Throughout the entire month of May Soul Safari will be listing field recordings, folk, private pressings, township jive & kwela jazz, African jazz, soul & boogie, mbanqaga,and much much more with absolutely no reserves.
Records that have been presented on these pages over the last five years are now on auction. So here is your change to grab some rare African vinyl as I am cleaning out my shelves to make room for new music.
Some highlights; a collection of ultra rare and seldom heard field recordings from ILAM, recorded by Hugh Tracey. These records were purchased many years ago directly from ILAM in South Africa from what was left of their unsold stock. All records come in their original cover with the labels attached to the back cover and are unplayed, in brand new mint condition.
More Soul Safari favs like great 45’s by jive kings The Soweto Boys, mbanqaga queens The Manzini Girls are now on auction.
The launch at Tommy Page in Amsterdam last December was a huge success, the combination of vintage clothing and music worked wonders. What a great crowd, what a warm reception of the album on a wintery Sunday afternoon, downtown Amsterdam.
The Dutch press also picked up the album quite early, Stan Rijven of Trouw being the very first. And Sjeng Stokkink wrote a positive article in jazz magazine Jazzism -TJ&KJ volume 2
There is also TV exposure! VPRO Vrije Geluiden has taped a special on the album, with an interview and I will be spinning some tunes from the album as well. The special includes live performances by myself, the Ives Ensemble which plays the rarely performed Chamber music of the American avant-garde composer Charles Ives. Also the group Flip Noorman presented their new album “Bellse Parese” and the amazing Maroccan singer Laïla Amezian gave a titillating performance. What a Voice! The show lasts for 50 minutes and is in the Dutch language but the music speaks for itself.
The broadcast will be on Sunday, January 19, 2014 in Netherlands 1 at 10:30 h. The show will be broadcasted again on Saturday, February 1 (!) In 2014 to 09.00 at channel Netherlands 1.
Cultura repeats this broadcast on Wednesday, January 22 at 23:00 and Thursday, January 23 at 19:00.
a few kwela tunes on ‘Township Jive & Kwela Jazz Volume 2’ start with some jive talking in an unknown language. At first I thought it sounded quite like Afrikaans, with a pinch of Zulu or Xhosa in da mix maybe? After all, South Africa claims 11 official languages and in a city like Cape Town that’s home to an eclectic mix of cultures it is easy to hear this sort of street jive. In the 1950’s, the neighbourhood District Six near Cape Town was the birthplace of an extremely lively and eclectic brew of a patois spoken mainly amongst the Cape Coloreds and certain groups of blacks, hottentots, Cape Malay and the Khoi San.
The Apartheid regime brought an extremely uncertain time for black and colored people so a slang as a sort of protection shield was born. At the time black music did not get much national radio coverage at all, although some black radio stations broadcasted for local communities. The music was either played live in the streets -the birthplace of kwela- or experienced in theatres and public halls. Left wings white South Africans, politically open minded people also found their way to these local get-togethers to hear some of the finest black and colored musicians on the scene.
The spoken intro’s of some of the kwela songs are characteristic conversations between the musicians, often in a humoristic slang, always extremely funny. Here are 3 examples culled from ‘Township Jive & Kwela Jazz Volume 2’ and translated into English as accurate as possible.
Track nr. 7 ‘Ek Se Cherry ‘by Lemmy Special and The Mofolo Kids; a conversation between a man and a woman who argue about the man’s infidelity to his wife. The woman tells the man that people in the township are talking about his behaviour,that he is seeing a ‘cherry’ ( a loose woman). The man denies but the woman teases him and tells the man firmly –Ek sê Cherry – ‘I say that you are seeing a loose woman’.
Ek sê, Eksê (Eh-k-s-eh): Afrikaans for, ‘I say’. Used either at the beginning or end of a statement. “Ek sê my bru, let’s braai tomorrow.” “This party is duidelik, ek sê!”
Track nr. 5 ‘Skanda Mayeza’ by The Benoni Flute Quintet translates as such; “Yes folks, the man heard from you so nice as Two Kop Pak. All must raise the roof. Where is it going with you and old Two Kop Pak. Carly from the Kasbahs. There were the day never was a grass. The life was nice like the cabin in the sky. Go Totsi.”
