Eureka! tribute to Bertha Egnos

Ah, the joy of a blog! My post on the movie Dingaka has provided more comments and reactions than I initially thought. Thus I was contacted by Lucille Lakier Smith, a lady who claimed to be the daughter of Bertha Egnos, the composer of Dingaka’s original soundtrack. Her mother, together with sister Gail Lakier, created South Africa’s biggest musical hit so far, ‘Ipi ‘N’ Tombi’.

My interest was immediately aroused so I decided to look up the lady in Johannesburg for an interview about her mother and her long career. South African born Lucille Lakier Smith  carries on her mom’s legacy as head of Songé Music Promotions Ltd. and I want to thank her for granting me the interview and her invaluable help with providing the images from her personal archive.

Mommy n Gail color 02130001 comp
Bertha Egnos & Gail Lakier at work

interview with Lucille Lakier Smith, the daughter of the late Bertha Egnos (1912-2003)  –Johannesburg 13th January 2013

“ My mother was born in 1912 in Johannesburg, she must have been 28 when she married  my father Frank Lakier in 1938.  Since my parents were divorced I don’t know much about their meeting, their courting and their marriage. My mother subsequently married Phil Godfrey and they were married until her passing in 2003.

My dad, Frank Lakier owned the Odin Cinema in Sophiatown, the Harlem of Johannesburg and a lot of artists performed there on stage. The cinema was also used for political meetings. From the late 40’s till the mid 50’s, the most popular style of music in the neighbourhood was Sophiatown Jive, that’s when Sophiatown was at its peak.

soulsafari-berthaegnos-sophiatown
Nathan Dambuza Mdlele, the leader of the Manhattan Brothers, in ‘Sophiatown’. Photo Jürgen Schadeberg

 The Odin Cinema featured mainly movies, but they also staged a musical called ‘Sophiatown’. Nathan Dambuza Mdlele, the leader of the Manhattan Brothers, starred in this production when he was just 30 years old. The  cinema was based in one of the main streets of Sophiown. In the 50’s it was a mixed area, very wonderful. It was amazing to see South Africans of all nations (Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, etc), whites, Indians, Chinese and Jews living peacefully together, it was very, very integrated. Of course there was a lot of poverty but everybody lived in harmony. It was amazing.”

After dark, top sportsmen, entertainers and business men flocked to Sophiatown to talk, listen and dance to the newest jazz in the all night shebeens (illegal drinking dens) such as Aunt Babe’s and the 39 Steps.

  “Bertha left school at the age of 12-13 and started her own jazz group. She was a child prodigy, she could do anything on a piano. After leaving school she started her own jazz group and she taught piano for a long long time. She did some recordings when she was 17, at the time of her departure from South Africa for London in 1934 when she worked for the BBC. The songs ‘Whispering’ and ‘Somebody Stole My Gal’ are the only two recordings I have. Unfortunately I broke the original shellac record.” Bertha also performed at a mammoth charity concert at the London Palladium Theatre, at which such famous artists as Gracie Fields and Sophie Tucker appeared. While overseas she studied with Reginald Forsyth, a negro pianist, who gave her a feeling for rhythm that she had received from no one else. Another outstanding player who impressed her was the American pianist Art Tatum, who, though partially blind, had a marvellous technique. These jazz pianists she describes as having the basis of the high training necessary for the playing of classical music. But most of all, these artists nurtured Bertha’s love for jazz and black music.

Portrait Drum Majorette  during WW 2 gecomp
Bertha Egnos as Drum Majorette during WW 2

“In 1917, as a young child she had contracted the Spanish flue, and had landed in hospital where she was diagnosed as terminal, the doctors thought she was going to die. So my grandfather took her home. Her whole life she had trouble with her lungs, with breathing. Lots of times she was dressed warm in furs, I always thought of her as a sickly person. But she must have had the immune system of a horse since she survived the Spanish flue.  She stayed in London for a few years, she couldn’t handle the cold weather in England so that’s why she came back to South Africa after eighteen months.”

In South Africa, during WW 2 Bertha formed the first All Women’s Drum and Bugle Band, she herself being the Drum Major. She went back to teaching and performing and started producing and directing Swing shows. These were charity shows at the end of the 1930’s throughout the 1940’s and the beginning of the 1950’s that were more of the English vaudeville sort of entertainment. Swing shows became very popular at the time in Johannesburg. “

Bertha Egnos Swing 1941 -producer
Bertha Egnos Swing 1941 -producer

swing 2x

So your family was very musical? “Oh yes,  my mom often told me of how her whole family and friends and neighbours would congregate at their home on Banato street in Berea on a Sunday afternoon. My mom and her brother Solly would both play the piano while her other brother Mick would play the violin. In later years, my sister Gail was very close to my mother. They were always together and even worked as a team on several productions. I lived in America for 30 years and I actually got my PHD over in the States and it was only in 2000 that I came back to South Africa. In the last few years I was very close to my mum. She died in 2003. My sister passed away in 2010.”

