Monday, 24 February 2014

Zulu Music and Songs (c1951)

This 10” LP, issued by Decca in the UK (LF 1054) and London in the US (LPB 431), was probably the first 33 rpm record to feature black South African music worldwide. My guess is that the compilation was issued around 1951/2 soon after the LP format was introduced (in 1948). The disc featured material that had been previously issued on 78 rpm in South Africa between 1937 and 1949 on Gallo’s Singer and Gallotone labels. I suspect it is likely that this record would only have been available in SA as an import.

It is interesting that of all the styles of South African music being recorded at this time that this first international endeavor would focus exclusively on “Zulu” music. I can only speculate over the marketing reasons behind that decision but it may have something to do with how non-white South Africans were presented and imaged in the UK and US — a complex history that can be traced back to Anglo-Zulu Wars and even earlier.

Certainly events concurrent with the LP’s release must have played a role in how potential international consumers viewed black South Africans. For example the Royal African Society in London hosted a Silver Jubilee Garden Party on June 26th, 1951, that featured traditional Zulu clothing and dancing: “The costumes were found by the well-known organizer of Zulu dance teams at Lever Brothers’ factory in Durban, Mr. T. Topham, and dispatched by airfreight to London. The display of Zulu Dancing was a great success and photographs of the performers appeared in the leading illustrated journals.” (African Music Society Newsletter, Vol. 1 No. 5, 1952) The practice of Zulu ethnological exhibition was not new but rather had a long history stretching all the way back to 1853 when A.T. Caldecott took twelve Zulu men and a single woman to London “for the purposes of exhibiting them to the English public.” (Bernth Lindfors)

In fairness, this compilation does not play-up the usual Zulu stereotypes such as including images of Zulu warriors or semi-naked women dancing in traditional attire on the cover — a convention common to many future recordings of Zulu and South African music. Oh but wait… the UK reissue of this record does that very thing!

Nevertheless, regardless of these speculations over the potential motivations behind the issuance of this record, the music compiled here is truly fascinating and rich — featuring a range of styles from mbube or proto-iscathamiya vocalisations, to vaudeville and early roots of maskanda.

The first two tracks are credited to the Evening Birds but after some investigation, it does seem likely that these were performed by two different groups. Veit Erlmann’s discography on isicathamiya in his excellent book Nightsong lists the original 78 rpm recording of the first track Intombi Netfuzwa as being made in 1937 by the Evening Birds with Alson Mkhize "Bomvu" (as leader), Alphas Mkhize, Edwin Mkhize, Josiah Mkhize and Msibi (all on vocals) with unknown musicians on concertina, banjo and guitar. Interestingly, Erlmann has the original title of the song as Intombi Nezintsizwa and his account of the social implications of the track are quite detailed and worth the read.

You will have no doubt when you hear the second track, Makasane, also credited to the Evening Birds, that this is actually Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds. Linda remains uncredited on the LP but Erlmann’s discography points to the original 78 rpm which was issued as Linda’s Original Evening Birds — the same group that recorded the classic Mbube in 1939. Makasane is an earlier track from 1938 with Solomon Linda (as leader), Gilbert Madondo, Gideon Mkhize, Samuel Mlangeni, Boy Sibiya and Owen Sikhakhane (all on vocals); and unknown musicians on concertina, banjo and piano. Though I can’t exactly make out the piano…

Solata Nje, was probably recorded in 1937 by the Royal Amanzimtoti Entertainers lead by William Mseleku. In his book African Stars Erlmann writes that Mseleku was “one of Durban’s younger black entertainers during the late 1930s and perhaps one of [Reuben] Caluza’s most promising disciples. A Marianhill graduate and Amanzimtoti teacher, Mseleku had been experimenting with traditional dance and music genres tied together in a coherent stage presentation from at least 1932. […] In 1932 Mseleku formed a group of musicians and actors variously as the Amanzimtoti Players, Amanzimtoti Zulu Choir, or Mseleku’s Party. The troupe recorded almost thirty records for HMV and consisted of Mseleku’s siblings Mavis and Alfred, his wife Elvira and the students Victor Khumalo, Siberia Chamane, Raymond Dladla, Alzenia Sishi, and Lulu Msome. In 1935 the group was renamed the Amanzimtoti Royal Entertainers and recorded further recordings for Gallo.” (Veit Erlmann)

