Thursday 7 November 2013

Allen Kwela, Sandile Shange, Evan Ziporyn (1984)

Sandile Shange playing at the Beatrice Street Durban "Bantu YMCA" in 1968
Pic: © Ian Bruce Huntley
From one perspective, South Africa’s musical history can be characterised as being of lost opportunities for some great musicians who, but for apartheid, would probably have been more widely celebrated. Some made huge sacrifices in pursuit of their musical destinies, while others made different choices, or had no choice. How much agency Allen Kwela and Sandile Shange had in seeing and taking their possible options, we may never know.

What I do know is that Allen Kwela and Sandile Shange were very fine guitarists, and they did have opportunity to record with internationally celebrated clarinetist and composer, Evan Ziporyn – in Durban in May 1984.

Prior to posting this, I wrote to Evan Ziporyn and he has very kindly found the time to share a few reflections about his time in Durban. Evan was very happy that Electric Jive is sharing these recordings - he thought they were lost, and had not heard them in thirty years.

Allen Kwela is well referenced on Electric Jive, here (solo), here (playing on Gideon Nxumalo's "Early Mart"),  here (on 78rpm) here (Allen's Soul Bag), here (Black Beauty) and here (playing with Winston Mankunku and the Cliffs).

Sandile Shange was another Durban guitarist, three to six years younger than Kwela (Kwela was born in 1939). I was privileged to see Sandile Shange play often with Darius Brubeck, Victor Ntoni and Barney Rachabane, and also at the Rainbow Restaurant with Busi Mhlongo. Shange made earlier recordings in the 1970’s with the “Shange Brothers”, including at a 1976 concert at the Jabulani Stadium in Soweto.
This very beautiful recording I share here is an SABC transcription recording made in Durban during May 1984 – and I am wondering what hand Darius Brubeck might have had in bringing this together? Writing in Jurgen Schaderberg’s “Jazz, Blues and Swing”, Brubeck talks about his being appointed to the first jazz post at the University of Natal, Durban in 1983 (following instigation by Chris Ballantine). Brubeck gives high praise to Allen Kwela, and goes on to say:

Sandile Shange at Dorkay House 1966.
Gordon Mfandu on drums
Pic © Ian Huntley 
“Another self-taught guitarist from Durban, Sandile Shange was the first professional jazz musician to work with me on a regular basis. Collaborating with Sandile and Allen were timely and humbling lessons for a newly minted teacher. As fate dictated, 20 years later both made their final recordings with me Victor Ntoni, Sandile Shange, Allen Kwela and Barney Rachabane ... inducted me into South African jazz life”.

Both Shange and Kwela died in 2003 – Kwela from an asthma attack and Shange being knocked off his scooter in Durban by a hit-and-run drunk driver.

Evan Ziporyn is very much still creating in this world. If you are in San Fransisco on Friday 8th November you can catch him in Berkeley. Described as an American composer of post minimalist music, Ziporyn is Professor of Music at MIT, a member of the Silk Road Project and recognised as one of the USA’s top living artists.

Even though he is busy touring, Evan agreed to write a few lines about his time in Durban and this recording: This is what he has to say:

"As you guessed, Darius Brubeck was the matchmaker here - he invited me to be in residence at the university for several months in early 1984, when the jazz program there was somewhat new.  The decision to come to SA at all at that time was complicated, but I trusted him & his wife Cathy, and I very much wanted to work with African musicians.  On a social and political level there are lots of stories to tell, but I suspect they would all be familiar to people from the region.  Interesting and strange times - the system was slowly opening up on so many levels, and everyone knew it; at the same time, there was so much entrenchment, so much awareness of race and social status, so much pain in even the simplest human interaction.  Change seemed both inevitable but hard to imagine actually happening without violent upheaval. So I could have Allen or Sandhile at my home or even visit theirs (albeit often being pulled over by the police while entering KwaZulu, and condescendingly warned that I 'didn't know what I was getting myself into'); we could even socialize together in public in certain neighborhoods and situations - but it was very clear that this was all in the context of something far more brutal and systematic, and that at any moment any black or mixed race African could be pushed around and debased in any number of large or small ways.  

 That was a large part of the experience, but even so it was thrilling to me to work with Allen Kwela and Sandhile Shange - amazing musicians, but different players with very different personalities.
Sandile Shange, Barney Rachabane, unknown pianist entertaining
at Dorkay House (Johannesburg) 1966. Pic © Ian Huntley

 Allen - despite his last name and obvious connection to kwela - was a consummate jazz artist and aficionado, with a deep love and knowledge of the American songbook.    He taught me a lot about it.  What's New was a particular favorite of his - when he sang the lyrics it would almost bring tears to my eyes.  Sandhile to my ears connected directly to the very rich African guitar tradition - not just Zulu styles but older Congolese and East African styles, at least what I knew of these.  There was always a deep groove present in his playing, but even on straightforward chord progressions his harmonic sense was sophisticated and inventive.  I remember listening to Tschaikovsky with him at the Durban Symphony - between movements he leaned over and whispered 'great chords!'

 Though I didn't know it at the time, these recordings - which I haven't heard in almost 30 years - marked the end of my own sojourn into something approaching mainstream jazz.  I left South Africa soon thereafter and pursued a very different musical path.  Coincidentally these recordings reemerge during a period where I'm once again exploring improvisation and valuing the type of interpersonal connection that it can manifest.  i played a lot of music with both Allen & Sandhile during those few months - often with the excellent bassist Marc Duby - and it always felt remarkably good.  Whatever my own abilities in the idiom, it still feels good to hear it - I'm deeply grateful it was preserved.  It never occurred to me that I'd never see either of them again, I always figured we'd get around to it sooner or later.  I wish it had been sooner.

Thank you to Olivier Ledure for sharing this recording with Electric Jive.

The pictures above are of three of Ian Bruce Huntley's pictures of Sandile Shange that appear in "Keeping Time". To order a copy of this book, check this link out here - and click on the picture of the book on the sidebar of this blog - it will give you an e-mail address.

SABC Transcription – Durban – May 1984 (Studio 5)
Producer: Cyril Grover
Recording Enginer: Clive Staegemann
Side One: Allen (“Alan”) Kwela and Evan Ziporyn (LT 21 132)
1. Sunday Blues (Allen Kwela)
2. Whats New (Allen Kwela)
3. Blue Burst (Allen Kwela)
4. The Unknown (Allen Kwela)
Side Two: Sandile Shange and Evan Ziporyn (LT 21 133)
5. Everything Happens To Me (Carmichael/Mercer)
6. Izolo (Shange)
7. St Thomas (Sonny Rollins)
8. Mexican Border (Shange)
Medifire here
Rapidshare here


  1. I'm very moved by Evan's commentary and the many memories it triggers and I think his musical opinions are very accurate too. I don't understand this medium. Where is the actual sound file? Where am I typing this? Who sees this?

    Warm regards to Evan, Chris and all involved.

  2. Hi Darius - thanks for stopping by and for your reaction. Your comment will be visible to anyone who visits this page and clicks on the comment section like you did. If you prefer that it is removed, let me know by way of a second comment, and I will remove both. To access the recording - click on the "here" word next to "mediafire" - you should then be able to save a zipped folder to your computer - the folder will have the suffix ".rar". Once downloaded, right click on the folder and use the unzip option that should appear. Best wishes. Chris Albertyn

  3. Amazing!

    Thanks a lot, Oliver - and hey, greetings from your Swiss friend ... not been in touch for too long!


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