Tuesday 26 February 2013

Afrofunk 45s in London for Muxima

This Friday I'll be spinning some popular afrofunk tunes in London mixed up with some classic mbaqanga, jit, rumba and South African jazz. The event is Muxima's 1st Birthday Party and full details are available via Facebook. So if you happen to be around come down and join the party. The mix is available here for download or via Mixcloud if you have bandwidth to spare.
ZS / RS 

Monday 25 February 2013

King Kennedy - Meeting Up (1975)

In the South African context of 1975 it's not difficult to imagine urban, affluent and politically conscious black consumers being drawn to this cover. Vinyl diggers and archaeologists have been similarly drawn in by the imagery and the suggestions contained therein. But all is not what it seems.

The record label on which King Kennedy appears is EMI Brigadiers, which came into being just two years earlier in 1973 as a joint venture between EMI and local company Brigadiers. In the Billboard report of the time Brigadiers was noted as the largest producer of indigenous product in South Africa. Brigadiers had been responsible for recordings by the Zorro Five, Buttercup, the Drakenberg Boys Choir, Min Shaw, Kobus en Hannelie amongst others. The new label continued with indigenous artists such as Pacific Express, Richard Jon Smith, Steve Kekana as well as artists signed to EMI internationally. Of the joint-venture, the chairman of Brigadiers, Albie Venter said "It's a breakthrough for South African independent record producers, artists and composers." (Billboard, 24/3/1973)  

The King Kennedy album is credited as "An EMI Brigadiers Studio production" and follows a similar South African pattern of record production and promotion where the performing artist remains uncredited. We had a similar conundrum with the 1969 Brigadiers released Zorro Five album Reggae Shhh (http://electricjive.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/reggae-shhh.html). With a little more research we were able to establish that Zorro Five was a group created and led by Zane Cronje, who won the Best Beat Group SARI Award in 1971 with Zorro Five. Cronje went on to create similar fusion for soundtracks the most notable of which was for the film Snakedancer (http://www.parisdjs.com/index.php/post/Glenda-Snake-Dancer-South-African-OST), that featured South African stripper Glenda Kemp and her python Oupa.   

Perhaps then it's no surprise then that King Kennedy is not the bearded and bare chested black man holding the flute with raised fist. It is the nom de plume of John Eric Boshoff (aka Johnny Boshoff), a leading session musician, composer and arranger. Credits for Boshoff pop up all over the place - he played with the Square Set, Neil Cloud, the SADF Band, composed and arranged a number of film soundtracks (see IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0097945/) and was a key figure behind the breakthrough album that launched Juluka onto the international stage (African Litany). Al Hall Jnr (from the Mallory Hall Band and the Kirk Lightsey album Habiba) talks very highly of him and Boshoff was the only South African to play on an all-star line-up for those recordings replacing Monk Montgomery who, for contractual reasons, could not play. 

Listening to the record today it's not difficult to imagine John Boshoff enlisting the skills of Zane Cronje for the album. Whether Boshoff enlisted leading black performers for this remains unclear but given that he worked extensively with Robbie Jansen on a number of projects I would surmise that it is indeed Jansen on flute. Requests for further information from Johnny Boshoff have not been successful.

EMI Brigadiers disappeared around 1983 although the Brigadiers name did continue to be used by Albie Venter for a film production company until his death in 1990. Take a listen and let us know what you think. More unknown pleasures?

King Kennedy - Meeting Up (EMI Brigadiers, RGL 1006, 1975) 
1. Meeting Up
2. Ride on Scorpio
3. Midnight Moon
An EMI Brigadiers Studio Production


Monday 18 February 2013

Jazz in South Africa (live) (c1959)

Recently, I came across this Austrian EP featuring the Manhattan Brothers and the Jazz Dazzlers amongst others and assumed, like so many other vinyl compilations of this time, that it was compiled from tracks previously issued on 78 rpm. Remarkably the disc happened to be of a live recording!

Given that live performances, especially with these artists, were very scarce at this time, this certainly was an unusual find, and I embarked on a kind of "autopsy" of the disc to see where it would lead.

Beyond the Manhattans, the performance also included the Swanky Spots; Doris, Ducky and the Harmoniens; with the Jazz Dazzlers backing all.  The EP includes five tracks and all appear to be from the same performance. None of the tracks are attributed to any particular artist and while it may be possible to figure out a few of the performers, a number of tracks seem to include some or all the artists. Certainly the Jazz Dazzlers appear on all the tracks.

