Monday, 22 September 2014

The Queens (1977)

We continue the girl group theme here on Electric Jive with a 1977 album from The Queens, the female troupe that backed the legendary Mahlathini during his time away from the Mahotella Queens.

The music of Mahlathini, the Mahotella Queens and the Makgona Tsohle Band dominated the townships during the 1960s and early 1970s. Under music exec Rupert Bopape’s vigilant direction, the Queens, the triumvirate recorded a massive amount of highly successful singles and performed in hundreds of halls and stadiums across South Africa and neighbouring countries including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland.

But exploitation was rife within the music industry. In the early ‘70s, Mahlathini and several of the Mahotella Queens resigned after disputes with Bopape over show takings. (Bopape, with assistance from Makgona Tsohle Band members Marks Mankwane and West Nkosi, replaced the missing Queens with newer singers and had Robert ‘Mbazo’ Mkhize installed as their new groaner.) After one or two similarly unfavourable (and very brief) recording deals, the girls and Mahlathini formed a performance-only group, Amakhosazana (the princesses). This group was hugely successful for nearly two years until aspiring promoter Piet Ntuli charmed his way into the group, subsequently pocketing all the wages and creating in-fights. The singers left Ntuli in 1974 and joined Satbel Record Company under producer Cambridge ‘Baba’ Matiwane. Backed by the wonderful strains of Ndlondlo Bashise, Mahlathini and The Queens (the new name referencing their time within Mahotella) recorded a series of beautifully fierce, tough, gritty singles.

In 1977, Satbel underwent a reorganisation and Mahlathini and The Queens ended up once again without a studio to record in. Their only option at the time was to join EMI, under the production of none other than the corrupt Piet Ntuli. They gave him a second chance and simply carried on recording the wonderful hard-edged jive that they had created at Satbel. The result was two albums, both released on EMI’s Yashingoma label: Wavutha Umlilo, spotlighting King Mahlathini in all his glory; and the aptly-titled The Queens which we share with Electric Jive readers today.

Some songs, such as “Izinyoni”, “Ikhubalo”, “Keba Bone” and “Umakhelwane” are brilliant examples of unadulterated jive, while the growing influence of American soul on mbaqanga music can be detected in groovy numbers like “Ndiphilise Nkosi Yami”, “Bakgotsi Baka” and “Ndiphuthe Somandla”. All 12 songs are enjoyable and it's hard not to be moved by the passionate harmonies of The Queens - Mildred Mangxola (lead vocalist - tracks 2, 4, 7, 8 and 10), Isabel Maseko, Agnes Mhlauli, Thoko Nontsontwa, Belinda Sithole and Paulina Zulu


produced by Piet Ntuli
Yashingoma YGA (E) 301
Zulu Vocal Jive
Sotho Vocal
Xhosa Hymn

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje: Ujabulisa Abantu (1978)

Quite why it took so long to get around to sharing this album, I cannot explain. Hamilton Nzimande not only produced this warm blend of mbaqanga-soul, he is credited with having composed all the tracks too.

While the backing band is not identified, this slick outfit does sound very much like the Nzimande All Stars to me. Izintombi ZMM (The Now Now Girls) were riding a southern African wave of 'super-group' popularity, with this particular album being pressed in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

 Previous detailed Electric Jive posts on 'Izintombi' can be found here and here and here and here.
Mediafire here

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Mpharanyana & the Peddlers: Hela Ngwanana (1979)

 This album - it seems - is the last one ever recorded by Jacob "Mpharanyana" Radebe. The back cover suggests it was recorded on 27th August 1979. The LP label indicates a publication date of 3rd September 1979.

Bakithi Kumalo's bass drives and holds this slickly-produced album tightly together. (he played Graceland for Paul Simon, as well as for Herbie Hancock, Glora Estafan, Cyndi Lauper, and Harry Belafonte). Another top-drawer contributor is lead guitarist Themba Mokoena, who graces Dick Khoza's "Chapita", and features his own album on Electric Jive here. Mokoena composes two of the tracks: Maseru, and Mme Ma Tsediso.

Also among the composers are Teaspoon Ndelu (two tracks) and the producer, West Nkosi (five tracks) - all of which traverse the comfortable space between soul, disco and a touch of mbaqanga through Kumalo's adverturous bass.

Backing the "Soul Man" are a stellar line-up in The Peddlers:
Mac Mathunjwa: Keyboard
Themba Mokoena: Lead Guitar
Bakithi Kumalo: Bass Guitar
Godfrey Mcina: Drums
Elijah Kumalo: Rhythm Guitar
Mduduzi Magwaza: Alto Sax
Freeman Lambata: Tenor Sax
Tex Nduluka: Trumpet
Additional Voices: Sandra Senne, Catherine Dumakude, Joanna Thango, Helen Mosolodi.

