Nine years ago, I posted this triple compilation with extensive notes at Electric Jive. The response was fantastic and the two consecutive posts soon became some of the most visted at EJ and remained popular for a number of years. You can now listen to the audio of each compilation while scrolling the text via Mixcloud widgets embedded below. Please enjoy!
I started this compilation initially as an end of year holiday mix, but one thing lead to another and it turned into something much larger. This post builds on a number of previous excellent posts at Electric Jive in particular Chris Albertyn’s Do you Remember Nick Moyake? After listening to the Moyake I thought about constructing a mix that could include significant South African artists in perhaps less well known contexts such as early bands or even later unknown groups. I had in mind a 1956 recording of Willie Max en sy Orkes featuring a really young Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) as well as a very battered disc by the Nu Rhythm Down Beats led by Christopher Columbus Ncgukana or 'Mra'. ('Mra' or 'Bra' are slang terms that can mean "brother" but they are also an accolade and sign of respect if used as a prefix before a name.) As the mix grew, I realized that it was becoming something closer to a survey of a golden age of South African Jazz and it revealed how that music was transformed, over a decade, into something else that was distinctly more African. I suppose the subtitle of the post could have been how American swing became mbaqanga.
Majuba, msakazo, or what is more commonly referred to as African Jazz is a quintessentially South African sound. Originally it was a big band sound that took American swing and indigenised it with elements of marabi. From its hey-day in the 1950s it was created by and produced some of the key figures of South African Jazz.
By 1958 majuba jazz had split: one avenue taking a 'highbrow' approach with the influences of bop to become the sound of the Jazz Epistles and The Blue Notes; while another, some would say, 'lowbrow' approach took the music in the direction of sax jive. By 1964 sax jive had become mbaqanga.
The early roots of the majuba sound, can be traced back to some of the dance bands of the 1930s and 40s including Sonny Groenewald’s Jazz Revellers, Peter Rezant’s Merry Blackbirds, but most notably Solomon 'Zuluboy' Cele’s Jazz Maniacs. The sound at that time was American swing and Cele wanted to bring a more African flavour to the music. Cele, before forming the Maniacs in 1935, was a marabi pianist and he integrated elements of that style with the music. According to David Coplan, the Maniacs popular song Majuba gave the style its name.
But accounts about this history vary. For example, in his 1957 Drum article Jazz comes to JHB Todd Matshikiza wrote about how the Harlem Swingsters gave birth to this new style of music:
"We [the Harlem Swingsters] took him [Gray Mbau] with us to Potchefstroom on another trip, where African Jazz was reborn. The original product – Marabi – had died when American swing took over. Gray [Mbau], Taai [Shomang], Gwigwi [Mrwebi], and I recaptured the wonderful mood over an elevating early breakfast of corn bread and tea in the open air after heavy a drinking bout the previous evening. Gray put the corn bread aside and started blowing something on the five note scale. We dropped our corn bread and got stuck into Gray’s mood. And that is how some of the greatest and unsurpassed African Jazz classics were born. “E-Qonce”, “E-Mtata”, “Majuba”, “Fish and Chips” were born out of that combination of the Harlem Swingsters whose passing remains today’s greatest regret. We invented “Majuba” jazz and gave jive strong competition. We syncopated and displaced accents and gave endless variety to our ‘native’ rhythms. We were longing for the days or Marabi piano, vital and live. Blues piano, ragtime piano, jazz band piano, swing and modern piano had taken it away from us. And here now we are seedling it again with new blood in its veins. It was Tebejana’s [a famous marabi pianist] original material, but treated freshly with a dash of lime.” (Chris Ballantine, Ian Jeffery)
A further discrepancy can be noted in that the recordings of Majuba and E-Qonce on this compilation were performed by the African Quavers and attributed to David Mzimkulu and Willie Mbali respectively. Interestingly Mzimkulu was a member of the Jazz Maniacs.
Coplan goes on to say “by 1954 even penny whistlers were described as performing in ‘Majuba tempo’.” But he also points out that it was Gideon Nxumalo with his popular SABC radio show This is Bantu Jazz that was “principally responsible for the wide distribution of a new term for the majuba African jazz—mbaqanga.”
The terms ijuba and amajuba in isiZulu mean dove or doves. Majuba, I have read, means “hill of doves.” Geographically, Majuba is the name of a hill near Volksrust in Mpumalanga. Historically, it is also the name of a battle that took place on that same hill in the First Boer War where the Boers defeated the British in 1881. But I digress…
By the late fifties and early sixties the popularity of majuba began to wane. 1958 marked a watershed moment in its unraveling when Spokes Mashiyane, famous for popularising kwela on the pennywhistle, took up the saxophone at the suggestion of Strike Vilikazi. The result Big Joe Special was a punchier, faster jive that satisfied younger consumers. Michael Xaba, trumpeter for the legendary Jazz Maniacs is said to have coined the phrase mbaqanga, or cornbread, to describe this new style of music. Some have interpreted his comment as a pejorative, but I wonder if it could be viewed in a more ambiguous light… given that we all have to eat!
The realities of majuba’s decline however saw really successful bands like the Sharpetown Swingsters, go by the wayside. The group, discovered by Rupert Bopape, was signed to a five-year contract in 1955. In that period they recorded 22 tracks for the Columbia label, many of which were major hits in the late 1950s. By 1960, their contract with EMI went un-renewed.
