Home to the Story of South African Jazz
“The most soulful sax player in the world” Paul Simon
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The Story of South African Jazz Live in Johannesburg was knocked out by the deepest and richest story of South African Jazz in Johannesburg ... and that is the story of the Rachabane family. Barney Rachabane is the pioneer of this musical dynasty. Barney is now in his 70th year and is engaged with a biography, book of solo's, album release, big band and school. In his sixty year career, he has pioneered jive, recorded extensively and spread the graceland message worldwide. JIVE records based its beginnings on the pennywhistle kids of the Alexandria All Stars and became the biggest record label in the world making the careers of the big names... Graceland became the biggest selling album in the world in 1983 ... Barney Rachabane was once known as 'the most soulful saxophone player in the world', And the soul remains as fresh. The spirit of the music is eternal. Barney is a musical father who has passed the musical message onto his children and grandchildren. And it looks like a musical lineage that will never end.
His gifted saxophonist son, the late Leonard Rachabane was a part of the explosion of jazz at UKZN in the late 80's. And Barney's last-born is Octavia Rachabane, a songstress. Octavia has performed alongside her father since the age of 12. When Octavia saw her father perform live at the Market Theatre, she decided on a career in music. She said, "music was all around me. I was bound to it in a way."
I spent a morning at the Rachabane home in Soweto. On leaving Barney he looks at me and says, “I walk with God.” I know that Bra Barney, I can see and feel that. I had arrived very early in the morning for this mission. In fact I am so early Octavia needs to get Barney out of bed.
Octavia is such an amazing support to her father, she is a great musician who has put aside her own career to keep her father in safe hands. Barney's health is not tops for a 68 year old man. The cigarette smoking is getting to him. He is all flemmed up. But this man is a survivor of the most determined kind. He is from the old school. And what a tough school that is. His lessons in self actualization are profound. In a world that has taken so much from him, that has used his music for their own benefit, the cost of survival has been high. But now, he has made it.
Money, money, money, Barney is always talking about money. I see why! He has built 3 houses. One of his houses was illegally occupied and he ended up having to go to the high court to resolve the illegal occupation. His music has also been illegally occupied. The exploitation is simply a fact and not grounds enough for negativity and anger. Exploitation in the music industry exists on the back of these great musicians. A man like him who has contributed so much to our musical vernacular over a 60 year career should rightfully be a millionaire. In stead there are several folks from his past who are millionaires in their own right.
And Barney at 68 years of age is still riding with the times, rolling with the days, suffering and smiling, or was it a grimace? Hard to tell. You see, Barney is a musician through and through, a born entertainer. If the millions made its way rightfully to him, what would he do, but build a music school. He would never drink it up or coke it up or eat it up like the so many fat cats and money launderers he has met in the night clubs of his long career.
Barney looks at me and says, ‘It is not about the money, it is about the heart'. All of this can be accomplished through the heart. “I know,” I say and I put up a good show for him and his daughter, telling Octavia all about self publishing and Barney about crowd-funding. With such there is no need to get a record company to cut him to pieces. The record labels always find a way to cut one to pieces. I once had a vision that would look after these old timers. It was called Archive Africa : the now way back then. It was a series of CD's that released the music from the dusty archives for the benefit of the musicians. The first volume was so successful that the record company set up a chain of distribution outlets.
Indeed to walk the path with God is the hardest path to walk, but the most fulfilling because when you reach your final count, like our father Barney, it is all yours, you made it yourself, you did it your way. And it will live forever. After 60 years at the forefront of the entertainment world, Barney is proud of what he has created. He is living in Soweto because that is the life he chose. Barney says his home was custom built, just the way he loves it.
“This music thing is difficult,” he says. Why is that? I attempted to explain what I thought. Light and dark, the infinite duel and the transcendent nature of music. And I offered them a webpage to help make the change. A webpage, do you honestly think that can help? Maybe Thunderfund?
Barney seems to think there is a character in Durban called Innocent who is going to give us the intermediate funding. This guy got two bars and used to be a good sax player. Barney phones up Johnny Mekoa, “Mek” he says and a few words in quickly spoken Afrikaans. And “Mek” can you believe it comes up with the name ‘Innocent'. How he was on Barney's wavelength I do not know. These musicians from the jazz era are something else.
We are all builders learning the techniques from the master builder himself. If it were not for all the theft and musical exploitation he would have built a suburb by now. But then again would we have been able to find ourselves it if were all done for us. I suppose that is why I say in Volume One of the SA jazz story, that “good and evil walk together like brothers.” Do we not need the destruction in order to maximize our construction?
