Monday 29 December 2014

New Year Jive! An EJ Special

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Electric Jive!

We hope you’ve been enjoying the festive treats shared throughout December – and it is my pleasure to bring 2014 on EJ to a close with a smashing goody bag of 1960s and 1970s mbaqanga. Whether you’re ringing in the New Year with a celebratory party or doing something rather low key does not matter one iota – whatever your situation, our New Year Jive is the compilation that you NEED to be playing at full volume (and dancing along to) when the clock strikes twelve!

The girl group and groaner combination almost exclusively dominated the black pop music scene of 1960s and 1970s South Africa. The origins of the trend go back to the late 1950s with the birth of a girl group factory-line, the slow development of jive and the ultimate decline of intricate African jazz. Electric instrumentation arrived at the right time and the foundations of mbaqanga were laid. The tame early electric jive soon advanced into the now familiar rock-solid elastic mbaqanga, personified by fierceness, energy and thunder. Ensembles like the Sweet Sixteens and the Dark City Sisters successfully paved the way for the Mahotella Queens, who in turn influenced the formation of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, and on and on the story goes. Key to the success of the new mbaqanga girl groups were the strong-willed and determined studio producers (or ‘talent scouts’) who ran tight ships, encouraged a factory-line approach to music making and held close relationships with people in the right places – which ensured mbaqanga music was almost vehemently propagated across the state broadcaster’s Radio Bantu service. Although this chagrined the African elite, mbaqanga was already becoming a national craze and the black public firmly embraced the music in very much the same way their counterparts in the United States embraced the Motown sound.

“Utshodo Lumantwengu” is a fantastic example of mid-1960s girl group mbaqanga. This tune, telling the story of a girl fighting off the advances of a romeo hobo, was recorded in 1966 by Nobesuthu and Gcaba Twins. This shortlived trio produced a number of up-tempo vocal jives during 1965 and 1966 before the main singer – Nobesuthu Shawe – joined the rival Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje in 1967. One of Izintombi’s first big hits was “Pendula Magwala”, a fast-paced number with thrilling drum patterns and tightly layered vocal harmonies. Izintombi’s lead singer was Sannah Mnguni – who by 1972 had built up enough recognition and popularity to feel able to quit the group and form a brand-new ensemble named Amagugu. Sannah’s notoriety is celebrated in a collaboration with Zulu-traditional guitarist Frans Msomi and violinist Ncane Ndlovu, the appropriately-titled “Sannah”.

Although Izintombi tried and sometimes even overtook them in the popularity stakes, the Mahotella Queens were South Africa’s most popular girl group of the mid-to-late 1960s and early 1970s, releasing a string of hugely successful singles (on both 78 and 45rpm) and performing in venues ranging from wedding parties to huge soccer stadiums. “Jive Jibav No. 7” tells every boy and girl in the country to take part in the latest dance craze, while “Isigubhu Sabalozi No. 2” – the 1972 follow-up to a huge 1970 hit of the same name – emphatically states that the tough Mavuthela mgqashiyo beat shall never die. By the mid-1970s, the Queens’ tour schedule was so hectic that a number of other vocalists kept their name going on record. A multi-tracked Irene Mawela performs “Uthando Luyisilima” alongside Potatoes Zuma, aka Indoda Mbhodlomane, a wonderful bass vocalist but someone whose stage name rides the waves of that true king of the groaners, Indoda Mahlathini.

Two other groaners following in Mahlathini’s footsteps were Umfana Wembazo – real name Robert Mkhize – and Boy Nze – otherwise known as Lazarus Magatole. Mbazo’s vocals can be heard punctuating the chorus in Dulcie Luthuli Nabalilizeli’s “Ntomb’uthini” and in his own splendid solo effort, “Maye Mina”. Boy Nze’s “Uzobuya” isn’t one to miss either – it’s perhaps one of the finest solo records from a male vocalist that I’ve ever heard.

Alongside the Queens at Mavuthela were junior bands, some of whom over the years included the Mthunzini Girls, Izintombi Zomoya, Umgungundlovu Dolls, Love Birds and many others. The Mthunzini Girls borrow from the US and inject soul into the mbaqanga brew – Paulina Zulu is the lead singer on (and songwriter of) “Tsohang” and “Ikele Ngoaneso”, two downright funky Sotho tunes that should at least make your foot tap. Izintombi Zomoya’s “Isilomo” – a fantastically rapid tune with animated vocals and excellent lively instrumentation – should also stir your soul.

A few more notable highlights for me - "Orlando", featuring the perennial vocal sound of the Dark City Sisters in all their mid-1960s glory, with Esther Khoza shouting words of praise for the Orlando Pirates; the group's 1976 Sotho ode "Dikgarebe" with Grace Msika's mid-song chant and Joyce Mogatusi's inimitable alto; "Daly", from the somewhat unknown Lesotho Sisters, just for the delightfully swish three-part harmonies; "Sophie" by Izingane Zomgqashiyo and its sweet lead guitar patterns; the strength of vocal passion in the Umgungundlovu Dolls' "Vuka Uvale"; the archetypal electric elasticity in all its glory in Reggie Msomi's Love Birds' "Uzwakanjani"; and the effective simplicity of the all-too-short "Umhlaba Awunoni" from Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje under another name.

So that’s all from Electric Jive for the moment. Whatever the New Year brings, you can rest assured we'll still be doing our utmost best to bring the sounds of yesteryear back to the forefront where they belongs. We're very grateful for all the support and appreciation you send our way - we just do it for the music and the people who created it all. So... download the following mix of mbaqanga heaven and clear the floor, ready to jive until you drop.

See you in 2015!



08) BOY NZE – UZOBUYA (1971)


Monday 22 December 2014

Love, Peace and Goodwill at the Office Party

Welcome to Electric Jive’s Durban Office Party mix-tape, featuring selections from an imagined 1970’s township 45rpm juke-box: anchored in soul, bumping into a little funk, dropping a slither of Shangaan roots, skirting with disco, and uncovering a gem - that blaxploitation classic “Shaft”, courtesy of “The Drive”, live at a seventies Soweto festival.

Every musician featured on this mix will have been part of the Johannesburg seventies township scene, shaping and being shaped by the multiple and intersecting musical influences available. Going on a count of recordings made, mbaqanga must surely qualify as the ”mainstream” at the time. However, there was also sufficient demand to justify the “black” labels making a mint from selling: soul, folk, reggae, country, psychedelia, rock, R&B, and traditional.

These jukebox selections showcase a small sample of the diversity of musical ‘sub-cultures’ that thrived within the same urban space and time.

The afro hair, clothing and sense of style evident in Ian Huntley’s photo (above) at Langa Stadium  in 1972, to me, oozes identity and confidence, but also a collective middle finger at the prescriptive and hostile apartheid system. Explorations in Black urban style and subculture were causing the system discomfort – black hippies, for example, must have really confused things for the average policeman.

Defiance does not always have to be hostile in its expression, witness the history of carnivals. Looking at the staggering number of recordings made in Johannesburg during the 70s we can see that the promotion of fun, love, peace and goodwill were also abundant.

So – in the spirit of love, peace and goodwill, herewith twenty five tracks from the juke-box.

We kick off with Black Funk, whose members have to be the same Pelican House Band that backed Dick Khoza in recording Chapita. West End Soul can only be the likes of Khaya Mahlangu and Ezra Ngcukana whose brass refrains sample Khoza’s Lilongwe, .. or, was that the other way around?

No matter what your ambivalence over the blaxploitation genre, you surely would be interested to hear The Drive giving Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” extraordinary African horns? It is about time we upped the ‘grateful’ volume towards David Marks for capturing this and many other important live performances in South Africa. He has recently donated his entire Hidden Years Music Archive Project to the University of Stellenbosch.

From here, the mix flows through soul,soul- bump, a little disco-soul, some northern-soul-type vocals exploring alienation in love, and in the city, a ballad honoring South African jazz greats, some uptempo roots music, and a dash of 1971 mbaqanga from Joseph Makwela.  Hopefully there is something for everyone this year-end! Thanks for dropping by at Electric Jive. 

Wishing you:

Love Peace and Goodwill 

Electric Jive Durban Office Party 2014

1. Black Funk: West End Soul. (1975) H. Lebona. 45rpm Black Music (BMB44).
2. The Drive: Shaft. Circa (1975). Recorded by Dave Marks at unidentified Soweto Festival.
3. Hardways: Mameshane Ijuba (undated). Dlamini. 45rpm Score (SCO 145).
4. Mavis and the Shasha Boys: Take A Walk (1972) Mavis Maseko, Rupert Bopape. 45rpm (SJM 101).
5. The Apaches: Apache Way. (1974). R. Mbele, D. Thekwane. 45rpm soul.soul (SSB 027).
6. The Soul Explosions: Groovy Night. (1977). Uncredited. Black Music (BMB2006).
7. The Soul Masters: Steam Up. (undated). H. Ways. 45rpm Star (STB 422).
8. The Big Time Boys: Super Bump. (undated) Smitta, Hardways. 45rpm Jet (Meritone) (JET345).
9. Mavis and the Shasha Boys: Give it Stick. (1972) R. Ngcaphalala. 45rpm (SJM .101).
10. Shumi: Gideon, Early & McKay. (1974). Holler/Arr: Masingi. 45rpm (BUA8803).
11. Walter Dhlamini: Lonely City (undated). Z. Ngoma, E. Mabaso. 45rpm Fire (RE104).
12. The Hurricanes: Rich Man’s Daughter. (1975) Jacob Macheli, Donald Mbowane. 45rpm (RPM7756).
13. Sam Evans: Social Whirl (1970) Sam Evans. 45rpm Parlophone (SPD3014).
14. The Tycoons: What is a Man? (1976) The Tycoons. 45rpm Black Music (BMB 63).
15. The Butterflies: Facial Appearance. (1978) arr. Joseph Makwela. 45rpm Ziya Duma (ZD1013).
16. Jeremiah and the Shamings: Undisemba Usondele. (1976). 45rpm (Ring261).
17. The Meritones: Soul Bump. (undated). Lerole, Masingi, Ntaba. 45rpm Lita Records (LA 46).
18. Irene And The Sweet Melodians: Mfana we disco. (1978). I. Mawela, R. Bopape. 45rpm Ziya Duma (ZD1019).
19. Samuel Mabunda: Vusiwana. (1979). S. Mabunda. 45rpm Fast Move (BFM163).
20. Samuel Mabunda: Vuhlevahleva. (1979). S. Mabunda. 45rpm Fast Move (BFM163).
21. Joseph Makwela Nabafana Bezishingishane: Shibetana. (1971) Joseph Makwela. 45rpm (SJM .65).
22. Dali’s Beauty Queens: U-Mama. (undated). Naftali Dali. 45rpm Ilizwe (WZ 1108).
23. The Creations: Midnight Lover (1976). Z. Ngoma, M. Dibango. 45rpm Gallo (PD 1270).
24. Soul Explosion: Soul Five. (undated) 45rpm Atlantic City (AYB1108).
25. The Drive: Love and Peace (1974). Off the album “Slow Drive To Soweto”.

