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Dudu Pukwana Dudu Phukwana & the "Spears"
Zorro Five Jump Uptight
Busi Mhlongo Urban Zulu

Matsuli (
Review by Bruce Miller

Before Matsuli became a label, it was a blog doing hungry music fans a solid by posting mp3s of live gigs, rare, out of print LPs, and generally being among a flurry of online activity then equipping folks such as myself with African sounds we either never thought we’d hear, or never knew existed in the first place. Matt Temple, the man behind the label, which kicked off in 2010 and focused on 1970s South African reissues, shined some much needed light on such LPs as Batsumi’s brilliant, category-defying, essential first LP and Ndikho Xaba and the Natives’ self-titled spiritual jazz masterpiece. And the goods keep coming with three new albums for summer, 2020.


First up is South African sax legend Dudu Pukwana’s Spears double LP. This record, with Pukwana’s named misspelled, was a result of a number of South African musicians gigging in the UK, largely at Ronnie Scott’s, as mixed-race groups were having a tough time finding work under apartheid. A hook-up with produce Joe Boyd and a decision to then market this in South Africa, as well as Boyd’s connections with British folk-rockers Fairport Convention, led to some remarkable sessions, though we’re only now hearing them in full. Sides 1 & 2 are a reissue of the original 1969 10-track LP initially released on the SA imprint Quality. However, the outtakes on sides C & D feature Fairport’s Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson alongside Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo and others. The results are an infectious soul-jazz and mbaqanga-rooted joy. Organ riffs, sax punctuations, and on occasion, some delightful call-and-response vocals carry this township jive-influenced session all the way from London back to South Africa.


The Zorro Five were something of a late 60s to early 70s South African mod/hipster ensemble. Driven by organ player Zane Cronje, they’re something of SA’s equivalent of Booker T & the MGs. This instrumental LP feels like a meeting point between funk and rock, with slices of wah wah guitar, stabs of bubbly organ, and a rhythm section deep in the pocket. It even includes a proto-funk workout of Donovan’s “First there is a Mountain,” a song the Allman Brothers were concurrently using as a cushion for their own Florida swamp explorations, though it would be two years after Jump Uptight’s release before they’d make a version public. First released in South Africa in 1970, it certainly sounds of its time, but it’s a good-natured affair, bound to acquire allegiance after a few spins.


The Busi Mhlongo re-issue breaks Matsuli’s 70’s-era mold. Urban Zulu was released to wide South African and European acclaim in 1999, and the production qualities give its vintage away immediately, with thinly recorded acoustic guitar surfing sparkly bass and drums. But give it a minute and it’ll get up under you and stay there. Mhlongo’s vocals sail over the entire affair. And the record is also important for not only helping to push Maskanda, then a struggling folk-derived style, into the 21st century, it also helped usher women into the style’s forefront, the sadly-late Mhlongo being one of them.


The choral vocals, reminiscent of American gospel, provide a foundation for Mhlongo, whose voice skitters, flaps, and coos, holding onto single syllables over the rhythms before dipping back into the song, only to grab another line and sail away again. Urban Zulu shows off a virtuoso vocalist snatching Zulu folk rhythms from the patriarchy and making the implicit argument that Maskanda need not bow to the western influences then infecting pop music in her home country. - Bruce Miller

Further reading: Golden Afrique
Madalitso Band
The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto


A bit of a non-sequitur, but here's some serious sax work and arrangements by Dudu Pukwana, with English pshychedelic folkie Mike Heron in 1971, featuring a lot of the same musicians as above. The man got around.

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