Dorothy Masuka was one of the great South African jazz singers of the 1950s. Together with Dolly Rathebe and Miriam Makeba she became an iconic singer and writer of memorable tunes like Pata Pata, Kwawuleza and Into Yam. Many of her songs were recorded by artists like Makeba.
“ Her music was the soundtrack of some our most joyful moments, the light of or souls during our darkest hours” said Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s Arts & Culture minister following her death.
Masuka had been suffering from complications related to hypertension, after having a mild stroke in 2018. One of her last stage performances was at Winnie Mandela’s funeral in that same year.
Go Go Suffering
Dorothy Masuka was born in 1935 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Her parents migrated to South Africa when she was 12 years old. Despite her parents’ disapproval, Masuka dropped out of school at 16 to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer.
She signed a deal to record with Troubadour Records and after a spell with the African Ink Spots she left for Zimbabwe to join The Golden Rhythm Crooners. But she was soon on her way back to Johannesburg and in the train she penned ‘Hamba Hamba Nontsokolo’ loosely translated as ‘go, go suffering’.
The song became her biggest hit and one of the most popular songs of the 1950s. It is regarded as an African classic and remains her signature tune to this day. By 1953, when she was 18, Masuka was already a fully fledged professional musician and, along with Makeba and Hugh Masekela, she toured with Alf Herbert’s African Jazz & Variety Show and with the musical King Kong.
She also performed with the Harlem Swingsters in the mid-1950s and endeared herself to a wide audience with her provocative compositions that riled the apartheid regime. In 1961, the Special Branch seized the master recordings of her composition ‘Lumumba’ which paid tribute to Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Congo. She also dared to write a political song about the then Prime Minister Dr Malan and was exiled for over 30 years. In Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and the UK Masuka campaigned for the liberation of SA through her music.
After many years working as a flight attendant for Zambian Airways, she returned to South Africa at the beginning of the 1990’s. A few years later she was a recipient of the Order of Ikhamanga Silver from the SA government. Dorothy Masuka was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in the US in 2002.
It’s official folks! Soul Safari is proud to announce the release of our second compilation in collaboration with the International Library of African Music (ILAM), Grahamstown, South Africa. 18 rare gems of Township Jive & Kwela Jazz from South Africa recorded between 1930-1962.
Official date of release; November 18th 2013
Available now in LP, CD formats and iTunes downloads!
18 tunes of raw kwela and pennywhistle jive, great rhythm & blues, accordion jive and vocal jazz; true messages of joy and hope recorded between 1930-1962 in South Africa.
6 Quintet Special -Benoni Flute Quintet (1930) 2’.59”
7 Ek Se Cherry -Lemmy Special and the Mofolo Kids (1960) 2’.28”
8 Broadway -Alexander Sweet Flutes (1960) 2’.55”
9 Jacko Mambo -Aron & Pieter (1956) 2’.41”
1 Ziyavuma Mambo -Aron & Pieter (1956) 2’.34”
2 Baya Ndi Nemeza -The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba (1962) 2’.31”
3 Paulina -The V Dolls (1940) 2’.14”
4 Egoli -Mighty Queens (1940) 2’.17”
5 Sala Sithandwa -Mighty Queens (1940) 2’.10”
6 Teku Special -Richard Nombali (1960) 2’.22”
7 Nozipho -Ndlovu Brothers (1960) 2’.16”
8 Ubundibetelantoni -Sample Siroqo (1960) 2’.34”
9 7-2-7 -Kid Ma Wrong Wrong (1940) 2’.15”
Most “African” recordings from 1930 -1962 in South Africa were issued only on breakable 78 shellac discs and poorly locally distributed in an era when Apartheid ruled. Few hundred copies a title perhaps found a home, if one was lucky to possess a record player.
The surviving discs landed mostly in collections and sometimes in air-conditioned archives, never to be played again. Until now, that is. A new chapter is here; volume 2 of Township Jive & Kwela Jazz, compiled by Eddy De Clercq for this blog.
