Category: South Africa: Zulu

Mbuyiseni Mtshali’s Concertina – Dumazile

Ten years. I think now that we’ve reached ten years of Excavated Shellac, why not experiment with a new look, instead of something that reeks of 2007. I’d like to say something, but I won’t wax rhapsodic, or take some fond look back. I feel guilty enough for the slow posts. Plus, I think I’ve already done enough of that periodically, and really, the most important thing is that it keeps going.

Excavated Shellac speaks for itself. As a 78-related site, it was more or less the first of its kind: focusing solely on global vernacular and traditional music.
There are well over 220 individual transfers to listen to, download, and read about.
Most of the discs here have never been publicly issued before, though a number have since been extensively bootlegged.
The writing is book-length. It’s protected only by a Creative Commons license.
It is not written for collectors, though collectors sometimes read it.
Each chapter is meant to be an entry point for anyone.
The information is often collated here for the first time, drawn from various sources, many of which are unpublished. Plenty of new information on these discs is found here.
It is not representative of my collection, and is only a snapshot.
It is also meant to be an expansion on others’ influential works.
There are no ads on the site, something that I deliberately pay for.
We have no t-shirts.
There are no Kickstarters, and no GoFundMes – only an occasional recommendation.
The site has been quoted as a reference, used as a source in books, and honestly has allowed me to produce individual, hard-copy releases.

I think you know what I’m getting at – Excavated Shellac is meant as an alternative to the disproportionate amount of worldwide scholarship, reverence, and proselytism surrounding early recordings of jazz, blues, country, Western classical and popular music. Not because that music isn’t amazing – it often is. But, the world’s recorded music is absurdly bigger than those stories, fascinating as they are. Each country on earth had its own Robert Johnson or Charley Patton – some might have had two dozen of them. Companies in Europe were recording tanbur-playing Uzbeks almost 20 years before the United States had the notion to record a country record. How would you know otherwise unless you did some exploring? You could say that’s a “political” stance, and that would be pretentious. But it wouldn’t be wrong.

So, thank you for continuing to stop by. I’ve made many friends through this endeavor. I’ll breeze into year 11 with something I love – South African concertina music. This disc was recorded ca. 1954, during what I would consider the golden age of Sub-Saharan African 78 recording, roughly from 1947-1965. I’ve mentioned this before, but prior to World War II, recording in Sub-Saharan Africa was a bit erratic, mostly in fits and starts, not getting started until the late 20s, and interrupted by the Depression. But after World War II, all hell broke loose. Well over 100 individual labels were active in Sub-Saharan Africa recording all manner of artists, and the quality as well as the variety of talent that appeared was just incredible. People have sometimes asked me if there’s an African 78 discography. Er, not yet. We’re talking something like 25,000 78s in West Africa alone, never mind Congo, East Africa, and Southern Africa, all preposterously rife with popular indy labels and cheap shellac.

The concertina in South Africa has always been associated historically with itinerant miners, or itinerant entertainers, as they traveled from town to town. There are more traditional concertina performances, like this one, but the instrument is also used in more “modern” sounding music, too. Several scholars have called it “transport music,” meaning the instrument was supposed to help you as you walked long distances. Even the rhythm feels like walking….marching forward…

Mbuyiseni Mtshali’s Concertina – Dumazile

Label: HMV
Issue Number: JP 549
Matrix Number: 0AS.1262

Tiger Boys String Band – Odladla

Of the many hundreds – maybe even thousands – of mbaqanga or “jive” records that were issued in South Africa from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, most fell quite effortlessly into two camps: “sax jive,” which was usually instrumental and based around a saxophone lead, and “vocal jive” which broadly covered a wide range of vocal groups, from the well-known Dark City Sisters or the Mahotella Queens, to the lesser known yet no less wonderful Jabulani Quads, Zoo Lake Rockers, or the Beauty Queens.

