 'Mgibe' Nxumalo who at that time was sitting in for Todd Matshikiza on piano. The track featured here 'Mgibe' is also composed by Gideon Nxumalo. (Molefe, Coplan)

In November 1958 Mrwebi recorded at least three tracks with the Jazz Dazzlers which can be heard on the CD Township Swing Jazz Vol. 1. Mrwebi was the circulation manager at Drum magazine and he also performed in the King Kong Orchestra. When King Kong went to London in 1961 he came with the cast and decided to remain in the UK after they returned to South Africa. While in the UK he hooked up with fellow South Africans—Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Ronnie Beer—and recorded the highly collectable LP Kwela with Gwigwi’s Band issued in 1967 on Doug Dobell’s 77 Records. Since then this album has been reissued by Honest Jons. You will also find the track Nyusamkhaya on the compilation London is the Place For Me 2. The October 17, 1970 issue of Billboard magazine reveals that Mrwebi won a grant to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. The grant was awarded by Chisa Productions headed by Hugh Masekela. Mrwebi died of a heart attack in Boston in 1973 (Shaderburg, Billboard)

Nonzwakazi Alias Fat Cookies – 1954
( Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12814)
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12813)
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13073)
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13076)

Edmund Mtutuzeli Piliso or 'Bra Ntemi' was born in Alexandra in 1925 and passed away in January 2001. His obituary in City Press reveals that he received his first instrument, a clarinet, in 1947 as a donation from a local Alexandra resident. In the early 1950s he played with Gwigwi Mrwebi’s Harlem Swingsters. Though Molefe in the obituary does say that Taai Shomang led the Swingsters. Piliso formed the Alexandra All Stars in 1953 after leaving the Swingsters and with this group put out some of the most memorable tracks in the majuba style. Remarkable these early recordings by this famous group included the band personnel on the label, which is rare. The group at this point included Edmund 'Ntemi' Piliso as the leader on tenor sax, David 'Boy Maska' Mope and David 'Bra' Sello on alto sax, Shadrack Piliso (Ntemi’s older brother) on trumpet, Fortesque 'Edgar' Mazibuko on bass, S. 'Booikie' Mokone on drums and Aaron Lebona on piano.

In 1975 Ntemi formed The Members with his brother Shadrack and African Swingster’s Ellison Temba and they released a number of albums with long form single-sided tracks in a style that was by then called bump-jive. Bump Jive in many ways has its roots in the majuba sound of the 1950s as is discussed at length in Rob Allingham’s excellent notes on the CD reissue Bra Ntemi (CDXU1). In 1981 Ntemi Piliso founded the African Jazz Pioneers, a very successful band that brought many of the sounds of the 1950s to a new generation. (Molefe, Allingham, Bergmeier)

14) BOOYSE GWELE & his CITY JAZZ GIANTSHalf Mpaqanga – c1955
(Gwiri, Philips, SB 21, AA30020.1H)
15) ORLANDO JAZZ COMBOUmjiva – c1955
(Kika, Philips, SB 13, AA30012.2H)

The title of the Boyce Gwele tune is particularly interesting —Half Mpaqanga or “half a loaf” reads the given translation. This is almost the same term coined by Michael Xaba and popularized by Gideon Nxumalo on his radio show. In the 1950s Boyce Gwele performed on piano with Mackay Davashe’s famous Shantytown Sextet a group that included Kippie Moeketsi on alto, Jacob Lepere on bass, General Duze on guitar, Norman Martin on drums. Gwele also led the Eastern City Seven which included bassist Daniel Sibanyoni. Listen to their tune Zulu Jazz composed by Christopher Songxaka in the SAMAP archive. (Tropik, ABC 16203) Gwele also solos on Esingeni by King Jury and His Band on the CD Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 2 (Coplan, Rasmussen)
Track 15 here by pianist Sidwell Kika’s Orlando Jazz Combo featured P.N. Gumbie on trumpet, M. Dludla on alto, S. Kubeka on tenor, and B. Makhubedu on drums.

