Friday 29 May 2015

Funky Soul Volume 1 (1982)

South African recordings on the Atlantic label generally do not disappoint. This one is a mixture of slow ballads with some strong more funky uptempo numbers from the likes of Kabasa, Xoliso, Marimba and Lerato.

The Kabasa tracks (Searchin; Happy Together) have featured on Electric Jive before.

Get Yourself Together from Xoliso is off their self-titled debut album. See picture to the right. Francis Gooding also points out that Stompie Mavi (featured as solo artist here) was also a member of Era, whose Manyano album you can find here. Thanks Francis.

Amanzi by Lerato is a funky conscious commentary on the importance of water. In the Lerato album shared here earlier on Electric Jive Matt writes: "Lerato (Sesotho for love) was a short-lived trio comprising Steve Woycieh (drums and percussion), Wally Fry (lead vocals) and Vuli Yeni (bass, saxophone and vocals). It's probably best filed under South African "cross-over", next to Izimpande or even Juluka. But still worth a listen even if the rock drumming accentuates the 4/4 timing a little too strong and leaves little space for the rhythm to breathe."

Sunday 24 May 2015

Mixin' It with Medumo (1975)

A few of the jazz lovers among you have sent polite e-mails, thanking me for the last post of "Message", but also to say that you hope there can be more jazz on Electric Jive than there has been recently.

So - here is a quite special record made by contemporaries of  Batsumi and the Dashiki Poets, a further document of the cultural vanguard of the Black Consciousness movement in the mid 1970s.

In a recently published compendium on Steve Biko (here), Mphutlane Wa Bofelo
quotes Lefifi Tladi of the Dashiki Poets as having worked within the political structures of “Black Consciousness with absolute independence. The BC Movement used to book places where we could perform, whatever we wanted. That was one of the best outreach programmes. From there we started organising other groups like Batsumi, Medumo, ya bra Paul Motaung ... we went into universities broadening the consciousness of students.

Descriptions of those mid-seventies times highlight a collective approach that built a creative, politically-focussed nucleus among poets, artists, and musicians in Pretoria and Johannesburg:

"Jim Baker, the first African American diplomat in South Africa, was another source of inspiration. He introduced the recordings of The Last Poets to the artists in 1974. These had a profound effect on them, redefining their direction dramatically. Resistance art was born: poetry, music and art were no longer meant for pleasure. In addition, the poem Africa My Africa, by David Diop, as well as literature by other African authors and philosophers, like Leopold Senghor and Frantz Fanon, impacted heavily on their pan-Africanist consciousness. Baker's home at 252 Loveday Street, Pretoria, was like an arcade. It was open to all and people came and went without hindrance. His collection of literature was freely available, with no reservations on his part that some of his books might disappear. Knowledge, according to him, could not disappear; it could only feed other minds.

"Workshopping in the township environment and exhibitions outside the mainstream galleries and museums were initiatives born of the communal spirit that prevailed among the artists. Their motive was political and their aim, equity, peace and liberation. The diverse platforms were implemented with the express purpose of educating and conscientising: African people about their own Africanness and worth as equal human beings; the broader public about the role of art in terms of the liberation struggle; and the international world regarding the injustices of apartheid.

"The key role of art in bringing about change underpinned the artists' efforts. Workshopping became fundamental to every activity; most important were the discussions and workshopping of ideas or initial plans preceding the practical workshops, the success of which was due to the fact that intense dialogue, covering a broad spectrum, not only of the arts but life itself, was always a prerequisite to the former. Music was like a 'life cord' and was, without exception, an essential part of these sessions." (notes by Freda Hattingh - see the Third Ear website here for more).

 The liner notes tell us that this Medumo album came about because producer M.J. Maphutha stumbled across the band "blowing up a storm" at a festival in Mamelodi: "The jazz fans were shouting and jumping all over the place. ... There and then I decided to .. (record)." (Medumo were playing a cover of Dollar Brand's "Tintinyana").

Forty three minutes on the little-known "Coronet" label showcase a raw, mostly joyful, sometimes discordant celebration of subversive soul-jazz self-expression. Medumo's jazz is powerful and evocative, it possesses both swing and discord - though on some occasions the discord is that of musicians who were still learning. You will not hear the sophisticated and complex horn arrangements you heard on the last post - "Message". Rather, here is a raw, emotive soul jazz held together by Dan Phaleng (piano) Solly Temba (drums), and Elias Modisakeng (bass). Upfront, Paul Motaung (alto) and Jacob Moloi (tenor) are stripped down to simpler phrasing, sometimes nailing most beautiful passages, sometimes free and elegantly discordant - sometimes out of tune and out of time. I do wonder if some of the tracks on this album might have been recorded at an earlier time? There is a difference in audio ambiance across the tracks, suggesting they were not all recorded in one session, or even at the same studio.

