Hunting for historical musical treasures
FIVE music lovers have banded together, determined to rescue and preserve Africa’s rare and rich music history for generations to follow.
From artists, professional archivists, to management consultants, living as far away as the United States, the UK and as close as Durban, the group all share one common passion – rare “out-of-print” African music ranging from Afrikaans folk music to township jive.
Chris Albertyn, Nick Lotay, Francis Gooding, Siemon Allen and Matt Temple, who first pioneered a website entitled Matsuli, in his attempt to track down authentic and often out of print local music, have formed a team of enthusiasts who are researching the rich musical African jazz, folk and jive music of the past.
The collection stretches as far back as the 1920s and the five are making it all available on their blogsite ElectricJive.blogspot.com, which first hit the internet in 2009.
Living on the edge of the Kloof gorge outside Durban, Albertyn, who owns hundreds of old vinyl records and recordings of local music, said at the outset it was important for people to know the recordings they made available on their site were usually out of print, had passed the copyright date and could be downloaded for free.
“We collect vinyl and African sounds for the love of music, not profit. Africa is blessed with a rich heritage of music that must be passed on and appreciated again and again. We focus on out-of-print South African and African music that is very difficult to find,” he said.
Albertyn hauls out crate after crate of vinyl records collected over time – some with old Afrikaans folk songs recorded in England, others featuring little-known South African bands, both black, white and mixed, and then his favourite– Mbaqanga and African jazz.
“The music industry has changed so much over the past 100 years; who owns it, who runs it and what it communicates. Music plays such an important role in socio-cohesion; it has a powerful economic role to play and those who make the music don’t often benefit.
“Also, there is a whole section of our history that’s getting lost and there just aren’t enough institutions and individuals who recognise that we’re going to lose a large part of that history.”
Albertyn said the best part of his passion and hobby was the “digging adventure”.
“I travel all over and I always make time to pop into second-hand shops and scrabble through the boxes of old vinyls. It’s like those lucky packets we used to get when we were kids; you never knew what was in them. We find wonderful music in the most unusual places. And then finding out about the story often means you start contextualising yourself – it’s all about the power of music – it can bring back smells, tastes, memories. We like to write a bit of a story with each download, which serves as an archive. Our objective is to turn on a whole new audience to this forgotten music. We’re doing it respectfully and the artists are really wanting it because it is heightening their profile again.
“Finding the copyright holders of each recording is one of the things we do, and then of course, getting in touch with the artists’ families, particularly if the work is reprinted. It’s important to find them so they can benefit financially,” he said.
Playing an old African jive number with a distinct boogie-woogie sound of the American girl band of the 1940s, the Andrew Sisters, Albertyn said music on the continent was greatly influenced by Western harmonies in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. “But they developed their own expressions, echoes and nuances; they run like threads through the music. White Africans are only now beginning to appreciate those threads in the global tapestry.”
However, said Albertyn with a hint of sadness in his voice, we all have day jobs and the research into each musical story takes a lot of time. “So we asked ourselves, how do we deal with it? We knew there were other people who shared our passion and that’s when Francis Gooding got involved. He’s an archival professional who spent five years creating the colonial archival library in the UK.
“His parents went to the same university, Sussex, and were friends with former president Thabo Mbeki. He spent a lot of time with the exiles in the UK and had accumulated a tremendous collection of their music. He is now helping us with the research, which is great.”
Their greatest achievement however, is their first reprint album of Dick Khoza’s Chapita, which was pressed in France – true to its original – with full licensing and royalties.
“Some people have accused us of bootlegging and sharing music that doesn’t belong to us. But that’s not what we are doing at all. If anything, we are heightening the profile of the music, which has resulted in a resurgence of interest.”
At the moment the blog site is getting as many as 2 000 hits a month and now boasts its 150th post. “There is a legion of great musicians who just haven’t received the recognition they should have; Kippie Moeketsi, Dudu Pukwana, Vincent Mankunku, Ernest Mothle and many others. Now these people are globally recognised, we are honouring these musicians. I don’t want people to think the blog site is a commercial venture – it’s not – but it’s the interest it is generating which is so exciting.
“South African musicians were screwed and now we are creating something beyond money from which many of them, or their families, can now benefit,” he said.