16) NU RHYTHM DOWN BEATS of PEEmlanjeni – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.2H)
17) NU RHYTHM DOWN BEATS of PEIntlombe – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.1H)

Born in Cape Town in 1927, Christopher Columbus Ngcukana or 'Mbra' or 'Mra' was one of the key figures in South African Jazz. As Huskisson reveals he learned to play the trumpet in 1944 and then joined the Harmony Kings. After that group dissolved, he moved on to the Hot Shots led by Gray Mbau in East London. In 1949 he formed his own big band, the Swingettes which included 'Cups' Nkanuka whom he taught saxophone. In 1953 he moved to Port Elizabeth and joined the Junior Jazzmen. Then in 1954 he formed his own band in PE, the Rhythm Down Beat with Hubert Tini, Dick Khoza, Philip Mbambaza, Derrek Xujwa and Coleman Stokwe. Others joined the band at a later point including Paul Zokufa, Nick Moyake, Dudu Pukwana, Mahkwela, Moses Molelekoa and Andrew Veldman. Significantly this band would be the first time that Nick Moyake and Dudu Pukwana would play together.

Chris Columbus from Huskisson
Though it is not clear exactly who is performing on these two tracks by the Nu Rhythm Downbeats of PE, it is likely most of the above mentioned musicians. In July of 1955 Ngcukana brought a sixteen-piece band, De Bafana, to Cape Town and in 1960 he again reconnected with 'Cups' Nkunuka to form the band the 12 Disciples of Jazz. Of course, in 1962 he performed with the Chris McGregor Septet at the Castle Lager Jazz Festival at Moroku-Jabuva Stadium and then was part of the seminal group, the Castle Lager Big Band which won the 1963 festival and recorded the classic album Jazz / The African Sound. Dudu Pukwana’s Mra is a tribute to Christopher Columbus and is featured on Kwela by Gwigwi’s Band, Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, and Hugh Masekela’s Grrr. (Huskisson, Rasmussen)

18) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHMiMali – c1955
(“Money”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.1H)
19) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHMUmsindo – c1955
(“Noise”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.2H)

Todd Matshikiza
Todd Matshikiza, of course mentioned above, was born in Queenstown in 1921. While at Adams College in Natal he met Eric Nomvete. In 1947 he moved to Johannesburg as a teacher. Matshikiza started working for Drum magazine in March 1951 as their music critic and crafted a unique style of writing. His 1957 article Jazz comes to JHB puts him at the birth of the majuba style during, what I am assuming is, the early 1950s when he performed with the Gwigwi Mrwebi’s Harlem Swingsters. In 1953 he composed the tune Makhalipile or “the dauntless one” dedicated to Father Trevor Huddleston. This choral work was part of a benefit concert used to raise funds by Huddleston for an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Orlando West. The pool opened in 1955.

Matshikiza began working on the music for the historic “all African Jazz opera”, King Kong, around late 1957. The show opened to huge success in Johannesburg in 1959 and then was taken to London and opened in February 1961. Matshikiza also scored the music for Alan Paton’s Mkhumbane which opened in Durban, March 29th 1960, one week after the Sharpeville massacres. A political play that came at an unfortunate time which also proved to be its deathnail. Post Sharpeville, King Kong travelled to London and gave opportunity for many of its cast and musicians, including Matshikiza, to leave the country. Matshikiza stayed on in London and eventually moved to Zambia. He died there in 1968. (Huskisson, Ballantine, Glasser)

20) The WOODY WOODPECKERSNdivume – c1955
(“Accept Me”, Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 10, AA 30009.1H)
Nandi Nabhuti – c1955
(Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 39, AA 30038.2H)

Victor Ndlazilwana began his career singing with the male quartette, the Woody Woodpeckers, in 1951. In 1959 he played the role of "The Journalist" in the hit show King Kong and continued with the cast when the show was taken to London in 1961. The Woody Woodpeckers performed at the classic 1962 Castle Jazz Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu stadium. At that point the group included Ndazilwana, Bennet Majango, Johnny Tsagane and Boy Ngwenya. In 1970, Ndlazilwana formed the group the Jazz Ministers and recorded a number of albums including Nomvula's Jazz Dance which can be viewed here at Electric Jive. His album Zandile recorded in 1975 included Ngwenya from the Woody Woodpeckers and can be viewed at flatinternational. After Ndlazilwana's death in 1978 trumpeter, Johnny Mekoa, assumed leadership of the Ministers. Mekoa would later perform the title track Zandile as a tribute to Ndlazilwana with the Jazzanians, the first nationally recognised group to emerge from the University of Natal's seminal jazz courses.