Mediafire here

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Mpharanyana and the Cannibals: Disco Bump (1977)

There are many 1970s youngsters that will say Jacob “Mpharanyana” Radebe was the best soul singer that South Africa has produced. The man from Katlehong was hugely popular in the mid to late 1970s, until his life was cut short in 1979.

He recorded “a handful” of albums for the Mavuthela stable, calling upon ‘cream-of-the-crop’ musicians in “The Cannibals” and “The Peddlars” – many of whom formed the core of the Pelican Club House band in Soweto at the time.

I do like the cover of Clarence Carter’s “Slipping Away” – compare for yourself with the original here. In addition to its soul foundation, this strong eclectic line-up of tracks references mbqanga, disco, bump and rock. The track “Satane” nods to the music Thomas Mapfumo was producing at the time.

The line-up on this album is:
Ray Phiri: Lead guitar and backing vocals
Jacob Radebe: Lead vocals and percussion
Ephraim Hlope: Organ
Isaac Mtshali: Drums and backing vocals
Richard Shongwe: Base guitar and backing vocals.

Mpharanyana features on two previous posts on Electric Jive here and here.

 Mediafire link here

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Magic Ember: Heart 'N Soul (1975)

I was never fully convinced when drummer Marama Philip Mkhize told us he had recorded an album in the 1970s. This was Pietermaritzburg in the 1980s and Philip was gigging with an otherwise white student afro-punk garage band going by the name of “The Four Horsemen and the Apocalypse”.

It was not that Philip was not ‘that good’, he was clearly a talented man. It is just that there was no evidence of the LP to back up his claim, and anyway, why would a ‘recording star’ want to be playing with a garage band whose lyrics advocated, amongst other sedition, effervescent enemas being shoved up Queen Victoria’s granite arse?

Practising at "Toad Hall" 1984: Matt Temple getting
a few pointers from Marama Philip Mkhize. (Pic Coral Carte). 
For a heady period during my student days I followed this band around, eventually marrying the saxophonist. The bass player was none other than long-time friend Matt Temple.  

Band members Matt and Peter Stewart did believe Philip's stories.

Matt:  “In 1984 I met Philip Mkhize who explained that he was a drummer and had been a circus performer under the name Kid Marama. Since 1982 Peter Stewart, Gillian Watkins and myself had created ‘The Four Horsemen and the Apocalypse’. A number of other people played with this nucleus but at the time I met Philip we were in desperate need of a drummer and so the timing was perfect.

Peter Stewart: Four Horsemen lyricist, guitar and frontman
“For a period of over a year between 1984-1985 Philip played and taught all of us how to play and to get a repertoire of songs together. The high-point was definitely supporting Sipho Hotstix Mabuse at the Students Union in 1984. Unfortunately the tensions between the multi-racial UDF and the increasingly militant and ethnically-aligned Inkatha Movement led to Philip having to flee Edendale in 1985. The band continued until March 1986 when we played our last concert supporting the Cherry Faced Lurchers. Some practices were recorded but none really do justice to what we were brewing, or our performance at the Sipho Hotstix concert. I last saw Philip in December 1990 after returning to South Africa from exile in London.”

Philip with the "Horsemen" in 1984
When I asked Peter about the recording story, he said: "We believed him. He also told us that he'd been a Johannesburg session man and also played in Yvonne Chaka Chaka's band. We had a fair bit of confirmation too - like when we played on the same bill as Hotstix Mabuse, Hotstix and the band knew Philip.  We also knew Philip's family; Matthew and I used to transport him fairly frequently until the IFP/ANC war started in 1985. 

"The last time I saw Philip he was in a terrible state with a large "healed" head injury.  Maybe early 1990s in Pietermaritzburg, uptown near Dhoda's, after I'd been away for a while.  

Peter's pic of Philip in 1989
 So, Philip - wherever you may be now, please accept my apologies for having had any doubts about your album - I found it!

The album being shared here today is an eclectic mix of soul, rock, with a hint of some bump-jive from that period. None of the composers are given credit - but I do believe that Philip had a hand in there too.

The LP’s liner notes record the following:

“I can remember the time I first heard the group MAGIC EMBER. My car had broken down and I was walking to the nearest garage, which was some distance away. On my way I passed a house where a group was rehearsing and the music was of such a high standard that I decided to enquire who they were. On entering the house I met Titus Masikane, the group’s manager. He introduced me to the members of the group who were present – Mr Sipho Yeni, the leader, founder and organist of the group; Mr Aubrey Thabete, the well known vocalist/pianist, and Mr Johnny Brown, lead guitar. The other members of the group are Mr Bheki Magubane (second vocal), Mr Madoda Mhlongo (bass guitar), Marama Philip Mkhize (drums).

