Saturday, October 24, 2020

78 Revolutions Per Minute - Majuba Jazz from Mra to Bra

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)

VOLUME 1: SWING TO MAJUBA (1953 – 1956)
(Flatinternational / Electric Jive, FXEJ 4)

(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1577)
(Mbali, Bantu Bathu, BB 156, matrix 1576)
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1580)
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 159, matrix 1579)
(Mzimkulu, Bantu Bathu, BB 155, matrix 1581)
* thanks to Laurent Dalmasso for the Majuba track.

Eric Nomvete died in September 1999 and his obituary in 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
Willie 'Sax-o-Wills' Mbali a saxophonist and band-leader, hailed from Queenstown and must have been a notable dancer as David Coplan shows an image of him as a Queenstown Ball Room Champion in the 1920s. In the early 1930s he led, with pianist Meekly 'Fingertips' Matshikiza, the Blue Rhythm Syncopaters a group that was preceded by the Big Four. In 1937 Griffiths Motsieloa organized a country-wide tour for the Merry Blackbirds and Darktown Strutters and in February 1938, Mbali wrote about that tour in Bantu World: “Let me add as a footnote that the local orchestra will benefit through the visit of the Merry Blackbirds, and will make use of whatever tips they received from these artists.” Interestingly, trumpeter, David Mzimkulu actually recorded with the Merry Blackbirds Orchestra when they backed the Manhattan Brothers on Pesheya Kwezo Ntaba (GE 973) in 1949, though it is unclear to me whether he would have been in the Blackbirds during the time of Mbali’s article. In the 1940s David Mzimkulu also performed with the legendary Jazz Maniacs. (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.

Hambela eBhayi – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11470)
iTyala Lami – 1953
(AMR, Gallotone, GB 1842, ABC 11472)

iBhayi (or eBhayi in this track) is the isiXhosa name for Port Elizabeth the largest city in the Eastern Cape. The whole region seems to have been a major centre for jazz in South Africa and Coplan points out that “the Eastern Cape contributed so many talented instrumentalists and vocalists to the Johannesburg African entertainment world that Xhosa became something of a lingua franca among its musicians.” Victor Mkhize, a famous comedian performed with the Alfred Herberts’s African Jazz and Variety. After a show in Durban he and a number of others in the cast including Miriam Makeba travelled late back to Johannesburg. The van was in a collision with another car that killed a number of white passengers. After receiving no help from police or medical staff for almost 48 hours, he died from his wounds. The tragic story is recounted in Makeba’s biography My Story. (Coplan, Makeba)

8) SHANTY CITY SEVENUnoya Kae – 1953
(Lottie Masilo, Gallotone, GB 1955, ABC 12310)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA

Mackay Davashe
Born 1920 in East London, Sherwood Mackay Davashe started playing sax with the Merry Mischiefs, a seven-piece band led by Dale Quaker, in 1943. Prior to that he had studied at the Wilfred Sentso School of Modern Piano Syncopation. The school was established by Sensto at the Mooki Memorial College in Orlando between 1937 and June 1938 and became an important education outlet for many young performers. Between 1944 and 1945 he played with the Jazz Maniacs who by that point were being led by Wilson Silgee. In the 1950s Davashe led the Shantytown Sextet a group that included Kippie Moeketsi (who joined the band in 1950) on alto, Jacob Lepere on bass, General Duze on guitar, Boyce Gwele on piano, Norman Martin on drums and at times Dollar Brand. Their 1953 recording Msakazo (GB 1955) which happens to be the B-side of this tune also gave this style of music a temporary name and is mentioned by Coplan. He goes on to say that it was a somewhat derogatory term meaning “broadcast.” The A-side, Unoya Kae, featured here is billed as the Shanty City Seven and on this track Robert Pule appears on trumpet with W. Adams on bass.