There are variants, of course, to this rule – there’s plenty of jive with electric guitar as well as earlier, “pennywhistle jive” or kwela which is really its own genre. Collector Michael Kieffer once played me a terrific jive 78 with a tuba solo! But, one of the most fascinating subgenres, and one which only very occasionally made it to 78rpm records, was the rough-hewn sound of Zulu “violin jive.” While the sax and vocal jive records were generally popular, polished music for dancing, the early violin jive records sounded like they were from the countryside, and not just because of the presence of the instrument itself – the way these artists seemingly scrape their instrument is particularly raw.

One of the only early examples of writing I could find on South African popular music with violin that goes beyond a brief mention, appears in an article by ethnomusicologist David Rycroft in 1977.* In it, he describes a South African violin player in the 60s playing what was ostensibly a store-bought Western-style violin with steel strings, and with a homemade bridge and tuning pegs. The violin is held against the collarbone and according to Rycroft, was used as a “functionary replacement” of the earlier gourd-bows of the region (the ugubhu or the umakhweyana). Rycroft mostly studied the violin’s use as accompaniment to a particular type of vocal singing, and did not explicitly mention that it had been used in popular jive music, gumboot music, or had been issued on record. The Tiger Boys String Band, featured in this post, issued several records on the Quality label. Other great early violin artists included Richard Mtembu and the Durban Lions. Violin jive kept going until at least the early 1970s. For two excellent later examples, listen here, and here!

Tiger Boys String Band – Odladla

Label: Quality (South Africa)
Issue Number: XU. 381
Matrix Number: 7420

*Rycroft, David. (1977). Evidence of Stylistic Continuity in Zulu ‘Town’ Music. In Essays For a Humanist: An Offering to Klaus Wachsmann (pp. 216-260). New York, NY: Townhouse Press.

Jimmy Masuluke – Sour Milk For Xmas

masuluke.jpgHere’s a bit of holiday nonsense, as promised, in the form of a goofy sax jive from South Africa, from sometime in the mid- to late 1960s. There’s not much else to say, except that it has a pretty solid chunka-chunka guitar riff going for it!

F.M. was yet another in a stable of South African independent labels in operation during the 60s (see the Trutone Dolls track on this site), which also included Tempo, Winner, Stokvel, and Tee-Vee among others. All were in competition against the majors, being Columbia, H.M.V., and the large South African independent, Gallotone (with it’s subsidiary, New Sound).

Jimmy Masuluke – Sour Milk for Xmas

Incidentally – Matsuli must have this record too, as he used the flip side, “Happy Happy Make It Snappy,” on a mix he made in 2006. The mix itself is no longer available, but you can check the tracklist here!

Technical Notes
Label: FM
Issue Number: FM 120
Matrix Number: 68265/2

Trutone Dolls – Kudala Ngikutshela

winner.jpgI couldn’t resist heading back to Africa this week. And not only that, I’m taking a brief break from the really early material I’ve been posting and moving ahead to the 1960s for this release.

And why not? South Africa (as well as other countries, such as India) kept pressing 78s up until the late 60s, at least. There were a slew of local labels churning out hundreds of fantastic jive singles throughout that decade – labels like Troubadour, Tempo, Stokvel, Tee Vee, F.M., Gallo New Sound, and Winner, which is where this nice jive track comes from. The pressings were great, too. A mint copy sounds like a mint copy with little to no surface noise. For you folks who prefer the older stuff, give this a try!

I have no idea what happened to the Trutone Dolls, although I have another great record by the group on the Stokvel label. It’s titled “Jo Jo In School.” If any of you out there are familiar with the late-60s, South African jive compilation on Mercury Records titled “Ice Cream and Suckers,” you might remember that title track’s melody. The Dolls used that same backing track for their “Jo Jo” song. It was written by Strike Vilakazi and I guess he tended to reuse backing tracks for other artists as he saw fit!


Trutone Dolls – Kudala Ngikutshela

Technical Notes
Label: Winner
Issue Number: OK.263
Matrix Number: 15055