Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

374

Gwigwi Mrwebi: Mbaqanga Songs

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Recorded in 1967, during the bloody heyday of apartheid South Africa, the joyful, defiant, easy-swinging jazz-jive heard on Mbaqanga Songs was then the recreational soundtrack of the country's black and coloured urban poor. After almost forty years off the shelves—and with impeccable synchronicity—the album was reissued late last month, just days before the death of P.W. Botha, the last hardline racist president of the country.

Made in London by a sextet which included four of the leading South African musicians in exile, the album was originally released as Kwela By Gwigwi's Band. Mbaqanga was considered too taxing a word for native British record buyers to master, so kwela—which, strictly speaking, applies to the pennywhistle jive of the 1950s—was used instead. But in Xhosa, kwela means "get moving," and that's appropriate enough.

Whatever it's called, the music is irresistible—still vibrant and alive forty years on. It's a mixture of Earl Bostic, Charlie Parker, the Skatalites, calypso, Louis Jordan, Horace Silver and a shed load of dagga. Each of the sixteen tracks lasts about three minutes, built around a simple, riff-based—and often very pretty—theme played by the three saxophones in close harmony. Each track includes one or two brief solos, more thematic variations than full-out improvisations. Most are by alto saxophonists Gwigwi Mrwebi and Dudu Pukwana, a handful are by pianist Chris McGregor, and one is by tenor saxophonist Ronnie Beer.

Mrwebi exiled himself in London in 1961, jumping ship (and so forfeiting his South African "citizenship") from the cast of the township musical King Kong. Pukwana, McGregor and Beer arrived in 1965. Collectively, the musicians were the core of the more jazz-oriented Blue Notes and, later, Brotherhood of Breath bands, and mbaqanga was something they played to remind themselves of home. Mrwebi died in 1973, but Pukwana went on to lead the fabulous township jazz band Spear, keeping the mbaqanga flame alive in London until his own passing in 1990.

Mbaqanga saxophone jive is essentially group music—one band under a groove, never deviating far from the beat or the topline. Because it was instrumental, it was considered non-subversive by the apartheid regime, and was allowed to flourish on black radio—further proof of the stupidity of racists. It's simple and unadorned, speaking equally to the heart and the feet. It makes you feel good to be alive, which is why apartheid's victims loved it so much. And if you've read this far, it's practically guaranteed to float your boat.


Track Listing: Good News; Nyusamkhaya; Lily Express; Rough Deal; Kwazakhele; Mini Mthembo; Hayini Bo; Nick Thethe; Mra; Kweleentonga; Botyana; Ndaqmbayo; Zangomva; Zonbongo; Keleketle; Ezindongeni.

Personnel: Gwigwi Mrwebi, Dudu Pukwana: alto saxophone; Ronnie Beer: tenor saxophone; Chris McGregor: piano; Coleridge Goode: bass; Laurie Allan: drums.

Title: Mbaqanga Songs | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Honest Jons Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Lattice CD/LP/Track Review Lattice
by John Sharpe
Published: December 14, 2017
Read I Think I’m Going To Eat Dessert CD/LP/Track Review I Think I’m Going To Eat Dessert
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 14, 2017
Read Celebrating William Parker at 65 CD/LP/Track Review Celebrating William Parker at 65
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: December 14, 2017
Read Eternal Life CD/LP/Track Review Eternal Life
by Jerome Wilson
Published: December 14, 2017
Read Baby It's Cold Outside CD/LP/Track Review Baby It's Cold Outside
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Wrong Turns And Dead Ends CD/LP/Track Review Wrong Turns And Dead Ends
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 13, 2017
Read "Form" CD/LP/Track Review Form
by Anthony Shaw
Published: November 14, 2017
Read "History Of The Lisbon Chaplaincy" CD/LP/Track Review History Of The Lisbon Chaplaincy
by Mark Corroto
Published: July 13, 2017
Read "Strykin’ Ahead" CD/LP/Track Review Strykin’ Ahead
by John Kelman
Published: September 2, 2017
Read "Gentle Giants" CD/LP/Track Review Gentle Giants
by Troy Dostert
Published: June 29, 2017
Read "Jinja" CD/LP/Track Review Jinja
by James Nadal
Published: February 11, 2017
Read "Nellie Bly Project" CD/LP/Track Review Nellie Bly Project
by Paul Rauch
Published: August 11, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!