Monday 20 August 2012

Funny Thing: Ensemble of Rhythm and Art (1977)

Now here’s a ‘Funny Thing’ ... top-drawer musicians, whose core was no doubt drawn from Soweto’s Pelican Club House Band – playing up a funky 70s afro-jazz storm on Mavuthela’s Soul Jazz Pop label, produced by the legendary West Nkosi, but absolutely no band credits, other than to composer Simon Serakoeng aka Baba Themba Mokoena, the lead guitarist featured on Dick Khoza's "Chapita".

Themba Mokoena at the
Rainbow Restaurant, Pinetown - 2011
Take the banks of layered horns and tight rhythms from “Chapita”, the intricate keyboard and arranging sensibilities of “The Drive” and “Abacothozi,” sprinkle a little dash of “The Movers” tending only ever so slightly towards disco, put in a blender, hit the switch, and voila, you have “Ensemble of Rhythm and Art” – an 'ensemble' who seems only to have existed to produce this once-off gem of a record.

In addition to his strong afro-jazz guitar pedigree at the Pelican Club, Mokoena  is referenced as one of South Africa's finest mbaqanga guitar players by Calabash. Calabash go on to say the following:
"Simon Baba Mokoena was born at Umkumbane in Durban in the late '40. He started making music at the age of 12, playing a home-made guitar made from a five-liter oil container. At 17, he picked up his brother's acoustic guitar and has never looked back. Baba's first gig was with a group called Mhlathi and His Comets, whom he stayed with for four years. Next he met Dick Khoza, a jazz drummer. They formed a small jazz group with Pat Matshikiza on piano and Victor Gaba on bass, playing gigs around Durban.

After two years Baba left the group and went to Johannesburg to play mbaqanga, because he had always wanted to play African music. He played for a group called Izintombi Zamangwane. This was followed by guitar work on Gibson Kente's musicals Sikhalo and How Long.
Yours truly with Themba Mokoena at the
Rainbow Restaurant in Pinetown last year -
Getting an autograph on "Chapita" -
pic by Cedric Nunn
Baba joined the resident band at the Pelican Night Club, playing with Winston "Mankunku" Ngozi and Khaya Mahlangu, to name but a few. This stint at the Pelican was a chance to explore different kinds of music — mbaqanga, jazz and rhythm and blues — and to meet names like American jazz organ player Jimmy Smith and U.S. group The Realistic." Calabash go on to describe how Mokoena toured Europe with "Township Fever" and continued to enrich the music of artists such as Mbongeni Ngema and Madala Kunene.

In addition to Baba Mokoena on lead guitar, as to who else is actually’ playing on this great album, we cannot say with certainty – but the Electric Jive team members have had fun listening and tossing ideas around. We all agree, “Pelican regulars ..”. Matt and Nick are pretty sure that West Nkosi’s sax is to be heard, along with Dennis Mpale’s trumpet. Nick wonders about one or both the Piliso brothers, pointing out they were “certainly very active in soul-jazz-pop sessions at the time"? Anyone have any other suggestions?

 For those album cover lovers among you – another Zulu Bidi artwork – see and listen also here for "Night at Pelican". As the ace bass player for Batsumi, Zulu Bidi also did the Batsumi cover, at least two for the Makhona Zonke Band, and one Mpharanyana and the Cannibals (Zion), as well as this 1975 “Reggae Man” cover.

Matt has put up excerpts from the BBC doccie on Zulu Bidi here - “Life and Death in Soweto” here.

Funny Thing: Ensemble of Rhythm and Art
Soul-Jazz-Pop BL110
Recorded 25th July 1977.
Produced by West Nkosi
Engineer: Glen Pearce
Side 1
The Dustbin
Funny Thing
Side 2
Pelican Fantasy
Hello There

Rapidshare here
Mediafire here

1 comment:

  1. Chris, I do think that the composer (Simon Serakoeng) is none other than Baba Mokoena Seakoeng aka Themba Mokoena....who joined Dick Khoza, Pat Matshikiza and Victor Gaba gigging in Durban in the early sixties. He landed up as part of Khoza's Pelican house band in the mid seventies.


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