Monday, November 23, 2020

Flatinternational Vol. 3

We will not forget 2020. A global pandemic, protests for racial justice, serious challenges to democracies, digital misinformation, and the ugly resurgence of fascism. This year is marked by a wave of global trauma and sorrow. Families all across the world have lost loved ones, friends, jobs, security, community, and faith. I too was not immune, going through my own family tragedy with the passing of my father in the early stages of the lockdown in South Africa. The difficulty of not being able to travel. No funeral. No goodbyes. Consoling loved ones at a distance over Zoom. For many people these times have brought stagnation, unemployment, depression.

But this moment has also encouraged people to come together in new ways, some have welcomed the break from everyday life and have used the time to develop new practices, change habits, withdraw from excessive consumption, and find novel strategies of being creative in the world.

In March with looming lockdowns and recommended isolation I was fortunate enough to be able to retreat into social isolation with my partner. I felt this could be a fertile time to return to this blog and the South African Audio Archive project, which I had left dormant since my last posts at Electric Jive. Over the last two years I had come across some unusual and interesting recordings and wanted to include those in the Flatinternational database. Also during this period I had been contacted by a number of friends and colleagues with inquiries about various historic South African artists and recordings. Taking on the role of a quasi-librarian, I obliged and generated quite a bit of research. I realized that this too could be a wonderfully serendipitous way to add knowledge to the archive.

For the past few months I have been adding various South African compilations, I originally posted at Electric Jive, to Mixcloud, making them available for streaming. Likewise, I have been reposting the original text for these here at Flatint as a way to reintroduce the various themes. There are still a few more compilations to migrate and I hope to have that all done by early next year.

While doing all this, it seemed fitting to return to the idea of the eclectic mix-tape, using a variety of materials sourced from the archive—new, old and unusual. A process begun so many years ago when Matt Temple at Matsuli asked me to contribute a mix of South African material to his blog in 2008. Since then I have put together over 30 compilations of themed material for Electric Jive and other contexts, but each of those covered a specific subject: Majuba Jazz, Exile Jazz, Kwela, Maskanda and so on.

I wanted to return to a more fluid, serendipitous mix, one that may reflect this challenging moment, but one that also allows me to revisit the days of exploring dynamic music and sharing it with friends. And so for the first time in twelve years I am introducing Volume 3 of the Flatinternational Mix. I do hope that more will follow in the near future.

While there is no specific theme for this compilation, I do feel it captures this moment—the lamentation, the loss, but also the joy and ecstasy of possible futures.

The mix opens with Reuben Caluza’s homage to those that died during the 1918 influenza pandemic that hit South Africa significantly hard. It then travels through some beautiful new and old material, serious and humorous, traditional and experimental, through lamentation, fear, anger, loss, love, hope, ecstasy, and acceptance.


Influenza, 1918
from Caluza’s Double Quartet: 1930
Heritage (HTCD 19)
His Master’s Voice (GU 2)
September 1930

102 years ago, near the end of World War 1, two ships bringing troops back home from Europe, docked in Free Town, Sierra Leone where an outbreak of influenza was rampant. Within a few days, there were cases aboard the ship as it continued onto Cape Town, South Africa. The arriving soldiers were at first quarantined, but after being examined over a 72 hour period were allowed to leave for destinations all over the country. Soon, many people adjacent to those on that journey, began falling ill.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 devastated South Africa, making it one of the five hardest hit countries in the world. Approximately 300,000 people died in the first six weeks, roughly about 6% of the population at that time. This disease would go on to kill 50 million people world wide. (Howard Phillips, The Conversation)

Reuben T. Caluza’s “Influenza, 1918” documents the devastation of that historic pandemic on South Africa’s Black community who were particularly hard hit. Recorded in London on September 29, 1930, the song became Caluza’s second disc issued on the Zonophone label (ZON 4277) in October 1930, exactly twelve years after the arrival of the disease in South Africa. It was then reissued on the HMV label (GU 2) eighteen months later in March 1932, again as their second issue. Caluza’s lamentation must have resonated as the tune was also recorded a month earlier than his by the Humming Bees Quartet for Columbia’s Regal label (GR 43) in August 1930.

