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View as a separate page. The s are remembered as the days of passive resistance against the Nationalist government's institutionalised racism, but the decade is also remembered as a great age of jazz development in South Africa. South African jazz has had many elements contributing to its evolution and development, the most prominent and significant being the rich eclectic cultural diversity of the country's inhabitants and the influence of African-American culture upon it over the years. These two variants, coupled with an environment of legislated racism and gross human rights violations, created the unique artistic forge and mould responsible for the evolution of South African jazz.
The first informal contact the inhabitants of Cape Town had with African-Americans was during the American Civil War in when the confederate war ship Alabama came into the port of Cape Town to replenish its supplies. It would then attack, plunder and sink them. The Alabama was one of the most notorious and feared Southern commerce raiders on patrol in the South Atlantic, sending a total of fifty eight Union ships to the bottom of the ocean during her two year patrol.
Confederate captain Raphael Semmes commanded this British built steam powered schooner. A mixed crew of British mercenary and Southern white sailors manned the ship. On board was also a small contingent of African-American slaves who served as cleaners and mess stewards, and also provided some sort of musical entertainment for the crew.
When the Alabama docked in Cape Town, the local population flocked to the waterfront to look at her. It was then that the African-Americans dressed in their minstrel outfits gave impromptu musical recitals at the dockside where the Alabama was moored. Upon seeing this spectacle for the first time, some of the inhabitants of the city enquired from the white crew who the black entertainers were, and the reply was, " These are just our Coons! Kearsarge on June 19, As a young man he attended the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, where he studied and graduated as a teacher in Before turning to music as a professional career in , he taught school in Pulaski and Accomack Counties in the state of Virginia for ten years.
Upon his return to the U. With a newly formed troupe consisting of six women and four men, McAdoo set sail on a European tour in Two years later we found them arriving in Cape Town, South Africa. Mrwebi 's performing and recording life to replays the dominant story of South African jazz in early apartheid Ansell ; Ballantine  2; Copian [ Revisiting the history of African jazz via Gwigwi Mrwebi also shows us that even at the height of its popularity, African jazz's dominance was always challenged by more popular styles such as pennywhistle kwela or vocal jive.
This is why Mrwebi had to be content with being recorded by Troubadour and his ensemble labelled jive. Even when African jazz had carved a space through, for example, USA Records, this proved insufficient. Seen through the life of one individual, the transition from Afri- can jazz to so-called sax jive gives further clarity to the dominant story. It also inserts a healthy degree of uncertainty. We cannot, for one, know whether Mrwebi was fulfilling a contractual obligation when recording "Hamba Gwi" and therefore had to conform. He is not around to ask. We also cannot know if this re- cording session was a means to make money for the family he was leaving behind in Perseel 38, Zone 1, Diepkloof Location, to tide them over while he toured Brit- ain.
That, for example, would support the view of mbaqanga's degeneration into a means of making quick money. Indeed, the 78's titles, "Hamba" and "Fika," encourage this reading of departure and return. Historical remnants of Mrwebi 's career in South Africa urge us to read how his career as a sergeant in the Second World War transitioned to his success as bandleader in postwar, apartheid South Africa, how in this space he led one of the foremost African jazz big bands the Harlem Swingsters and continued in various bands' frontlines until his depar- ture in Through Mrwebi, the story of African jazz as one of inevitable decline cannot be as boldly drawn; nor can that of its redemption in British or American exile.
A city pretending to be tropical This was the season when, after seven years of exile [c 1 ], G. GB played the alto sax. Hoped he could improve his music reading.
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His sax was just fine for us in those municipal halls where you could be playing by ear and no one would be any wiser for it. Sound and rhythm are all. What a musician lacked we compensated for with body movement on the floor. Just fine. None whatsoever. His sound was foreign to the natives. Took his life in his own hands.
Struck out for the professional route. GB a music maker, his wife a seamstress in a factory in the East End. Es 'kia Mphahlele, Afrika My Music: an Autobiography 1 [ 1 ] The unnamed GB, like most of Es'kia Mphahlele's characters in his autobiographies and in autobiographical fictions like The Wanderers , is a thinly veiled person, in this instance Gwigwi Mrwebi. Very little is known of Mrwebi 's everyday life in Britain. Remnants are in the form of recorded jam sessions now lost , as well as ap- pearances in films and television shows that have yet to be verified.
In other words, as a black South African jazz musician living in Britain in the s, Mrwebi be- comes again an archetype. To appreciate this fully, we need to recall that the extensive attention paid to jazz groups like the Blue Notes and their offshoots is an exception and apart from Ian Carr's Music Outside is relatively recent Dlamini ; McGregor ; McKay ; Muller ; Wiekes Again, it is through the apartheid state's policing of its black citizens that we know many King Kong members chose to re- main in Britain rather than return to post-Sharpeville South Africa, even though their passports were valid for only one year.