Track nr 8 ‘Broadway’ by Alexander Sweet Flutes translates as such; ” Hey men, have you heard of the Bell -telephone call-? How Edward, how Space and how Azaren can really really mean what the Tow Can dobbo”.
Thanks to Susie Mullins and Kevin for the research and the translation.
See also Your Guide to Cape Town Slang
Awê, get the low-down on the Mother City’s colourful colloquialisms and sayings, ek sê…
Ag (ah-ch): An expression of irritation or resignation. “Ag no man!” “Ag, these things happen”
Awê (ah-weh): A greeting. “Awê, brother!”
Babbelas (bah-bah-luss): Derived from the isiZulu word, ‘i-babalazi’, meaning drunk; adopted into the Afrikaans language as a term for ‘hangover’. “I have a serious babbelas!”
Bakkie (bah-kee): 1. A bowl. “Put those leftovers in a bakkie.” 2. A pick-up truck. “We all jumped on the back of my dad’s bakkie and went to the beach.”
Befok (buh-fawk): 1. Really good, amazing, cool. “The Symphonic Rocks concert is going to be befok!” 2. Crazy, mad, insane. “You tried to put your cat in the braai? Are you befok?”
Bergie (bear-ghee): Derived from berg, Afrikaans for ‘mountain’. Originally used to refer to vagrants living in the forests of Table Mountain, the word is now a mainstream term used to describe vagrants in Cape Town.
Bra (brah), bru (brew): Derived from broer, Afrikaans for ‘brother’; a term of affection for male friends; equivalent to dude. “Howzit my bru!”“Jislaaik bra, it’s been ages since I last saw you!”
Braai (br-eye): Barbeque (noun and verb). “Let’s throw a tjop on the braai.” “We’re going to braai at a friend’s house.”
Duidelik (day-duh-lik): Cool, awesome, amazing. “That bra’s car looks duidelik!”
Eish (ay-sh): isiZulu interjection; an exclamation meaning ‘oh my’, ‘wow’, ‘oh dear’, ‘good heavens’. A: “Did you hear? My brother got into a fight with a bergie!” B: “Eish! Is he hurt!”
Eina (Ay-nah): An exclamation used when pain is experienced, ‘ouch!’. “Eina! Don’t pinch me.”
Entjie (eh-n-chee): A cigarette. “Come smoke an entjie with me.”
Guardjie, gaatjie (gah-chee): The guard who calls for passengers and takes in the money on a minibus taxi.
hhayi-bo (isiZulu), hayibo (isiXhosa) (haai-boh): An interjection meaning ‘hey’; ‘no way’.“Hayibo wena, you can’t park there!”
Howzit (how-zit): A greeting meaning ‘hi’; shortened form of ‘how’s it going?’
Is it?: Used as acknowledgement of a statement, but not to ask a question – as one might assume. Most closely related to the English word ‘really’. A: “This guy mugged me and said I must take off my takkies!” B: “Is it?”
Ja (yaah): Afrikaans for ‘yes’. A: “Do you want to go to a dance club tonight?” B: “Ja, why not?”
Ja-nee (yah-near): Afrikaans for yes-no. Meaning ‘Sure!’ or ‘That’s a fact!’ Usually used in agreement with a statement. A: “These petrol price hikes are going to be the death of me.” B: “Ja-nee, I think I need to invest in a bicycle.”
Jol (jaw-l): (noun and verb) 1. A party or dance club. “We’re going to the jol.” “That party was an absolute jol!” 2. Used to describe the act of cheating. “I heard he was jolling with another girl.”
Jislaaik (yiss-like): An expression of astonishment. “Jislaaik, did you see that car go?”
Kak (kuh-k): 1. Afrikaans for ‘shit’. Rubbish, nonsense, inferior, crap or useless. “What a kak phone.” “Your driving is kak.” 2. Extremely, very. “That girl is kak hot!”
Kwaai (kw-eye): Derived from the Afrikaans word for ‘angry’, ‘vicious’, ‘bad-tempered’. Cool, awesome, great. “Those shoes are kwaai.”
Lekker (leh-kah): 1. Nice, delicious. “Local is lekker!” 2. Extremely, very. “South Africans are lekker sexy!”
Mielie (mee-lee): Afrikaans term for corn, corn-on-the-cob.
Nee (nee-ah): Afrikaans for ‘no’.