22) GWI GWI AND HIS GWIGZAS Emhlabeni – 1956
(Michael Xaba, Troubadour AFC 320, MATA 1599)
23) GWI GWI AND HIS GWIGZASLibala – 1956
(Michael Xaba, Troubadour AFC 320, MATA 1600)

As mentioned earlier Benny 'Gwigwi' Mrwebi was the leader of the legendary Harlem Swingsters in the early 1950s. This large fourteen-piece hailed from Alexandra and established itself as the leading group in the 1940s. According to Allingham the personnel on these tracks by Gwigwi and his Gwigzas include Michael Xaba on trumpet, Gray Mbau on trumpet, Dugmore 'Darkie' Slinger on trombone and possibly Boyce Gwele on piano. Michael Xaba is composer on both tunes. Xaba of course performed trumpet with the legendary Jazz Maniacs and is also most famous for coining the term “mbaqanga”.

24) JAZZ MANIACSSent For You Yesterday – 1956
(Count Basie, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14629)
25) JAZZ MANIACSTamping At The Tappa – 1956
(Billy May, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14630)

In many ways the Jazz Maniacs could be viewed as the great grandfather’s of this style of music and were some of the earliest practitioners of big band jazz. Alas I have no early recordings of them in the flatinternational archive. These rather late recordings featuring compositions by Count Basie and Billy May date from 1956. The Jazz Maniacs were formed in 1935 by pianist Solomon 'Zuluboy' Cele; and the group included in time Wilson 'King Force' Silgee, 'Bra' Zacks Nkosi as well as Mackay Davashe. According to Coplan, the band began with four members in Sophiatown.

The Maniacs unlike their contemporaries the Merry Blackbirds led by Peter Rezant, who opted for more western styled arrangements, wanted to indigenize or “Africanise” big band jazz. After all, their leader, Cele was a marabi piano performer prior to forming the group and he introduced elements of that sound to the music. In short the Maniacs blended American swing with marabi. The group made their first marabi jazz recording Izikalo Zika Z-Boy (XU 9) in 1939 almost a decade after the rough piano style had faded.

Wilson 'King Force' Silgee an icon in his own right joined the Jazz Maniacs in the mid-30s as a saxophone player, and later led the group after Cele was murdered in 1944. In the 1950s Silgee would go on to form his own band the Jazz Forces. Huskisson has Zacks Nkosi as the leader of the group after Cele’s death. By the 1940s the band had grown to twelve and included: Cele on piano, Silgee and Jacob Medumo on sax, Vy Nkosi on trombone, David Mzimkulu (later of the African Quavers) and Ernst Mochumi on trumpets, Victor Hamilton on guitar and Jacob Lepere on bass. Mackay Davashe performed with the group from 1944-45. Also in the group Jacob Moeketsi on piano, Zakes Seabi, Edward Sililo and trumpeter, Michael Xaba who famously coined the term “mbaqanga” describing aspects of where the music was going. (Coplan, Ballantine, Huskisson)

26) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BANDRegtrek Kwela – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5274)
27) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BANDHot Toddy – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5275)

Willie Max, a drummer, led this Cape Town dance band in the mid 1950s. According to Rasmussen their repertoire featured primarily foxtrot, waltzes and quickstep. The band also included a very young pianist, Dollar Brand (aka Abdullah Ibrahim), who was 21 at the time. Ibrahim would perform with the group for about two years. Born in October 1934, Abdullah Ibrahim started performing professionally in Cape Town in the early 1950s. His first recordings were with the Tuxedo City Slickers in 1954, which included Blythe Mbityane on trombone. Early in 1956 he recorded roughly eight tracks with Willie Max en Sy Orkes of which only four were issued. One track, not featured here, 'Lovers Wals' was Ibrahim’s first recorded composition. Two tracks from that session 'Regtrek Kwela' and 'Hot Toddy' are featured here with Willie Max on drums and Ibrahim on piano.