However you may experience this music, it is an important document and record of a small window of  jazz and its practice directly challenging young people to engage. It grows on you!

Link here

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Message: Working for Nothing (1977)

A 1977 South African jazz recording involving saxophonist Aubrey Simani. I am hoping that readers can help me with more information – for example, who was “A. Nxumalo”?  Sadly, this is one of those records in my collection that does not possess the original cover. The cover picture displayed here was one of the 150 covers displayed at Alliance Francais' Vinyl September exhibition during 2016. The music more than makes up for an absence of information though.

Aubrey Simani was not lightweight. At the age of 22 he was playing alto saxophone to Mongezi Feza’s tenor as a member of Eric Nomvete’s Big Five, at the 1962 Castle Jazz Festival where they performed the ground-breaking “Pondo Blues”. Before that, Simani was a member of Tete Mbambisa’s “Four Yanks”, which also included Dudu Pukwana.

Simani joined up with Johnny Mekoa in 1967 to form the Jazz Ministers. Switching to tenor sax in the 1970s he contributed to a number of important recordings. In 1976, for example, his credits included at least four full albums: Tete Mbambisa’s Big Sound, Dick Khoza’s Chapita, Reggie Msomi’s “Soweto Grooving”, and then with the Jazz Ministers Live in Newport.

Track three (One for Erick) is most likely dedicated to Eric Nomvete. Simani was killed by a car in Mdantsane on 11 August 2009. 

Link here

Monday 11 May 2015

Die Vier Tranvalers led by Faan Harris (1932)

Over the past couple of years we have featured a number of posts on accordion jive and often we receive requests in the comments section to includes examples of boeremusiek, a rural (mostly Afrikaans) South African folk genre that has close historical links to the former style. To be fair, I am no expert on this material. And part of the reason it is so rarely covered on EJ is that a number of websites already do a far better job of documenting this music. Notably, Sean Minnie’s Boeremusiekklub, is densely populated with well-research information and images, albeit fragmented over various iterations of the site. I have provided below links to particular pages that will help with navigation. Also much of the research appears in Afrikaans but Google will do a more-or-less adequate job at translation.

Boeremusiek generally is performed by a group with accordion or concertina, guitar/s, banjo, and sometimes even a cello. This folk music has its roots in European, mostly German and Dutch traditions (take note of the many waltzes and polkas) but there are aspects of the style such as the upbeat vastrap that retain elements of goema as Alex Van Heerden points out in a presentation titled: The Khoi Roots of Vastrap Music. He goes on to say that this gives the music a “kind of a creolized” flavor, making it a uniquely African style, albeit one that is relatively conservative. If one listens closely to the music, it can take you from a German beer garden to a dry, dusty fishing village up the Cape west coast, to rural farmlands on the high-veld and maybe… perhaps… even an obscure mellow bar in Louisiana. The style is closely linked with white Afrikaner traditions but one can clearly hear its influences on early black styles such as the precursors of maskanda, kwela and accordion jive.

Recorded in 1932, today’s offering features ten tracks by Die Vier Transvalers (The Four Transvalers) issued on EMI’s His Master's Voice (HMV) label. As there were no recording studios in South Africa before the 1930s masters had to be made one of two ways. Artists routinely traveled by boat to England or were visited by portable recording units operated by recording engineers employed by various European record companies. Masters would be shipped back to Europe for pressing and then the records would be marketed in the country of origin.

The UK based Gramophone Company sent the first mobile unit to South Africa in 1912 for its Zonophone label. This was followed by their competitor the Columbia Graphophone Company, also UK-based, in July 1929, seeking materials for its Columbia and Regal labels. After the two companies merged to become EMI in March 1931 each branch of the company continued to send recording units to cut tracks under their respective labels (notably HMV and Columbia).

In 1932 EMI sent William Laybourne Ewing Dickson, an Englishman and recording engineer to South Africa where he remained for five months cutting over 500 masters. (Recording Pioneers) Dickson primarily recorded Scandinavian material for HMV; his previous recording before coming to South Africa (matrix 0T 702) was made in Copenhagen. His first cut in Johannesburg, (matrix 0T 703) was made on October 1st, 1932 while his last (0T 1205) was produced on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 1933 before he returned to England in April.

Die Vier Tranvalers debut disc (GX 5) included the track Soutpansberg Se Setees with the matrix 0T 714. The matrix number suggests this was one of the first groups that Dickson recorded when he arrived in Johannesburg. He cut at least twenty tracks with the group on October 3rd and 10th, 1932. (Boeremusiekklub)

Die Vier Transvalers were led by Stephen Emil “Faan” Harris, an icon of the concertina, and included Josephus Daniël “Sewes” van Rensburg, on guitar, Frans Hendrik Ebersohn, also on guitar, and Hendry Frederick “Bossie” Bosman, on cello.

