Monday, 25 March 2013

Mahlathini - Kudala Besibiza (1978)

Electric Jive presents an album containing some of the best 1970s material recorded by Simon 'Mahlathini' Nkabinde, perhaps the greatest male mbaqanga vocalist. I could not resist sharing this LP with you - some of my favourite songs are included on this album, which features Mahlathini in brilliant voice at the height of his career.

The "groaning" vocal style that became Mahlathini's most recognisable musical feature was originated not by him, but by Aaron Lerole, a member of the pennywhistle group that Nkabinde's older brother Zeph co-formed, Alexandra Black Mambazo. Lerole, who developed this vocal style to attract people on the streets where the group performed, was not a natural bass singer and ended up ruining his voice permanently. Zeph took over the reigns by the later 1950s when the group began introducing five-part harmonies into their performances. Mambazo was by now under contract to EMI under the auspices of producer Rupert Bopape. Simon, who was growing up to be a fine singer with a unique "gruffness" and baritone quality, was convinced by Zeph to join the group at EMI. So began a colourful and productive career.

At EMI, Simon featured prominently on lead vocals in Black Mambazo recordings, and often fronted the legendary recordings from EMI's girl group team, who recorded under names like the Dark City Sisters, the Flying Jazz Queens and the Killingstone Stars. Simon, informally known as Mahlathini, was also recording solo hits of his own as "Boston Tar Baby". Gallo Africa poached Bopape early in 1964, and he brought a selection of musicians - including Simon - over to the new Mavuthela division. With the new house band - the Makgona Tsohle Band - providing the all-important instrumental backup, alongside the Mavuthela girl group team - most well-known as the Mahotella Queens - providing the essential vocals, Simon completed the triumvirate as Mahlathini. Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens enjoyed a very successful recording and touring period in South Africa and neighbouring countries until 1972, when Mahlathini fell out with Bopape over royalties.

Mahotella continued as normal, filling the gap with groaner Robert 'Mbazo' Mkhize, when Mahlathini decided to leave Gallo. However, his popularity perhaps hit an all-time high when he joined Satbel under producer C. B. Matiwane (and later under the production of Wilson Ndlovu). At Satbel, Mahlathini was backed by The Queens, a new girl group that held a very familiar name to his last one. Several of the original Mahotella members, including Mildred Mangxola, made the move to Satbel to become key singers and composers in The Queens. The creative was also bolstered by the presence of musicians from both Gallo-Mavuthela and GRC-Isibaya Music, such as Selby 'Bra Sello' Mmutung, who provided alto sax and additional male vocals in addition. Mahlathini was also joined by Lazarus 'Boy Nze' Magatole, a wonderful groaner in his own right.

Mahlathini's 1970s career at Satbel was decorated with a solid and consistent sound. The fierce, raw energy of this selection of musicians came across in every song that they produced. Such powerful recordings like "Bhula Mngoma", "Umkhovu" and "Abake Ba Bonana" are classic Mahlathini. The Queens, meanwhile, could also hold their own without the King - "Isitimela", for example, combines  only their beautiful voices with the combined prowess of Raphael Ngcamphala (lead guitar), Nunu Luphoko (rhythm guitar) and Alfius Madlokovu (bass).

This compilation of material recorded between 1974 and 1977 gives you a taste of Mahlathini's '70s rough-cut mbaqanga at its finest. This music is explored further in the fantastic Earthworks compilations The Lion of Soweto (1987) and King of the Groaners (1993), the first of which led the way in bringing the King's music to a wider international audience. I hope you enjoy Kudala Besibiza!

produced by C. B. Matiwane/Wilson Ndlovu
Music for Pleasure MFP PP 80200
Zulu Vocal


