Wednesday 27 January 2016

Air Light Swingsters: Umhlobo' Mdala (1981)

Band leader and alto saxophonist Peter Mokonotela raises the criticism of bands being inclined to "ape overseas music in preference to our own traditional Afro type music. So, we have tried by all means to take old African tunes and improved on them our way, The African Jazz Sound".

Produced again by the great Hamilton Nzimande this album forefronts fantastic  inter-play among the three saxophonists, Mokonotela, Thami Madi and Shumi Ntuthu. The liner notes continue: "It is hoped that the improvisation on certain Ngoma Busuku (evening or night hymns) singers as played on reed instruments will be appreciated."

Personally, the lullaby "Thula Ulalele" has a deep resonance in the recesses of my childhood memories - mellow, soothing, secure and comforting. At the other end of the spectrum, "Ujujuju" is perhaps my upbeat favourite. All  of the tracks on this slicky produced and performed album have something to offer anyone who appreciates the intersection of Swing, African Jazz, mbaqanga, and early 1980s African pop.

Compared to last week's 1980 posting of the Air Light Swingsters, this 1981 recording comprises 12 shorter tracks spanning nearly 42 minutes - quite a squeeze for an LP. Enjoy.

Download link here

Friday 22 January 2016

The Air Light Swingsters: Air Light (1980)

Besides the Elite Swingsters I cannot think of another South African band that recorded over a period of five decades. Put together by talent scout Lebenya Matlotlo in 1956 for a session recording, the original band was led by Johannes “Chooks” Tshukudu. Since then “the Swingsters'” were able to attract and groom a succession of highly polished musicians. Dumie Ndlovu, thanks for your request. Another album to follow next week, stay tuned.

Steve Gordon’s site has an informative biography of “The Swingsters” and describes their music  as “a blend of African melodies and harmonies with American swing, together with an added dose of New Orleans rhythm and even some rock ‘n roll thrown in for good measure.” Siemon Allen’s Flat International site pieces together further details on their first LP, and also the illustrious roll-call of band members.

Alto saxophonist Peter Makonotela joined the band in 1962 and took on the leadership role through into the 1970s. Writing the liner notes for this 1980 album shared here today, Mokonatela references what must have been a name ownership dispute: “The cats come and go, but their sound goes on and on. Personally, I think this is very important, I believe every good artist or band should and must be identified with its sound. If the sound of the Elite Swingsters can change, then there is no need to call them by that same name”.

Mokonatela was perhaps referring to the departure in the “sound” of a 1980 Elite Swingsters recording “Watch Your Step” with less brass and more key-board influence. He goes on, “If you are accustomed to the history of bands, you will know that there are good and bad times for each band. The Elite Swingsters are no exception. The bad times caught up with us, we closed shop. After an absence of 15 years from the music scene we met Hamilton Nzimande, Director of Isabaya Esikhulu, he re-launched the band.” adds to the picture: “Eventually, the musical tastes of the townships and particularly that of its youth, changed to the point that the Elites were forced into virtual retirement. During the disco era and still later when Bubblegum supplanted disco, the regular roster dwindled down to the three saxes of Paul Rametsi, Peter Mokonotela and Tami Madi. Violence and political instability precluded playing in the township halls which had formerly provided the bands stomping ground, so live performance opportunities were limited to an occasional wedding or beauty contest. Recording opportunities also dwindled and the resulting albums, none of which were particularly successful, were often issued under various sound-alike names such as the Elite Swing Stars or the Airlight Swingsters.” 

This very polished 1980 album shared today – with a second 1981 recording to come next week – harks back to that sixties swing-influenced African Jazz sound.  The reported lack of success was certainly not due to poor musicianship, but more due to changing tastes of their original target audience. Have a listen to this 1962 recording on the Drum 78rpm label:

The brass section of the Air Light Swingsters is made up of Mokonatela (1st alto) founding Swingsters alto saxophonist Thami Madi, and Shumi Ntuli on tenor sax. Further reinforcing challenges around identity and ownership, Mokonatela writes: “The cats on the rhythm section, guitar, bass, organ and drums prefer not to be mentioned”. He does say that he met these additional musicians “for the first time working on this album”.