Strange cases in a strange world. To be in the presence of the elders is to be tweaked. Good or bad, I can't say, yet we are paying tribute anyway. We are holding the esteemed high and as Octavia says, ‘putting her dad on a pedestal.' Let's put Barney on that pedestal, he must be better than most. Barney said when he played with Abdullah Ibrahim, Abdullah backed him, I believe it. There is no stopping Barney Rachabane. Barney got so much accumulated experience but his time is running out. If three score and ten is our allotted time, then it is just round the corner for him. He's getting ready to leave us. It seems he would be happy with an album launch, a book project and a music school before he goes. Or maybe those are simply things he recognizes in his future. He has realized his vision and actualized his potential and now it is over to his daughter. The dedication, commitment, perseverance and self sacrifice she has shown to her father is the nurturing spirit personified…
2. Barney says:
I smoked for many years. I stopped now for 20 years. In Oslo we got hash. We were gong to Stockholm. We got some stuff we smoked in the night. In the morning we had to fly to Stockholm. We cut the hash, light it and pull it fast. Me and a friend of mine, one of the singers. We pulled that thing. After that I don't know what happened in the plane. I ended up on my bed in Stockholm. We didn't play for two days. They sent someone to come and check me. I was fucked up from that day. Then I stopped forever to smoke the ganja. That was '92. It is a long time. Over 20 years. It was the hash, I had an overdose of that. In Oslo most of the people were doing cocaine and ganja. I stopped until now. But, I am still smoking cigarettes. I should have stopped cigarettes at the time. As well. But, I smoke very less now. I buy one or two per day. The in take of cigarette is very low. I will be able to stop easily. I smoked last night 2 cigarettes, maybe 4 yesterday. Then I bought two in the night and I smoked them finished. I haven't smoked now. See. I am not craving. It is easy to go and buy. Are you recording me about the ganja? We are not talking about the music but about the ganja. So you are from Durban, how do you say your name ‘Sweets.'
No, it is just a thing that happens in the township. My father came from the church. His father was a reverend. They had a lot of children. They were in the church, playing the piano there, my mother and my father played the organ, the one you press. I played pennywhistle then on the streets of Johannesburg. It is building in me something. And through to play the clarinet a bit later at 10, 11, 12, somewhere there and then I played saxophone also. I play all of them. There are so many bands. I can't count them. You came across some other bands I played with?
I saw you at the Cape Town jazz festival 2001 – 2002
Where did the pennywhistles come from?
I lived in Alexandria, you could buy them in the Indian shops in the bicycle shops they used to have pennywhistles. You could go and buy them there … the pennywhistles.
Was Soweto famous for music?
No, I am not from here. I am from Alexandria. I was born there 1946. That is when I started to play the music because you found all the musicians there. The old ones. That is where I learnt to play music because there were too many musicians there just drinking it up. A lot of guys died there because there was much to do. I also went for the drink … look I got a home with my children, everything. I stopped all that shit because I saw the guys dying easily. I thought I must live. I am going for 70 now, I made it, ha?
Ya! This one is my last baby of 4 (Octavia). My son third boy was playing tenor sax. He went to UKZN. He was studying there. He died. He made a mess. You understand. I have this family. I wanted them to live good like me. I am making some money. She went to school too, she finished matric, she studied music. I didn't learn anything from school. I am self taught in everything. I am a different person. I am hip, very hip. This is my life, I just made it. My wife is not working. We own another house. I built this house myself. I break it and rebuild it myself. You see it is my style this. You see the upstairs? I had another one up there. I built another one there to make a double story. I became very hip, very hip. I could look after my children. There were three girls. This is not my daughter. The other one has two girls and the other one 2 boys. I just cracked it you know. I had my own vision. I took music very seriously.
I wanted to go overseas. I did everything I wanted to do. I travelled the world. I played with good musicians, the best musicians, some of the best.
How will your story inspire the others?
I don't know. People think the other way, they don't think like me. I think different. I didn't go to school for anything. I organized my life somehow. It is a different thing. It is not like normal people who go to school and then they study an instrument, no. It is just impromptu, it just happened the way I wanted it to happen. And I enjoyed it. It feels nicer to teach yourself. If somebody is trying to teach you something, some teachers don't even know. They have the education but they can't even play. How are you going to teach if you can't play? The academics have got the papers. Practically they will show you on the paper, very different.
Were there people who inspired you?
