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Old 04-17-2014, 07:01 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Vintage South African Jazz

How strong do you like your jazz to be? If jazz were graded the same way that alcohol is, the music in this thread would be a safe 4% - like a decent beer, it`s something you can consume over an extended period with no lasting adverse effects. What I`m calling “vintage South African jazz” is a short-lived, regional flowering of music in the years between the end of Second World War(1945) and the apartheid clampdown which occurred after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. But before we get there, let`s skip back a few decades:-

ORIGINS

Jazz music, created in New Orleans in the 1900s, was exported back to Africa by boat, turning up first at ports like Johannesburg and Cape Town. When I first came across this idea, I imagined a ship like the Mayflower, loaded with jazz 78s which were handed out dockside to waiting shopkeepers and musicians. Of course, the process wasn`t quite that simple, as this seven-minute documentary makes clear:-



And here is an example of the marabi music with which the documentary concludes:-



Another source mentions the specific bands who were inspired by/copying the exciting new American swing music:-

Quote:
"The birth of jazz in Johannesburg started in the late 20s with the popular brass bands like U-No-Mess of Pretoria; the Gay Arrawaras of Boksburg for which the veteran Phillip Mbanjwa of the African Rhythmers Band was a trombonist. In the 30s it saw the first band in the Japanese Express, followed by the Merry Blackbirds Band, the Jazz Maniacs, the defunct Rhythm Kings, Ambassadors, the Harmony Kings, the defunct Rhythm Hot Shots, the Rhythm Clouds and the new Jolly Swallows Band.”
Unfortunately, not one of the above bands shows up on Youtube, so I`m going to fill the gap with a clip from the same period; the original a cappella recording of a song that we`ve all heard in one version or another :-



In fact – or at least according to the band members themselves - it was actually The Harlem Swingsters, active in the 40s and 50s, who invented the first genuinely homegrown South African jazz style. Like many of their peers, the Harlem Swingsters started out by playing American swing music, but one morning, over an open-air breakfast of corn bread while they were on tour in the Transvaal, they hit on the idea of combining swing with marabi to create a new style which they called majuba :-



In a parallel development, a guy called Soloman “Zulu Boy” Cele of the Jazz Maniacs was mixing swing with traditional Xholo music, which led to a style known as mbaqanga, which is a kind of jazz-pop with lots of vocal harmonies, perhaps following on from that Wimaweh song you may have clicked on earlier. Whatever was actually happening, by the late 1940s South African jazz had acquired a lively, recognizable style of its own.

THE GOOD YEARS

The fifties was apparently a good decade in South Africa; the country was more prosperous and the attitude towards the black population became slightly less harsh. In this optimistic atmosphere new music played by black musicians flourished.
Here are a couple of examples of the new jazz; songs were almost exclusively two and a half minutes long, with a light melody to start off which would be reprised to conclude the song. Today those parts may sound grainy and dated, but in the middle sections there was always time for a little soloing which comes across clear and strong, like an unbowed voice from a past era:-

.......

While the African Swingsters were popular, the cutting edge band of the time were the Jazz Epistles. They didn`t call themselves “swingsters” as everyone else was doing ; bebop was the style they emulated, and their line-up included musicians who became internationally famous:- Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim) on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto saxophone, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Johnny Gertze on bass, and Early Mabuza or Makaya Ntshoko on drums. Their 1959 album, Jazz Epistle, Verse 1, was the first album recorded by a black South African band, if wikipedia is to be believed:-



Another South African musician of lasting fame who started out in the 50s was singer Miriam Makeba, who worked with the Manhatten Brothers before forming her own group, the Skylarks, and writing her breakthrough hit, Pata Pata in 1956.( Her breakthrough, btw, was a long time coming as PataPata didn`t become an international hit until eleven years later):-



Meanwhile, back in Sophiatown, Jo`burg, in 1959, Todd Matshikiza wrote South Africa`s first jazz musical. Called King Kong, it celebrated the life of heavyweight boxer Ezekiel”King Kong” Dhlamini. Both Miriam Makeba and the Jazz Epistles featured in the original production, which might well have been the finest hour for vintage SA jazz. Youtube has let me down again though, and I can only find this opening track from the 1961 London production of the show:-



Finally, can`t leave this section without at least a quick mention of Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana, who played together at a jazz festival in Soweto in 1962. They later went on to form the Brotherhood of Breath in the USA, but of their appearances at a handful of SA jazz festivals I have found no trace.