Friday, 22 March 2013

South African Jazz Cultures Indaba - 20th April

A heads-up for jazz-loving UK-based visitors to Electric Jive, here is a chance to spend a day listening to and participating in discussions focussed on South African jazz cultures.
Taking place at the University of York on 20th April, the South African Jazz Cultures indaba / discussion day is an interdisciplinary forum structured around five presentations and a round table. Contributions from academics (Eato, Pyper), filmmakers (Kaganof), heritage practitioners (Temple, Huntley), musicians (Abdul-Rahim, Brubeck, Moholo-Moholo), and Hazel Miller of Ogun Records will invite discussion on a range of issues broadly framed by the idea of South African jazz cultures. The day will bring together thinking on a range of topics including, but not limited to:
  • Artistic heritage in post-authoritarian, post-censorship societies
  • The artist in exile
  • Vernacular intellectuals
  • Informal / underground knowledge transfer structures
  • Artistic modes of resistance
Attendance is free - follow the link here to find out more, and to register.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Headquarters: "Sweetie" (1977)

Some seriously funky and soulful dance-floor filler noticeably South African music lurks under the very competent disco veneer of this album.  This band is certainly up there with anything Reggie Msomi and Almon Memela were able to produce at the time.

In addition to a strong seven-piece outfit featuring Lemmy ‘Special’ Mabaso on alto sax  and Joe Zikhali (Chapita) on lead guitar, Zane Cronje takes credit for the string arrangements. I cannot find further reference to alto sax player Boikie Piliso, and do not know if he was related to the famous Ntemi and Shadrack Piliso brothers.

When Cambridge Matiwane started his illustrious music career I am certain he could not have foreseen producing a 1977 disco date, heavy breathing included.  

 Joe Zikhali wrote “Sweetie”, the most ‘disco’ of the tracks, replete with the rhythmic moans and grunts that seemed popular to this genre at the time. From there it is three tracks of upbeat funky guitar and horns, with occasional strings holding onto that disco dance-floor and mirror-ball feel.  

The two tracks on side two are penned by keyboard player Dimpy Tshabalala, who in 1987 went on to join the reformed Elite Swingsters. “Moshate” features an eleven-minute fusion, funk and disco workout. “Lazy Bones” is my personal favourite, looping, loping and driving. Enjoy!

If there are enough 70s disco lovers still lurking 'out there', let me know and I will make the effort to dig out some more South African disco from that era.

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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sunday Night at the Troubadour - Cape Town (1965)

Maurice Gawronsky at University of Cape Town 1973. Pic Ian Bruce Huntley
The endurance of three of the artists featured in this soulful session recorded by Ian Bruce Huntley in 1965 just has to be celebrated. In little over two weeks’ time Ebrahim Khalil Shihab (formerly Chris Schilder) will be taking his rightful place, centre stage at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
I am truly struck by the passage of forty eight years in being able to share this previously unreleased quartet recording. After all this time Maurice Gawronsky tells me matter-of-fact that he just can’t stop drumming.  In fact, he has gig lined up with Shihab over the eight-days jazz festival period. And Morris Goldberg, well he just continues to amaze me.

The only member of this quartet who is no longer with us is Bob Tizzard, who was at home both on bass and trombone – having played trombone on the legendary 1963 recording: Jazz The African sound. Bob’s son Paul is a drummer, and continues to run the piano tuning business that his father started in Cape Town.
The Troubadour Restaurant in Breda Street, Gardens was owned by Maurice Gawronsky until he sold it in 1967. Maurice recalls during the week it was more of a folk music venue where patrons would pay twenty five cents for entrance and a bottomless cup of coffee. Live jazz would take place on Sunday evenings.
Judging from this recording, The Troubadour was a relaxed place to spend a Sunday evening listening to fine music. I asked Maurice how often it was possible for groups to rehearse together, given that many of the musicians had day jobs too. “When there were big band gigs coming up, we would get together for a rehearsal or two, but for a quartet playing standards, we just fell into the groove on the night – no rehearsals, we knew each other well enough”.
I invite you to sit back, relax and be transported back to an unhurried 87 minutes of fine jazz making its way out of the Troubadour Restaurant into the Cape Town night. If you happen to recognise the last two tracks, please leave a comment and tell us what you think they might be.

