Two days after Mrs. Johanna Mabuza died, Wednesday February 11th, 1970, I get a call from Rashid Vally, APR man for soultown to attend a recording session at the Ster Studios, east of Johannesburg that night. I get to the studio about 7.50 p.m. and find Rashid and old friend Ray Nkwe playing the waiting game. Two of the 14-piece band for the date were missing! Conductor and composer, Gideon Nxumalo, had gone out to find a drummer to complete the ensemble.
Says Ray to me: "Gideon had simply to go to Soweto to find a drummer as the percussion part in his numbers - a tribute to Early Mabuza, the drummer - is mighty important." I stepped into the studio to find the boys foolin' around. Several were going over the music to get the feel. Flautist Dennis Nene spoofed around the drums. We waited!
9.05 p.m. a tired Gideon walks in towing a big-name drummer who carried a couple of cymbals. There were sighs of relief all round. Engineer Trevor Evans sprang around setting up his gadgets and we were ready for the session. And what an experience!
"Mgibe" jerked himself up, piled through a couple of manuscripts and deliberately took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one and placed it on the upturned lid of a polish container. He spoke softly to the musicians, drawing their attention to the salient points of his music. He signalled for silence, did a silent count, hands outstretched, then he plunked on his seat brushing the keys softly as he played at all at once.
Spirals of smoke from his cigarette on the baby grand formed soft patterns against the black background of the studio curtains. And we were underway.
Muffled, rolling drums working up to a crescendo and then mellowing once more as the strains of a flute filter through depicting a South African dawn with lances of the sun's rays trying to break through the horizon. Tempos change, two-four, three-four, six-eight... and the horns bark! The reeds answer, an exciting alto, a thrilling trombone... and it is suddenly day!
Up-tempo rhythms and it's all groovy as the band swings. Exciting solos emanate but those thrilling drums envelope everything, demanding attention, pleading for a hearing. The sound is African, modern, avant garde.
All of a sudden the tempo is brought back-to reality... slow, moanful and sad. And then it's all over... a fine tribute to the great drummer who played his last bar in January, 1970.
The line-up doesn't matter. Let's just say these were buddies who wanted to contribute something to Early and Martin - IN STYLE!
Leslie B. Sehume
He Came Early
He Died Early...
The Birds whose wings
Beat a steady rhythm.
His skies were the streets
Of Sopiatown, Soweto, anywhere...
Muddy, Noisy, dirty, dark!
Yet, he flew on and on.
They heard him in Soweto,
They dug him in the Cape.
They saw him in Vrystaat,
They loved him in Natal.
The satge was his launching pad,
The radio, his ears.
The long-play, his pleasure,
The people, his treasure.
No more his song,
No more his throbbing.
Yes! The Early Bird is no more,
But his rhythm lives on.
Copy Right reserved - Leslie B. Sehume.
Produced by Rashid
Engineer Trevor Evans
Poem & notes by Leslie Sehume
(well known Journalist, Photographer)
GIDEON 'MGIBE' NXUMALO
This classic and rare album is Gideon Nxumalo's tribute to drummer, Early Mabuza who died in January 1970. Mabuza is featured in the cover image. This LP would also be Nxumalo's last before his own death at the age of 40 on December 24th, 1970.
While Leslie Sehume, who pens the liner notes, is coy about revealing the identities of the "14-piece" band, he does say that Dennis Nene is present on flute. Nxumalo is obviously on piano, and Max Mojapelo, in his book Beyond Memory, maintains that the project included trumpeter, Dennis Mpale, Allen Kwela and Blythe Mbityana.
Another copy of the LP posted on Electric Jive featured hand written notes on the cover revealing the full line-up as above minus Mpale and Davashe is crossed out. Though Mpale and Kwela are both suggested by Rob Allingham in his musings on the album. Allingham also speculates that Leslie Sehume, who recites his poems at the beginning of each track, may have been an apartheid government collaborator.
Early Mart is also the first jazz record produced by Rashid Vally on his Soultown label. From here he would go on to produce some of the most classic South African jazz albums on his Sun label.
Listen to this this rare album at Electric Jive.