Feel the energy of pennywhistle jive by The Benoni Flute Quintet, a group that had a big hit with their recording of ‘Skanda Mayeza’ in 1930. The tune was originally recorded as a vocal and The Benoni Flute Quintet picked up the tune on their penny whistles; their playing of it established the tune as one of the all time favourite with the Africans. On this compilation the original humorous spoken intro is kept intact, later versions were released without this spoken intro.Hear the battle of wild basslines in ‘Ek Se Cherry’ by Lemmy Special with vocal group The Mofolo Kids (1960). ‘SesirInyembezi’ is a superb Zulu cover version of the American original doo-wop hit ‘Book Of Love’ (The Monotones) by The Batchelors featuring ThokoTomo (1962)
Or listen to the delicious vocal harmonies of ‘Flying Jazz Twist’ by Twisting Sisters, a vocal group who were popular enough in the 1960’s for Gallo Records to release two hot sides on one platter. In 1956 Aron & Pieter did the mambo, African style while the festive upbeat vocal swing of ‘Tshidi’ by Martindale Stars (1960) remains timeless.
All recordings were prepared and mastered from the original 78 rpm shellac discs as found in the archives at ILAM in Grahamstown, South Africa. The goal was to clear the dust and dirt of decades gone by, while preserving the original dynamics and keep the sound as little altered as possible.
Words can not describe the sensation of compiling yet another collection of jive and kwela jazz shellac 78’s that were found in the ILAM archives in Grahamstown, South Africa.
Most “African” recordings from the fifties and sixties in South Africa were issued on 78 shellac discs and only compiled to LP for the “overseas/white” market in very limited quantities. So one can imagine how rare these records actually are.
The selection of Volume 2 of ‘Township Jive & Kwela Jazz’ features 18 songs that were recorded between 1930 to 1962. Most of these were no big hits, only The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba and The Batchelors featuring Thoko Tomo are the better known names on this compilation.
The latter knew some local success with their Zulu translation of an American Doo Wop original; ‘Book Of Love’ by The Monotones, a one-hit wonder, as their only hit single peaked at #5 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1958. ‘Sesik’Inyembezi’ was also released as an ep on New Sound XEP 7025 where the two tracks of the original single by The Bachelors comprise the B side. The A side is by The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba. Interestingly the front of the ep sleeve features a photograph of and mentions only The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba – suggests that The Bachelors were very much the lesser act in sales potential.
All recordings were prepared and mastered from the original 78 rpm shellac discs as found in the archives at ILAM. The goal was to clear the dust and dirt of decades gone by, while preserving the original dynamics and to keep the sound as little altered as possible.
Here is a sneak preview of some of the selections that can be found on ‘Township Jive & Kwela Jazz Volume 2”. Full tracklist + mp3 review to be revealed in my next post. Do check it out!
following Dolly Rathebe’s film career,her fame as a singer increased. Before there was Miriam Makeba, Dolly was the lead singer of the Manhattan Brothers and she recorded her first tunes with them.
She says: “It was a hectic time because I also worked with the Harlem Swingsters and toured with the African Jazz and Variety Show.”
At that time, Dolly was under contract with Alfred Herbert, a creative organiser who arranged many concerts and who was a driving force behind the popularization of South African jazz. It was Herbert from whom Dolly Rathebe learned the tricks of the trade. She became the star of the show because of her silky singing and good looks. Her legs were considered so beautiful that a metaphor was coined for them. ‘It’s dolly’ meant ‘it’s wonderful’ and was an abbreviation of the Afrikaans ‘s’Dolly se boude’ (it’s Dolly’s tights).
At the start of the 50’s, Herbert had an extensive series of jazz concerts arranged as the African Jazz Parade, a series of numerous performances and concerts, ending years later in Kenya as the African Jazz and Variety Show. During this period that show became somewhat of an institution inSouth Africa. The theatres of Johannesburg were sold out and the show went on tour around other main cities of South Africa and across the African continent.
The musicians all travelled by train and formed bonds and friendships during those long tours away from home. Inspired by the successful JazzTrain in the United States, a special tour to Durban was organized. The most important musicians of the South African jazz scene from that era were onboard this train. On a Wednesday morning in June 1955 the Jazz Train left Johannesburg, full of fans, musicians and groupies, on their way to Durban.
Dolly Rathebe posing for an ad for Max cigarettes in 1951.
Photographer Jurgen Schadeberg. “I took this photo in theWerner studios in Johannesburg to promote a cigarette brand. It was one of the first images of black people who were used for commercial advertising.”
Dolly Rathebe on the beach 1952. Photographer Jurgen Schadeberg.
Excerpt and photographs from the book
‘Familieverhalen uit Zuid Afrika, een groepsportret’ by Paul Faber
KIT Publishers, Amsterdam and Kwela Books Cape Town 2002.
