Monday 24 February 2014

Zulu Music and Songs (c1951)

This 10” LP, issued by Decca in the UK (LF 1054) and London in the US (LPB 431), was probably the first 33 rpm record to feature black South African music worldwide. My guess is that the compilation was issued around 1951/2 soon after the LP format was introduced (in 1948). The disc featured material that had been previously issued on 78 rpm in South Africa between 1937 and 1949 on Gallo’s Singer and Gallotone labels. I suspect it is likely that this record would only have been available in SA as an import.

It is interesting that of all the styles of South African music being recorded at this time that this first international endeavor would focus exclusively on “Zulu” music. I can only speculate over the marketing reasons behind that decision but it may have something to do with how non-white South Africans were presented and imaged in the UK and US — a complex history that can be traced back to Anglo-Zulu Wars and even earlier.

Certainly events concurrent with the LP’s release must have played a role in how potential international consumers viewed black South Africans. For example the Royal African Society in London hosted a Silver Jubilee Garden Party on June 26th, 1951, that featured traditional Zulu clothing and dancing: “The costumes were found by the well-known organizer of Zulu dance teams at Lever Brothers’ factory in Durban, Mr. T. Topham, and dispatched by airfreight to London. The display of Zulu Dancing was a great success and photographs of the performers appeared in the leading illustrated journals.” (African Music Society Newsletter, Vol. 1 No. 5, 1952) The practice of Zulu ethnological exhibition was not new but rather had a long history stretching all the way back to 1853 when A.T. Caldecott took twelve Zulu men and a single woman to London “for the purposes of exhibiting them to the English public.” (Bernth Lindfors)

In fairness, this compilation does not play-up the usual Zulu stereotypes such as including images of Zulu warriors or semi-naked women dancing in traditional attire on the cover — a convention common to many future recordings of Zulu and South African music. Oh but wait… the UK reissue of this record does that very thing!

Nevertheless, regardless of these speculations over the potential motivations behind the issuance of this record, the music compiled here is truly fascinating and rich — featuring a range of styles from mbube or proto-iscathamiya vocalisations, to vaudeville and early roots of maskanda.

The first two tracks are credited to the Evening Birds but after some investigation, it does seem likely that these were performed by two different groups. Veit Erlmann’s discography on isicathamiya in his excellent book Nightsong lists the original 78 rpm recording of the first track Intombi Netfuzwa as being made in 1937 by the Evening Birds with Alson Mkhize "Bomvu" (as leader), Alphas Mkhize, Edwin Mkhize, Josiah Mkhize and Msibi (all on vocals) with unknown musicians on concertina, banjo and guitar. Interestingly, Erlmann has the original title of the song as Intombi Nezintsizwa and his account of the social implications of the track are quite detailed and worth the read.

You will have no doubt when you hear the second track, Makasane, also credited to the Evening Birds, that this is actually Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds. Linda remains uncredited on the LP but Erlmann’s discography points to the original 78 rpm which was issued as Linda’s Original Evening Birds — the same group that recorded the classic Mbube in 1939. Makasane is an earlier track from 1938 with Solomon Linda (as leader), Gilbert Madondo, Gideon Mkhize, Samuel Mlangeni, Boy Sibiya and Owen Sikhakhane (all on vocals); and unknown musicians on concertina, banjo and piano. Though I can’t exactly make out the piano…

Solata Nje, was probably recorded in 1937 by the Royal Amanzimtoti Entertainers lead by William Mseleku. In his book African Stars Erlmann writes that Mseleku was “one of Durban’s younger black entertainers during the late 1930s and perhaps one of [Reuben] Caluza’s most promising disciples. A Marianhill graduate and Amanzimtoti teacher, Mseleku had been experimenting with traditional dance and music genres tied together in a coherent stage presentation from at least 1932. […] In 1932 Mseleku formed a group of musicians and actors variously as the Amanzimtoti Players, Amanzimtoti Zulu Choir, or Mseleku’s Party. The troupe recorded almost thirty records for HMV and consisted of Mseleku’s siblings Mavis and Alfred, his wife Elvira and the students Victor Khumalo, Siberia Chamane, Raymond Dladla, Alzenia Sishi, and Lulu Msome. In 1935 the group was renamed the Amanzimtoti Royal Entertainers and recorded further recordings for Gallo.” (Veit Erlmann)

