pennywhistle kwela cover

Long, long ago, African herd-boys used to play bamboo whistles which are known in the African language as ‘mahlaka’. As time went on these were replaced by tin whistles as the bamboo was not strong enough and did not last. These tin pipes have been greatly improved and are what we now call ‘penny whistles’. The penny whistle became the popular instrument of little African boys and they could be heard playing on street corners and in the townships, where they attracted much interest and attention.

in the mid 1940s Pennywhistle jive was developed. Kwela, a Zulu term means “pick-up” and refers to roving police vans on the look-out for illegal street corner gambling. When the police came in sight all evidence of the game would be hastily hidden and somebody would substitute the event with harmless flute music until the immediate danger was over.

Recording scouts, realizing the talent of these penny whistle players brought them to recording studios and the penny whistle records have proved tremendously popular with Spokes Mashiyane being the biggest star.

pennywhistle kwela label 1

Elias and his Zig Zag Flutes -Sanny Boy Special

music and rhythms of Africa labelAlexandra Shamber Boys -Phazamiza Zacks (tribute to Zacks Nkosi)

The EP “Music and Rhythms of Africa vol. 1”   features four recordings by Benoni Flute Quintet and the Alexandra Shamber Boys. One of the most popular flute groups is the Alexandra Shamber Boys who have made a big name for themselves in Johannesburg. “Phazamiza Zacks’ one of the tunes they play on this record is a tribute to the great Zacks Nkosi. The Benoni Flute Quintet had a big hit with their recording of ‘Skanda Mayeza’. The tune was originally recorded as a vocal and these youngsters picked up the tune on their penny whistles; their playing of it established the tune as one of the all time favourite with the Africans.

Alexandra Shamber Boys

Alexandra Shamber Boys

Alexandra Shamber Boys -Kgokgoma

The Alexandra Shamber Boys -finish labelAlexander Shamber Boys -finish(Tom Hark)

‘Finish’ by The Alexander Shamber Boys is a later version re-recorded version while the original song ‘Tom Hark’  was popular in the mid-fifties.

here is the  original 78 rpm by

Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes -Tom Hark

elijah -tom hark 78

thanks to flatinternational

15 thoughts on “Penny Whistle Kwela -Alexandra Shamber Boys, Benoni Flute Quintet

  1. This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,

    A definite great read…:)


  2. fabulous job done, brought back long forgotten memories van kgale.
    Suggestion – avail a search field for specific artists/tracks with an option to buy some of these treasures similar to service provided by spotify but with southern african emphasis


  3. Baie dankie, dit is wonderlik! I really enjoyed the music – I have also started to play the penny whisle – the easy stuff. Next is the kwela!

  4. Hi, love your blog and found you because Mark Lemarr (BBC Radio Show Host) played Alexandra Shamber Boys’ Buya e Goalini last night and wondered if their songs were available on CD that you know of? Certainly a great blog you have here and I’ve learned a lot about this music! Thanks, Patrick

    1. hi Patrick,
      thanks for the nice words! To my knowledge the Alexendra Shamber Boys have never been available on CD.
      At this present moment I am busy working out a compilation that features some of the tracks on Soul Safari, so keep checking now & then.

      cheers, Eddy@SoulSafari

  5. I agree this is an amazing blog and I must say my dad truly appreciates all this. His name is Elias Shamber Lerole – founder of Elias and His Zig Zag Jive Flutes and composer of the hit Tom Hark. He is a very proud man, his legacy and that of other famous penny whistlers lives on through my brothers and I. Our band Kwela Tebza has been striving hard to put Kwela music on the map.

    1. your comment is really moving. Thanks. It’s amazing to know that your father wrote ‘Tom Hark’, such a piece of South African history. And to know that his son is playing the same style today with a band. Now that is history brought back to life. Man, keep the fire burning, play that Kwela! Would love to hear what you are doing right now.
      Cheers, Eddy@SoulSafari.

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