Monday, 31 December 2012

Unknown Pleasures

As 2012 draws to a close I'm returning with a contrarian (and  personal) reflection. For a variety of reasons I need to take a step back from my regular monthly contributions. This has sparked discussion amongst the electricjive team and the future of the site remains uncertain. We are committed to keeping the site alive and intact but exactly how and where is currently undergoing a lot of consideration. 

In a 180 degree turn from what we normally do at electricjive I have stripped today's share of as much context as I can and hope that the absence of a detailed background and positioning will free you to LISTEN to the music in a different way. 

Enough said. All the very best for 2013 and all that it holds.  

P.S. There is a currently undisclosed but significant prize for the individual who correctly identifies the pieces shared today. Enjoy the blindfold test!


As a special treat for 2013 here's my As-shams/The Sun mix tape

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Miriam Makeba on 78rpm (1955-1959)

I promised after my first post of less common material by Miriam Makeba — Tracks Less Travelled — that I would follow up with more, equally rare, sounds by the singer on 78 rpm. Today, fifteen months later, we feature that second compilation. The tracks here all come from the period before Makeba left South Africa in August 1959 and in many ways trace the growth of her early career — first as an individual (after many recordings with the Manhattan Brothers) and then with the all-female, close-harmony groups: the Sunbeams and the Skylarks. To my knowledge, none of the material below (save for one track) has been reissued in any subsequent format. Most of this material has not been heard in almost 55 years.

Makeba was an icon and pioneer of what has come to be called "world music" long before the term even crossed the marketing desks of record companies. While I loathe the term, I wonder if it in fact accurately and appropriately describes an artist like Makeba who did not restrict herself to one culture but drew material from many languages and styles worldwide: Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, English, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Guinean and so on. She truly was a "world singer".

On the other hand, the cynical side of me also recognises that those languages just happen to correspond with the particular places where her records were pressed and sold. So I have often wondered if her eclectic approach was not just an artistic choice, but also the result of pressure from international record companies to increase global sales.

I compiled the collection below in chronological order based on the matrix numbers of each recording and the results not only trace the evolution but also paint a portrait of an artist (and indeed a culture) open to a broad range of stylistic influences — even before her departure from South Africa. Calypso, gospel, close-harmony American popular music of the 1940s and 50s, but most significantly American jazz; all combined with local traditions to establish an eclectic palette.

The source of the calypso is not hard to pin point. Makeba's first two tracks in this style (recorded in 1957) are cover versions from Harry Belafonte's classic and influential album Calypso from 1956 (the first album to sell over one million copies). A fortuitous sampling — two years later it would be Belafonte himself launching Makeba's global career.

While there are few “hits” in the material below, there are still some significant gems and certainly the whole compilation, to me, has a really pleasant structure that would satisfy any mood, particularly at this time of year. The final few tracks with their significant gospel leanings seem most appropriate to the season. For the more popular material by Makeba from this period I would highly recommend the two CDs compiled by Rob Allingham and Albert Ralulimi: Miriam Makeba and the Skylarks (1956-1959) Vol.1 (CDGSP 3130) and Vol. 2 (CDGSP 3131). (Be sure to get the 2008 reissues each boasting five additional tracks and superior sound quality.)

Makeba with the Manhattan Brothers, c1953
Makeba began her career singing with her second nephew, Zweli Kunene, and his group the Cuban Brothers possibly as early as 1952. It was with the Cubans that Makeba made her first recordings, at that time, for EMI. In her book My Story Makeba maintains that it was while the Cubans were performing at the Donaldson Centre in Orlando East that she was spotted by Nathan Mdledle, lead vocalist of the Manhattan Brothers — South Africa's most popular vocal group at that time. Joe Mogotsi's account of the meeting (in his biography Matindane edited by Lars Rasmussen) is slightly different. He claims that Makeba approached Mdledle at the Donaldson Centre and only after a second interaction, did they come see her sing and then asked her to audition. Whichever the fact, in 1953, at the age of 21, Makeba joined Nathan Mdledle, Joe Mogotsi, Ronnie Majola and Rufus Khoza — the Manhattan Brothers — as their single female singer replacing Emily Kwenane, who was looking to pursue a solo career. Mdledle opted for her English given name as a stage name rather than Zenzi Makeba "as it sounded better" and Miriam Makeba became a star. (Makeba)

Mackay Davashe's Laku Tshon iLanga was her first big hit with the Manhattans but not her first recording. (That may have been Baby Ntsoare.) Gallo had sent the recording to a number of companies overseas and subsequently requested that the group re-record the song in English for an international market. With the help of American composer, Tom Glazer, Lovely Lies was the result pressed on the London label. Though Makeba was not a fan of the new lyrics — she felt that much of the core social drama of the original had been removed. Nevertheless, the song became their first big international hit and also the first South African song to enter the Billboard Top 100 in the United States, reaching position 45 in March of 1956. (Allingham) Because the composing process was generally quite fluid, Magotsi claimed that the Manhattans had an arrangement to share any composing fees with all involved regardless of who got the final credit. Davashe honored this arrangement for the original release but then conveniently failed to do the same for the English version. (Rasmussen) The credits in the latter went to: Davashe / Glazer.

Makeba talking about Lovely Lies in her first book also incorrectly stated that the recording was unusual as blacks were forbidden from singing in English. But according to Rob Allingham, this was not true the Manhattan Brothers had recorded a number of tracks in English in the 1940s and perhaps the lack of support for music in English by blacks may have been attributed to commercial concerns. Makeba's hits with the Manhattans include Baby Ntsoare, Laku Tshon 'iLanga, Tula Ndivile, Ntyilo Ntyilo, amongst others. All can be heard on the CD: The Very Best of the Manhattan Brothers (CDZAC 77) compiled by Rob Allingham.