 Bo-Jungle 1959 stage program

Bo Jungle -Jungle Capers-The Idol of My Life-Bingo Bango Ape Man-Beating of the Drums

After the series of Swing shows Bertha  wrote the musical score and directed ‘Bo Jungle’ , a musical that premiered in May 1959 at the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg. The production was very well received and the success led to co-writing the music for ‘Dingaka’, an ‘all African musical’, that was staged in October 1961 at the Brooke Theatre in downtown Johannesburg.

It made such an impact that later, in 1965, when Jamie Uys started working on his movie ‘Dingaka’, Bertha joined the team and re-wrote some of the original musical scores for the screen version.  The next year she collaborated with the late Percy Baneshik and co-wrote the stage music for ‘Eureka!’.

The story is based on the early gold mining days near Barberton. The discovery of gold in the mountains of the Eastern Transvaal brought a rush of colourful personalities from every quarter of the globe. They built Eureka City in the mountains to avoid the fevers of the lowlands. The ruins of the place can be seen today – a ’ghost town’.

In Barberton a few years later, a barmaid named ‘Cockney Liz’ became famous for her exploitation of the scarcity value of women in her community. She stood up on her own bar  counter to auction herself off to the highest bidder, and received bids as high as R 8000 (UK Pounds 4000 in 1968). The authors brought these two historical facts together in ‘Eureka!’ the rip-roaring town and the beautiful barmaid.

In an interview before the premiere Bertha Egnos said; ‘I have attempted to capture the gaiety and the ruthlessness of those rugged 1880’s but I have given the music a modern beat’.

The Johannesburg Civic Theatre Association brought the London West End singer Pat Lancaster to take the part of ‘Barberton Daisy’ opposite South African baritone Lawrence Folley’s portrayal of Charles ‘Dynamite’ Peters. ‘Eureka!’, the gay South African musical had its first performance at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre on 14th March 1968 under the direction of Anthony Farmer.

Bid Me A Bid -Pat Lancaster & Chorus

Dynamite &  Destiny -Lawrence Folley

Music by Bertha Egnos Lyrics by Percy Baneshik Musical Director: Bob Adams Chorus Master: Donald Elliot Choreographer: Gerard Nel Musical Arrangements: Bob Adams Orchestration: Bob Adams and Jack Bassett

eureka! merged But it was ‘Ipi Tombi’ that proved to be the most successful of all Bertha’s shows. The story tells the tale of a young tribesman who joins that popular drift of rural folk to the big city in search of a better life and his fortune. Instead, he encounters hardships, disappointments and a few joys. The young man is completely disillusioned and becomes homesick, and ultimately returns home at a time when his tribe is preparing for battle in the overwhelming finale…as the Warrior. It was already in 1972 that Bertha and her daughter, lyricist Gail Lakier co-wrote the songs ‘Ipi Ntombi’ and ‘Mama Tembu’s Wedding’ as the two African songs for Eartha Kitt’s tour of South Africa. Although the numbers were rejected by Kitt for being “too upbeat and rhythmic’, Egnos and Lakier were undeterred. They added another eight tracks and released an album called ‘The Warrior’ in 1973. It made a star out of singer Margaret Singana, later versions became known as ‘Ipi Tombi’ and were quite a hit all over the world.

Review Ipi

When the production was staged at West End Theatres in London The Sunday Times wrote: ‘presented with verve and eclat, a technical brillance, a richness of voice in the singing, and excitement and a precision in the dancing….A riot of colour and movement. Every member of the huge cast is superb.’

 Ipi Tombi feat Margaret Singana -Mama Tembu’s Wedding

‘Ipi NTombi’ which means ‘Where Are The Girls?’ swept the world like a jungle fire that couldn’t be stopped. In fact the blaze continued to spread as the musical company toured the United States. “the beat of a different drum…what excitement, vitality and sheer primitive beauty!’ –MIRROR, Las Vegas Again, working under the wings of Bertha, Gail wrote the libretto and lyrics for subsequent stage musicals including ‘Lulu-Wena’ and ‘Sikulu’. Her last collaboration with her mother and also with her sister Lucille, would be for the stage musical ‘Nijinsky –God’s Clown’ which to this date has not been staged. ‘Ipi Tombi -The New Generation’ was revived in 1997.

Bebe Portrait at Piano gecomp
Bertha Egnos -Portrait at Piano

© Soul Safari 2013

South African Soul Divas Pt 5 -Margaret Singana, Lady Africa

Belgian 45 rpm release

  in today’s post I want to highlight the work and the voice of a truly great South African singer who had her share of success but who also suffered from bad luck and discrimination. The tragic story of “Lady Africa”, Margaret Singana.

Her biggest hits are the uptempo boogie tracks ‘Where Is The Love’ and ‘We Are Growing’ and I guess that not many people will be familiar with the soul side of this versatile singer.

Just listen to ‘Cry To Me’ and ‘Stand By Your Man’, both sung in a deep heart-felt bluesy voice and backed by equally great musicians. Margaret Singana delivers and knows how to make these standards her own.