To Be Continued….
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Old 04-18-2014, 06:12 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Super cool thread, I'm digging these videos. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 04-18-2014, 08:40 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Super cool thread, I'm digging these videos. Thanks for sharing!
^ Thanks for leaving such a positive response to my post, YorkeDaddy. That`s much appreciated. I`m glad you`re finding something to enjoy here, and you have animated me to get on and tell a bit more of the story.

Thanks also for the encouragement, rostasi. That Chris McGregor fan seems a very amiable, enthusiastic guy - I just wish he`d presented some more B.O.B. material.
TBH, I`m pretty much learning as I go here and you are clearly more familiar with Brotherhood Of Breath than I am. So far I think the thing that has surprised me most about Chris McGregor is that it was his superb piano playing that we hear on Nick Drake`s Poor Boy - I never expected him to turn up there of all places!
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Old 04-18-2014, 08:24 PM   #4 (permalink)
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^ Wow ! That`s a lot of connections, rostasi ! I hope to investigate B.O.B. soon, but first I want to finish off the story of pre-Sharpeville jazz, which might take a couple more posts.

That book by Maxine McGregor looked very interesting; I like the way the guy held up the spine for us to have a good look at it! I wonder if you`ve ever come across it yourself?
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Old 04-18-2014, 09:59 PM   #5 (permalink)
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THE GOOD YEARS – part 2

I finished off the OP in a bit of a rush, so if you`ll bear with me, I`m going to backtrack to the mid 50s again and pick up a couple of loose ends.

Firstly, because I was zooming in on instrumental jazz, I might`ve given the impression that Miriam Makeba was the only woman in SA capable of singing. To dispel that notion, I`d like to introduce you to Dolly Rathebe, actress, singer and poster girl (whose song here is dated 1955) and Dorothy Masuka, who came from Zimbabwe but made her name in SA:-

..........

I also skipped past an important word in the lexicon of SA jazz; kwela. This is the local name given to the pennywhistle, a cheap, portable and therefore popular instrument. Originally a Zulu word meaning "get up" (...and dance!),the word was used for a particular style of music too. As it was one of SA`s earliest musical exports, you may`ve heard this kind of music already. Two tracks should be sufficient to illustrate the style; one from the Basement Boys, dated 1957, and one from Leslie Nkosi, dated 1958. Although the pennywhistle may not be the best instrument for real kick-ass music, Leslie Nkosi certainly gives it his best shot. (Sharp-eyed experts may notice that his album was produced in Argentina, which makes it a rather strange hybrid.) :-

..........

So, plenty of good music and talent around in the 1950s, and although all this happened against a background of government restrictions and racial prejudice, by the 60s there were hints that intolerant attitudes were thawing. This brings us back to that King Kong musical, which was first performed in front of an integrated audience on a Jo`burg university campus :- King Kong (musical) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

And I`ll be in trouble with rostasi if I don`t re-mention Chris McGregor in this context; he did something unthinkable to many by forming an inter-racial band, the Blue Notes. Here is a 78 rpm recording that they made in 1962, composed by Dudu Pukwana. ( Notice, btw, how in SA the 78 rpm format remained in use years after it had been superseded in the USA and Europe.)



Like many artists, in the early 60s the Blue Notes were playing to appreciative audiences in a series of jazz festivals, the most famous of which were named after the sponsor, Castle Lager. From your seat in the grass at one of those festivals, and from this distance in time, the picture was looking positively rosy.
How and why did it all go wrong?
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Old 04-19-2014, 10:11 AM   #6 (permalink)
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SHARPEVILLE AND THE SOUTH AFRICAN DIASPORA

Some disasters seem to arrive suddenly out of nowhere, like an earthquake, while others are the result of an accumulation of bad choices and unlucky circumstances, like the death-toll on the Titanic. The Sharpeville massacre was one of this second type:-

Since the 1920s, the movements of black South Africans had been restricted by laws requiring them to carry pass books and written permissions to go from one area to another; in 1959/60 an apartheid-supporting government extended the law to include women. Inevitably, these laws, unjust from the outset, were used by unscrupulous officials to harass whoever they chose and they became a focus of anti-government feeling.

