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:

Unite with the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble

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 LogoBuskaid 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).

Rosemary Nalden and Buskaid studentsThe 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…