Sean Minnie has extensive notes about the group at his website and he describes them as such: “The original Vier Tranvalers can certainly be considered one of the best and most popular Boeremusiek bands ever recorded. The concertina sounds of Faan Harris and his men remain after all these years one of the most popular and beautiful. Literally hundreds of groups have covered their tunes, but none can match the soulful performances conjured up by them. Although Faan [Harris] could play several instruments, he was eminently a very good and popular concertina player and played this instrument throughout all their recordings.” (translated from Boerkemusiekklub)

According to Minnie the group practiced for these first recordings at Sewes van Rensburg’s house. He was on lead guitar while Harris played a small three-row, high-tone, Lachenal concertina. If my translation is correct, an additional member called Steenberg played a babatoni, or home-made single-string upright base using a broom stick and tea-chest.

Die Vier Transvalers recorded another eight tracks with HMV around September 1939. They practiced for this session at Frans Ebersohn’s home and it is likely that the famous photograph of the group above was taken during this time. From left to right is Frans Ebersohn, Faan Harris, Bossie Bosman and Piet Bosman (Bossie’s father who substituted for Sewes van Rensburg while he was away at the time). Alas the recordings were never issued. Apparently the masters where destroyed when the ship transporting them to England was sunk by a German U-Boat. Even at that time record pressings were still made in England and shipped back to South Africa. After that the group slowly disbanded with each member going their own way. (Orkeste en Karakters)

Faan Harris did record with several other groups. Though little information about these is known. Minnie points out that Harris was still under contract with HMV and often artists names would be omitted to avoid contractual conflicts. It is only from Harris’ unique style that he is often identified on other tracks. For example it is believed that he plays concertina with Die Vyf Voortrekkers on some of the earliest Gallo releases. (Orkeste en Karakters)

Faan Harris was born in 1886 and lived for many years in Krugersdorp. According to Minnie he had a great humor and was meticulous with his work. He was also a painter by profession and had a glass eye from an early accident. He died in 1950. A biography of Faan Harris can be viewed here.

By popular request, we feature today some classic boeremusiek by Die Vier Transvalers led by Faan Harris. The twenty tracks originally issued on HMV were reissued on the Skatkis label as two volumes in 1982. Here we feature volume one with the first ten tracks.

01) Soutpansberg se Polka (HMV, GX 5)

02) Soutpansberg se Setees (HMV, GX 5)
03) Wals van Tant Sannie (HMV, GX 6)
04) Rooidag-Toe - Polka (HMV, GX 6)
05) Hartseer - Wals (HMV, GX 10)
06) Plattoon - Polka (HMV, GX 10)
07) Eileen Alannah - Wals (HMV, GX 16)
08) Moenie, Oom Kool - Settees (HMV, GX 16)
09) Kromdraai - Mazurka (HMV, GX 23)
10) Anna Pop-Setees (HMV, GX 23)

Die Oorspronlike Vier Transvalers Volume 1
Skatkis (SLS 1)
Reissue: Sep 1982
Sourced from original HMV 78 rpms (GX series, 1932)

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Snake: Ribva Venda (1992)

Staying in a 90s upbeat groove, this slickly-produced surprise takes us just over the Limpopo into Venda, South Africa. Loopy, electric, happy, complex call-and-response harmonies,

Produced, arranged and engineered by the Godfather of Kwaito, M'du Masilela, you just know before hearing it that this recording is going to be something interesting.

M'du and Mandla 'Spikiri' Mofokeng are pioneering township music icons, having had the ears of masses of urban youth during that 1990s "opening up" era, they  re-invented and connected various musics, local folk and sometimes rural with global beats.

Coming three years before South Africa's  first Kwaito hit from Arthur, this 1992 recording stands  out for its adept mining and melding of various globally trending sounds of the time, along with strands of traditional Venda grooves . If you listen with my ear to some of the great vocal harmonies, sometime you might even catch a glimmer of an echo of Enya.

All the tracks are credited to "Snake". No further information could be found on who the band members were.

Electric.  "Snake" certainly is - Jive, is quite likely the effect on many who hear it. Amongst others, I can imagine  a growing troupe of retro disco-files latching onto this one. Enjoy.

Link here

Monday 4 May 2015

Blues Revolution: Musikana We Basa (1994)

Ever since 2007 when Matt posted "Flavian Nyathi and the Blues Revolution's: Ropa Re Zimbabwe" I have kept half an eye out in the hope of finding  that 1980 recording on vinyl.

No luck so far, but I did recently come across this  "Blues Revolution"  recording pressed by Gramma Records in 1994. If you're in the mood, these six sinuously slick slices of Chimurenga music do invite you onto your feet.

All tracks composed by Ketai Ntimbirire.
Gramma Records JLP1043
Produced and Engineered by Peter "Cool Dude" Muparutsa.

 Link here