The remaining tracks on the compilation include Wille Gumede’s Concertina band and an amazing proto-maskanda guitar piece New Look Thanagan by Herman Magwaza and Caleb Chamane. This has to be one of my all time favorite tracks and is the third time I have included it on an EJ post. Check out the earlier posts Maskanda Roots and Herman Magwaza.

The original 78 rpm of Magwaza’s recording shows that it was made by Hugh Tracey’s African Music Research unit and there is a good chance that Tracey may have played a role in getting the Zulu Music and Songs LP issued by Decca and London. His own early 10” ILAM series “Music of Africa” would follow shortly on the very same labels in 1954 (LF 1084 - LF 1255).

Decca, LF 1054 (UK)
London, LPB 431 (USA)
matrix DRL 881/882

01 Evening Birds with Orchestra
Intombi Netfuzwa (1937)
(originally issued as Intombi Nezintsizwa on Singer 78 rpm, Singer, GE 144, matrix 1183)

02 Evening Birds with Orchestra (AKA Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds)
Makasane (1938)
(originally issued as Linda’s Original Evening Birds on Singer 78 rpm, GE 800, matrix 1428)

03 The Dundee Wandering Singers (AKA Zulu Champions)
Noma Kumnyama (c1941)
(originally issued on Singer 78 rpm, GE 883, matrix 1741)

04 Zulu Champions (AKA Dundee Wandering Singers)
Zindunduma (c1942)
(originally issued on Singer 78 rpm, GE 946, matrix 2168)

05 The Royal Amanzimtoti Entertainers
Solata Nje (c1937)
(probably issued on Singer 78 rpm, GE 135 or GE 136)

06 Herman Magwaza & Caleb Chamane
New Look Thanagan (c1949)
(originally issued on Gallotone 78 rpm, GE 1031, ABC 3232, African Music Research)

07 Gumede’s Concertina Band
Ulala Kanjani (c1942)
(originally issued on Gallotone Singer 78 rpm, GE 1000, matrix 2120)

08 Gumede’s Concertina Band
Madala (c1942)
(originally issued as Gumede’s Swing Band on Gallotone Singer 78 rpm, GE 942)

Monday, 10 February 2014

Sax Jive Special

It dawned on me a few days ago… why not devote an Electric Jive post to the groovy instrumental sounds that made black South African partygoers shake their hips on the dance floor in the 1960s? And so, here we are. Sax Jive Special throws you 20 classic mbaqanga instrumentals – all of which have to be played at full volume and must be accompanied by the listener jiving around the living room until they drop.

Yes indeed, sax jive was the dance music of choice in South Africa at precisely the same time that Beatlemania was sweeping the rest of the world. Nonetheless, this compilation begins with a rather subdued number performed by Abafana Bezi Mpalampala, led here by alto saxophonist Thomas Motshwane. “4 By 4” (possibly a nod towards West Nkosi’s earlier hit “2 By 2”) focuses mostly on gentle rhythms and musical harmony. Amabhungu Emvelo’s “Woza Nazo Vala” changes the cordial mood by a long way and takes us well and truly into a mad frenzy of guitar-sax-drum interplay. Hazekiel Mazibuko certainly knows his way around a saxophone. It’s hard not to feel stimulated by this track!