My first question was where was the recording made and in what year?

Interestingly, many of the tunes are in English; most if not all are cover versions. Two of the tracks, Ntyilo-Ntylio and Hush, are South African classics and the remaining three appear to reference major American rock and doo-wop hits of the 1950s. In my research for my previous post on the Bogard Brothers, regarding the influence of rock in South Africa, I came across a reference to a concert "Township Rock" at Johannesburg's City Hall from 7 - 9 May, 1958. The show included amongst others the Woody Woodpeckers and the Jazz Dazzlers. Could this be a recording from that concert?

Ntandane appears to be a Zulu-based cover of Paul Anka's 1957 hit Diana. If there is any doubt, a translation of the German liner notes makes it plain. The notes go on to say that the song is performed by a fifteen year old singer who also happens to be the person featured on the cover image. Could this be Doris?

I do a search for  the "Swanky Spots" and discover that Letta Mbulu began her career by joining the close-harmony group in 1956. She was invited by Jimmy Mabena and they would go on to win first prize in a talent contest organized by Union Artists in 1957. Born in August 1942 (according to Wikipedia), Mbulu would have been fifteen in late 1957 and 1958. Is the image on the cover Letta? Could the EP recording be from 1958?

The article on Mbulu goes on to say that she won a part in the 1959 production of King Kong but also claims that she was thirteen at the time. If the later age is true, that would make her fifteen in 1961. Mbulu would go on to perform in both the local and the 1961 London productions of King Kong. Again, could this image be of Letta? Could the EP recording be from 1961?

Further research on the "Swanky Spots" leads me to the credits of the King Kong LP where the group is identified as James Mabena, Letta Mbulu, Johnny Dlamini, Jerry Dube, Joseph Nyembe, and Bobby Mphahlela. I move onto other tracks.

Long Tall Sally was a major hit for Little Richard in 1956. Though South Africans may have been more familiar with Pat Boone's 1956 version which was issued there on the Dot label (D 163). South African record companies chose not to release records by black American rockers, at least in the mid to late 1950s.

The doo-wop track, Little Darlin first by Maurice Williams' Gladiolas was a hit for them early in 1957 and then went on to be an even bigger hit for the Diamonds a month latter. Certainly the Diamonds version would have made it to South Africa that same year.

The track Hush however was a huge hit for Miriam Makeba and the Skylarks and only appears to have been recorded around June of 1958, and was probably issued later that year. While Makeba worked closely with the Manhattan Brothers in the mid 1950s and it is certainly conceivable that they could have recorded this tune before Makeba, Lars Rasmussen's discography makes no mention of it. In my opinion the Manhattan's are covering the tune on the EP in the wake of the Skylarks's success with it. That would put the recording date for the concert around late 1958 or 1959.

Alan Silinga's classic tune Ntyilo-Ntyilo was a hit for the Manhattan Brothers and Miriam Makeba in 1954. The backing group on that recording included Kippie Moeketsi, Mackay Davashe, Boycie Gwele, General Duze, Jacob Lepere and Willie Malan, sometimes known as the Shanty Town Sextet. This group would continue to back the Manhattans, but later, after the inclusion of more musicians became known as the Jazz Dazzlers. Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Gwigwi Mrwebi, Sol Klaaste, Ben Mawela along with Davashe, Moeketsi, Lepere and Duze would record three tracks as the Jazz Dazzlers in Cape Town in July of 1960. Essentially the core of this group was the King Kong band for both the 1959 South African and 1961 London productions. After receiving approval for 60 passports from the South African authorities, on August 11, 1960, the production travelled to London where it opened at the Princess Theatre on February 23, 1961.

After the close of King Kong in London, many of the cast and musicians chose to remain there and not return to South Africa. Lars Rasmussen's biography of Joe Mogotsi does reveal that the Manhattans toured a number of European countries including Switzerland. The group also recorded a live album — Sing Freedom — for The English Folk Music Society at Cecil Sharpe House in London, 1963. Apparently their only live recording!

After all this time I had assumed that the EP was recorded in South Africa. Is it possible that is was made in Europe?

The final clue comes from a translation of the final paragraph of the liner notes. Apart from the potentially racist references to "civilization" and so on, the writer informs us that "our engineer, Wettler" had some difficulty in recording the "microphone unfamiliar" artists. Wettler certainly sounds to me like a German name, and while it is not conclusive, after all Vanguard Records could have sent their recording team to Johannesburg, my gut feeling tells me that the tracks were made in a German-speaking country around 1961.