Her irrestible singing style was influenced by American R&B, deep Southern Soul, Black Gospel & Disco. Her vocal abilities can stand the test with those of Candi Staton and even Aretha Franklin, America’s First Lady of Gospel & Soul. But it’s Margaret Singana’s  spirit and voice from deep within that defines the moment and accentuates her African roots.

                                               Margaret Singana -Where’s The Love

Margaret Singana was born Margaret M’cingana in Queenstown in 1938 . As a teenager she went to Johannesburg to look for work in the music industry. She became the first black artist to feature on the white-dominated Radio 5 hit parade. Her version of “I Never Loved a Man The Way I Loved You” became a local hit. But due to strict laws for black inhabitants of South Africa she did not succeed to break through and she became a domestic worker, victimized by the ruthless Apartheid’s regime. Her employer however discovered her musical talent and introduced her to a record company.

The featured single here was originally released as JB001 on Jo’Burg Records, both tracks can be found on the 1974 album “Lady Africa”.

Margaret Singana -Cry To Me

Ipi Tombi -original cast recording

Margaret Singana -Gimme Your Love

Margaret Singana’s big moment came in 1973 with the release of  ‘The Warrior called Ipi ‘N Tombia’, a reworking of the musical Ipi ‘N Tombi written by Bertha Egnos and her daughter, lyricist Gail Lakier.

See also my previous posts hey sista, go sista, soul sista -Township Soul & Boogie Vol 2  and SA movies -1965 OST ‘Dingaka’ by Bertha Egnos

In the following years, she released several other albums in South Africa, mostly produced by Patric Van Blerk which were a success in her homeland, but her performances in Europe yielded. Margaret Singana was nicknamed ‘Lady Africa’. In 1978 she had a stroke, but she recovered and came back. In the mid ’80s, she sang “We Are Growing”, the title song of the television series Shaka Zulu. This song became a No. 1 hit in the Netherlands a few years later. The Dutch released 12″ of Shaka Zulu ‘We Are Growing’ contains the original version, the extended remix and a song that is quite special for Margaret Singana as she sings in her native language isiXhosa, not in English. ‘Hamba Bekhile’ is a traditional song that women sing after brewing beer when they pass the calabash around the thirsty men to sample the brew. It’s also the name of an album that was released in 1978

Margaret Singana -We Are Growing -12 inch Extended Remix

Margaret Singana -Hamba Bikhele

But that hit was to be her final bow and the woman affectionately dubbed ‘Lady Africa’ died largely forgotten in 2000 at the age of 63, crippled and bound to a wheelchair and in a financial situation unfitting a star appropriately.

Let her music and spirit live on.

Margaret Singana -When Will I Be Loved

Margaret Singana -Stand By Your Man

Margaret Singana -She Was A Dancer

sources; wikipedia and http://www.rock.co.za

readers post; Percy Sledge in Soul Africa, a movie by Ashley Lazarus 1971

updated 5th June 2012

reader Stuart Krause wrote some interesting comment on my previous post Percy Sledge in South Africa 1970 and I’d like to share it with you. Keep sending your comments, it’s inspiring and well appreciated. Thanks Stuart!

   by Stuart Krause

there is an LP called Soul Africa featuring Percy Sledge on all tracks. I found it on ebay after looking for quite some time. It was a soundtrack to a film and some of the tracks were recorded at Capricorn studios. Paul Hornsby, record producer, remembers this film being made and says the masters are still on reel to reel tape and stored at Capricorn studios. There are tracks by Percy not found anywhere else, for example “Swazi Lady” and “Sister Soul”, written by Jackie Avery, Capricorn Studios in house song writer. I did speak to Hornsby about this a few years ago, so I did get first hand info. The film was produced by a guy named Lazarus. you cannot find it anywhere. I would say this would be a rare find if you search enough. I believe the album came out in 1971. I have it here if anyone has more questions about it. I’m just glad someone else knows of its existence.

 

Of course I was titillated to find the described album, a soundtrack by Percy Sledge and his band, recorded in South Africa exclusively…17 shows! Not an easy album to track down, I must agree but last February luck was on my side as I went digging into a hospice shop in the Eastern Cape. Between all the nicks and nacks and lots of broken tracks and poor old vinyl,  there it suddenly was; Percy Sledge in Soul Africa, music from the soundtrack recording. It’s actually a film about the soul singer touring South Africa in 1970. Most of  Percy’s worldwide hits can be heard, although live creates another vibe, another energy.

Most of all it contains a few really funky tracks, unusual James Brown -type-o-sound like “Yeah Baby (You’re The Love I Know)”, “Soul Fire” and the groovy, funky instrumental “ The First Time “. Percy and his band getting down!! And  ‘Soul Fire’ is perpretated by the true Zulu spirit, with tribal chanting in a steaming 7 minutes version. Can you feel it?!!

Percy Sledge in Soul Africa. Music from the soundtrack recording

Filmed and directed by Ashley Lazarus.

