Sunday, 24 May 2015

Mixin' It with Medumo (1975)

A few of the jazz lovers among you have sent polite e-mails, thanking me for the last post of "Message", but also to say that you hope there can be more jazz on Electric Jive than there has been recently.

So - here is a quite special record made by contemporaries of  Batsumi and the Dashiki Poets, a further document of the cultural vanguard of the Black Consciousness movement in the mid 1970s.

In a recently published compendium on Steve Biko (here), Mphutlane Wa Bofelo
quotes Lefifi Tladi of the Dashiki Poets as having worked within the political structures of “Black Consciousness with absolute independence. The BC Movement used to book places where we could perform, whatever we wanted. That was one of the best outreach programmes. From there we started organising other groups like Batsumi, Medumo, ya bra Paul Motaung ... we went into universities broadening the consciousness of students.

Descriptions of those mid-seventies times highlight a collective approach that built a creative, politically-focussed nucleus among poets, artists, and musicians in Pretoria and Johannesburg:

"Jim Baker, the first African American diplomat in South Africa, was another source of inspiration. He introduced the recordings of The Last Poets to the artists in 1974. These had a profound effect on them, redefining their direction dramatically. Resistance art was born: poetry, music and art were no longer meant for pleasure. In addition, the poem Africa My Africa, by David Diop, as well as literature by other African authors and philosophers, like Leopold Senghor and Frantz Fanon, impacted heavily on their pan-Africanist consciousness. Baker's home at 252 Loveday Street, Pretoria, was like an arcade. It was open to all and people came and went without hindrance. His collection of literature was freely available, with no reservations on his part that some of his books might disappear. Knowledge, according to him, could not disappear; it could only feed other minds.

"Workshopping in the township environment and exhibitions outside the mainstream galleries and museums were initiatives born of the communal spirit that prevailed among the artists. Their motive was political and their aim, equity, peace and liberation. The diverse platforms were implemented with the express purpose of educating and conscientising: African people about their own Africanness and worth as equal human beings; the broader public about the role of art in terms of the liberation struggle; and the international world regarding the injustices of apartheid.

"The key role of art in bringing about change underpinned the artists' efforts. Workshopping became fundamental to every activity; most important were the discussions and workshopping of ideas or initial plans preceding the practical workshops, the success of which was due to the fact that intense dialogue, covering a broad spectrum, not only of the arts but life itself, was always a prerequisite to the former. Music was like a 'life cord' and was, without exception, an essential part of these sessions." (notes by Freda Hattingh - see the Third Ear website here for more).

 The liner notes tell us that this Medumo album came about because producer M.J. Maphutha stumbled across the band "blowing up a storm" at a festival in Mamelodi: "The jazz fans were shouting and jumping all over the place. ... There and then I decided to .. (record)." (Medumo were playing a cover of Dollar Brand's "Tintinyana").

Forty three minutes on the little-known "Coronet" label showcase a raw, mostly joyful, sometimes discordant celebration of subversive soul-jazz self-expression. Medumo's jazz is powerful and evocative, it possesses both swing and discord - though on some occasions the discord is that of musicians who were still learning. You will not hear the sophisticated and complex horn arrangements you heard on the last post - "Message". Rather, here is a raw, emotive soul jazz held together by Dan Phaleng (piano) Solly Temba (drums), and Elias Modisakeng (bass). Upfront, Paul Motaung (alto) and Jacob Moloi (tenor) are stripped down to simpler phrasing, sometimes nailing most beautiful passages, sometimes free and elegantly discordant - sometimes out of tune and out of time. I do wonder if some of the tracks on this album might have been recorded at an earlier time? There is a difference in audio ambiance across the tracks, suggesting they were not all recorded in one session, or even at the same studio.

However you may experience this music, it is an important document and record of a small window of  jazz and its practice directly challenging young people to engage. It grows on you!

Link here

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Message: Working for Nothing (1977)

 A 1977 South African jazz recording involving saxophonist Aubrey Simani. I am hoping that readers can help me with more information – for example, who was “A. Nxumalo”?  Sadly, this is one of those records in my collection that does not possess the original cover. The music more than makes up for an absence of information though.