Abafana Bezi Mpalampala returns for one more song that stirs in a spoonful of soul magic. “Blackstick Soul” proves its hipness with a trendy, modern keyboard solo when the saxophonist puts down his horn in the middle of the tune. It’s certainly a groovy song. Before one has the chance to get carried away with all this soul stuff, in step the Makgona Tsohle Band to tell us how true, grassroots studio jive is performed. Vivian Ngubane’s genius rhythm guitar introduces “Mafeking Platform 12” calmly, and Marks Mankwane – without missing a trick – gets right down to business by scratching out that trademark fast-paced lead guitar sound. We step a couple of years ahead to hear an emphatic, driving rhythm created by the peculiarly named artist Bhengu & Bhengu. What we do know is that the brilliant Sipho ‘Sammyboy’ Bhengu is on alto sax here, with Nunu Luphoko on rhythm guitar. Then, we step another couple of years backwards to hear a classic sax jive from the master, West Nkosi, backed as usual by the brilliant Makgona Tsohle Band. Although West is on top form here, the standout musician has to be Joseph Makwela who just plucks that electric bass like there’s no tomorrow.

West Nkosi was a sax jive star – but then again, so was Selby ‘Bra Sello’ Mmutung. “12-0-12” was a huge hit for Bra Sello in 1967, so much so that Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje did a vocal jive cover of it entitled “Ingwe Idla Ngamabala”. Bra Sello created a long stream of funky, soul-infused sax jive for a number of years before retreating to the more comfortable and familiar traditional formula in the mid-1970s. It was nothing spectacular, but you just find yourself getting lost in the frenetic melody of tunes like “Mancintshana”. There were other saxophone stars too, such as Teaspoon Ndelu. His “Miss Durban” is a hell of a tune. Noise Khanyile, that legendary studio violinist, bulks up the instrumental team that jives undeterred as Teaspoon hits the highest registers of his alto sax.

Sax jive was perhaps at its most fertile during the late 1960s – and in recognition of this, we again recoil and return to the earlier time period after a number of 1970s instrumentals. Amabhungu Emvelo steps back into the limelight to play another hit of the day, “Impalampala Outside”. But it’s down to Abafana Bentuthuko to close the show – and a fine job of it they certainly do, playing their mid-tempo “Tycoons No. 2”.

Many thanks to Chris for allowing me the use of “Matamato Jive Matamato” – and also thanks to regular EJ reader Manzo Khulu for sharing with us his out-of-print copy of Bra Sello and Abafana Bentuthuko’s greatest hits.

Now download, play at full blast and do your thing, man!


10) 12-0-12 – BRA SELLO (1967)


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Maroon Commandos: Usiniambie Unaenda (1981)

Every time I visit Kenya and Tanzania I can hear its’ contemporary music still echoing strains of earlier seventies and eighties roots. Towards the end of last year I had the privilege of listening to and watching ensembles of musicians, dancers and acrobats from Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Norway rehearse and perform ahead of Tanzania’s 32nd International Bagamoyo Arts Festival.
Bagamoyo sunrise. Commuters on their way to Zanzibar

In Bagamoyo I heard new fusions from young artists, plucking the Taarab “banjo/type-writer” 72-string flat zither into Cuban Rhumba territory. The sensational contortions of young Ethiopian circus performers, in time to live Ethio-jazz, convinced me that they had absolutely no spines. The enthusiasm, music and energy of all the performers convinced me that Africa’s artistic futures are in good hands.

Drinking in beautiful sunrises ahead of a day’s work I found time to digest the rush of exhilarating experiences. The drive back south to Dar Es Salaam was accompanied by a  mellow soundtrack  of Habel Kifoto’s Maroon Commandos oozing through the taxi-driver’s sound-system.

I had the good fortune of watching another combined performance of these amazing artists at the Sarakasi Dome in Nairobi a little later last year. If you are in Nairobi, do yourself a favour and go and see a performance hosted by the amazing Sarakasi Trust.

Bagamoyo sunrise
The recording I share today was made in 1981 at the CBS Studios in Kenya, Nairobi.

The sleeve notes have the following to say:
“The group was formed in 1970 but only became popular in 1975 mainly because the material they performed was copied from the then popular bands in Kinshasa, Zaire. The Maroon Commandos later decided to compose and record a few singles; but these failed to take off because they were not well rehearsed, and fans were then of the opinion that the Group performed copyright material better than their own compositions.