Mix-tape Mediafire download 
Individual tracks download 

Monday 15 December 2014

Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela - Volume 3

We continue our survey series examining the history of the tin whistle in South Africa and the subsequent global popularity of kwela. Volume One and Two trace the early roots of this style and can be viewed here at Electric Jive along with an extensive discography at flatint. Volume Three covers primarily 1957 but also drifts into early 1958. This volume explores not only how the music captured the political and social shifts taking place in the country—the Treason Trial, the bus boycott, liquor bannings—but also the expansion of the stylistic form of the music through experimentation, some that included international collaborations with visiting American clarinetist, Tony Scott.

Volume 3 (1957-1958)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 17)

01) ALEXANDRA CASBAHS - Azikhwelwa - 1957
(Mabel Mafuya, Mary Thobei, Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 429, mata 1835)

The spoken introduction or "sketch" common to many kwela tunes and most famously featured in Elias Lerole's Tom Hark was, by 1957, quite common. Troubadour however had taken the phenomenon to a new level. Topical issues of the day were reported upon, sang about, recorded and out in the public often within 24 hours of an event. The company had a pressing plant in the same building as their recording studio and this along with some key marketing skills by producer Cuthbert Matumba (for example he used a mobile-unit to test new recordings at railway stations and other public venues), made turnover rapid and the company unrivaled by its competitors. In many ways Troubadour operated like a news service or as Mary Thobei refers to it: “We had our own ‘Special Branch,’ a sort of bush telegraph, and as a result we knew in advance what would happen in our communities, be it social or political.” (Molefe) This is also most apparent at the beginning of some Troubadour records, which open with the announcement: “News in Record…” or “This is the Troubadour Daily News…” Often spoken in tsostitaal, a blend of Afrikaans and African languages, these sketches were often quite political, but because of their speed of production would get to the streets before sensors could block them.

Azikhwelwa (We will not ride), a tune by the Alexandra Casbahs, is attributed to Mabel Mafuya and Mary Thobei and operates as a form of news item alerting people to the bus boycott of 1957 in Alexandra. Thobei opens the tune saying: “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was on Monday morning, the 7th of January, 1957 when everybody was shouting Azikhwelwa…” The bus boycott had been implemented by residents of Alexandra against the Public Utility Transport Corporation (more commonly known as PUTCO) over a rate hike of 4 to 5 pence. During the boycott, residents chose other forms of transport to get to and from work, but most walked the 30km roundtrip journey. At its peak, 70,000 residents refused to ride the local buses and the action also spread to other townships including Newclaire and Mamelodi. The boycott lasted for at least three months and was only finally resolved on April 1st, 1957, when the 4 pence rate was restored. The protest drew the daily attention of the South African press and is generally recognized as one of the few successful political campaigns of the apartheid era.

02) FERNDALE HAPPY WHISTLERS - Brandys and Beers - 1957
(Motaung, Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 438, mata 1845)

The sale of alcohol to Blacks in South Africa in the 1950s was highly regulated. In 1957 it was still illegal for non-white consumers to purchase commercial brandy and beer, but rather they were forced to acquire alcohol through state-run systems of beer-halls. Of course this strategy led to an extensive underground business of 'home-brewing' and the rise of the illegal sheebeen or 'speak-easy'. Cuthbert Mathuba's introduction on Brandy's and Beers mocks the regulation by confirming the consumption of illicit alcohol in Sophiatown. Like Azikwelwa before Matumba does this without regard of the censors: "Johannesburg is a big city. Of which everybody is admiring to see. Listen to the boys playing in a big party in Sophiatown. Everybody was happy drinking beers and brandys. Listen to the boys." By aligning the penny whistle music with the illicit party and the illegal activity, Matumba transforms the 'rebellious' street music into a form of protest music.

The sketch or introduction on many records was becoming a noteworthy component of kwela recordings and significantly was often reviewed along with the tune it accompanied, for example in Drum magazine. Sometimes it would even be mentioned in advertisements such as one for Trutone's Envee label:  “Meet a new flute player—Black Duke—who goes to town on—NV 3082—Dukes Blues, Skukuma Duke—The intro on this record will send you.” (Drum, March 1957)

The critique or review of the introduction implied that it had social value in addition to the music itself. Often these introductions were judged on their authenticity in catching a 'slice of life'; certainly humor played an important role but sometimes darker moments such as social strife or relationship problems were depicted, for example in Spokes Mashiyane's introduction to Odhla-Dhla below. Often these introductions influence the way we interpret the music.

03) BON ACCORD HITTERS - Pretoria Special - c1957
(Hit 78 rpm, HIT 38, NL 171)

04) BON ACCORD HITTERS - American Moguws - c1957
(Hit 78 rpm, HIT 38, NL 172)

Hit was another label issued by Troubadour and these two tracks both include interesting 'sketches'. The spoken introduction on American Moguws opens with Cuthbert Matumba role playing with Mabel Mafuya: "Sophie, I'm from America. Is there any good music around here?" to which she replies in a confident tsotsitaal something I am unable translate. But the tune implies interest in South African music from American visitors (I am not sure what the term "Moguws" refers to), something that would be affirmed later that year with the visit of Tony Scott.

05) BEN NKOSI - Lova - 1957
(Strike Vilakazi, Trutone 10" LP, TLP 1047. Original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 152, T 6677)

06) BEN NKOSI - Sponono Ndiye Bhai - 1957
(Ben Nkosi, arr., Trutone 10" LP, TLP 1047. Original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 152)

Ben Nkosi, Drum, April 1958
Issued on Trutone's compilation 10" LP Penny Whistle Jive, the liner notes describe Ben Nkosi as "the experimenter searching for 'New Sounds' and new heights of expression. [...] Ben, besides being an excellent guitar player has experimented with the recorder, the aristocratic cousin of the penny whistle - and clarinet. Experience on these instruments has strongly influenced his Penny Whistle technique." (TLP 1047)

Lova, I think, is a great example of someone pushing the limits of this instrument; something that Todd Matshikiza in Drum magazine issues of the time was encouraging. In a November 1956 review Matshikza quotes a colleague, Dale Quaker: "Shucks, once you hear one penny whistle, you’ve heard the rest. Like what Rezant said the other day, you go to a concert and after hearing the first number, you can go home ‘cause the rest will be the same’”. But by March 1957 Matshikiza was singing the praises of the instrument by comparing it to the string band: "I feel strongly now that the string band must try to be different from the past five years. They must put up the same struggle as the flutes are doing so gallantly. First, one man recorded the flute. Then a duet. Then a trio. Now there are six, seven and eight flutes with rhythm accompaniment available on record. Sometimes with a sax, piano and drums into the bargain." (Drum, March 1957)

Ben Nkosi, from Dube, along with Peter Macontela went on to lead one of Gallo's most successful kwela groups, the Solven Whistlers.

07) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Odlha-Dlha - 1957
(Spokes Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 149, T 6775)

As mentioned above, Spokes Mashiyane's Odlha-Dlha opens with a particularly interesting 'sketch' that illustrates the social strife within relationships. Here Spokes (I am assuming it is him speaking) questions his girlfriend: "Where were you this Sunday? I looked for you at your sister's in Entaga". She replies something about not being at Entaga Street, but rather at a friend's place on Goli Street. To which he replies: "You Lie. I saw you in Swartberg!" to which she responds with a comment I can't make out, and he ends it with "You think I'm blind!" followed by his whistle.

According to the liner notes of Tony Scott’s only South African LP, the track Odlha-Dlha was “the biggest African Hit of 1957”. The tune was recorded by a number of groups that year, but I'm assuming the notes are referring to Mashiyane's version on the Quality label that also attributes him as composer. The Alexandra Dead End Kids also made a recording of the tune (RCA 66) but interestingly that one is credited as "traditional". Tony Scott would record the track again with the Dead End Kids (RCA 99) in October.

08) TONY SCOTT with the ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Ou-Dhladhla - 1957
(trad., RCA LP "Tony Scott in South Africa", RCA 31104. Original RCA 78 rpm, RCA 99)

09) ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Ou-Dhladhla - 1957
(trad., RCA 78 rpm, RCA 66, 8HBB-11)

After touring Europe for eight months, American bebop clarinetist, Tony Scott was invited by the Witwatersrand University Jazz Appreciation Society to perform in South Africa. His visit lasted just ten days but in that time he performed tirelessly in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and recorded with a number of local artists for at least three record companies including Teal, Gallo and Trutone.

His arrival in South Africa was a big deal, not only because he was an American jazz celebrity, but because of the political stance he took, and is reflected in the title caption of the extensive Drum article: "SCOTT, RED HOT — Tony Scott, the great American jazzman, refused to play to Whites only in South Africa." The unattributed article goes on: "And yet, you know, it nearly didn't happen, this Scott visit. Back in America Scott's friend's told him "Don't go to South Africa. That is Jim Crow country that. You'll never meet the darkies. They won't let you play for them" But Scott got talking to Dave Katznelson, the South African who was arranging the tour, and told him: "If I can't play to everyone, I'm not coming. I must play for the Non-Whites. I insist." (Drum, October 1957)

And thus it came to be that Tony Scott became the first, white [American] to perform with and before multi-racial artists and audiences in South Africa. "He was no White musician playing second-fiddle concerts for the Non-Whites. He was in the country to play music. If you liked his music it didn't matter what your color was." He mixed with some of South Africa's leading jazzmen; in Johannesburg, he jammed with Kippie Moeketsi; while in Durban he performed with pianist, Lionel Pillay. The Durban event was fondly acknowledged with a "Thank You" postcard from Scott to club owner Pumpy Naidoo, and published in the November 1957 issue of Drum.

Tony Scott with Kippie Moeketsi, Drum, October 1957

Along with the live performances, Scott was also eager to collaborate with local musicians and made a number of recordings with penny whistle groups, most notably with Teal's Alexandra Dead End Kids and Gallo's Solven Whistlers. The article points out that he also recorded with Lemmy Special Mabaso's Alexandra Junior Bright Boys, though I have yet to find these recordings. At Trutone he made at least one track with the African Penny Whistle Serenaders.

10) TONY SCOTT with BENJAMIN MASINDI - Ben's Bounce - 1957
(Ben Masindi, RCA LP "Tony Scott in South Africa", RCA 31104)

11) TONY SCOTT with the ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Mangamanga - 1957
(S. Molepo, RCA LP "Tony Scott in South Africa", RCA 31104. Original RCA 78 rpm, RCA 98)

RCA Advert, Drum, October 1958.
Some have criticized Tony Scott's recordings with the South African penny whistle groups as being merely neocolonial insertions of American authority onto South African idiom. Perhaps criticisms similar to those pointed at Paul Simon 30 years later. But in many ways, as awkward as these tracks may sound, I do find these moments of seeking to collaborate, documenting a dynamic clumsiness that becomes symbolic of an honest attempt to collaborate across racial, national and generational differences.