Aubrey Simani was not lightweight. At the age of 22 he was playing alto saxophone to Mongezi Feza’s tenor as a member of Eric Nomvete’s Big Five, at the 1962 Castle Jazz Festival where they performed the ground-breaking “Pondo Blues”. Before that, Simani was a member of Tete Mbambisa’s “Four Yanks”, which also included Dudu Pukwana.

Simani joined up with Johnny Mekoa in 1967 to form the Jazz Ministers. Switching to tenor sax in the 1970s he contributed to a number of important recordings. In 1976, for example, his credits included at least four full albums: Tete Mbambisa’s Big Sound, Dick Khoza’s Chapita, Reggie Msomi’s “Soweto Grooving”, and then with the Jazz Ministers Live in Newport.

Track three (One for Erick) is most likely dedicated to Eric Nomvete. Simani was killed by a car in Mdantsane on 11 August 2009. 

Link here

Monday, 11 May 2015

Die Vier Tranvalers led by Faan Harris (1932)

Over the past couple of years we have featured a number of posts on accordion jive and often we receive requests in the comments section to includes examples of boeremusiek, a rural (mostly Afrikaans) South African folk genre that has close historical links to the former style. To be fair, I am no expert on this material. And part of the reason it is so rarely covered on EJ is that a number of websites already do a far better job of documenting this music. Notably, Sean Minnie’s Boeremusiekklub, is densely populated with well-research information and images, albeit fragmented over various iterations of the site. I have provided below links to particular pages that will help with navigation. Also much of the research appears in Afrikaans but Google will do a more-or-less adequate job at translation.

Boeremusiek generally is performed by a group with accordion or concertina, guitar/s, banjo, and sometimes even a cello. This folk music has its roots in European, mostly German and Dutch traditions (take note of the many waltzes and polkas) but there are aspects of the style such as the upbeat vastrap that retain elements of goema as Alex Van Heerden points out in a presentation titled: The Khoi Roots of Vastrap Music. He goes on to say that this gives the music a “kind of a creolized” flavor, making it a uniquely African style, albeit one that is relatively conservative. If one listens closely to the music, it can take you from a German beer garden to a dry, dusty fishing village up the Cape west coast, to rural farmlands on the high-veld and maybe… perhaps… even an obscure mellow bar in Louisiana. The style is closely linked with white Afrikaner traditions but one can clearly hear its influences on early black styles such as the precursors of maskanda, kwela and accordion jive.

Recorded in 1932, today’s offering features ten tracks by Die Vier Transvalers (The Four Transvalers) issued on EMI’s His Master's Voice (HMV) label. As there were no recording studios in South Africa before the 1930s masters had to be made one of two ways. Artists routinely traveled by boat to England or were visited by portable recording units operated by recording engineers employed by various European record companies. Masters would be shipped back to Europe for pressing and then the records would be marketed in the country of origin.

The UK based Gramophone Company sent the first mobile unit to South Africa in 1912 for its Zonophone label. This was followed by their competitor the Columbia Graphophone Company, also UK-based, in July 1929, seeking materials for its Columbia and Regal labels. After the two companies merged to become EMI in March 1931 each branch of the company continued to send recording units to cut tracks under their respective labels (notably HMV and Columbia).

In 1932 EMI sent William Laybourne Ewing Dickson, an Englishman and recording engineer to South Africa where he remained for five months cutting over 500 masters. (Recording Pioneers) Dickson primarily recorded Scandinavian material for HMV; his previous recording before coming to South Africa (matrix 0T 702) was made in Copenhagen. His first cut in Johannesburg, (matrix 0T 703) was made on October 1st, 1932 while his last (0T 1205) was produced on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 1933 before he returned to England in April.

Die Vier Tranvalers debut disc (GX 5) included the track Soutpansberg Se Setees with the matrix 0T 714. The matrix number suggests this was one of the first groups that Dickson recorded when he arrived in Johannesburg. He cut at least twenty tracks with the group on October 3rd and 10th, 1932. (Boeremusiekklub)

Die Vier Transvalers were led by Stephen Emil “Faan” Harris, an icon of the concertina, and included Josephus Daniël “Sewes” van Rensburg, on guitar, Frans Hendrik Ebersohn, also on guitar, and Hendry Frederick “Bossie” Bosman, on cello.