 

A1 Swazi Lady

A2 Yeah Baby (You’re the Love I knew I’d find)

A3 When A Man Loves A Woman

A4 Help Me Make It Through the Night

A5 Soul Fire

B1 Sister Soul

B2 Cover Me

B3 To Bring My Love To You

B4 Knock On Wood

B5 Come Softly To Me

B6 The First Time (Instrumental)

 

The idea of making this film started at Mbabane in Swaziland, where a film crew from Aka Productions in Cape Town shot Percy Sledge’s entourage and the last concert of the tour.

Sledge held concerts for 17 weeks, breaking all records in South Africa from Mouille Point to Mbabane. He captivated audiences throughout South Africa when he threw back his head, started jiggling with microphones and sang unforgettable numbers like  ” Come Softly To Me”,  “When A Man Loves A Woman”, ” Knock On Wood” and ” Soul Fire”.

The concert at Swaziland was the last for Sledge, but the start of Soul Africa, which may prove an even bigger legend than the live Sledge.

When Sledge left South Africa, Ashly Lazarus and two men armed with cameras went to Zululand, the Kalahari Desert, Mashonaland, the Okavango Swamps and Botswana, and in three weeks completed the filming.

The recurring theme of Soul Africa is the contrast between the original Soul of Africa and the sophisticated Soul of the American singer. Music is in the animals and birds of Africa, explains photographer Billy Crauser. Also in the desert, the sands of the Kalahari and the scorching heat.

Ashley Lazarus spared no trouble on this film. His camera swings from the magnificence of the Swazi Independence celebrations to the ritual slaughtering of an ox, from a sangoma and the bones to a bushman rubbing sticks to make a fire, from the dazzling spotlights on Sledge’s stage to insects making love.

In the end, the Swazi tribal drummers and the dancing flames in front of the rostrum join Sledge and his crew in the blue mood soul throb of ” She’s a Gentle Swazi Lady” and “Soul Fire”.

 excerpts from the liner note of “Soul Africa” -Percy Sledge  -Atlantic ATC 9366 South Africa 1971

Almon’s Jazz Eight -The Mayfair Soul -Almon Memela

Almon Memela is a South African guitarist who started recording music in 1959. His early career included performances at the legendary Dorkay House, gigs for the United Artists’ productions of King Kong, Mhobelo and he worked for the soundtrack of “Dingaka”, produced by Jamie Uys. See also my previous post on the original soundtrack of  Dingaka.

His very first recording with The Travelling Singers in 1960 sold enough to ensure a steady flow of singles and albums. In 1963 he formed his group, Almon’s Jazz Eight.

The Jazz Eight’s line-up included amongst others, Henry and Stanley Sithole (who joined the group around 1966) and Bunny Luthuli (in 1968). In 1969 the Sithole Brothers formed the Heshoo Beshoo Group before they and Luthuli established the Drive in 1971.

 

Memela and his group The A.M Stragglers recorded ‘Soul Bandit’ for Little Giant earlier in 1969.  Here’s a funky single from 1971, ‘The Mayfair Soul/While My Guitar Cries’, (Little Giant, 1971)  produced by Clive Calder.

 Almon’s Jazz Eight -The Mayfair Soul     

 Before he worked as a producer, Calder played in local bands in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a UK based record executive and is also known as the businessman who co-founded the Zomba Group and its subsidiary Jive Records, an important outlet for hip hop and rap.

Bo Jungle -1959 SA musical by Bertha Egnos

here is part two of the tribute to Bertha Egnos, one of South Africa’s grand old ladies of movies and musicals. See also my previous post OST Dingaka 1965 for more music and info on her career.

South African-born Egnos (1 January 1913-2 July 2003) was a talented musician in her own right who performed in London during the 1930s as a jazz pianist. During the Second World War she returned to South Africa, where she led the armed forces’ drum majorettes.

During the apartheid years she was a regular performer at the legendary Dorkay House venue in downtown Johannesburg, where black and white musicians defied the country’s laws by performing together under one roof.

Commissioner Street Empire theatre 1955

The Empire Theatre was situated in Commissioner Street (corner Kruis Street) diagonally opposite the Colosseum Theatre.

It was built during the mid-1930’s and formed part of the African Consolidated Theatres chain. It was used during the 1950’s and 1960’s alternatively as a live theatre venue and presented such Broadway smashes as ‘My Fair Lady’ (with Diane Todd) ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Fiddler On The Roof’. It was also the Johannesburg home of the fabulous minstrel shows devised by Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke.*

‘Bo Jungle’ was written and produced by Bertha Egnos while the music was by George Hayden who also played the organ. The show premiered at the Empire Theatre, Johannesburg in May 1959. It must have been an answer to the all black cast musical ‘King Kong’ that had it’s premiere that same year and became a huge international success.  ‘Bo Jungle’, however, remained an obscure production that raised only a few curtain calls in Jo’Burg theatres.

At first impression  ‘Bo Jungle’ has links to ‘King Kong’, even the cover  has the same graphic elements. But that is the only similarity, ‘Bo Jungle’ is an all white singing and dancing affair. It must have been quite a hilarious showdown of all the clichés in white South African culture; the black man as bingo bongo ape man beatin the drums and playing the flute on a streetcorner.

