In one of the grandest hotels in the world, born of and to luxury, today you enter ‘at own risk’. More than 2500 people live there without water or electricity. They have taken possession of the building and manipulated not only the stones but also the dreams. A journey through present and past of a city in a city; a story about colonial megalomania, revolutionary vanity and feeling at home.
The Grande Hotel Beira was a luxurious hotel in Beira, Mozambique built by entrepreneur Arthur Brandão. It was open from 1954 to 1964, after which the holiday resort was used as military base and prison in the Mozambican Civil War. It has since fallen into disuse, and is currently home to numerous squatters, who have stripped the building of construction materials to provide a limited source of income.
Its failure wasn’t completely because of the revolution or government rule but the construction and maintenance costs were too high and they didn’t receive enough guests because of more affordable and better located competition.
In 1964, after ten years of operation, the Grande Hotel was closed by the Companhia de Moçambique. The construction costs were three times more than the original budget, and the hotel never made any profit. The anticipated number of wealthy guests never came and the workforce was too large for the amount of guests actually received. Every elevator, for example, had its own operator present. The hotel needed a lot of maintenance to keep it in its luxurious condition.
In several documents it was claimed that the reason for closure was the refusal of the regime to grant the hotel a casino permit. Any realistic estimation would have predicted the failure of the hotel. The white residents of Southern Africa couldn’t afford this level of luxury and Beira was not known, internationally, as a prime holiday destination for wealthy people. Destinations like the Bazaruto archipelago at Vilanculos, the Mediterranean city life style of the Mozambican capital Lourenço Marques, the South African Krüger national park and the Victoria Falls in Rhodesia where more famous across the world.
A cheaper alternative to the Grande Hotel was the Ambassador Hotel. This hotel opened just after the inauguration of the Grande Hotel and was preferred by business people because it was situated in the Baixa (downtown) area, where most of the business offices were located. Remarkably, Arthur Brandão was also the owner of this hotel.
In the 1930’s African Jazz Music became an important feature in the lives of many urban Africans and some remarkable talent began to emerge in Johannesburg.
In 1952 the Union of Southern African Artists came into being with the dual function of promoting the talent that had already been shown to exist in the musical and dramatic field and to act as an Artist’s Equity. The union promoted Township Jazz concerts which were the first large scale African entertainments to be presented in the capital of South Africa, and arranged for white and non-European audiences to see and hear a wide range of entertainment by black and colored artists.
South African Institute for Race Relations presents African Jazz and Variety
The Woody Woodpeckers -Fanagalo
Fanagalo is a pidgin or simplified language, based primarily on Zulu. It is used as a lingua franca, mainly by workers in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mines.
This rare 10″ includes two songs by The Woody Woodpeckers, a group around songwriter and musician, Victor Ndlazilwane, who was awarded the Metro FM Lifetime Achievement award in 2006 in South Africa. During his early career, Ndlazilwane was part of the legendary Woody Woodpeckers group as well as the Jazz Ministers, both of which were signed to Gallo Record Company. The Jazz Ministers were the first African jazz band to perform at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival in New York.
King Jeff & His African Jazz Troupe -Rock Around The Clock
At the end of the 40’s and mid-50’s when Rock ‘n Roll swept through the world like a tsunami, a bleached derivative of American Jazz and R&B music was popular in South Africa. Black and white musicians, singers and performers catered for the refined taste of the well heeled visitors and sophisticated dancers that frequented the big hotels and nightclubs of the big cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. There existed a circuit of hip hangouts and palaces of nocturnal pleasures; theaters, nightclubs, bars and restaurants where live music was an extra attraction to the fine dining and luxurious surroundings. Valet parking included. But the jungle rhythms of the American originals were a wee bit too adventurous to serve as a soundtrack for an exquisite night out at The Colony Hotel or The Beachcomber. So more musicians, singers and bands turned towards the then popular sound of the Mediterranean countries like Italy or Portugal. Many landed in Johannesburg , the city of gold & diamonds where riches and fame was to be found aplenty.
Such a nightclub/restaurant was Franco’s, located in downtown Johannesburg. The nightclub was a famous hangout for the city’s well-heeled crowd, musical entertainment consisted mainly of evergreens from around the world, sometimes local songs were included in the repertoire. A mixed bag really, something you can dance to or just listen to in the safety of a segregated environment.
The Beachcomber in Durban and The Grand Hotel Beira in Mozambique were similar hangouts, where well-to-do visitors from Portuguese Angola, the Belgian Congo or the Rhodesias could unwind on a dream holiday. Or they came to make a business deal, or simply to be entertained by the best of performers around.
