Archive Africa

The now way back then : Samples from a Golden Age depository: SABC Archives

Extract from Story of South African Jazz Volume One by Struan Douglas : Archive Africa: the now way back was a music compilation album release exposing the dusty jewels from the public broadcaster. Such an archive is for both the education of future generations and for the sustainability of living musicians from previous generations. Finding a store of music that defines a period and represents an era honestly and accurately is always a privilege. And finding that store of music for a period like the 50s in South Africa is a miracle. Just about nobody recorded it because nobody thought it was worth anything more - than everything itself. Just about nobody documented it because everybody wanted to be it and just about nobody remembers it, because everybody felt it so dearly. Yet it's a period of sublime style, fashion and taste. It's time, ageing gracefully. There were the Jazz Dazzlers, Jazz Ambassadors, Disciples, Epistles and the Jazz Assassins. Jazz in South Africa had assumed a missionary position, passionate, dedicated, almost suicidal with the life blood that pulsed through the way-of-life of every major city across the country. It was the music of people discovering themselves and their mission. All the music in the archive, all these recordings were a tribute to every story I had ever heard before. The passion suddenly made perfect sense. On listening to the music, the stories of how this music was created came to life. For weeks, Chris McGregor would be behind the piano, furiously composing, considering, constructing. Not sleeping. How could you sleep? South Africa was intense and chaotic. And, in listening to the music, such an experience of South Africa is presented. In the backyard somewhere out in Langa a big band rehearsed furiously. There were no gigs, no sessions but this horn line of nine, ten horns spoke all the time. Mankunku, the bull, is dancing with anger, sparring poetically with an insurmountable opposition. Christopher 'Mra' Ngcukana, the original, the founder, the adventurer, is whispering melodies in a delicate and persuasive tone, while Cups n Saucers holds back and comments appropriately. The emotions came out, bounding and rebounding between restraint and release. Jazz had the power to transcend anything. There was Les Vbros that played the ballroom cha cha rhythms. These were guys in zoot suits, with ducktails and groupies playing surf soul jazz. And there were The Cool Cats from Cape Town. One can picture, at 6am after The Cool Cats’s latenight heavy petting jazz set at a club downtown somewhere, the saxophonist, instrument set on the floor next to him, his hair slightly ruffled, bow-tie rather loose, the rain pouring down, washing his feet in the gutter as he sat and smoked a cigarette, in complete control. Jazz sweated a self destructive sex appeal. It was hip, super hip.