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

African Jazz & Variety -Alfred Herbert 1952

South African crowd 152   In 1952, white promoter Alfred Herbert organised his first African Jazz and Variety Show in South Africa at Johannesburg’s Windmill Theatre, presenting some of the city’s best musicians, dancers and singers. Herbert was the son of Sarah Sylvia (‘Madam Sarah’, she preferred to be called), who had toured South Africa, leading a Yiddish theatre company in the 1940’s. She taught Yiddish songs to both Thandi Klaasen and Dolly Rathebe whose popularity won her the opening spot for her son’s show.

Herbert was a feckless entrepreneur with a taste for gambling, who created a programme somewhere between concert and dance and burlesque. He gave his artists regular work, including tours (he was able to secure passports for his performers), and promised good wages. This meant that he attracted many top acts to his programmes, despite his penching for pushing the staging towards the sensational and stereotyped. ‘We had to have bodyguards, because we were dressed in short African attire and it was very sexy’ remembers Dolly Rathebe. Dolly was in the shows, Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuka, Sonny Pillay, Ben ‘Satch’ Masinga and The Woody Woodpeckers….* It was the first time in history that a white audience could witness black Africans perform on a stage.

As it always goes, the big recording companies had a keen eye on South African tunes made popular by local ‘black singers’ to adapt the most succesful ones to please their ‘white audiences’.

Like this original song by Barbara Thomas “Pickin’ a Chicken” that became a chartbuster with new words for Eve Boswell in 1956, which rose to No 9 on the UK Singles Charts. More on Eve Boswell in future posts…

here is the original…Barbara Thomas -Pickin’ a chicken

Barbara Thomas on stage in 1952
Barbara Thomas on stage in 1952

The troupe performed ragtime, Negro spirituals, jazz vocals, and syncopated African hymns and satirical comedy sketches


King Jeff and African Jazz Troupe -Rock Around the Clock

Sonny Pillay -My Yiddische momma

Ben Satch Masinga -six foot three

South African Institute for Race Relations presents African Jazz and Variety


The Woody Woodpeckers -Fanagalo

this rare 10″  includes two songs by The Woody Woodpeckers, a group around  songwriter and musician, Victor Ndlazilwane, who was awarded the Metro FM Lifetime Achievement award in 2006 in South Africa. During his early career, Ndlazilwane was part of the legendary Woody Woodpeckers group as well as the Jazz Ministers, both of which were signed to Gallo Record Company. The Jazz Ministers were the first African jazz band to perform at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival in New York.

The Woody Woodpeckers -Gumdrop


*Excerpt from ‘Soweto Blues’ by Gwen Ansell (Continuum 2004)

thanks to reader Earle Thomas for the picture of his grandmother Barbara Thomas