When the “Elite Swingsters” very successfully reconstituted themselves in 1989, the brass section was made up of Albert Rululumi, Mokonotela and Madi – with Dolly Rathebe on voice.

You find other Swingsters recordings here, and here
Produced by Hamilton Nzimande.
Masterpiece LMS 563
Download link here

Monday 18 January 2016

East Meets West: (1971)

The diversity of musics arising from South Africans of Indian origin in the early 1970s provides for some really fascinating listening. This unusual album featuring six different bands is syncretic in that it compiles musical contradictions in one place - from Indian traditional music, Bollywood film scores, heavy metal "underground" music, and western pop. As the liner notes say, "all that's best in both eastern and western music, so that you can get a representative idea of what our various artiste groups sound like. ..".

What "holds" this compilation together is that all six bands featured were made up of South Africans of Indian origin. In her doctoral dissertation, "Indian South African Popular Music, The Broadcast Media and the Record Industry 1920 - 1983" (download it here), Melveen Beth Jackson explains that:

“Until the sixties, Indian South Africans were denied the civic rights that were taken for granted by white South Africans. Broadcasting, for them, was to be a concession. On being declared South Africans, broadcast programmes were expanded and designed to pacify and Indianise Indian South Africans, preparing them for their role as a middle-class racially defined group, a homelands group without a homeland. South Africanised popular music, and Indian South African Western semi-classical, popular music, or jazz performance was rejected by the SABC. Ambiguous nationalisms shaped Indian South African aesthetics.

“Global monopoly controlled the music industry. Similarly, disruptions in the global market enabled local musicians and small business groups to challenge the majors. In the late forties and fifties, this resulted in a number of locally manufactured records featuring local and visiting musicians, and special distribution rights under royalty to an independent South Asian company. The local South African records were largely characterised by their syncretic nature, and generated a South African modernism which had the capacity both to draw and repel audiences and officials alike.”

Contradictions do abound. For example, I am still not sure what to make of the track by the Nadaraja Orchestra, entitled "The Brahma Bull" which, to my untrained ear,  has flamenco references underpinning a sound you would hear in 1960s Bollywood movies.

"The Shades of Purple" and "The El Pasos" lend a strong rock reference to this compilation. Among my favourites here is the cover of "25 or 6 to 4" that was a hit for "Chicago" in 1970.

Many of these bands played weddings and other social functions. As Muthal Naidoo describes of the Bharatia Band in the early 1970s (not on this compilation): "They were hired to play at weddings in the location and in Indian communities in Johannesburg, Benoni and Boksburg. They were spurred on in their efforts by rivalry from the Nadaraja Orchestra, which had a similar repertoire and was vying for the same market. When Abdul Gani, a Memon singer, despite opposition from some Muslims, joined the Bharatia Orchestra and sang a Tamil song, Kanay Rajah, the rival group rushed to include people from other groups in their band. For a little while, there was even a Muslim band, the Taj Entertainers, with a lead singer, Ossie."

To my untrained ear, I have found it challenging to recognise the covers of the original 1960s Bollywood songs featured in this compilation. The South Africanised versions are played by small instrumental bands with relatively simple bass-lines backing "Shadows" and even psychedelic-influenced" lead guitar work in places. Links to the original tracks are provided.

Produced by Mohamed A. Mayet.
Recording Engineer: Ian Martin.
East Meets West (Mosaic MIC 7003) 1971.

