2009 at matsuli: plenty more lost South African musical gems, original 1970s jive 45s to buy, some limited tee-shirt runs and some surprises along the way. I'm sorry that many of you have been unable to retrieve some of the older posts due to the limited number of downloads. Going forward links to commercially unavailable music will stay up unless the copyright owners object. During the course of this year I will be setting up a programme to assist music students in South Africa with funding and access to archival recordings. And so here we go with today's long lost South African jazz recording Armitage Road by the Heshoo Beshoo Group.
When matsuli regular Chris mentioned the Heshoo Beshoo Band last week I had to dive deep into Gwen Ansell's reference Soweto Blues to get some background. Gwen mentions Heshoo Beshoo as she builds her discussion about the development of South African jazz in the late sixties. The Armitage Road LP is - in her words - informed by both American and South African styles and influences. In short it straddles early hard bop and danceable South African jazz.
With a little more digging I was able to find out a little more: the group was put together by saxophonist Henry Sithole who started out playing jazz with Dalton Khanyile's Keynotes in 1964 before playing in Gibson Kente's musical Sikalo; thereafter with Almon's Jazz 8 and Mackay Davashe's Jazz Dazzlers. In 1969 Henry recruited Ernest Mothle on bass, Nelson Magwaza on drums, Cyril Magubane on guitar and his brother Stanley on tenor for the Heshoo Beshoo Group.
Heshoo Beshoo means moving forward with force. On so many levels this recording is a strong statement of self determination, creativity and freedom in the midst of the brutual subjugation of black South Africans by the Apartheid government. The LP had a limited release in South Africa as well as a subsequent release in France.
In 1971 Henry and Stanley were approached by guitarist Adolphus "Bunny" Luthuli to get a band together to compete in the Alco Best Band Competition at Jabulani Stadium in April 1971. Bunny had played with Henry in Almon's Jazz 8. This approach was the genesis of South Africa's greatest soul jazz band The Drive comprising the Sithole brothers Henry, Danny and Stanley, Bunny Luthuli, Mike Makhalemele, Lucky Mbatha, Nelson Magwaza and Anthony Saoli.
Ronnie Madonsela on the Brook Benton Tour with the Drive - Guitarist Lucky Sithole Band Leader Chris Schilder and Stan & Henry Sithole at the Jabulani Amphitheatre, Soweto 1971 - Photo by David Marks
More information and photographs about the Drive at David Marks' excellent Hidden Years website here. The Drive won the Alco competition and stayed together touring throughout Southern Africa. In 1972 they won best band at the PINA CULO festival in Umgababa in September 1972. The band unfortunately suffered a tragedy in May 1977 when Bunny Luthuli and Henry Sithole were killed outright in a car accident in the Tzaneen area of Nothern Transvaal.
Today Nelson Magwaza and Ernest Mothle are both musicians who command serious respect for their contribution to the rich tapestry of South African Jazz and popular music. Buts its Henry and his brothers and the likes of Heshoo Beshoo Group who we need to hear more about. The old slogan the struggle for jazz - jazz for the struggle rings true once more only today this struggle is as much about memory as it is about change.
The Heshoo Beshoo Group - Armitage Road (1971, JLP 4021)
1. Armitage Road
2. Wait and See
5. Lazy Bones
Henry Sithole (alto sax), Stanley Sithole (tenor sax), Cyril Magubane (guitar), Nelson Magwaza (drums), Ernest Mothle (bass). Produced and engineered by John Norwell.