THE HISTORY OF THE PENNY WHISTLE IN SOUTH AFRICA, IS VERY MUCH TIED UP WITH THE PERSONAL STORY OF SPOKES MASHIYANE.
Born twenty-six years ago, at Vlakfontein, Northern Transvaal, Spokes' days were very similar to those of every country-born African. As a toddler, he spent his days tending his father's cattle, and to while away the long hours, he tried his hand at the primitive African reed flute. This soon became his constant companion and his prowess made him popular with his young friends. The time came when rural life began to pall and Spokes made for the " big city "—Johannesburg.
It was as a domestic servant that Spokes became wise to city ways, and one of his first acquisitions was a genuine " Penny Whistle "—costing 4s. 6d.! Still much of a novelty, Africans in various parts of the country were experimenting with this new musical toy, and Spokes immediately became a popular guest at parties because he was able to produce a " new sound."
The design of the South African penny whistle is the same as that throughout the world, but, by placing the mouthpiece vertically against the inside of his left cheek and by introducing an entirely new fingering system, he was able
to produce a roundness of tone hitherto unknown with this limited musical instrument.
It was while playing at an impromptu street-corner musical session, that Spokes was spotted by African talent scout Strike Vilakazi. Vilakazi, who has been responsible for the discovery of numerous African musicians, rushed Spokes to the studio for a test recording.
Since those early days, Spokes and the penny whistle have grown in stature. Mashiyane is appearing on the world's hit parades with numbers like "Jika Spokes," "French Fried" and "The Boys from Jo'burg." A far cry from the days of cattle herding and the reed flute!
This long-player carries a varied selection of Spokes' work—showing clearly why Mashiyane with his versatile and highly individualistic approach, has been crowned
Spokes Mashiyane, is credited as having popularized kwela or pennywhistle jive with his recordings Ace Blues and Kwela Spokes in 1954. In the four years that followed he would remain one of the most famous and prolific proponents of this musical style.
In 1958, Mashiyane recorded Big Joe Special in which he switched out his pennywhistle for the saxophone. As with his earlier Ace Blues, Big Joe Special was a sales phenomenon. The record became the trendsetting hit of that year and would inspire a whole new style of music. Sax jive—latter called mbaqanga—would dominate South African urban music for the next twenty years. Mashiyane, after his successes with Trutone Records and their Quality and Rave labels, was lured away by Gallo Records in 1958. At Gallo he became the first black musician to receive royalties from his recordings.