Kippie Moeketsi
In 1959 Davashe led the King Kong Orchestra that included Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela, Jacob Lepere, General Duze, Sylvester Phahlane and Gwigwi Mrwebi to name but a few. A year before that in 1958 he had formed the Jazz Dazzlers who recorded at least three tracks in November and are featured on the CD Township Swing Jazz! Vol. 1. On the occasion of that recording the Dazzlers included Kippie Moeketsi on 1st alto, Gwigwi Mrwebi on 2nd alto, Davashe on tenor, Kleintjie Rubushe on trumpet, Dugmore 'Darkie' Slinger on trombone, Sol Klaaste on piano, General Duze on guitar, Jacob Lepere on bass and Willie Malan on drums. The Jazz Dazzlers went on to perform at the famous Cold Castle National Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu Stadium in 1962. The personnel by that point included Pat Matshikiza on piano, Saint Moikangoa on bass, Early Mabuza on drums, Kippie Moeketsi on alto sax, Blythe Mbityana on trombone and Dennis Mpali on trumpet. Some of Davashe’s most notable compositions include Lakutshon’ Ilanga made famous by Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers as well as Izikalo Zegoduka, the original version of Kilimanjaro also made hugely popular by the Manhattan Brothers. (Huskisson, Ballantine, Coplan, Bergmeier, Beinhart)

U-Mgibe – 1954
(Gideon Nxumalo, Troubadour, AFC 166, MATA 1251)
* from the LP Jazz and Hot Dance in SA

Gwigwi Mrwebi from Shaderburg
Folks! Doesn’t this introduction sound very much like the opening of Pata Pata that would make Miriam Makeba so famous 13 years later? Benny 'Gwigwi' Mrwebi was the leader of the legendary Harlem Swingsters in the early 1950s. Though in Ntemi Piliso’s obituary in City Press, Taai Shomang is said to have led the group. This large fourteen-piece big band hailed from Alexandra and established itself as the leading group in the 1940s. This is also the same band mentioned above in Todd Matshikiza’s Drum article where he reveals the story of how the Swingters gave birth to the majuba style of jazz. At times that group also included Gray Mbau, Todd Matshikiza, Gideon Nxumalo, Ntemi Piliso as well as Kippie Moeketsi for a brief period in the late 1940s before he went onto the Shanty Town Sextet in 1950. In 1951 the Swingsters toured Mozambique with Dolly Rathebe. A major hit for the group included Mgibe Special composed by Gideon 'Mgibe' Nxumalo who at that time was sitting in for Todd Matshikiza on piano. The track featured here 'Mgibe' is also composed by Gideon Nxumalo. (Molefe, Coplan)

In November 1958 Mrwebi recorded at least three tracks with the Jazz Dazzlers which can be heard on the CD Township Swing Jazz Vol. 1. Mrwebi was the circulation manager at Drum magazine and he also performed in the King Kong Orchestra. When King Kong went to London in 1961 he came with the cast and decided to remain in the UK after they returned to South Africa. While in the UK he hooked up with fellow South Africans—Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Ronnie Beer—and recorded the highly collectable LP 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)

Nonzwakazi Alias Fat Cookies – 1954
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12814)
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 12813)
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13073)
(Edmund Piliso, Tropik DC, DC 502, ABC 13076)

Edmund Mtutuzeli Piliso or 'Bra Ntemi' was born in Alexandra in 1925 and passed away in January 2001. His obituary in 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 GIANTSHalf Mpaqanga – c1955
(Gwiri, Philips, SB 21, AA30020.1H)
15) ORLANDO JAZZ COMBOUmjiva – c1955
(Kika, Philips, SB 13, AA30012.2H)

