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

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