Sean Minnie has extensive notes about the group at his website and he describes them as such: “The original Vier Tranvalers can certainly be considered one of the best and most popular Boeremusiek bands ever recorded. The concertina sounds of Faan Harris and his men remain after all these years one of the most popular and beautiful. Literally hundreds of groups have covered their tunes, but none can match the soulful performances conjured up by them. Although Faan [Harris] could play several instruments, he was eminently a very good and popular concertina player and played this instrument throughout all their recordings.” (translated from Boerkemusiekklub)

According to Minnie the group practiced for these first recordings at Sewes van Rensburg’s house. He was on lead guitar while Harris played a small three-row, high-tone, Lachenal concertina. If my translation is correct, an additional member called Steenberg played a babatoni, or home-made single-string upright base using a broom stick and tea-chest.

Die Vier Transvalers recorded another eight tracks with HMV around September 1939. They practiced for this session at Frans Ebersohn’s home and it is likely that the famous photograph of the group above was taken during this time. From left to right is Frans Ebersohn, Faan Harris, Bossie Bosman and Piet Bosman (Bossie’s father who substituted for Sewes van Rensburg while he was away at the time). Alas the recordings were never issued. Apparently the masters where destroyed when the ship transporting them to England was sunk by a German U-Boat. Even at that time record pressings were still made in England and shipped back to South Africa. After that the group slowly disbanded with each member going their own way. (Orkeste en Karakters)

Faan Harris did record with several other groups. Though little information about these is known. Minnie points out that Harris was still under contract with HMV and often artists names would be omitted to avoid contractual conflicts. It is only from Harris’ unique style that he is often identified on other tracks. For example it is believed that he plays concertina with Die Vyf Voortrekkers on some of the earliest Gallo releases. (Orkeste en Karakters)

Faan Harris was born in 1886 and lived for many years in Krugersdorp. According to Minnie he had a great humor and was meticulous with his work. He was also a painter by profession and had a glass eye from an early accident. He died in 1950. A biography of Faan Harris can be viewed here.

By popular request, we feature today some classic boeremusiek by Die Vier Transvalers led by Faan Harris. The twenty tracks originally issued on HMV were reissued on the Skatkis label as two volumes in 1982. Here we feature volume one with the first ten tracks.

01) Soutpansberg se Polka (HMV, GX 5)

02) Soutpansberg se Setees (HMV, GX 5)
03) Wals van Tant Sannie (HMV, GX 6)
04) Rooidag-Toe - Polka (HMV, GX 6)
05) Hartseer - Wals (HMV, GX 10)
06) Plattoon - Polka (HMV, GX 10)
07) Eileen Alannah - Wals (HMV, GX 16)
08) Moenie, Oom Kool - Settees (HMV, GX 16)
09) Kromdraai - Mazurka (HMV, GX 23)
10) Anna Pop-Setees (HMV, GX 23)

Die Oorspronlike Vier Transvalers Volume 1
Skatkis (SLS 1)
Reissue: Sep 1982
Sourced from original HMV 78 rpms (GX series, 1932)


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Snake: Ribva Venda (1992)

Staying in a 90s upbeat groove, this slickly-produced surprise takes us just over the Limpopo into Venda, South Africa. Loopy, electric, happy, complex call-and-response harmonies,

Produced, arranged and engineered by the Godfather of Kwaito, M'du Masilela, you just know before hearing it that this recording is going to be something interesting.

M'du and Mandla 'Spikiri' Mofokeng are pioneering township music icons, having had the ears of masses of urban youth during that 1990s "opening up" era, they  re-invented and connected various musics, local folk and sometimes rural with global beats.

Coming three years before South Africa's  first Kwaito hit from Arthur, this 1992 recording stands  out for its adept mining and melding of various globally trending sounds of the time, along with strands of traditional Venda grooves . If you listen with my ear to some of the great vocal harmonies, sometime you might even catch a glimmer of an echo of Enya.

All the tracks are credited to "Snake". No further information could be found on who the band members were.