Scott's recording session at the Teal studios are warmly described in the liner notes of his LP: "By this time the word had got round town that Tony Scott was playing with Penny Whistles and within half an hour most of the African population of the city seemed to have arrived at the studio. Disregarding protests from the recording and repertoire staff they invaded the studio (among them many photographers) and started joining in, singing and clapping. The tape machine was still running but it was impossible from the Control room to see what was going on or which microphone was which. If the result was, to say the least of it, unbalanced (and, let it be confessed, something of a shambles) it was felt to be sufficiently interesting to reproduce on the record [...]" (RCA 31,104)

And as Nathaniel Nakasa, describes in an extensive article on the penny whistle groups in Drum: "No wonder Tony Scott, the top Yankee clarinetist and the bosses of Tevlevision and the screen say, "Wow! These boys have talent in their fingers!" [...] With his famed black rod, Tony Scott dogged the footsteps of these lads, and loved every minute he was with them." (Nathaniel Nakasa, "Penny Whistle is Big Time Now", Drum, April 1958)

Shakes Molepo, Drum, 1958
Scott's collaborators on these sessions, the Dead End Kids, comprised of four youngsters from Alexandra township: Shakes Molepo, Benjamin Masindi, Joseph Mahlatsi, and Sophonia Namini. Mangamanga, issued on 78 rpm (RCA 98) and the first track on Scott's LP, was penned by the group's leader, Shakes Molepo who is described in Nakasa's article as: "This lad—he's five foot, no more—couldn't manage school and the whistle at the same time. One of them had to suffer, and it wasn't that silver pipe. [...] They made two discs with Tony Scott, the American jazzman, when he was here. The dough bought neat togs." [...] The Dead End Kids led by Shakes Molepo, are another bunch of boys who make the penny whistle tick. They are loud and always exciting entertainment for their audience. But they lack the showmanship that rocketed Lemmy Mabaso into fame." (Nathaniel Nakasa, "Penny Whistle is Big Time Now", Drum, April 1958)

12) ALEXANDRA DEAD END KIDS - Evaton - 1957
(W. Khokhone, RCA 78 rpm, RCA 66, 8HBB-12)

In an interesting self-concious moment, the banter between the Dead End Kids in the introductory sketch alludes to the recording coupling number—RCA 66—which suggests to me that catalogue numbers must have been prearranged before recordings rather than assigned, post-production, as one might assume.

Evaton is the flip side of Ou-dhladhla, featured earlier.

13) SOLVEN WHISTLERS with TONY SCOTT - Something New In Africa - 1957
(T. Mokonta, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

14) SOLVEN WHISTLERS with TONY SCOTT - Solven's Hoch (SNFA) - 1957
(Mokonotela, Decca LP "Something New From Africa", LK 4292, ABC 16935)

Recorded for Gallo, these two tight collaborations with the Solven Whistlers mark the pinnacle of Tony Scott's collaborations with penny whistle groups. Something New In Africa was featured as the first track in an amazing compilation LP of the same name; and issued in 1958. Oddly the track does not credit Scott but he is later acknowledged on the UK, similarly titled, LP Something New From Africa (LK 4292), where the track Solven's Hoch is retitled as "...from..." with the spoken introduction from "" collaged on. As the introduction was only pasted on the tune intended for British audiences, and is already featured on their first track, I have edited out in the latter.

Oddly, the title track was seemingly only issued by Gallo on 78 rpm (GB 2770) a year after Scott's visit to South Africa, around August 1958, and as reflected in the exuberant five star review Bloke Modisane gave the disc in Drum: “This is a real gasser. There are things happening here, The wild frenzy is taken out of the quell. This is cool, with a modern alto and clarinet playing melodic lines over the harmony of a penny whistle ensemble. A big winner.” (Drum, September 1958)

African Pennywhistle Song - 1957
(Tony Scott, S. Molepo, Trutone LP "Kwela-Kwela", RMG 1129)

This track finds Tony Scott's recording with a third South African company, Trutone. At first I assumed he was performing with a number of unnamed Trutone penny whistlers, but later I realized the track is credited to Shakes Molepo of the Alexandra Dead end Kids and so I imagine that the Kids and Scott simply recorded for Trutone and adjusted their name accordingly. This track starts out in the most conventional manner reminding me of generic kwela tunes typically found on soundtracks, maybe for films by Jamie Uys and others. But the track eventually heats up and saves itself from exclusion.

16) SOLVEN WHISTLERS - Penny Whistler's Kwela - 1957
(Solven Whistlers, Gallotone LP, "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

17) SOLVEN WHISTLERS - Hamba Kwela - 1957
(T. Mokonta, Gallotone LP, "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

As mentioned earlier, Ben Nkosi along with Peter Macontela lead this very successful group. Without matrix numbers it is hard to date these recordings but I suspect them, along with those of the Basement Boys below, to be quite seminal. All four tracks are also featured on the Something New in Africa compilation LP. After listening to Tony's Scott's clarinet collaboration with the Solven Whistlers, I noticed the inclusion of the saxophone here. At first I thought it was a clarinet, or maybe even Scott on saxophone, but then I recalled that Nkosi also played clarinet, and ultimately came to the conclusion that it was a saxophone. To my knowledge these are the first kwela tunes to include the saxophone.

Sax jive, the stylistic precursor so mbaqanga, has its roots in kwela, and is generally often traced back to when Strike Vilikazi convinced Spokes Mashiyane to record three tunes with the saxophone around March 1958. But it seems to me that the four tunes featured here might predate that famous Mashiyane session. Without matrix numbers, it is hard to say! Certainly Todd Matshiza's Drum reviews of flute music refer to the occasional inclusion of sax and piano as early as March 1957 and kwela's historical obligation to majuba african jazz could not exclude the possibility of other wind instruments 'crashing'. Many young aspiring musicians who could not afford big instruments cut their teeth on the penny whistle and would often perform in groups of five or six often emulating the big band sound. So it is almost obvious that at some point these musicians would eventually upgrade to more sophisticated instruments or start incorporating them into their penny whistle arrangements.

Nevertheless, if these four tunes do follow those made with Tony Scott, then I wonder if the initial collaboration between flutes and clarinet, between American and South African, may have indirectly induced the clarinet to be substituted for the saxophone, an instruments that in turn would ultimately replace the flutes entirely and dominate South African music for the next twenty years. Mere speculation?

18) BASEMENT BOYS - Kwela Bafana - c1957
(A. Strike, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725. Original Gallotone 78 rpm, GB 2728, ABC 16338)

19) BASEMENT BOYS - Upstairs Jump - c1957
(A. Strike, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725. Original Gallotone 78 rpm, GB 2728)

It is my estimate that these two tunes by the Basement Boys were recorded around December 1957 roughly three months before Spokes Mashiyane would record Kwela Sax, Sweet Sax and Big Joe Special (TJ 500). Interestingly the spoken introduction literally documents the historic collaboration between flutes and saxes: "Where are you going, my Bras? We're going with those other guys who are playing saxophone... and we're going to play flutes. And I don't know what's going to happen. Kwela Bafana!"

The Basement Boys, as Lara Allen reveals, were formed in 1956 by none other than Albert Ralulimi along with Specks Rampura, Simon Majassi, and Sam Hlongwane. "The circumstances that led to Ralulimi’s graduation from street busker to recording artist typify those of many contemporaneous penny whistlers. Albert Ralulimi grew up in Sibasa in the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province), and spent much of his childhood herding cattle and playing the traditional ocarinas and reed flutes of his area. Aged eighteen, he moved to Johannesburg and worked his way from employment as a golf caddy to a telephone operator. In 1954 he became friends with Spokes Mashiyane and they spent many Sunday afternoons together at Zoo Lake where Ralulimi learnt ‘the finer points’ of penny whistling. [...] Busking in front of a Berea hotel one Saturday afternoon, the Basement Boys impressed Roy Evans of Gallo Record Company so much that he invited them to make a recording. Ralulimi recorded for Gallo until 1958 when he signed a contract with Trutone." (Allen p. 42)

20) MSAKAZO SWINGSTERS - Kiss Me Hard - c1958
(Hit 78 rpm, HIT 109, NL 308)

(AJBB, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

Other than Spokes Mashiyane, Lemmy Special Mabaso was probably one of the most well known and successful kwela artists. He and his group the Alexandra Junior Bright Boys came to prominence after a dazzling performance at a memorial concert for comedian Victor Mkize and journalist Henry Nxumalo whereafter they soon signed a recording contract with Gallo. As Lara Allen points out Lemmy Mabaso's "most frequently commended attribute was his showmanship and charisma, largely manifesting in the extraordinary choreography integral to his performance style" Allen continues by quoting a journalist in World describing one of his performances: "Lemmy was in terrific form. He played his instrument with one hand while he pirouetted like a ballerina.’" [Peter] "Macontela elaborates: he holds the penny whistle ‘with one finger and jives around. He lies on his back, he kicks, and these [other penny whistlers] keep on backing him. That’s how Lemmy became popular in town.’” (Allen p. 43)

Interestingly Bloke Modisane in his Drum reviews of Mabaso was not as enthusiastic, at least at first. In an August 1958 review of the 78 rpm Mix Masala and Magwinya (GB 2752) he laments: “Lemmy Special is a fabulous little trouper, but he’s primarily a visual artist. For that reason he doesn’t come off on record. It lacks that extra something, that snap of a live performance. It’s a pity there are some lovely moments on this wax. But even without that all-essential dimension, his personality generates.” (Drum, August 1958) Whereas Nathaniel Nakasa in an April 1958 article raves: "If the man in the street had his way, Lemmie Mabaso, of Alexandra Township, would be declared the greatest flute player we've got. This lad, who says he's 12, is a showman with dazzling personality. When he blows his silver rod with his Alexandra Junior Bright Boys men and women go wild." (Nathaniel Nakasa, "Penny Whistle is Big Time Now", Drum, April 1958)

22) ALEXANDRA SHAMBER BOYS - Holom Toe - 1957
(Rupert Bopape, HMV 78 rpm, POP 496, 0AS 951)

A May 1957 Polliacks advertisement in Drum lists the original HMV version of Holom Toe as JP 2071 backed by Lil' American.  The group that also went by the name Black Mambazo is most famously known as Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes. This UK 78 rpm was issued in the wake of their meteoric success with Tom Hark in 1958.

23) SOLVEN WHISTLERS - Golden City Kwela - c1957
(T. Mokonta, Gallotone LP "Something New in Africa", GALP 1015, ABC 16725)

24) HARRY MAKHAYA and FRANS PILANE - Nut Brown Girl - c1957
(Arlequin EP "Penny Whistle Kwela", 1009)

Spokes Mashiyane in front of Trutone House, Drum, April 1958. Photo: Peter Magubane.