There were so many of them, because there were no schools. Kippie Moeketsi, no school. Today I know how to read music. I am not a first class reader, but I know how to read.
How did you come to jazz music?
Alexandria we listened to good jazz, the best jazz. The worlds' top music was in Alexandria. Some guys were not musicians, they just collected records. We listened to the best in the world and then I started to buy my own vinyl's. I got lots of them, the best. I was learning from the turntable.
Did you record your music?
I have got some albums. I have recorded myself. The pennywhistles, I don't have that music now. I recorded for EMI. Later on, I played also on the clarinet and saxophone. I don't know what has happened to that music. Maybe they have got the archives EMI, is Gallo combined. They have got that music.
How do you feel, have the record companies exploited you?
I don't know what they did. They exploited everybody, every musician. People don't even know about royalties. We don't worry about that. Exploitation is a big thing in this country. Now I can show you some albums I recorded in London. I never received a cent from there. One of the albums went to the Grammy's in the States. Nothing happened with it but you can see how much sold. And I never got the money. I never got that. How many albums! I did one here. I did two in London. Same company. I met the guy here at State Theater last year because I was playing there. (Ralph) Simon is very rich now. I met him there, we took some photos, he gave me the email address and he said ‘I owe you a lot of money.' You see. He knows he owes me a lot of money. He is filthy rich. He has a company in London, he has a company in the US. Zomba Records, do you know about it? It is in London and they have another one in New York. He never gave me the money. I went with my lawyer to go and look for my money and no he didn't send any money.
Hey man, I went to EMI. There is another album there with Malombo. You know Malombo, there is an album from the jazz festival 1964: the quartet one side and Malombo on the other. They re recorded that onto a CD. This side is just Malombo on the other side there are other tracks. They don't even know the people there. They didn't account for them. I went there and they said they gave the guys R30 000 each. I can't remember. They didn't give me my money. They gave me 6 pounds, something like that, very strange thing. And I was broke. And they gave me that money. I even forgot about that. Shit!
Somehow I managed! I am standing here, a father with children, 5 grandchildren. My grandson is a beautiful player also. Hip ja! My wife is here. My kids! God is great. Life is not about what they did to me. The exploitations, those people are just going to die like me. They are going to be the same like me. If you get rich today, tomorrow when you die, what have you got? We live for our children, what are they going to do with that money? Nothing. They can't do anything. It is not their money. It is my money. It is going to fade away that money. It gets finished. It is nothing. Anyway I am sitting here now. My place is very nice, I am enjoying it. I have got my car. My daughter has got a car. I have 3 cars. I don't owe anybody. As a musician you don't have to have credits. I didn't have to have credits. I owe the rent and the electricity. I don't want to owe another person. Never. I don't do that. If I got nothing, I stay like that. I have got my own style. I don't bother with everybody. Simple life, very simple. I bought my car. A nice car, a brand new car I bought there with my own cash, my own money.
How did you make it through the broke times?
That was when I was very young. I had parents. My parents were looking after me. I survived and I happened to get myself together somehow. When I got this house then I got myself very organized.
Did you compose music?
I have my compositions, I have an album now. I don't have enough money. We need to finish the album. And do the mastering. It cost a lot of money. I have got a good friend of mine. He has got a band. He released a CD and DVD. I played with him. He put me into his own studio with an engineer. Over R100 000 I think! He is a good guy, my friend, he is paying me for doing the gigs. I didn't even charge him. I thought no, I will just take what he is giving me. He is a good guy, he is a nice guy. I finished the album. I have got it. It is complete now. I need to finish doing it nicely and mastering it. Then I get it into a sleeve or something. Nice album. Very nice album. My original music. My music. It is jazz. I call it jazz. It is nice.
How many albums have you made of your own music?
Maybe 4 or 5, something like that. I also made another album with Richard Groove Holmes, an American organ player he came to South Africa. I recorded a record with him. We did a short tour in Cape Town, Durban and here. He is a big guy, an American, an award winner. Organ player. He plays piano. It is nice, it was me and the drummer, Lulu Gontsana. Do you remember him? He had a white guy and he said, ‘hey Barney that guy can't play man'. He said, ‘where the black motherfucker, let him come and play'. Lulu was better than that drummer Billy Higgins, a friend of mine. He said, ‘Now he was not nice, he preferred Lulu. We did the album with Lulu as a trio. He plays the piano and organ and Lulu on drums and then I play one solo, alto and soprano. I compose one song there or two. And then he did some standards and an award winning song. Misty. He played that song and made it award winning.