The title of the Boyce Gwele tune is particularly interesting —Half Mpaqanga or “half a loaf” reads the given translation. This is almost the same term coined by Michael Xaba and popularized by Gideon Nxumalo on his radio show. In the 1950s Boyce Gwele performed on piano with Mackay Davashe’s famous Shantytown Sextet a group that included Kippie Moeketsi on alto, Jacob Lepere on bass, General Duze on guitar, Norman Martin on drums. Gwele also led the Eastern City Seven which included bassist Daniel Sibanyoni. Listen to their tune 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 PEEmlanjeni – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.2H)
17) NU RHYTHM DOWN BEATS of PEIntlombe – c1955
(Christoper Columbus, Phillips, SB 38, AA 30097.1H)

Born in Cape Town in 1927, Christopher Columbus Ngcukana or 'Mbra' or 'Mra' was one of the key figures in South African Jazz. As Huskisson reveals he learned to play the trumpet in 1944 and then joined the Harmony Kings. After that group dissolved, he moved on to the Hot Shots led by Gray Mbau in East London. In 1949 he formed his own big band, the Swingettes which included 'Cups' Nkanuka whom he taught saxophone. In 1953 he moved to Port Elizabeth and joined the Junior Jazzmen. Then in 1954 he formed his own band in PE, the Rhythm Down Beat with Hubert Tini, Dick Khoza, Philip Mbambaza, Derrek Xujwa and Coleman Stokwe. Others joined the band at a later point including Paul Zokufa, Nick Moyake, Dudu Pukwana, Mahkwela, Moses Molelekoa and Andrew Veldman. Significantly this band would be the first time that Nick Moyake and Dudu Pukwana would play together.

Chris Columbus from Huskisson
Though it is not clear exactly who is performing on these two tracks by the Nu Rhythm Downbeats of PE, it is likely most of the above mentioned musicians. In July of 1955 Ngcukana brought a sixteen-piece band, De Bafana, to Cape Town and in 1960 he again reconnected with 'Cups' Nkunuka to form the band the 12 Disciples of Jazz. Of course, in 1962 he performed with the Chris McGregor Septet at the Castle Lager Jazz Festival at Moroku-Jabuva Stadium and then was part of the seminal group, the Castle Lager Big Band which won the 1963 festival and recorded the classic album Jazz / The African Sound. Dudu Pukwana’s Mra is a tribute to Christopher Columbus and is featured on Kwela by Gwigwi’s Band, Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, and Hugh Masekela’s Grrr. (Huskisson, Rasmussen)

18) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHMiMali – c1955
(“Money”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.1H)
19) TODD MATSHIKIZA and his RHYTHMUmsindo – c1955
(“Noise”, Matshikiza, Phillips, SB 15, AA 30014.2H)

Todd Matshikiza
Todd Matshikiza, of course mentioned above, was born in Queenstown in 1921. While at Adams College in Natal he met Eric Nomvete. In 1947 he moved to Johannesburg as a teacher. Matshikiza started working for Drum magazine in March 1951 as their music critic and crafted a unique style of writing. His 1957 article Jazz comes to JHB puts him at the birth of the majuba style during, what I am assuming is, the early 1950s when he performed with the Gwigwi Mrwebi’s Harlem Swingsters. In 1953 he composed the tune Makhalipile or “the dauntless one” dedicated to Father Trevor Huddleston. This choral work was part of a benefit concert used to raise funds by Huddleston for an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Orlando West. The pool opened in 1955.

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 WOODPECKERSNdivume – c1955
(“Accept Me”, Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 10, AA 30009.1H)
Nandi Nabhuti – c1955
(Ndazilwana, Phillips, SB 39, AA 30038.2H)

Victor Ndlazilwana began his career singing with the male quartette, the Woody Woodpeckers, in 1951. In 1959 he played the role of "The Journalist" in the hit show King Kong and continued with the cast when the show was taken to London in 1961. The Woody Woodpeckers performed at the classic 1962 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 GWIGZASLibala – 1956
(Michael Xaba, Troubadour AFC 320, MATA 1600)

As mentioned earlier Benny 'Gwigwi' Mrwebi was the leader of the legendary Harlem Swingsters in the early 1950s. This large fourteen-piece hailed from Alexandra and established itself as the leading group in the 1940s. According to Allingham the personnel on these tracks by Gwigwi and his Gwigzas include Michael Xaba on trumpet, Gray Mbau on trumpet, Dugmore 'Darkie' Slinger on trombone and possibly Boyce Gwele on piano. Michael Xaba is composer on both tunes. Xaba of course performed trumpet with the legendary Jazz Maniacs and is also most famous for coining the term “mbaqanga”.