In 1958 Ibrahim toured the Eastern Cape with Mackay Davashe’s Shantytown Sextet who were then backing for the Manhattan Brothers. That same year he formed the Dollar Brand Trio. In August 1959 he recorded My Songs for You (an album which I think remains as an unissued acetate only) with his soon-to-be wife Sathima Bea Benjamin. That same year Ibrahim formed the Jazz Epistles with himself on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Johnny Gertze on bass, Makaya Ntshoko on drums. On January 22nd, 1960 the Jazz Epistles recorded their classic album Jazz Epistle Verse 1. The band would soon dissolve and in 1962 Ibrahim left South Africa and embarked on an international career. He would return many times in the future to live and record. (Rasmussen)

28) THE FLASHESWe Matsoale – 1957
(arr. Davashe, Gallotone Jive, GB 2717, ABC 16062)

This is a legacy track from the early days of the mix. Initially I chose it because Mackay Davashe had done the arrangements on this curious, somewhat Spanish, tune. I decided to keep it after hearing the vocalists. I could be mistaken, but I am convinced that this is Miriam Makeba singing here! If it is her, then this might be quite unique. I have not read anything about her performing with the Flashes, nor have I seen any information about them in general. If anyone knows, drop us a note!


  1. Mra...Eish...this is too hot!

  2. Eish Siemon! Thank you so much for all the sweat in pulling this information together for a blog that is now clearly in the process of becoming something that digitally holds really important visual, written and audio archival efforts scattered across it

  3. So kind of you to do this!! Happy Holidays to you!

  4. wonderful post! a BIG thank
    Bra Robs

  5. Wow, now that is proper! Certainly one of the posts of the year in my book...killer work man!

  6. Epic ! Thanks for the diggin' and sharin' !
    Jabula Mfana ,and the Mthunzini Girls too .
    Nkosi .Koos

  7. Another amazing post. Electric Jive does it again!

  8. This is an example of the first-rate posts I constantly find on this site: essential music with its history and context. Thanks, Siemon, and the rest of you, for your passion and great efforts!

  9. Very inspiring! Thanks a lot for this wonderful posting!!!

  10. Siemon, thank you! I am doing research and your article has been a big help, but would love to be able to pick your brain a bit. Please. How can I contact you directly?

  11. Thanks all for the kind comments!
    Claire, if you would like more info, you can contact me at "mail AT"

  12. I cannot begin to tell you how much pleasure and knowledge I have gained from ElectricJive. I've long had an interest in SA music (yes, ever since Elias and his Zigzag Jive Flutes - that long) but it has been essentially shallow and undeveloped. All that is now changing. We are never too old to learn and listen to the many fantastic sides you have made available.

    Thank you so very much!

  13. This is incredible, wow! I'm so happy to find this!

  14. Really great information, but the RS download links no longer work. Any chance you could re-post? Maybe using Mediafire or A-drive?

  15. Are links for the FXEJ series still active? Thanks.

    1. I've added links to the Majuba Jazz compilations via Mixcloud. Enjoy!

  16. Siemon, what can I say. This is exceptional sleuth work. Important historical data on a subject that goes to the core of South Africa's musical soul. An invaluable archive. Thanks.

  17. 26) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BAND – Regtrek Kwela – 1956
    (Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5274)
    27) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BAND – Hot Toddy – 1956
    (Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5275)

    could you re-up these two tracks! please!

    1. I've added links to the Majuba Jazz compilations via Mixcloud. Enjoy!

  18. Are the links active on these? (Where are they?)


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