EPISODE 1 : The Art of 1,4,5 By Lwanda Gogwana

Lwanda Gogwana is a trumpet player, composer, arranger and educator. He is particularly passionate about the music of our rich and diverse South African heritage.

Module 1: PRE TASK

Lwanda traces the Marabi music to a time when it was most elegant, classy and sophisticated, and presented with dignity and respect. In this period, the musicians were both informally and or classically trained, receiving and giving their lessons on upright piano’s.

Lwanda describes the marabi music as “145.” This refers to the sound. “145” is a musical structure that gives space for all the other instruments to shine individually through improvisation and collectively to create a strong musical message.

Lwanda compares this to uBuntu as a philosophical foundation to describe the community in listening and respecting others on the bandstand. The instrumentation of the piano, saxophones tenor, alto, trumpet, clarinet, drums and the banjo all work together, giving each other space to state something and are often in conversation with each other.

Some of the leading performers

There were many famous musicians that excelled in marabi music. Thomas Mabiletsa the Zulu pianist played stride piano which was the signature instrument of early marabi. There was William and Wilfred Mseleku and The Merry Blackbirds. Bra Willie Gumede was born in Nkandla KZN and moved to Johannesburg. With a melting pot of languages and cultures and people migrating or exiling in and out of the city of gold, Johannesburg was one of many hubs of this urban musical movement. You find Sesotho Setswana, Xhosa and Zulu language all in early recordings of marabi. Marabi developed around the 1,4,5 musical progression and produced a vital and unique South African musical culture and style that has continued through multiple generations all the way into the current day.

From the Sophiatown shuffle sound of the swing and big band era’s like the Elite Swingsters; to the advanced compositions of bra Todd Matshikiza, to the avant-garde with Bra Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s classic Yakhal Nkomo; to fusion jazz with Bra Zakes Nkosi and the contemporary musicians including Lwanda himself.

The recordings

The book Marabi Nights written by Chris Ballantine comes together with a CD of 25 well known marabi pieces. Lwanda has chosen three of these pieces to transcribe and perform. These pieces are Tsaba Tsaba ke No. One by the Pitch Black Follies. Qua Qa by William and Wilfred Mseleku and uMajaji by the Merry Blackbirds.


1. Once you have located some marabi music choose the one song you love the most and listen out for the call and response nature of the melody? What is the pattern which this melody follows? Is it AABBAA? Or does it break from this pattern and include a C section too?

2. Can you hear a call and response pattern between the instrumentalists? Perhaps it is the left hand of the pianist on beats 1 and 3, and the drums on beats 2 and 4? Can you sing / play this call and response separately from the melody?

3. Can you hear the base movement in the song you have chosen? Can you isolate the base lines and sing / play them separately?

4. Now can you sing / or play the melody from ear on your instrument? Can you improvise with the melody and make a variation of the melody line? Why not transcribe the melody line for us and make a recording of your playing it? This will be valuable for building an educational archive for the future.

145 in describing the music refers to the sound of the music primarily. The chord progression does not strictly follow 145. It varies from song to song.

Module 1: POST TASK

145 in describing the music refers to the sound of the music primarily. The chord progression does not strictly follow 145. It varies from song to song.

The 145 progression isoften composed in AABBAA form and style, with the B section sometimes modulating to the subdominant while the harmonic movement cycles in a variation of the 145 sound.

This harmonic chord progression of the 145, also filters through all other genres after marabi.Marabi melodies are quite melodic and are often repeated in a call-and-response fashion.

Musically speaking the locations all over Southern Africa were a melting pot with so many traces of our music that became to be defined by so many different names. But, there is something that ties all this music together – the 1, 4, 5 progression.

Marabi is a South African genre or style that transcends language divisions. Marabi is where South Africa meets and become one. It is a melting pot of languages and cultures and it really exploded in the vibrant inner city locations of Sophiatown, Marabastad and Umkhumbane for example.

Marabi is the thread of all genres of all South African music and not just jazz. In this style we are going to zoom into three unique compositions, focussing on the melodies of these compositions.


1. How are 145 melodies usually constructed? Can you identify the A and B sections of the above melodies and the call and response lines?

2. Can you identify the harmonic movement of the cycle of each song?

3. Can you find the clarinet part in the song uMajaji. The clarinet offers a contrapuntal melody from the main melody, but it does not interfere with the main melody. This is where the ubuntu philosophy shines too. Can you sing or play this contrapuntal melody?

4. Take your favourite marabi song and compose a variation to the melody. You would be most welcome to share this with us as it adds to our musical archives and South African heritage.

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