Thursday 14 March 2013

Phezulu Eqhudeni: Motella's finest (1975)

The international re-issue of this gem of an album by Earthworks in 1984 was an important first in a series of signals to the local industry that mbaqanga music may have a global future, despite its popular decline in South Africa. In 1986 Paul Simon’s Graceland and Harry Belafonte’s Paradise in Gazankulu drew heavily on South African artists, and further showcased mbaqanga music to the world.

West Nkosi saw the gap and cut a demo with Makhona Tsohle and the Mahotella Queens. The tape caught Gallo executive Geoff Paynter’s ears and he invited them to play at a function at which two French record executives were also present. One thing led to another, and the musicians embarked upon an international touring career, including playing at the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert in Wembley Stadium in 1988, and then to a crowd of half a million in Central Park in New York in 1991. You can read the full story and more in Louise Meintjies’ wonderful book” “Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio”.

The Earthworks Cover
It is an interesting aside that Earthworks’ marketing people decided to use a different cover. Personally, I much prefer the original. The re-issue label provides what I understand to be an inaccurate translation of the words “Phezulu Eqhudeni”, claiming it to mean on top of a mountain with the name 'Eqhudeni'. The literal translation is: on top of  (better than) the rooster (that wakes you up).

EJ visitor Manzo Khulu sent us a mail on the translation issue:
"I picked up a point that I think I could perhaps also comment on. Indeed while ‘iqhude’ is Zulu for ‘rooster’, in this context the word refers to a hill/mountain whose structure is reminiscent of  the head of a rooster – hence named Eqhudeni. Some of the musicians may have originated from this general area, e.g. Abafana Baseqhudeni (Boys from Eqhudeni)." (Thanks Manzo).

This album presents a sublime compilation from the halcyon days of Motella’s finest.  I am confident you will enjoy it.

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  1. I bought the Earthworks version when it came out and loved it, so it is fascinating to learn of its previous life. A truly great record that I can commend to everyone. Many thanks,


  2. Chris, the artwork for the reissue is almost certainly produced by Neville Brody or Ian Swift (ex Straight No Chaser) and is firmly located in a style developed at the face magazine (by Brody) and Straight No Chaser (By Ian Swift). Later African reissues (in SA, and Europe) for Shifty, Globestyle etc, took a more naive approach approach... I prefer the former. The original signifies - in my mind - to having arrived...but is also located within the pre-Soweto optimism of a growingly affluence black working class.

  3. Well well, I'm Martyn Lambert on artwork... ... but my comments still stand about location specific influences on graphic style

  4. Thanks good people for the comments, and the follow-up on graphic design side Matt, interesting.

  5. I love the concept of Earthworks in '84 having "marketing people". If you only knew ... Later in the 80's the Earthworks "people" could still be counted on one hand with not all fingers present (myself included)! It was the first "Indestructible Beat of Soweto" lp which marked the move away from pre-existing records to freshly-curated compilations with striking cover art.

  6. Point taken David :-). Perhaps that should read ..."the pioneers in Earthworks who also had to make design and marketing decisions". Thanks for what you did, and thanks for dropping by and taking the time to leave a message

  7. Thank you so much for all of the excellent music!


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