Black Mambazo (“Axe”) was also known as the Alexandra Shamba Band, and was composed of band members Aaron (Jack) Lerole, Elias (Shamba) Lerole, David Ramosa and Peter Khumalo. The band ruled the Alex music scene for a while, and introduced the style of mixing Tsotsitaal spoken introductions to their songs – something that can be heard at the beginning of the classic kwela track: Tom Hark.
The song “Uile Ngoan’a Batho” reminds me very much of Inkomo Zodwa – also sung by Miriam Makeba and The Skylarks, with Spokes Mashiyane improvising behind the verses as well as providing inspired soloing during the breaks. “Uile Ngoan’a Batho” is found on The History of Township Music, and – as this web page demonstrates – The Rough Guide “Music of Africa”. Take as listen whilst the sound file is still available – if you like it, buy the CD :-)
Its about time there was some practical, hands-on music around here, and to this end I’ve transcribed|arranged|made-up the short and sweet solo section from Spoke’s Mashiyane’s song called ‘Shisa Phata Phata’ (composed by a ‘R. Msomi’).
The Voice of America web site is running a very interesting African Music blog – well worth checking out.
Matthew LaVoie has written a fascinating post entitled Musical Sunshine from Malawi which outlines how the Kachamba brothers, Daniel and Donald, discovered kwela to the city that is now Harare, but was then called Salisbury, and bought it back to Malawi (the Nyasaland) in 1961.
Best of all, this blog is full of example recordings by the featured artists, and the Kachamba Brothers are no exception. There are two kwelas to listen to: ‘Malawi Moto’ and ‘Malawi Cha-cha-cha’. I like the frantic tempo and vocals (which seem rare in kwela – the musicians usually preferring to play whistle) – I hope you enjoy these recordings too!
Skokiaan is a significant instrumental that was composed, performed and recorded originally in South Africa’s neighbour, Zimbabwe. We’ve already seen that the influence of kwela has been felt in this country, and although Skokiaan is described as tsaba-tsaba, it shares a common ancestor with kwela: marabi.
The instrumental was later recorded by Gallotone (which, perhaps, lead to the confusion as to whether it was a South African-composed tune or not) and released in the USA by London Records. It met with considerable success and has been recorded by loads and loads of artists since, practically right up to the present day.
It wasn’t until I discovered the learning2share blog a couple of weeks back for the Willard Cele kwela project post that I had a chance to really hear Skokiaan, and I thought that it would be a great idea to have a go at arranging the melody for whistle in the kwela style.
Just about everything that is currently known about Skokiaan can be found on the Skokiaan Wikipedia page, so take a look there and then come back to learn how to play some of it!
Many thanks to The In Crowd and his/her learning2share blog for making these very early Willard Cele tracks available. Willard was the inspiration for many kwela players, maybe including Spokes Mashiyane. Listen to these recordings (Penny Whistle Blues and Penny Whistle Boogie) and you’ll hear quite a different style of kwela to that recorded by the likes of Spokes or Lerole; it almost sounds like US American clarinet jazz.
The song Inkomo Zodwa was recorded by Miriam Makeba and the Skylarks in March 1959 and features Spokes Mashiyane on the pennywhistle. It is accredited to the South African playwright Gibson Kente. I originally got hold of this track on The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa, and you can too (although I think it was an earlier version and the tracks have changed now).
Spoke’s whistle part is a constant solo throughout the song, playing in the lower registers during the singing, and rising up in volume and pitch in between. The key signature is somewhere between F and F#, and if we assume F, then Spoke’s whistle playing goes right down to low F. We’re talking Low Whistle territory here, and I must say that I’m rather surprised by the idea that Spoke’s had a low F – I mean, these aren’t so easy to come by nowadays and I daresay that Overton didn’t exist back then (if you have any ideas how this was played, I’d be very happy to hear them!)…
Leaving the academics behind; I’ve party transcribed, partly made up (the low bits of) the whistle part so that this can be played, along with the recording, on a Bb whistle – it’s sure to bring a tear to your eye. You might like to fractionally pitch shift it to get it in tune. -130% semitone did it for me using the demo version of Ableton. [I've subsequently learnt that this kind of manipulation is possible using Audacity, which is free]
I hope you enjoy trying to play this part and that it encourages you to listen to some of these old kwela recordings.
Last.fm has some good recorded content that is tagged kwela – unfortunately I can’t figure out how to embed the player here and then not complain that there is ‘Not enough content to play this station’. Follow the link to kwela on last.fm and check it out there – if it complains, try reloading the page, or try later, because there is definitely content there and it’s worth trying to hear.
Every now and again I find something really interesting as a result of the kwela project. It’s not always about kwela either, but in this case I’d say there’s quite a strong connection. ýlowek scavel-cronek is a blog that presents music that can’t be found in the shops any more. The first track on Take Cover! Zimbabwe Hits is by the Jairos Jiri Sunrise Kwela Band; not a whistle to be heard in this guitar-led song, but the three-chord-trick used in kwela is clear. But it’s the hugely reverberated guitar-percussion impressions of machine guns that the listener remembers.. it is a very disconcerting juxtaposition!