24) JAZZ MANIACSSent For You Yesterday – 1956
(Count Basie, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14629)
25) JAZZ MANIACSTamping At The Tappa – 1956
(Billy May, Gallotone Jive, GBJ 2456, ABC 14630)

In many ways the Jazz Maniacs could be viewed as the great grandfather’s of this style of music and were some of the earliest practitioners of big band jazz. Alas I have no early recordings of them in the 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 BANDRegtrek Kwela – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5274)
27) WILLIE MAX AND HIS BANDHot Toddy – 1956
(Willie Max, Parade, HP 517, matrix 5275)

Willie Max, a drummer, led this Cape Town dance band in the mid 1950s. According to Rasmussen their repertoire featured primarily foxtrot, waltzes and quickstep. The band also included a very young pianist, Dollar Brand (aka Abdullah Ibrahim), who was 21 at the time. Ibrahim would perform with the group for about two years. Born in October 1934, Abdullah Ibrahim started performing professionally in Cape Town in the early 1950s. His first recordings were with the Tuxedo City Slickers in 1954, which included Blythe Mbityane on trombone. Early in 1956 he recorded roughly eight tracks with Willie Max en Sy Orkes of which only four were issued. One track, not featured here, 'Lovers Wals' was Ibrahim’s first recorded composition. Two tracks from that session 'Regtrek Kwela' and 'Hot Toddy' are featured here with Willie Max on drums and Ibrahim on piano.

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 FLASHESWe Matsoale – 1957
(arr. Davashe, Gallotone Jive, GB 2717, ABC 16062)

This is a legacy track from the early days of the mix. Initially I chose it because Mackay Davashe had done the arrangements on this curious, somewhat Spanish, tune. I decided to keep it after hearing the vocalists. I could be mistaken, but I am convinced that this is Miriam Makeba singing here! If it is her, then this might be quite unique. I have not read anything about her performing with the Flashes, nor have I seen any information about them in general. If anyone knows, drop us a note!

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)

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)

An excellent kwela/vocal jive composed by Reggie Msomi opens this compilation. In many ways, the popularity of kwela led to an assimilation of aspects of that style with majuba jazz. Towards the late 1950s, the big band sound became faster and incorporated elements such as rhythmic or vamping guitars. Some like Drum music critic Bloke Modisane in his review of a 1958 recording by the Sharpetown Swingsters, commented that they “are probably the best there is. Wish they could remember that occasionally people sit down to listen… or pretend to.” In many ways the popularity of this faster style of playing also marked the beginning of the end of majuba jazz which quite rapidly began to transform first into sax jive and then mbaqanga.

(H. Bessie, Columbia, YE 192)
(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
Led by Joseph Molifi, the Sharpetown Swingsters formed in Sharpeville in January of 1953. The group at that time included Molifi on trombone, Joseph Moshoeshoe on trumpet, Hans Bessie on alto, Steven ‘Booitsie’ Lepere (brother to Jacob Lepere) on bass, Ishamel Molifi on tenor, Isaac Makgale on alto and David Masuko on drums. In 1954 Simon ‘Paps’ Mokhome joined the band on second trumpet, while Iphrahaim Zwane replaced Ishmael Molifi on tenor. In 1955 they were "spotted" by Rupert Bopape who signed them to a five-year contract with EMI to record under the Columbia label. Their first recording V Blues and Sharpetown Special (YE 127) “made them famous” though Jeffrey’s goes on to say that the group received £11 per side with an additional £5 to Steven Lepere for composition. The practice according to Jeffrey’s was the standard for all bands at the time.

