Thursday 4 July 2013

Allen Kwela: Past, Present and Future - solo guitar

An awesome out-of-print tape for the Electric Jive archive today, from yet another of South Africa's complex musical geniuses.

In his 1990 liner notes to this solo recording, France-based Henri Martin laments the fact that he could not find any records of his favorite South African jazz musicians. So, he decided he would make a recording himself. Willem Moller of the Gereformeerde Blues Band lent out his studio and helped with the sound engineering. The original idea was to record the Allen Kwela Trio who had just come off a successful three-week stint at Kippie's in Johannesburg. Budget constraints trimmed that down to a solo recording. Martin mentions that Kwela took a long time to "find the right feeling" in the studio and while he became a good friend, he was also a "sometimes painful perfectionist".

Kwela's 1972 masterpiece "Allen's Soul Bag" can be found on EJ here. The track "Question Mark" from Allen's Soul Bag is also featured on the Next Stop Soweto Vol 3 compilation. The Allen Kwela recording "Black Beauty" features Kippie Moeketsi on alto and can be found here. Kwela teams up again with Kippie Moeketsi on Gideon Nxumalo's 1970 holy grail "Early Mart", which is also available on EJ here. In sharing two early 78rpm recordings of Allen Kwela here, Siemon notes that Allen Kwela is reported to have played alongside Winston Mankunku Ngozi and Barney Rachabane in the group "The Cliffs". That great 1975 recording too, is archived on EJ here.

Five of the nine tracks on this tape are also featured with a full band on his acclaimed recording "The Broken Strings of Allen Kwela": including Past Present and Future as well as, Sunday Blue, Tranquility, Stand Up, and KwaMashu. The notes next to the song titles below are Allen Kwela's own comments on his choices.

1. Say it with Love: "Is a tune of mine. It means one must say or do everything with love."
2. Past, Present and Future: "It was beautiful in the past. Black is still beautiful in the present and will always be in the future. The deprivation of rights of the South african Black National did not and will not change that."
3. Sunday Blue: "Is dedicated to a beautiful crystal clear  sky-blue Sunday in 1975 when everything went perfectly: pure romance."
4. Tranquility: "When I wrote this tune back in 1968 I had a feeling of calmness and the self-confidence, hence the title."
5. Stand-Up: "Against all that is not right and forced on you."
6. My Funny Valentine: "One of the old standards I adore.
7. KwaMashu: "The township outside Durban, home to my brothers, and sometimes myself".
8. Who knows?: "This is my own version of a 16-bar blues! Playing solo offers the advantage of playing 'free' as you might notice in this recording. However, I prefer to have it played according to its strucuture which is clearly stated in the first 16 bars of the tune."
9. Surrey with a fringe on top: "The bride and groom, in a Surrey, start out in fast pace then medium and finally slow tempo to a halt."

"Recently, I lost my Gibson guitar in a township mugging and I thought that was the end of everything. But someone lent me an Ibanez for this recording and I have been amazed by its performance. the 'Ibanez Artist' guitar was great, although I would have preferred a box guitar like my old Gibson". (from the cassette notes).

Allen Kwela died at the age of 63 on 1st July 2003.

A "Best of Allen Kwela" compilation CD issued by Sheer Sound is still available from Kalahari for ZAR72. It contains 13 tracks and you can audio-preview five of them.

The solo guitar tape can be downloaded as follows:
mediafire here
rapidshare here


  1. Wow. What a wonderful find! Thanks, Chris.

  2. Wow, wow, I appreciate these tunes as much as the other previous you mentionned.
    Do you have a SABC record where he appear on one side with Evan Ziporryn playing the clarinet? On the other side, the guitarist changes: it is Sandile Shange.
    As a former guitarist, I love Allen Kwela.

  3. Thanks for the appreciative comments good people. @Olivier - I do not have the record you mention. Might you be able to help?

  4. I lost this cassette in 2002 after it was stolen from my flat and have never lost hope of finding a copy. The original had been a gift from Allen to me in 2000, and I believe only 300 cassettes were originally released. At Allen's memorial service I gave Damon Forbes the liner notes in the hope that Sheer would consider releasing the album someday. I think they included a track or two on the compilation that is currently available. But nothing compares to this full album. Listening to it again is going to be a very emotional experience. This is Bra Allen as I best remember him, the man and the music deserves to be widely known in South AFrica. Thanks so much Chris.

  5. @anonymous - thanks for taking the time to comment and share your story - the kind of feedback that energises us to keep on keeping on :-)

  6. Hello! I think the so-called Henri Martin who is mentionned in the above article happens to be my father. He helped Allen Kwela release cassettes if I remember. He also invited Allen Kwela to play music in our garden (1991?) when we lived in Joburg. They were good friends. I still have a VHS of this gig. It is a historical gig in fact, because it was the same day Mandela was freed. Unfortunately Henri Martin passed away in 2001. Today I googled "allen kwela henri martin" and I found your article. It made me happy. And I'm glad Allen Kwela is a reknowed musician.

    Sarah Martin

  7. Fantastic Sarah - thank you so much for sharing that memory and important information. If it was ever possible I would love to have the opportunity of seeing the video of that special gig in Johannesburg - best wishes - Chris Albertyn recordforthe at gmail dot com

  8. It's a pleasure Chris. I'm actually trying to numerize this VHS recording. As soon as I'm sorted I'll share it with you.

  9. Great - thanks so much - and thanks to your father for the important documentation he made of this special jazz musician

  10. wonderful blog.
    any chance of a reup on this one?
    the zippyshare link is dead. the RS link might be ok. its says daily traffic exhausted. so i will try that one again tomorrow.
    this sounds like such a great guitarist

  11. Hi Janet - thanks for taking the time to share your kind words. I am away from home base for a few weeks, but have made a note to update the zippyshare link to a mediafire link that works. Sorry for your frustration.

  12. Janet - the mediafire link has been been updated and fixed. Works fine. Best wishes

  13. It's such a pity that guitar legends like Allen Kwela are not well recognized in south Africa; yet guitar legends like BB king are worshiped. It's time South Africans should start appreciating their own legends.


Electric Jive is currently receiving a deluge of spam. Apologies for the additional word verification requirement.