“The group originate from Pietermaritzburg and used to play mainly in the Durban area. They are now in Johannesburg to seek fame and fortune. This is, however, their very first recording and I know that you will be just as excited by their unique blend of rock and soul as I was when I first heard them practising earlier this year.”
Thomas Mdakane – Producer
MF here

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Boyoyo "900" Umjiko Wamarabi (1973)

As summer comes to an end in the north, we feature an exciting early 70s compilation on the Trutone label. Strangely, none of the artists are credited on the cover, but the composer notes do reveal some of the best from Gallo — Marks Mankwane, Lucky Monama, West Nkosi and others — playing an eclectic array of mbaqanga instrumentals on sax, concertina and organ.

Thomas Phale’s first major hit with the T-Bones was “Boyoyo” in 1972. The title also happened to be the nick-name of the group's first drummer. The track was so successful the group decided to change their name permanently to the Boyoyo Boys. Issued in February 1973, the Trutone LP featured today, is clearly riding the wave of the "Boyoyo" phenomenon. Nevertheless I am not sure if any of the Boyoyo Boys are featured here.

Watch this space for some more comprehensive archival material coming soon!

Boyoyo "900" Umjiko Wamarabi
MSLP 502



Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Celebrating Shifty September

Shifty Records, celebrating 30 years since forming back in 1984, is the focus of a heritage month taking place in Johannesburg. It combines exhibitions, documentary screenings, panel discussions and, of course, concerts to celebrate the Shifty story of musical activism in the struggle for democracy in South Africa.
Shifty September will be taking place in Johannesburg throughout September 2014 to celebrate Shifty’s 30th birthday, the 25th anniversary of the ground breaking Voëlvry tour and to mark 20 years of democracy in South Africa. For full details please visit the new Shifty site here.
For those of you unaware of Shifty Records it was one of the only record labels recording alternative sounds in the 1980s. To celebrate Electricjive has created a mix of our favourite Shifty tracks and we've taken time to speak to a key mover behind Shifty - Lloyd Ross.

Electric Jive (EJ): Heritage projects, archiving and remembering the past are often the preserve of older societies. Sometimes these projects come in for criticism for a nostalgic view of the past and a negative view of the present. Recently the Red Location Museum in Port Elizabeth was closed by local residents for "building a house for dead people" whilst they live in squalor. How is Shifty September different?
Lloyd Ross (LR): Probably the best way to answer that is to explain why it is happening. I was approached by the director of the Alliance Francaise in Johannesburg because he wanted to find a unique way of celebrating 20 years of SA democracy in Heritage month, i.e. September 2014. He announced himself as a fan of Shifty Records and said he wanted to do some sort of focus on its exploits, because he felt it was a valuable cultural asset that was little recognised. In this, I had to agree with him, because Shifty provided pretty much the only home in apartheid South African for composers and performers of original music with any kind of social or political comment during the decade before the new dispensation. This led to a Shifty catalogue of extremely diverse genres from a broad cross section of the country's racial make up. And not a few pretty damn fine tunes that, because of the situation back then, very few people got to hear. Besides, I'm not sure how the analogy in the question relates to celebrating the output of a group of talented musicians.

EJ: Why did you start Shifty Records?
LR: Because of the situation described above. I was playing in bands in the late 70's, saw some extremely exciting and vital music being produced with zero interest being shown by the recording industry. I set out to at least document what was happening.

EJ: Which/What do you see as the most influential vehicles/means for expression of social commentary and political voice in South African music today?
LR: I'm not sure I understand the question, but as far as I see, there is very little social commentary in music in South Africa today.

EJ: Shifty was born at a time where reliance on physical distribution seemed to sometime constrain the label's ability to reach more people. I seem to recall issues with vinyl pressings and the like. Can you comment on this?
LR: Well, not only was there censorship by the record companies A&R departments, the broadcasters and the State, but we also ended up in the absolutely bizarre situation of having a cutting engineer (the only one in the country) stopping the lathe while he was cutting two of our records (both on the same day), because he didn't like what he was hearing.

EJ: If you were forced to choose one album from the impressive catalogue which one would you take to a desert island
LR: Obviously a difficult question, but it may well be Bignity by van der Want/Letcher, one of the last albums I produced as it exhibits exceptional songwriting with unrestrained ideas. I also think it was one of the best productions that I ever did.

EJ: Looking back what might you have done differently?
LR: I would have tried to have more fun. I was too obsessed, but that was maybe the only way I could have managed to do what needed to be done. Oh, and I would have used a whole lot less reverb.

If you haven't dipped into the impressive Shifty catalogue then take a trip to the bandcamp site where you can listen to samples from each of the albums. In the meantime Electric Jive has made up its own mix of favourites that you can listen to here or at mix cloud.