Shisa Phata Phata

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’).

Phata Phata was a popular dance “down Jo’burg way” (or sometimes “down Gauteng way“) as Miriam Makeba reminds us in her famous song Pata Pata. Shisa (does anyone know what ‘Shisa’ means?) Phata Phata is a different tune to Miriam & Spokes Phata Phata (which can be found on the rather good Miram Makeba – Her Essential Recordings: The Empress of African Song album), but I strongly suspect that Miriam is singing in the original recording (New Sound GB.2975).

Shisa Phata Phata solo, played by Spokes.

Inkomo Zodwa

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.

Inkomo Zodwa whistle part, played by Spokes.

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