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!
Ten Real Audio :-( tracks spanning some fifty years of South African music from 50s kwela to 90s bubblegum. Presented by Andy Kershaw, the flippin’ hypocrite fades each track after only about 30s – in much the same way that Kirsty Young curtailed Andy’s Desert Island Discs – much to his annoyance! Still, there’s some good stuff that might be new to you, and it’s free! So check it out..
It’s always interesting to hear contemporary interpretations of kwela and to learn more about those who are bringing these sounds to our ears some fifty years after kwela’s heyday. I stumbled upon Buskaid whilst undertaking some search-engine led investigation regarding a long-forgotten question, and what a fortunate turn of events this has been.
Buskaid is a charity that is registered in both South Africa and in the United Kingdom. It was started, and continues to be directed, by British viola player, Rosemary Nalden. When the problems that a string project in Diepkloof, Soweto, were highlighted in a BBC program, Rosemary felt a call to respond, and (no doubt with the hard work and vision of many others behind the scenes – then again, maybe not!) Buskaid was born. The result of the amazing work of this organisation has been the changing of many young Sowetan lives through their exposure, participation and learning within the Buskaid Soweto String Project (BSSP).
The Project has achieved many milestones – one of their senior students, Samson Diamond, has graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester; their performing ensemble has toured many countries of the World and has made a number of professional recordings that are available via the charity’s web site.
One of these recordings – Tshwaranang (Unite) – is the product of the students’ “kwela sessions”, in which they were given free reign and encouragement to work on their own compositions. I bought the CD online (proceeds to the charity) and although it is in quite some contrast to the period recordings of Mashiyane and Lerole, the spirit of kwela clearly lives on :-) The recording features flute and percussion as well as violins, violas, cellos, double basses. However, the whole recording is lifted by some great vocals – a bit like how ‘Big Voice’ Jack Lerole changed the course of kwela through the introduction of vocals. In addition, the CD comes with comprehensive track notes and quotes from the students, which really brings it alive:
Kwela became an “anthem” to every string player in Soweto and to those who followed kwela music. Samson’s Special is one of the developing tunes and was transmitted aurally to the youngsters. It has since progressed with more direction and clarity from being played repeatedly with spontaneous changes of ideas…
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Postively Testcard, “South-East London’s premier whistle-driven afroskankabilly instrumental beat combo” emailed me with this scintillating fact (which is, indeed, more news-worthy than today’s other headline story) today. Their follow-up email included the relevant URL too :-) When I looked, there were two, complete tunes for our enjoyment – “Lemmy be The One” and “Twist with the Mum”
Four seconds short of the nominal 3 minute 30 second kwela format, the Solven Whistlers recording of Kwela Blues is to be found in the Gallo CD Sampler currently shipping with the May 2007 edition of Songlines magazine. “The Very Best in South African Music” contains the following tracks:
- Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens
- African Jazz Pioneers
- Manhattan Brothers
- Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Ommu Beno Mmu
- Simphiwe Dana
- Lucky Dube
- Soul Brothers
- Solven Whistlers
OK, here we go: Welcome to the blog of the kwela project at www.kwela.co.uk. Take a look at About to find out more. Nothing much else to say now – I just want to start fixing up the blog and I need an initial post to be able to see my changes ;-)