25) SPOKES MASHIYANE and his RHYTHM - Umpinda - c1958
(Spokes Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 172, T 6930)

26) SPOKES MASHIYANE and FRANS PILANE - Boys of Joburg - c1957
(Spokes Mashiyane, Arlequin EP "Penny Whistle Kwela", 1009)

27) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Bennie's 2nd Avenue Twist - c1958
(Spokes Mashiyane, Quality LP "Sweet Sax, Sweet Flute", LTJ 201)

Volume 3 (1957-1958)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 17)

Monday 8 December 2014

Hey Bra! (Bra Sello with Abafana Bentithuko)

Staying with the jive theme this December here we have another rare LP with a hot dose of
instrumental jive led by Bra Sello, a popular sax jive artist. He appeared alongside vocal artists
such as Mahlathini in a number of revue shows in mid seventies and cut a number of singles
on the CBS label. This compilation collects these sides together with other tunes from artists
on the CBS label. 

Bra Sello with Abafana Bentuthuko Vol 1 (CBS LAB4006, c1972)
01 16-0-16 :: Bra Sello
02 Tycoons No 8 :: Bra Sello
03 Mr Music :: The Big Four
04 Can't Be Still No 2 :: CBS Al Stars
05 15-0-15 :: Bra Sello
06 Thashi Thashi :: The Big Four
07 17-0-17 :: Bra Sello
08 Down Town :: Bra Sello
09 Mthembu Nonzimande :: Abafana Bentuthuko
10 Siyanyawuka Nzimande :: Bra Sello
11 Boom Straat :: The Big Four
12 Jive American Jive No 1 :: Bra Sello

ENJOY: MF download

Monday 1 December 2014

Tetemuka Jive (1969)

Welcome to December on Electric Jive! In my humble opinion, there can be no better way to kick off the festive season than with a seriously large dose of the greatest South African sax jive. Tetemuka Jive, released on the Inkonkoni label in 1969, collects 12 of the best mbaqanga instrumentals (originally released as singles) of the last 12 months.

At the time of this album’s release, Mavuthela Music – Gallo Africa’s black music production facility headed by Rupert Bopape – had successfully solidified its position as the most dominant African record label in the industry. This success was initially generated by a number of popular recordings from a line-up of female singers, later to be known as the Mahotella Queens, together with groaner Mahlathini and the Makgona Tsohle Band. The triumvirate recorded a frankly astonishing amount of hit singles during the 1960s in addition to extensive tours across the country to fulfil demand – so it was inevitable that the formidable and shrewd Bopape sought to replicate the success by forming a number of junior bands to follow in their footsteps.

Tetemuka Jive spotlights a couple of the more successful instrumental combos that Bopape formed to capitalise on the success of Marks Mankwane and company – Abafana Bemvunge (Boys of the grapevine) and Abafana Bama Big Bag (Boys of big bags). On this album, both teams provide the instrumental accompaniment to some of Mavuthela’s great sax jivers including Sipho Bhengu, Jack Lerole and Lemmy Mabaso. There are also two other numbers provided by the premier house band, Makgona Tsohle, in conjunction with premier sax jiver West Nkosi. This LP was the first issued on the Inkonkoni label, then the latest in a long line of Mavuthela labels (Motella, Gumba Gumba, C.T.C. Star Record, Smanje Manje… and so on). Though the term has since been adapted for other uses by the younger generation, ‘inkonkoni’ was at the time the straightforward Zulu term for 'wildebeest'.

It’s rare to come across an album of this style and vintage and find that every single track is nothing less than amazing. But I must admit to having a few personal favourites. “Tetemuka” (“Cruise along”) echoes some of the other sax jive singles of the decade including “Jive Mojikisa” and “Ice Cream and Suckers”, but this one must have been successful enough to warrant its appearance here as the title track and a follow-up recording, “Tetemuka No. 2”, from Izingane Zomgqashiyo (available on Indoda Mahlathini, Motella LMO 110). Big Voice Jack’s four numbers on Tetemuka Jive make remarkable use of other musical styles including tango, ska and soul. Marks Mankwane’s jive-tastic “Marks Special” started a huge craze and, with West Nkosi on alto sax and the rest of the Makgona Tsohle Band backing them up, he proceeded to record as many follow-up singles as possible over the next couple of years. But Marks’ “Pheladi” (“daughter-in-law”) is my absolute favourite and one can quite clearly hear the infectious beat eventually stir the band members up into a musical tizzy.

A huge, huge thanks to Manzo Khulu for providing the translations here.

Readers please stay tuned to Electric Jive this month for your usual end-of-year mixture of musical treats. I hope this one starts the party with an absolute bang! Enjoy!

produced by Rupert Bopape
Inkonkoni LNKO 2000
Sax Jive

Monday 24 November 2014

Soul Jive Special - 20 groovy hits from 1970s South Africa

Today, I jump on board the soul train and follow Chris with a similar selection of goodies. But rather than the disco-led sound of the later 1970s, I have gone back a few years prior to focus on the unique musical meld produced at the height of the soul era. Soul Jive Special features 20 fantastically groovy hits from The Sailors, The Planets, The S.A. Supremes, The Big Six, The Ribbons and a bevvy of other stars, all released between 1969 and 1976.

It was only natural that urban Africans should look towards their African-American counterparts for influence on fashion and music. Although SA was blessed with its own vibrant and rich musical scene, it was inevitable that artists such as Percy Sledge, The Temptations, Willie Mitchell, Booker T and the MGs and many other similar artists would gain huge followings there. The ‘sound of young America’ was eventually replicated through the formation of black soul outfits and even in the repertoires of popular mbaqanga bands.

We begin this compilation with a rather left-field soul recording from Amagugu, the last of a long line of mbaqanga girl groups to attain hugely lasting popularity in South Africa. The group was led vocally by Sannah Mnguni – originally lead singer of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje – and musically by lead guitarist Hansford Mthembu, an all-round musical mastermind who successfully experimented with both traditional African and western influences. On “Sanibonani” and “Izinsimbi Zomshado”, both Hansford’s virtuosity and the influence of the late 1960s American soul comes through marvellously. Hansford later reworked “Sanibonani” into a few instrumentals such as “Tomorrow’s Wedding” and “For Ever” (both available on Electric Jive).

From girl groups to something positively psych. “Tirimela” is a 1973 soul vocal from The Sailors. This was one of two hugely successful hits – the other was “Meja” – for this shortlived Tsonga soul band that recorded for Mavuthela during the early 1970s. The melody of “Tirimela” is more or less the same that appears on the equally delightful “Akulalwa eSoweto”, a hit from the same year for Irene Mawela and the Mgababa Queens. But while Irene’s sweet vocals give that particular song its underlying atmosphere of joy, “Tirimela” goes in a completely different and rather ominous direction. It is a brilliant track not to be missed.

‘Bops’ was the nickname of Rupert Bopape, director of the Mavuthela powerhouse that consistently pumped out the most successful African music during the 1960s, the 1970s and well into the 1980s – but Bopape only wrote lyrics, so why ‘Bops and Son’ is the artist credited with performing the fabulous instrumental “Chicken Soul” is anyone’s guess. But this particular number – one of my absolute favourites – has just the right ingredients: flute, electric piano, guitar, bass, drums and tambourine all combine to create a musical atmosphere that comes across as both dense and airy at the same time.

Three of the soul ballads in Soul Jive Special are provided by a group named The S.A. Supremes, a large boast but not one entirely misplaced. The S.A. Supremes – Star Mabaso (lead vocal), Ntsiki Gwabeni, Teddy Nkutha and Thembi Nteo – were formed in 1970 by producer David Thekwane at Teal Records. They were backed by The Movers and made a number of successful recordings and performances, until Thekwane’s harsh treatment sent the ladies on their way to EMI in 1973. Now under the direction of Martin Mdelwa Mhlanga, The S.A. Supremes re-recorded some of the hits they had created in conjunction with The Movers – such as “Okungapheli” – but also started to cover a large number of American hits. Check out the sublime cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”.

The popular mbaqanga girl groups of the day were not strangers to soul and often dispensed with jive to perform some delightfully upbeat grooves. Under a different pseudonym, the famous Mahotella Queens sing “Way Down Gear”, in which a young girl states that she intends to give up all her vices for her man – complete with oh-so-relevant shouts of ‘sock it to me!’. Izintombi Zomoya, on the other hand, simply sing about the delights of blatant dancing to the organ-led beat in “Mojiko Wa Soul”. Another of the big female groups, Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, follows up with “Nomali”, a ballad about a failed relationship – “Nomali, will you please come back to me… you’ll wash away all my troubles”, sing the ladies ardently.

Another of my favourite instrumentals is “Soul Mabone” as performed by The Planets – which, if one listens carefully, is actually a cover of “Six Mabone” by The Movers (without a credit to the original composer). But I love the driving beat of this reinterpretation, which substitutes the vocalists on the Movers version with an alto saxophonist. And do not miss out on Abafana Bamagoduka’s florid organ-led “Go Easy”, a wonderful cover of Paul Simon’s 1972 hit “Mother And Child Reunion”.

Many thanks to Laurent Dalmasso for providing Electric Jive with copies of tracks 9 and 13 - much appreciated, Laurent!

All you have to do now is to download, play and enjoy... it’s groovy, man!


10) T.Y. NO. 4 – SAMMYBOY NEZIMPISI (1976)
14) HEY GIRL – THE BIG SIX (1976)

Monday 17 November 2014

Disco Soul Jive - Some More

In anticipation of year-end feel-good times, a selection of singles to warm you up. This offering continues the great groove set by Siemon and Nick in their very popular DiscoSoulJive and Disco Soul postings.

As a bonus, a different-style epilogue  of four tracks that Kabasa released as singles from their 1980 debut album "Kabasa". More on Kabasa's debut album at FlatInternational here. You can find Kabasa's second album here.

Looking at the EJ schedule two days ago I realised (a little belatedly) that my traditional Durban Office Party mix would have to be quickly brewed and appear in this post, or else the next slot for it might only be January. So, following a  rummage in my crates for singles I had not yet listened to, a pleasant evening was spent listening to and digitising. The result is a selection of tracks that stood out for me  - mixed and separated.

South Africa's blend of big-band disco-soul-jive produced some real crackers between 1975 and 1980 - tight vocals, banks of horns, funky key-boards, all held together by catchy, energetic and rubbery base-lines and rhythm guitars.

While The Movers played a strong genre-defining role for the South African scene, there was no shortage of very competent bands - some of them put together and given a name for a recording session only. The pool of musos came from mbaqanga, soul, rock and jazz to take the disco craze and make it their own.
The core of musicians were very often not credited as they would jump across labels and producers, being paid a cash fee per recording.

I had never heard of "The Suns of Thunder" before, and I am still not yet sure if they are the same band as the "Sons of Thunder" also featured. I was thrilled to find a really strong single by "The Sakie Special Band". Among these is a second mention for the Movie Movies  who recorded in Durban. There was even 'Shangaan Disco' with the Matanato Brothers and Gaza Queens' giving "Sporo Jive" its own twist.