UK-based Gramophone Company, through a local agent in South Africa, Mackay Brothers, signed a contract with Caluza, and invited him with a nine person choir to make a series of recordings at their studios in Hayes, London. The 150 odd tracks recorded between September 4th and October 8th, 1930 became a landmark series and set Caluza up to become, by some accounts, one of South Africa’s first “recording stars.” Educated at John Dube’s Ohlange Institute where he became a coral conductor and teacher, Caluza in 1934 graduated from Hampton Institute in Virginia, then Columbia University, before returning to South Africa to head the newly formed School of Music at Adams College outside Durban.

Caluaza’s Double Quartet comprised of Irene Msane, A. Ndimande, Sinaye Kuzwayo, Thembani Ngobo, Evelyn Caluza, Nimrod Makanya, Alexander E. Hlubi, Gule, Meinod Dlamini with Reuben Caluza on piano. (Veit Erlmann, African Stars)

You’ve Been Called
from We Are Sent Here by History
Impulse! (B0031753-01)
March 2020

We are sent here by history
The lighter gave fire, and was present at the burning
The burning of the republic
Burnt the names
Burnt the records
Burnt the archive
Burnt the bills
Burnt the mortgage
Burnt the student loans
Burnt the life insurance
An act of destruction became creation.

So opens “You’ve Been Called” with lyrics and vocals by South African performance artist Siyabonga Mthembu. Released in March 2020 during the early stages of the Coronavirus epidemic and just preceding the historic world wide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the album could be said to foreshadow the dramatic events of this year. But its apocalyptic vision also reflects a mood already prevalent in South Africa following widespread protests throughout the country over the last few years. Uprisings with movements like the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall campaigns, and protests against systemic racial inequality, all parallel the album’s urgent temper.

Matthew Ismael Ruiz in his Pitchfork review of the album describes it further: As the world reels from the repercussions of the novel coronavirus, We Are Sent Here by History might feel particularly timely, particularly for those in the West typically shielded from the brunt of capitalism and the brutality of colonialism. But the album, recorded in Johannesburg and Cape Town in 2019, is not so much prescient as it is broadly in tune with the plight of the marginalized. As Hutchings has said, “For those lives lost and cultures dismantled by centuries of western expansionism, capitalist thought and white supremist structural hegemony the end days have long been heralded as present with this world experienced as an embodiment of a living purgatory." (Ruiz, Pitchfork)

London-based, British-Barbadian artist, Shabaka Hutchings teams up with the Johannesburg-based Ancestors for their second album together, We Are Sent Here by History. Some of the group, Tumi Mogorosi, Gontse Makhene and Ariel Zamonsky are also members of the Amandla Freedom Ensemble; while Siyabonga Mthembu fronts the band The Brothers Move On. I was fortunate to experience a live performance by The Brother Moves On at The Chairman in Durban last December and I’m looking forward to their forthcoming vinyl album to be issued by Matsuli some time next year. My thanks to Chris Albertyn for taking me there.

Shabaka and the Ancestors includes Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax and clarinet, Mthunzi Mvubu on alto sax, Siyabonga Mthembu on vocals, Gontse Makhene on percussion, Ariel Zamonsky on double bass, Tumi Mogorosi on drums, Nduduzo Makhathini on Fender Rhodes, and Thandi Ntuli on piano.

Reviews of We Are Sent Here by History can be viewed at the New York Times and Pitchfork. The album is available at

Ngaphanzi Kwe Ngazi
from Tlong Ba Kresta
RPM (RPM 7053)

Let me first say that this is one of my all time favorite records! Barorisi Ba Morena is a Soweto based gospel group, and one of the earliest pioneers of the South African genre known as "Clap and Tap.” Notably, no instruments are employed here save for voice, clapping and foot tapping.

