This album was an ear opener for me.
It's apparent that the influences on the Heshoo Beshoos ranges from the most traditional African jazz to the American avant garde. Only in their music have I heard the two extremes merge into such a swinging synthesis. Roughly translated from the inter-tribal lingo of the African townships, Heshoo Beshoo means 'going by force'. It's a name 'these five guys obviously take to heart.
The most avant garde influence on this group is 28-year old Henry Sithole. Ten years ago he was playing penny whistle in Durban, and left for the greater musical opportunities in Johannesburg. Now he plays alto in a way that shows he's keeping up with developments in the States, while still retaining his African roots. Tenor-playing brother Stanley, 24, also graduated from penny whistle.
Guitarist Cyril Magubane, 24, is the group's composing genius and arranger. He wrote everything on the album, except for Henry Sithole's 'Wait and See'. In 1949 Cyril was stricken with polio from the waist down. You might expect such an experience to add a bitter edge to his music. Far from it. Cyril's solos are the most mellow in the group. He too is an ex-Durbanite who finds greater jazz freedom in Johannesburg.
The group owes most of its powerhouse drive to Ernest Mothle and Nelson Magwaza. Ernest, 28, provides a rich, steady pulse. He comes from Pretoria, and arrived to stay in the Golden City in 1964. The bouyant beat of Nelson used to be heard in Durban until he joined the group in 1969.
Armitage Road is named after Cyril's address in Orlando. The melody stretched over a persistent, hypnotic rhythm, is one of those things you can't get out of your mind. Henry's solo is a delight, full of singing tones and stratospheric cries. Stanley shows a lot of Coltrane in his blowing. And Cyril's solo is soulful and serene.
Wait and see is a simple melody, sparked off by Nelson's drumming and erupting into a blazing outburst from Henry.
Amabutho means warriors. In this case they seem to be peaceful but proud. Cyril has a fine solo, sped along by the strong propulsive rhythm. Henry wails jubilantly; and Stanley rounds off the performance in a gutsy groove.
Lazy Bones is a warm, happy melody with a strong traditional feeling. The loping rhythm acts as a springboard for strong solos from Henry and Stanley, then Cyril gets back to his roots in a traditional African way.
Emakhaya means 'Back home in the bush', and it's obviously where Cyril feels completely at ease. He leads in to the simple melody, steps aside for a rousing performance from Stanley, and then settles down to a strong, intense solo. Finally, on comes Henry, strutting and swaggering to a happy conclusion.
A JOHN S. NORWELL PRODUCTION
Photography: Jörg Genzmer
Production/Cover Design/ Engineering: John S. Norwell
THE HESHOO BESHOO GROUP
The Heshoo Beshoo Group were formed in 1969 by Henry Sithole after his work with Gibsen Kente's Sikalo, Almon's Jazz 8 and Mackay Davashe's Jazz Dazzlers.
The group included his brother Stanley Sithole, guitarist Cyril Magubane who penned much of the material on this LP, Ernest Mothle and Nelson Magwaza.
From here Henry Sithole along with Bunny Luthuli would go on to form South Africa's preeminent soul jazz group: The Drive.
Sadly both Luthuli and Henry Sithole died in a car accident in Tzaneen on May 5th, 1977.
When Matsuli first posted this album on his blog in 2009, I wrote to him some thoughts on the original cover and its reissue.
The original Starline cover shows a much wider view of the township street (Armitage Road in Orlando, Magubane's address) and one subtle thing that I had found quite critical about the image is that it references the Beatles' Abbey Road cover: hence the title Armitage Road. Abbey Road was issued the previous year in September of 1969.
But obviously the world of "Armitage Road" is quite different from that of "Abbey Road" and I think that is precisely the point. What is striking about the cover is that when juxtaposed with Abbey Road it becomes a critique of the social conditions in South Africa at that time without overtly mentioning apartheid and running the risk of being banned. Certainly showing Cyril Magubane, who had been struck with polio, crossing the road in his wheelchair amplifies the difference between the world of Armitage Road and that of Abbey Road.
Armitage Road was one of the first LPs I came across in Durban way back at the beginning of this project. For me it has a special place in this archive. Some years later a friend of mine, also in Durban, gave me her copy: a reissue in much better condition.
Thanks to Paul Buttery and Grace Kotze for making these albums available.