Sometime in 1954, Makeba left the Manhattans to join Alf Herbert's touring show African Jazz and Variety featuring Dorothy Masuka, Dolly Rathebe and Lionel Pillay amongst others (Rasmussen has the date as 1954, Makeba has it as 1956) and then was again reunited with the Manhattans on Ian Bernhardt's variety show Township Jazz in 1955. She also recorded tracks under her own name for Gallotone in that same year.

The Skylarks: Mummy Girl Nketle, Mary Rabotapi, Makeba, Abigail Kubeka, 1956 from My Story

Early in 1956 Sam Alcock at Gallo encouraged Makeba to form an all female vocal group to compete with similar acts at Troubadour and Trutone. She with her half-sister Mizpah and Johanna Radebe recorded two tracks as the Sunbeams on GRC's Tropik label. (Makeba) The record sold well and the group was brought back into the studio but this time as the Skylarks on Gallo's Gallotone label. The women continued to record under both names for both labels. (GRC was an affiliate of Gallo's hence the common matrix numbers.) For the second session Mizpah was replaced by Mary Rabotapi who was fourteen at the time. The trio then expanded to four with the recruitment of Mummy Girl Nketle. Helen van Rensburg succeeded Johanna Radebe and in late 1957 Van Rensburg was subsequently replaced by Abigail Kubeka who was 16 at the time. As Allingham reveals in the liner notes to the Skylarks CD, the frequent changes to the group were all Makeba's doing. As Mary Rabotapi recalls; "She was the boss. [She] held the recording contract and she was the eldest [...]. Miriam wants hard workers, if you are slow on your feet, she'll take somebody else..." (Allingham)

The group was now set for many of the classic recordings of the late 1950s. On occasion a fifth female voice in Nomonde Sihawu would join the quartet with Sam Ngakane on bass. The Skylarks were prolific and in three years became South Africa's most popular vocal group recording over a hundred tracks and rivaling any of Gallo's other major acts. (Allingham)

Mogosti and Makeba rehearsing for King Kong, c1958. Source Ian Berry, Drum in Mona Glasser
Between 1957 and 1958 planning and rehearsals began on what would become the biggest hit of 1959, South Africa's first all-black African jazz opera: King Kong. The show was produced and directed by Leon Gluckman with music written by Todd Matshikza and included some of the key artists and musicians of the day. Makeba played the lead female role as Joyce, the girlfriend of the legendary and tragic boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, who was played by Nathan Mdledle. Other members of both the Manhattans Brothers and the Skylarks including Joe Mogotsi and Abigail Kubeka were also featured in the cast. The show opened to racially mixed audiences at the Wits Great Hall in February 1959 and then toured the country with much success for the next six months.

Meanwhile, Lionel Rogosin, a young American filmmaker had spotted Makeba performing in African Jazz and Variety in 1958 and recruited her to sing in his clandestine film about township life in South Africa: Come Back Africa (named for the ANC's freedom call Mayibuye iAfrica). The film was accepted into the 1959 Venice Film Festival and Rogosin invited Makeba to join him at the premier in Venice. Makeba applied for a passport to travel abroad and after many months of waiting and what she later described as a harassing interview she received one and subsequently left South Africa in August 1959. The film won the critic's award at Venice. (Makeba)

A few days prior to her departure, on August 12, Makeba joined the Skylarks in a scheduled studio session at Gallo and recorded four tunes. Two days later they returned and recorded ten more — her final session in South Africa. The very last song, aptly titled Miriam's Goodbye to Africa, was only released after she had already left, but became one of the Skylarks most successful tracks. (Allingham)

Just as Makeba had left South Africa after the success of King Kong, so to did the Manhattan Brothers go into exile after the UK production in 1961. In Joe Mogotsi's biography, he recalls some hard times during that period and reflects with some bitterness on how in 1964 their London manager had tried to make contact with Belafonte and Makeba in the hopes that they would be invited to the US. No invitation came... "Although Miriam knew the Brothers were in London, she used black Americans as her supporting act in her shows." (Rasmussen) In her defense though, it should be noted that Belafonte heavily criticized Makeba when she encouraged Letta Mbulu to come to the US in 1965, as he saw her as competition. Magotsi though had speculated that the cold shoulder may have been due to the fact that much of Makeba's early repertoire had included the Manhattans material as her own: "She had worked with the Brothers for many years in South Africa before going to the States and she must have anticipated a conflict of interest over the copyright of our compositions. In the States she was launched [...] singing songs like Qonggqotwane (The Click Song), but we were never credited as composers or even acknowledged by her. Our contributions to South African music went unnoticed." (Rasmussen)

Makeba continued to receive royalties on Manhattan Brothers material until they challenged her in 1993. In a remarkable letter of acknowledgement, included in Magotsi's biography, Makeba confirmed and returned the rights to the Manhattan Brothers of these songs: Qongqotwane (The Click Song), Jikela Emaweni, Mamoriri, Magwalandini and Ndixolele. Though she refused to give up Amampondo, which the Manhattans had recorded in 1958, but interestingly her version just happened to be included in the classic 1997 film When We Were Kings about the life of Muhammad Ali. (Rasmussen)

Makeba on cover of Polish magazine, Nowa Weis, 1969
Regardless of these rights issues, Makeba's importance as an anti-apartheid figure is significant and well-documented, but I really do not think people, especially in South Africa, even begin to grasp how singularly important she was to this movement and the global image of South Africa during these turbulent times. Before Mandela, Makeba was the face of South Africa to a global audience. 1960 is a watershed year in South African history. It is the year that Makeba released her first album in the United States, Europe and many other countries, but more importantly it is also the year of the Sharpeville massacre. The shootings were covered in the international press like no other prior event in South African history. The coverage sat on the front page of the New York Times for almost two months and during this time, Makeba was performing in New York, on US national television, and was broadly covered and reviewed in the US press. For many Americans she became the single face, literally, of a distant country in crisis.

