10 Africana record covers

Africa has always been a great inspiration for many contemporary artists, designers and musicians alike. No wonder that the record industry in the 1950’s-1960’s sent their best team of designers on safari discovering the great forgotten continent, either for inspiration or exploitation.

This gallery is dedicated to the wonderful art of Africana record covers from my collection.

2 vintage paper record bags from Davidson Bros. Port Elizabeth, South Africa 1950s 

Horst Wende & his Orchestra-Africana (Africa In Rhythm) (Polydor LPHM 46336, Germany)

This record from 1958 released on German Polydor Records showcases the variety of popular musical styles of South Africa re-arranged by producer and band leader Horst Wende, also known as Roberto Delgado.

Horst Wende & His Orchestra -Kwela

The big band orchestra of Wende/Delgado adapted their music to the various destinations of the time when tourism boomed; in ‘Blue Hawaï’ for Hawaï, South American Rhythms on ‘Caramba’, ‘Latin Flutes’ for Bolivia en Equator, while ‘Along Mexican Highways’ was a tribute to Herb Alpert (trumpet) and Julius Wechter (marimba).  The LP ‘Africana’ celebrates the music of South Africa in the 1960s,  originally popularized by local musician Nico Carsten and bandleaders like Sam Sklair and Dan Hill.

The Trans-World Symphony Orchestra-Edmond de Luca’s -Safari (Somerset Records SF5500, USA)

aah…Safari.  I found this LP during my recent Japan trip and was immediately attracted to the title and the fabulous cover. The selection turned out to be a musical safari throughout Africa by The Trans-World Symphony Orchestra, orchestrations based upon classical compositions as ‘Polovtsian Dances’ from ‘Prince Igor’ and ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ by Manuel de Falla. Symphonic shlock to the extreme but man, what a cover!

Prince Onago & Princess Muana & Native Drummers of the Belgian Congo: The Drums of Africa (20th Century Fox S20F-4008, 1959 Japan)

10″ record found in a small shop in Osaka, Japan.

The artwork was designed by Irving Seidmont Docktor who was a prolific artist and educator best known for his work as a book and magazine illustrator in the 1950s and 1960s.

Irv Docktor in his studio in the 1960s, brandishing a paintbrush.
Irv Docktor in his studio in the 1960s

The cover intrigued me as did the story and picture of Prince Onaga and Princess Muana. As the credits say this music was recorded with native drummers of the Belgian Congo, but in reality the recordings were probably more designed for the Silver Screen and the adventure of Stereo.

Prince Onago & Princess Muana & Native Drummers of the Belgian Congo -Flirtation Song

Prince Onago & Princess Muana & Native Drummers of the Belgian Congo -Congo Syncopation

Les Baxter -The Soul of the Drums (Reprise Records – R9-6100, 1963 USA)

no further explanation necessary. In the 1950s and 1960s Les Baxter, the king of lush Hollywood movie themes defined a sound and style that called itself ‘Exotica’. Great cover too…

African tribal masks have always intrigued artists from Picasso to Art Blakey to UK rapper MC Mello.

See also previous post  Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath -1971 

MC Mello -Open Up Your Mind (Republic Records LICT 033, 1990 UK)

Anna Russell -In Darkest Africa (CBS BLD 7084, South Africa)

Anna Russell’s jokes ain’t funny any longer but this cover surely is….those warriors ain’t real Zulu Warriors for sure. That  photograph is oh so politically incorrect nowadays but as record cover art it works as good as it gets.

Nico Gomez & his Afro Percussion INC-Ritual (Omega International 444.022, Holland)

classic! Well searched after for the track ‘Lupita’.

Nico Gomez & his Orchestra -selftitled (Omega International 444.039, Holland)

musically the menu is all cha cha, mambo and Latin trashy sound-alikes but hey, what a funky Afro-hairdo!!

see also Afro baby! a tribute to a funksoulsista and

Blue Elephant -Black Is Beautiful -cover art

African Lament -Miriam Burton, Rites of Passages 1961

here is an extremely rare record that was found on my last African trip;  ‘African Lament’, with a battered cover alas, but what a find! One of the true rarities of wordless Exotica by a moody  lady who’s  up there with Yma Sumac and Leda Annest a.o.

Although ‘Palm Wine Party’ seems to be the best known title, the album holds several great jazz tunes that are far more superior; ‘Rites of Passage’ for instance.

All songs on African Lament (Epic LN 24011 Mono) were composed by Sascha Burland and Pat Williams. Released in 1961 by EPIC Records, US.