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 SWINGSTERS3rd Avenue Jump – c1957
(Piliso, RCA, RCA 87, 8HBB 110)
5) YANKEE SWINGSTERSTshayani – c1957
(Piliso, RCA, RCA 87, 8HBB 111)

It is not clear whether Ntemi Piliso or his brother Shadrack or both perform on these tracks but in the liner notes of the CD reissue Bra Ntemi, Rob Allingham mentions that the Ntemi’s Alexandra All Stars did record briefly for Teal Records using names like the Country Jazz Band. The RCA label was an imprint of Teal Records in South Africa and I am assuming this record could be from those sessions. (Allingham)

6) SKIP PHALANE AND HIS BIG NINEKwela Bangazi – 1957
(J. Bangazi, Gallotone Jive, GB 2725, ABC 16356)
7) SKIP PHALANE AND HIS BIG NINEVuk’uzenzele – 1957
(Skip Phalane, Gallotone Jive, GB 2725, ABC 16355)

'Skip' Phalane from Coplan
Sylvester ‘Skip’ Phalane performed in the variety show Zonk! that entertained Allied soldiers during the second world war. In the late 1940s, Phalane also starred in the film of the same name that was made by Lietenant Ike Brooks, who claimed to have trained the “African ‘raw talent' from scratch.” David Coplan’s account of the Zonk experience during the war is quite extensive and a recommended read. According to Rasmussen, Phalane also performed later with the Jazz Maniacs and the Harlem Swingsters, playing tenor-sax. It is likely that his Big Nine also featured, future Elite Swingsters, Johnny or Jordan Bangazi as he is credited with the tune “Kwela Bangazi.” By 1962, Rasmussen revealed in an interview with Cups Nkanuka, that Phalane (Nkanuka’s idol while growing up) had stopped performing. (Rasmussen, Coplan)

8) ELIJAH'S RHYTHM KINGSBops Special - c1957
(Rupert Bopape, HMV, JP 2075, OAS 981)
9) ELIJAH'S RHYTHM KINGSElijah Special - c1957
(Elijah Nkwanyana, HMV, JP 2075, OAS 982)

EMI’s stable under Rupert Bopape was hard to beat in the 1950s and included some of the best musicians and band-leaders. Major names like Ellison Temba of the African Swingsters, Zacks Nkosi of the City Jazz Nine, Gray Mbau of the Brown Cool Six and Elijah Nkwanyana of Elijah’s Rhythm Kings would record together and often rotate band names depending on who was leading. These guys were also the core of Bopape’s Magic Circle Band, a kind of “super-group." that featured the best musicians from various bands.

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
Bangani in an interview with Rasmussen also retold how he and Ngwanayana recruited a vocal group led by Siba Mokgosi and became the African Ink Spots. Their association with the group led them to perform on the 1949 film Jim Comes to Joburg the first feature film with an “all-African” cast. Bangani and Ngwanyana also taught a young Hugh Masekela aspects of the trumpet. Bangani remembers “we cooked him, because, many times I listen to Hugh, he has got part of Elijah, he has got part of me in his playing.” (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)

(Zacks Nkosi, HMV, JP 2091, OAS 1035)
11) ZACKS AND HIS SEXTETRock, Rock Jazz - c1957
(Zacks Nkosi, HMV, JP 2091, OAS 1036)