Their sound drew on American ragtime, jive, swing, doo-wop, as well as African choral and Zulu harmonies. The group, formed in 1946 in Johannesburg, was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, during the Apartheid Era. Members of the group included Joe Mogotsi, Ronnie Sehume, Rufus Khoza and the late Nathan Mdledle. Miriam Makeba, who went on to international fame, started her career with The Manhattan Brothers and was part of the group for much of the 1950s. Even Dolly Rathebe joined the group for national tours and performances.
Recording their first singles in 1948, the group quickly became superstars in their homeland. The Manhattan Brothers were accompanied by the finest musicians in South Africa. Their band, which was led by composer and saxophonist Mackay Davashe, featured saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, drummer General Duze, and pianist Sol Klaaste. The band later added Hugh Masakela and Jonas Gwangwa and was renamed the Jazz Dazzlers.
Joe Mogotsi died on 19 May 2011 in Johannesburg, following a long illness.
*this article contains excerpts from a biography by Craig Harris
It’s official folks! Our first compilation in collaboration with ILAM is now being prepared for release. Soul Safari presents Township Jive & Kwela Jazz (1940-1960) celebrates the 3rd year of Soul Safari so far. Imagine 135 posts and still counting…
All titles on this compilation have been handpicked from the ILAM Archives (the International Library of African Music), in Grahamstown, South Africa. The tracklisting represents a wide variety of styles from the golden era of Jive & Kwela, originally released on 78 shellac discs from small independent record companies . The compilation features rarities by the big names obviously but presents mostly obscure material from a long lost past. Recorded from the original 78 rpm’s and professionally restored/mastered with artwork to match.
A limited edition of the album in CD format and deluxe 180 gram vinyl pressing is confirmed for October 2011, exclusively distributed by Rush Hour.
In a previous post I have highlighted the work of Miriam Makeba after her departure from South Africa to the USA. As an artist in exile Makeba became an even bigger star then she had ever been before in South Africa. But how many people will realise the fact that Makeba was already a big star in her country of birth in 1959 before her departure? That she had performed in a movie ‘Come Back, Africa’ singing one of her signature tunes? That she had recorded as a solo-artist on Gallotone Records and later with the Skylarks for the same label? Note the advertisement on a Gallotone 78 rpm sleeve for a release by Mariam Makeba ‘Pass Office Special -Hoenene’ (GB 2134).
She had made a name for herself in her early career as singer with the Manhattan Brothers and in the beginning of 1956 –about two years after she had joined The Manhattan Brothers- Sam Alcock, Gallo’s black talent scout, asked Miriam to form a ‘girlie group’ for recording. He wanted to compete with the success that rival labels like Troubadour were enjoying with similar material and particularly with the Quad Sisters who recorded for Trutone, another rival. Miriam recruited her sister Mizpah and a friend, Joanna Radebe, and two songs resulted which were issued as The Sunbeams on the Tropik label, a Gallo affiliate
The style that so interested Alcock was hardly indigenous although there is a tradition of group female singing in some South African tribal cultures. The line of influence was rather, like so much urban black music in South Africa from that period, taken directly from American popular. In the 1930’s, the white Boswell Sisters enjoyed a tremendous popularity as a jazzy, close harmony trio (they had grown up in New Orleans at the same time as Louis Armstrong and the development of early jazz).
The Boswells drew upon Tin Pan Alley pop and contemporary Afro-American vocal styles, religious and secular, that had evolved from traditions developed under slavery. Their success spawned in turn the Andrews Sisters in the 1940’s and the McGuire Sisters in the 1950’s, and all three groups became well known in South Africa through imported recordings. At some point, perhaps by the Second World War, this style was being copied by black female trios on Johannesburg’s concert stages with vernacular lyrics eventually substituting for the English originals. In the 1940’s groups like the V Dolls and the Twisting Sisters had already enjoyed commercial success as ‘girlie groups’ but it would take another decade before female singing groups would become popular with record companies and the general public as well.
By the mid -50’s when the Quad Sisters were at the height of their popularity, ‘girlie groups’ were already regarded as a black show business tradition. The Manhattan Brothers, too, had assimilated virtually identical American roots. They modelled themselves after the Mills Brothers –who had come to international fame in the 1930’s by updating the same Afro-American traditions- and then later, after the equally famous Ink Spots. As the 50’s progressed, the Manhattan’s music came to incorporate more indigenous elements but they had originally become famous by singing American originals in Sotho or Xhosa.