This blog has a series of posts that feature the music recorded by Ian Bruce Huntley in Cape Town in the 1960s and early 70s. Use the search function (right hand side bar near the top). Look for IBH Jazz Archive.
Morris Goldberg (Saxophone); Chris Schilder (Piano); Bob Tizzard (Bass); Maurice Gawronsky (Drums).
1.    All of you (19:47)
2.    Spanish Thing (Morris Goldberg) (14:34)
3.    If I were a Bell (12:48)
4.    Now's the Time (Charlie Parker)  (10:16)
5.    Four (Miles Davis) (13:30)
6.    Unidentified (16:49)
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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Phezulu Eqhudeni: Motella's finest (1975)

The international re-issue of this gem of an album by Earthworks in 1984 was an important first in a series of signals to the local industry that mbaqanga music may have a global future, despite its popular decline in South Africa. In 1986 Paul Simon’s Graceland and Harry Belafonte’s Paradise in Gazankulu drew heavily on South African artists, and further showcased mbaqanga music to the world.

West Nkosi saw the gap and cut a demo with Makhona Tsohle and the Mahotella Queens. The tape caught Gallo executive Geoff Paynter’s ears and he invited them to play at a function at which two French record executives were also present. One thing led to another, and the musicians embarked upon an international touring career, including playing at the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert in Wembley Stadium in 1988, and then to a crowd of half a million in Central Park in New York in 1991. You can read the full story and more in Louise Meintjies’ wonderful book” “Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio”.

The Earthworks Cover
It is an interesting aside that Earthworks’ marketing people decided to use a different cover. Personally, I much prefer the original. The re-issue label provides what I understand to be an inaccurate translation of the words “Phezulu Eqhudeni”, claiming it to mean on top of a mountain with the name 'Eqhudeni'. The literal translation is: on top of  (better than) the rooster (that wakes you up).

EJ visitor Manzo Khulu sent us a mail on the translation issue:
"I picked up a point that I think I could perhaps also comment on. Indeed while ‘iqhude’ is Zulu for ‘rooster’, in this context the word refers to a hill/mountain whose structure is reminiscent of  the head of a rooster – hence named Eqhudeni. Some of the musicians may have originated from this general area, e.g. Abafana Baseqhudeni (Boys from Eqhudeni)." (Thanks Manzo).

This album presents a sublime compilation from the halcyon days of Motella’s finest.  I am confident you will enjoy it.

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Monday, 11 March 2013

The Jazz Disciples - Cape Town 1964

Dennis Mpale, Barney Rachabane (18yrs) Ronnie Beer. Pic: Ian Bruce Huntley
In May 1964 "The Jazz Disciples" went into Cape Town's SABC studios to record for Radio Bantu, without Ronnie Beer. In "Black Composers of Southern Africa", Yvonne Huskisson documents the SABC recording as being made by Tete Mbambisa (piano), Sammy Maritz (bass), Max 'Diamond' Dayimani (drums), Dennis Mpale (trumpet) and "Bunny" (Barney) Rachabane (sax). Ronnie Beer was also considered a member of the Jazz Disciples. We can only speculate as to why he was not included in that particular Radio Bantu recording session. Perhaps it was to do with the SABC's own racial policies at the time?
Max 'Diamond' Dayimani 'getting a light' from
Sammy Maritz. Pic: Ian Bruce Huntley

Shortly thereafter, Ronnie Beer rented the Thibault Square recording studio in Cape Town for an hour and he and the Jazz Disciples laid down four tight tracks - one of which we need some help in identifying. Ian Huntley happened to tag along and plugged his reel-to-reel into the sound desk, and here, nearly fifty years later the recording comes to light. We do not know what Ronnie Beer did with the recording he made of that session. Maybe he wanted to press an LP - four songs, thirty minutes - but it just never worked out?
Of all Ian's recordings, this is the only one capturing Sammy Maritz on bass. Maritz played in the Dollar Brand trio in the early 1960s, and then in early incarnations of Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes. He subsequently played most frequently with Tete Mbambisa and Max 'Diamond' Dayimani. Ronnie Beer and Sammy Maritz played in Chris McGregor's band at the 1962 Moroka-Jabavu Jazz Festival in Soweto, while Dennis Mpale and a seventeen-year-old Barney Rachabane joined them all on the legendary 1963 recording, Jazz: The African Sound.