In many ways Ian Jefferey’s dissertation on the Sharpetowne Swingsters has been an invaluable window onto this period and his use of the term 'majuba' in describing this music urged me to examine where that came from.
But the majuba sound never did really die. It continues to be re-birthed. This is the sound that is revisited in the classic 1967 LP Kwela by Gwigwi’s Band featuring Gwigwi Mrewbi, Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor and Ronnie Beer. This is also the sound that is quoted on Dollar Brand’s archetypal Mannenburg from 1973. Rob Allingham has even pointed to a critique by Lulu Masilela that Mannenburg was simply a slowed down version of 'Bra' Zacks Nkosi’s Jackpot, a 1960 classic majuba track. After listening to both I think I disagree. Cultures build on their roots and this appropriation, if you want to call it that, does transform the original into a significant new animal that rightfully pays homage to its past.
In the 1990s a number of excellent CD compilations traced this music, most notably Albert Ralulimi and Rob Allingham’s Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 1 + 2. Generally though, most compilations include majuba jazz in the context of so many other great styles, mainly vocal jive and kwela. One compilation LP that does focus almost exclusively on this material is Jazz and Hot Dance in South Africa (1946-1959). This record, issued by Harlequin in 1985, is excellent but out-of-print. Copies do appear on eBay but not very often. In the interests of building a comprehensive narrative in this compilation I have included two tracks from that compilation here: these are by The Harlem Swingsters and The Shanty City Seven. Also check out Chris Albertyn’s South African Jazz 78rpm Mix and Matt Temple’s Pull Up! Sixties Jazz 78s at Electric Jive.
Before we commence with this survey, I would like to thank Laurent Dalmasso for kindly providing the namesake track Majuba by the African Quavers for this compilation. I would also like to thank the team at Electric Jive: Chris, Matt, Nick and Francis for some amazing and rich discussions.
This compilation is arranged chronologically and is split over three volumes. Some elements of the original mix may not necessarily fit into a strict definition of majuba jazz but have remained to give some historical context. Sources of content below have been listed at the bottom of each paragraph.
Volume 1: Swing to Majuba (1953 – 1956)
Volume 2: Majuba to Sax Jive (1957-1961)
Volume 3: Sax Jive to Mbaqanga (1962 – 1967)
78 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE – MAJUBA JAZZ FROM MRA TO BRA
VOLUME 1: SWING TO MAJUBA (1953 – 1956)
(Flatinternational / Electric Jive, FXEJ 4)
1) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA - E-Qonce - 1953
(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1577)
2) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA - U-Maskhanda – 1953
(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1576)
3) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA – Ezibeleni – 1953
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1580)
4) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA – Umkhonde - 1953
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1579)
5) AFRICAN QUAVERS SWING ORCHESTRA – Majuba – 1953
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 155, matrix 1581)
* thanks to Laurent Dalmasso for the Majuba track.
City Press reveals that he co-founded the African Quavers in East London. The Quavers were hugely popular at the time and included Willie 'Sax-o-Willis' Mbali on alto sax, Boyce Hashe on alto sax, David Mzimkulu on trumpet and Absalom Mtyeku on trumpet. The group would later become the famed fifteen-piece band the Havana Swingsters. Allingham lists the personnel of the Swingsters on the 1954 recording, Emaxambeni, as Douglas 'Sax' Manuel on 1st alto, Boyce Hashe on 2nd alto, Eric Nomvete on 1st tenor, Vuyisile Mjamba on 2nd tenor, David Mzimkulu on 1st trumpet, Mqaqbane Mlubi on 2nd trumpet, Absolom Mtyeku on 3rd trumpet, Zama Mati on 1st trombone, Graham Nobaxa on piano, William Madyaka on guitar, Daniel 'Kgomo' Morolong on bass and Pavia Gwenisa on drums. (Listen to tracks at SAMAP) (Molefe, Allingham)
Born in October 1920, Nomvete studied at Adams College in Natal where his teachers included none other than Reuben T. Caluza and William Mseleku. It is here that he also met fellow-student Todd Matshikiza, a future member of the Harlem Swingsters and composer of King Kong. After receiving a diploma in social work, he moved to Umtata and there formed the Rhythm Swingsters in 1946. It is at this point that Nomvete learned to play the alto sax with the help of Gwigwi Mrwebi. In 1949 Nomvete moved to Duncan Village outside East London and it is here that he is said to have formed the African Quavers. He composed his first tune, Xapa Song, in 1951 with aid from fellow band members David Mzimkulu and Willie Mbali. (Huskisson, Molefe)
|Willie Mbali from Coplan|
Eric Nomvete is said to have ‘discovered’ Mongezi Feza and in 1962 introduced him on trumpet in his band The Big Five at the now classic Castle Lager National Jazz Festival. The track Pondo Blues also featured Dick Khoza on drums and though at the time only received third prize, is by far one of the best tracks on the album.
It is not totally clear whether Eric Nomvete actually performs on the African Quavers recordings, but I suspect he probably does. So far I have found at least nine tracks from this same recording session including U-Toki (BB 653) which is listed in Huskisson as a Nomvete composition. On this track the band performs with a vocal group, the Chocolate Sisters.
Rob Allingham has it that Willie Mbali was the leader of the group at the time of these recordings in 1953. He also maintains that these were the only sessions recorded by the group, the result of a field-unit sent to East London, hence the varied quality of the recordings.