Electric.  "Snake" certainly is - Jive, is quite likely the effect on many who hear it. Amongst others, I can imagine  a growing troupe of retro disco-files latching onto this one. Enjoy.

Link here

Monday, 4 May 2015

Blues Revolution: Musikana We Basa (1994)

Ever since 2007 when Matt posted "Flavian Nyathi and the Blues Revolution's: Ropa Re Zimbabwe" I have kept half an eye out in the hope of finding  that 1980 recording on vinyl.

No luck so far, but I did recently come across this  "Blues Revolution"  recording pressed by Gramma Records in 1994. If you're in the mood, these six sinuously slick slices of Chimurenga music do invite you onto your feet.

All tracks composed by Ketai Ntimbirire.
Gramma Records JLP1043
Produced and Engineered by Peter "Cool Dude" Muparutsa.

 Link here

Monday, 27 April 2015

Joe Malinga's One for Dudu (1981)

My introduction to the warm sounds of Joe Malinga came in the early 1980s on an LP buying trip at Manhattan Records in Durban near Point Road by the seafront. Manhattan used to import directly from the UK so it was one of the few places you could find punk, post-punk, reggae, jazz and other "counter-cultural" musics. The LP I am sharing with you today - One for Dudu - was playing on the speakers and it hooked me big time. He dedicates the LP to Dudu and in his work you can hear the shared spirit although Joe is probably not as single minded about his solo's as Dudu. I couldn't believe that he was playing with European jazz musicians who had somehow grasped the sound. I took the LP home and have treasured it ever since. Later on in the 1980s whilst sitting out my time in London avoiding military service I used to visit Ray's Jazz Shop on Shaftsbury Avenue every week where there was a dedicated section for the Ogun releases and music from various other South African jazz exiles. I picked up Joe's other two LPs Sandile and Tears for the Children of Soweto. Later I completed the collection with the 1989 LP Vuka.

Today Joe Malinga is based in South Africa still nurturing musical talent and is based at the University of Venda. Sadly there is only one CD compilation of his material still in print. You can buy that here. Otherwise enjoy our small offering of this out of print classic and seek out the other records from his discography on eBay or Discogs.

Joe Malinga's Mandala feat. Clifford Thornton - Tears for the Children of Soweto (Canova 113, 1980)
Joe Malinga Quintet - One For Dudu (Meteor 32018, 1981)
Joe Malinga & Southern Africa Force - Sandile (Meteor 32034, 1983) 
Joe Malinga Southern Africa Force - Vuka (Planisphere PL 1267-43, 1989)

Joe Malinga Quintet - One For Dudu (Meteor 32018, 1981)
1. Kipit
2. Imbhali
3. Zadibana
Joe Malinga (as, perc), René Widmer (ts, oboe), Johnny Taylor (p), Hämi Hämmerli (b), Churchill Jolobe (dr)
Recorded Nov 7, 1981, Tonstudio Stroher, Innsbruck (Austria)


Monday, 20 April 2015

Disco Jive Special - Vol. 1

It made sense that black South Africa would seek guidance from black America with regards to style and fashion. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, local artists began to imitate the musical sounds produced by African-American artists of the day – and it wasn’t long before the country had its own vibrant African soul scene. In the late 1970s, the popular township sound of mbaqanga began to fall out of favour with audiences that demanded a more westernised music. Soul and disco started to fuse with jive to create a unique, original new sound that absolutely drew upon what came before while looking to the future. The usual mbaqanga elements were retained, but with less focus on lead guitar and more attention on the florid organ/keyboard sound that eventually became a core element of the music scene. Today, Electric Jive turns its focus towards that remarkable era where several musical genres paused at a crossroads and converged in one direction – the road to modernity. Disco Jive Special – Vol. 1 comprises 20 smashing hits originally released between 1976 and 1982.

