On a visit to the SABC Archives in the Western Cape I found a well preserved selection of inspiring South African music of many different periods.
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 50's 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. It was the music of people discovering themselves, their mission.
All the music in the archive, all these recordings was 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 9, 10 horns spoke all the time. Mankunku, the bull is dancing with anger, sparring poetically with an insurmountable opposition. Christopher 'Columbus' Ngcukana, the original, the founder, the adventurer, is whispering melodies in a delicate and persuasive tone, whilst 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. I heard a band called Les Vbros that played the ‘I feel happy now cha cha.' These were guys in zoot suits, with duck tails and groupies playing surf soul jazz. And I heard the Cool Cats. I could picture at 6am after The Cool Cats late-night 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: in complete control. Jazz sweated a self-destructive sex appeal. It was hip, super hip.
The jazz had become a period and a generation. It was the release, the joy. When listening to this music, immediately those fleeting moments, those illuminating experiences and eccentricities that define a period so vividly became imaginable.
These were the memories that almost always remained anonymous, always talked of: timeless music of artists that only few have ever heard and compositions that only few can ever have imagined. The discovery was so rich and priceless.
"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 rational of every major city across the country."