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.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Superb sax jive: Thala Thala (1971)

Electric Jive returns today to the delightful and infectious sound of South African sax jive. Thala Thala is a 1971 compilation LP that gathers together some of the biggest selling instrumental 45 rpm singles of the past year or two. The songs featured on this album are short, sweet, peppy and catchy - and if this LP doesn't get you up from your chair and dancing around the room, nothing else will! Thala Thala features a grand selection of sax jives (plus three accordion jives) from some of the greatest names of the era: Marks Mankwane & His Shaluza Boys, Sipho Bhengu & His Alto Sax, Big Voice Jack, Zwino Zwino Boys, Marubini and His Hot Shots, Mtabhane Ndima, and Noah Nduweni & His Sax. This album was released on the Inkonkoni label - which, at the time of release, was the most popular of the numerous Gallo-Mavuthela imprints.

The previous owner of this LP singled out Sipho Bhengu's "Tickey Dopies" and the Zwino Zwino Boys' "Tadima Tadima" as the two highlights with a black pen on the back cover. These two songs are certainly enjoyable (EJ readers may be aware that the former BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel had a 45 rpm copy of "Tickey Dopies" in his vinyl collection) but, to my ears, there are several other songs on this LP that stand out much more than those two. Sipho's excellent sax jiving can also be heard in the rhythmic "Isaluti" that opens Thala Thala with a bang. "Auwa-Auwa", performed by Marks Mankwane & His Shaluza Boys, is quite frankly excellent. West Nkosi opens up the tune with a quick play of his harmonica (or "mouth organ") and Marks plays his lead guitar in that distinctive Marks way - but with the help of a wah-wah pedal. The two take turns soloing in this number (West solos on both the harmonica and his usual alto sax) and are backed effortlessly by the rest of Mavuthela's superb house band, the Makgona Tsohle Band.

Marks, West and the Makgona Tsohle Band return to perform "Marks Special No. 4". The band released "Marks Special" - a tune that showcased Marks' undeniably brilliant guitar skills - on single in 1969 and it was so successful that they recorded a follow-up titled "Marks Special No. 2". The third installment can be found on another Mavuthela sax jive compilation LP, Game 1 - Game 2 (1970). The fourth Marks Special here on Thala Thala spotlights Joseph Makwela's bass as much as it does Marks' lead guitar - Makwela actually plays the same iconic bass line he performed on the Mahotella Queens' smash hit single "Lilizela" a year prior. Vivian Ngubane's iconic rhythm guitar is strangely lost in the mix on "Marks Special No. 4" but it shines very much so on Mtabhane Ndima's "Emahlanzini", a repetitive but enjoyable early accordion jive from one of the masters of the style.

Vivian Ngubane was the first to set a template that other rhythm guitarists innovated upon. Marubini  Sam Jagome, inspired by Ngubane's wonderfully elastic rhythm line, developed his own personal and recognisable style. Marubini played both rhythm and lead guitar, creating a uniquely beautiful and almost wistful sound that became a trademark of the Zwino Zwino Boys, the junior Mavuthela instrumental team. The Zwino Zwino Boys featured an almost-exclusively Venda line-up ("zwino zwino" is Venda for "now now" - as in "ultra modern"!). Aside from the late Marubini on lead guitar, the Zwino Zwino Boys also featured his brother Christian Piliso Nombewu on rhythm guitar, Eddie Ndzeru on drums and leader James Mukwevho on bass guitar. Words cannot describe the great melodic back-and-forth of the title track, "Thala Thala", played to perfection by these ultra modern lads. Just take a listen and you'll understand!

Aaron "Big Voice Jack" Lerole had long since given up the strained groaning that shredded his vocal chords by the time he recorded the sax jive hit "Space Age" for Mavuthela. The title was no doubt inspired by the 1969 moon landings but the melody itself actually sounds like sax jive with a slight dash of salsa to me. We previously shared this sublime tune on our compilation Sax Jive Special - Vol.  2 - check it out now if you haven't already done so.

Thala Thala... 12 amazing instrumentals from the heyday of mbaqanga. What's not to love? Download and enjoy!

compiled by Shadrack Piliso and Wilson Silgee
Inkonkoni LPBS 4

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Disco-soul grooves from WIllie and Paul (1982)

More than three hundred and fifty entries and five years later, it seems that Electric Jive still has some energy and no shortage of out of print gems to revive and archive.

Willie Motala and Paul Hlatshwayo's strong voices have featured previously on the second most popular post ever on Electric Jive: "Disco Soul: 20 Grooves from the 1970s". This album shared today showcases an 80s slickness in production with a lively blending of soul, disco and mbaqanga.