Where can we listen?
Richard has got the music. It was released. It was an album. I don't have it here. I got it but I don't know what happened. It was a long time ago.
Another one was this company in London. I was playing with Masekela. We did a your of Europe and America. And during the time we organized to do the album. The producer was Hugh Masekela. And then I recorded another one in South Africa. We went to mix it in London. Same company.
Then there was one before that. Special Mama was another company. Special Mama, I have the vinyl also.
Another one Rashid recorded. He didn't release that album. He released two copies, two songs and he put it on an album. Abdullah Ibrahim's song and the other guy Mannenberg who was playing the saxophone. He put two of my songs there. He made a compilation. That is what he did but there is a complete album there. Some of the guys are dead now. He didn't release the album. It is very funny that. It is many years now. I heard it with my ear. He said, ‘No I want you to die first and then I release it.'
I don't know. It is an Indian guy. The Indians are very mean people.
Do the record companies want you to die?
Then he releases the album as something else. No one knows what. But people can hear the music. My children are there. He is going to have a problem. Maybe he is going to die also. The world is a very mean place.
Everything you made yourself but your recording you did not?
I can do it now because I have got the age for it. People can do it for me. I am a composer and everything. I own that album. Can I play it for you …
It is my path to leave now. You can't keep trying. My friend has got a studio in Benoni. He is not getting money. He used to get money, Lotto, arts and Culture. And now he has got a big studio, but no money. You can't record there you need an engineer. Battling. Maybe I am too old. Do you think I can still make it to finish that album?
I am here to help you. I can use my skill to write … we go listen to the CD in the car. We only get one and a half tracks before the CD scratch prevents further listening. However the vibration of the music heard is very excellent, powerful and enjoyable, that old style jazz of the entertainment era. The opening composition Mama Kwela is delightful as the horn lines lay out a steady groove before Barney's improvisation and soloing adds a strong dynamic.
I need to do the mastering and finish it. I must do the rest with Octavia as well as she must put the melodies and lyrics on some of the songs. And I have a guitar, a friend of mine playing guitar. I must put guitar inside there. It is a guy from Natal. Do you know Makoena? He stays in Dube. He is in PMB in Natal. He has got a farm there. He has been making some dollars and taking the money there to add the cows. I forgot his first name. He played there and didn't charge me. Bra Barney, he just helped me to do that. He played in the big band with me.
I will play with the big band at the State theatre in February. If I can have some funds, I will make a DVD. Some people who have got some machines can make the DVD.
We never have much time with the band. The guys are from Pretoria. I must rehearse with them. There are 3 guys, they are young and reliable. They are good players. We have our guys here at home. They want to play quick and get their money quick. Those guys have a school there so they get some steady thing going. We have done some gigs and they played my music well. They are not playing on the disk. There is just the base player and the piano layer. I am playing the piano also in this thing. I play piano myself and other instruments. And Oscar my grandson plays. The engineer plays base also. It has been so tough and I have managed to make it. I just make it to make that album. Some of my tracks don't even have titles but the music is there.
What about the book?
I am doing extracts now and then. A guy came to me Phaahla, he is a journalist on the radio, a very senior guy. He organized something for Victor Ntoni before he died. He organised some money. Then when we went to bury Victor Ntoni he said Bra Barney I need to speak to you about writing something for Arts and Culture, what not. He phoned me a couple of times and said, okay we are going to discuss this thing. Then I started to question him and he became very nasty. But I think he wants to capture some money and we do the book, something like that. I ask him how are we going to do this, who is going to pay and how is it going to happen with the money? He started not liking what I was saying. Don't you think he has got some problem there? Phaahla, he is a journalist. Does he think I am stupid? Do you know what I am saying. When you talk about money, he doesn't want to talk. He says he is going to make an office and we start writing. Don't you think he has got a problem? When I start to question him about the things and money he doesn't want to hear me. People want me to write a book about my life. I think it must be a South African product, it shouldn't come out of another country like Masekela. He was in exile for many years, 30 years. Now he comes and makes a book in America, almost like an American. Half of his life will be American, half South African, meanwhile he is a South African, just in exile.
No no no no, I never had a problem. I am not a politician. I am a musician. Do you understand what I am saying? I don't want to involve politics. I am not a politician. I am far from that. To be a politician, even if you are not a politician it s not right to be affected by the system. It doesn't mean I like the system here, no I have got my own problems like everybody, but I don't need to make it a profession. Some people are professional politicians, they do it for a living. I don't want to do that. For example Masekela was in self-exile, do you understand. He never had a portfolio in the ANC, he is not an ANC. It divides him from the ANC and the government. Self exile. And he was working there. He was not earning money from United Nations. He was making money. He was playing music for a living. It is different isn't it? He was not earning from the United Nations. Do you think?