Naartjie (naah-chee): Afrikaans term for citrus unshiu, a seedless, easy peeling species of citrus also known as a ‘satsuma mandarin’.
Potjie, potjiekos (poi-kee-kaws): Afrikaans term for pot food/stew comprised of meat, chicken, vegetables or seafood slow-cooked over low coals in a three-legged cast iron pot.
Shame: A term of endearment and sympathy (not condescending). “Ag shame, sorry to hear about your cat.” “Oh shame! Look how cute your baby is!”
Shisa Nyama (shee-seen-yah-mah): isiZulu origin – while shisa means ‘burn’ or to be hot and nyama means ‘meat’, used together the term means ‘braai’ or ‘barbeque’. “Come on, let’s go to Mzoli’s for a lekker shisa nyama!”
Sisi (see-see): Derived from both isiXhosa and isiZulu words for sister, usisi and osisi (plural). “Hayibo sisi, you must stop smoking so many entjies!”
Sosatie (soo-saah-tees): Kebabs, skewered meat. “Let’s throw a few sosaties on the braai.”
Takkies (tack-kees): Trainers, sneakers, running shoes. “I want to start running, again but I need a new pair of takkies.”
Tjommie, chommie (choh-mee): Afrikaans slang for ‘friend’. “Hey tjommie, when are we going to the beach again?”
Vrot (frawt): Rotten; most often used to describe food that’s gone off or a state of being sick. “Those tomatoes are vrot.” “Champagne makes me feel vrot!”
Voetsek (foot-sek): Afrikaans for ‘get lost’, much like the British expression, ‘bog off’. “Hey voetsek man!”
Wena (weh-nah): isiXhosa and isiZulu for ‘you’. “Hey wena, where’s the R20 you owe me?”
Wys (vay-ss): Show, tell, describe. “Don’t wys me, I know where I’m going.”
So, whether you’re asking for directions, engaging with the locals or just eavesdropping in a taxi, let’s hope this guide will give you some insight into what’s being said. And keep in mind, if anyone says “Joe Mah Sah…” just know, it’s not a compliment.
The CD “Congo Jazz” consists of three different parts centered around American hot jazz, Congolese rumba, and gospel. The title is rather misleading, as if the whole collection of music on this CD contains Congolese jazz but this style is only one part of this compilation. The release comes with an extensive booklet describing the music but without a track-list of the artists and titles. This is a major flaw as it is frustrating to listen to music without the possibility of checking the artist or title. A true collector would definitely have added this information. It took me quite some deep diggin’ to find the track-list of the featured mix and I want to add it to this post.
Anyway, I can recommend this CD, it is an excellent compilation despite the missing track-list. The 78 shellac discs have been mastered and mixed together in sets. The atmosphere and the build-up is addictive, the chosen music reflects good taste and style. Certainly a valuable addition to a collection of rare African -and early Afro-American- music.
Ziya Ertekin alias Blue Flamingo, born out of Dutch and Turkish parents, is responsible for this remarkable compilation of rare and sometimes one-off discs. As a collector he hunts for the forgotten sounds and styles from all over the world. He is also a musician and DJ who plays 78 rpm shellac discs at parties and events.
The compilation presents 3 mixes ‘Jungle Crawl’ (1920’s-1930’s Hot Jazz Jungle Exotica), ‘Congo Jazz’ (1950’s Congolese Rumba), ‘That Old Time Religion’ (1930’s-1950’s Jubilee, Gospel & Hard Gospel). The ‘Congo Jazz’ mix is composed from original 78-rpm shellac discs from the former Belgian Congo, where, under the influence of the Cuban son and rumba, one of Africa’s first modern popular music arose.
