Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Almon Memela in all his diversity: 78rpm sampler

 In celebrating Almon Memela's "Broken Shoes" album I promised to share a few recordings from my 78rpm collection that illustrate the depth of feel, beauty and diversity of Memela's musical reach.

First up Memela's soothing voice accompanies his maskandi guitar in painting a hauntingly beautiful, yet painful musical canvas of the impact of apartheid in the 1960s.

"Amapoyisa" takes the form of a 'letter' to his rural homestead, and  loved one there, saying how afraid he is of the police in the city. Black migrant workers at the time were required to carry "passes" to enable entry to and residence in specific places. The police were active in enforcing the system, harassing and arresting black people for being in  the "wrong" place at the "wrong" time - completely disrupting their lives.

Almon Memela tells how city life is spent running and hiding from the police, and says to his family in their rural area that it is much more peaceful there as there are no police to harass them.

"Lashona" is a maskandi love-song in which Memela is travelling a long distance to visit the love of his life. While walking he is playing guitar and singing a lament that he is not going to get to his destination before sunset and that he knows he has a lot of explaining to do, and does not know how he is going to do it. He has not been able to keep his promises and fears that because of this his relationship is now lost ("ngaliwe").

 Amapoyisa / Lashona Link

This recording is a languid exploration of the twist style laced with guitar work that always leads  my untrained ear to believe that Almon Memela was not only listening to rock and twist, he was also listening to what was coming out of sixties Congo.

Accompanying Memela is fellow master Rex Ntuli on rhythm. Ntuli is probably most famous as being the guitarist on the original line-up of the Elite Swingsters during the 1960s.

You can  find Rex Ntuli and His Band in a great 78rpm compilation here, and with the Elite Swingsters here. and in Funky Mama here.

In Baca Twist Memela's lead glides across Ntuli's rhythm, referencing rock, soul and twist in a comfortable understated manner.

Umfezi Twist (an Umfesi is a Mozambican Spitting Cobra) is my current favorite, conjuring up moving images of a slowly swaying cobra - no drama this time, just delightful guitar that  sometimes sounds like it could be one of the Diabate brothers from Guinea.

 Baca Twist / Umfesi Twist Link

"Skilpad" (Afrikaans for 'tortoise') and "Uiydoda"  are classic Marabi Jazz compositions framed by banks of (uncredited) horns and defined by rhythm and lead guitar.

Almon's Jazz Kings and Almon's Jazz 8 were but two of the bands Memela pulled together for various recording dates.

In addition to the Soul diversion on AM Stragglers, Memela played (and produced) a lot of Mbaqanga - producing "Mine Jive Special" which features Kid Moncho.

Bump Jive and Phata Phata also were blessed with Memela's attention. Give "Highway Soul" a listen for his melting-pot blend of soul, bump and mbaqanga.

If you do have access to other recordings that Memela was involved in - we would like to hear from you.                       
Uyidoda / Skilpad Link


  1. Many thanks, Chris. Hope you also bump across a mesmerizing blues 'anthem' by this underrated guitar legend - called 'Siyanikhumbula Bafowethu' (We miss you, brothers). I heard it once or twice in the late 70s on the radio and was a tribute to some fallen heroes, probably on the music scene. It may have been an impromptu composition for a given occasion - not sure if it ever was commercially released.

  2. I'm really enjoying Almon Memela - new to me and very soulful. Looks like I missed the "Highway Soul" post - both links seem to be gone or inaccessible. Keep up the amazing work. Big thanks. mamboPete

  3. Anonymous - thanks for letting us know of the broken link .... I have now fixed it ... give Highway Soul a spin

  4. sorry mambopete - only saw your tag after - welcome back

  5. Delightful! recordings seem particularly sharp and clear.... the Maskandi tracks were a revelation. Many thanks for maintaining this labour of love, all!

  6. Thanks Eyepictures. It is amazing (with some preparation) what sound quality can be found in a 78rpm

  7. Thanks Chris for all these wonderful sounds of the past. Any chance we could one day hear the cool voices of Umlazi No-name Brothers?

  8. You are most welcome Matoga - do tell us more about the Umlazi No-Name Brothers.

  9. Many, many thanks, Chris - these are all fantastic, but the guitar/vocal pairing is such a treasure to have.

  10. No Name Brothers (Afro jazz). This Umlazi band has been together since the late 60’s and the group’s main focus is traditional and township jazz from the crooning style of the 50’s.

    The six-member No Name Brothers started as a family group and were later joined by other community members. The group comprises Joseph Majola (lead vocalist), Leonard Majola (vocals), Cain Selepe (guitarist and vocalist), Boniface Bhengu (bass guitar), Boyi Dlamini (drums) and Musa Ndlovu (keyboard).

    Their first album was recorded in 1979 and was renowned with its hit single Selina! The group has also been seen in many Durban jazz concerts and clubs including Rivets Bar at Hilton. They have also received awards in Winners – 1820 Settlers/JPS Indian Ocean Jazz Festival Hall of Fame Trophy and Outstanding performance on Heritage Day 2000.

  11. These are great, especially love "Lashona", very haunting and beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us.


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