Miriam Burton’s vocal performance is outstanding, set in a seductive soundscape of traditional African percussive instruments, flutes, tipples, marimba… a fascinating hybrid sound that expresses the curious co-existence of the old and the new in Africa. And to capture the vibrant spirit, the pain of the African caught in turmoil, Miriam Burton’s soaring wordless vocal obligatos complete the picture.

It is an album of musical expressions of a continent in dramatic transition. Burland writes that he and Williams have made no attempt at ethnic authenticity, but have simply tried to set down musical pictures which relate to certain African facts and folklore.

Titles are

Rites Of Passage pts 1-3


Kalahari Bushmen

Congo Lament

Yoruba Lady


Palm Wine Party

A word about Miriam Burton. With a background ranging from jazz singing to serious Carnegie Hall concerts, Miss Burton has been  touring with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company throughout Europe, making triumphant Broadway appearances in ‘Porgy and Bess’ and ‘House of Flowers’ and performing in several television specials with Harry Belafonte.

see rare pics of Miriam Burton in a collage of ‘Palm Wine Party’

Sam Sklair -Gumboot Dance vol 1 & 2

gumboot vol 1 -side 1

Sam Sklair -Zambesi

gumboot vol 1 cover

Sam Sklair -Gumboot Dance

Of course Sam Sklair did not invent the  ‘gumboot dance’. He merely adapted the rhythms and sounds that are typical for the original style. The origins of ‘gumboot dancing’ can be traced back to the gold mines of South Africa at the height of the migrant labour system and during the oppressive Apartheid Pass Laws. The original name is ‘Isicahulo’ in the Baca language. ‘Gumboot dancing’ was performed by mine workers who worked in the Witwatersrand goldmines near Johannesburg.

Sam Sklair -Gumboot Dance nr 2 in E sharp

At best, working in the mines was a long, hard, repetitive toil. At worst, the men would be taken chained into the mines and shackled at their work stations in almost total darkness.

The floors of the mines were often flooded, with poor or non-existent drainage. For the miners, hours of standing up to their knees in infected waters brought on skin ulcers, foot problems and consequent lost work time. The bosses discovered that providing gumboots (Wellington boots) to the workers was cheaper than attempting to drain the mines. This created the miners uniform, consisting of heavy black Wellington boots, jeans, bare chest and bandannas to absorb eye-stinging sweat.

The workers were forbidden to speak, and as a result created a means of communication, essentially their own unique form of Morse Code. By slapping their gumboots and rattling their ankle chains, the enslaved workers sent messages to each other in the darkness. From this came an entertainment, as the miners evolved their percussive sounds and movements into a unique dance form and used it to entertain each other during their free time.

Sam Sklair -Tula Baba

Gumboot dancing has developed into a working class, South African art form with a universal appeal. The dancers expand upon traditional steps, with the addition of contemporary movement, music and song. Extremely physical, the dancing serves as a cathartic release, celebrating the body as an instrument, and the richness and complexities of South African culture.

Adapted. Original text can be found on www.gumbootsworldtour.com

gumboot vol 2 cover

Sam Sklair -Swingin Safari

Sam Sklair -POP goes the gumboot

Sam Sklair….instrumentalist, arranger, composer

all over the world musicians, arrangers, producers and artists are constantly seeking that “new sound” that is going to set the music world alight. Very few find a sound that is fresh and original, and of those that are succesfull, even fewer produce the sound that catches the fancy of the public.

Sam Sklair -Grazing In The Grass

pop goes the gumboot cover

Sam Sklair -I can’t help myself

When Sam Sklair made ‘Gumboot Dance’ the sound, tailored to fit the African style of the numbers, caught the ear of record buyers in many parts of the world, and the demand for more of the ‘Gumboot Sound’ became irresistible. But first it appeared that another record of African type songs would be essential to give voice to the distinctive rhythms of Gumboot, Sam had different views on the subject and decided to take current ‘pop’ tunes and give them the treatment. The result was ‘Pop goes The Gumboot’, an album that was released in 1969. It features great versions of ‘Aquarius’, ‘Grazing in the grass’ and hits like ‘Swinging Safari’ and ‘I can’t help myself (sugar pie, honey bunch) originally a US smash for The Four Tops. That the ‘Gumboot Sound’ moved so effectively from its natural element to an entirely new medium is not only adequately proved on this record but is also a tribute to Sam Sklair’s sound.

Sam Sklair -Aquarius

pop goes the gumboot detail

A multi-instrumentalist, Sam has scored many feature films, documentaries, and has written for several BBC radio and TV productions. He has recently completed his 10th international album, and has been awarded 6 international gold albums for his work.

See Sam Sklair’s You Tube mini biography