Most of the tracks appear to be composed by Mbali or Mzimkulu, notably Majuba (GB 155) by Mzimkulu and E-Qonce (GB 156) by Mbali. Majuba is the same composition that gave name to this style of music in the 1950s. Some discrepancies are evident over the authorship of Majuba. For example in his August 1957 article in Drum magazine, Todd Matshikiza implies that it was the Harlem Swingsters with Gray Mbau, Taai Shomang, Gwigwi Mrwebi and himself that came up with both Majuba and E-Qonce. Huskisson also has Matshikiza as the composer of E-Qonce. But Coplan points out that it was the Jazz Maniac’s popular recording of Majuba that gave the style its name and of course David Mzimkulu at some point did perform with the Maniacs. So my guess is more research needs to be done in this area.
One final note, in his interview with Lars Rasmussen, Tete Mbambisa mentions performing with the African Quavers, though I am sure he was too young to be present at the time of these recordings. Also Willie Mbali is the grandfather of saxophonist, Ndithi Mbali.
6) MERRY SWINGSTERS with VICTOR MKIZE and JOYCE FOLEY
– Hambela eBhayi – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11470)
7) MERRY SWINGSTERS with VICTOR MKIZE and JOYCE FOLEY
– iTyala Lami – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11472)
8) SHANTY CITY SEVEN – Unoya Kae – 1953
(Lottie Masilo, Gallotone, GB 1955, ABC 12310)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA
9) BENNY G. MRWEBI & the HARLEM SWINGSTERS + TAAI SHOMANG
– U-Mgibe – 1954
(Gideon Nxumalo, Troubadour, AFC 166, MATA 1251)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA
|Gwigwi Mrwebi from Shaderburg|
Kwela with Gwigwi’s Band issued in 1967 on Doug Dobell’s 77 Records. Since then this album has been reissued by Honest Jons. You will also find the track Nyusamkhaya on the compilation London is the Place For Me 2. The October 17, 1970 issue of Billboard magazine reveals that Mrwebi won a grant to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. The grant was awarded by Chisa Productions headed by Hugh Masekela. Mrwebi died of a heart attack in Boston in 1973 (Shaderburg, Billboard)
10) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND
– Nonzwakazi Alias Fat Cookies – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12814)
11) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Trotters – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12813)
12) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Fishcake – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13073)
13) NTEMIE’S ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Tikoloshe – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13076)
City Press reveals that he received his first instrument, a clarinet, in 1947 as a donation from a local Alexandra resident. In the early 1950s he played with Gwigwi Mrwebi’s Harlem Swingsters. Though Molefe in the obituary does say that Taai Shomang led the Swingsters. Piliso formed the Alexandra All Stars in 1953 after leaving the Swingsters and with this group put out some of the most memorable tracks in the majuba style. Remarkable these early recordings by this famous group included the band personnel on the label, which is rare. The group at this point included Edmund 'Ntemi' Piliso as the leader on tenor sax, David 'Boy Maska' Mope and David 'Bra' Sello on alto sax, Shadrack Piliso (Ntemi’s older brother) on trumpet, Fortesque 'Edgar' Mazibuko on bass, S. 'Booikie' Mokone on drums and Aaron Lebona on piano.
In 1975 Ntemi formed The Members with his brother Shadrack and African Swingster’s Ellison Temba and they released a number of albums with long form single-sided tracks in a style that was by then called bump-jive. Bump Jive in many ways has its roots in the majuba sound of the 1950s as is discussed at length in Rob Allingham’s excellent notes on the CD reissue Bra Ntemi (CDXU1). In 1981 Ntemi Piliso founded the African Jazz Pioneers, a very successful band that brought many of the sounds of the 1950s to a new generation. (Molefe, Allingham, Bergmeier)
14) BOOYSE GWELE & his CITY JAZZ GIANTS – Half Mpaqanga – c1955
(Gwiri, Philips, SB 21, AA30020.1H)
15) ORLANDO JAZZ COMBO – Umjiva – c1955
(Kika, Philips, SB 13, AA30012.2H)
Zulu Jazz composed by Christopher Songxaka in the SAMAP archive. (Tropik, ABC 16203) Gwele also solos on Esingeni by King Jury and His Band on the CD Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 2 (Coplan, Rasmussen)
Track 15 here by pianist Sidwell Kika’s Orlando Jazz Combo featured P.N. Gumbie on trumpet, M. Dludla on alto, S. Kubeka on tenor, and B. Makhubedu on drums.
16) NU RHYTHM DOWN BEATS of PE – Emlanjeni – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.2H)
17) NU RHYTHM DOWN BEATS of PE – Intlombe – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.1H)
|Chris Columbus from Huskisson|
18) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHM – iMali – c1955
(“Money”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.1H)
19) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHM – Umsindo – c1955
(“Noise”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.2H)
Matshikiza began working on the music for the historic “all African Jazz opera”, King Kong, around late 1957. The show opened to huge success in Johannesburg in 1959 and then was taken to London and opened in February 1961. Matshikiza also scored the music for Alan Paton’s Mkhumbane which opened in Durban, March 29th 1960, one week after the Sharpeville massacres. A political play that came at an unfortunate time which also proved to be its deathnail. Post Sharpeville, King Kong travelled to London and gave opportunity for many of its cast and musicians, including Matshikiza, to leave the country. Matshikiza stayed on in London and eventually moved to Zambia. He died there in 1968. (Huskisson, Ballantine, Glasser)
20) The WOODY WOODPECKERS – Ndivume – c1955
(“Accept Me”, Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 10, AA 30009.1H)
21) The WOODY WOODPECKERS’ SWEETHEARTS
– Nandi Nabhuti – c1955
(Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 39, AA 30038.2H)
Castle Jazz Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu stadium. At that point the group included Ndazilwana, Bennet Majango, Johnny Tsagane and Boy Ngwenya. In 1970, Ndlazilwana formed the group the Jazz Ministers and recorded a number of albums including Nomvula's Jazz Dance which can be viewed here at Electric Jive. His album Zandile recorded in 1975 included Ngwenya from the Woody Woodpeckers and can be viewed at flatinternational. After Ndlazilwana's death in 1978 trumpeter, Johnny Mekoa, assumed leadership of the Ministers. Mekoa would later perform the title track Zandile as a tribute to Ndlazilwana with the Jazzanians, the first nationally recognised group to emerge from the University of Natal's seminal jazz courses.
