Monday, 10 February 2014

Sax Jive Special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAX JIVE SPECIAL
COMPILED BY NICK LOTAY

01) 4 BY 4 – ABAFANA BEZI MPALAMPALA (1969)
02) VIKA WETHU – ABAFANA BE MVUNGE (1968)
03) WOZA NAZO VALA – AMABHUNGU EMVELO (1967)
04) VALA NZIMANDE – ABAFANA BENTUTHUKO (1967)
05) BLACKSTICK SOUL – ABAFANA BEZI MPALAMPALA (1971)
06) MAFEKING PLATFORM 12 – LUCKY MONAMA AND HIS PARTNERS (1967)
07) PRETORIA TYCOONS – FESTUS THE GREAT (1967)
08) MA UJIKA – BHENGU & BHENGU (1972)
09) MATAMATO JIVE MATAMATO – JOSEPH MAKWELA AND HIS COMRADES (1967)
10) 12-0-12 – BRA SELLO (1967)
11) KHANYISA MARKS – MARKS MANKWANE AND HIS SHALUZA BOYS (1973)
12) RED STOEP – ROGER AND HIS BIG SOUNDS (1972)
13) VIA FARADAY – FASTOS THE GREAT (1977)
14) MISS DURBAN – TEASPOON NDELU AND HIS “T” BOYS (1973)
15) JIVE MABONE JIVE – SHADRACK PILISO (c.1973)
16) MOPIE SPECIAL – UMKHIZE OMCANE (1967)
17) MANCINTSHANA – MATHWALIMBUZI (1976)
18) MAGIRIGIRI – WEST NKOSI & HIS ALTO SAX (1969)
19) IMPALAMPALA OUTSIDE – AMABHUNGU EMVELO (1967)
20) TYCOONS NO. 2 – ABAFANA BENTUTHUKO (1967)

RS / MF

6 comments:

Zakhele said...

Hi Nick
I a regular here and boy, do you know how it feels when a tune you last heard 40 years ago, whose title and band you never knew, start playing and it comes alive, and it takes you back to childhood and you remember every note and word. You are a star man. Thanks for the memories and the melodies. Zakhele.

david said...

You see, Nick. It's all worth it for a comment like that!

Peter said...

Some lovely stuff here. Thanks for sharing.

vuoksenniska said...

Great collection of sax tunes. Very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing!

Manzo said...

Nick, you have received numerous accolades from me similar to that from Zakhele. And there is no doubt that Zakhele and I are rowing in the same boat in many respects. His name tells me that like me he is a Zulu 'boy' from many years ago who grew up on a staple of 'now-nowhere-to-be-found' music such as only EJ has an uncanny wit of unearthing! Zakhele mfo wakithi, I know that feeling of a music piece that magically turns back the hands of time to your childhood of care-free days and blissful jiving to the mesmerizing sound of the guitar, sax, bass and drum. Hamba minyaka!

Greg Pickersgill said...

This is just excellent music! I cannot give ELECTRIC JIVE enough praise; I have found so much good stuff here. Thank you so much!