The Three Petersen Brothers and Nico Carstens and his Orchestra
The Three Petersen Brothers, Mervyn, Basil and Andy, are really brothers who belong to one of the oldest theatrical families in South Africa. They are versatile and musically gifted, touring the country, appearing on stage, in variety and as cabaret artists in every nightclub in South Africa, in addition to regular radio performances. ‘On Safari’ is their first LP recording together with the famous Nico Carstens Orchestra.
from the original liner notes by Anton De Waal of ‘On Safari’ Columbia 33JS 11011 South Africa
Three Petersen Brothers -Voom-Ba Voom
Three Petersen Brothers -Pondoland
Three Petersen Brothers -Jo’burg Samba
Nigel Crawford with the Gold Diggers
“Gold Rock (You’veGot to Dig, Dig, Dig for Gold)” isthe title of a 78 rpm by Nigel Crawford with the Gold Diggers. The song explains why a small settlement in Gauteng could grow into the famed capital of ‘eGoli’, a Zulu word meaning “place of gold”. Johannesburg could not be bettered as an appropriate locale for the story of all those who came starry eyed to the big city, chasing a dream.
Nigel Crawford with the Gold Diggers -Gold Rock
Nigel Crawford with the Gold Diggers -Hamba Lala (African Calypso)
John Massey and his Warriors -African Rock ‘n Roll
This is part two of an exclusive Q&A I had with Viviana. Thanks so much for the memories.
Last Night At The Mikado –Q&A with singer Viviana…Part Two
Q-did any black artists performed in Jo’burg nightlife around 1965? Was jazz music popular in the circuit you worked in?
A- a few black artists performed, but not many. I didn’t know most of their names and frankly personally I only saw a few, one of them was Hugh Masekela. As musicians we didn’t differentiate with races, and accepted talent and technique only. It was different with the laws of the country, but to all of us it never made any difference. I know they were required to enter the premises from the back door, but the clients liked them very much. As for jazz venues, I don’t recall any specific one, but I do remember a combo with Hennie Bekker (piano), Johnny Fourie (guitar), Johnny Boshoff (bass), Tony Moore (drums) they played excellent fusion and being good musicians they eventually played and produced at SABC. I worked with all of them on one nighters, shows and functions later on after they disbanded
Q-were there any specific discotheques/places for dancing or only restaurants with dancing facilities. How safe was it to go out at night?
A- I don’t remember many discotheques except Bella Napoli in Hillbrow. Every restaurant had a band and everywhere you could dance till very late. Nobody had any problems walking around at any time at night. It was extremely safe. In fact until 1983/84 Johannesburg was still safe enough, as I remember walking in Hillbrow to go to Fontana’s to get a roast chicken at 3am, in my jammies. At that time the guys from club 58 (gay club) used to come to my flat and wake me up when they finished working, so we would make coffee and go and get food.
Q-what neighbourhoods of Jo’burg were frequented for the nightlife? Around Market Street, around the theatres?
A-Mainly the scene was in Hillbrow , Market Street, Joubert Park and Downtown. Now all these places are impossible to go to, very dangerous, and have deteriorated dreadfully.
Q-I understand that lots of the music that was featured in the restaurants/nightlife was called ‘Continental’. French, Italian, etc. Why do you think that was? Was there a certain taste for European music? Was any typical South African music performed?
A- Continental music was extremely popular and I guess I was lucky to arrive at that time as I did not have to make many changes to my repertoire. I don’t know why, or who started the trend. I guess also the Latin-american trend in movies was to blame. Typical South african music, and by that I mean afrikaans was not considered trendy enough for clubs. But there were a lot records in Afrikaans. The one modern band that was upcoming was Rabbit, they were young and rock, but they were sort of “squashed” by the media, Trevor Rabin was in that group. Eventually they left the country and I see that Trevor writes a lot of huge movie soundtracks in the USA.
Q-you mentioned Bez Martin, a saxophone player. I do own a record by him “Shuffle With Bez, Cha Cha with Martin” on which he plays cha cha and shuffle styles of music. Were these styles played a the nightclubs/restaurants mainly or were there more styles of dancing that were popular at the time?
A-Bez was a friend for many years and I did many functions with him at the Superbowl in Sun City many years later as well. Continental music was played everywhere, but also we played a lot of swing and American classics. Whatever came from the States and we heard on the Radio, we rehearsed in the afternoon and played the same night.