Ian made five different recordings of what could be considered the core of the Jazz Disciples playing together, Mbambisa (leader), Beer, Mpale and Rachabane. One recording at the Room At The Top during 1964 has Martin Mgijima on bass. On another recording of this group at the Zambezi Restaurant in District Six, Ian's notes uncharacteristically do not list who the bass player was. Among Tete Mbambisa's own compositions, Mr Mecca features in two sessions.

Beer, Mpale, Rachabane at Thibault Square 1964
Pic: Ian Bruce Huntley
While Mr Mecca does not feature on Ian's Thibault Square tape, you can hear the version recorded by the Jazz Disciples at the 1964 SABC recording session here. Big thanks to Struan Douglas of for his now out of print Archive Africa CD. See here for the story and tracklisting of important recordings on that CD.The Soul Jazzmen's rendition of Mr Mecca can be found here. In the next few months I will share another 1964 recording of pianist Bucs Gcongo (Chonco) and others rendering Mr Mecca at the Zambezi Restaurant.

Turning to today's offering: The first track is a tight uptempo rendition of Charlie Parker's 'Billie's Bounce'. I think the second is the Ronnie Beer composition "Immediately". The fourth track is a lovely rendition of "Green Dolphin Street". All help apreciated in identifying the third track in this recording, it is naggingly familiar.

The Jazz Disciples: Thibault Square Recording Studio, Cape Town - 1964
Ronnie Beer and Tete Mbambisa at Thibault Square 1964
Pic by Ian Bruce Huntley
Ronnie Beer (saxophone); Barney Rachabane (saxophone - age 18); Dennis Mpale (trumpet); Tete Mbambisa (piano); Max 'Diamond' Dayimani (drums); Sammy Maritz (bass).

1. Billie's Bounce - (Charlie Parker) (7:11)
2. Immediately (I think) (Ronnie Beer) (8:13)
3. Unidentified (7:55)
4. Green Dolphin Street (7:20)

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Saturday, 9 March 2013

More African Serenades Magic

Who says we don't listen? An African Serenades reload of Tim's Kenyan Singles Vol 2 and the two wonderful Congolese volumes.
African Serenades 45 - Kenyan Singles Vol 2
01. Yo-Mabe Pt 1 - Orchestra Super Mazembe
02. Yo-Mabe Pt 2 - Orchestra Super Mazembe
03. Amua Pt 1 - Orchestra Les Mangelepa
04. Amua Pt 2 - Orchestra Les Mangelepa
05. Kajituliza Pt 1 - Orchestra Les Wanyika
06. Kajituliza Pt 2 - Orchestra Les Wanyika
07. Ole Ole Pt 1 - Orchestra Les Mangelepa
08. Ole Ole Pt 2 - Orchestra Les Mangelepa
09. Paulina Wanje Pt 1 - Butere Sharpshooters
10. Paulina Wanje Pt 2 - Butere Sharpshooters
11. Celibataire Pt 1 - Orchestra Baba National
12. Celibataire Pt 2 - Orchestra Baba National
13. Shika Shika Pt 1 - Orchestra Shika Shika
14. Shika Shika Pt 2 - Orchestra Shika Shika
15. Mokili Pt 1 - Orchestra Mos Mos
16. Mokili Pt 2 - Orchestra Mos Mos
African Serenades 31 - Congo 70s Special 
01. Mbale - Orchestre Kiam
02. Sana mama -Orchestre Kouloukoko du Zaire
03. Mongali - Tabu Ley
04. Tosuki Wapi -Kinshasa Superstars
05. Kumiza nzambe - Orchestre Kouloukoko du Zaire

06. La vie mot difficile - Rashid King et les Imbattables
07. Olela - Orchestre Kamale
08. Nakosambela Kaka 1 & 2 - Orchestre Veve
09. Mawazo mwarabu - Rashid King et les Imbattables
10. Lola Muana 1 & 2 - Orchestre Macchi

