Before he died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 1998, West Nkosi produced hit records for renowned South African bands Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens. A household name in South Africa, Nkosi was best known as a producer, but he also achieved popularity as an alto saxophonist and pennywhistler.
In the '60s and ‘70s, Nkosi was one of the chief practitioners of sax jive, a simple but danceable form of township music that married infectious sax riffs to percolating tribal rhythms. Sixteen Original Sax Jive Hits collects Nkosi’s biggest sax jive hits from 1965 though 1975.
If you’re a fan of Paul Simon’s Graceland album, you will likely enjoy Nkosi's jazz-pop instrumentals. His catchy riffs and bubbly grooves are an obvious precursor to Simon’s African-flavored output since the mid-'80s.
Bouncy as this collection is, listeners who favor the headiest jazz should probably steer clear. Nkosi’s music has a repetitive quality, and most of the 16 tunes do not include many solos, even from the sax man. Still, I bet most people will find this music incredibly catchy and soulful. I'll take a great riff over a self-absorbed solo any day, and this CD offers plenty of great riffs. Sax jive was conceived for the dancing and partying pleasure of township dwellers, and Nkosi’s groove-rich confections should set most legs to twitching. The absence of solos is fully compensated by the intricate rhythms, and the repetitive riffs seldom get annoying since each track is less than 3 minutes long.
Nkosi plays with several bands here. Each features alto sax, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and occasionally an organ, accordian or violin.
Sixteen Original Sax Jive Hits is just the ticket if you’re looking for some buoyant South African music to liven up a party. If you dig this one, I also recommend Nkosi’s 1993 release Rhythm of Healing: Supreme Sax and Penny Whistle, a classic of contemporary township jive.