Learn Kwela

With a web site with as little traffic as the Kwela Project, it’s pretty easy to notice what kind of things are bringing visitors here. For example, Sunday’s BBC Prom performance by the Buskaid Soweto String Project, which you can still listen to online, resulted in a number of visits that had been referred from Google.

About a week ago, someone arrived at the Kwela Project as a result of typing ‘learn kwela‘ into Google. It has always been my intention that the project help aspiring kwelaleses (made up group noun) with music and technical tips, but it’s taken this long to listen to enough music, and read around the subject enough to feel that I’ve something worth saying.

Dolos is a catchy tune by Spokes Mashiyane that is the seventh track on King Kwela CD (available via the Kwela Project Store as a digital download). There are four main themes that Spokes varies and elaborates upon – these are transcribed below. Although they’re written in the key of D major, play them on a B flat whistle to be in the same key as the recording. Most kwela is played on a B flat whistle.

Dolos by Spokes Mashiyane

Gadzooks! It’s Sophiatown’s Phalanzani Scots Band!

Africultures, cultures africaines

If you’ve ever wondered how “35 pennywhistlers and two drummers, dressed in Scout hats, kilts, tartan sashes, and neckerchiefs” could possibly be connected to the 1956 Alexandra bus boycott, then David B. Coplan’s essay Sophiatown and South African Jazz: Re-appropriating a Cultural Identity is for you. Telling the story of life, and music in particular, during Sophiatown’s brief 60-year lifespan, Mr Coplan provides a compelling account of the quest for genuine new-urban cultural expression in a time of both increased opportunity and oppression. Budding kwelaleses (what is the collective noun for kwela-players???) might be particularly interested in the substantial section that describes the birth of kwela (as recognised as an urban phenomenon, as opposed to a continuation of herder-flute traditions) to its demise, and how it relates to the melting pot of freehold-Sophiatown.

When you walk down Louis Botha [Avenue], you see wonders.
Shoes are worn out.
People are taking their jackets off.
It is hot, and people are walking on foot to work.
There are no busses, no motor cars.
We shall not ride! They [busses] are not ridden!
They [busses] are not ridden! We shall not ride!

The Alex Casbahs – Azikhwelwa (‘We Shall Not Ride’)