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


  1. Hi Siemon,

    Sorry, I don't any information except, perhaps, one.
    I've checked on pictures of Letta. I think we can say that Letta is not the lady on the cover of your EP. What makes me so affrimative ? You can see on two black points on the lady face : the first one on her cheek and the second one on her chin (menton in French). I checked on all the pictures of Letta : there is no such black points.

  2. It's a wild guess,but could it be Peggy Phango ? She was part of the King Kong crew and is a cousin of Miriam Makeba.

    Great background info to this post.


  3. Thank you both for sharing this and the detective work - very interesting! MB

  4. Fascinating find, many thanks!

    From the liner notes:
    "The recordings for our records 17005 and 17006 were done on the occasion of a charity performance of the labour unions in Johannesburg."
    Which shoul clear the question of "where" this was recorded.

  5. Many thanks for all the comments!

    El Puerco Rojo, thanks especially for clarifying the German translation of the liner notes. In full disclosure, I was using Google Translate which obviously is not that reliable. But your observation that the recordings were made in Johannesburg certainly changes a number of my assumptions and puts the concert dates somewhere between June 1958 and August 1960. I will do some more research and update the post accordingly.

    Koos, many thanks for sending the details about the Vanguard-Amadeo label being Austrian. I should have done a Discogs search! The cover was printed in Swizerland and that is what sent me down that path, along with the info of the Manhattans visiting there.

    I don't think the cover image is of Peggy Phango. Her obituary claims she was born in Orlando in 1928. That would make her 31 in 1959 and 33 in 1961.

    Olivier, you read my mind. I also wondered about the "beauty spots" and went through all the Letta LPs but did not find any in those images. Of course two possibilities make the "mole" fact unstable: 1) I seem to recall that some women during this period would apply "false moles" with make up; 2) also images on record covers could be touched up... meaning moles could be edited out. Though, admittedly, that would be a lot of images to "clean up".

    The image could still be of Doris. The London program for King Kong (which is far more detailed than the original South African one) shows a Doris Kumalo performing with the "Women of the Township". This may be a red herring.

    The image could also be of Abigail Khubeka who was 16 in 1957 when she joined the Skylarks. But again no "beauty spot".

    I would like to think that it is Letta though....

    Anyways thanks again.
    More soon

  6. don't have enough words to thank u.u remind me about my early stage.still hear those lyrics ,would like u to find me anything by jazz ministers and any by kippie and pat matshikiza especial tshona .email me @ jngenisile @ is not problem

  7. Hi jngenisile, thanks for your comments!
    You can find the Jazz Ministers here at EJ at these links:

  8. Hey Guys,

    Does anyone have a rip of The Movers Greatest Hits Volume 3? Been dying to hear that one along with Greatest Hits Volume 1. Shame this music isn't accessible.

    Great site!


  9. Cant find the download link.


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