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TOWNSHIP GROOVIN – SOUTH AFRICAN SOUL, FUNK AND
FUSION FROM THE ’70s
For young South Africans in the early seventies, groovin’ to “soul” or jazz provided access to a “non-tribal” identity at a time when the South African government was seeking to appropriate tribal identity in the furtherance
of its apartheid policies. By contrast older musical styles including sax-jive, mbaqanga, and mbube were perceived by many young urbanites to be tribalistic, rural, and un-sophisticated. This rejection of older forms
was also a symptom of generational and cultural change. The move to the city from rural areas (a trend necessitated by successive South African governments’ attempts to transform the rural black peasantry into an
urban proletariat with roots in “traditional homelands”) weakened traditional bonds and opened up new possibilities for the construction of cultural and political identities.
Aside from a number of experiments with older forms it would take until the eighties for the “pure” older styles to regain currency with urban groovers. In part, this re-evaluation was prompted by the projects of foreign enthusiasts - Malcolm McLaren, Manfred Mann, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, and Paul Simon all worked with indigenous mbaqanga sounds. It was also driven by the ongoing “Africanist” attempt to reclaim and revitalise African identity. Prominent proponents of Africanism included the ANC, exiled musicians, and various internal Black consciousness movements. The 1970s music served here is drawn from a number of different scenes and places. On the rich and varied menu are afrorock from Jonas Gwangwa and Assegai, afrobeat from Hugh Masekela, jazz-dance from Letta Mbulu, 60s soul from the Flames, mbaqanga soul from the Soul Brothers, “cross-over” pop, soul and rock from The Beaters, The Movers, Mpharanyana, The Cannibals and Margaret Singana, jazz-fusion from **** Khoza, soul fusion from Pacific Express, sax-groove from The Hockers, and a little more.
While 1970s South African soul borrowed heavily from the Motown and Stax blueprint, its indigenous reinterpretation and articulation can’t be missed. Moreover, each producer tended to have his own style, and
include his own innovations. Many of the key producers from the South African “soul” scene are represented here: Hamilton Nzimande - credited by many to be the first producer to take South African “soul” seriously, Rashid Vally - producer of seminal seventies jazz sessions, David Thekwane – producer of big-sellers The Movers and West Nkosi who took over the production reigns of the Mavuthela stable from Rupert Bopape.
For many the period documented here is best forgotten. Black music production houses were messing with Motown techniques whilst the soul of the nation was being plundered by successive National Party governments.
It’s no wonder, perhaps, that some of the more dour political militants of the time had a problem with the soul scene. This compilation is an opportunity for you to decide yourself: what’s wrong with groovin’?
1. LM Radio excerpt
LM Radio was a non-stop music station, based in Lorenzo Marques, Mozambique, where the latest international and
local hits could be heard.
2. The Boy’s Doin’ It - Hugh Masekela (Masekela, Ekemode, Kwesi, Todd, Opoku, Gboyega, Warren)
Original mover and shaker Hugh Masekela struts his stuff whilst backed by the funky Ghanaian outfit Hedzoleh
Soundz. Taken from the Casablanca LP of the same name and dedicated to Fela Ransome-Kuti this track was
recorded in Lagos, Nigeria in mid 1975.
3. Chapita – **** Khoza (Khoza)
Acclaimed jazz drummer **** Khoza was a regular and in-demand session-man at the many jazz venues in
Johannesburg in the early seventies. These included the Pelican in Soweto where he played in the band the Jazz
Revellers with bassist Sipho Gumede. The Pelican was a great musical laboratory in the 1970's. On any given night,
legendary artists would pop in for a jam or perform as part of the Sunday night cabaret. Gumede was later to form
the band Roots, then Spirits Rejoice with Bheki Mseleku, and in the early eighties the visionary band Sakhile. This
mighty track from the LP of the same title on Rashid Vally’s Ashrams (Sun) label in 1976 includes Gumede
alongside **** Khoza’s 12-piece band.
4. Switch #2 - Jonas Gwangwa and African Explosion (Gwangwa)
Jonas Gwangwa recorded his first LP in the USA on Ahmad Jamal’s label in 1969. A colleague of fellow musical
exiles Caiphus Semenya, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu, Dudu Pukwana, Abdullah Ibrahim and Johnny Dyani,
Gwangwa later became the musical director of Amandla - the cultural ensemble of the African National Congress.
5. Johannesburg Love Trip – Thembi (unknown)
Thembi had a top twenty hit in the Netherlands in 1977 with a pop version of Afrikaans folksong “Take Me Back to the
Old Transvaal”. On the LP of the same name this Is a travelogue of the urban centres and languages of South Africa.
6. Kinzambi – Assegai(Duhig)
Assegai was anchored by African musicians Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza, Fred Coker and Dudu Pukwana. They were
signed by British label Vertigo in the label's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Afro-rock bands such as Osibisa.
Taken from a re-issue LP Afro-Rock this track features members of the UK band Jade Warrior.
7. For Your Precious Love – The Flames (Brooks and Butler)
This “Indian” soul group from Durban featured Blondie Chaplin and the Fataar Brothers. They released two classic
albums in the '60's – 'Soulfire' and 'Burning Soul' - and then headed off to work with the Beach Boys. This song, a
cover of the Impressions track from 1958, was a No. 1 hit on the Springbok Radio charts in October 1968 and spent
11 weeks in the Top Twenty. In the seventies a number of top US soul acts, including Curtis Mayfield, the O Jays, Joe
Henderson, Tina Turner, Brook Benton and Percy Sledge all toured South Africa.
