a valuable link to some musical scenes from the movie ‘The Magic Garden’ has been added by our friends at The Kwela Project. Essential viewing. See also the comments on this post. Appreciated!

Willard Cele On His Flageolet With Rhythm Accompaniment

The Pennywhistle Blues  –The Pennywhistle Boogie (1951)

both sides recorded unaltered from the actual 78 rpm

Willard Cele -Penny Whistle Blues Gallotone A side gecomp Willard Cele -Penny Whistle Blues Gallotone B side gecomp

In 1951 Willard Cele and his tin flute appeared in the landmark South African film, ‘The Magic Garden’ (a.k.a. ‘The Pennywhistle Blues’).

It greatly helped to popularize the instrument and inspired many to play, including Spokes Mashiyane, who would become a superstar of Kwela in the mid-1950’s and into the sixties.

dolly rathebe mic
Dolly Rathebe performing in the 50’s

This movie is one of the first to feature Kwela for a big audience and Dolly Rathebe, one of my favourite singers is starring in it as well.

The story tells a gentle, wistful tale of life in a black township, with the hero being a small-time thief who plays a penny whistle.

The cast are non-professionals, but the pacing and visuals are certainly of high quality. High point: When the local police lift a garbage can lid and see the thief inside, one looks at the other and says, “Man, the housing shortage is worse than I thought.” Dumb remark, but endearing. Especially since they carefully put the lid back on, and go on their way.

Much of its charm is to do with the age of the film and the success of the Cinematographer in actually teaching the actors to act as this was a first film for all the cast.

This film is used in USA universities as the first of its ilk from the early 1950s with an all-black cast. Fun. Nice countryside and scenery, giving the viewer a taste of South Africa before its troubles.

About Willard Cele

Willard Cele, a crippled South African flageolet player who is regarded as the pioneer of South African Kwela music, often credited as having been the first to bring the inherently upbeat sound of the Pennywhistle to the medium.

On both the South African and English record label he’s credited as playing the Flageolet, which is sort of the refined older cousin to the Tin Whistle or Pennywhistle.

willard cele -penny whistle blues London Records UK

‘The Magic Garden’ (1951)

Also Known As: La soupe à la citrouille

63 min – Comedy | Drama | Music – 5 March 1951 (South Africa)

Director: Donald Swanson

Writers: James H. Brown (story), C.M. Pennington-Richards,

Stars: Tommy Ramokgopa, Harriet Qubeka, Joseph Motuba |

Complete credited cast:

The Thief-Tommy Ramokgopa

Mrs. Shakabona -Harriet Qubeka 

Nicholas, store clerk -Joseph Motuba 

Lucas Ranku -David Mnkwanazi  

John, Lili’s beau-Victor Cwai

Lili Shabulala -Dolly Rathebe

Mr. Shabulala -Grinsell Nogauza

Isaac Wela -Lucas Khosa

Mrs. Wela-Linda Madikisa

Priest -Jonathan Mzamo

Mr. Letuli, the troubled parishioner -George Mabuza

A Constable -Cornelius Moghare

A Constable -Samuel Alcock …

Pennywhistle Player -Willard Cele

Mrs. Shakabona’s Neighbor -Stanley Khali


Country: South Africa

Language: English

Release Date: 5 March 1951 -South Africa

Filming Locations: Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Production Co: Swan Film Productions Ltd.

Technical Specs

Runtime: 63 min

Sound Mix: Mono

Color: Black and White

Made In South Africa (By Gallo Africa LTD)

Willard Cele -Penny Whistle Blues Gallotone gecomp

see also 

something new from Africa -Kwela with Lemmy

Penny Whistle Kwela -Alexandra Shamber Boys, Benoni Flute Quintet


This post contains text from I’m Learning To Share!

Thanks to johnsonlj2003 from East Sussex

9 thoughts on “‘The Magic Garden’ aka The Pennywhistle Blues (1951) –Willard Cele

  1. Thanks for posting about this film – I, too, read about its significance in popularising kwela pennywhistle, and eventually tracked down a copy of the film from Nostalgia Family Video of Oregon (whose website seems to have disappeared subsequently).

    I posted three short clips via my kwela blog:


    Willard Cele’s style is far less influenced by marabi than any other kwela I’ve heard – and far more influenced by US jazz/boogie/blues. I find this intriguing.

    1. intriguing indeed. I wonder when William Cele was born and at what age he recorded ‘The Pennywhistle Blues’. I can’t find any date of birth of the man anywhere. Do you know?

      Your comment and link to the film is a valuable addition to this post.
      Cheers 🙂

  2. I found a useful reference:

    Circuits of recognition and desire in the evolution of black South African popular music: The Career of the Penny Whistle; Lara Allen, SAMUS 25 (2005)

    Some quotes:

    Cele “grew up in Alexandra township, [and] was twenty when the film was released in 1951. He learnt the penny whistle from his older brother Moses, who was a member of the [Scottishes township marching band] Alexandra Scots, and later joined this band himself…”

    “‘I only stayed with them for six months… I wanted to play something hotter, jazzier’ (Drum 4.58)”

    “his pavement performances made him a household name in Alexandra Township long before The Magic Garden was released”

    “After hearing Cele playing in a bus queue in Alexandra, Donald Swanson, director of The Magic Garden, decided to use Cele’s music in the film’s soundtrack”

    “As a result of a football injury Cele walked with a pronounced limp (Llanga 17.2.51)”

    “In later years, however, after deep disappointment and bitterness induced by the lack of just royalty agreements, Cele bemoaned his lack of financial reward as a star penny whistler… (Drum 4.58)”

    “Cele seems not to have made any recordings other than ‘Penny Whistle Blues’ and ‘Penny Whistle Boogie'”

    “Piloso remembers Cele playing at Troubadour’s studios, [so] it is possible Cele made recordings for which he was not credited (Piloso Int.[interview])”

    “The last performance given by Cele that was documented in the media was an ‘impromptu session’ with the American clarinettist Tony Scott in 1957 (World 12.10.57)”.

    More about that at http://electricjive.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/tony-scott-in-south-africa-1957.html

    “In 1958 Cele, who unlike most penny whistlers had obtained his Junior Matriculation, was working as a government clerk, but his subsequent whereabouts quickly became unknown to his fellow musicians and by 1990 he was believed to be deceased (Ilanga 12.2.51; World 1.1.56, 12.4.56; Lerole Int.2; Ralumlimi Int. 2).”

  3. Wonderful post and comments – fascinating background & links and great music. Had to post a link on my own blog. Minor point – there was an obsolete instrument called a flageolet, which might be described as a refined older cousin, but in the 20th century it was usually just another word for a tin whistle.

    1. thanks for your comment. I mentioned clearly in my post that: On both the South African and English record label Willard Cele is credited as playing the Flageolet, which is sort of the refined older cousin to the Tin Whistle or Pennywhistle

      1. Apologies – my point seems to have got lost by my failure to put quotation marks round the phrase ‘refined older cousin’, to make it clear that I was quoting from your post. But it’s not important enough to try again – the key point is how much I liked this post, as ever on Soul Safari.

  4. Thank you for insight in a world of brilliant music magic. A world sadly obscured to a great part of the world as well as and most sadly our own South African citizens, not grasping a true rich culture of art within it’s own borders. All because of a silly thing called politics. Heart breaking

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