I am doing extracts for the book, now and then I am covering a period, then another period which brings the story alive. Some things make me remember other things. I have been in Africa as well. I am very well traveled in my music. I didn't do the greatest, I didn't make a lot of money but I traveled very well.
The Inxiles like Bheki Mseleku would not want to touch money.
No, he was screwed up, he was sick. I don't want to talk about that. Maybe if you switch off I will tell you something.
According to Barney, Bheki had a problem in the brain, developed from cocaine use-age. They played a gig in London together and got a big payout, R30 000 each. Bheki brought the money back to Durban and gave it all away to random beggars and ended up himself sleeping under a bridge with no money. “His brain is messed up,” he reiterates. “Look at him playing two instruments at the same time unless you have 4 hands,” he says. “I play piano, but I don't play same time as saxophone.” So I ask him about Hugh Masekela's addiction and why he never got messed up. “Hugh's an athlete,” he says. “He runs 10km every day. He works that stuff out of his system.” He says Bheki's problem was the same as the Molelekwa's: the pianist, Moses, the saxophonist, Moses Khumalo and the trombonist. “They all died young,” he says. “Moses killed himself and he was young, what was that?” He asks. Barney is different. “I am strong,” he says. “I know how to be alone, I meditate.”
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Your background in the music …
I decided after matric I would go and study at Pretoria Technikon and from then on I met other musicians and I started performing professionally getting paid for what I was doing and not just doing it for the fun of it. From then on that was it. I never looked back.
As far as this demo is concerned the music was recorded because it was some ideas that I had in my mind that kept coming up and I thought maybe one day I could make an album out of this. It is not easy to make an album and get a record deal or whatever because I have already taken the demo to a few recording companies but there was no response towards that but I am still trying to push and if I get enough money I can do it myself and maybe get to market it and do my own thing. It is a demo, there are lots of songs, there are four. I have a lot of songs that I actually wrote with the help of Glen Mafoke who used to stay here at one of the back rooms. I would take my ideas to him and we would put things together and come up with some nice stuff and eventually we got to go to Chisa Records and just lay down the four that I have right now. Actually there are more.
And what do you think your dad still needs to achieve in his life time?
Do you think by giving so much to your dads' career you are undermining you own?
It is not that I am undermining my career. I look up to him a lot because of his experience and what I have seen him go through these years. I am a grown woman. He has been through a lot as well, but he has pulled through. And still playing the music and not diverting and saying I am going to get a job from 9 till 5. He knew what he wanted. And he did what he wanted. And he followed his dream and his passion. I am wiling to do the same.
What will make you stand out in your career?
If I get to do my own music, instead of me being featured in his concerts. Have my own concerts as Octavia Rachabane instead of Barney Rachabane featuring Octavia Rachabane. I want to be an individual. I want to make it on my own.
I don't know how they labeled it township jazz. He would say it is township jazz because maybe they played a lot in the townships. It started in the townships and all that at that time. But, now it is all over. It is broad. It is bigger than just calling it township jazz. The music is people's emotions, people's experiences. It is their lifestyle.
Your dad is part of the old school of the recording industry. Are you part of the technological revolution?
It looks like if you are under a record label, then they restrict you to what you can do instead of going with what you feel and what you want to do. Doing it yourself, you get to grow as an individual. You are free to do what you want to do instead of being restricted to saying this won't sell. The other thing that makes those record labels which I took my demo to reject me, was because I wasn't of that trend at that time. I don't want to follow a certain trend. I want to do me.
I am working on getting people who are willing to work with me. Money is the only problem. Otherwise I am willing to make it with people who can see into the future that there is actually hope to revolutionise this thing instead of trying to say it is all about money, and if I do this with you, you need to give me money. It is money money all the way. If I can get this going I think I will be a step ahead of where I am now. To get people to work with me without any reservations or saying I will be busy today or I can't come. The other one is going to pay me, so we will see you later because there is no money or funding in this project at this moment.
1957: The Kwela Kids and the Alexandra Junior Stars . Released internationally RCA
1963: Jazz – The African Sound by Chris McGregor's Castle Lager Big Band: Barney was part of the reed section of Kippie Moeketsi, Dudu Pukwana, Mackay Davashe and Christopher Columbus Ngcukana. Gallo records.