Zacks Nkosi from Huskisson
'Bra' Zacks Nkosi, a legend of early African jazz and mbaqanga, was born in Alexandra township, Johannesburg in 1925. He received his first saxophone at the age of 15 and soon was performing with the Havana Group. After working with the Blue Diamond Jazz Band, Nkosi was invited to audition at the Bantu Men's Social Centre (BMSC) for Solomon 'Zuluboy' Cele's Jazz Maniacs, the premium jazz band of the 1930s and 40s. He joined the Maniacs in 1940 and soon became their leading saxophonist. According to Huskisson, after Cele's death in 1944, Nkosi became the Maniacs leader, though this account is contradicted by Bergmeier who maintained that Wilson Silgee assumed leadership of the group. Silgee would go on to form his own group, King Force Silgee's Jazz Forces, and Nkosi also performed with this group. In the early 1950s Nkosi along with Ellison Temba and Elijah Nkwanyana performed with the African Swingsters. It is with them that Nkosi recorded his first composition Swazi Stomp in 1953. (Listen at SAMAP) In 1956 Nkosi formed two groups, Zacks and His Sextet and the City Jazz Nine, to concentrate primarily on commercial recordings. Some of their most notable tracks between 1956 and 1964 are featured on his first LP: Our Kind of Jazz which was issued by EMI in 1964. (Huskisson, Bergmeier)

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 TROTTERSDrums of Africa – 1957
(Victor Ndazilwana, Columbia, YE 180, CEA 5099)
13) THE GLOBE TROTTERSVuyisile – 1957
(Douglas Xaba, Columbia, YE 184, CEA 5139)

As mentioned earlier in the 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
Multi-instrumentalist and actor, Douglas Xaba, composer of the track Vuyisile, was born in Natal in 1934. Son of a retired missionary, his first acting role was in The Respectful Prostitute in Durban. He joined the Lex Mona’s Tympany Slickers after moving to Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. By that time he was already quite politically active. In 1964 Xaba came to the US as part of Alan Paton’s play Sponono which opened at the Cort Theatre in New York on April 2nd. Directed by Krishna Shah, the play included musical arrangements by Gideon Nxumalo and the cast featured amongst others Philemon Hou as Ha’ Penny, Xaba as an imbongi or praise singer, Caiphus Semenya as one of the reformatory Boys and Margaret Mcingana (Singana) as a member of the choir. According to Miriam Makeba, in her biography, the performance on Broadway was picketed. In her words “people thought Sponono was just some white play with Uncle Tom black people in it. They boycotted it. They did a mock funeral parade and carried a coffin symbolizing that Sponono had died.” But Makeba goes on to say that the performers that came were genuine actors and musicians. The show was a “flop” and the cast returned to South Africa, but some of the artists remained including Semenya and Xaba. Makeba assisted them in finding scholarships to study music and an apartment in New York. In many ways their arrival in New York gave Makeba and Hugh Masekela a vital community away from home. Interestingly, Makeba got married to Masekela during the opening month of Sponono in April 1964. (Playbill, Ansell, Makeba)

Douglas Xaba is possibly most well known for his tune Emavungwini popularized by Miriam Makeba on her 1968 album Makeba!, but first featured on Hugh Masekela’s 1965 album Grrr which interestingly also included his version of Dudu Pukwana’s dedication to Christopher Columbus — Mra. (Listen to Makeba’s version here at 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 MASHIYANEBig Joe Special – 1958
(Mashiyane, Rave, R 42, matrix 7608)
15) SPOKES MASHIYANEKwela Sax – 1958
(Mashiyane, Rave, R 42, matrix 7479)

Spokes Mashiyane, is credited as having popularized kwela or pennywhistle jive with his recordings Ace Blues and Kwela Spokes in 1954. In the four years that followed he would remain one of the most famous and prolific proponents of this musical style. Big Joe Special recorded in 1958, marks the first time that Mashiyane played on saxophone. According to Allingham, Mashiyane was persuaded to take up the instrument by Strike Vilakazi, the producer for Trutone’s black division from 1952 - 1970. As with his earlier Ace Blues, Big Joe Special was a sales phenomenon. The record became the trendsetting hit of that year and would inspire a whole new style of music. Sax jive—latter called mbaqanga—would dominate South African urban music for the next twenty years. In many ways this track marks the beginning of the eventual decline of the majuba jazz era. Younger consumers were looking for faster, heavier sounds and mbaqanga would soon satisfy those desires. Mashiyane, after his successes with Trutone Records and their Quality and Rave labels, was lured away by Gallo Records in 1958. At Gallo he became the first black musician to receive royalties from his recordings. View Mashiyane’s albums at Flatinternational. (Allingham)