compiled by flatinternational for Electric Jive

01) Pass Office Special
ABC 14045
02) Hoenene
ABC 14046
Miriam Makeba
Gallotone Jive Jive, GB 2134

Pass Office Special refers to the pass book that all black Africans had to carry during the height of the apartheid years. According to Rob Allingham solo recordings by Makeba were advertised by Gallo as early as October 1955. It is my measured guess that these two tracks are from that period. Each of these tunes, though, were hits for Troubadour’s Dorothy Masuka in 1956 and are featured on her compilation CD: Hamba Notsokolo. Pass Office Special was released by Masuka as the more up-beat Ngi Hamba Ngedwa. On the CD Masuka is credited as the composer for both tunes and Makeba gets the credit line on the Gallotone 78 rpms. While Makeba has notoriously claimed others songs as her own, I am almost confident that both these recordings predate Masuka’s versions. Though rivals, Masuka and Makeba were fast friends and often practiced songs together. Makeba gives this account of their relationship in her biography: "Dorothy and I are always singing: backstage at the shows, on the train, late at night at our hotel, everywhere! She is smart and fast. Dorothy also composes beautiful melodies. Always, she is thinking of a new one. When one pops into her head, she comes to me and says, "Hey Miriam! Take this part." I hum it, and she improvises by humming another part. It is too bad that we cannot record together, but we have contracts with different record companies. Still, we have fun together." (Makeba) Makeba would go on to “cover” a number of other Masuka songs during her career sometimes as her own compositions.

03) Dube
ABC 14406
04) Hela Mama
ABC 14407
The Skylarks
Gallotone Jive Jive, GB 2405

These two recordings appear to be the very first issued by the Skylarks, who in this case were a vocal trio with Makeba, Joanna Radebe and Mary Rabotapi. General Duze is on guitar. (Allingham)

05) Ndadibana Notsotsi
ABC 14663
06) Musu Kuhamba
ABC 14664
The Skylarks with accompaniment
Gallotone Jive Jive, GB 2503

This is the second disc released by the Skylarks. Musu Kuhamba is a much slower version of Dorothy Masuka’s hit Ufikizolo which is also featured on her CD Hamba Notsokolo mentioned above. Allingham claims that Makeba was covering the Masuka song here even though the credit goes to Makeba on the disc label. (Allingham)

07) Africa
ABC 15310
08) Uyangonwabisa
ABC 15311
The Sunbeams
Tropik, DC 645

I had read that Makeba and the Skylarks had also recorded for GRC as the Sunbeams but until very recently was not able to locate a disc. I came across this find in a record store in Cape Town. It is not clear why the two names were used for the group's recordings with different companies but Makeba maintains that it was meant to give the appearance of a rivalry. (Makeba) Both GRC and Gallo shared recording studios and thus the matrixes are continuous. The arrangers however were different and according to Allingham gave the GRC material a rather "slap-dash quality". (Allingham)

09) Ndakugcinga
ABC 15751
The Skylarks
USA, USA 301

Ndakugcinga comes from the same session and is the b-side of Kutheni Sithandwa. Both tunes are variations on Harry Belafonte’s Jamaica Farewell and his international hit the Banana Boat Song (respectively). The songs signal the beginning of the influence of Belafonte’s album Calypso which became a worldwide hit in 1956 and the first record to sell over a million copies. In Makeba’s version of Jamaica Farewell, Kingston Town is replaced by Sophiatown. According to Allingham the session included Miriam Makeba, Abigail Kubeka, Sam 'Vandi' Leballo, Mummy Girl Nketle, Mary Rabotapi (vocals), Almon Memela (guitar), Eddie Wyngaart (bass) and Dan Hill (bongos). The USA disc is a 1965 reissue of an earlier Gallotone release GB 2608. The influence of calypso in general would continue into a number of other tracks some of which are featured below.

10) Sondela Sitete 
ABC 15845
11) Dibanani Mawethu
ABC 15846
The Skylarks
Gallotone Jive Jive, GB 2689

12) Go Calypso
ABC 15932
13) Indoda Ihambile
ABC 15933
The Skylarks
Gallotone Jive, GB 2664

Two tracks showing again the influence of calypso. Go Calypso opens with a conversation in which Makeba mentions in Afrikaans (or tsotsitaal) that the recording is taking place on June 26 which at that time happened to be the 5th anniversary of the start of the Defiance Campaign (in 1952) and the 2nd anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter (in 1955). June 26th 1957, the apparent day of the recording, was marked as Protest Day. "Later generations will remember June 26th, 1957 as the day on which the workers stayed at home in the year of the bus boycott, in the year of the treason trial, in the year when the people hit back. June 26 is the people's day, born of travail and tempered in the heat of struggle. On that day the people dedicate themselves anew to the struggle for freedom." (from Fighting Talk, July 1957). Today this day is celebrated as Freedom Day in South Africa.

14) We Motsoala
ABC 16061
15) Mme Matsoale
ABC 16062
The Flashes
Gallotone Jive, GB 2717

I am almost convinced that these two tunes by the Flashes feature Makeba on lead vocal, though I have no evidence other than her voice to go by. I included the first track on my earlier compilation mix here at Electric Jive: 78 Revolutions Per Minute: Majuba Jazz from Mra to Bra. Certainly the b-side track, Mme Matsoale, is one of the real gems of this compilation.

16) Let's Break Bread Together
ABC 17033
The Skylarks
New Sound, GB 2847

Let’s Break Bread Together is the b-side of the hit track Live Humble a tune penned by Gibson Kente. It seems that after the great success with Hush, a gospel-inspired tune recorded approximately three months earlier roughly in June 1958, the group worked again with Kente on a number of socially tinged songs in English, including the track Do Unto Others. The Skylarks would go on to record a number of other gospel flavored tunes composed by Kente in their final sessions with Makeba in 1959. The first third of the song is missing as the disc from which this track comes has a significant break.