1964: Early Mabuza Quartet – featuring Pat Matshikiza (piano), Ernest Mothle (bass) and trumpeter Johnny Mekoa Two Barney Rachabane compositions, The Idea and Barney's Way appeared on Castle Lager Jazz Festival 1964 album. EMI
1966: Performed and recorded with the Jazz Disciples – Dennis Mpale, trumpet; Ronnie Beer tenor saxophone; Tete Mbambisa, piano, Sammy Marits Bass and Max Dayimani drums .. Recordings available in SABC archives and IBH (Ian Bruce Huntley) archives.
1968: Founding member of the Soul Giants with Dennis Mpale, Shakes Mgudlwa (piano), Gordon Mfandu (drums) and bassist Mongezi Velelo. Released a six-track LP titled I Remember Nick , a tribute to saxophonists Nikele ‘Nik' Moyakhe and Kippie ‘Morolong' Moeketsi.
1975 – Recorded Chris Schilders' Pacific Express
1975 – Barney Rachabane and the Sound Proofs recorded Special Mama on Teal records
1976 – A tribute to Zacks Nkosi, Our kind of jazz Volume One, released on Gallo records 1984
1976 - Recorded Sweet Matara by Barney Rachabane & Company. Barney Rachabane – Alto Saxophone Stompie Manana – Flugel Horn and trumpet Willie Netti – Trombone Ezra Ngcukana – Tenor Saxophone Molly Barron – Drums (Rockets) Frankie Brown – Bass (Rockets) Jerry Watt – Guitar (Rockets).
1977 Barney was in the line-up that recorded Abdullah Ibrahim's Natural Rhythm album.
1983 - Collaborated with Darius Brubeck to release a jazz single, Tugela Rail
1984 – Recorded with the Jazzanians, Darius Brubeck (Piano), Nelson Magwaza (Drums), Marc Duby (Bass) & Gabriel 'Mabi' Tobejane (Percussion). Digitally re-mastered and made available through 3 rd ear music.
1985 – Recorded on Hugh Masekela's album “Waiting for the rain.”
1985 – Recorded with Hugh Masekela “Live at the BBC”
1987 – Recorded on the Graceland Concert Live at Rufaro Stadium Harare
1989 – Solo album Blow Barney Blows, produced by Hugh Masekela and released on Jive Afrika
1989 – Solo album Barneys Way released on Jive
1989 – The track Special Mama featured on the compilation African Horns on BMG
2002 – Recorded with Darius Brubeck & Afro Cool Concept, released on MELT2000 records
2002 - African Tributes recorded Live in New Orleans with Darius Brubeck (piano), Victor Ntoni (bass) and Lulu Gontsana (drums), released on MELT2000 records
2015 – Live DVD filmed with the Mzansi Music Ensemble. Not yet released.
2015 – Live performance filmed with the Sophiatown Heritage Ensemble.
2015 – Began the mix down of his solo album (set for release in 2016)
2015 – Recorded with Octavia Rachabane Live at the Orbit, released independently
2016 – Recorded with Scottish Band Bwani Junction not yet released
5. Barney Rachabane's performances in Cape Town during the heydays of the inxiles; 1964 -67 captured on bootleg
Barney played alongside a number of great musicians including saxophonists Dudu Pukwana, Ronnie Beer and trumpeter Dennis Mpale. They played with the rhythm section from the Soul Jazz Men, featuring Tete Mbambisa on piano, Sammy Maritz on Bass and Max Dayimani on drums. On Occasion Bob Tizzard or Martin Mngijima stood in for Sammy on the bass.
They held down a residency at a venue known back in the day as Room on the Top. The same venue exists in Cape Town Bree Street to this very day. It no longer supports free and innovative music, so these recordings are a crucial memoire of a period of time that should never be forgotten for in this period of time lies the keys of the jazz education of our greatest musicians – ever. Yes, ever, because in order to become a master in the humble and eternal way, it all starts with being a disciple. They said it and they did it. Thank you for Barney Rachabane for keeping the flame burning to this very day!
These recordings were preserved in the IBH archive and are made available in a re-generation and re-patronisation project of re-turn to the re-source …
On a particular night in Cape Town, the Jazz Disciples climbed on stage. They were without Sammy Maritz, Bob Tizzard with his upright walking style was standing in. And they played the classics that they love to play.