All said and done - thanks for stopping by at Electric Jive this year. Despite a slow-down in post frequency, we continue to build on an archive of out-of-print and otherwise "lost" sounds.

Happy holidays!

Disco Soul Jive Some More

1. The Sakie Special Band:  Let Yourself - Atlantic ATS815 (1979)

2. The Suns of Thunder: Soweto Sporo -  Flash HS748 (1979)
3. The Movers: Onthekele Beer-  Disco Music Beat DMB 942 (1981)
4. The Sakie Special Band: Groovy Cats - Atlantic ATS815 (1979)
5. Lynette and The Soul Brothers: Groovy Time - Score SCO 160 (undated)
6. The Meritones: Soul Bump -  Lita Records LA 46 (undated)
7. Lynette and The Soul Brothers: Come On Baby - Score SCO 160 (undated)
8. Sons Of Thunder: Uzozizwela - Fire RE126 (1978)
9. Brand New Soul: Bumsie-Boogie -  Dice Dic 636 (undated)
10. Walter and The Beggers: Disco Jive - Disco Soul DCO 15 (1978)
11. Movie Movies: Inkosi Kala - C&G Records CAB504 (1980)

12. Walter and The Beggers: Sweet Miriam - Disco Soul DCO 15 (1978)
13. Movie Movies: Sene Lisiwe -  C&G Records CAB504 (1980)
14. Matanato Brothers & Gaza Queens: Sporo Jive - Motella MO 732 (1981)
15. Kabasa: Kabasa - Atlantic ATS 830 (1980)
16. Kabasa:  Burning Splinters - Atlantic ATS 830 (1980)
17. Kabasa:  Happy Together - Atlantic ATS 837 (1980)
18. Kabasa:  Uzozibona - Atlantic ATS 837 (1980)

Mixed-tape version download 
Separated tracks version download 

Monday 10 November 2014

More Moyake mined from the Huntley Archive (1965)

Left to right: Peter Jackson Jjnr (drums), Nikele Moyake (tenor), Tete Mbambisa (obscured on Piano), Dennis Mpale (trumpet) Duku Makasi (tenor). Salt River Town Hall, Cape Town, 1965. (pic Ian Bruce Huntley)
One more contribution to the small handful of recordings of Blue Notes saxophonist Nikele Moyake in the year or so between his return home from Europe and his death. While this recording is also very much about Bucs Chonco (piano), Dennis Mpale (trumpet), Psych Big T Ntsele (bass), Peter Jackson Jnr (drums), Robert Sithole (flute), the more senior Moyake leads from the front, soloing often.

Tape 44 of Ian Bruce Huntley's archive slipped between the cracks in my first round of digitising and tagging close on sixty hours of music in the audio archive. Thanks Rose for picking this up.
Nikele Moyake (pic Ian Bruce Huntley)

First, an apology to regular  Huntley Archive on Electric Jive visitors for not yet being able to tweak those fixes and track title updates that you so kindly pointed out. I will get there.

This recording is probably the clearest made by Ian at the Ambassador's School of Dance in Woodstock, a venue with challenging acoustics in which to play and record with a few static microphones.

The five tracks spanning forty five minutes showcase an integration of Moyake's significant European experiences with an evolving jazz scene in Cape Town.

Besides the unusual choice of Jimmy Web's  "By the Time I get to Phoenix",  we have not been able to name the other four tracks. All help and suggestions are most welcome.

If you have not yet explored the Huntley Archive on Electric Jive, do yourself a favour and click on the image of the book cover in the right-hand column of this blog. Close on 58 hours of recordings are available for you to download and listen to. You can also download a free copy of the book. Hard copies of the book are still available, and you can order it from this site as well.

If you are interested in other posts in which Nikele Moyake features, have a look here and here and here.
Mediafire download of the recording here

Monday 3 November 2014

Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela (1951-1962)

Tin whistle jive, also referred to as penny whistle jive—the music which subsequently became known as kwela around 1958—was one of the first indigenous popular musics from South Africa to enjoy commercial success and international notoriety. With its roots in the marabi tradition, the music at times blended elements of rock ’n roll, blues, jazz and swing into a language of irresistibly catchy tunes ideal for dancing, and as a result generated significant cross-racial appeal.

The appreciation of kwela by both black and white audiences is highlighted in this October 9th, 1958 image below from Jet magazine, an African-American weekly periodical published out of Chicago. Here a white “house-wife”, Jeanne Hart, dances the "kwela" with a transplant from Sophiatown, Cameron Mokaleng, in a London club. I suspect they may have been dancing to Tom Hark, Elias Lerole’s smash hit which topped the British Hit Parade around June 1958 and set the bar for kwela’s international rise.

In November 1958, a month later, the same image could be found 15 000 km away accompanying an article in the Singapore Free Press describing the new London scene with the headline “Now they’re all doing the kwela”. And a subsequent article in the Singapore Times compared the rise of kwela with that of rock ’n roll and pondered whether this new style would supplant rock in popularity. (“Kwela and Rock ’n Roll”, Singapore Times, January 10th 1959) Indeed for a brief period record executives seriously considered investing in the new craze as the next ‘big thing’ to follow the rock phenomenon.

By the end of the 1950s kwela LPs, EPs, 45s and 78s could be found in countries across the globe including the UK, USA, Argentina, Spain, France, Germany, Rhodesia and of course South Africa. It is from these varied sources (including many original South African 78 rpm recordings) in the Flat International archive that this chronological discography has been compiled.

I approached this project in a similar way to the Makeba Track Less Travelled compilation by first digitizing all the kwela and flute music in the Flat International archive. The total tallied up to a generous 516 tracks. Of course, many titles were issued multiple times on different formats and this process allowed me to select the best quality versions where possible. Using Apple’s Smart Folder system I was able to access all the tracks chronologically in a virtual single folder without having to duplicate massive amounts of data. Seeing the tracks as a list also generated possible scenarios for how aspects of the style developed. Screen grabs of this track list, or more specifically—Kwela Discography—can be viewed at flatint. I then combed through the list and selected the best material along with historically significant tracks to produce perhaps the first extensive survey of this music form. The post today, Tin Whistle Jive and the Roots of Kwela, features Volume One (1951-1956) and Volume Two (1956-1957) in the series, but over the next few months we will continue to post additional volumes covering a significant gamut of the style up until its eventual demise around 1962.

The liner notes of many kwela LPs and EPs marketed in the UK and South Africa in the late 1950s describe the roots of the music in this way: “The Pennywhistle of today originates way back when African herd-boys fashioned a pipe from bamboo. They called this pipe a 'Mahlaka' and it gave them enjoyment in their lonely vigil whilst herding their fathers’ cattle.” (Columbia, SEYJ 105) “As time went on these were replaced by tin whistles as the bamboo was not strong enough and did not last. These tin pipes have been greatly improved and are what we now call ‘penny whistles’. The penny-whistle became the popular instrument of little African boys and they could be heard playing on street corners where they attracted much interest and attention.” (Columbia, SEYJ 102)

In the 1930s and 40s, as herdboys migrated to cities looking for work, the affordable German-made tin whistle became a reliable substitute for the indigenous reed counterpart. (Allingham, Rough Guide to World Music, p. 641) The versatile whistle could be stored in one’s belt, produced at a moments notice, or played while walking. “[M]usicians who could not afford band instruments imitated big band music on penny whistle [and] several of South Africa’s jazz saxophonists started their musical careers on this instrument.” (Lara Allen, Circuits of Recognition and Desire in the Evolution of Black South African Popular Music: The Career of the Penny Whistle; p. 39). Frederick Maphisa recalls buying his first tin whistle in 1936 for 2s 6d. Often he would walk to central Johannesburg from Western Native Township and busk outside cinemas where lines would queue. (Allen, p. 35) 

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
By the 1950s groups of pre-teens and teenagers could be seen playing in townships like Alexandra or attracting huge crowds on the street corners of Johannesburg. Sometimes a make-shift band was put together with any number of whistlers and a guitarist for rhythm; as can be seen in the extraordinary footage in Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 quasi-documentary Come Back Africa. Often these performers would play a “cat-and-mouse” game with police avoiding arrest for public disturbance (Allingham, p. 641). But clearly as the film reveals, the police like the rest of the racial-mixed crowd look on with awe at the street performances. Perhaps the presence of Rogosin’s camera tempered their typical reaction.

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
As Rob Allingham points out this music eventually “attracted a white following, particularly from rebellious suburban teenagers referred to as ‘ducktails’”. (Allingham, p. 641) Rogosin’s film shows a number of these ducktails viewing the penny whistle performers in various street scenes. Notably, it was the ducktails who would subsequently play a role in popularizing the music for white South African audiences.

Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa, 1959.
Of course the penny whistle’s history in South Africa is more complex and can also be traced back to the influence of British military marching bands from as early as the 1910s. Some of the instruments and very often the clothing of these marching bands was adopted and adapted by black musicians as Lara Allen reveals: 

"In the late 1930s and early 1940s the marching style and parade costumes of Scots regiments had a marked influence on developing black urban popular culture. […] Scottish fife-and-drum and pipe-bands were more precisely imitated by groups of black males known as scottishes, playing penny whistles and drums. […] Willard Cele, Jake Lerole, and Ntemi Piliso, who became well known musicians later on, were all at various times members of the Alexandra-based Scottish band originally known as the Alexandra Scots and later as the Alexandra Highlanders. The membership of Scottish bands varied, but usually included fifteen to twenty-five penny whistlers and two to five drummers. Members ranged in age from adolescents to men in their early thirties. The most striking aspect of these bands was their uniform that, as far as cost would allow, simulated exactly the regalia of Scots Pipers: white spats, glengarries and tartan kilts with sporrans." (Allen, p. 33)

Very little, if any, of the music in this form was recorded; though there are hints at it, for example, in the 1957 tracks King Flute and Solid by the Aron (Jake Lerole) and Michael on the Troubadour label where the rhythm section almost alludes to a military-styled drumming.

Interest in the scottishes declined after the second world war. Many performers shifted to other instruments; for example Ntemi Piliso who was already playing saxophone in big jazz bands like the Harlem Swingsters. (Allen, p.36) Similarly artists such as Albert Ralulimi and Barney Rachabane all cut their teeth on the penny whistle before moving onto other instruments.

Many young aspiring musicians tried to emulate the sound of majuba or African jazz with this more affordable instrument. Jake Lerole recalls playing an early form of kwela in shebeens from 1948 with a dance band comprised of penny whistle, guitar, concertina and home-made percussion instruments. (Allen, p. 38) As the form developed, groups featured a lead flute accompanied by four or five rhythm flutes. While artists like Spokes Mashiyane would perform solo accompanied by guitar, eventually a variety of instruments including home-made ones became the standard. Some groups included a bassist operating a babatoni or refashioned tea-box as an upright bass. The tea chest bass was also common to many skiffle bands in the UK during this time, including Lennon and McCartney’s Quarrymen. As this 1958 Daily Mail headline suggests—“Kwela Scatters the Skifflers”—much of the popularity of kwela in the UK stemmed from its grassroots approach and similarity to the skiffle. (Columbia, JS 11014)

Willard Cele in Donald Swanson's Magic Garden, 1951.
The first recordings of the music that would eventually become known as kwela were in the form of a twelve bar blues made by Willard Cele in 1951 and featured in Donald Swanson’s classic film, The Magic Garden, but it was only between 1954 and 1956 that the commercial appeal of this music began to be recognised in South Africa, notably with the rise of Spokes Mashiyane. Prior to 1958 the music was generally categorized on record labels as flagelot jive, tin whistle jive, penny whistle jive, flute jive and so on. 