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They applied to renew their passports and to extend their stay for a few more years, but soon ceased to visit South Africa House and disappeared from official records. This disappearance was a measure of success, and Mrwebi 's elusi veness during these years may also be read as such. Recouping these musicians' lives for South African jazz history was also aided by related proj- ects aiming to write the story of "black Britain" Fryer ; Rich ; Owusu Unlike the postwar black settlers in Britain, the remaining King Kong members which included Mrwebi had no community to speak of, because their numbers This content downloaded from Primed by apartheid's measures of influx control, they soon recognised the racist foundations of immigration control and re- sorted to other, protective measures.
Most former King Kong members took up me- nial jobs in laundrettes, factories and entertainment spaces, becoming thereby part of the black, labouring masses. Those who pursued employment in theatre or mu- sic encountered other difficulties, in particular when they wished to perform jazz. They relied on each other's shared musical knowledge in their professional lives and formed small, usually short-lived performance groups to perform popular music and jazz.
The group did not outlive the sixties. According to Leon Gluckman's research, which was intended to produce a documentary on former King Kong members living in Britain eight years after the show's closure, these musicians tended to perform in back room pubs, church halls and strip joints.
Their knowledge of U. Mrwebi was part of this scene.
He mostly secured freelance work, playing in clubs and jazz jam sessions around London Schaderberg This peripatetic life was often lonely, but it was not an exception to most of the other jazz musicians' lives in Britain in the s. Other studies depict a music scene where jazz germi- nated in ghettos, mostly caused by the changing musical policies of various venues in London Carr ; Godbolt ; Jack ; Wiekes From about , clubs increasingly catered to rhythm and blues, folk, soul and rock.
Be- fore these musical ghettos became as impenetrable as an apartheid township, they provided hybrid creative spaces where South African jazz musicians - whose jazz identity, like those of their British counterparts, was always loose - could partici- pate.
This explains why Mrwebi was a regular in such venues and ex-King Kong women singers like the Velvettes could be backed by the Rolling Stones. Despite the murkiness of the picture, these musicians' wanderings show us that, rather than seeking a South African community in exile, many were searching for an amenable musical community. For Mrwebi, what would emerge from the search would be a South African jazz whose national identity was as transformed as his relationships to non-South African musicians in these new spaces.
It was, in other words, diasporic. Radio was an important medium for inscribing and This content downloaded from Black South African writers and actors living in London were central to this cultural work, even though none of these broadcasts reached, or were allowed into, South Africa Gunner As a result, they created "South Africa" as an imagined community that perforce looked to a different kind of belonging. Soon, "Af- rican Theatre" began to feature radio drama written by Africans working in London, and was crucial to ex-King Kong members as a source of employment ibid.
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Liz Gunner's research on the Transcription Centre and the BBC stresses the im- portance of discourse or "talk" as an active component in the making and dissemi- nation of the idea of independent Africa Unlike the other spaces that Africans inhabited abroad as monadic figures of exile, the Centre's talk programmes involved intense debate between artists and thinkers that formed social, if fragile, groupings.
This fragility was itself symptomatic of the new Africa negotiating its becoming "outside the old imperial tropes and metaphors of the west" ibid. Gunner points out that: Radio allowed a mixing and merging of voices and ideas in a kind of flow of present- ness, which, if listened to almost half a century later, gives an impression of the uncer- tain and existential pushing to and fro of ideas and positions on culture, identity, poli- tics, and on the question of African and black American identities on the global stage It was The very mix and unplaceability of its pieces This was, in other words, a familiar space for the ex-Drum generation and, in the absence of a nation, they could only appeal to this amorphous region Africa and diaspora for a new paradigm of self beyond the identification of exile.
Having glimpsed Mrwebi in the London performing music scenes, his presence amongst such political and literary luminaries is at first surprising.
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That these figures would have met in the small artistic and political scenes of s Johannesburg pro- vides one explanation, but does not illuminate why Mrwebi, who was hardly known for his literary prowess, would appear in this list as an author and not, for example, Todd Matshikiza. And so, whereas prior knowledge of South African jazz enabled the exiled musicians to form groups, and their shared knowledge of jazz meant they could collaborate with non-South Africans, South African exiles' radio work con- tributed to the creation of a different kind of community.