African Serenades 31 - Docteur Nico Special 
01. Zadio 
02. Nalingi yo na motema 

03. Nasali Bloko te 
04. Suavilo 
05. Sookie 
06. Runeme mama 
07. Kiri kiri mabina ya sika 
08. La jolie bebe 
09. Save Me 
10. Pauline 
11. Marie Pauline 
12. Soy del si Boney 
13. Charlotte 
14. Para bailar 
15. Je m'en fous 
16. How my closen 
17. Lolita 
18. Mbandaka 
19. Impercoque 
20. Tima Nayebi 
21. Paquita

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A third dose of Kenyan Singles from Tim Clifford!

A big thank you to Tim Clifford for a new set of Kenyan singles!!! Enjoy these special treats folks!

1 Sina Kisomo Pts 1 & 2 (9:27)
Kenya Blue Stars, KBS, KBS 406
2 Nyako Marach Pts 1 & 2 (10:45)
Orch Moja One, Editions Mwana Mama, MM 31
3 Ngombele Pts 1 & 2 (9:12)
Orch Shika Shika, Editions Jaca, JRP 6
4 Mama Koko Pts 1 & 2 (8:37)
Orch Super Diana Ster, Edition Kamanyola, KAM 10
5 Ba-Boka Pts 1 & 2 (9:32)
Orch Les Kinois, Super Musiki du Zaire, SMZ 001
6 Libala Bombanda Pasi Pts 1 & 2 (9:44)
Orch Teke-Teke, Edition Bonga, BON 10
7 Selestine Okanisaka Pts 1 & 2 (8:44)
Orch Super Kumba Kumba, Diploma, DCC 001
8 Safari Pts 1 & 2 (10:02)
Issa Juma & Wanyika Stars Isuni-Yilu MUYA 10

From Tim: "Some of these records I have owned for more than 30 years, others I’ve bought along the way or have been very kindly shared with me by contributors to I’m eternally grateful for their help, advice and friendship. All tracks have been restored and remastered, often from vinyl in poor condition. Some dips and crackles remain, but not enough I hope to spoil your enjoyment! "


Sunday, 3 March 2013

African Serenades 44 - Tim's Kenyan Singles

We're entering this new week with a rewind of a favourite from the Matsuli blog...from the African Serenades series this is the first set by Tim Clifford of Kenyan Singles. Tim runs the biggest online discography of 7" singles released in East Africa at KenTanza Vinyl

Tim, explains: "I taught near Eldoret for two years in the early 1980s, fell in love with the music and then found that my Zigzag-reading, album-sleeve-obsessive completist's mindset was completely turned upside down because, of course, none of the friends I made - and who guided me towards the records I have sent you - cared about who was responsible for that amazing guitar solo or impassioned vocal on individual songs. All they were concerned about was "Can you dance to it?" Which isn't a bad take on things when it comes down to it."

African Serenades 44 - Kenyan Singles Part 1 selected by Tim Clifford
01. Tshiku Pt 1 - Orchestra Les Noirs 
02. Tshiku Pt 2 - Orchestra Les Noirs
03. Pamela Pt 1 - Orchestra Les Wanyika 
04. Pamela Pt 2 - Orchestra Les Wanyika
05. Virunga Pt 1 - Orchestra Virunga 
06. Virunga Pt 2 - Orchestra Virunga 
07. Na Bimaka Pt 1 - Orchestra Super Mazembe 
08. Na Bimaka Pt 2 - Orchestra Super Mazembe 
09. Koleta Pt 1 - Orchestra Super Volcano 
10. Koleta Pt 2 - Orchestra Super Volcano 
11. Fifi Pt 1 - Orchestra Shika Shika 
12. Fifi Pt 2 - Orchestra Shika Shika 
13. Joka Pt 1 - Mwenge Jazz Band 
14. Joka Pt 2 - Mwenge Jazz Band 
15. Akamba Pt 1 - Orchestra Viva Makele 
16. Akamba Pt 2 - Orchestra Viva Makele