Tuesday 10 November 2015

Classic mbaqanga: Sishong Sa Melodi (1969)

A special treat for EJ readers today: a compilation LP featuring 12 of the best hit vocal jive tunes of the past year, Sishong Sa Melodi, released on the Gumba Gumba label in 1969.

The single format was more or less the preferred choice for the African consumer during that bygone era of Radio Bantu, the days when mbaqanga music blasted through transistors and filled the air across the South African townships. Although the first African 45 rpms were produced from the mid-1960s, 78 rpm singles remained in production until around 1969. The story goes that the country's African population simply couldn't afford the expensive hi-fi systems needed to play the more durable 45 rpm, so gramophones continued to rule the roost for years onwards. Record companies later collected some of the highest selling singles (and often those that weren't shifting as many copies) on 33 rpm format to produce (at best, excellent, and at worst, interesting) compilation LPs. Sishong Sa Melodi was but one of several LPs issued in 1969 by Gallo's Mavuthela Music division and arguably features some of the finest mbaqanga recordings put down on 78 and 45 rpm in the late sixties. Despite the... questionable condition of the LP jacket, the disc itself is in remarkably strong condition with unobtrusive surface noise. All the better for hearing the music then!

Inevitably, the African girl group features prominently, with cuts from no less than four ensembles - Dima Sisters, Izingane zo Mgqashiyo (a.k.a. the Mthunzini Girls), Izintombi zo Moya, and Marula Boom Stars (a.k.a. the Mahotella Queens). "Taba Tsela" is a great if somewhat sober introductory tune from the Dima Sisters featuring some solid harmony work and easygoing guitars. Though track number 2 is listed on the jacket and the disc label as being "Esale Ke Ngola" by the Dima Sisters, the track on the LP is actually "Sponono" by the Jabavu Queens. Weird! Similarly, track 4 is listed as being "Sekoloto" by the Marula Boom Stars, but is - for now - an unidentifiable 'African jazz' instrumental. No matter though... they're both cool tunes.

One of my favourites on this LP is "Kajebane" by Izingane zo Mgqashiyo. Such a fun number, complete with catchy late '60s organ soul beat! The very next tune is pretty much a similar affair but by no means a repetition of what came before - "Mojiko Wa Soul" by Izintombi zo Moya. Gorgeously fat, warm organ sound. That sound carries over onto side 2 in the excellent "Matlare" by the equally excellent Mahotella Queens. For those of you who care for nerdy details like I do, you'll be interested to know "Matlare" was later re-recorded by the Queens in 1988 as "Mme Ngwana Walla" for the album Melodi Yalla. Nothing beats the original though.

Izingane zo Mgqashiyo returns for two classic Sotho vocal jive hits, "Dikuku" and "Sophie". The former is based on a popular wedding song pointing out the juxtaposition between the delicious taste of wedding cakes and the sourness that marriage can sometimes produce.

The closer is "Tshiwanyana" by the Marula Boom Stars - excellent up-tempo beat from the Makgona Tsohle Band combined with the tightly layered vocals of the Queens at their youthful best. Just delightful!!

Now all you have to do is download Sishong Sa Melodi, have yourselves an mbaqanga party and play these MP3s at full volume. Enjoy!

produced by Rupert Bopape
Gumba Gumba LMGG 4
Sotho Vocal Jive


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