Furthermore the liner note also reveal an additional EP recording from the same concert (EPA 17005).

Certainly Mackay Davashe and Kippie Moeketsi would return to South Africa and record as the Jazz Dazzlers at the classic 1962 Castle Lager Jazz Festival. The Manhattan Brothers however would not return.

The comments below reveal that the recording was indeed made in Johannesburg. That would put the potential date of the concert somewhere between June 1958 and August 1960.

Amadeo, EPA 17006

1) Ntandane
2) Ntylo-Ntylo
3) Long Tall Sally
4) Hush
5) Little Darling

Monday 11 February 2013

Bogard Brothers - Street Corner Rock (c1961)

For the next couple of posts I want to focus on some EPs starting with this amazing issue by the Bogard Brothers. The title, Street Corner Jazz, is quite misleading... "Street Corner Rock" would probably be more appropriate!

You may recognise some of these tunes from Pat Conte's classic cassette, Flying Rock, posted at the Hound Blog. Conte's compilation sourced from his extensive collection of 78 rpms, featured a blend of mostly South African rock-derived kwela and jive, from 1950 to 1962. His cassette included four tracks by the Bogard Brothers, three of which can be found on this EP including the title track Flying Rock. Conte also included their raucous interpretation of Buddy Holly's That Will Be the Day on the cassette. Sadly that tune is absent from this EP which makes me wonder if his four tracks may have been sourced from the original 78 rpms.  Oh, She's There is the track included on this EP that is absent from his cassette.

Coming out of Rupert Bopape's stable at EMI, the Bogard Brothers appear to be a quartet from Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. Three of the tracks are penned by Finish Mohamed and the fourth by Lawrence Motau, while the first also credits Isaac Nkosi (surely not Zacks) and Rupert Bopape. In the track That Will be the Day, the vocalist calls out to the other band members as "Finish, Tiny and Joey". Interestingly, Conte in his liner notes suggests that it is Finish Mohamed leading Black Mambazo on their track After Muchacha. Black Mambazo (not LBM) also hailed from Alexandra.

Stylistically, while rock was marginally adopted by some black musicians in South Africa in the late 1950s, the principle focus was on jazz, jive and (that short-lived commercial competitor to rock) kwela. Reasons for this are well outlined in Charles Hamm's essay "Rock 'n Roll in a Very Strange Society" in his book Putting Popular Music in its Place. According to Hamm, while executives at record companies in South Africa made a decision in the mid 1950s to market rock 'n roll to the black population through a sampling of international hits on 78 rpm, they failed to included any by black artists: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and so on. White artists such as Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Pat Boone were widely available, adopted, collected and reviewed in the black press.

"Though Todd Matshikiza reported in his review of "Rock Around the Clock" (Drum, July 1956) that 'nobody has done the rock around here yet', within a matter of months various non-white South Africans were emulating this music. Many new releases by local performers were identified, in advertisements or reviews, as being examples of indigenous rock 'n roll." (Hamm)

Hamm goes on to explain that by 1958 many blacks were turning away from rock 'n roll just as it was peaking for whites. "The black press rarely reviewed rock 'n roll discs after 1957, and mostly to make disparaging comments." In many respects, Hamm suggests,  rock in South Africa became identified as a "white" music. "By contrast, five years later when the twist came to South Africa, it was identified from the beginning with Chubby Checker and quickly became immensely popular amongst blacks".  (Hamm)

Interestingly 1958 also happened to be the same year that Spokes Mashiyane exchanged his flute for a saxophone in recording the hit Big Joe Special which introduced the ever popular sax-jive. Which leads to Hamm's third point and main thesis in that, in his view, it is mbaqanga that becomes the dominant style in the 1960s and in many ways became an equivalent for rock 'n roll within the black community. (Hamm)

Perhaps this might partially explain the use of the term "jazz" in the EP title "Street Corner Jazz" rather than rock...?

Hamm, in his many examples of black South African artists adopting rock elements, does mention a 78 rpm recording by the Bogard Brothers, Red River Rock (JP 669) which I estimate was issued in 1961. To my ear, the style of rock on Street Corner Jazz sounds like it comes from the late 1950s, but my sense is that the EP was issued somewhere around 1961 or 1962.

Street Corner Jazz

1) I'm in Love
2) Oh, She's There
3) Flying Rock
4) She Keeps on Knocking