Formed in 1965, the group was lead by the late Bishop Jacob Kobi Tlou and recorded their first album in 1977: Dipheko - Live In Church (RPM 7029). With over 25,000 sales, that record went gold making them the first South African gospel group to receive such an honour. Since then the group has produced over 30 platinum selling discs. Tlong Ba Kresta is their fourth album. According to their Facebook page every performer in the choir is required to be a member of St. Jacobs Saviours Church in Soweto.

Barorisi Ba Morena roughly translates in Sesotho as the king's praisers or more specifically as ‘Praise the Lord.’ Some incredible live performances by the group can be viewed on YouTube and here. Most of their albums, including Tlong Ba Kresta, are available at iTunes.

from Mr Moonlight meets Miss Starlight
City Special (CYL 1024)

“Masterpiece” is a cover of Norman Whitfield’s classic 1973 hit with the Temptations. The Movers’ interpretation comes from their 1974 album Mr Moonlight meets Miss Starlight, probably their twelfth album in five years. This particular album features three tracks (including the title) composed by Lawrence Goreoang, the guitarist for Ikageng's Teenage Lovers and later The Question Marks. The inclusion of Goreoang's tracks lead me to speculate that he may be performing on the album.

Interestingly the track “Thiba Ka Maho” composed on this album by Sankie Chounyane is more or less identical to the classic hit “Thiba Kamoo” by The Beaters which would be issued on their Harari album in 1975. The Movers version predates The Beaters by roughly a year which makes me curious about who the original composer may have been. The Beaters version is penned by Selby Ntuli, Sipho Mabuse and Alec Khaoli.

The liner notes of the Dutch single She Loves You claim that The Movers were formed in June 1969 by keyboardist Sankie Chounyane and producer David Thekwane. Though Rob Allingham maintains that they were discovered and first recorded by producer Hamilton Nzimande. Furthermore the liner notes of their second LP, Greatest Hits Volume 2 actually state that Kenneth Siphayi formed the group in Alexandra. Siphayi's image is featured predominantly on the back cover of their third LP, Greatest Hits Volume 3.

According to Max Mojapelo, the group included Sankie Chounyane, Oupa Hlongwane, Norman Hlongwane and Sam Thabo, though the lineup would shift throughout the seventies. Others that performed with the group included Dinah Mbata, Blondie Makhene, Philip Malela, Jabu Khanyile, Vusi Shange, Rammie McKenzie, Jabu Sibumbe and Lloyd Lelosa.

from Eina!
Bad Paper (BPM 03)

Artist Zander Blom and writer Sean O’Toole pair up on this synth-laden, experimental project peppered with absurdist and sometimes acerbic reflections on South Africa and it’s art world. Their collaboration developed from a series of free-form improvisations at Blom’s Cape Town studio in 2018. The album is abrasive but totally engaging and I find myself constantly trying to decipher the context of each track. “Chakalaka” according to O’Toole, is based on a real incident he experienced in a bathroom at a Shell Station in Potchestroom where he overheard a man ordering meat and food supplies while on the toilet.

Twee tjops, een kilogram rump en ribbetjes, boerewors… en chakalaka!

I acquired this copy from What If The World art gallery around December 2018 and it turned out to be an advance copy. The limited edition vinyl only became available later in 2019 as I was to discover after talking to O'Toole. Bad Paper, the publishers, had set up a display in the gallery with various editioned products, and the gallery staff must have been instructed to wrap each purchased item in white paper and red tape bearing the label's name. I mention this only because the other Bad Paper vinyl album I acquired by NRNA from A4 gallery did not come with a similar outer wrapping.

Eina! is available in a limited edition of 300 copies designed by Ben Johnson, and includes a signed poster within the 16 page booklet insert, from Bad Paper. Videos plus a review of the album by Francois Lion-Cachet, can be viewed at Klyntji.

06) AS IS
Untitled (Track 8)
CD-R in generic paper sleeve

I thank John Peffer for sending me a copy of this unassuming CD-R with recordings by experimental jazz group As Is. The group here includes Andrea Dic√≥ on percussion, Lliezel Ellick on cello and vocals, Garth Erasmus on blik’nsnaar and saxophones, Niklas Zimmer on percussion and Manfred Zylla on accordion, trombone and vocals. Formed in 2010, the group is made up of a number of collaborators and in July 2016 I was fortunate to see a slightly different configuration of the band perform above the Blah Blah Bar in Cape Town.