“The group, however, did not give up, and worked hard at improving their compositions – in fact, the “Maroons” of the eighties are a totally different story in that they have gone far to establish that they are a “force to reckon with” music-wise.
“The Maroon Commandos signed on with CBS Records (Kenya) Ltd in June 1980, and recorded two singles, both of which sold fairly well. Their first recording in CBS Records

 “Kenya Studios, “Usiniambie Unaenda” turned out to be a nation-wide hit in Kenya. Since its release in April 1981 it has dominated top positions in local charts and it still there in December 1981. The other single, “Bi Sophia NO 1” has also ben a hit, though not as massive as the former.

Their new album “Usiniambie Unaenda” includes both the above hits, as well as two new ones. All four songs have been composed by David Kibe and Laban Ochuka. Listen to the album once and you will only be able to say the group is HEAVY!!!.”

Habel Kifoto: Group Leader; Lead Guitar; Keyboards; Vocals
David Kibe: Deputy Leader; Vocals, Tenor and Alto Sax
Laban Ochuka: Bass; Vocals
Albert Orguro: Rhythm Guitar
Joshua Ogoma: Trumpet
Tom Mutuku: Drums
Paul Mwandembo; Idi Mathias: Vocals
Hamishi Shabani: Tumba

1. Usiniambie Unaenda – Part 1 & Part 2
2. Bi Sophia NO 1 – Part 1 & Part 2
3. Bi Sophia No 2 – Part 1  & Part 2
4. Safari Ni Ndefu – Part 1 & Part 2

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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Reggie Msomi SABC Transcription circa 1963

Reggie Msomi, the legendary composer, arranger, producer, guitarist, saxophonist and more, was, in my opinion, one among a handful of South Africans who have contributed in such a high quality, prolific,  diverse and boundary-stretching manner to this country's musics over a sustained period of time.

Just browse through Electric Jive's archives (use the search bar on the right-hand column) and you will find his contributions stretching over twenty years: as composer and band-member of the Tophitters in a 1957 kwela-jive, then as a key member of the ND Hotshots in 1960 on the wave of inventing mbaqanga along with a big-band swing infusion - all the way via twist, ska, and mbaqanga through to his 1976 hit albums "Soweto Grooving" and "Swing Africa." If you have not heard these, do yourself a favour and search 'Reggie Msomi' in the side-bar - the links are still live.

Reggie Msomi (1962)
From an album featured on
Flatinternational here
As Siemon Allen describes in an earlier posting on this blog: "In 1962 he formed the Hollywood Jazz Band and also became a producer/talent scout for Gallo. Alas, in 1964 he was replaced by Rupert Bopape in an unfortunate turn of events recounted in Nick Lotay’s classic post Jive Motella! on the history of Mavuthela at Matsuli." While Msomi was touring with the Hollywood Jazzband north of the border in Southern Rhodesia there was a palace coup of sorts.

Today's rarity is an SABC transcription of "Reggie Msomi and His  Hollywood Band", we believe to be from 1963. By this time Reggie Msomi had recruited Joseph Makwela (bass) and West Nkosi (saxophone) to the Hollywood Band - after he heard them repeatedly busking outside the doors of Gallo. Lucky Monama (rhythm guitar) was already at Gallo and part of the Hollywood Band. Makwela, Monama and Nkosi would go on to later form the core of the Makona Tsohle Band.

This transcription features six great Msomi tunes from by a very polished band. I tried all I could to remove the slight interference that accompanies the beginning of most of these tracks. They are brief - the music endures.

View more of Msomi’s albums at flatinternational.

You can also find a few more references to early Reggie Msomi on the South African Music Archive Project (SAMAP) site here.

Reggie Msomi and His Hollywood Band - SABC Transcription (LT5222)
All compositions by Msomi.

1. Highway Blues
2. No Pay No Play
3. S.W.A.
4. 7th Floor Blues
5. Black Cat
6. Go Man Go

Mediafire here
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