Leads Dwana (13:54) (ITP 53)
Straight No Chaser (21:28) (ITP 53)
Night in Tunisia (15:18) (ITP 53)
They open with “Leads Dwana.” This is explosive with the saxophones taking centre stage. Rachabane on alto saxophone and Mpale on trumpet are a team. They clearly play alongside one another a lot. Rachabane is first out of the blocks with his solo. He hands the solo onto Mpale so nicely; with a single phrase. Mpale takes it on and off he goes; a constant flow of phrases as he strides through the register. They pass the baton in this dialogue and the band keeps playing. Mbambisa climbs back onto his solo and the drums keep it steady. Ronnie Beer is ever present. A man with a day job, but a man with a vision. He is the facilitator.
They follow up with an excellent version of Straight no Chaser. It takes a untypically slow pace, speaking the language of Monk in a Cape Town way. Mpale puts out a fat solo at this laid pack pace. The bass playing is sonorous. The piano solo is long and everywhere. But the horns are tight enough to bring it together.
And then wham bam, they close out the session with a cracking version of Night in Tunisia. Mpale puts his name next to Gillespie. Dizzy indeed. He is backed up well by Beer playing harmonies and then an outstanding tenor solo. But it is the Mpale solo that is attacked like a world champion as he delivers a resounding series of notes and phrases. Dancing over this invigorating minor mode, screeching and preaching in thunderous rolls and turns that always land exactly where they want, need or desire. He got his sound on a string this young man. And he never tires. The solos are sweet and long. Mbambisa chomps up his piano solo, bouncing about, scatting and bopping on the walking style of the bass blizzard from Tizzard.
Big Band Blues Standard (12:53) (ITP 43)
Mr Mecca (14:29) (ITP 43)
??? / Immediately / ??? (7:57) (ITP 43)
On another night, the Jazz Disciples are back up at the Room on the Top. They move right into a sweltering big band blues number freewheeling with rolling melody lines for fun. Martin Mngijima is standing in on the bass. His style is ever steady, ever ready. The song starts good and carries the refrain throughout whilst solo's from Rachabane, Mpale and Beer give it a delightful reconciliation and they come together to sing the song to close in resounding style for Mbambisa to give it a final twist, grooving in the trio of the Soul Jazz Men. Playing with love and then waiting patiently to close it alone.
Green Dolphin Street (12:14) (Quartet only) (ITP 43)
??? / SONG FOR DENNIS / ??? (13:07) (ITP 43)
Green Dolphin Street gets a mellow mood going as the bass leads it out with a delightful bassline as he walks into some heavy petting as the saxophonists take centre stage with the alto leading us into the melody. Rachabane sweet and soulful on this beautiful standard. And then straight into the solo. It is a favourite. They are in quartet mode. Tenor and trumpet are taking a breather. An extended Mbambisa solo, a Mngijima solo. The saxophonist is in to close this tune.
At some point these lads were looking so neat, calm and collected that they set up a date downtown Cape Town to make a record. These last four tracks were recorded live at the Thibualt Square Studio in 1964. Sammy Maritz takes his place on the bass in an otherwise unchanged starting line-up.
11. Billie's Bounce (Charlie Parker) (7:11) (ITS)
12. Immediately (Unknown composer) (8:13) (ITS)
13. Leads Dwana (Composer unknown) (7:55) (ITS)
14. Green Dolphin Street (7:20) (ATS)
In the studio recording they are off at a sweltering pace with the bebop classic, Billies Bounce composed by Parker. The horn man are up for this date celebrating in the soft and sultry tones of Maritz. They feel their music. Rachabane leads out the solo, bouncing on his attack in tribute to the song. All over the keys like a new man matured to his calling. The disciples are coming of age. This is where they were cracking the nod of a global audience. Mpale steps up. Big strong and ever presence, he muscles out a bebop trumpet sound with his licks, chirps, strong notes and the thrilling chilling over-spilling talent from his trumpet bag. And Beer is there too. He is loving standing with the giants, so much so that he must be a giant too. Disciples are in action. South Africa's top ranking sestet of the day, in the American jazz mould as it was reinvented in South Africa. And the rhythm section is bouncing on the tune. Mbambisa is powerful, loving this professional date. Playing with the power of promise. And the horns finish it off in rasping style.