A protest was organised for March 21st 1960, in which protesters without pass books presented themselves for arrest outside the Sharpeville Police Station. Unarmed, and calm at first, the crowd slowly grew in number; figures of seven and even nineteen thousand are mentioned . We can all imagine the kind of “you push - I shove” escalation that went on, until 150 or so nervous policemen opened fire on the crowd . Sixty-nine people were killed; all unarmed, some shot in the back and of whom 18 were women or children. Another 180 were wounded, including a disgraceful total of 50 women and children.

Riots, strikes, international condemnation followed; the increasingly paranoid government detained 18,000 people and was shunned for years by the international community:-

Quote:
The 1960 Sharpeville Massacre marked the beginning of an era of vicious apartheid and greater repression of African culture. After Sharpeville, the government imposed a State of Emergency, made mass arrests, issued thousands of bannings, and put activists who challenged apartheid laws on trial. The repression extended to African arts. Jazz was an expressive force seeking musical and social equality. The apartheid system could not tolerate it. Performances were not allowed, jazz was prohibited from radio broadcasts, and prominent musicians were threatened.
Little wonder then, that the better-placed jazz musicians escaped if they could. The collaborators of the King Kong musical, (the Jazz Epistles and Miriam Makeba) already had passports and international connections and as they and others spread out across Europe and the US, the term “diaspora” was used, perhaps rather grandly, to describe what was happening.
In 1964 Chris McGregor relocated to the USA, and I think I`ll use that event as signaling the end of the golden era of vintage South African jazz; two decades of wonderful musical invention, of joy-filled jazz in the face of hardship and oppression. If you ever have doubts about the worth of music, or the resilience of the human spirit, give these guys a listen, and come away uplifted!

POSTSCRIPT: BE GLAD FOR THE SONG HAS NO ENDING

Despite the exodus of so much talent, there were plenty of artists who stayed on and made the now established sounds of African jazz popular with a new generation. Recorded in the mid-sixties, here is some majuba and and some mbaqanga from The Elite Swingsters and The Dark City Sisters respectively:-

..........
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Old 04-19-2014, 10:29 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I don`t really do any on-line shopping, rostasi, but you make Maxine McGregor`s book sound very tempting.

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Originally Posted by rostasi View Post
Oh man, you can write whatever you want.
I'm just excited that someone's writing about
S.A. jazz and the vibrancy of the times. Early
days, later days - it's all about a passionate time.
(BTW: it's Dudu Pukwana).

---
Now playing: Miriam Makeba - Malouyame
^ Thanks for the correction! I had you in mind as I was writing these last installments; are the facts right? who am I missing out? how`s my spelling ?

Very nice touch with the "Now Playing", btw. My own "Now Playing" would be this irresistable piece of music:-

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Old 04-30-2014, 08:25 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks for the concert footage of Union Spéciale and congrats on being sent such a great-looking book by its author no less! Sounds like you`re a respected member of a music-loving fraternity irl as well as here on MB.

Ian Bruce Huntley is a completely new name to me, so someone I might investigate when I get the chance. In fact, there are so many musicians mushrooming out of the early days of SA jazz that I`m glad I didn`t tackle anything more ambitious than a couple of the early decades.

I checked youtube, but only found one clip of the Mr.Paljas musical that you mentioned. Sorry, rostasi, with it`s English lyrics, I found it a bit disappointing.

At the moment, one artist I`m enjoying is Dollar Brand; I`ve come across a couple of cool tracks by him, for example:-

and
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Old 05-10-2014, 06:16 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Yes, Abdullah Ibrahim (as he's been known since the 70's)
is still going stronger than ever (even after his wife's death last year)
and is still amazingly prolific. I think I have about 50 or more of his albums.
If I`d known that earlier, I don`t think I would`ve had the presumption to start this thread, rostasi; I think fifty is about the total number of tracks that I have for the whole genre!
I guess I should also follow your lead by using the name Abdullah Ibrahim, though "Dollar Brand" sounds so much cooler to me. When I get a chance I`m going to check out some more of his music.

Quote:
[It's still "Pukwana" - you know I'm gonna hound you until you correct this dontcha?]
OK, it`s fixed!
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