22) GWI GWI AND HIS GWIGZAS – Emhlabeni – 1956
(Michael Xaba, Troubadour AFC 320, MATA 1599)
23) GWI GWI AND HIS GWIGZAS – Libala – 1956
(Michael Xaba, Troubadour AFC 320, MATA 1600)
24) JAZZ MANIACS – Sent For You Yesterday – 1956
(Count Basie, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14629)
25) JAZZ MANIACS – Tamping At The Tappa – 1956
(Billy May, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14630)
Flatinternational archive. These rather late recordings featuring compositions by Count Basie and Billy May date from 1956. The Jazz Maniacs were formed in 1935 by pianist Solomon 'Zuluboy' Cele; and the group included in time Wilson 'King Force' Silgee, 'Bra' Zacks Nkosi as well as Mackay Davashe. According to Coplan, the band began with four members in Sophiatown.
The Maniacs unlike their contemporaries the Merry Blackbirds led by Peter Rezant, who opted for more western styled arrangements, wanted to indigenize or “Africanise” big band jazz. After all, their leader, Cele was a marabi piano performer prior to forming the group and he introduced elements of that sound to the music. In short the Maniacs blended American swing with marabi. The group made their first marabi jazz recording Izikalo Zika Z-Boy (XU 9) in 1939 almost a decade after the rough piano style had faded.
Wilson 'King Force' Silgee an icon in his own right joined the Jazz Maniacs in the mid-30s as a saxophone player, and later led the group after Cele was murdered in 1944. In the 1950s Silgee would go on to form his own band the Jazz Forces. Huskisson has Zacks Nkosi as the leader of the group after Cele’s death. By the 1940s the band had grown to twelve and included: Cele on piano, Silgee and Jacob Medumo on sax, Vy Nkosi on trombone, David Mzimkulu (later of the African Quavers) and Ernst Mochumi on trumpets, Victor Hamilton on guitar and Jacob Lepere on bass. Mackay Davashe performed with the group from 1944-45. Also in the group Jacob Moeketsi on piano, Zakes Seabi, Edward Sililo and trumpeter, Michael Xaba who famously coined the term “mbaqanga” describing aspects of where the music was going. (Coplan, Ballantine, Huskisson)
26) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BAND – Regtrek Kwela – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5274)
27) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BAND – Hot Toddy – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5275)
In 1958 Ibrahim toured the Eastern Cape with Mackay Davashe’s Shantytown Sextet who were then backing for the Manhattan Brothers. That same year he formed the Dollar Brand Trio. In August 1959 he recorded My Songs for You (an album which I think remains as an unissued acetate only) with his soon-to-be wife Sathima Bea Benjamin. That same year Ibrahim formed the Jazz Epistles with himself on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Johnny Gertze on bass, Makaya Ntshoko on drums. On January 22nd, 1960 the Jazz Epistles recorded their classic album Jazz Epistle Verse 1. The band would soon dissolve and in 1962 Ibrahim left South Africa and embarked on an international career. He would return many times in the future to live and record. (Rasmussen)
28) THE FLASHES – We Matsoale – 1957
(arr. Davashe, Gallotone Jive, GB 2717, ABC 16062)
Majuba, msakazo, or what is more commonly referred to as African Jazz is a quintessentially South African sound. Originally it was a big band sound that took American swing and indigenised it with elements of marabi. From its hey-day in the 1950s it was created by and produced some of the key figures of South African Jazz. By 1958 majuba jazz had split: one avenue taking a 'highbrow' approach with the influences of bop to become the sound of the Jazz Epistles and The Blue Notes; while another, some would say, 'lowbrow' approach took the music in the direction of sax jive. By 1964 sax jive had become mbaqanga.
Volume 1: Swing to Majuba (1953 – 1956)
Volume 2: Majuba to Sax Jive (1957-1961)
Volume 3: Sax Jive to Mbaqanga (1962 – 1967)
78 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE – MAJUBA JAZZ FROM MRA TO BRA
VOLUME 2: MAJUBA TO SAX JIVE (1957 – 1961)
(Flatinternational / Electric Jive, FXEJ 5)
1) TOPHITTERS - Kereke - 1957
(Reggie Msomi, Gallotone Jive Jive, GB 2712, ABC 16300)
2) THE SHARPETOWN SWINGSTERS – Jikela Bessie – 1957
(H. Bessie, Columbia, YE 192)
3) THE SHARPETOWN SWINGSTERS – Maeba – 1957
(trad. arr. H. Bessie, Columbia, YE 192)
Ian Jeffrey’s great account in his dissertation on this band gave me substantial insight into the general context of the history of majuba jazz. It is Jeffrey’s continued use of the term “majuba” in describing this music that lead me to research its root.