The cast features no black musicians nor players and the music is based on  the tradition of English Variety and Vaudeville rather then typical black South African music like jive, mbaqanga or kwela. Although one kwela type of track is featured; ‘Kwela Rickshaw’ by The Nu-Tones, sung in Zulu by an all white cast!

Bo Jungle -Kwela Rickshaw

‘Bo Jungle’ is a rather amusing selection of bel-canto vocal numbers, cha cha, calypso and even rock ‘n roll with the odd kwela tune thrown in for the local character.  Above all this record is a historical document of white South African culture in 1959.

Bo Jungle opening medley -‘Jungle Capers’/ ‘The Idol of my life’/Bingo Bongo Ape Man/Beatin of the drums’

Bo Jungle -Jungle Rock

*Contributed by John Ferreira

SA movies -1965 OST ‘Dingaka’ by Bertha Egnos

good day to all! Over the last  week or so the  attention over here has been focused mainly on musicals and soundtracks from our favorite 50’s & 60’s South African movies.  Served here today are some highlights, a few unusual works of Bertha Egnos, one of South Africa’s most underrated and forgotten composers. A remarkable talent that produced one of  South Africa’s most succesful musicals ever and many scores for movie soundtracks, plays and pop music that crossed over to the hit parade. But how well remembered is Bertha Egnos??
A Google search for a picture of the lady did not turn up anything! Not even some documentation on her long career in movies and musicals was found although Bertha Egnos was quite famous back in the 60’s and 70’s.  I believe the time has come to reconstruct a few bits and forgotten parts of her long career. Here’ s part one…
In a previous post‘An African Lullaby (tula baba)’ from 1963 by Eva Madison and the Bertha Gray Singers was highlighted. It is a traditional South African folk song that mothers sang to put their babies to sleep. It was re-written and adapted for the soundtrack of the movie  ‘Dingaka’ by Bertha Egnos who was making a name for herself earlier with musicals like ‘Bo Jungle‘ in 1959 and who would later become responsible for the musical ‘Ipi Tombi’.
In 1972, Bertha Egnos and her daughter, lyricist Gail Lakier, produced ‘Ipi Ntombi’ and ‘Mama Tembu’s Wedding’ as the two African songs for Eartha Kitt’s tour of  South Africa. Although the numbers were rejected by Kitt for being “too upbeat and rhythmic”, Egnos and Lakier were undeterred. They added another eight songs and released an album called ‘The Warrior’  in 1973. Later versions became known as ‘Ipi Ntombi’, or even more simplified as ‘Ipi Tombi’.
Sure, from a critical point of view,  these  shows sentimentalized and celebrated the life of the rural ‘native’. This form of theatre in South Africa confirmed white attitudes and prejudices and is blatantly paternalistic in the long colonial tradition. But nevertheless, ‘Ipi Ntombi’ showed the world South African Zulu tribal culture at its best and popularized this at a time when Apartheid still ruled the Union.

The musical sequences featured on the soundtrack of ‘Dingaka’ were personally selected and edited by South Africa’s star actor-director-producer Jamie Uys.  The soundtrack was written by  Bertha Egnos, Eddie Domingo and Basil Gray. From a musical point of view, this soundtrack recording is without a doubt one of the most valuable contributions ever made to the ever-growing library of authentic African music. The songs reflect the colour, the driving rhythm, the vast panorama of sound and music which add up to what novelist Stuart Cloete once described as being ‘the song of Africa….the song no white man will ever sing’.
Dingaka tells the story of a tribesman, Ntuku Makwena, who avenges the murder of his daughter according to custom tribal laws. His act of revenge leads him to be tried under government laws, where justice for black people does not exist. The film stars Ken Gampu, Stanley Baker, Juliet Prowse and Bob Courtney.
excerpts from the original liner notes of ‘Dingaka’ Gallotone GALP 1385 released in 1965

the original soundtrack of ‘Dingaka’ can be found here

a VHS is available on eBay (updated 16th January 2015)

Cast “Dingaka” 1965

Stanley Baker -Tom Davis

Willem Botha-Court Clerk

 Bob Courtney-Prison Chaplain

 Ken Gampu-Ntuku Makwena

 Gordon Hood-Prosecutor

Alfred Jabulani-Mpudi

Paul Makgob-Masaba

Daniel Marolen-Priest

Sophie Mgcina-Choir Soloist

George Moore-Legal Aid Society Secretary

 Flora Motaung-Rurari

 Siegfried Mynhardt-Judge

 Hugh Rouse-Bantu Commissioner

 Jimmy Sabe-Leadsinger

 John Sithebe-Witch Doctor

 Simon Swindell-Doctor

 Thandi -Letsea

 Clement Mehlomakulu Tlhotlhhalemji-Priest

 Fusi Zazayokwe-Stick fighter

 Director

Jamie Uys

 Producer

Jamie Uys

Writer

Jamie Uys

Original Music

Eddie Domingo

Bertha Egnos

Basil Gray

The Bleached Zulu pt 2 -OST “Tokoloshe” Sam Sklair

thanks to our friends at LP Cover Lover for spreading the gospel about Sam Sklair. I’ve had feedback from a lot of places that I never could have expected. Find the  original posts with MP3’s here Sam Sklair -Gumboot Dance vol 1 & 2 and here  Sam Sklair -POP goes the gumboot

Sam Sklair certainly deserves his title as  ‘Bleached Zulu’ for he not only re-worked traditional Zulu and other South African songs into pop charting material in the 60’s and 70’s but he was also composing for TV and movies with an African theme.