17) Kisimus Time
ABC 17243
The Skylarks
New Sound, GB 2861

An appropriate tune for the season. This was probably recorded in December of 1958 and follows a tradition at Troubadour and Gallo where Christmas and New Year songs were recorded annually for holiday sales.

18) Motherless, Fatherless Child
ABC 17799
19) Gossiping Christians
ABC 17800
The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba
New Sound, GB 3315

20) Tremble
ABC 17811
21) Miriam's Goodbye to Africa (Breakfast Special)
ABC 17812
The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba
New Sound, GB 2958

The last four tunes all come from Makeba’s last two sessions at Gallo, on August 12th and 14th, 1959, before she would leave for Europe and then the USA. All above except Miriam’s Goodbye to Africa (by Reggie Msomi) were composed by Gibson Kente and have a distinct gospel influence. The session also included a number of other hits for example Miriam and Spokes’ Phata Phata, Uile Ngoane Batho (both with Spokes Mashiyane), Uyadela and Yini Madoda, amongst others. The group for these sessions included Makeba, Abigail Kubeka, Mummy Girl Nketle, Mary Rabotapi (vocals), Reggie Msomi (guitar), Johannes 'Chooks' Tshukudu (bass) and Louis Molubi (drums). On Miriam's Goodbye, Sam Ngakane is also included on vocals with Dan Hill on organ.

Kente's Motherless, Fatherless Child references Makeba's leaving of her young daughter, Bongi, as does Miriam's Goodbye which literally marks her departure from South Africa. She would be re-united with Bongi in the United States a year later. Miriam's Goodbye was not issued until she left South Africa and became one of the Skylarks' biggest hits. It is also featured on the New Sounds of Africa Vol.2 LP which can be viewed here at EJ. For more Skylarks material also check out New Sounds of Africa Vol.1.

I wanted to include Miriam's Goodbye to Africa in this compilation as it significantly marks the end of her South African career. But this tune is also quite common so I have chosen to leave the transfer in its raw state without any software clean-up. The Breakfast Special, as I have called it, really does give one a sense of how some of these 78 rpms have aged.

Have a wonderful Holiday and New Year!



Friday, 21 December 2012

A Mavuthela Christmas - Part Two


At last… the concluding part of A Mavuthela Christmas is offered to Electric Jive readers all across the globe. In this mix of festive mbaqanga treats, we take a look at the astonishing talents of the male and female vocal groups that graced the Gallo studios during the Mavuthela era.

Sumptuous guitar work and traditional male vocals grace the tune of “Manyane Jive Part One”, a 1976 recording by the studio band Pops and Sons. The tune was written by the then-husband and wife team of Rupert Bopape and Irene Mawela, although the accomplished vocalist Mawela does not appear in this song. She does, however, lend her beautiful vocals to The Zebras’ “Selemo Sekene”, perhaps one of her most marvellous songs. The Zebras was another studio band that twisted the then-popular arrangement of female singers fronted by one male around on its head – in a unique and somewhat ironic throwback to the style that the female-led mbaqanga had replaced, The Zebras featured a selection of Mavuthela male singers who were fronted by one female (Irene). Sometimes, though, they managed to creep into the studio without Irene to record some fine classics, such as “Retsoa Daveyton”.

The mid-1970s gear shift towards male mbaqanga was not unusual – the female-led mbaqanga had dominated the country since at least the late 1950s, when the formula was arguably set by Miriam Makeba and The Skylarks. Rupert Bopape, who was then at EMI, sought to replicate that formula en masse for two reasons. Number one, The Skylarks sounded great; and number two, it might be more fun to turn the then-popular combination of four or five men with a single female lead right round on its head. Under his keen producing eye, some of the most popular groups were built up. Having had successes with the Dark City Sisters and the Killingstone Stars, his move to Gallo in 1964 saw him build up even bigger successes with the Mahotella Queens, the Mthunzini Girls and Izintombi Zomoya. But by 1974, the only successful female mbaqanga groups were the aforementioned bands and others that had been in existence for some years by then. Almost all the new female groups of the mid-1970s found little success. The biggest mbaqanga group of that decade was, unsurprisingly, a completely male line-up (perhaps the male equivalent of the Mahotella Queens) called Abafana Baseqhudeni. Abafana was not just comprised of male singers who blended well – all five of them were groaners who had built up their careers singing with female groups. Robert ‘Umfana Wembazo’ Mkhize was the leader of the group, and continued to make his own solo recordings while heading up Abafana. The group was extremely popular and productive until the rise of the disco-soul sound in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Experiments with a male-led mbaqanga happened as early on as the 1960s. The Black Mambazo (not related to the wonderful isicathamiya group from Ladysmith) combined their pennywhistle skills with their guttural moans and wails to create interesting material, and it became one of South Africa's most popular bands until tastes changed as the decade wore on, and their popularity faded. When Bopape moved to Gallo and ended up with several female units under his belt, he combined all the groaners of the lower-tier groups to create a male equivalent to Izintombi Zomoya – it was called, aptly, Izinsizwa Zomoya. Unfortunately, the group did not last long. It was not until Abafana came along in 1974 that the male-led mbaqanga really took the country by storm.

One of Mavuthela's most popular female groups (underneath the top-selling senior group, the Mahotella Queens) was the Mthunzini Girls. Originally a quartet consisting of Julia Yende (lead vocals), Windy Sibeko, Teddy Nkutha and Virginia Teffo, the group soared to the top with memorable hits like "Ngikhala Ngiya Baleka", "Gijima Mfana", "Sobonana Emafini" and other greats. John Moriri became the group's regular male vocalist in 1967. With John on lead vocals, they developed an even bigger stage presence with the likes of "Dikuku", "Tsabohadi", "Sedikwedikwe" and more. Around 1970 the line-up disintegrated, but the group was kept together by John. He recruited Beatrice Ngcobo to the group as the new lead singer alongside members Phyllis Zwane, Thandi Nkosi, Maseri Nombembe, Barbara Shabalala and others. Under this line-up, more effervescent jive hits were recorded - one of them, "Majazana", is included in this mix for your enjoyment.

