Some time ago, after waiting patiently for a long time, I came across an old VHS recording of the film that is alleged to have, specifically, propelled the pennywhistle boogie of Willard Cele into the limelight, and to have, more generally, opened the ears of the South African mainstream to kwela. For me there are two and a half most-memorable sequences within the film which feature kwela and street-music, and I’m pleased to be able to present them in finest digital form(!)
The first clip is from the opening of the film, which features an extended Willard Cele solo over which the narrator sets the scene for the rest of the story.
The second clip is a short sequence that shows Willard playing his pennywhistle with the characteristic, sideways kwela embouchure that results in a fatter, and slightly flattenened, tone.
Finally, my favourite sequence, which doesn’t actually include any pennywhistle, is a catchy musical number by unknown (to me) artists, but showing a young Dolly Rathebe dishing out the drinks, some fine ‘mbube’ wailing, and proto-pantsula bandy-leg dance.
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’).
I apologise for the elapsed time since my last post – I’ve been busy learning guitar and catching up with old friends. In addition I switched from one kwela arrangement project (that proved a bit too complicated at the time) to another that I am presenting here…
A couple of posts back in ‘Rare Willard Cele Recordings‘ we encountered on of the earliest recorded kwela pennywhistlers: Willard Celes. I was particularly intrigued by the similarity between these recordings, and traditional USA jazz/blues played on the clarinet. It would be great to find out how Willard came to sound like this. Here we have a 12 bar blues structure that I’ve not seen in kwela recordings anywhere else. Since the 12 bar blues is pretty much universally understood, you might be able to find some other willing musicians with which to play. If you play a Bb whistle, then a capo of the first fret will enable a guitarist to play in the very blues-friendly key of A.
This arrangement is based upon the first 48 bars, which I’ve adapted for pennywhistle. The recording seems to be in the key of G! Yet more evidence that kwela pennywhistlers were getting low whistles from somewhere.
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!
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.
This tune – Little Lemmy – is played by Little Lemmy (‘Special’ Mabaso) with Big Joe on alto sax (I might be making that second bit up – but he is credited as playing, and it sounds like Lemmy on the whistle). It can be found on the old, Decca LK 4292 “Something New from Africa”, as well as the currently available “The Pennywhistle – The Magical Instrument of Africa” on Gallo.
I have transcribed the theme (first four bars, repeated four times) which occurs at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the piece, as well as the first whistle solo. There is another whistle solo and a couple of sax solos in the complete piece which, as usual, lasts almost exactly two minutes and thirty seconds (so that two tunes fit on one side of a 45rpm single – well, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!). You should be aiming for a speed of 150bpm (where a beat is a dotted crotchet (that’s a dotted Quarter Note to our USA pals)) which is pretty fast, especially on the run in bars 15-16.
I have no idea why I accredited the piece to Mokonotela – I must have read it off another piece by accident. The tune is actually accredited to ‘Hill’ – I wonder who that is?
If you enjoy playing this (or if you don’t) – please let me know by leaving a comment.
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.