For ”Tokoloshe”  (The Evil Spirit), an independent  movie  produced in 1965, by director Peter Browse,  Sam Sklair composed the soundtrack and  played traditional instruments like the kalimba (m’bira), chopi piano and slit drums together with classical and jazz musicians for the recording sessions. While these instruments play a major role in Sam Sklair’s arrangements he has avoided using them in any traditional sense. There are no ‘jungle music’ clichés but he uses these instruments rather in a way that juxtaposes or blends their primitive sounds with the complex tones of a modern orchestra. Cast includes Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi … Zulu Chief, Sid James … Blind Man, Saul Pelle … Boy, Jimmy Sabe … Witchdoctor



excerpts from the original liner notes of ‘Tokoloshe’  (1965) Teal TL 1136

about tokoloshe

Anyone from Africa, particularly southern Africa will be familiar with the tokoloshe and even those who scoff at its existence will have their beds elevated on bricks just to be sure that the dwarf like tokoloshe can’t reach them while they sleep.
Once the ‘tokoloshe’ is explained to non-Africans they soon recognize this creature. He is the European version of a goblin, gremlin, leprechaun, water sprite, faerie or demon. Whenever something goes awry it is the tokoloshe who is to blame. The tokoloshe is a short, hairy, dwarf-like creature controlled by witches, from Bantu folklore. It is a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by swallowing a pebble.


The penis of the tokoloshe is so long that it has to be slung over his shoulder. Thus sexually well endowed, the duties of the tokoloshe include making love to its witch mistress. In return, it is rewarded with milk and food.
The witch keeps the tokoloshe docile by cutting the fringe of hair that hangs over its eyes. The way to get rid of a tokoloshe is to call in the n’anga or witch doctor who has the power to banish him from the area. Witch doctors make a magical substance from the body of a dead tokolosh, which makes the tokoloshe visible and paralyzes him, allowing the witch doctor to kill him. This ‘muti’ is sold throughout Africa as protection against tokoloshes and the genuine article leaves a cold mark on the skin where it is rubbed in.

excerpts from an original text by Safari Newsreel. Photo’s by Aiden Chole


the Bleached Zulu

By the dawn of the 1960’s the impact of Zulu music and their culture had reached a worldwide audience, with the release of movies like ‘Zulu’ and popular records that incorporated some of the essential African elements without  giving credits to the originals. Think of ‘Wimoweh/The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and the picture becomes clear.

The banner ‘Zulu’ was merely added for commercial purposes and served the entertainment industry like a watered down, bleached version of a Zulu original. Now here is a collection of records, all with a Zulu-theme, released in the 60’s and mostly produced in South Africa. Music that is galaxies away from the real thing but still worthwile in its own right.

the soundtrack from the epic 1964 movie ‘Zulu’ by John Barry, directed by Cy Endfield and starring Michael Caine, Stanley Baker and Jack Hawkins.

John Barry Zulu OST -Stamp & Shake

John Barry Zulu OST -The Monkey Feathers

A selection of Zulu Stamps are found on the B-Side of the soundtrack LP. These Zulu Stamps stem from an idea by actor Stanley Baker and are actually pop-reworkings of some of the main themes that Baker and director Cy Endfield thought would be a good commercial move to release.

If you are drawn to this disc with hopes of hearing any of the Zulu warriors singing as they gather for battle you will not find any such tracks here.  The Zulu Stamps are amusing though and entertaining. Later to be  released as part of The John Barry Seven catalog.

in 1964  the Zulu Stamps were re-created  by The Monkey Feathers, a Jo’Burg studio group that launched a new dance craze ‘The Zulu Stamp’. The titles on this EP are a  bit more rough than the Barry OST originals although they stay close to those arrangements , adding a touch of Shadows, stomping with additional Zulu vocals.

The Monkey Feathers -Big Shield

The Monkey Feathers -Zulu Maid

The Shangaans -Liwa Wechi

‘Liwa Wechi’ is the missing link between African tribe music and the Western world. Sounds like The Yardbirds with Shaka Zulu as lead singer.

The Petersen Brothers belong to one of the oldest theatrical families in South Africa, and are really brothers. The Three Petersen Brothers are versatile and polished artists, and have appeared on stage, in variety and as cabaret artists in every major town in South Africa, in addition to regular radio programmes. With the presentation of ‘On Safari’, their first LP recording, The Three Petersen Brothers invite the listener to go on a musical Safari through Africa. Through the hills and valleys of Zululand one can hear a song like ‘Fanagalo’, originally a hit for The Woody Woodpeckers or dance to ‘The Joh’burg Samba’ before packing bags to journey into a lovely valley in ‘Pondoland’.

