It must’ve been the early 1990’s, when I was doing my radio show at WFMU. There was a guy, a mailman out in Queens named Pat Conte. Pat had been collecting 78’s since before I was born. He had tons of amazing stuff, country blues from the 20’s and 30’s, all kinds of strange ethnic records from all over the world. I believe he was the genius behind Yazoo’s six CD series The Secret Museum Of Mankind which compiled strange and wonderful 78’s from all over the world, mostly from the 20’s and 30’s. Anyways, so this mailman named Pat Conte who briefly had his own show at WFMU called The Secret Museum of the Airwaves sends me a cassette with a brief note that said something like– “this is rock’n’roll from South African 78’s, 1950-62”. He tried to put out a re-issue cassette of the stuff (Global Village actually printed up a handful of cassettes) but it was sued out of existence by some big company, but now since this stuff is all in the public domain it can be heard. In part one of my investigation of African rock’n’roll 78’s (and they pressed 78’s in the Mother Land until around 1970) I present the stuff from Pat’s tape. Some day soon, I’ll do part two which covers 1962-70 and will include stuff I tracked down on my own as well as some incredible rock’n’roll influenced hi-life music from Nigeria and Ghana. But for now, dig these sounds:
Benoni Rocket, a Zulu whose real name was Joseph Nkhoda (probably still is) cut a handful of Elvis influenced sides, his accent gives way to the theory that he learned the tunes phonetically. Here we have I’m Gonna Shake, Rattle, Roll (not the Joe Turner tune covered by Elvis, I don’t think…) Last Night and I’m Gonna Rock,they are amongst the wildest discs I’ve ever heard. Gabriel Sibusi waxed Call Me Mister for the Troubadour label, I’ve seen another disc by him mentioned– She Works In Bedrooms, but I’ve never heard it. Also on Troubadour were the Pretty Dolls, a jive style group with a pronounced Caribbean influence as heard here on I Promise. Jimmy Masuluke’s Happy Happy Make It Snappy appeared on the equally obscure FM label and features some rockin’ sax and hot electric guitar riffs. And that’s all I know about it. The Tip Top Rhythm Boys (possibly a white group gone native) show off their percussion/sax heavy sound on Sparkling Se Dinge, again, I know nothing about them. Allen Kwela and his guitar are featured on the 500 Guitar Rock, another ultra-obscurity from another unknown artist. This is the most traditionally African sounding disc here. The Black Mambazo (no relation to Ladysmith Black Mambazo) show the influence of Latin music in After Muchacha , the group was led by Finish Mohamed, Simon Nkbinde and vocalist Zeph Nakbinde.
Willard Cele appeared in the 1950 film The Magic Garden aka Pennywhistle Blues which makes sense since he rocked the Penny Whistle long before the Pogues, you can study his unique approach to the instrument on Penny Whistle Boogie. This style of music was called Kwela and was big all over South Africa in the 50’s.
Well, talk about obscure genres, I think this is the tip of the iceberg. Too bad Paul Simon didn’t run into the Bogard Brothers when he was making Graceland, they’d have sent him back to his books and poetry fast enough! Or as Jerry Lee Lewis once said–“I’d like to slap a hamburger patty on his ass and run him through Ethiopia”! I’ll get to work on volume two with some of the sides mentioned above (you just gotta hear the Junkers, Nigeria’s answer to the Rolling Stones and Ghanian Charlotte Doda’s incredible Beatles’ cover) and should have it posted before summer or the next war breaks out, which ever comes first.