1. Oriental Dance - The Orientals
An original written by "Yousuf", Having fun with wah-wah guitar.
2. You are all I need - Shades of Purple
Psychedelic Soul roots instrumental written by Pillay / Manilall.
3. Hum Behaino Ke - The Dil Ruba
From the 1969 Bollywood movie, "Anjana" - though I must admit I find it difficult to find similarities. You can hear the original here.
4. 25 or 6 to 4 - The 1970 hit written by Robert Lamm for "Chicago" gets fuzz guitar and vocal treatment that would not be out of place on a Black Sabbath album. You can hear the original here.
5. The Brahma Bull - Nadaraja Orchestra
Flamenco references overlaid with a more discernable uptempo Indian flavour.
6. Aane Se Jiske Aaye Bahar - Naushad Entertainers
A version of the Mohammed Rafi 1969 Bollywood hit from the movie Jeene Ki Raah. You can hear the original here.
7. East Meets West - The Orientals.
Rock-driven orignal penned by "Sarwar".
8. Ride - The Shades of Purple
Attributed to "Pillay / Manilal" will bother you with its similarities to various early 70s rock hits, even down to the vocal delivery.
9. Fascination - Nadaraja Orchestra
I can picture this track filling the dance-floors at traditional celebrations like weddings.
10. Saiyan Le Gajiya - The Dil Ruba.
This track is an instrumental version, originally from the 1969 Bollywood movie "Ek Phool Do Mali". You can watch and listen to Asha Bhosle sing the original here.
11. Give Me One More Chance - The El Pasos
Seventies vocal Soul-Pop. No composer listed. Can you recognise it?
12. Tumhari Nazar - Naushad Entertainers
From the 1968 Bollywood movie Do Kaliyan. You can watch the original here.

Download link here

Friday 8 January 2016

Siya Hamba! 1950s South African Country and Small Town Sounds

This post is dedicated to John Storm Roberts and the legacy of the Original Music Label. The following is an appreciation taken from an obituary that appeared in the NY Times at the time of his death in 2009:
" John Storm Roberts, an English-born writer, record producer and independent scholar whose work explored the rich, varied and often surprising ways in which the popular music of Africa and Latin America informed that of the United States, died on Nov. 29 in Kingston, N.Y. He was 73 and lived in Kingston. Long before the term was bandied about, Mr. Roberts was listening to, seeking out and reporting on what is now called world music. He wrote several seminal books on the subject for a general readership, most notably “Black Music of Two Worlds” (Praeger, 1972) and “The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States” (Oxford University, 1979). In the early 1980s, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Needham started Original Music, a mail-order company that distributed world-music books and records. In those pre-Internet days, Americans outside big cities found these almost as hard to come by as young Mr. Roberts had in postwar England….In business for nearly two decades, Original Music also released many well-received albums of its own. Among them are “The Sound of Kinshasa,” featuring Zairian guitar music; “Africa Dances,” an anthology of music from more than a dozen countries; and “Songs the Swahili Sing,” devoted to the music of Kenya, an aural kaleidoscope of African, Arab and Indian sounds.

Siya Hamba - 1950s South African Country and Small Town Sounds (Original Music OMA111, 1989)
01 Young Xhosa Men - Siya Hamba (Let's Go)
02 Jacquot Mokete - Suta Tseleng (Get Out Of The Way)
03 Young Men & Boys With Harmonica - Kunukizembe Pheshakwenciba
04 Nqwane Mbongtyi - Zulaleke Mubemi
05 Xhosa Boys And Girls - Amazeyiboka (Some Socks Are Real Costy)
06 Mkakwa Mugomezungu - Izintombi Ziyasishiya (Some Girls Desert Us)
07 Frans Ncha - Adiyo Jaxo Kxaja Nkwe (You Can't Kill A Leopard With A Stone)
08 Citaumvano - Lamnandi Ugolohlano (It Fetched This Person)
09 Citaumvano - Pelila Makoti (We're Through, Makoti!)
10 Nelson Siboza & the Montanas Brothers - Bayilami Selimavukuvuku (My Blanket's Worn)
11 Timote Dlamini & The Try Singers - Pinda Zimshaya
12 Mushumbo Dlamini & The Star Brothers - Muntu Olapo
13 Jury Mpelho Band - Nonkala (The Crab)
14 Midnight Stars - Siya Hamba!
15 Jury Mpelho Band - Puma Endlini Yam (Get Out Of My House!)
16 Jury Mpelho Band - Yombela (Clap Hands)
17 The Blue Notes - No Doli Wami (The Doll)
18 Jury Mpelho Band - Babalasi (The Hangover)
19 Midnight Stars - Thula Ndivile (Be Quiet)
20 The Blue Notes - Benoni (Benoni)
21 Jury Mpelho Band - Isicatula (Boots)