8. Intro: CONGO DANCES ARE VERY GAY AFFAIRS
9. LA FIESTA CUBANA – Tino Baroza
10. BOLINGO E GAGNE – Orchestre African Jazz
11. BANA T’ATOMIC JAZZ – Kaba Joseph & le Groupe Rythmique Ngoma
12. CANTA DEL NEGRO – Tchade. Mariola & Oliveira
13. ELIE VIOLETTE – Orchestre African Jazz
14. EL RICO CUBAN MAMBO – Orchestre Rock a Mambo
Blue Flamingo – Congo Jazz EXCEL96202
The Congolese developed a wholly unique style of guitar playing that showed great similarities to the way people played the native thumb piano. Dazzling single-note solos were melodiously plucked up and down the thumb piano. This style was perfected when the Belgian guitarist Bill Alexandre, who had performed in Europe with musicians like Django Reinhardt, tried his luck in Leopoldville, and briefly introduced the electric guitar to the region. Congolese music has produced many guitar virtuosos, including Papa Noel, Franco Luambo, Tino Baroza and the man referred to by his admirers as ‘le dieu de la guitare’; Nicolas Kasanda Wa Mikalay, better known as Docteur Nico. On the Congo Jazz -mix, a still very young Nico can be admired on the tracks ‘Boligo e Gagne‘, ‘El Rico Cuban Mambo’ and ‘Elie Violette‘.
“The foundation for modern Congolese music was laid in the 1930s, when the first 78 r.p.m. records, containing music from Latin America, reached the capitals of both Congos. These records were hugely popular with the young urban population, who were completely captivated by this music. Records had reached Central Africa before, but nowhere, not even in early jazz, was their ancestors’ legacy as clearly present as it was in the rhythms of Central and South America. It felt as if a part of Africa was returning home again. It was a homecoming that rooted deeply and fused rapidly with other Congolese traditions into something entirely authentic”
Ngoma remains the most important Congolese record label, as well as one of the most important labels in all of Africa. It was started by two Greek brothers, Nico and Alexandros Jéronimidis, around 1948. Not only did they record well over a thousand discs, the first to capture all manner of Congolese musical styles (the rumba, cha-cha, and solo acoustic guitar picking of course), but they encouraged experimentation by their musicians. Ngoma records were pressed in France and distributed primarily in Central Africa – Congo and Cameroon especially – and as such are, well, impossible to find. Not only that, but all the Ngoma masters were long ago lost in a warehouse fire. As if that wasn’t enough, the company then donated all of its file copies to the Congolese government, only to have those destroyed during political strife.
Georges Edouard and Manuel D’Oliveira, released sometime in the late 40s-early 50s.
All titles on this compilation have been handpicked from the ILAM Archives and have been professionally mastered and restored from the original 78 shellac discs.
The tracklisting represents a wide variety of styles from the golden era of Jive & Kwela, originally released on small independent record companies like Gallotone, Hit, BB and New Sounds. Zulu jive, Sotho vocal, accordion and violin jive to name a few styles…
The compilation features a few rarities by the big names obviously but presents mostly obscure material that has never been heard since the day of it’s original release. Truly music treasures from a long gone past.
Available as CD and LP -180 grams vinyl- formats
Distribution by Rush Hour worldwide from December 5th 2011.
The International Library of African Music (ILAM), based at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, was founded by Hugh Tracey in 1954. ILAM’s collections of Hugh Tracey’s audio recordings, photographs and films are of great importance in preserving and keeping African musical heritage alive.
The Tracey Collection of African traditional musical instruments is housed at ILAM, as is an extensive collection of shellac 78 rpm discs. In addition to his extensive work researching and documenting the music of sub-Saharan Africa,Hugh Tracey advised Gallo, the biggest South African record company, on which records to release. Most of these selections came out on independent labels such as Gallotone, Hit, BB and New Sounds and included Zulu jive, Sotho vocal, accordion and violin jive – styles that were aimed at the burgeoning black market and helped to create a new black identity.
After two years of intensive collaboration with ILAM, Soul Safari proudly presents ‘Township Jive & Kwela Jazz (1940-1960)’, with many rare gems found in the ILAM archives. This compilation brings the dusty and sometimes forgotten original recordings back to life, truly music treasures from a long gone past.
But I wonder if there is enough interest for releasing these rare gems?? As CD format, download or a vinyl deluxe set? Let me know what you think, it’s appreciated.
Over the weekend I spent quite a happy moment going back to the contents of my Karoo-box. A few original 78’s have been on my turntable ever since. Here is a true classic that I like to share; ‘Skokiaan’. Among the artists who recorded the song are Louis Armstrong, Bill Haley, Herb Alpert, Brave Combo, and Hugh Masekela. See also 16 skokiaan versions
The African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia
released as DECCA FM 6142 South Africa, year unknown.