The venue formed part of Erdmann Contemporary on Kloof Street where some of the performers involved also exhibited. That night I recall the various performers being stationed at different locations in the space, moving and interacting from one room to another. We all, performers and audience, eventually gravitated to a central room taking on our traditional roles of viewers and viewed. At some point someone in the audience, seemingly possessed by the music, began making noises and slid onto the floor. He then slowly crawled through the audience and onto the stage where he located a microphone and began reciting stream-of-consciousness headlines sourced from that days’ news. Something about Hillary’s emails!

The vocalist turned out to be film maker, Aryan Kaganof (or ‘Kalashnikov’ as some people I heard refer to him). Recently Kaganof has been the editor of Herri, an online magazine focussing on music and cultural criticism funded by the Africa Open Institute. As Is over the years has collaborated with a number of artists including Kaganof, violist Brendon Bussy and others. In the mid 1990s Bussy was involved with many of the audio adventures at the FLAT Gallery in Durban.

For some months prior to the evening, I had been in communication with drummer, Niklas Zimmer and we were finally able to meet at the performance. Zimmer, who by day is the head of the Digital Library services at UCT, kindly invited me to visit their archives the following day. He had also worked as an archivist at the Centre for Popular Memory at UCT where he was an audio specialist and digitisation manager. At the archives we viewed various projects he was involved with including some cylinders that had been recorded by Percival Kirby in the 1930s.

Sadly, Garth Erasmus was not performing that night at Blah Blah. I first met Erasmus when we shared a two-person art exhibition, ReSoundings, at the University of Delaware in 2015. His projects included a series of drawings and prints exploring Khoisan history and a display of traditional Khoisan musical instruments. For many years Erasmus has been significantly involved in documenting the cultural heritage of South Africa’s indigenous peoples. For the duration of the exhibition, he installed an eighteen minute looped soundscape named for the Goringhaikona chief, Autshumato, who was imprisoned by the Dutch on Robbin Island in 1659.

Recently, Erasmus has been working on a number of new experimental projects. This past month saw him completing a residency at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) where he collaborated with classical flutist, Marietjie Pauw, and a number of other musicians. Together they made over 80 recordings fusing classical with improvisation. Erasmus has also been recording with Jacques van Zyl, on electronics and Charles Palm, on synthesizer, in a yet unnamed trio. In this configuration, Erasmus performs with the Ghorrah bow, live electronics and alto sax "preparations." A term he uses to describe experimentations he has been undertaking for a number of years by interfacing modern technology with the analog of traditional instruments rooted in KhoiSan indigenous knowledge systems. He is now expanding these "preparations" to include other more conventional intruments like the sax. (Erasmus)

Listen to Erasmus perform on the blik'nsnaar at YouTube. View Zimmer's recent sound essay in the current issue of Herri.

Hope in Azania
from Dialectic Soul
OntheCorner (OtCR LP 009)
July 2020

Along with Thembinkosi Mavimbela on bass, Buddy Wells on tenor sax, Robin Fassie-Kock on trumpet and Nono Nokoane on vocals, Cape Town-based drummer, Asher Gamedze has produced Dialectic Soul, a stunning debut album released in July 2020, from which “Hope in Azania” is sourced.

This Song, known as ‘Cape to Cairo’ or ‘Azania’, comes from the Pan-Africanist and Black Consciousness traditions of liberation politics in South Africa. It speaks to the urgent desire and project to liberate the continent from ‘Cape to Cairo’, Morocco to Madagascar.’ ‘Azania’ refers to an imagined liberated South Africa. It resonates with a hope that has galvanised generations of revolutionaries from within this country, and links us to the rest of the continent and the diaspora through Pan-Africanism. (Gamedze, liner notes from the LP)

When I first heard this track I immediately thought of it as a classic. Gamedze’s notes refer to the revolutionary future to which the song aspires, and yet the arrangements, for me, operate also as a homage to the rich majuba jazz past.

