Big Voice Jack Lerole on YouTube

Big Voice Jack Lerole, kwela performer from Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa
Big Voice Jack Lerole, kwela performer from Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa

Aaron “Big Voice Jack” Lerole was one of the most influential kwela stars and, in a revival of his popularity that is described in Keith Addison’s 1998 article ‘Return of the Big Voice‘, must have been one of the last of the originators to still be recording.

The story of how Big Voice Jack ended up in 1998 playing with the Dave Matthews Band in the Giants Stadium in New Jersey USA and the Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts, is captured in Jonathan Dorfman’s 50 minute documentary “Back to Alexandra”. This can currently be found in six sub-10 minute parts on YouTube: This can currently be found (but is likely to disappear without warning) in a single 50 minute clip on YouTube (ignore the first 10s or so):

The legacy links below are broken (for now) – sorry.

Part 1 of 6

In which we meet Jack and members of his old band, Black Mambazo, talking about the Old Days; we hear Jack interviewed by ALX FM about his trip to the USA with the Dave Matthews Band; we see Jack’s journey from SA to the USA (three months earlier).

Part 2 of 6

In which we watch Jack, Dave, Leroi and the rest of the band prepare for the performance; we watch the band’s dramatic arrival at the stadium on show-day; Dave explains how the link-up with Jack began.

Part 3 of 6

In which we see Dave teaching Jack “One Sweet World”; we see Jack in action on the stage; then a flashback to Jack and the Shukumo Mambazo Allstars at the Bassline, whilst Jack reminisces about life in the Dark City.

Part 4 of 6

In which Jack explores New York and thinks about how long it’s taken to get this far; we’re taken back to the rehearsal at the Giants Stadium where Jack’s “Back to Alexandra” is added to the set list.

Part 5 of 6

In which we watch “Back to Alexandra” performed, including Jack’s signature two-whistle playing; then, one year later we see Jack leaving his home in Diepkloof, Soweto (where he was forcibly relocated in 1959), to rehearse with his band Shukuma Mambazo and teach children at Diepkloof Hall (community centre).

Part 6 of 6

In which we watch a rehearsal of Shukuma Mambazo, a kwela lesson with children and a kwela street procession in Diepkloof.

You can find out more about the extraordinary life of Big Voice Jack on the following web pages:


  1. Hi Chris,

    I am a (currently lapsed) uilleann piper & whistle player living in
    Melbourne, Australia. I came across your site about 18 months ago,
    after meeting an English expat. on a tram, after just buying a new
    whistle. He saw the top of the whistle protruding from the top of a brown paper bag and asked me if I had heard any South African penny-whistle. He urged me to seek some out as he had heard some excellent music there in the 1960s & ’70s.

    To cut a long story short I found this site and have used the links & materials here to some benefit.

    I would like to add some info that you may find useful.

    I have found videos that feature Spokes Mashiyane (both sax & whistle)& Big Voice Jack soundtracks on youtube.

    tom hark – elias & his zig zag jive flutes:

    ry ry – B side of above:

    here is a transcription I did of Ry Ry from the above source:

    T:Ry Ry
    S:Elias & his Zig Zag Jive Flutes
    z2A d2f a3-a2z | gzA c2e a3-a2z |
    fzA d2f a3-a2z | gzA c2e a3-a2z |
    fzA d2f a2b a2z | gzA c2e a2b a2z |
    fzA d2f a2b a2z | gzA c2e a2b a2z ||
    dzA d2e =f2e dz2 | B2z ez2 c2z EzA |
    dzA d2e =f2e dz2 | B2z ez2 c2z EzA |
    dzA d2e =f2e dz2 | B2z ez2 c2z EzA |
    dzA d2e =f2e dz2 | B2z ez2 c2z EzA ||

    If you have trouble with the abc format there is info here:

    and a converter here:

    I have found vinyl rips of two Big Voice Jack LPs here:

    and a compilation with a lovely Spokes Mashiyane 12 bar Boogie entitled ‘Kalla’s Special’ here:

    Hope you find this stuff useful,

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