In 1972, John Moriri left Mavuthela following Rupert Bopape's refusal to reimburse the group for a local tour. He went to Satbel Records and was joined by the members of the Mthunzini Girls, and they formed a new group which released phenomenally high-selling hits under the name John Moriri and Manzini Girls. Back at Mavuthela, singer Julia Yende returned to the studios, and - as the Mthunzini Girls were now recording under another name for another company - joined Izintombi Zomoya as their new lead vocalist. She leads the great and soulful 1975 tune "Phuma Makoti".

The signature female mbaqanga group, the Mahotella Queens, also makes its appearance on this compilation. Their trademark vocal sound is put to effective use in the song “Wamuhle Makoti”, a song written by regular Queens vocalist Olive Masinga about the beauty of a young bride-to-be. It is a wonderful arrangement, with a rather large-sounding assortment of the usual vocalists (Rupert Bopape would often squeeze as many as seven or eight vocalists into the studio for Mahotella Queens recordings!) as well as the male backing vocals of Robert Mkhize and Elphas Ray Mkize. The Queens also feature here twice more. The ladies (under a slightly different combination of singers) sing the 1970 song “Morabaraba”, with its feisty mgqashiyo “no-nonsense” arrangement. There is also a tune here by Emily Zwane and The Sweet Sounds from 1974 – a pseudonym which is actually the Mahotella Queens fronted by lead singer Hilda Tloubatla, singing the song “Izinto Zimanukwenzeka” written by member Constance Ngema. Emily, who sings here only as part of the group itself, actually did go onto become the lead singer of the Queens when Hilda left the band in 1976. Emily fronted the group until it was reorganised in 1987 for the international breakthrough, at which point Hilda and two of the other original Queens were reunited.

…and that, EJ readers, is all from me for now. It’s been a huge pleasure to regularly serve you with long forgotten rare and exciting gems, and to give people a real insight into who these musicians were and why their stories are still relevant and important today. Whatever the future holds for the blog, I’m glad to have combined in-depth context with some of the most beautiful and important music ever recorded – and I sincerely hope that all of you have appreciated and enjoyed it as much as I have. There are more exceptional treats to come over the next couple of weeks, so please do stay tuned to Electric Jive.

Merry Christmas!


1. Manyane Jive Part One
Pops and Sons
MJW Records MJW 114

2. Selemo Sekene
The Zebras
MJW Records MJW 104

3. Khiphan’ Izinkomo
Umfana Wembazo
Motella MO 574

4. Wamuhle Makoti
Mahotella Queens
Gumba Gumba MGG 604

5. Umgqashiyo Wendlele
Izinsizwa Zomoya
Motella LMO 108

6. Mama Kutheni
Izintombi Zomoya
Smanje Manje SJM 17

7. Retsoa Daveyton
The Zebras
MJW Records MJW 102

8. Izinto Zimanukwenzeka
Emily Zwane and The Sweet Sounds
Gumba Gumba MGG 625

9. Sina Ngoanaka
Markhams and Sisters
Gallo-USA 306

10. Ubugcwelegcwele - live performance
Abafana Baseqhudeni

11. Morabaraba
Mahotella Queens
Gumba Gumba MGG 555

12. Sadlula Thina
Abafana Baseqhudeni
Gumba Gumba RL 315

13. Majazana
Mthunzini Girls
Motella MO 372

14. Kumnyama Khanyisani
Abafana Baseqhudeni
Gumba Gumba RL 315

15. Phuma Makoti
Izintombi Zomoya
Gumba Gumba RL 315


Monday, 17 December 2012

A Mavuthela Christmas - Part One

Christmas is almost upon us, and it would be somewhat unusual for Electric Jive not to welcome in the festive season without providing our readers with a hefty dose of mbaqanga. Therefore, I am proud to present the first of a two-part compilation entitled A Mavuthela Christmas. This is the fifth volume in my series charting the music of the Mavuthela Music Company, a series that began back in 2009 with a post on the Matsuli Music blog.

A Mavuthela Christmas – Part One pays tribute to the glue that held everything together. That glue was a tight unit of instrumentalists who not only provided beautiful musical backing for the vocal stars, but also created their own wonderful melodic hits. This compilation traces not only some of the most rhythmic sax jive recordings of the company, but also some of the unusual ventures into others music styles such as ska, soul, the keyboard-led marabi, and the mid-1970s “African Jazz” revival. All in all, this mixture of recordings provides something of a peek into what made the Mavuthela instrumental section the supreme, creative and talented powerhouse it was.

At Mavuthela’s start, the musical backing was provided mostly by former pennywhistle jive stars who had been forced to learn newer instruments – these included Jerry Mlotshwa on electric lead guitar, Lucky Monama and Jerry Mthethwa on acoustic rhythm guitar, Ben Nkosi on string bass and Wilfred Mosebi on drums. Reggie Msomi, who had been pushed out of his Gallo producing role when Rupert Bopape was recruited to start up the Mavuthela division, also provided electric guitar and saxophone harmonies. The early Mavuthela sax jive material made for pleasant listening, but it was nothing revolutionary, rather it was Bopape carrying on at Gallo from where he had left off at EMI. Thankfully, the Mavuthela team was boosted by the arrivals of three key individuals. These were Marks Mankwane on electric lead guitar, Joseph Makwela on electric bass and Vivian Ngubane on electric rhythm guitar. With their appointments, the new harder-edged mbaqanga sound became a staple of the industry. Mankwane, Makwela, Ngubane and Monama (now on drums, replacing Wilfred Mosebi) formed the nucleus of the new Mavuthela house band, which was later named the Makgona Tsohle Band in about 1965. Makgona Tsohle backed the company’s top artists including Mahlathini, the Mahotella Queens, the Mthunzini Girls, and many others, as well as the saxophone stars such as West Nkosi, Reggie Msomi, Spokes Mashiyane, Lemmy ‘Special’ Mabaso, Mario Da Conceicao and many others.

