For a period of fifteen years during the 1960’s and well into the 70’s, solo sax jives enjoyed an enormous popularity throughout the entire southern African subcontinent. The melodies were always simple but catchy and were carried by the saxophone, usually in conjunction with a guitar, violin, accordion or electric organ. A tight rhythm section underpinned the lead instruments using a drum kit and electric bass and often electric guitar as well.
Nkosi was one of the most succesful and influential sax players of that era. He toured continously, usually together with the Makhona Tsohle Band and the Mahotella Queens, and scored an impressive list of hit records. His music was made from different rhythms to suit all tribes living in South Africa. He took a little from each tribe, like Shangaans, Zulus, Pedis, Tswanas, Swazis, Xhosas, you name it…all their traditional rhtyhms. He took a little bit from each individual tribe and put a very strong beat on it. That alone gave his music a unique sound.
Then he used the real (western) drum and bass guitar to tighten up his music. He was one of the first people to have bought a western style bass guitar. Nkosi wanted to create his own thing, not music that was influenced by Cliff Richard, The Beatles and Rock & Roll. No, he aimed at entertaining his own people. He wanted to create more sounds for the African people…to introduce something new because technology was coming up and very influential in those days. A lot of people started buying decent hi-fi sets, no more wind-up gramophones.
The music was the only weapon where people could be relieved within their feelings, also for the oppression that they had. The music was the only thing that could heal all those problems. If someone listens to the music, then automatically they start forgetting about their problems, get themselves enjoying that music. At the same time, the music had some sort of information towards the black people that they should be patient, things will be allright. It was this feeling that West Nkosi rapped about in his music. Like listen to ‘Two Mabone’, there’s a rap there. Those raps were designed in a way that black people could understand the message of what the musicians were talking about. Some of the rapping was to advertise the actual product, but some of the message was saying ‘wake up, open your eyes…look at the future, see what’s happening’.
West Nkosi also wrote and produced his own material for other acts after 1970. Here’s one from 1982, it’s recorded for the Mavuthela group called ‘Nansi Lentombi’ and ‘Sewuyahamba Uyangishiya’ by Amaswazi Emvelo.
text based on an interview with West Nkosi 1967
from West Nkosi -original sax jive hits -GMP CDZAC 57 1991 South Africa
thanks to friendly Matsuli for the photo of Makhona Tsohle Band in 1967