The first Sunbeams record sold well enough to soon warrant the girls’ return to the studio but this time the songs were issued on Gallotone and the name of the group was changed to The Skylarks. On this second session, Mizpah dropped out because of work commitments and Mary Rabotapi joined. By the time Mary joined Miriam’s new group, she had already recorded several discs under her own name and was regularly singing on advertising jingles.
Mummy Girl Nketle, a good looking girl from Sophiatown who could sing well on stage, was the next addition. Miriam had discovered her fronting a group called the Midnight Kids. Her elder brother, ‘Boetie’, a gangster and a member of the notorious Americans, was briefly married to Dolly Rathebe. See my previous post on Dolly Rathebe who recalls her years as a gangster moll. See also my previous post South African Soul Divas pt 3 Dolly Rathebe, Mabel Mafuya, Nancy Jacobs, Eva Madison
According to Mary, the idea of expanding the group to four voices had a practical rather than musical basis, if one member was absent, the requirements of a trio were still provided for. Then, Joahnna Radebe left and a coloured singer from the West Rand, Helen Van Rensburg, came in. She was in turn replaced in late 1957 by Abigail Kubeka from White City Jabavu.
There was an underlying reason for these personnel changes. “It was all Miriam’s doing”, recalls Mary Rotapi, “she was the boss”. Miriam held the recording contract and she was the eldest, a position from which authority had traditionally emanated in African society. There was a feeling that the younger girls were being entrusted to Miriam’s care by their families. Mary adds “Miriam wants hard workers. If you’re slow on your feet, she’ll take somebody else…I was a lucky one. She never got rid of me!” Needless to say, these circumstances often make it impossible, some 35 years later, to exactly determine who was singing on the earlier sessions, but with the arrival of Abigail, the situation stabilized. The line-up of Miriam, Mary, Abigail and Mummy Girl, occasionaly supplemented with Nomonde Sihawu as a fifth voice and Sam Ngakone singing bass, would produce all of the Skylark’s biggest hits such as “Hush”, “Inkoma Zodwa” and “Hamba Bekile” amongst others.
Just how popular were the Skylarks? Unfortunately, no sales figures for the group’s recordings have survived to reveal the true extent of their success. In fact, sales were somewhat irrelevant to the recording artists of that era because they were paid on an ‘outright buy-out’, flat fee basis. Only with the institution of the royalty system in the early 1960’s would the number of ‘units’ sold become a matter of concern. Nevertheless, because of the frequency with which they recorded, the Skylarks discs must have sold very well indeed, perhaps in the region of 100.000 copies or more for the most popular numbers.
In a short history of little more than three years, the group cut well over 100 sides, almost all of which were issued. Few artists of the time could equal that number and certainly no other vocal groups, not even the Manhattan Brothers whose fortunes declined somewhat towards the end of the 50’s.
And then of course, Miriam Makeba played Joyce as a character in the original black cast of the musical “King Kong”. By the time she left South Africa, she had already built a name for herself that would open doors in the United States of America.
‘Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks’ -African Heritage -Teal Records 1991 TELCD 2303
this article contains excerpts from the liner notes by Rob Allingham
Good day to y’all. Great was my surprise when my good friend John from PE in South Africa walked in with the record ‘Kwela with Lemmy’.
This 10” record contains 8 tracks by rather obscure Kwela artists like Little Lemmy Special and Big Joe, Solven Whistlers, Specks Rampura. Even greater was my joy when the same day I went digging for vinyl at the local charity shop and discovered the album ‘Something New From Africa’.
The tracklisting of this album is almost identical to the 10” and further inspection learned that ‘Kwela with Lemmy’ is the South African release as 10” record of the album ‘Something New From Africa’ that came out in the UK in 1959 as an extended album with 10 songs instead of 8.
At the start of the album you will hear the Solven Whistlers say ‘something new in Africa’; that was logical enough as for when the record was made Kwela was only just emerging from its origins on the street corners of Johannesburg, and its appearance in Europe was scarcely thought of. That it went through a fad stage once it had arrived in the UK is understandable, for Kwela was seized upon by the craze manufacturers who were at that time making a rather untidy job of burying rock’n roll and were looking for a successor. But the fad was quite a small one and Kwela, as a vogue, went the way of calypso and the mambo. But that doesn’t mean that Kwela was completely finished; like many other musical form which does not fit into the main scheme of popular music, it has it’s following, it’s own special character and an important and interesting place in the history of South African popular music.
musical selections from the album ‘Something New From Africa’ Decca Mono LK 4292, released in the UK in 1959
‘Kwela With Lemmy’ Gallo GLP 119 released in South Africa in 1959