A-were your bookings for a longer period or for just one night?
Q- I was always booked with a minimum 3 months contract or longer. Although we did one nighters on our night off (Sunday). Weddings etc. We worked very hard, I still can’t believe I had all that energy and still had time to party some nights after work.
A-were you touring the country and working the circuit?
Q- After Johannesburg I went on the circuit, and that means you can never take a holiday, as the bands change every 3 or 6 months (I did stay in some Hotels for a year and longer) we had an agent Maurice Fresco (after Keleti) and he kept on booking us from place to place for many years. Only top 5 stars Hotels.
Q-what about Lourenco Marques in Mozambique. What sort of nightlife entertainment was on offer? Were the records released by the bands/singers manufactured as a souvenir or commercially released by the record companies?
A- I know Rene’ worked at the Polana Hotel, that was very famous and came to South Africa after working in Mozambique and Angola, that was also a swinging place. I am not aware of records released commercially, but I really don’t know.
Q-have you ever performed in Afrikaans speaking places of interest. Like Loch Vaal Hotel?
A- I have never performed in Afrikaans speaking places. I only did a concert once on a sunday with an Afrikaans band, it was in a huge tent and in a little dorp (village, place) outside Johannesburg. Frankly I should have kept on doing those concerts as everyone that sang there became extremely famous in the country. Lol.
Q-does any of these places ring a bell?? The Beachcomber in Durban. The Caravelle in Johannesburg. The Balalaika Hotel – a popular country type of hotel/restaurant-. Franco Italian restaurant in Johannesburg. Tiffany’s Restaurant in Commissioner Street, Jo’burg.
A- Yes all of them, very famous. I ate at Franco’s often and got special treats (being Italian and speaking the lingo) I did sing at the Balalaika on occasions, and then much later we did a contract there for 6 months, but not in the 60s, in the 70s.
Q-have you ever heard of a singer called Eduardo Jaime? He was Portuguese and very famous in South Africa if I’m well informed.
A-Yes I met Eduardo, he was working with Rene’ at the Mikado before me, I believe I got the job because Dan called Rene’ when him and Eduardo were having a lot of differences and Eduardo just got fired. Rene’ and Eduardo were both very fiery. They were partners in crime though when it came to parties and girls. Yes he was Portuguese. I have no idea how long he worked at the Mikado.
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.
João Maria Tudella was born in Lourenço Marques, he studied at the Coimbra University in Portugal. He first won renown as a Fado singer, but has shown himself to be equally adept at dance band music and proved himself in several recordings to be a gifted young singer.
On this remarkable rare album ‘Uma Casa Portuguesa’, released by Gallotone at the end of the 50’s, João returns to his Portuguese roots. The selection of songs are all compositions by Artur Fonseca who is responsible for writing the classic song ‘Uma Casa Portuguesa’, best known in the version by Amalia Rodrigues and hundreds others. A rare photograph of Artur Fonseca together with Tudella at the piano graces the cover.
At the time of the release of this album Fonseca was working as musical director of the Radio Clube of Moçambique, based in Lourenço Marques, nowadays Maputo. Then the capital and biggest city of Moçambique, a thriving Portuguese colony, Lourenço Marques attracted many South Africans for busines and holidays. Gambling and the luxurious entertainment offered at the casinos were other main attractions. The many hotels of the city offered regular gigs to the many visiting artists from Portugal and South Africa. See also Cabaret at The Moçambique.
The doors of popularity opened to João Tudella because of his two successes ‘Kanimambo’ and ‘Hambanine’, which were real hits in the field of popular music. These two discs put João Tudella in the hit parade around South Africa and in Moçambique, the land of his birth.
On this album well known South African bandleader and arranger Dan Hill, great friend of the composer Fonseca, accompanies pianist João Tudella with a small quintet.
my search for the history of the sophisticated nightlife in South Africa and in the 50’s and 60’s continues with this post about the Carlton hotel, Johannesburg SA.
The social and cultural history of a city is reflected in its nocturnal entertainment. More than that, nightlife represents the beating heart of a society in progress.
Today, many of the places and buildings mentioned here on these pages are lost or were demolished for new buildings. So only distant memories remain and then this collection of obscure records. Music by local bands that played the lounges and restaurants of grand hotels in South Africa, Mozambique and its neighboring countries Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
The Carlton hotel, part of the Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg -now a 50 stories high skyscraper – was once the hub of entertainment in Johannesburg , a place where the rich and famous stayed and the locals came to dine and dance.