|The Sharpetown Swingsters|
Jeffrey’s goes on to say that by 1955 the band was well-known playing gigs all over the country and were also being featured on Gideon Nxumalo’s radio show This is Bantu Jazz. By November 1956, they had caught the eye of music critic Gideon Jay who reviewed their recent releases in Zonk magazine. Polliacks advertised the group in 1957 alongside Zacks and His Sextet as one of the best bands of the year. Maebe and Jikele Bessie, the two tracks featured here, were issued in December of that year and by January 1958 had reached the number two position of Polliacks Ladder of Hits. Ellison Themba’s African Swingsters were at number one. These two tracks were also featured on the EMI EP Africa Music and Life of Today Vol. 1 (SEYJ 102)
Their October 1958 release Archie's Jump received a favorable review from Drum’s Bloke Modisane, but Jeffrey’s also points out that Modisane’s tone also implied that "jive" (the term he used) was loosing its popularity. In January 1959 the Swingsters “peaked” with their release Iza Levay and Amajeri which went to the top of the Polliacks charts and also became their best-selling disc. They made two more discs with EMI and then in 1960, their contract was not renewed. According to Jeffreys, record companies began rejecting African jazz in favor of more “rural” sounding mbaqanga. Moreover the “African” programme on SABC was replaced by language specific Bantu Radio that looked to use “traditional” music as a way to culturally separate different language groups. It is also not insignificant that events like Sharpeville occurred in March 1960. Though never recording commercially again, the band continued to acquire new members and play together at various occasions well into the 1980s. (Jeffrey)
4) YANKEE SWINGSTERS – 3rd Avenue Jump – c1957
(Piliso, RCA, RCA 87, 8HBB 110)
5) YANKEE SWINGSTERS – Tshayani – c1957
(Piliso, RCA, RCA 87, 8HBB 111)
6) SKIP PHALANE AND HIS BIG NINE – Kwela Bangazi – 1957
(J. Bangazi, Gallotone Jive, GB 2725, ABC 16356)
7) SKIP PHALANE AND HIS BIG NINE – Vuk’uzenzele – 1957
(Skip Phalane, Gallotone Jive, GB 2725, ABC 16355)
|'Skip' Phalane from Coplan|
8) ELIJAH'S RHYTHM KINGS – Bops Special - c1957
(Rupert Bopape, HMV, JP 2075, OAS 981)
9) ELIJAH'S RHYTHM KINGS – Elijah Special - c1957
(Elijah Nkwanyana, HMV, JP 2075, OAS 982)
Trumpeter and band-leader, Elijah Nkwanyana was born in 1931. Gwen Ansell retells a humorous story of how Nkwanyana, at age fifteen, and his older cousin (by one year), Banzi Bangani (who used to practise together in the early 1940s) got an early gig when their teacher failed to appear for a performance. They took over and out-played the teacher much to his chagrin. Ngwanyana also performed with Bangani in the group the Johannesburg All Stars which included Sydney Nthalo on piano, Willie Malan on drums, and General Duze on guitar. (Ansell, Rasmussen)
|Nkwanyana from Rasmussen|
In the 1950s he fronted the Elijah Rhythm Kings and in 1957 Zonk magazine designated him composer of the year with a number of tunes including those featured here: Bops Special and Elijah Special. At the 1962 Castle Lager Jazz Festival he performed with Tete Mbambisa’s Jazz Giants with Dudu Pukwana, Martin Mgijima, Early Mabuza, and Nick Moyake. (Rasmussen)
Sadly, Elijah Nkwanyana died all too early at the age of 38 on December 31st, 1969. But his legacy lives on. David Coplan suggests that it was a late 1950s tune by Nkwanayana that Abdullah Ibrahim combined with other elements to create the iconic Mannenburg. Others have claimed that it was Zacks Nkosi’s tune Jackpot that was sampled, but if you listen closely to details within Bops Special you can almost hear elements of the future Mannenburg. (Ansell, Rasmussen, Coplan)
10) ZACKS AND HIS SEXTET – B.M.S.C. - c1957
(Zacks Nkosi, HMV, JP 2091, OAS 1035)
11) ZACKS AND HIS SEXTET – Rock, Rock Jazz - c1957
(Zacks Nkosi, HMV, JP 2091, OAS 1036)
|Zacks Nkosi from Huskisson|
Both tracks featured in this compilation are from the original 78 rpms but they can also be found on the LP. The track BMSC refers to the Bantu Men’s Social Centre an important meeting place and performance venue on Eloff Street in Johannesburg that was built in 1924 with funds from the liberal white community. View some of Nkosi’s albums at Flatinternational. (Coplan, Huskisson)
12) THE GLOBE TROTTERS – Drums of Africa – 1957
(Victor Ndazilwana, Columbia, YE 180, CEA 5099)
13) THE GLOBE TROTTERS – Vuyisile – 1957
(Douglas Xaba, Columbia, YE 184, CEA 5139)
Volume One post, Victor Ndlazilwana began his career singing with the male quartette, the Woody Woodpeckers, in 1951. The recordings on that compilation were issued on the Philips label, though I am under the impression that the Woodpeckers normally recorded for EMI and it’s various labels: Columbia and HMV. At that time record companies would sign artists but record them under a range of different names. The “stable” system as it was known, gave competitors and the audience the impression that the company had far more recording artists than it did. It also allowed the company to control the relative success of any one group. It is not clear to me whether the Globe Trotters are the Woody Woodpeckers under another name but certainly the composing credits here go to regulars in the EMI stable: Ndazilwana, Rupert Bopape and Douglas Xaba. Drums of Africa as well as two other tracks by the Globe Trotters were featured on the 1950s compilation LP Africa - Music and Life Today (33JSX 9), also issued in the US as Music of the African Zulus.