For the last few weeks I have been trying to place other, older tracks with which it seems to have an affinity — Zacks Nkosi’s “Hoshhhh-Hoha” perhaps, Elijah Nkwanyane’s “Elijah’s Special” or even Mongezi Feza’s “You think you know me…” But none of those quite fit. If anything, I hear elements of those tunes in Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Mannenburg” and maybe I hear distant echoes of "Mannenburg" in "Azania".

Dialectic Soul is available at Bandcamp. Read reviews of the album by Gwen Ansell at the Mail and Guardian; and Hubert Adjei-Kontoh at Pitchfork.

Varitone Jump
from Varitone Jump
JAS Pride (BL 108)

Another great album produced by Ray Nkwe on his JAS Pride label (Jazz Appreciation Society). Three tracks, "Shoe Shine Kid", "Varitone Jump" (both composed by Nkwe) and "Yintoni" (by Anna Nkosi) are simply sublime.

I acquired this copy from a second hand record store in Brooklyn, NY. Curiously, the cover is signed by Nkosi and includes a hand-written note to singer and anti-apartheid activist, Harry Belafonte, from Susan (Magidson) Goldenberg.

From the cover inscription and note it appears that Anna Nkosi gave Susan Goldenberg two copies of this record before Goldenberg left South Africa for Canada. My speculation is that Goldenberg left SA for political reasons and sent one copy to Belafonte from Canada, perhaps in hopes that he would be able to help the group in some way. In the note Goldenberg mentions that the group was led by Aaron Lerole (of Black Mambazo fame) and Nkosi, and that she also was a member of the group, though its not clear in what capacity Goldenberg performed.

It is likely that this record came from Harry Belafonte's personal collection though that is just speculation. The record also includes an additional card with an image of a drawing by a Soviet artist with all proceeds going to support the work of the Soviet Jewry Committee at the Holy Blossom Temple. View the card and note at Flatinternational.

Throbs Away
from The Soul Throbs
Soul Soul (SSL 0101)

The Soul Throbs were principally an organ-driven instrumental, soul group that had some considerable success during the bump jive era of the mid 1970s. This copy is a Mozambican pressing of their 1974 debut album on Teal's Soul Soul label. The album includes contributions by vocalist Sophie Thapedi and saxophonist Abraham Levuno. Its possible that the group was likely lead by drummer Vusi Khumalo, though that is speculation on my part. Khumalo later led the groups Varikweru, Exit and Thetha. Most of the tunes are penned by Vusi Khumalo and G. Khumalo, with the exception of those by Thapedi and Levuno.

I can find little information on the band other than the track “Little Girl” from their second album is included on Duncan Brooker and Francis Gooding’s classic STRUT compilation: Next Stop Soweto Volume 2.

10) LWANDA GOGWANA Maqundeni
New Horizons - Young Stars of South African Jazz
Afrosynth (AFS 049)
September 2020

My only lament with this track is that it is so short. I wish I could listen to it for ten minutes or more. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for it! The tune can be found on the recent vinyl compilation New Horizons put out by Afro-Synth. Run by Dave Durbach (aka DJ Okapi) this label has generally focussed on classic synth-pop from the 1980s, but on this double disc collection, compiled by Shane Cooper and Durbach, they have focussed on new jazz coming from South Africa.

Lwanda Gogwana’s “Maqudeni” was originally released on his 2016 album Uhadi Synth and features Gogwana on trumpet, Kyle Shepherd on piano and synthesisers, Sisonke Xonti on sax, Ameshi Ikechi on bass and Lungile Kunene on drums.

Read Gwen Ansell’s review of Uhadi Synth at her blog Sisgwenjazz and an interview between Gogwana and Seton Hawkins at All About Jazz. Uhadi Synth is available from Amazon and New Horizons can be found at Bandcamp.

from The Slums
Raintree Records (RAH 3004)

Guitarist Masike 'Funky' Mohapi was a member of the classic 1970s group Harari, before moving onto a successful solo career in the 1980s. The Slums, I believe, is his second solo project after Gomora, both being issued in 1982. "Humnana," stands apart from Masike’s other funk/rock tracks in having a somewhat somber, 'easy-listening' quality, but after the entry of horns it builds to an ecstatic almost religious apex. The album is excellent, but this track is sublime! Sadly Mohapi passed away in August 2014 after sustaining injuries from a hit-and-run accident in Soweto.

