Spread out north of the city of Johannesburg is one of the oldest and funkiest townships in the country –Alexandra. History has it that an Afrikaner farmer once bought a number of farms around the modern day township. One of the farms, Zandfontein, became Alexandra Township in 1912. Alexandra produced some of South Africa’s music legends like Ntemi Piliso, Lemmy Mabaso, Zacks Nkosi and many others.

Isaac Zacks Nkosi

Isaac ‘Zacks’ Nkosi was a legendary saxophonist who composed many songs.

His popular band was City Jazz Nine, which boasted the talent of former members of the Jazz Maniacs. He had his own way of blowing the horn to create a unique African Jazz sound. “Our Kind of Jazz” (Gallo Records, 1975) was produced by Hamilton Nzimande and is a classic example of his originality.

“Kwasibasa” is a  tune  Zacks Nkosi recorded for CBS in the 60’s.  A-side “Left turn”,  with infantry style horns and a funky marching drumband.

Zacks Nkosi -Kwasibasa

Zacks Nkosi -Left Turn



In addition to jazz, mbaqanga (the name derives from Zulu, meaning something like steamed maize bread’) has become a style which has given South African music a direction. It is a blend of various styles, of which American jazz; the marabi and the kwela are the most important. Founded in the 1950s, mbaqanga soon took on a political dimension. Songs such as Azikwelwa (‘We won’t ride) supported the bus boycott of 1957 in Alexandra, while the removals in Sophiatown (which started at the beginning of February 1955 and took five years to complete) were sharply criticized in Bye, Bye Sophiatown and Asibadali (‘We won’t pay rent’), songs which were promptly banned on radio by the SABC, although black disc jockeys tried to get them on the air anyway. Mbaqanga became the pride of the urban blacks in the townships.

Michael Xabu (who gave the name mbaqanga to this type of music), Isaac ‘Zacks’ Nkosi and Elijah Nkwanyane formed the cornerstone of the mbaqanga. See my other post on African Jazz composer and trumpet player Elijah Nkwanyane.

excerpt from an original article “A reflection on music” by Jonas Gwangwa and Fulco van Aurich

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