16) AFRICAN SWINGSTERSShay’ utshane – 1959
(Ellison Themba, HMV, JP 2134)

Ellison Themba
For someone as significant as tenor-man Ellison ‘Bra T’ Themba, it was amazing to find almost no mention of him in most of the major texts about this subject. As said earlier, Themba, was a key part of EMI’s stable, recording some of the most classic tunes of the 1950s with Zack Nkosi, Elijah Nkwanyana and others. There he was also a key component of Bopape’s Magic Circle Band. Themba, led the African Swingsters an early big band that unfortunately is not represented in Volume One of this compilation. According to Rob Allingham both Nkosi on alto sax, and Elijah Nkwanyanya on trumpet were part of the African Swingsters. (Allingham)

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 SIXEmigodini – 1959
(Gray Mbau, Columbia, YE 252, CEA 5330)
18) BROWN COOL SIX Meadowlands Blues – 1959
(Gray Mbau, Columbia, YE 252, CEA 5350)

As mentioned in the opening text of Volume One, Gray Mbau performed with the Harlem Swinsters and Todd Matshikiza puts him significantly at the very birth of the majuba musical style in his 1957 Drum article Jazz comes to Joburg: “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.” Recording for EMI as the Brown Cool Six, Mbau was also part of Bopape’s Magic Circle Band. (Jeffrey)

19) ELITE SWINGTERSPanga - c1959
(Sylvia Maloi, RCA, RCA 179, 8KBB 60)
20) ELITE SWINGTERSThu Thuka - c1959
(L. Matlotlo, RCA, RCA 179, 8KBB 59)

The Elite Swingsters were formed in April 1956 by Johannes 'Chooks' Tshukudu as a session band for RCA, an imprint of Teal Records in South Africa. After a string of hits including Phalafala, the group decided to continue recording under the name: Elite Swingsters. Lebenya Matlotlo worked as a producer for RCA and penned four of their early tracks including the hit Phalafala and subsequently also played a significant role in the group's formation. A collection of their 78 rpm hits were issued as 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 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 STARSHere is a Message – c1960
(Michael Xaba, Bopape, Columbia, YE 320, CEA 5622)
(Ellison Themba, Bopape, Columbia, YE 320, CEA 5621)

Rupert Bopape
Rupert Bopape became a producer at EMI in 1952 and while there soon established one of the strongest jazz catalogues in the country. The Tranvaal Rockin Jazz Stars were one of Bopape’s “Magic Circle Bands.” The liner notes of EMI’s Hits of 59 LP (JCLP 18) sheds light on this concept: “To explain the meaning of the “Magic Circle” — we have taken the number 7 — considered a lucky number by all Africans, and have formed the “Magic Circle” from the seven outstanding African bands. This famous group The Tranvaal Rocking Jazz Stars is comprised of the seven leaders of the seven bands of the “Magic Circle” to form a unique combination.” (Allingham, HMV liner notes)

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. HOTSHOTSN.D. City – 1960
(Reggie Msomi, New Sound, GB 3139, ABC 18373)
24) N.D. HOTSHOTSSonce Special – 1960
(Reggie Msomi, New Sound, GB 3139, ABC 18374)

According to the liner notes of 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)

Reggie Msomi
The tracks featured in this compilation are some of my favorite and show Msomi, along with Mashiyane, to be at the forefront of transforming the mbaqanga sound from its majuba roots. Msomi’s approach to mbaqanga was quite experimental, often introducing elements like ska or twist to the music. Significantly he was often credited as composer on many classic Gallo New Sound tracks, most notably those with Mashiyane as well as the Skylarks featuring Miriam Makeba. In 1962 he formed the Hollywood Jazz Band and also became a producer / talent scout for Gallo. Alas, in 1964 he was replaced by Rupert Bopape in an unfortunate turn of events recounted in Nick Lotay’s classic post Jive Motella! on the history of Mavuthela at Matsuli. View more of Msomi’s albums at Flatinternational.