Let the Music Take You
from African Bass - Solo Concert - Willisau Jazz Festival
Sing A Song Fighter (SASF 019)

I recently came across this beautifully designed, double pressing of a previously unreleased, live, solo concert by Blue Notes alumnus and South African exile, Johnny Dyani. Recorded on September 2, 1978 at the Jazz Festival Willisau, Switzerland by concert organiser Niklaus Troxler; the performance conveys Dyani’s warmth and a wonderful intimacy. Dyani employs both piano and his iconic contrabass with a humorous give-and-take with his audience. The gatefold publication also includes detailed liner notes by Francis Gooding, who has contributed contextual histories to many recent discs in Matsuli’s important South African reissue series.

The year prior to this concert, Dyani performed at FESTAC ’77, the massive arts and cultural festival held in Lagos, Nigeria. An account of his time there plus his work with the ANC in exile is given in the recent Chimurenga publication FESTAC ’77 and is well worth the read. A few vinyl copies of African Bass (eleven as of this posting) are still available at Bandcamp.

from Zulu Song Cycle
Mountain Records

Perhaps it is fitting to end the compilation with this lamenting and yet uplifting song. “Lizalis' idinga lakho” (Fufill thy promise) is an iconic hymn composed by evangelist, translator, teacher and pioneering intellectual, Tiyo Soga, the first Black South African to be ordained in 1856 in the United Presbyterian Church. Composed in 1857, the song became hugely popular and, notably, was sang at the opening of the SAANC’s inaugural conference in Bloemfontein in January 1912.

Dr. Thokozani Mhlambi performs the song with grace. I first met Mhlambi in Durban last year where he kindly gave me a copy of his new CD, Zulu Song Cycle. Mhlambi takes an experimental approach to Western classical music intersecting it with Zulu and Xhosa traditions. The album is impeccably recorded, with multi-tracking employed on a number of songs where he performs layers of instrumentation and vocals. His principle vehicle is the cello, but integrated throughout the album are traditional instruments such as the string bow, uhadi and seaweed horn. From an interview in the CD’s liner notes he describes the album in this way:

I think the album is a representation of my journey, throughout the album there are interludes where I play the Bach cello suites, which are so famous in the world of Western classical music. But between these interludes are my own compositions, which are deeply invested in Africa, even as I use the cello, and sometimes the Nguni music bows. The struggle between these worlds, which on the surface seem irreconcilable, is what I have tried to bring forth in the album. (Mhlambi, from the CD liner notes)

In 2019 Mhlambi embarked on the Early African Intellectuals as Composers of Music project to document and create awareness around historical composers from South Africa like Soga, Enoch Sontonga, John Langalibalele Dube, Nokutela Dube, Reuben Caluza and others.

[This] Project is an initiative that will honour, celebrate and revive the musical craft and intellectual property of Africans from yesteryear. It is a historical undertaking that seeks to ‘wake up’ the African to his/her ancient music composition and intellectual excellence; as well as raise awareness of and educate about the birth and journey that has been traveled by compositions of the past while finding a place for them to be recognized and enjoyed in the current African renaissance.
   Africans and South Africans in particular will learn about, celebrate and enjoy the revived sounds of Ntsikana, Enoch Sontoga, Tiyo Soga to name a few. Some legendary craft has come from such composers/intellectuals and the Early African Intellectuals as Composers of Music project will revive and position them in a manner that educate and inspire audiences. This legacy project will inspire future generations and aspirant composers. It is poised to disrupt the arts industry. It is an ‘arts intellectual revolution.’
(African Intellectuals as Composers of Music, Facebook)

Recently Mhlambi published a critical examination of Hugh Tracey and his colonial approaches to the archive in the recent edition of Herri. Zulu Song Cycle is available at Amazon.