Crocodile Male Voice Choir - Umfana Akaloboli / Sasingaxabene



Extract from Veit Erlmann's Nightsong

"Both Johannesburg and Durban had witnessed periods of explosive urban growth immediately after the First World War that did much to sharpen the class contours of their black population. It is in this situation of intense social restructuring during the 1920s that the first full-fledged isicathamiya choirs were formed. But the reconstruction of the chronology of early isicathamiya choirs is complicated by contradictory oral evidence and the fact that many choirs frequently did not record until ten or more years after their formation. However, irrespective of these uncertainties of research in South African black musical traditions, the choir that can be established with some degree of certainty as one of the oldest isicathamiya groups, was the Crocodiles. Founded in 1914 in Botha's Hill near Durban by Lutheran preacher and land-owning farmer Mzobe and members of his family, the Crocodiles initially confined their activities to rural wedding ceremonies in Umbumbulu and Inanda on the outskirts of Durban, performing ingoma, izingoma zomtshado, and folk songs. But when Isaac Mzobe assumed leadership of the group in 1920-21, the Crocodiles soon came to dominate male a capella performances in Natal. [...]

If [Solomon] Linda's Evening Birds were generally regarded as the most advanced isicathamiya group in terms of musical structure, Isaac Mzobe's Crocodiles have to be credited with the introduction of fast synchronized tap dancing called istep. Whereas the Evening Birds preferred slow "step by step movements, first backwards, then forwards," the Crocodiles, according to Gilbert Madondo, usually won the favor of Johannesburg audiences by displaying the fast, fidgeting footwork. Previous styles had been characterized by stiff, immobile body postures, but dancing by early mbube groups featured intricate footwork contrasting with a straight, uninvolved torso. [...]

The models for this kind of choreography, if the available evidence does not deceive, were films featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that from the mid-1930s had become a powerful influence on the emerging popular dance forms of the African elite and the lower strata of the black population. Examples of extravagant ballroom dancing as well as tap dancing were copied by black audiences from these films, although virtuoso step dancing, in the early years, seems to have been the speciality of the Crocodiles only."

[Extract from Veit Erlmann's Nightsong, published by University of Chicago Press, 1996]


recorded 1939
issued 1939
Better (test)
Lafayette (Trutone)
made in South Africa
XU 13
matrix XU 13A
matrix XU 13B
78 rpm
possible test pressing
source: flatinternational Archive



1.1Umfana Akaloboli






ISSAC MZOBE - conductor



Veit Erlmann dates a number of the Better (XU) label recordings from this period in his book Nightsong. Notably this recording (XU 13) by Isaac Mzobe's Crocodile Male Voice Choir was recorded in 1939. Similarly two other discs (XU 12 and 14) date from the same period, while a later recording by the group (XU 30) is tentatively dated circa 1941.

Erlmann's spells Mzobe's first name as "Isaac" while the label on this disc has it as "Issac".

It is not clear to me whether this is an early test recording of Lafayette's Better label, but the two tracks are separated into two single-sided 78 rpm discs. Also of note is that both discs came from a record dealer in the UK who sold them with a number of other Decca-related materials including another 'test' recording with penciled in notes: "Bhabalazi, Silver Choir, Sesotho, Lafayette" with the matrix number: XYZN 6A.