SA Jazz -Black Ink -the missing link

Good day to all. On my last South African trip, last January,  I unearthed an LP by a group called ‘Black Ink’ or is that just the title of the album? Sipho Mabuse, Alex Khaoli and Selby Ntuli, members of South African group Harari are featured as composers and players…

This album was released in 1975 on an obscure label DJ Productions, a few years before Harari was formed out of the Beaters. In my opinion, this LP may be the missing link between those two groups, since practically the same people play on ‘Black Ink’. But is it just a studio album of moonlighting pre-Harari members or was it a ‘real’ group?

I could not find any information on this album, nowhere. So I decided to get some answers from the source and contact the management of Sipho Mabuse directly. Via via, I got a name and e-mail-address of one Martin Myers who apparently claims to represent Sipho Mabuse, and who said I could mail my questions to him. For 2 months now I have been trying to get answers….

I mailed, waited, mailed again and again and finally decided to phone the number in Cape Town.  A grumpy old man who turned out to be Martin Myers, answered the phone.  He promised me that ‘I could expect the answers in a few days-pleasure-bye’ but so far,  nothing has been received. No sign of life from that side.

Maybe Sipho simply never received my questions? Was my request for an interview ever passed on? Or is Black Ink just another unimportant album that Mabuse does not wants to remember? Who knows? Even the discography on his own website does not mention this album.  Too many maybe’s  and if’s!  So I decided to stop asking for answers and move on.

I looked up some information in one of the best and most detailed books on South African jazz and pop music; ‘Soweto Blues’ by Gwen Ansell. I could not locate anything on ‘Black Ink’ but I found this interview with Sipho Mabuse. I hope that these excerpts from that interview shed some light on the backgrounds of the musicians and the  music on the album ‘Black Ink’.

Black Ink -Kugugaothndayo

Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse in the group Harari around 1980

Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, drums, saxophone, flute, vocalist, composer

Born in Soweto in the 1950’s, Mabuse began his career as a drummer, dividing his talents between pop music work with the Beaters and Harari and jazz accompaniments for Kippie Moeketsi and Abdullah Ibrahim. Like many others of his generation, his apprenticeship was at the Pelican Club in Orlando. Socially conscious pop music won out for him: he added reeds to his instrumental palette and scored international hits in the 80’s with the compelling, rhythmic disco tracks ‘Jive Soweto’ and ‘Burnout’. At the same time, he was active in ANC underground structures. His banned ‘Chant Of The Marching’ commemorated the youth activism of the last days of apartheid.

By the end of the 1960’s a new style was emerging amongst young South Africans; the hippies, with bell-bottomed trousers, bright, decorative shirts, and sometimes combed-out Afro hairstyles that were the opposite of both the kaaskop (cheese-head shaven head) and the Ivies’ neat coiffure. This was the style of the soul afficionados. Sipho Mabuse was a senior school student just beginning his forays into music, and was about to join Selby Ntuli and others to found a group called the Beaters, later to be renamed Harari.

Black Ink -Sipo’s Joint

‘Soweto soul music….came from the American soul music influence with Booker T & The MG’s –that’s how this whole got to be developed along those lines, because we could not relate to mbaqanga because we considered ourselves more….literate, educated you know –we considered ourselves learned students. So we developed Soweto soul music from that premise: that we listened to white Radio 5 and of course soul music was growing in leaps and bounds –all the influence from Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and so on. And, naturally, were influenced by that to start a kind of sound that was essentially South African, and that’s how Soweto soul music was developed. The Beaters were one of the groups; the All-Rounders, The In-Lawes, The TNT’s, The Flaming Souls, The Movers –the list was endless. The Emeralds! The Minerals! The Dolphins! I mean we could not really relate to some of the music that was happening then; mbaqanga and isicthamiya and so on.’

‘There was a nightclub called the Pelican-this is where the musicians were…that place was the real hub of South African musicians. The late Dennis Mpale was there and Wiston Mankunku, who was a giant we could relate to. And of course for us, as youngsters, to be able to sustain ourselves even within the realm of jazz, we were lucky enough to have interacted with such musicians as drummer Eraly Mabuza, bassist Gordon Mfandu –epecially in my case as a drummer Neslon Magwaza and of course Bheki Mseleku was a peer to us. And the only way we could prove that we were good enough to play, was playing jazz. It was the only way we could prove ourselves –even if we had to play pop music. But it was the fact that you were able to play jazz that created a very strong foundation for us to be able to continue in the jazz field. Even though we appreciated pop music, there was always a very strong element of jazz in what we were doing.’

The Pelican at that time was recognized as a kind of music university for Soweto, where young musicians developed and polished their skills. Mabuse makes the important point that the Pelican did not host jazz only. There were also cabaret and pop music acts, even the best of traditional music found a home here.

Excerpts from this interview with Sipho Mabuse come from the book ‘Soweto Blues –Jazz, Popular Music & Politics in South Africa’ by Gwen Ansell (Continuum Intl Publishing Group NYC 2004)

Black Ink

side A -Kugugaothndayo

side B -Sipo’s Joint

-Selby’s Mood

-Our Children

-Bongo Bump

released on DJ Recordings -DJ6 South Africa 1975

More info and (almost complete)  discography on Sipho Mabuse’s website