A British scout, looking for a catchy theme to accompany a new British television series about illicit diamond smuggling in South Africa, selected the 1956 tune Tom Hark by Elias (Lerole) and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes. The Killing Stones, was released on March 23, 1958 and its theme song prompted an interest by viewers leading to a UK record issue on 78 rpm and 45 rpm. By mid 1958, Tom Hark had sky-rocketed to the top of the British Hit Parade. 

The term kwela can loosely be translated as “step up” or “climb up” in a number of South African languages, but it was also a slang term that referred to apartheid-era police vehicles. When people were arrested policemen would order them to “step up” into the vehicle and the name stuck. In the introduction to Tom Hark, one can hear a re-enacted conversation of a street-gang playing an illegal game of dice. One of the individuals shouts out in tsotsitaal (an Afrikaans derived street-slang) “Hier kom die kwela-kwela! Stop […] want hulle gaan ons bo vat!” (Here comes the kwela-kwela! Stop […] otherwise they’re going to take us away.) 

Lara Allen in her detailed analysis speculates that it may have been British DJs who, in hearing this introduction, interpreted it as an announcement of the impending music and inadvertently applied the name to the style of music. 

The word kwela, sometimes spelled quela, was also the name of a popular dance of the 1950s and can be found in the titles of tracks recorded many years prior to Tom Hark. But here the term is used in its literal sense as in: Kwela Spokes translates as “Climb-up Spokes” or “Get into it, Spokes”… rather than “Spokes is recording a kwela”. 

The international success of Elias Lerole’s Tom Hark in 1958 further sparked a craze and a whole generation of penny whistle imitators in South Africa but by then the instrument’s eventual demise had already been written by its own stars who had replaced it with the saxophone. Complex arrangements with additional sophisticated instrumentation continued well into the early 1960s but by 1962 recordings of the style more or less faded away.

Volume 1 (1951-1956)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 15)

01) LUTHENI SHANDU - Umfazi / Amadoda - 1955
(Shandu, Sound of Africa, ILAM, TR 10, matrix ILAM 16)

As mentioned above some of the roots of kwela can be traced to reed pipes played by young herdboys. Hugh Tracey documented a number of examples of what the rural origins of this music may have sounded like in his Sound of Africa series. Lutheni Shandu can be heard playing three tunes on TR 10 (matrix ILAM 16). According to Tracey’s notes Shandu “learnt or composed” these tunes during his childhood while tending cattle in KwaZulu Natal. The recordings were made in 1955 and as the description alludes must be from his recollections as an adult rather than as an actual “herdboy”. The tunes are played on an igekle flute made from a hollow stalk roughly 90 cm long and 3 cm wide at the mouth—a much longer and wider flute than the mahlaka described in the liner notes of the EPs above. David Coplan refers to a very similar Zulu instrument as an umtshingo. (Coplan, In Township Tonight!, p. 191)

Two of Shandu’s tunes from the original ILAM LPs are featured here in this compilation as a single track: Umfazi Ohlupingane (The woman who ill treats a child) and Amadoda e Lange (Men of Lange). In his notes on Umfazi, Tracey editorializes somewhat by suggesting that the “theme of the unkind mother is fairly common.” (Tracey, The Sound of Africa Series, p. 20). Immaculately remastered versions of both these recordings can be heard on the CD: The Nguni Sound: South Africa and Swaziland  (SWP 20), from Michael Baird’s excellent SWP Records reissue series.

02) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Blues (Take 1) - 1951
(Cele, Gallotone, GE 1123, matrix ABC 3804-1)

03) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Boogie - 1951
(Cele, London, 1038, matrix ABC 3806-2)

04) WILLARD CELE - Penny Whistle Blues (Take 2) - 1951
(Cele, London, 1038, matrix ABC 3804-2)

Willard Cele, Drum, 1951
One former member of the Alexandra Highlanders, Willard Cele, became quite legendary as a solo performer on the streets of Johannesburg and was subsequently recruited by Donald Swanson into his classic 1951 film The Magic Garden. The film was the second major South African release to feature an almost all-black cast and was hugely successful propelling artists like Dolly Rathebe and Cele to stardom. The film release also just happened to coincide with the very first issue of Drum magazine, and a full page article on Cele in the debut issue, certainly would have contributed to his growing success.

His uniques style and approach to holding the instrument allowed for a fuller range of tones and this approach became influential on younger artists. Cele was crippled after a sporting accident in his youth and subsequently walked with a limp. As a result he swayed while he played and these movements were adopted by imitators as a stylistic manner in which to play the flute music. Lara Allen points out that many proteges from Alexandra, including Jake Lerole and Lemmy Mabaso, also adopted the swaying manner while playing; however artists like Spokes Mashiyane, who grew up in what is now Limpopo Province, north of Pretoria, did not. (Allen, p. 37)

The film was hugely successful and Gallo recorded two tracks by Cele: Penny Whistle Blues and Penny Whistle Boogie. The records were certainly popular enough to be reissued a number of times and released in the UK on the London label. In digitizing all copies in the Flat International archive, I was able to determine that at least two takes of Penny Whistle Blues were issued commercially. The most common being take two which is on most issues and reissues. Interestingly take one can be found on what I believe is the first issue of the record though oddly it is noted as the second take on the label. Perhaps the first take was issued here in error. It also happens to be the same as that used in the film soundtrack.

Remarkably the commercial potential of this music was not exploited by record companies at the time. According to Rob Allingham no other recordings of this music were made until three years later with a track by the Orlando Tin Whistlers at Trutone. (Rob Allingham in Lara Allen, p. 40) Also Lara Allen points to an August 1954 review of the Orlando Shanty Maxims in Bantu World which clearly predates Spokes Mashiyane’s historic sessions at Trutone. It is possible that the Orlando Tin Whistlers and the Shanty Maxims were one in the same group.

(Mashiyane, Rave LP, RMG 1107; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 24, matrix T 4080)

Although Gallo was the first company to record the flute phenomenon, it really was Trutone that popularised this street music and capitalized on its commercial potential with Spokes Mashiyane’s first four recordings on October 8th, 1954: Ace Blues (Quality, TJ 24, matrix 4080); Kwela Spokes (Quality, TJ 24, matrix 4081); Skokiaan (Quality, TJ 21, matrix 4082) and Meva (Quality, TJ 21, matrix 4083).

All four tracks are brilliant and in particular Ace Blues became a sales phenomenon. Notably, only Mashiyane’s interpretation of August Musarurwa’s Skokiaan has not been reissued on any subsequent compilations, EPs or 45s.

(Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 21, matrix T 4082)

It was Johannes 'Spokes' Mashiyane, more than any other, who would popularise penny whistle jive and transform it into a household name starting with four tracks recorded for Trutone on October 8, 1954. One of those, Ace Blues, became a hit, and by 1955 was receiving favorable reviews in the black press. Soon every record company in South Africa was looking to capitalize on an instrument that had been regarded as a mere toy relegated to the rural life of young herdboys.

Spokes Mashiyane was born in Vlakfontein near Pretoria on January 20th 1933. According to the liner notes of his first Trutone EP, Mashiyane taught himself to play on a reed flute while tending his father’s cattle. Albert Ralulimi in an interview with Lara Allen reveals that Spokes first played on a plastic toy penny whistle before moving on to a metal one. When he was eighteen, Mashiyane moved to Johannesburg where he met France Pilane with whom he formed a duo. Together the two busked with flute and guitar on street corners and in parks. Ralulimi goes on to say that Mashiyane's style at the time improvised on grassroots tunes played by "anybody" — the community in general, kids on street corners, and those at shebeens and stokvel gatherings.

It was on one such occasion at Zoo Lake Park (Yvonne Huskisson has it at Phomolong Train Station) that the duo was spotted by Trutone producer and talent scout Strike Vilakazi. According to Rob Allingham, Vilakazi cut at least four tracks with them in 1954. Huskisson, on the other hand, does suggest that Mashiyane’s first recordings were made in 1949. He would have been sixteen at the time and given that Allen’s account has him moving to Johannesburg when he was eighteen, the earlier recordings may be unlikely.

"The musical effects of the inter-relationships between the streets and the studios are most obvious in the changing instrumentation of penny whistle bands. In the early 1950s groups of youngsters busking in the streets played only penny whistles and guitars. Jerrypenny Flute’s ‘Ngiyabonga’ and ‘Kupela’, recorded by BB Records in November 1954 constitute some of the few recorded examples of how this original street music might have sounded. Although prior to his first recording Spokes Mashiyane played only with Pilane, double bass and drums were added at their first recording session, and this instrumental line up became the norm for penny whistle recordings thereafter. […] The bass and drums are very soft in Mashiyane’s recording of ‘Ace Blues’, making this the best available example of how he and Pilane may have sounded when they first played together in the Zoo Lake Park." (Allen, p. 41) These four recordings were followed by additional sessions with Mashiyane denoted simply as Spokes and William later that same year.

07) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Ndinovalo - 1954
(Eric Nomvete, Rave LP, RMG 1107; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 31, matrix T 4175)

Mashiyane here plays a composition by Eric Nomvete the founder of the influential majuba jazz big band, the African Quavers, that would later become the famed Havana Swingsters. What is curious here is that Eric Nomvete and his Havana Swingsters were also recording at the Trutone studios almost at the same time (eight takes later). Their compositions Rubber Neck (T 4181) and Phola Rapopo (T 4183) were issued on the next Quality release TJ 32. Nomvete also pens a number of tunes by other artists recording for Trutone around this time for example the Maestro Pearls. So my guess is that Nomvete may have been present at the Mashiyane recordings perhaps as a kind of producer.

The guitarist for the Havana Swingsters on their 1954 recording of Emaxambeni was none other than William Madyaka and it is my calculated guess that it is he who accompanies Mashiyane here on rhythm guitar. Emaxambeni was recorded September 10th, 1954 (Gallo, CDZAC 53) and I would be willing to bet that it also comes from a Trutone session perhaps a month or two before Ndinovalo. Martha Mdenga recorded a slower version of Ndinovalo (Quality, TJ 20, T 4071) roughly 100 takes before Mashiyane’s at Trutone, backed by, I suspect, the Havana Swingsters. If nothing else this recording directly links the roots of kwela to the majuba african jazz tradition.

08) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Mamlambo - 1954
(Mashiyane, Quality LP, LTJ 201; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 33, matrix T 4176)

09) SPOKES AND WILLIAM - Daisy’s Blues - 1954
(Mashiyane, Quality LP, LTJ 201; original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 31, matrix T 4177)

Though attributed to Mashiyane, it is interesting that Yvonne Huskisson credit’s Eric Nomvete with a Daisy’s Blues as well and given that Nomvete was likely at many of these Trutone recordings, I suspect this may be the same tune.

10) BOOM BROTHERS - Take It! - c1954
(Tshabalala, Harlequin LP, HQ 2020; original Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 204, MATA 1352)

The smart folder system employed to generate the kwela discography on my computer lists tracks based on matrix numbers as I researched and entered them. However without comparative discographies from one company to another, it was hard to determine which recordings from different companies in any given year came first. Unless the exact date is known, recordings would be grouped in chronological order based on the company’s matrix prefix. Gallo (ABC) would precede Troubadour (MATA) which would precede Trutone (T) but this may not represent the correct recording order overall.

Given that, it is my best guess that this track by the Boom Brothers on the Troubadour label actually precedes the famous sessions of Mashiyane’s at Trutone. This vocal jive number with flute accompaniment just sounds like it comes from an earlier era. The track is featured on the excellent Harlequin compilation Jazz and Hot dance in South Africa (1946-1959) but alas I suspect Horst Bergmeier’s date estimation of 1957 to be incorrect.

11) NEWCLARE JIVE WHISTLERS - Maglera - 1954
(Ben Mofokeng, Trutone 78 rpm, XU 307, matrix 4201).

A mere 23 takes after Mashiyane’s last session of 1954, Trutone recorded another penny whistle act, the Newclare Jive Whistlers with Ben Mofokeng’s Maglera.

12) BLACK DUKE AND HIS RHYTHM - Tickeyline - 1955
(Poosa, Troubadour 78 rpm, AFC 277, matrix MATA 1510)

Besides recording this item for Troubadour, Black Duke, who I am assuming is Poosa, also recorded for Trutone’s Envee label and his track Baboon Shepherd was subsequently featured on the UK Oriole compilation Penny Whistle Jive (MG 10022) and can be heard on Volume 2 in this series.

13) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND FRANCE PILANE - Samson and Delilah - 1955
(trad, arr. Strike Vilakazi, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 56, matrix T 4503)

Samson and Delilah was also featured on what appears to be the first 10” vinyl compilation of kwela music, issued by Trutone as Penny Whistle Jive (TLP 1047) probably in 1957. The album included tracks by Ben Nkosi, leader of the Solven Whistlers, and Peter Makana. In what was then a typically patronizing tone the liner notes give the reader a sense of the pre-Killing Stones success of this music in South Africa: “The African has made the Penny Whistle his own, and tens of thousands of 'Flute Jive' records sold every week testify to its continuing popularity. There has been considerable demand for these records amongst Europeans and to help meet the demand in more convenient LP form, we complied this album from the township 'Hit Parade'.” (Trutone, TLP 1047)

14) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND FRANCE PILANE - Meadowlands Boogie - 1955
(Mashiyane, Quality 78 rpm, TJ 56, matrix T 4504)

Mashiyane’s Meadowlands Boogie was recorded just 24 takes after Strike Vilakazi’s iconic Meadowlands (Quality, TJ 52, T 4480) and issued four discs later. Made famous by Nancy Jacobs and her Sisters, the lyrics in Meadowlands appear to praise the benefits of moving to the new township of Meadowlands, but in reality this song was understood by listeners as a critique of the government’s forced removals of residents from Sophiatown. The success of the song spurred a series of similarly titled recordings at Trutone that, by implication, could also be interpreted as political  statements. Mashiyane’s Meadowlands Boogie was reissued in 1985 on the Harlequin compilation Jazz and Hot dance in South Africa (1946-1959) (Harlequin, HQ 2020). In his liner text, Horst Bergmeier notes that Mashiyane was only paid £20 for each recording that would then sell between 50,000 and 70,000 copies.

15) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Jumping Bean (New Year Eve Blues) - 1955
(Mashiyane, Rave EP, REP 27, original Quality 78 rpm, TJ 70, matrix T 4638)

Recorded probably in December of 1955 this track was issued as Jumping Bean on the Trutone EP Kwela Spokes! (REP 27) and as New Year Eve Blues on Spokes’ first LP King Kwela! issued around 1958 (Trutone, RMG 1107).

16) ROMANTIC BOYS - Jika Mthoria - 1956
(D. Pilani, New Sound EP, XEP 7027; original Gallotone 78 rpm, GB 2571, matrix ABC 15456)

17) ROMANTIC BOYS - Timitoy Baby - 1956
(D. Pilane, Gallotone Jive Jive 78 rpm, GB 2571, matrix ABC 15457)

These recordings appear to be the first tin whistle material made by Gallo since the seminal tracks by Cele of 1951, that is… as can be found in the Flat International archive. While it is often mentioned that the tsotsitaal spoken introductions to many kwela tracks began with Elias Lerole’s Tom Hark it is interesting to consider that these tracks by the Romantic Boys may have preceded it or at least were recorded in the same month. Notably, these tracks must have been recorded in the middle of October 1956 as the following take, ABC 15458 by the Skylarks was recorded on October 20th. Tom Hark, according to Lara Allen, was also recorded in October at EMI but no specific day is given. Significantly the introduction to Jika Mthoria also refers to the kwela-kwela (the police vehicle as heard in Tom Hark) and then mentions the title as Kwela Mthoria. What to make of the fact that both these introductions appeared in tracks at two different record companies in the same month is hard to say. But it brings up a strong connection indicating that one may have influenced the other.

Although first issued in 1956 on the Gallotone Jive Jive label these two tracks were later reissued on the B-side of a Spokes Mashiyane EP (XEP 7027) on the New Sound label in 1960; which makes me think that Gallo saw them as significant enough tracks to reissue in the 45 rpm format four years after their initial release.

18) ALEXANDRA BUSYBEES - Lo Afrika - c1956
(L. Choake, Gallotone Jive Jive 78 rpm, GB 2624, matrix ABC 15759)

Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso
This Gallo track also includes a spoken introduction though it was recorded in either December 1956 or early 1957 and therefore should have come after Tom Hark below. (Apologies!) The introduction is significantly unique. It opens with an almost avant-garde ‘noise’ of  late night listeners dialing through what sounds like radio channels, only to be interrupted by a white landlord complaining about the cacophony. Hearing whites speaking on black records seems unique as this is the only example I know of from this period. The set-up suggests that what we are hearing are domestic workers listening to the radio or to records late at night in one of the small residences known as “servants quarters” found at the back of most white homes in apartheid South Africa and that the white “boss” appears to confront the listeners and break their records.

Rob Allingham suggests that these could possibly be the first recordings by Lemmy Special Mabaso, here on lead flute (making him eight years old at the time) and could also include a tea-box bass or babatoni that rarely made it into the recording studio. (Allingham)

19) SHANTY ROBERT SAXES - Meiring - 1956
(Marapo, Troubadour, AFC 338, matrix MATA 1651)

20) SHANTY ROBERT SAXES - Tomatie Sauce - 1956
(trad.arr. Marapo, Troubadour, AFC 338, matrix MATA 1652)

Tomatie Sous is classic standard in the “Cape Coloured” tradition, though a 1953 Bantu Batho recording by the African Quavers credits the tune to trumpeter David Mzimkulu.

21) ALEXANDRA JUNGLE BOYS - My Sister - 1956
(Hadebe, Troubadour, AFC 372, matrix MATA 1712)

(Rupert Bopape, Columbia LP, JSX 9; original Columbia 78 rpm, YE 164, matrix CEA 5060)

Of course, the tune that would elevate kwela to the international stage in 1958 was Tom Hark recorded in October 1956 by Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes — a group that also went by the name Black Mambazo.

Black Mambazo (meaning Black Axe but no relation to LBM) originated from Alexandra Township and was "discovered" by Rupert Bobape in 1956. Generally the group included Elias ‘Shamba’ Lerole, his brother, Aaron Jake Lerole, Zeph Nkabinde, and sometimes his brother Simon Nkabinde, David Ramosa, Peter Khumalo and others. The group became South Africa’s top kwela band in the late 1950s. Under Bopape’s direction, by the early 1960s, they had developed a key deep-vocal style, known as "groaning", first with Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ Lerole and then, after his voice had deteriorated, Zeph Nkabinde. Though the most well known proponent of this style of singing would be Nkabinde’s brother, Simon, when he too went over to Gallo Mavuthela with Bopape and became famously known as Mahlathini.

It was not uncommon at that time for many groups to record under various names, possibly a strategy conceived by the record companies to give their competitors the impression that their catalogue was brimming with good talent and also perhaps as a way to avoid paying significant royalties to any one major group or artist. Black Mambazo was not immune to this and recorded under a number of names including the Alexandra Shamber Boys (sometimes Shamba), Alexandra Black Mambazo, and most famously Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes.

The title of this track, Tom Hark, was apparently a clerical error by EMI; the correct name should have been “Tomahawk” named for the Native-American axe, which makes sense given the translation of the band’s name: black axe. The B-side of the 78 rpm included the tune Ry-Ry and both were issued in South Africa on EMI’s Columbia label in 1956 (YE 164).

The tune enjoyed some success in South Africa for two years before a British scout, looking for a catchy theme to accompany a new British television series, heard it. Written by Wolf Mankowitz, The Killing Stones, was released on March 23, 1958 with six episodes that traced illicit diamond smuggling in South Africa. Interest by viewers prompted a British release of the theme song on 78 rpm (Columbia, DB 4109) and 45 rpm (45-DB 4109) and by mid 1958, Tom Hark had sky-rocketed to the top of the British Hit Parade.

Aron Jake Lerole
Lara Allen’s detailed analysis suggests that it is the spoken introduction to Tom Hark that gave this style of music the name kwela: “There are a number of theories as to how the term kwela came to refer to penny whistle music. The most plausible explanation is that kwela was originally used as a stylistic label by the British market: reputedly, the term was extracted from the phrase “Daar kom die kwela-kwela” that occurs in the spoken introduction to “Tom Hark”. In tsotsi-taal, the township lingua franca of the day, this phrase means “here comes the police van”, but it was understood by English disc jockeys as an announcement of the impending music. The introduction to “Tom Hark” consists of a tableau about street corner gambling during which the approach of a police van induces the gamblers to pocket their dice and pull out their penny whistles.”