The Makgona Tsohle Band – West Nkosi combination was a popular one. The combination of elastic guitar rhythm with the screaming alto sax was irresistible to audiences of the day. The material was released across a number of different pseudonyms, including Marks Mankwane and His Band, West Nkosi and His Sax, Joseph Makwela and His Comrades or Lucky Monama and His Partners – usually depending on which member had composed the tune, or led the music in the recording. The name that gained currency was, of course, the Makgona Tsohle Band, a Sesotho term loosely translating to “the band that can do anything”. It was a literal statement, for the team could easily move from sax jive to soul or ska, infused with that classic Makgona Tsohle sound. All of these examples are represented in the compilation.

There was also a mushrooming collection of “junior” members who formed small bands and released some successful material. It was an active training ground to prepare them for the stardom they would encounter later in their careers at Mavuthela. Abafana Be Mvunge was a team of musicians that arose in the later 1960s, showcasing the best of the more second-tier members such as Nathaniel Mthembu on lead guitar (who later went to Hamilton Nzimande’s Isibaya Esikhulu team at CBS-GRC) and Sipho Bhengu on alto sax. It was an energetic session group, and their material was always extremely infectious and enjoyable. During the early 1970s, the Marabi Kings – who also recorded under the name Abafana Bamarabi – was another popular group comprised of more junior members like Marubini Jagome on lead guitar, Christian Nombewu on rhythm guitar, Sipho Mthethwa on bass and Eddie Ndzeru on drums. The Big Bag Boys, on the other hand, appeared to be a group that mixed musicians from right across the board. They were in fact named after a hugely successful 1967 single titled “Big Bag No. 1”, recorded by the Makgona Tsohle Band.

The Mavuthela instrumental team was lucky enough to be supported by Shadrack Piliso, a former trumpet player whose unique ear for music and talent for songwriting helped to create many, many pop hits for the company. He was the vocal arranger for most of the girl group material, and also came up with a lot of the melodies for sax jive songs. Piliso also contributed to recordings as a keyboard player when soul music became popular in South Africa, and his group – S. Piliso and His Super Seven – focused on creating indigenous cover recordings of American soul hits. He also worked up a brief “marabi revival” in the early 1970s, bringing the pedal organ into the Gallo studios and playing it alongside the guitar-led band. In 1975, when Mavuthela decided it needed to branch out into the bump jive sound already being made popular by the likes of producer David Thekwane over at Teal Records, Piliso became leader of the “African Jazz” group The Members, which also featured his younger brother Edmund ‘Ntemi’ Piliso on soprano/alto/tenor sax, Ellison Themba on tenor sax and Aaron Lebona on piano, alongside Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso on alto sax and Roger Xezu on tenor sax - all backed by younger blood such as Boxer Kheswa on rhythm guitar, Jerry Mlotshwa on bass guitar and Zeph Khoza on drums.

A Mavuthela Christmas – Part Two will be posted later in the week, and will focus on classic female and male vocal jive recordings. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this mixed bag of instrumental goodies. Many of them are simply beautiful pieces of works, and all are a complete joy to listen to.



1. Compliments of the Season
Reggie Msomi and His Hollywood Jazz Band
Gallo-USA 282
*Courtesy of Chris Albertyn

2. Molodi Wabadisa
Marks Mankwane and His Band
Gallotone GB 3664

3. July Handicap
West Nkosi and His Sax
Gallo-USA 358

4. Shintsha Zulu
Abafana Be Mvunge
Inkonkoni NKO 7-2

5. Marks Reggi
Makgona Tsohle Band
Inkonkoni LNKO 2001

6. Thula Umsindo
S. Piliso and His Super Seven
Mashalashala MSL 16

7. Imbangi
Abafana Be Mvunge
Inkonkoni NKO 7-3

8. Izonyosi
Big Voice Jack
Inkonkoni NKO 7-4

9. Soul Track
Makgona Tsohle Band
Inkonkoni LNKO 2001

10. Put It On
S. Piliso and His Super Seven
Mashalashala MSL 39

11. Somewhere
Big Bag Boys
Inkonkoni LNKO 2001

12. African Fingers
Sipho and His Jets
Soul Jazz Pop SOJ 91

13. Tsikiza Jive
S. Piliso and His Super Seven
Soul Jazz Pop SOJ 74

14. Mr. Big Face
Teaspoon Ndelu and His “T” Boys
Mashalashala MAS 2009

15. Sweet Water
Sipho Mthethwa and His Friends
Up Mavuthela UPM 814

16. Speedy Man
West Nkosi and His Mouth Organ
Inkonkoni NKO 68

17. Inkalakatha
Makgona Tsohle Band
Inkonkoni LNKO 2001

18. Esigodlweni
Marabi Kings
Polydor POL 305
*Courtesy of Chris Albertyn

19. Veza Mvelase
Abafana Be Mvunge
Inkonkoni NKO 7-3

20. Roll Away
Big Voice Jack
Inkonkoni NKO 7-4


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Electric Jive Durban Office Party 2012

Click on the image to see more of Kunyalala Ndlovu's work
Another year, another Durban branch office party mix (separated tracks also available) - another time to celebrate out of print and diverse South African music ranging from mostly rare 78rpms from the fifties and sixties and through to the seventies with a selection from my collection.