Solo star Olga Mvicane’s “Sanibonani Nonke Zihlobo” opens our compilation with a beautiful bang. Olga, born in 1944, started singing in school choirs and eventually went on to compete in local competitions that saw her bringing home armfuls of trophies. Hoping to make a career out of her talent, Olga moved from her birthplace of Transkei to Johannesburg in the mid-1970s. In 1978, she secured a regular gig at the Pelican Club as a backing vocalist for the legendary Dick Khoza. Khoza, blown away by Olga’s stunning voice, wrote a letter to Gallo producer Marks Mankwane requesting him to audition her. Mankwane wasted no time in signing her to Gallo’s Mavuthela division. For the next few years, Olga was a huge star. She recorded a series of hugely successful 45 rpms, released three hit LPs and performed to capacity audiences across South Africa. But while she received all of the fame, she received none of the money, and her career eventually dissolved when she quit to find a job that paid. Olga later made her name as an actress, starring in a variety of Xhosa-language television dramas of the 1980s and 1990s and several television commercials.
OLGA MVICANE and THE BEGGERS in a Gallo rehearsal room, early 1980s
BLACK DUKE, circa 1982
Duke Ndlovu, alias Black Duke – not to be confused with the 1950s kwela artist who recorded for Troubadour and Trutone – hit the music scene in the mid-1970s, recording a few Percy Sledge-style 45s under the pseudonym The Herbalist. By the early 1980s disco jive era, Ndlovu had cultivated a new identity as Black Duke. Under the production of bassist Joseph Makwela, Black Duke recorded a string of fantastically badass and downright funky singles (issued either under the names Duke Ndlovu, Black Duke, Black Duke & The Counters, etc). His two numbers in this compilation, “Bushi” and “Mmantwa”, present the best of Duke’s treacle-thick tar vocals with excellent synth, organ and guitar accompaniment.

The growth of disco jive called for new stars. Marks Mankwane recruited a new team of instrumental players, The Beggers, and a number of excellent male vocalists to front the band on a selection of recordings, some of whom included Walter Dlamini, Jacob Khoza, Willie Motala and Paul Hlatshwayo. These fantastic singers not only created magical solo recordings of their own (track 3, "Nomkhosi", spotlights Willie's voice), they also provided lead vocals on some recordings made by the Mahotella Queens, the mbaqanga girl group that managed to retain its stardom by quickly adapting to the newer soul/disco-infused jive. “Otlankesa Kae Kesegole Sahao” is a beautiful soulful Mahotella tune with lyrics and melody written by mbaqanga session legend Irene Mawela (though the credit ultimately gave equal billing to Irene and her then-husband, Mavuthela boss Rupert Bopape, despite him not contributing to this particular song).

“Kemolahlela”, an easygoing and laidback number recorded by the Queens in the same session as “Otlankesa Kae Kesegole Sahao”, is one of my all-time favourite songs by the group. The lyrics are excellent, the vocal arrangements are raw and fantastic and the jangly guitar-led backup (complete with sax solo) is perfect. The Queens in this recording are Caroline Kapentar (lead vocal), Irene Mawela, Beatrice Ngcobo, Nomsa Njakazi, Thandi Nkosi, Thandi Radebe and Emily Zwane. A real gem of a song! Irene's beautiful voice returns later in this compilation to lead “Nqonqo”, an upbeat Xhosa disco jive vocal credited to Irene and The Sweet Melodians. Those sweet melodians include Thandi Radebe, then a member of the Mahotella Queens, who offers a brief solo towards the end of the song.

The golden voice of golden boy Ernest Shelembe hit the airwaves in the late 1970s in recordings by a shortlived lineup called The Heroes, produced by Hamilton Nzimande for GRC’s Isibaya Music division. In about 1980 he moved over to Mavuthela and was immediately taken under the wings of top producer West Nkosi. For about two years he contributed his gliding falsetto vocal to dozens of recordings that were issued mostly as Ernest & The Leaves, or simply The Leaves. Shelembe later soared to national prominence with his 1990s kwaito-inspired album Zamalek’, named in reference to Carling Black Label beer. In 1981’s “Wakhetha Iphela Emasini”, Shelembe’s golden voice is spotlighted against crystal clear guitar and wonderful synth as performed by Mandla Mtalana.