|Sponono from Playbill|
Electric Jive) Another version of Emavungwini can be found on an album by Cedric Brooks and the Devine Light. Here the track is credited to none other than Ndikho Douglas Xaba… as in Ndikho Xaba and the Natives, authors of the super rare and highly collectable, spiritual jazz LP issued on the Trilyte label in 1969.
I wonder if Xaba’s song Vuyisile featured here may in some oblique way refer to Vuyisile Mini, the anti-apartheid activist that was hung in 1964. Without a translation of the lyric it is hard to say and so I can only speculate. Mini who was born in Port Elizabeth became active as a trade-unionist in the Eastern Cape in the 1950s. Both Xaba and Mini were politically active in the region but they were also musically active and so it is not hard to believe that their paths might have crossed at some point. Mini sang in the P.E. Male Voice Choir and had a distinctive, commanding bass voice and composed many famous freedom songs including Ndodemnyama or "Beware Verwoerd". In 1956, a year before the Vuyisile recording by Xaba was issued, Mini became one of the 156 accused in the famous “treason trial” which included Nelson Mandela. Xaba’s bass delivery here in Vuyisile seems very reminiscent of Mini’s to me. Anyways, just speculation…. (Makeba, Ansell)
14) SPOKES MASHIYANE – Big Joe Special – 1958
(Mashiyane, Rave, R 42, matrix 7608)
15) SPOKES MASHIYANE – Kwela Sax – 1958
(Mashiyane, Rave, R 42, matrix 7479)
16) AFRICAN SWINGSTERS – Shay’ utshane – 1959
(Ellison Themba, HMV, JP 2134)
Their track Swazi Stomp, composed by Zacks Nkosi is included on the compilation LP Jazz and Hot Dance in South Africa. Huskisson has that tune being Nkosi’s first, composed in 1953, though the track by the African Swingsters, issued on HMV (JP 133), probably dates from around 1955. (SAMAP has it as JP 418, which could be a reissue.) Shay’utshane, a major hit in 1959, comes quite late in the history of majuba.
After Bopape left for Gallo in 1964, he took many of his EMI musicians with him including Themba. The African Swingsters would continue to record for Gallo well into the 1960s, in fact they are the last group represented on Volume Three with, by then, a distinctly mbaqanga sound. In 1975 Gallo re-assembled a band of jazz musicians from the golden age of majuba. Called The Members, this group included Ellison Themba, Ntemi Piliso, Shadrack Piliso and Spokes Mashiyane amongst others. They recorded in the style of what was then called bump-jive — a slowed down, extended version of the very music they helped create in the 1950s. The group released a number of albums including Wayback Riverside (BL 40), and Kadudu Special (BL 44).
17) BROWN COOL SIX – Emigodini – 1959
(Gray Mbau, Columbia, YE 252, CEA 5330)
18) BROWN COOL SIX – Meadowlands Blues – 1959
(Gray Mbau, Columbia, YE 252, CEA 5350)
19) ELITE SWINGTERS – Panga - c1959
(Sylvia Maloi, RCA, RCA 179, 8KBB 60)
20) ELITE SWINGTERS – Thu Thuka - c1959
(L. Matlotlo, RCA, RCA 179, 8KBB 59)
The Beat of Africa around 1958. It is not clear to me who was part of the original lineup of the Swingsters at that time, but it could be extrapolated from the track listing of their first LP that the group included Tshukudu and Paul Ramesti. Mojapelo in his book puts Philip Thami Madi in the original group as well and according to music.org.za the classic lineup included leader and string bass player, Tshukudu, Louis Molubi on drums, Rex Ntuli on guitar, Johnny Bangazi on trumpet and Rametsi on tenor sax. The Solven Whistlers' Peter Mokonotela joined the group as an alto saxophonist in 1962 as did the notable film star and vocalist, Dolly Rathebe, in 1964.