The latter seems more circumscribed than the live jazz scenes. Apart from Athol Fugard, it is populated by black South African artists and intellectuals for whom Drum magazine is a common background and, apart from Frene Ginwala, by white South African politicians for whom anti-apartheid activism is a shared commitment. This scene, in other words, more properly resonates with conventional understandings of South African political exile in Britain, rather than with the fluid diaspora in which South African jazz - and Mrwebi - resided.
Because this scene was dominated by writers, and has received more sustained scholarly attention, it has often been used to understand the story of South African jazz in Britain. It was however in music, which supplemented talk, that South Africans' unique contributions were most evident.
THE STORY OF SOUTH AFRICAN JAZZ
As it "snaked its way through" the BBC, according to Gunner, jazz often "showed the overt link between cultural identity and political voice" Her observation contradicts Gerald Moore's, for whom the pre- ponderance of jazz was "almost certainly 'caviar to the general'" because the mu- sic had taken root more decisively in South Africa than in the rest of the continent 1 Moore's scepticism may be because he does not factor the black diaspo- ra in Britain into his analysis. South Africans in the Transcription Centre and in the BBC reaffirmed the possibility of making a jazz home in this diaspora as they had made a musical home in U.
Black British jazz musicians in the s were engaged in their own dialogues with U. The alto saxophonist Joe Harriott's mastery of and departure from Charlie Parker's bebop idiolect is one example. Others moved elsewhere, working and performing with musicians across borders of genre, race or origin Stapleton They also collaborated with South Africans, including with Gwigwi Mrwebi. The most important product of these collaborations is Kwela by Gwigwi s Band , perhaps the strongest historical footprint of South African jazz's early history abroad. The album's most recent incarnation is as Mbaqanga Songs In the liner notes to this re-issue, Steve Beresford speculates that Mrwebi's music was incorrectly labelled "kwela" in the s because "mbaqanga" would have been too difficult for Londoners to pronounce fig.
So instead of "mbaqanga by Gwigwi Mrwebi's band" we get "kwela by Gwigwi's band. We could, for example, point out that s London and the U. Titling the album "mbaqanga" in the s could have been lucrative. Whatever reasons there were for the title's changes, they had particular effects on how South African jazz was packaged, performed and received in s London, and on Mrwebi's career beyond this recording.
Lasting less than twenty minutes, each broadcast highlights a specific aspect of the style. The first outlines its socio-historical function and briefly explores its life outside South Africa in the s. The second and third allude to mbaqanga performance in London, while the fourth meditates on composing mbaqanga in this London scene.
The mbaqanga fea- tured all emanates from one source: Gwigwi Mrwebi 's band in London, for an album that would be released the following year by Doug Dobeli, one of the many produc- ers with which the Centre had dealings. Plugging mbaqanga's interpretation by Gwigwi Mrwebi 's band in London was problematic because it was not wholly consistent with the Centre's ethnological rep- resentation of the New Commonwealth. One way to bypass this inconsistency was to present mbaqanga as a legitimately diasporic cultural practice, hence McGregor's insistence that what is heard is Gwigwi Mrwebi 's band in London.
McGregor thus legitimises the band in a number of ways: by explaining that "many beautiful mbaqa- nga songs have been made known to the world at large by the great folk singer, Mir- iam Makeba," by pointing out that "the trumpeter Hughie Masekela who lives now in New York Subverting the demands for native authenticity, as Paul Gilroy has argued, re- quires more than this tactic. The realities that expressive cultures of the Black At- lantic enclose cannot be explained merely by assuming anti-essentialist stances, however strategic such may be, because these realities are historical Beyond instrumentation, mbaqa- nga's rituals also recall those of jazz, and McGregor suggests this when explaining that mbaqanga music is linked to dance parties that take place over weekends ibid.
His description therefore encloses a reality of modern black American jazz life that is shared but is not identical with African jazz life. Introducing mbaqanga to audi- ences in Africa and in its diaspora in this manner is important because, while it off- sets the necessity of native authenticity, it highlights narrative authenticity. Mrwebi becomes central to this story of a diasporic mbaqanga. He was leading a diverse ensemble consisting of black and white South Africans, and black and This content downloaded from He had also composed more than half of the repertoire; the other half consisted of Dudu Pukwana's compositions.
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Gwen Ansell , University of Pretoria. South African music professor Salim Washington comments in a recent email interview I did with him: Miles flouted the absurd rules while inventing a cooler and more inventive way to be, in a world designed to make black men politically impotent and culturally neutered … But sometimes it seems he is cited as a bad boy and not as a thinker, which he was. Anti-apartheid youth rebellion in Mamelodi appears as a few isolated young individuals one, a murderous thug restrained by their frightened families, echoing multiple Hollywood biopics where the revolutionary is an anomic individual amid apolitical peasants muttering, All we want to do is herd our goats in peace.
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