“Skokiaan” was first recorded as a sax and trumpet instrumental by the African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) under leadership of Musarurwa, possibly in 1947. The band comprised two saxophones, two banjos, traps, and a bass. Several tunes played by the Cold Storage Band were recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey in June 1951. On Tracey’s recording, Musarurwa also apparently played for the Chaminuka Band. Musarurwa copyrighted “Skokiaan”, probably in 1952.
Within a year of its 1954 release in South Africa, at least 19 cover versions of “Skokiaan” appeared. The Rhodesian version reached No 17 in the United States, while a cover version by Ralph Marterie climbed to No 3. All versions combined propelled the tune to No 2 on the Cash Box charts that year. Its popularity extended outside of music, with several urban areas in the United States taking its name.
the full wiki-story of the origins of the song + charts here
Partly museum dedicated to Ghanian Highlife on shellac 78’s, partly education cultural centre and music recording studio. Run by John Collins who collects photographs, newspaper clippings, old record covers, a unique collection of shellac records and an extensive selection of traditional and modern musical instruments. Bokoor House is also the home of a library and music practice rooms and a private label, ‘Bokoor Beats’ on which many original Highlife music treasures are been re-released.
2. See Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal in concert
Together with the French cellist Vincent Segal, Ballaké Sissoko
pushes the limits of new musical territory at the intersection of Malian court music and jazz. The CD “ChamberMusic” is their joint effort and clearly a good indication of what a live concert by the duo
and their musicians promises to be.
See a live registration at the Rhino Festival 2009, Lyon France
3. Visit ILAM, Grahamstown, South Africa
ILAM (International Library Of African Music) is the home of the Hugh Tracey archives and a vast collection of traditional African music instruments on show. The small CD store on the grounds of the institute has a great selection of releases like, ‘The Music Of Africa’ by Hugh Tracey , produced by him in the early 1960’s as on off-shoot of his 218 volumes ‘Sound Of Africa’ series, in order to present African music to a wider audience. ILAM has re-issued, without modifications, the original LP series in CD format. SWP Records, the label of Michael Baird, is also part of their catalogue.
Good day to all. Two discs landed on my doormat last week. Two shellac discs I had bought from a German dealer who acquired these in the 70’s from an old record shop in Cape Town. Alas, the man hadn’t packed very well… The first record came in it’s full glory while the other was completely broken in two neat parts. Poor packaging results into this…
It hurts my soul to see a broken record …ouch! but playing the pristine shellac soothed the feeling of loss.
From the original 78 rpm, featured here and now is Mqonga Sikanise, an obscure artist of Xhosa origins who sings and plays the concertina on this recording.
Singing is not the right word I guess, it is more a myriad of shouting, yodeling, grunting and stomping vocals. A wild style of telling a story, accompanied by the same instrument some tribes use in their dancing, like the Amadoda, grown men from the Xhosa tribes who tell their stories with instruments like the concertina.
The recording was probably done in the field by Hugh Tracey for his “Sound Of Africa” series in order to present African music to a general audience. Parts of the Hugh Tracey field recordings were released commercially as shellac discs in the early 1950’s by Gallotone Records, South Africa.
Last March in South Africa I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Baird, an Englishman born in Zambia, living in Holland. He was playing percussion with some fellow musicians around a campfire during a braai, celebrating the birthday of a friend. Our meeting was a pleasant surprise as I had reviewed one of the CD’s which Michael releases through his label SWP Records, ‘Lesotho Calling -lesiba & sekhankula music’ (SWP 033). See my post Sounds & Basotho songs from Lesotho
I became even more fascinated by the fact that Michael also re-releases the famous Hugh Tracey field recordings that are part of the ILAM archives in Grahamstown, South Africa.
So here is an exclusive interview with Michael Baird about his label, his music and his many travels throughout Africa.
Tell me when you started your label and why?
That was in 1986. I had produced an album’s worth of recordings of my percussion trio Sharp Wood, having spent a lot of time and trouble getting a good sound and performances, and I looked around for a serious label to release it. It was so frustrating – one said “phone back in ten months”, another said “it’s really interesting music, but if only you were the latest thing from New York…..”, yet another said “if you change some things we’ll sell more…..” So I released it myself and we sold the lp ‘Percussion’ at our concerts. In my opinion the existing record business lacked vision.