In a 1990 interview with Allen, Elias Lerole translates for her the now famous tsotsitaal introduction: "Then I started to say: ‘Now gentlemen, let’s make little bits of speech before we play this number’. Then the guys, they say: ‘What are we going to say?’ I say: ‘Look – you know all the time when you are in the street we are afraid for these pickup vans?’ Always they used to come and arrest some people, you know? And I say: ‘Now look here, we are going to say: “Gentlemen, let’s play the dice.”’ And I throw the money and I check the dice. I throw them, I say, ‘I do!’ Then somebody says: ‘No can do!’ Then I draw again, I say: ‘I do!’ Then they say: ‘Popp!’ and I can grab the money. Then when you are going to grab the money I say: ‘Gentlemen, here comes the kwela-kwela. Let’s play our penny whistles to keep the police busy so that they musn’t arrest us’. You see? Then we start to play the flute." (Elias Lerole Interview in Allen, p. 44)

EMI issued in the UK a number of other kwela singles by the group including Vuka Magcwabeni / Zeph Boogie (Columbia, 45-DB 4146); Fuzzy Night / Matshutshu (Columbia, 45-DB 4135) by Black Mambazo; and Dintho / Holom Toe (HMV, POP 496) by the Alexandra Shamber Boys; but none were as successful as Tom Hark. A four track EP tilted Kwela from South Africa featuring the Alexandra Shamber Boys and the Benoni Flute Quintet (HMV, 7EG 8369) was also issued, along with as a full length compilation LP Flute Kwela Africa (Columbia, 33JSX 60) featuring Black Mambazo, Little Kid Lex, Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes, the Inkintsho Brothers and the Swing Tone Whistlers.

Controversially, the copyright for Tom Hark was held by Rupert Bopape, who also owned thousands of other South African EMI titles. As a result the group unfortunately was never able to receive full royalties from the success of their tune.

23) BENONI FLUTE QUINTET - Sanny Boy Special - 1956
(E. Mtsima, HMV 78 rpm, JP 2069, matrix 0AS 934)

24) BENONI FLUTE QUINTET - Skanda Mayeza - 1956
(Rupert Bopape, Columbia EP, SEYJ 105; original HMV 78 rpm, JP 2056, matrix 0AS 965)

This Bopape classic can also be found on Eddy De Clercq's wonderful compilation, Township Jive Kwela Jazz - Volume 2, sourced from the ILAM archive in Grahamstown. Apologies, Eddy, I think the recording date might be closer to 1956.   : )

Volume 2 (1956-1957)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 16)

01) PIETERSBURG STAR BOYS - In the Mood - 1956
(Joe Garland, Trutone, TLP 2000)

In the Mood, Glen Miller’s iconic 1939 swing-band hit, was a favorite of South African shebeens in the 1940s. (Allen, p. 39) This kwela version does not disappoint and was included on Trutone’s compilation Jazz from the Township. I suspect this group may also be the Pietersburg Flute Kings below based on the rather thin evidence that both recorded for Trutone around the same time.

02) PIETERSBURG FLUTE KINGS - Phendula - c1956
(Bantu Batho, BB 2008, T 228/2)

03) PIETERSBURG FLUTE KINGS - Lale Lake - c1956
(Bantu Batho, BB 2008, T 228/5)

04) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND HIS RHYTHM - Tsa Lefatshe Hadi Fele - c1956
(Mashiyane, Quality, TJ 172, T 5299)

05) BLACK DUKE AND PETER MAKANA - Baboon Shepherd - c1956
(Peter Makana, Oriole, MG 10022; original 78 rpm, Envee, NV 3062, T 5349)

Black Duke, who I am assuming is Poosa, based on the credits on his Troubadour releases, also recorded for Trutone’s Envee label. His track Baboon Shepherd was featured on the UK 10” Oriole compilation Penny Whistle Jive (MG 10022) which appears to be a UK reissue of the South African Trutone LP of the same name (TLP 1047), however almost all the track are different. The liner notes of the South African issue suggest that Peter Makana is the “cool boy” of kwela compared with Spokes Mashiyane the “champion” and Ben Nkosi the “experimenter”.

06) STONE TOWN CRACKERS - No. 15 - c1956
(Ben Nkosi, Quality, TJ 127, T 5651)

No. 15, credited to Ben Nkosi who would go on to lead the Solven Whistlers at Gallo, has an amazing cyclical structure that reminds me of the majuba big band jazz sounds. As mentioned above, Nkosi was considered the “experimenter searching for ‘New Sounds’ and new heights of expression.” Not only was he an excellent flutist but also a skilled guitar player and accompanied Spokes Mashiyane on a number of tracks and Peter Makana on Black John below. He was known to explore additional instruments including the recorder and clarinet which greatly influenced his flute technique. (Trutone, TLP 1049). While many of his early recordings are for Trutone, tracks by him were also issued by EMI on their HMV label (JP 843) as well as Gallo. Interestingly Nkosi and the Solven Whistlers recorded at least  two versions of the notable Something New in Africa with visiting American clarinetist Tony Scott in August 1957 (Gallotone, GALP 1015; Decca, LK 4292).

07) PETER MAKANA - Black John - c1956
(Makana, Arlequin, 1009, T 5825)

Peter Makana is accompanied here by Ben Nkosi on guitar and, as mentioned above, was considered the “cool boy” of kwela. Black John must have been a significant hit for them as it was issued at least four times: on the original 78 rpm (Envee, NV 3085); a Spanish EP “Pennywhistle Jive” (Arlequin, 1009); and is the one of the few tracks common to both 10” compilations, “Penny Whistle Jive”, issued in South Africa (Trutone, TLP 1047) and the UK (Oriole, MG 10022). The tsotsitaal introduction showcases a wonderful example of sexual banter between a jealous girlfriend and her philandering boyfriend. Notably the introduction is absent from all the international vinyl releases and had to be rescued from the original South African 78 rpm recording.

08) BOIKE LEMAO - Thusa Baby - c1956
(B.J. Lemao, BB Records, BB 1039, T 5869)

09) BOIKE LEMAO - Fly Baby - c1956
(B.J. Lemao, BB Records, BB 1039, T 5870)

10) SPOKES MASHIYANE - Kallas Special - c1956
(Mashiyane, Trutone, TLP 2000; original 78 rpm, Quality, TJ 109, T 5907)

11) STONE TOWN CRACKERS - White and Black - c1956
(Ben Nkosi, Quality, TJ 127, T 5943)

12) BEN NKOSI AND MAFUTHA AMAHLOPE - Ben’s Special - c1956
(Ben Nksoi, Trutone, TLP 1047)

Ben’s Special is another track common to both 10” compilations, Penny Whistle Jive, issued in South Africa (Trutone, TLP 1047) and the UK (Oriole, MG 10022). Interestingly, Ben Nkosi’s colleague here is Mafutha Amahlope and according to Chis Albertyn this is a pseudonym that literally translates as “Fat Whitey”. ‘Mafutha Amahlope’ also penned the tunes for the Pond’s face whitening cream advertisement featured here at Electric Jive. In that recording the author was Christoffel Nicolaas Du Toit, but it is unclear if he was involved on Ben’s Special, or whether the term was applied generically to any white musician that happened to get involved.

13) PETER MAKANA - Peter’s Blues (Cool Mood) - c1956
(Peter, Makana, Trutone, TLP 2002)

This track was issued on the Trutone compilation Music was Born in Africa (TLP 2002) as Peter’s Blues but then also included on the UK Oriole 10” (MG 10022) compilation as Cool Mood.

14) SIX KEYS - Thimela - 1957
(Nkwanyane, Tropik, DC 709, ABC 15971)

15) SIX KEYS - Uyandibambezela - 1957
(Gray Mbau, Tropik, DC 709, ABC 15972)

Two iconic figures of the majuba African jazz era, Elijah Nkwanyane and Gray Mbau are credited as composers on these two great tunes respectively which makes me wonder if the Six Keys included members from one of the big jazz bands of that time — perhaps the City Jazz Nine or the Brown Cool Six. Uyandibambezela is a classic, including saxophone and some wonderful male vocals — perhaps a precursor to the “groaning” style that was being popularized by Black Mambazo.

16) LITTLE KID LEX - New Year Rock - 1957
(Elex, Columbia, JSX 9; original 78 rpm, YE 177, CEA 5092)

17) LITTLE KID LEX - Alex Special - 1957
(Elex, Columbia, JSX 60; original 78 rpm, YE 177, CEA 5093)

Little Kid Lex
According to Rob Allingham, Alex Hendriks was eight years old when he recorded these two tunes for EMI, though the liner notes from JSX 9 claim he was eleven. Here he is backed by Black Mambazo. New Year Rock features an interesting dialogue in tsotsitaal about rock ’n roll in America. The one voice is quite clearly a young boy, possibly Hendriks, but strangely the other voice refers to him as “my sister”, implying that the hi-pitched voice could be that of a woman. These two tracks were issued together on a single Columbia 78 rpm, YE 177. New Years Rock was also included on the Columbia compilation LP Africa - Music and Life of Today (JSX 9) while Alex Special can be found on Flute Kwela Africa (JSX 60).

18) ELIAS AND HIS ZIG ZAG JIVE FLUTES - Vuka Magcwabeni - 1957
(Bopape, Columbia, 45DB 4146, CEA 5103)

Translated as “Back from the dead”, Vuka Magcwabeni was one of the tracks issued by EMI UK after Elias Lerole’s smash success with Tom Hark. The record, however, did not sell very well. Of course, the group here was also known as Black Mambazo.

(Bopape, Columbia EP, SEYJ 102; original 78 rpm, YE 197, CEA 5104)

Here Black Mambazo include an early example of the deep-vocal style known as “groaning”. It is probable that Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ (Jake) Lerole is the groaner. The track was issued on 78 rpm and on a Columbia EP: Africa - Music and Life of Today - Volume 1 (SEYJ 102).

20) FRANS AND JERRY - Butone No. 3 - 1957
(Mutshutshu, Troubadour, AFC 410, MATA 1746)

I am wondering if Frans may be France Pilane who accompanied Spokes Mashiyane on guitar in his early recordings at Trutone. Mutshutshu may be a pseudonym used by Troubadour. Notice on the two tracks by Aron and Charles that the credit is spelt differently—Mutshutshuru.

21) ARON AND MICHAEL - King Flute - 1957
(Ngubane, Troubadour, AFC 391, MATA 1751)

22) ARON AND MICHAEL - Solid - 1957
(Ngubane, Troubadour, AFC 391, MATA 1752)

Aron here is likely to be Aaron ‘Big Voice Jack’ Jake Lerole. Likewise for the Aron and Charles tracks below. As mentioned above, the percussion on these two tracks almost sounds like military-styled drumming and may give us a hint at what the very early Alexandra scottishes may have sounded like.

23) ARON AND CHARLES - Frans Special - 1957
(Mutshutshuru, Troubadour, AFC 407, MATA 1791)

24) ARON AND CHARLES - Pola Grace - 1957
(Mutshutshuru, Troubadour, AFC 407, MATA 1792)

25) NOCKS BALOYI - Askiem to Nocks - 1957
(Baloyi, Troubadour, AFC 425, MATA 1827)

26) NOCKS BALOYI - New Boogie - 1957
(Baloyi, Troubadour, AFC 425, MATA 1828)

Volume 1 (1951-1956)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 15)

Volume 2 (1956-1957)
(Flat International / Electric Jive, FXEJ 16)