Your comments and feedback have played a big role in keeping all four of us going in those "run out of inspiration, time and energy" moments.

It is fascinating for me to understand who around the world is interested in the music we share on this blog. Of course, internet access and population size do have a big influence in creating the patterns. It should be no surprise that 27% of all visits are from the USA where 267 million people (84.2% of  317 million) use the internet.

Joint second at 10.5% each are South Africa and the UK. Electric Jive's South African audience is the fastest growing, with 13 percent of all page views in the last month.. Only 25 million (48.9% of 51 million)  South Africans use the internet (compared to USA's 267 million). Looking at all the other countries' numbers, relatively speaking, South Africa has the highest proportion of its population that visits Electric Jive.

What does surprise me though, is Colombia which has the eighth most visitors to this blog. Colombia's population (47 million) and internet penetration rate  (51.7%) are very similar to South Africa's numbers. Electric Jive's friends like Fabian Althoma in Barranquilla still have strong African roots in their musical preferences. Check out Fabian's blog Africolombia here. You can read a fascinating  photo-essay on. Barranquilla's sound-system culture here.

Ten countries make up sixty-five percent of visitors to EJ. The other thirty five percent is spread very widely across the globe:

1. USA  27%
2. UK 10.5%
3. RSA 10.5%
4. France 6%
5. Germany 4%
6. Belgium 2%
7. Netherlands 1.25%
8. Colombia 1.25%
9. Italy 1%
10. Russia 1%

This album: Produced by Tom Vuma. Engineer: Philip Nel. His Masters Voice - JPL (E) 4012.

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

After Me: The Sound Proofs (1975)

Its always a good time to celebrate Sankie Chounyane, Soweto soul-man with a sweet 70s marabi chill.  Four languid and laid-back Chounyane tracks showcasing  a "jazzy sensibility" backed up by a top-notch but unidentified band.
Barney Rachabane recorded with the Sound Proofs - have a listen to that album here. Besides Chounyane on keyboards it is probable that other members of The Movers also feature on this album.

According to Max Mojapelo, the original 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 at various times included Lulu Masilela, Lucky Mbatha, Blondie Makhene, Philip Malela, Jabu Khanyile, Vusi Shange, Rammy McKenzie, Jabu Sibumbe, Lloyd Lelosa, Archie Mohlala, Peter Moteolhe, Thomas Phale, David Thekwane, Dakkie Tau, Robert Mbele, Maxwell Kubheka and Peter Morake.

You can find a Movers discography at Flat International here.

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Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Moonlight Expressions: How Long (1975)

Some gems in this South African seventies soul offering - from Sankie Chounyane, through Sophie Thapedi, to Booker T. Jones. The instrumental cover of the Temptations' "My Girl" worms its way into your ear. Johnny this one is for you.

My stand-out favourite is the excellent cover of the socially conscious Staple Singers' 1973 number one "If You Ready". Eleven years after this particular recording was made, Jonathan Butler and Ruby Turner in 1986 turned this same song into a township anthem.

If you enjoyed the Sophie Thapedi and Lulama Legola album posted by Siemon not so long ago - here - this record offers great versions of "How Long" and "Change My Mind".

Quite who comprised the "Moonlight Expressions" remains a mystery. This Johannesburg-based band were popular enough to have records cut in Kenya. To my untrained ear it does sound as if Sophie Thapedi was the vocalist?

Nearly five years ago I shared a pretty scratchy Moonlight Expressions compilation squeezed out of two cover-less damaged records I had found. You can find that here. The recording offered in this post is much cleaner and clearer.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Amagugu with the Intuthuko Brothers (1976)

Silky-voiced Sannah Mnguni, previously lead-singer of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, heads-up a stand-out  vocal-mbaqanga quintet. The Intuthuko Brothers provide the instrumental  fireworks, with Harry Nhlapo the likely male 'groaner'. This ten-piece outfit is up there with the best - at least as good as the Makgona Tsohle Band and the Mahotella Queens in their prime.

Today's offering is a "best of" Amagugu and the Intuthuko Brothers, happily with only one duplicate from the previously shared Amagugu album. My absolute favourite is the slow and jazzy Uyozikhethela (You Decide). 

Mnguni was also a prolific writer, responsible for penning eight of the twelve tracks featured here. Amagugu's 1974 Ubhek'uZulu can be found here; Other albums featuring the Intuthuko Brothers can be found here and here and here. Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje can be found here and here. I do not have a copy of the Izintombi album "Nomali" that was recently requested, but I will find place for one or two others in the future.

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