25) ETHEL RULULUNda Zenza - 1961
(Ethel Rululu, Envee, NV 3303, E 11351)
26) ETHEL RULULU & MAHAMBAUnyako ‘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 SEPTETTEEkhaya Kwa Chaka – 1961
(Christopher Songxaka, Hi-Life, HL 522, J 73)
28) HI-LIFE SEPTETTEHouse Full – 1961
(Christopher Songxaka, Hi-Life, HL 522, J 75)

Again it is difficult to find information on Christopher Songxaka. The 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 DURBANDiphoofolo Tsotlhe – 1961
(Allen Kwela, Envee, NV 3494, matrix 11300)
30) DUMA OF DURBAN Thatha Umthwalo – 1961
(Allen Kwela, Envee, NV 3494, matrix 11299)

Pioneering jazz guitarist, Allen Duma Kwela was born in Chesterville, Durban in 1939 and acquired his first guitar in 1954. In 1958 he moved to Johannesburg and began playing and composing with Spokes Mashiyane and others. Electric Jive has featured two of his classic, hard-to-find albums the 1972 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.


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.

(flatinternational / Electric Jive, FXEJ 6)

1) ALBERT RALULIMIEaster Monday Taps Taps - 1962
(Jill Desmond, TJ Quality, TJ 657, matrix 12469)

2) ALBERT RALULIMIGood 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 SWINGSTERSJika Jika Twist - c1962
(G. Ntutu, Drum, DR 125, B62D 0337)

6) ELITE SWINGSTERSMabelebele - c1962
(Jordan Bangazi, Drum, DR 125, B62D 0338)

(Reggie Msomi, Gallo USA, USA 246, ABC 23916)

(Reggie Msomi, Gallo USA, USA 246, ABC 23915)

9) ALEXANDER ALL STARSIsikebe 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 BANDLehlabile Ska – 1964
(Rupert Bopape, Motella, MO 14, ABC 30060)

12) BOPS MAGIC CIRCLE BANDOn the Beat – 1964
(Rupert Bopape, Motella, MO 14, ABC 30059)

13) ALBERT RALULIMIMonkey Jive – 1965
(Ralulimi, Top Beat, RCA 365, RQBB 3962)

14) ALBERT RALULIMIMr. Rocktion’s Best – 1965
(Ralulimi, Top Beat, RCA 365, RQBB 3963)

15) ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BANDInkomo Emnyama – 1965
(Shadrack Piliso, Motella, MO 47, ABC 30308)

16) ALEXANDRA ALL STAR BANDMakomkom No. 3 – 1965
(Shadrack Piliso, Motella, MO 47, ABC 30309)

(Mashiyane, New Sound, GB 3617, ABC 30355)

(Mashiyane, New Sound, GB 3617, ABC 30354)

19) SDV SWING BANDTaxi Jive 700 - 1967
(Strike Vilakazi, Tempo, KT 015, matrix 16148)

20) SDV SWING BANDTaxi Jive 6 No. 2 - 1967
(Strike Vilakazi, Tempo, KT 015, matrix 16147)

21) AFRICAN SWINGSTERSIndhumbula - 1967
(Ellison Temba, Gumba Gumba, MGG 512, ABC 30751)

22) AFRICAN SWINGSTERSSimanjemanje No. 2 - 1967
(Ellison Temba, Gumba Gumba, MGG 512, ABC 30752)


  1. Still have those from electricjive as well as maskanda roots and everything else you shared with us in the past. Thanks for that!

    1. No problem, many thanks. Once I get through a couple of re-posts, I plan to return to some new material.