8. Harari - The Beaters (Mabuse, Khaoli, Ntuli)
The Beaters were formed by Selby Ntuli in the late 60s in Soweto and comprised Sipho Mabuse (drums), Alec Khaoli
(bass), Monty Ndimande (guitar) and Ntuli (guitar). In March 1969 their first album Soul-A-Go-Go was released. A
further two albums Bacon and Eggs (1970) and Mumsy Hips (1971) followed. In 1976 the band headed north for a
three-week tour of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which turned into a three-month success. As a result of this tour the
band changed their name to Harari and recorded an album of the same name. This is the title track from that album.
In 1978, Harari was invited to the USA by Hugh Masekela to perform with him. Unfortunately the bands leader Selby died
and the tour didn’t take place. Harari did however support and back Percy Sledge, Timmy Thomas, Letta Mbulu, Brook
Benton and Wilson Pickett on their South African tours. In 1979 they were the first black group to appear on South African
television and the first black group to have their own show at the Colosseum in Johannesburg in 1980. In the same year
the band was featured in a BBC TV documentary. The 1980 album Heatwave was released in the USA and in 1982 the
Party 12” single entered the American Disco Hot 100.
9. I Never Loved a Man - Margaret Singana
Margaret Singana started performing with the Symbols in 1972 and had an early radio hit with Good Feelings. In 1973
she was cast as the lead singer in the musical Ipi Ntombi and became famous with white audiences for the song Mama
Tembu’s Wedding. The production toured Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However it was the song
featured here that made her the first black artist to be feature on the Radio 5 hit parade. She suffered from bad health
but made a comeback of sorts with the theme song from the series Shaka Zulu. Wheelchair bound and penniless
Margaret died in 2000 after a long illness.
10. Ngasuka Ekhaya - Stephen Moleleki
A Sotho language version of the George Benson track Broadway taken from a David Thekwane produced various artists LP
Hlubane Special from 1980.
11. Katlehong - Mpharanyana and the Cannibals
In 1975 the Cannibals, featuring young guitarist Ray Phiri, paired up with Jacob “Mpharanyana” Radebe who was
considered by many to be the greatest male singer of the whole pre-disco soul era. They recorded together for four years
producing a string of hits featuring Radebe’s impassioned vocals and monologues.
12. How Long - The Movers
The Movers were producer David Thekwane’s big success in the “soul” market. As with so many other bands playing
within this genre they rarely addressed politics directly, but they rejected the ethnic associations used to divide people
under apartheid and embraced the international sound purveyed by the likes of Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge.
13. Get Funky(edit) - The Cannibals
(Ndlovo, Phiri, Shongwe, Hlophe, Mtshali)
From 1979 and produced by Hamilton Nzimande this track in its full form at 15 minutes covers one side of the LP by the
same name. The Cannibals recorded this soon after the death of star Mpharanyana and were later to evolve into the band
Stimela. Ray Phiri gained fame (and in some circles notoriety) for working with Paul Simon on the Graceland LP and then
having a song banned from airplay by the SABC.
14. Brother - Pacific Express
Pacific Express originally formed in Cape Town in the late 60s. Following the arrival of pianist Chris Schilder in 1975 the band took on a jazzier sound and built a reputation that spanned the whole of the sub-continent. Members of the
band included Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee, Robbie Jansen, Jonathan Butler, Barney Rachabane, Chris Schilder and
others. Chris Schilder had earlier played alongside the seminal Soweto jazz-funk outfit The Drive with Ronnie
Madonsela, Bunny Luthuli, Tony Soali, Nelson Magwaza, Lucky Mbatha, Mavis Maseku and the Sithole Brothers
Stanley, Danny & Henry. Sadly only one track by The Drive was ever issued commercially (Various Artists – National
Jazz Festival, ATC 8001 – 1974) and live recordings made by David Marks still languish in the 3rd Ear Archives. This
is the lead track off their 1976 LP Black Fire.
15. Take Me Home Taximan - Soul Brothers (Masondo)
This example of mbaqanga soul at its finest is taken from the Soul Brothers 3rd LP from 1977 “I Feel So Lonely Without
You”. Previously known as the Groovy Boys and then the Young Brothers they were persuaded to change their name to
the Soul Brothers by producer Hamilton Nzimande in 1974. Original members included Zenzele Mchunu, David
Masondo, Tuza Mthethwa and Hammond B3 organist Moses Ngwenya. From the moment they recorded their first two
singles in 1976 and with the solid backing of legendary producer Hamilton Nzimande behind them, the Soul Brothers
were consistent hit makers. With over 30 albums to their credit, the Soul Brothers now operate recording studios, a
record company and a publishing business. They stand as one of the great success stories of South African music
having survived disco, bubblegum and now kwaito.
16. Fly Me Home (edit) –Hockers (Thekwane)
Legendary big five producer David Thekwane’s own composition and played by Thomas Pale, Lulu Masilela, unknown
studio musicians and himself on a jazz-influenced South African sax jive tune. On the original two track LP from 1976
the groove just keeps going ala Fela Kuti for a full 12 minutes.
17. What's Wrong With Groovin - Letta Mbulu (Masekela)
A big favourite with the jazz dance crowd in the UK, featured on compilations by Gilles Peterson and Comet and also
re-issued as a 7” on Jazzman Records this Masekela penned tune was recorded by Mbulu in the mid sixties
Not for commercial sale or distribution in any form | Concept, research, sourcing, notes, design and production -
Matthew Temple | Wordsmith - Peter Stewart | Photos – David Marks & Jane Dlamini | Copyright of individual works
belongs to their respective owners | Take it further: Afrika Underground – Jazz and Fusion under Apartheid (Counterpoint) | In Township Tonight - David Kaplan | Making Music Zulu - Meintjies |
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