Immediately is off to a tight horn start. Strong and in the bebop style. Horns together as one. Rhythm right on top of the situation. And alto leads out the solo's in a polite manner, spanking, tinkling and winkling this lovely little ditty of a tune. And then Maritz gets walking over the bass and alto picks up the mood. Getting serious. Then getting happy again, all over the range in a controlled expression that is melodic. Tenor follows. Ladidaa on a particular Cape Town day. Feels like its winter somehow, the way the rhythm is keeping it sweating in the background. Then again these were the jazz days. This is what these guys could do, no matter what the whether. It is always going to be tight, right and sparkling in the name of jazz linguistics. Because of nothing more that is Mpale's style, more phrases than Shakespeare in love, more licks than a puppy dog. He is the jazz man complete and he solo's through the breaks and changes like that. Superb, a museum, an archive, a founder and a patron of jazz, under the name disciple. Master I tell you. Master Mpale. Mbambisa follows got to love that. This song is kicking, this sound is sticking. They are into the session now. Present, changing the pace and the space with inventive rhythmical work by the dynamic Soul Jazz Men, and the interplay of Mbambisa and Maritz. Horns close out with their typically sweltering long notes as if to say thank you very much.
Leads Dwana hits out like a knock out blow from a heavy weight as it punches the melody in quick time. The bass walking at a sprint. The drums sitting on the cymbals and the keys hitting in time. Tenor saxophone is first on the solo. Wild and melodic, but neatly drimmed. Alto jumps up into the frontline next to showcase a clean set of heals as the fingers run all over this steady and delightful rhythm. Rachabane is enjoying this one as he squeaks and peaks a preview of his rolling freedom on the fingers as they fall and rise all over the register with light and delight. This is the jazz language. A language all of its own. A language that anybody could speak, if your mind is clear and clean. Mpale last to solo as usual with the typical gentlemanliness of a trumpeter. Or it is ladies first. Just kidding! But this character is as big as it gets. He is as good as it gets. Wafting out this notes that flirt with a tone, keeping it clear, keeping it real and then putting out some fresh blues lines and the typical bebop roles, the high register repetition. All ideas, any ideas. Never ending ideas for ideologies. Mbambisa picks up the pieces. He loves this style. Because he knows how to speak jazz. His fingers do the talking. Maritz takes the lead, walking like a champ, falling into silence, giving space for drums and then bang. The horns close it out in melodic fashion. With a final … “sweltering rasp…” And a twinkle on the piano. The Jazz Disciples Shine !
And then it is all over bar the shouting with the Cape Town anthem of the day. An anthem by the way that made it all the way through to my area. Less in melody than in title. But the nonetheless these chaps know the melody like a lover knows the smell of her perfume. With Mpale's gorgeous muted trumpet horn, you can smell this wistful and delightful song that turns an external beauty into a lived experience. Mpale is matched by the sweltering tone of the Beer Tenor. This is his pace. He is loving it now. The lads have hit it big today and they are closing out a seminal set of music in the kind of unison that breathes the universal qualities of the 60's, the peace, love and respect in those fleeting moments before it was all destroyed. Alto takes the solo line with that lilt in his stride and that twinkle in his sound. His spitting out the pure pleasure of a melody that asked to be played. Alto has arrived. As good as it gets. These musicians are starting to peak. This record is massive. Mpale says it with his muted horn. Enough notes to paint the whole tone any colour you like. Enough class, enough style, enough sound, enough music. The Jazz Disciples … Somehow it was not enough. Or actually we know. It was too much. It was the liberation of the soul. And my word the song cuts out as if to say exactly that. We have bene robbed of a few extra minutes of that song. Just joking. The thievery is quite immense. But there is something that remains. Let us get this digitally remastered and into the ears of every living jazz lover on the planet. Know what you have been missing….
6. Barney in Drum Magazine
Images of Barney ... Bunny (Barney) Rachabane - Pennywhistler Kid - He will Play In London - This is 10 year old Bunny Rachabane of Alexandra Township. Bunny hit the news recently when his group, the Alexandra Junior All Stars, was stranded in Cape Town after appearing in Lofty Adam's 'Africa Sings!' The Union of Southern African Artists came to the rescue and sent the boys money to come home to the Rand. Immediately they were back they were plunged right into the 'Township Jazz.' One of the parts in Leon Gluckman's big musical production, 'King Kong' will be played by tiny, 10 year old Bunny Rachabane, Pennywhistler from Alexandra. Now in rehearsal, Bunny Rachabane and his four partners the Alexandra Bright Boys are sweating it out as hard as the big professionals. Bunny will be playing the part of a small time pennywhistler who has his own piped version of the theme song 'King Kong '. His troupe the Alexandra Bright Boys, take a fair part in the show. (Photograph by Drum Photographer , Baileys Archive) Barney (Bunny) was later not accepted for King Kong and the part was played by Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso.
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