The Petersen Brothers -Fanagalo

The Petersen Brothers -Joh’burg Samba

The Petersen Brothers -Pondoland

Joseph Marais, who had a popular radio show ‘African Trek’  reviews some of the folk songs of South Africa and drastically re-writes the original lyrics of  ‘The Zulu Warrior’, a tradional Zulu war cry. This war cry was first adopted by South African Forces during Word War 2 and the conviviality that usually accompanied its singing in various canteens throughout the world, popularized it with American G.I.’s. Many US veterans will testify to the fact that ‘I-Zig-A-Zimba…hold ’em down you Zulu Warrior’ climaxed many a boisterous evening spent in the company of their South African comrades-in-arms.

Joseph Marais & Miranda -The Zulu Warrior

Now hear the same song in the version by Sam Sklair, South African composer and conductor who scored many film, radio and television documentaries. In addition to arranging and conducting this happy blend of Africa and the West, Sam himself plays all the African instruments on these tunes. See also my previous post on ‘Gumboot dances’ by Sam Sklair.

Sam Sklair -The Zulu Warrior

King Kong -Original London Stage Cast 1961

king kong UK LP voorkant

King Kong 1961 -King Kong

King Kong 1961 -Damn him

…in a previous post I have highlighted the original South African stage production and LP release of “King Kong, All African Jazz Opera“. Now here is an alternative version released in 1961 that surprisingly  has far more production numbers and new songs than the  original play and LP of 1959

Recorded in Johannesburg , South Africa by the original cast of King Kong, without Miriam Makeba, whose musical opened at the Princes Theatre, London, on 23 February 1961, after having taking South Africa by storm.

princes theatre london
The Princes Theatre, London UK 1961

The sleeve carries this message on the back:  “No theatrical venture in South Africa has had the sensational success of King Kong. This musical, capturing the life, colour and effervescence – as well as the poignancy and sadness – of township life, has come as a revelation to many South Africans that art does not recognise racial barriers.”

King Kong 1961 -In the queue

King Kong 1961 -Gumboot Dance

Décor and costumes for the King Kong musical were by Arthur Goldreich, who also designed the LP cover. Goldreich was a leading architect and visual designer living in Johannesburg, a Jewish Communist who was arrested by the Apartheid regime in one of the clampdowns in the early 60’s.

King Kong 1961 -Crazy Kid

King Kong 1961 -Wedding Hymn

Also the orchestral arrangements and vocals have been altered, probably to suit European tastes and preferences and to add more drama and dynamics to the new stage version. The credit “Jack Hylton presents” on the cover seems to have been added simply as some assurance of quality entertainment. Later pressings of this LP have the subtitle ‘All African Opera’ without mentioning the word ‘Jazz’…

king kong UK LP voorkant

King Kong hoes 1961 achter

King Kong 1961 -Be smart, be wise

King Kong 1961 -Sad times, bad times

Jack Hylton presents ‘King Kong’ Decca stereo SKL 4132 UK first issued 1961

King Kong, the first All African Jazz Opera 1956

King Kong is of course one of the most famous movies ever made, involving a big ape being transported to New York from an obscure island. But in 1956 in South Africa King Kong became the first all African Jazz Opera starring Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers with Kippie Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela among others.

Miriam Makeba

Between the conception of ‘King Kong’ and the actual premiere of the musical lay 3 years. In  1956, the syndicate of African Artists commissioned Todd Matshikiza’s ‘Uxolo’, a work on a massive scale  for choir and brass band. Todd Matshikiza wrote great choral works, using a brass band because it was impossible for him at that time to get access to a full orchestra. He wrote in a certain way because he was a man who interacted with jazz musicians, understood what genres were all about….

Matshikiza wrote the music and some lyrics using as much African lingo as he could.  ‘King Kong’ was situated in a township in the heart of the White kingdom and blacks were shot at sight at nine by the police, especially if they were talking some lingo.

Nathan Mdeledle played the title role with Miriam Makeba,the female lead as  the shebeen queen,  Joyce, who presides over the legendary Back O’the Moon drinking den.

A fourteen piece orchestra backed the sixty-three member cast, the cream of the era’s modern jazz players. Among them was reed player Kippie Moketsi, whose contribution to modern jazz led to comparisons with Charlie Parker.

The musical was produced by Ian Ephriam Bernhardt,  the manager of Dorkey House as I was informed by his son Brian Bernhardt recently.

Back O’the Moon

The show opened on 2 February 1959 at the Wits University Great Hall and was an immediate success; the white Star newspaper called it ‘the greatest thrill in 20 years of South African theatre-going’. In South Africa, it repeated packed runs over the next two years before securing a London booking for early 1961. By the time the company left for London,  200.000 South Africans had seen King Kong. Two-thirds of them were white. The music of ‘King Kong’ was also favorite amongst the punters of  the Jo’burg shebeens and listeners to black radio stations all over the country.