The remaining tracks on the compilation include Wille Gumede’s Concertina band and an amazing proto-maskanda guitar piece New Look Thanagan by Herman Magwaza and Caleb Chamane. This has to be one of my all time favorite tracks and is the third time I have included it on an EJ post. Check out the earlier posts Maskanda Roots and Herman Magwaza.

The original 78 rpm of Magwaza’s recording shows that it was made by Hugh Tracey’s African Music Research unit and there is a good chance that Tracey may have played a role in getting the Zulu Music and Songs LP issued by Decca and London. His own early 10” ILAM series “Music of Africa” would follow shortly on the very same labels in 1954 (LF 1084 - LF 1255).

Decca, LF 1054 (UK)
London, LPB 431 (USA)
matrix DRL 881/882

01 Evening Birds with Orchestra
Intombi Netfuzwa (1937)
(originally issued as Intombi Nezintsizwa on Singer 78 rpm, Singer, GE 144, matrix 1183)

02 Evening Birds with Orchestra (AKA Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds)
Makasane (1938)
(originally issued as Linda’s Original Evening Birds on Singer 78 rpm, GE 800, matrix 1428)

03 The Dundee Wandering Singers (AKA Zulu Champions)
Noma Kumnyama (c1941)
(originally issued on Singer 78 rpm, GE 883, matrix 1741)

04 Zulu Champions (AKA Dundee Wandering Singers)
Zindunduma (c1942)
(originally issued on Singer 78 rpm, GE 946, matrix 2168)

05 The Royal Amanzimtoti Entertainers
Solata Nje (c1937)
(probably issued on Singer 78 rpm, GE 135 or GE 136)

06 Herman Magwaza & Caleb Chamane
New Look Thanagan (c1949)
(originally issued on Gallotone 78 rpm, GE 1031, ABC 3232, African Music Research)

07 Gumede’s Concertina Band
Ulala Kanjani (c1942)
(originally issued on Gallotone Singer 78 rpm, GE 1000, matrix 2120)

08 Gumede’s Concertina Band
Madala (c1942)
(originally issued as Gumede’s Swing Band on Gallotone Singer 78 rpm, GE 942)


  1. Thanks Siemon - William Mseleku was also the father of the great musician Bheki Mseleku

  2. Many thanks, Siemon for the superb post. You truly must love the track 'New Look Thanagan'. With this download I am getting it for the 3rd time via EJ and hope the 4th time around will feature a different gem, LOL. You guys are rendering an enormous service to all lovers of exotic music sounds of yesteryear and thanks to you all for your labour of love in keeping SA (and Africa) so vividly and indelibly etched on the world map of music.

  3. Thanks Manzo, Luc and Chris for the kind comments!

    Perhaps I could now try make a re-mix of "New look Thanagan"!

  4. Thank you very much for this great collection.
    Your posts are always great and info you give us is exceptional.

  5. Thanks a lot for your great information.Your post is very important and teach is very nice post.

  6. Thank you. Beautiful music.

  7. Speaking of the Zulu and South-Africa, you should have a look at The last minutes of this video is particularly interesting when he speaks about the Zulu adapting themselves to the Western Society in the 1940s & 1950s('Zulu Transformations' by Absolom Vilakazi) and performing a Zulu warsong...
    Great Music. Thx..

  8. you are among the real educators on the web; this music is incredible to catch the spirit of what cross cultural is about; I'm so thankful to get a chance to build my understandings, and tap my tickle rhythms beyond words, as a result of this generosity of yours.
    Thank you

  9. Hi there, this was great to listen to but lost from my computer -- now the links seem to have disappeared?

  10. Any chance for a re-up please? Would love to have a listen to this great music but can't find it anywhere else - thanks!!


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