A cheerful mostly mid-tempo concoction, you may be encouraged to dance, sway, do the jive, or just tap your fingers and feet to this blend of 50s jazz, early sixties twist and mbaqanga, kwela, and rock 'n roll. Who knows you might find yourself in the shower letting loose with a few catchy Elvis Presley choruses in Zulu  - the King Cole Boogies doing two wonderful Presley covers in Zulu. Alpheus Nkosi also does some great 60s rock 'n roll. In-between you will find a little boere guitar and concertina, not at all out of place, and also a pleasant surprise from 1980s Durban band Scooters Union.

Tracks from Ntemi Piliso's Alexander All Stars, and Reggie Msomi's Soweto Groovin (1976) pop up as a preview to the full LPs I plan to share sometime in the new year.

As mentioned in my Congo singles posts earlier this year, (here and here) South African groups in the early 60s did celebrate and appreciate the music of the Congo. We kick off with two 78rpm records from the "Pretty Dolls" and the "Dark City Sisters".

No office party could be complete without at least a little mbaqanga - this time with a leaning towards the accordeon and guitar-driven genre that first inspired Paul Simon to put together Graceland. Joseph Mazibuko deservedly takes centre stage with three numbers from 1971. He also features some tracks on the popular Greatest Accordion Hits Vol 3. here

The wonderful artwork you see at the top of this post was specially created by Kunyalala Ndlovu for Electric Jive. Thanks Kone we love it, and we look forward to working some more with you! Kone says his "work is simply a visual result of seeking little known southern african popular culture and making it visible; welcome to the afro-pop life." To check out more of Kone's creations, click here.

Thanks once again for your company and especially to all of you who left comments during this last year. I look forward to sharing more wonderful music with you in the new year. 

1.     Congo Cha Cha: The Pretty Dolls – (Cook, Matumba) - 78rpm Troubador AFC607
2.     Indinesala:  The Dark City Sisters- (R. Bopape, E. Temba; A. Memela) 78rpm His Master's Voice JP784
3.     Chalenipo: The Dark City Sisters – (R. Bopape, E. Temba; A. Memela) 78rpm His Master's Voice JP784
4.     I Like to Dance: The Pretty Dolls (Cook, Matumba) 78rpm Troubador AFC607
5.     Kwela Kwela: Jan Brits
6.     Heita Heita - Sophiatown Gaieties -78rpm Quality TJ124
7.     Linda – Suzanne Seeku with the St Louis Swingsters (1953) 78rpm XU177
8.     Nkanyezi (We're Gonna Move) - King Cole Boogies (Elvis Presley - Vera Matson) 78rpm TJ188
9.     Twist Beat: Zee Zee Jazz Appointment (R. Bopape) 78rpm HMV JP749
10.  Kwela Twist: Mario and Chris (Mario De Conceicao) 78rpm Hi-Life HL534
11.  Rocket Kwela: Mario de Conceincao (Mario de Conceincao) 78rpm Hi-Life HL525
12.  See you later: Little Lemmy Special and Big Joe78rpm Gallotone Jive GB2774
13.  Kutheni (Teddy Bear): King Cole Boogies  (Kal-Mann-B. Lowe) 78rpm TJ188
14.  Thula Phela: Alpheus Nkosie. 78rpm JP2121
15.  Majikaduze Twist: West Nkosi (1963) 78rpm USA248
16.  Ndiya Egoli: Alpheus Nkosie (Alpheus Nkosie) 78rpm JP2121
17.  Guitar Walk: Regardo Bornman (Regardo Bornman) 78rpm Columbia DSA351
18.  Crossroads:  The Knights 78rpm Parlophone SPD190
19.  Bird's Haven: New Year Swingsters (Strike Vilakazi). 78rpm OK138
20.  Apple Tart: The Alexander All Stars (Ntemi Piliso) Apple Tart Cake (1976) LP: SSL 0120 - Soul.Soul.
21.  Ungayeka Ungahleka: Reggie Msomi and his Hollywood Jazz Band. 78rpm USA356
22.  Ulala Kanjani: Gumedes Concertina Band.  (1951)London 33rpm microgroove LPB431
23.  Skoppelmaal: Scooters Union. LP: Vivid Memories Of Static (1986)
24.  Konsertina Kwela: Niek Potgieter
25.  Isikhwama: Joseph Mazibuko (Mazibuko)  (1971) 45rpm  GoGo GGB484
26.  Salani Madoda: Joseph Mazibuko (Mazibuko) (1971) 45rpm Star Black SKB437
27.  Kuya-Ziwa:  Joseph Mazibuko (Mazibuko) (1971) 45rpm GoGo GGB484
28.  Ngawe Hlobo Lwami: Phillemon Zulu (Phillemon Zulu) 45rpm More Music Hits MMh2574
29.  Nomdayi: Reggie Msomi and his Jazz Africa (Reggie Msomi) LP: Soweto Grooving (1976)  SoulJazzPop BL90.
Mixed together
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Tracks Separated
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Monday, 10 December 2012

Kippie Moeketsi: The LP he never made (1971)

Kippie Moeketsi, Victor Ntoni and Danayi Dlova in their one-off practise jam at the Langa Community Centre, Cape Town 1971. Picture by Ian Bruce Huntley
Morolong, musical genius, unchallenged as the foremost South African jazz musician of his generation, the “Charlie Parker of South Africa”.  Abdullah Ibrahim (then Dollar Brand) pays homage on the sleeve notes of his 1971 recording Peace - Dollar Brand + 2:  “It was Kippie Moeketsi, the father of us all, an alto player, the first person who made us aware of the riches inside South Africa, who convinced me to devote my entire life to music.”

