Various Artists - Something New from Africa
Cover
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LINER NOTES

 

At the start of this record you will hear the Solven Whistlers say: "Something new in Africa"; this is logical enough, 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 here is understandable, for it 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 around for a successor. But the fad was quite a small one, because the public likes to pick its own crazes, and Kwela, as a vogue, went the way of calypso and the mambo. But that doesn't mean to say that it was completely finished; like many another musical form which does not fit into the main scheme of popular music, it still has its following, its own special character and, in this case, an important and interesting place in the history of the humbler sorts of music.

Above it is suggested that it began on the streets of Johannesburg, which is the truth, but not the whole truth; the loaf may come from the baker, but the finished article has to be flour and yeast and sunshine long before that. You will only have to listen to two or three of the tracks here to realise that the ingredients of Kwela are native African repetitive melodies, American popular music (no doubt absorbed from the city's radios and cinemas), and here and there some more or less European instruments. It is the American jazz influence which is the most interesting, because it really represents a sort of round trip across the Atlantic for a whole musical culture. Having crossed to America with the slaves, African tribal music rubbed shoulders with European influences in the southern States; there was a mingling and an intermarrying which gradually settled down to become jazz, which, by means of the gramophone record, the radio and the film, was then exported to the four corners of the earth. This is its homecoming.

Incidentally, it is interesting to see that at roughly the same time a lot of folk music of English origin, having hidden for centuries in the mountains along the eastern American sea-board, came back to these shores recently with the visits of such singers as Jean Ritchie, Burl Ives and Alan Lomax.

Much of the music here is rather limited. A four bar phrase is repeated, with simple variations and embellishments, over a rhythmic background usually provided by a guitar, though in actual performance this is backed up by rhythmic body movement on the part of the players. Some of it, however, is more ambitious; you will hear a very warm clarinet, no doubt inspired by Tony Scott's visit to South Africa, on the first track, and two numbers with a very fine toned alto forming an effective foil to the rougher, fluttering sounds of the tin whistle. The Solven Whistlers, sounding a little like a consort of recorders at a cocktail party, tackle very effectively the 12-bar blues form in Kwela blues which comes at the end of side one. Side two contains two really surprising items.

One is a very interesting version of Ellington's "Rockin' in rhythm", which has some polished piano playing on it by Jimmy Pratt plus a wordless vocal part from the jazz-voiced Miriam Makeba. The other, and perhaps the most unexpected of all, is G-string Kwela, where you will hear perfectly authentic mountain style fiddle-playing; this unlikely but entirely successful marriage produces a delightful sort of Johannesburg hoe-down music.
The main performer on this record is the tin whistle virtuoso, Lemmie Special, a slim little Negro still in his early teens. A true showman, he wears his immense peaked cap carefully adjusted over one ear; from a leather belt as thick as a barber's strop and held together with not one but two buckles, dangles a gadget like a bottle opener; he ties his shoes with string. Obviously these are not just gimmicks, for a poor coloured boy doubtless wears what he can get, but they nevertheless now form part of the outfit his open air public expects him to have on. He has showmanship, personality, and, more important, a real talent which, with its innate understanding of that musical approach which makes a man play jazz rather than just busk (in the theatre-queue sense), could well grow up to develop the simple music into something big and important.

PETER CLAYTON
© The Decca Record Co. Ltd., London, 1959
 

VARIOUS ARTISTS
SOMETHING NEW FROM AFRICA


recorded 1958c
issued 1959
Decca
Decca Records
made in UK
produced by various
published by Burlington Music
LK 4292
matrix ABC 16935 2A
matrix ABC 16936 2A
33 rpm
mono
first issue
cover printed by Robert Stace
source: flatinternational Archive

TRACK LISTING

 

1.1SOLVEN WHISTLERS
Something New from Africa

(Mokontela)

1.2Kwela Joe

(Specks Rampura)

1.3THOKO THOMO & THE BACHELORS
Zulu Boy Kwela

(Dan Hill)

1.4JIMMY PRATT WITH LEMMY SPECIAL
Lemmy's Jump

(Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso)

1.5LITTLE LEMMY AND BIG JOE
Little Lemmy Kwela

(Dan, Hill)

1.6SOLVEN WHISTLERS
Kwela Blues

(Mokontela)

2.7LITTLE LEMMY AND BIG JOE
Kwela No.5

(Dan Hill)

2.8SPECKS RAMPURA
Solo Jump

(Specks Rampura)

2.9JIMMY PRATT WITH LEMMY SPECIAL AND MIRIAM MAKEBA
Rockin' in Rhythm

(Ellington, Carney, Mills)

2.10BLACKJACK HITTERS
G-String Kwela

(Strike)

2.11SOLVEN WHISTLERS
Back to the Shelters

(Nkosi)

2.12ALEXANDRA JUNIOR BRIGHT BOYS WITH LEMMY SPECIAL
Six Down

(Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso)

ARTISTS

 

SOLVEN WHISTLERS
LEMMY 'SPECIAL' MABASO - pennywhistle
MIRIAM MAKEBA - vocals
SPECKS RAMPURA
THOKO THOMO
BIG JOE
JIMMY PRATT WITH LEMMY SPECIAL
ALEXANDRA JUNIOR BRIGHT BOYS WITH LEMMY SPECIAL
BLACKJACK HITTERS
LITTLE LEMMY AND BIG JOE
JIMMY PRATT
JIMMY PRATT WITH LEMMY SPECIAL AND MIRIAM MAKEBA

NOTES

 

The ABC prefix to the matrix number on this record suggests that there could also be a South African pressing on the Gallotone label.