In 1963 the Elite Swingters won the "Band Section" of the Cold Castle Jazz Festival. Though this information may be incorrect given the inclusion of Chris McGregor's Big Band in that same year. While in Durban, performing at the 1965 BATFAIR trade show, Tshukudu drowned while swimming. The group continued to perform and record but interest in their style of jazz dwindled with the rise of mbaqanga, which appealed to a younger audience. In 1989 the group reunited with Rathebe to record a number of albums. Over the years, members performing with the group have included: Jury Mpehlo, Chris Songxaka, Albert Ralulimi, Mike Selelo, Elijah Nkwanyane, Johnny Selelo, Blythe Mbityana, Chris Columbus, Daniel Ngema, George Manxola, Jackie Mogali, Paul Ntleru, Dimpy Shabalala, Philip Mbele. Bennette Rahlao, Conrad Zulu, Jack Mogale amongst others. (Huskisson, Mojapelo)
21) TRANSVAAL ROCKING JAZZ STARS – Here is a Message – c1960
(Michael Xaba, Bopape, Columbia, YE 320, CEA 5622)
22) TRANSVAAL ROCKING JAZZ STARS – Langa More – c1960
(Ellison Themba, Bopape, Columbia, YE 320, CEA 5621)
Generally this group would include legends from the EMI roster including Ellison Temba, leader of the African Swingsters; Zacks Nkosi of the Jazz Maniacs and then City Jazz Nine; Elijah Nkwanyane of Elijah’s Rhythm Kings, Gray Mbau of the Harlem Swingsters; and Michael Xaba from the Jazz Maniacs and Harlem Swingsters to name but a few. In 1964 Bopape moved to Gallo, taking many of their musicians with him. There he established Mavuthela and built a significant foundation for mbaqanga music. While at Mavuthela, Bopape did attempt to reconstitute the “Magic Circle Band” as can be heard on Volume Three of this compilation. Bop’s Magic Circle Band was issued on Motella in 1964, an early issue from that famous label. Notably the tracks there are a lot more mbaqanga sounding than those of the Transvaal Rockin Jazz Stars. Read more about the history of the Motella label, Mavuthela and Rupert Bopape in Nick Lotay’s classic post Jive Motella! at Matsuli.
23) N.D. HOTSHOTS – N.D. City – 1960
(Reggie Msomi, New Sound, GB 3139, ABC 18373)
24) N.D. HOTSHOTS – Sonce Special – 1960
(Reggie Msomi, New Sound, GB 3139, ABC 18374)
Swing Africa featured here at Electric Jive, Reggie Msomi was born near Port Shepstone, along the South Coast of Kwa Zulu Natal. In 1953 he moved to Johannesburg seeking work, interestingly, as a male nurse in a mining hospital. Roughly around 1955 he joined RCA, an imprint of Teal Records, where he met ‘Chooks’ Tshukudu the future leader of the Elite Swingsters. By 1957 (I am assuming given his credit on the kwela tune above) he had moved to Gallo Records. Though first a guitarist, Msomi also played saxophone and at Gallo produced a significant body of hits including Twisting with Reggie. The N.D. Hotshots were a session band featuring Msomi on alto sax and also included trumpeter Banzi Bangani. N.D. refers to “Natal, Durban” an abbreviation found on car-number plates. Ironically as Rob Allingham points out, Msomi was the only member to hail from the region. (Ansell, Allingham)
25) ETHEL RULULU – Nda Zenza - 1961
(Ethel Rululu, Envee, NV 3303, E 11351)
26) ETHEL RULULU & MAHAMBA – Unyako ‘Mtsha - 1961
(Ethel Rululu, Envee, NV 3303, E 11352)
Finding information on this jazz singer has been quite difficult. In the early 1950s, Ethel Rululu performed with the Hi-Tide Harmonics and recorded with them on Trutone’s Bantu Bathu label (BB 627) possibly in 1952. The tracks featured here are from 1961 also recorded with Trutone. Given the rise of mbaqanga, her style of singing at this point almost seems out of place, coming from the seemingly forgotten era of the 1950s.
27) HI-LIFE SEPTETTE – Ekhaya Kwa Chaka – 1961
(Christopher Songxaka, Hi-Life, HL 522, J 73)
28) HI-LIFE SEPTETTE – House Full – 1961
(Christopher Songxaka, Hi-Life, HL 522, J 75)
SAMAP archive reveals a number of compositions by him, including Zulu Jazz recorded by the Eastern City Seven led by Boyce Gwele. The track was issued on the Tropik label around 1957. Spokes Mashiyane and his Big Five’s New Sound Jump also composed by Songxaka was an early hit and issued in 1959 or 1960. Christopher Songxaka and His Sax recorded 1959 Se Cherries on Trutone’s Quality label in, I am assuming, 1959. And then Songxaka fronted at least two bands at Gallo during the Mavuthela era: the Home Swingsters and the Home Town Units, both from about 1964/5. The tracks featured here by the Hi-Life Septet come quite late in the majuba chronology but do sound classic!
29) DUMA OF DURBAN – Diphoofolo Tsotlhe – 1961
(Allen Kwela, Envee, NV 3494, matrix 11300)
30) DUMA OF DURBAN – Thatha Umthwalo – 1961
(Allen Kwela, Envee, NV 3494, matrix 11299)
Allen’s Soul Bag and the late 1970s Black Beauty. In an interesting side note Roger Koza in an interview with Lars Rasmussen revealed that Allen Kwela, Barney Rachabane along with Winston Mankunku and others were part of the group The Cliffs that recorded the 1975 album Alex Express also available here at Electric Jive. Oddly, the track Diphoofolo Tsotlhe featured here includes a number of farm animal sounds. Not sure why this experimental approach was taken, but perhaps it was meant to give the track a more rural feeling.
78 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE – MAJUBA JAZZ FROM MRA TO BRA
VOLUME 3: SAX JIVE TO MBAQANGA (1962 – 1967)
The tracks on Volume Three trace the music as it augments from sax jive to mbaqanga. Many of the artists here of course are featured in the previous two volumes and were the pioneers of majuba or African Jazz in its hey-day in the 1950s. These tracks reveal the innovators — having set the foundation for the music that was to dominate South African styles for the next twenty years: mbaganga — now having to adapt to its commercial requirements. The tracks here show a style in transition, where artists were exploring new avenues but also trying to keep up with the changing times. They had to either swim with it or sink.
