Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Zulu Rock- South Africa part one 1950- 1962

It must've been the early 1990's, when I was doing my radio show at WFMU. There was a guy, a mailman out in Queens named Pat Conte. Pat had been collecting 78's since before I was born. He had tons of amazing stuff, country blues from the 20's and 30's, all kinds of strange ethnic records from all over the world. I believe he was the genius behind Yazoo's six CD series The Secret Museum Of Mankind which compiled strange and wonderful 78's from all over the world, mostly from the 20's and 30's. Anyways, so this mailman named Pat Conte who briefly had his own show at WFMU called The Secret Museum of the Airwaves sends me a cassette with a brief note that said something like-- "this is rock'n'roll from South African 78's, 1950-62". He tried to put out a re-issue cassette of the stuff (Global Village actually printed up a handful of cassettes) but it was sued out of existence by some big company, but now since this stuff is all in the public domain it can be heard. In part one of my investigation of African rock'n'roll 78's (and they pressed 78's in the Mother Land until around 1970) I present the stuff from Pat's tape. Some day soon, I'll do part two which covers 1962-70 and will include stuff I tracked down on my own as well as some incredible rock'n'roll influenced hi-life music from Nigeria and Ghana. But for now, dig these sounds:
First up is the Bogard Brothers, from Alexander Township in KawZulu. With only a guitar and stand up bass they kick up quite a racket, trading off vocals in English and Sotho. Their insane version of That'll Be The Day would be un-recognizable to Buddy Holly, while Flying Rock is a medley of the Drifters' Money Honey, Elvis' Good Rockin' Tonight, Gene Vincent's Be Bop A Lula and whatever else they could throw in. The third tune from these geniuses-- I'm In Love is their take on All Shook Up. Wildest of all-- She Keeps On Knockin' features singer Lawrence Motau, not present on the other three sides. He rocks himself into a near frenzy, and pre-dates gangster rap by a good thirty years with lyrics about shooting a man with a gun. What's the story with these guys? How many records did they make? Will somebody out there give them all to me? I'll pay you a dollar. A similar sound comes from the King Brothers on their classic Zulu Rock from the TJ Quality label, except they had an alto saxophone player wailing away. Evidently they made a whole stack of 78's in the late 50's and early 60's, and if this is representative I'd say they could give the Bogard Brothers a run for their money as kings of Zulu scene. Benoni Rocket, a Zulu whose real name was Joseph Nkhoda (probably still is) cut a handful of Elvis influenced sides, his accent gives way to the theory that he learned the tunes phonetically. Here we have I'm Gonna Shake, Rattle, Roll (not the Joe Turner tune covered by Elvis, I don't think...) Last Night and I'm Gonna Rock,they are amongst the wildest discs I've ever heard. Gabriel Sibusi waxed  Call Me Mister for the Troubadour label, I've seen another disc by him mentioned-- She Works In Bedrooms, but I've never heard it. Also on Troubadour were the Pretty Dolls, a jive style group with a pronounced Caribbean influence as heard here on I PromiseJimmy Masuluke's Happy Happy Make It Snappy appeared on the equally obscure FM label and features some rockin' sax and hot electric guitar riffs. And that's all I know about it. The Tip Top Rhythm Boys (possibly a white group gone native) show off their percussion/sax heavy sound on Sparkling Se Dinge, again, I know nothing about them. Allen Kwela and his guitar are featured on the 500 Guitar Rock, another ultra-obscurity from another unknown artist. This is the most traditionally African sounding disc here. The Black Mambazo (no relation to Ladysmith Black Mambazo) show the influence of Latin music in After Muchacha , the group was led by Finish Mohamed, Simon Nkbinde and vocalist Zeph Nakbinde.
Joyce Mogatusi was the lead singer of the Dark City Sisters, a rather prolific "jive" group produced by Aaron LeRole who also produced the Black Mambazo disc. Here they jive their way into the twist craze with Shala-Shala Twist. Willard Cele appeared in the 1950 film The Magic Garden aka Pennywhistle Blues which makes sense since he rocked the Penny Whistle long before the Pogues, you can study his unique approach to the instrument on Penny Whistle Boogie. This style of music was called Kwela and was big all over South Africa in the 50's. Well, talk about obscure genres, I think this is the tip of the iceberg.  Too bad Paul Simon didn't run into the Bogard Brothers when he was making Graceland, they'd have sent him back to his books and poetry fast enough! Or as Jerry Lee Lewis once said--"I'd like to slap a hamburger patty on his ass and run him through Ethiopia"!  I'll get to work on volume two with some of the sides mentioned above (you just gotta hear the Junkers, Nigeria's answer to the Rolling Stones and Ghanian Charlotte Doda's incredible Beatles' cover) and should have it posted before summer or the next war breaks out, which ever comes first.
Addendum: In the original post I had written that the collector Pat Conte died, he didn't, I had mixed up his name in my  mind with another old time 78 collector from Queens who did die. Mr. Conte is still alive.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

That version of That'll Be the Day is going to keep me going all day. man oh man. thanks.
-- Lianne

Anonymous said...

I'm thrilled to be able to hear this amazing music.

Thank you so much


Big Ern xxx

Melbourne Australia

Eli Monolator said...

Oh my good lord this is amazing. I want to hear volume 2 so bad!

Anonymous said...

Rock & Roll, Doo Wop and World Music all on a single platter. Musically, South Africa in the 50s & 60s is truly amazing.

Thank you. I look forward to part 2 with bated breath.

MickB (Oz)

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Anonymous said...

hey now, just found this amazing blog. someone had told me that pat conte aka citizen kafka died. i was sooo hoping it wasnt true but this is like a year old post? also when i try to hear these songs, as i apparently slept in yr fine blog, it told me that the site format er sumshit had changed & if i wanted to hear the songs individually, tough shit... more or less. um would u consider a repost somethyme? in the interim i suppose i will dig thru old posts, but this one is certainly rite up my alley. here's hoping. thx
joveal b

Alkis Giamalis said...

Like the previous anonymous comment, I just discovered this post and this blog and I definitily wish for a repost.

matt said...

Hello...I've found that cassette to be a wonderful thing..even posting up some variants of it at matsuli
http://matsuli.blogspot.com/2006/09/african-twist-and-rock-and-roll.html

Very keen to hear vol 2 if you get around to it....

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