The origins of South African theatre can be found in the rich and ancient oral tradition of indigenous South Africans – the folk tales around the fires, with their drama, and an audience ranging from the very young to the very old. Performances on stage came much later. In the townships, particularly in Johannesburg’s vibrant Sophiatown, an eclectic performance culture developed, drawing on American, English and African cultural traditions and involved comic sketches and acting as well as jazz, singing and dancing.

King Kong -All African Jazz Opera, music by Todd Matshikiza, lyrics by Pat Williams, book by Harry Bloom.

cast king kong copy

Todd Matshikiza with members of the original cast at work

band king kong

The real King Kong

From time to time, in every country in the world, a figure emerges from the masses –pulled up usually by his own bootstraps- and catches the imagination and affection of the people. King Kong was such a person. Mostly they are tough guys and flouters of authority, but often they have courage.

King Kong, more prosaically Ezekiel Dhlamini, was a Zulu from Vrijheid. Dhlamini’s meteoric rise to the top of South African boxing dwindled into lost bouts, drunkenness, off-ring violence and murder. He knifed his girlfriend when she arrived in a club surrounded by rival gangsters. He asked for the death sentence, but got 14 years hard labour – and drowned himself in March 1957 at the age of 32;  a perfect story for the first township musical. He was a bully, and a braggart and was recognized as such in the townships. Yet they cheered him. He brought colour, vitality and excitement into their lives. And hope, too.

King Kong

Kwela Kong

If a man could work himself up to be a heavyweight champion and have the crowds roaring their delighted heads off as he jumped flamboyantly over the ropes into the ring, perhaps they, too could somehow manufacture this sort of adulation for themselves.

Uncontrolled and violent in temper, the downward slide began when a middleweight champ –a puny man by comparison- knocked him out in the ring. The unthinkable had happened.

Sad Times, Bad Times

When King Kong staggered up that night from the canvas he was not the same man. Some people had laughed, actually laughed when he was floored. Thereafter he went about beating up anybody with the suspicion of a jeer in the face.

In a brawl the leader of a much-feared gang lay dead, felled by King Kong’s fists. The plea was self-defence, an he was acquitted. But the next he was in court the charge was murder. She had been his girl friend.

It was the night the had hired a hall for the dance. The girl arrived followed by a gang who forced their way in. There was a fight. The girl was knifed. Above the din the tremendous voice of King Kong roared; ‘send for the police’.

And when they came he stood there, the knife still in his hand. He refused to drop it and was warned that action would be taken unless he did. He refused again and firing began. He appeared at a preparatory examination into an allegation of murder and was committed for trial. Eccentric to the last –he pleaded guilty. In February 1957 he was sentenced to 12 years of hard labour.

‘No’, he cried out. ‘I tell you to sentence me to death’. The judge rebuked him and repeated ‘twelve years hard labour’. What good would that do, King Kong asked, in stopping other people from killing.

He was sent with a labour gang to Leeuwkop. There is a vast dam there. One day, within a short time of being sentenced, he leapt far into it.

Two days passed before they could find the body. King Kong was about 32.


about Todd Matshikiza

Todd Matshikiza, who composed the music of ‘King Kong’ was commissioned in 1956 to write a choral work for 200 voices and orchestra for the Johannesburg Festival, the result being ‘Uxolo’.

A musician of exceptional gifts, Matshikiza was born in Queenstown and has his early education at St Peter’s, Rosettenville. He matriculated from Adams College and then studied at the Lovedale Teacher’s Training College. For some time he taught at Lovedale High School.

He is one of a family of 10, all of whom are either singers or instrumentalists. His father was a church organist. He started to play the piano at the age of six, and music has absorbed him ever since.

Todd Matshikiza made his home in Johannesburg in 1947, and in the past 11 years he has turned his hand to many things other than music. In between composing choral works and songs –many of which are heard regularly over the radio in the township-he has been bookseller, messenger boy, hotel waiter and journalist.

Quickly in Love

His newspaper career began in 1951 when he joined the editorial staff of ‘Drum’ under editor Anthony Sampson. He wrote vigorous, colourful prose, and the way he played with words was not without its own kind of music. Sampson in his book ‘Drum’ pays warm tribute to the part that Matshikiza played in helping to establish the magazine.

about Pat Williams

Pat Williams, lyric and scriptwriter, is a journalist of wide and varied experience. She started on the Cape Times at the age of 18, then joined the Sunday Times, where she wrote specialized articles on a wide range of subjects under her own name. For more than a year she was the newspaper’s film and theatre critic. Ms Williams has a natural flair for writing verse, both light and serious, and her delightful pieces have appeared in most of the major newspapers of the country.

credits king kong

Original liner notes from “King Kong, All African Jazz Opera” Original Cast 1959

(Gallo GALP 1040, South Africa)

excerpt from “Soweto Blues” Gwen Ansell Continuum 2004

 the South African and UK release of 1961 ‘King Kong’ is still available as second hand vinyl.  Check out the following link