What is your release policy? You state that SWP releases music that the big companies won’t touch. What makes SWP different from the rest?
SWP stands for Sharp Wood Productions. I release my own music – I am first and foremost a drummer and composer. I want to retain at all times the final artistic responsibility for my music, I don’t want some halfwit money-motivated producer looking over my shoulder telling me what to do! My music is ‘independent’, I think it sounds like nobody else’s. And then there is all the African music I have released: I don’t do it just to make a profit, I do it because I care about the music – and nobody else is releasing it. If SWP doesn’t release this beautiful music, you aren’t going to get to hear it!
You were born in Zambia. Describe your first encounters with the music of that country?
The first encounter was still in my mother’s womb. After that I had a black nanny and she took me down to the compound or village, where singing and dancing is a normal state of affairs, and I’m strapped on her back getting swayed back and forth, you know – music is everywhere in Zambia, because it’s an expression of ‘being together’. I grew up with African music.
What is your most memorable African music experience?
So many. Falling asleep in the evenings as a young kid with drums pounding in the distance. Hearing the magical tinkling of an approaching thumb-piano as the guy accompanies himself while walking through the bush. Sitting-in as a 7-year-old playing the basic patterns with drummers and xylophone players from Zambia’s Western Province. Hearing the thunder of a Rwandan drum ensemble as a 5-year-old. Being totally mesmerized as a 9-year-old by a Chopi xylophone ensemble from Mozambique. All in all, it’s the time patterns, the unity of beat. African music is a communal thing – you can join in if you know the tune or rhythm, but if you mess up you’ll get a clip round the earhole and told to listen!
You describe your style of drumming as ‘voodoo jazz’. Explain
It’s just a name, you know. But it refers to my music as a whole, and not just specifically my drumming. Some German journalist in 1988 wrote a review of a Sharp Wood concert and posed the question: “Is it jazz, or is it voodoo?” Wow, I finally knew what I was doing – I was playing voodoo-jazz! No, I kinda liked it because there is a ritualistic, exorcistic element in my music. Good rhythm is hypnotic, as you know. I try to blend musical concepts from both Africa and Europe into some kind of new music; the tag ‘voodoo-jazz’ will do fine for the time being.
Tell us more about the project The Ritmoloog? How does that fit into your catalogue?
The Ritmoloog Continues – it’s one of my albums, the continuing story of…..Michael Baird. Recorded in 2005, together with guest musicians. I had mixed midi and live playing together already on my cd ‘On Remote Patrol’ in 1996, and I wanted to pursue that. In between I had done other albums – ‘Sirenians’ was distilled from a composition commission for octet and ‘Gongs and Bells’ was all about overtones and sort of buddhists along the Zambesi. But in September I’ll be releasing ‘Ends and Odds’ which is like a continuation of The Ritmoloog concept. The final mixes are just finished, the mastering next week. Now that, folks, is a cd worth checking out! Afro-ambient grooves with weirdness thrown in. I play a lot of instruments on it – kalimbas, keyboards, drums – and again some guest musicians. The new is as old as the world, but I see myself as a ‘modernist’, and all that means is that I am in a position to steal from all over the place. But it definitely is still my soup!
Are you working as a musician or cultural anthropologist?
I am a musician. I am a colonial kid. Zambians say to me, well if your umbilical cord is buried in Zambia then you are a Zambian! All my live music experiences were African until the family moved to England when, as a 10-year-old, my parents took me to see a european classical concert. I couldn’t figure out where the fun was – no sweating, no dust, no masks, no drumming. It was Hugh Tracey’s recordings which inspired me to also make field recordings. I am self-taught as a musician and if I am also seen as an ethnomusicologist, then I’m self-taught there as well. I have thoroughly researched a lot of African musics – by now I know quite a lot about African music, even if I say so myself, but I approach it all as a musician and not as an academic. Let me add that by making field recordings, I practice ethnomusicology – the people working in university departments just teach the theory!
Why release the historical recordings of Hugh Tracey?