In his book In Township Tonight, David Coplan’s account of this period is particularly revealing: “the veteran big band and mbaqanga jazz players could at first still get work in the studios backing simanje-manje groups like the Dark City Sisters. Producers like Bopape and Mathumba, however, preferred to hire musicians individually for standard msakazo recordings. Professional urban musicians expressed their dissatisfaction with the new system, while the producers disdained the jazzmen’s sense of artistic and professional independence and found their demands for better pay and working conditions annoying: Who did these hired hands think they were?
In response Bopape replaced the middle-class players with working-class and migrant performers and instituted a system of rigid studio control, employing only players who obeyed them […] Performance units were rehearsed incessantly and the music result became his property. The late Rupert, though not a performing musician himself, has more than a thousand compositions copyrighted in his name […] Wilson Silgee, Zakes Nkosi, Ellison Themba, Ntemi Piliso, and a few others stayed on to help organize and rehearse the new groups, but most had no studio contracts and changed to freelance recording with pickup ensembles. Among these were Early Mabuza, Eric Nomvete, Mongezi Feza, Mackay Davashe, Kippie Moeketsi, Gideon Nxumalo, Cyril Magubane, Blythe Mbityana, Allen Kwela, Elijah Nkwanyana, Dalton Khanyile, Skip Phalane, and many other great jazz talents.”
While this account of the business side of the music creates a bleak picture of the 1960s, it must be said that the music on this volume is still some of the best. Reggie Msomi’s Black Cat is one of my favorites of the whole compilation. Volume Three also features classic tracks by David Thekwane and Strike Vilakazi, both producers for Teal and Trutone respectively. If you are interested in where this music goes from here I highly recommend Nick Lotay’s, excellent posts on the history of Mavuthela at Matsuli and here at Electric Jive.
One final note about the last track here by Ellison Themba’s, African Swingsters. This track features Mavuthela’s Marks Mankwane on guitar backed by the Magkona Tsohle Band and while it is an instrumental, you almost keep expecting Simon 'Mahlathini' Nkabinde to start groaning.
78 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE – MAJUBA JAZZ FROM MRA TO BRA
VOLUME 3: SAX JIVE TO MBAQANGA (1962 – 1967)
(flatinternational / Electric Jive, FXEJ 6)
1) ALBERT RALULIMI – Easter Monday Taps Taps - 1962
(Jill Desmond, TJ Quality, TJ 657, matrix 12469)
2) ALBERT RALULIMI – Good Friday Kwela - 1962
(Jill Desmond, TJ Quality, TJ 657, matrix 12468)
3) DAVID THEKWANE AND CO. – 1962 Shalashala – 1962
(Thekwane, Envee, NV 3324, matrix 11997)
4) DAVID THEKWANE AND CO. – String Bass Taps– 1962
(Thekwane, Envee, NV 3324, matrix 11995)
5) ELITE SWINGSTERS – Jika Jika Twist - c1962
(G. Ntutu, Drum, DR 125, B62D 0337)
6) ELITE SWINGSTERS – Mabelebele - c1962
(Jordan Bangazi, Drum, DR 125, B62D 0338)
7) REGGIE MSOMI AND THE HOLLYWOD JAZZ BAND – Black Cat – 1963
(Reggie Msomi, Gallo USA, USA 246, ABC 23916)
8) REGGIE MSOMI AND THE HOLLYWOD JAZZ BAND – South West Africa– 1963
(Reggie Msomi, Gallo USA, USA 246, ABC 23915)
9) ALEXANDER ALL STARS – Isikebe Siwile – 1964
(Shadrack Piliso, Motella, MO 8, ABC 30047)
10) ALEXANDER ALL STARS – Umkhovu – 1964
(Shadrack Piliso, Motella, MO 8, ABC 30048)
11) BOPS MAGIC CIRCLE BAND – Lehlabile Ska – 1964
(Rupert Bopape, Motella, MO 14, ABC 30060)
12) BOPS MAGIC CIRCLE BAND – On the Beat – 1964
(Rupert Bopape, Motella, MO 14, ABC 30059)
13) ALBERT RALULIMI – Monkey Jive – 1965
(Ralulimi, Top Beat, RCA 365, RQBB 3962)
14) ALBERT RALULIMI – Mr. Rocktion’s Best – 1965
(Ralulimi, Top Beat, RCA 365, RQBB 3963)
15) ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Inkomo Emnyama – 1965
(Shadrack Piliso, Motella, MO 47, ABC 30308)
16) ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BAND – Makomkom No. 3 – 1965
(Shadrack Piliso, Motella, MO 47, ABC 30309)
17) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND HIS GOLDEN SAX – Fifth Avenue – 1965
(Mashiyane, New Sound, GB 3617, ABC 30355)
18) SPOKES MASHIYANE AND HIS GOLDEN SAX – New York City – 1965
(Mashiyane, New Sound, GB 3617, ABC 30354)
19) SDV SWING BAND – Taxi Jive 700 - 1967
(Strike Vilakazi, Tempo, KT 015, matrix 16148)
20) SDV SWING BAND – Taxi Jive 6 No. 2 - 1967
(Strike Vilakazi, Tempo, KT 015, matrix 16147)
21) AFRICAN SWINGSTERS – Indhumbula - 1967
(Ellison Temba, Gumba Gumba, MGG 512, ABC 30751)
22) AFRICAN SWINGSTERS – Simanjemanje No. 2 - 1967
(Ellison Temba, Gumba Gumba, MGG 512, ABC 30752)