In a 1980 interview Hugh Masekela laments the fact that Kippie never made an LP of his own: “It is amazing that Kippie Moeketsi has been around for a long time and has never made an LP on his own. It is only when Pat Matshikiza or Dollar Brand calls him that he’s been able to do something. There’s an image hanging around him that he is a drunkard. Truth is he has been frustrated in his attempts to set things straight for Black artists. Bra Kippie is among the most brilliant musicians we’ve ever had and also a champion for the rights of his colleagues. Even militants use to call him a trouble-maker”(Umhlaba Wethu, edited by Mutloase Mothobi – Skotaville Publishers, 1980).

This live concert recording of Kippie Moeketsi, made and preserved by Ian Bruce Huntley, is special in that it is a recording with Moeketsi as leader - the LP he never made. In fact, at ninety minutes long it would have to be a double LP. This recording contains tracks we believe were composed by Moeketsi and are not recorded anywhere else. I use the word “believe” advisedly as jazz buffs more knowledgeable than me cannot identify seven of the nine tracks from this concert. Ian is of the opinion that some of these tracks are Kippie’s own creations that he never gave names to. Does anyone recognise these from elsewhere?
Today’s previously unreleased recording is also special in that ten days after this once-off concert at the Art Centre in Cape Town, Dollar Brand sent Moeketsi, Victor Ntoni and Nelson Magwaza a telegram asking them to come to Johannesburg and join him in making what were his first commercial recordings in South Africa since 1960. Produced by Rashid Vally, those records are now lauded as classics:  Dollar Brand + 2 with Victor Ntoni and Nelson Magwaza (Gallo-Soultown KRS110) and “Dollar Brand + 3 with Kippie Moeketsi” - with Ntoni and Magwaza as well. (Gallo-Soultown KRS113).
This concert at the Art Centre in Cape Town also flags the emergence of "the sad man of South African jazz" from a number of years where he did not record or perform much in public. Kippie went on to make major contributions to two of Pat Matshikiza's recordings, and also recorded with Hal Singer: see Matsuli's As-Shams discography which includes Dollar Brand +2Dollar Brand + 3, Tshona (1975), Sikiza Matshikiza (1976), and Kippie Moeketsi-Hal Singer (1977).

When the plan to bring Kippie to Cape Town was originally hatched, Ian Huntley agreed to pay for the airticket - what was  then a 'substantial' sum of fifty rand. When Danayi Dlova (sax), Victor Ntoni (bass) and Nelson Magwaza (drums) went with Ian to Cape town airport in Ian’s Renault 4L, they found Kippie with a small tog bag in his right hand - no saxophone.

Kippie spent that night at Ian’s flat on Main Road in Rondebosch listening to music from Ian’s already legendary collection of vinyl. Duke Ellington’s big band recordings propelled Kippie to prolonged tears of emotion and appreciation. The next day was spent trying to find a saxophone that Kippie could use for the concert. In the end, Ian made a plan and persuaded his friends Lawrence and Sherlaine Koonen at The Record Centre to give him a loan (Ian would normally spend every spare cent of his modest mapmaker’s salary on buying jazz LP's from them). So, it came to be that Ian bought Kippie a brand new Selmer Mark 6 alto saxophone.  
Victor Ntoni: Pic by Ian Bruce Huntley
Kippie then took up temporary lodging with a Mrs George in Langa, and spent time hanging out with the band members. When I asked Ian how much the band practised together before this Art Centre concert he laughed. “I could never find them at the Langa Community Centre practising, I got quite worried.  They played precisely one jam of a gig at the Langa Community Centre, and then just got up that night at the Art Centre and let this concert just happen.”

As a live recording there are one or two brief moments where Danayi Dlova and Kippie Moeketsi’s saxophones feel around to find each other. There are however sustained flashes of brilliance from Kippie and all of the band members. Sometimes you have to listen carefully to distinguish if it is Kippie Moeketsi or Danayi Dlova playing solo. Kwa-Mashu, Durban-born Nelson Magwaza’s drumming and Victor Ntoni’s bass are really top class.

Less than two weeks later Kippie Moeketsi, Nelson Magwaza and Victor Ntoni took the  train from Cape Town to Johannesburg to make those recordings with Dollar Brand. It is understood that the train ride was quite a party.

It was in 1954 when Dollar Brand joined Mackay Davashe’s Shantytown Sextet when he first met Kippie Moeketsi. Together they embarked upon an epic journey exploring and experimenting with the music of the U.S. jazz and bop greats. Along with Dollar Brand, Moeketsi then went on to form the legendary Jazz Epistles with  Hugh Masekela,  Jonas Gwangwa, Johnny Gertze and Makhaya Ntshoko. Their album, Jazz Epistle Verse One, was recorded in 1960. “Scullery Department” the sixth track featured on this Art Centre recording was originally recorded on Verse One.

Kippie Moeketsi's statue outside "Kippies"
 in Newtown, Johannesburg
A discography of some of Kippie Moeketsi’s recordings can be found at Siemon’s Flat International website here. Another valuable work in progress is a discography of Dollar Brand / Abdullah Ibrahim's prolific outputs here

In September 2009 a bronze sculpture of Kippie was unveiled in tribute by the City of Johannesburg outside the Newtown jazz club bearing his name.
Kippie Moeketsi died penniless in 1983 at the age of 58.

If you have not yet listened to the earlier postings from Ian’s archive, you can find them here: 

Love for Free: Hidden South African Jazz Archive revealed

Becoming Free In Cape Town

Last Night at the Room At The Top: Dyani and Pukwana

Kippie Moeketsi: The LP he never made
Recorded Live at the Art Centre, Cape Town - in stereo - by Ian Bruce Huntley
September 1971

1. Un-named Track One (3:49)
2. Body and Soul (9:49)
3. I Remember You (14:15)
4. Lonesome Lover (Max Roach) (14:07)
5. Un-named Track Five (3:07)
6. Scullery Department (10:43) - (Moeketsi)
7. Turnaround  (Ornette Coleman) (14:16)
8. Un-named Track Eight (14:03)
9. Un-named Track Nine (7:23)

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