When I walked into the International Library of African Music (ILAM) in 1996 at Rhodes University, South Africa, where Tracey’s archive is kept, there was nothing available on cd. His original field tapes were literally just sitting on an academic shelf gathering dust, doing no one any good. Such beautiful music should be made available to the world! You see, if a piece of music moves me, I want to let you hear it. It then turned out that the condition of the old reel-to-reel tapes was pretty bad – after playing a tape through, there was a little pile of red dust next to the magnetic head: the goddamn coating was just coming off! No time to lose – after all, Hugh Tracey’s unique collection of recordings constitutes the musical memory of half a continent. Two years later I released my first four albums in what ended up as a 21-cd series ‘Historical Recordings by Hugh Tracey’. That took the best part of eight years of my life.
Why choose traditional tribal music instead of a selection of contemporary popular music from those countries?
That’s not totally accurate, as I have released two compilations with Zambian pop music from the 60s, 70s and 80s. But SWP releases music that no one else does – I never planned to do my Hugh Tracey series, but because no one else apparantly had the vision to do it, it fell to me to do it. Life is like that sometimes! If the music is already out there on the market, that’s fine, then I don’t have to do it. But if I know about some great music that no one else seems to know or either care about – which often I had had the priviledge to have heard as a child – then I reckon I should release it. On top of that, the traditional music is dying out.
In what way do you feel that it is important to preserve the music that you record?
The music I have recorded in Africa – 4 cds released so far and a 5th coming before the end of the year – is dying out. You see, first the missionaries arrived and forbade the devil’s music, then in the colonial era, into which I was born, there was this incredible arrogance that all African music was primitive, then in the post-colonial era the new governments had the idea that everything Western was superior anyway, and nowadays most countries don’t have the means to care for their cultural roots. ‘Music Conservatory’ is an interesting name because it contains the word ‘conserve’ – there are only very few African countries that conserve their musical traditions.
In what way do you see the loss of traditional society vs the modern industrialised society?
Well, it’s all about cultural diversity. We need cultural diversity on this earth, because the alternative is a mono culture – and that’s a sad place to be. Vive les differences! Once you’ve got people eating the same, they’ll soon all be thinking the same. Yeah, macmadness…..plus there is so much musical genius to be found in traditional music – it took centuries to create it for godsakes. We can learn so much musically from this music, so don’t let it just disappear. I am a contemporary person, I’m not a purist, I like to mix things up, but there is a cultural tragedy going on and we should care about it! If some young musicians from Zambia are making ‘new music’, then I want to be able to hear that they are from Zambia, i.e. that they are creating from their own rich musical roots, and not copying hiphop or whatever. MTV is destructive for local creativity. But I just love the Kasai Allstars from Kinshasa and Jagwa Music from Dar-es-Salaam – examples of new music from the cities but coming from their own roots.
What was the biggest challenge for you to record this music? And the biggest reward?
The biggest challenge is financial. Malaria, crocodiles, paranoid policemen, I can deal with – but I can’t continue making field trips to Africa because it costs too much money. Meaning SWP is not selling enough of those cds! And I don’t get any funding, I have to pay out of my own SWP pocket. Funnily enough, finding funds to continue his fieldwork was also Hugh Tracey’s constant worry throughout his life. It’s a pity – there are trips to parts of Mozambique, Zambia, Congo, Central African Republic, that I would like to do. The biggest reward is the music itself – finding it, and then making a technically good recording of a great performance. They are my music colleagues you know!
What is more important to you; the rhythms or the words/poetry? Words that you may not understand, why do they speak to you?
Words are also sounds. Languages are also music. Mwa-bu-ka-bu-ti! Kaf-e-keni-po-mu-kwai! You don’t have to understand the meaning of a lyric to enjoy the organic whole. However, if a song has a real social or spiritual message, you’ll miss out on it if you don’t get the translation. But for example, one time I heard this great drumming and there were a couple of sentences repetitively sung in the groove – turned out all they were singing was “yes we’re all here, if you are not here, then where are you?” I was already enjoying the music okay, but when I heard that, it brought tears to my eyes. Words can detract from music, but they can also add to it.
Why is it important to save traditional African music for the world?
Because it is so beautiful. Also, in African traditional music you find a collectiveness that you will probably find nowhere else in the world: on your own you are nobody, together we are someone. Now that’s a strong philosophical message which us Westerners with all our individualism can learn from! Historically speaking, we are in a crucial fase as far as African music is concerned, many traditions are disappearing as you read this article. But I’m optimistic – I actually think that the future is African.