The history of the Carlton, which opened its doors in 1906, is the history of Johannesburg.
Towards the end of the last century the lure of gold drew thousands of people to the Witwatersrand; people who were content to live in tents and shacks whilst they sought the precious metal. Soon the great mining houses began to rise and the mining camp began to shape into a town and the inhabitants craved for comfort.
Among the many brilliant and enterprising men who came to win wealth from the Reef were three men from the Kimberley Diamond Fields. They were Barney Barnato and his two nephews, Solly and Woolf Joel. Barney, already a diamond millionaire conceived the idea of building a luxury hotel in Johannesburg. The Hotel was to be called the Carlton and the site on which it was to rise was in the center of the minining town where it stands still today. At the time of Barney’s decision there was a boom, but before the plans for the hotel were completed there came the Great Crash. Owing to Barney’s untimely death the building of the Carlton was temporarily delayed.
Following the end of the war at the turn of the century, a revived spirit of optimism led people’s thoughts once more to the Carlton, which the Barnadot-Joel Mining Company was determined to build. Excavation of the site was begun and the public became aware of the luxurious and ambitious plans for the hotel. This was not going to be a Victorian affair with red velvet, lace, antimaccasars and oil lamps. It was to have air conditioning, elevators and electric lights from the hotel’s own power plant -all these luxuries being advanced features in those days. Elegant furnishings and furniture from one of
London’s most famous establishments, and napery, crockery and cutlery were ordered from world-renowned houses.
At this period there was virtually no manufacturing industry in South Africa. Every item for the hotel had to be imported. To co-ordinate and expedite the delivery in South Africa of the valuable and varied articles, the hotel company chartered a recently launched Union Castle Liner, the Cluney Castle. With the furnishings came the chefs, the waiters and service staff.
On February 20 1906, the Carlton, South Africa’s first luxury hotel was opened. The people were ready for it. Beautifully gowned women and well-tailored men filled the restaurants and lounges. From the moment of its opening, the Carlton became the rendezvous of people of good taste and discrimination. It became not only the social center of Johannesburg, but the meeting place of financiers, diplomats and business executives visiting Johannesburg. Built, as it was, in the heart of the town which was just shedding the mining camp atmosphere, where roads were still dusty tracks in winter and muddy paths in summer, the Carlton, with its new look, glittered like a palace. Within it was the magic of luxurious comfort, superb cuisine and unrivaled service such as Johannesburg and South Africa had never experienced before.
The most memorable day in the history of the Carlton came in 1947 with the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The Carlton served as headquarters for the Royal Family during their sojourn as guests of the city.
The Carlton closed down at the end of 1963 only to re-open in 1972 as a 600-room hotel, but sadly closed in 1997 due to the high crime rate in the downtown area of Johannesburg. Today it stands empty, the outside entrance barricaded off to try and stop squatters from occupying the building.
An outstanding feature of the Carlton has been the exotic ‘Mediterranean Room’. This mecca of pleasure seeking diners and dancers has for several years been the highlight of Johannesburg night life. Since its inception the ‘Mediterranean Room’ has featured top Continental bands who have, to a large extent, set the fashions for Johannesburg’s musical taste. The present group ‘Renatino di Napoli’ are a fitting climax to sad departure from the Johannesburg scene of a superb night spot.
Today’s record is the LP “Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli from The Mediterranean Room, released in 1963.
Renatino di Napoli was born in Naples in 1938. Whilst still a boy his artistic feeling and musical qualities were very apparant. His group’s first dates were in the beautiful Neapolitan towns and environs of Capri, Ischia and Sorrento. The group then progressed rapidly to Rome, Turin, Milan and San Remo, always playing and interpreting the best that the Neapolitan songs have to offer the world.
“Last Night At The Carlton” with Renatino de Napoli
The Colony was located in the luxurious Hyde Park Hotel, downtown Johannesburg. The nightclub was a famous hangout for the city’s well-heeled crowd who came to dine and dance. Musical entertainment consisted mainly of evergreens from around the world, sometimes local songs were included in the repertoire. A mixed bag really, something you can dance to or just listen to.
On this album ‘An Evening at the Colony’ from 1963, a live recording, Sam Sklair is being presented as a versatile musician, as he plays the clarinet, piano, saxophone, bass, flute and vibraphone. Furthermore, Sam is a proficient vocalist and almost as versatile in languages; he sings in Spanish, French, Italian, Greek and English.