Jacob ‘Mpharanyana’ Radebe was without question the finest soul singer South Africa has ever produced. His distinctively smooth vocal – peppered with the odd cough that became the trademark gimmick separating him from the others – was tragically silenced with his untimely death in 1979. A couple of years before his death, Mpharanyana had parted ways with The Cannibals and joined The Peddlers, with whom he jumped both feet first into the disco jive era. They also sometimes made a few recordings under alternate pseudonyms. “Johnny Boy”, a fine love ballad credited to The Butterflies, is unmistakably Mpharanyana, together with Sandra Senne on backing vocals.

And when Mpharanyana was on his way out, Walter Dlamini was on his way in. Dlamini hit the big time in 1978 when he met producer Marks Mankwane. Before long, the group known as Walter & The Beggers was ruling the local disco jive scene with their gorgeously lovey-dovey songs. “You Don’t Love Me” is actually credited to another of those alternate aliases, the rather unimaginative ‘Soul Members’, but it’s still top class Walter & The Beggers. The man-who-knew-he-was-a-star fires on all cylinders in his big 1979 hit “Mr. Postman”, with startling synth effects, fervent bass and the usual English rap about Walter’s love for his sweetheart. The popular Walter & The Beggers operation came to an abrupt end when Walter left Mankwane's unit for West Nkosi's. He re-emerged in the early 1990s as 'Walter D' but quickly faded back into obscurity. Before Walter's life story could be documented from the horse's mouth, the dynamic singer passed away after a short illness in November 2012.

It might be surprising to learn that even traditional music was given the disco treatment in the late 1970s. Alpheus Ramavhea was one of several Venda-traditional artists who arrived in Johannesburg in the 1970s hoping to break into the music industry. Irene Mawela, the very first Venda singer to record mbaqanga songs in that language, offered advice, guidance and a backing voice for Ramavhea, Eric Mokhese and the other Venda artists who won recording contracts with Mavuthela. Ramavhea’s 1979 hit “Mashonelo” begins with some rather atypical acoustic fingerpicking that is quickly joined by electric guitar, electric bass, pop drums and florid organ. Ramavhea’s enjoyably blasé voice breaks into a Mahlathini-style groan once complemented by Irene’s sweet backing.

And speaking of Mahlathini – yes, even the great groaner found himself standing awkwardly at the crossroads when mbaqanga finally fell out of favour. Supported by friend Selby ‘Bra Sello’ Mmutung as his producer (and backing vocalist), Mahlathini recorded a series of admittedly unremarkable disco jive recordings for EMI’s CCP division between 1979 and 1981. “Wosala Kahle” features raw male mbaqanga vocals backed by a modern disco jive beat. It's pleasant enough to my ear, but clearly this combination was too jarring or passé for audiences as these efforts sold relatively poorly. Mahlathini soon found himself without a permanent recording contract and it wasn't until 1987 that he began to enjoy some more substantial popularity again – this time from an overseas crowd.

Sax jive was one of the most popular dance sounds of the 1960s and 1970s. Although the original sound was eventually supplanted by music with a heavier western influence, the same basic formula of sax, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards remained in use well into the 1980s. Alto sax legend Teaspoon Ndelu recorded a number of albums in the early 1980s backed by Gallo session teams including The Peddlers and The Beggers. 1981’s “Disco Funk”, from the LP Ke Kopa Madulo, is simply supreme, combining Teaspoon’s famous sax phrases with trumpet, pounding bass, crisp drums, electric keyboard and sharp guitar to create a moody, psych-like musical environment.

Abaduduzi seems to be one of the dozens of groups that sprung up in the late 1970s and early 1980s hoping to follow in the footsteps of the hugely popular Soul Brothers. But Abaduduzi seems to have enjoyed some substantial popularity if judging from the amount of material they recorded in the 1980s. And 1982’s “Mus’ Ukuyishaya Thembisile”, produced by Marks Mankwane for the Hit Special label, isn’t bad at all – a little more on the jive side than disco, but still a pleasing tune with fairly nice vocal performances (a duo consisting of Sipho Mkhize and, if not Ernest Shelembe himself, then a damn good soundalike), watery organ, soulful guitar and that fresh early '80s percussive beat.

Well, that’s all for now – time to download, grab that old disco ball and get your groove on! Can I get a ‘yebo’?!


02) BLACK DUKE – BUSHI (1982)

Download link: MF