By Siemon Allen
The Columbia Graphophone Company (UK) has its roots in the Columbia Phonograph Company (US) which was established in Washington DC in 1888. The UK company had a complex history and eventually merged with the Gramophone Company (UK) after the 1929 Wall Street collapse to become EMI (or Electric and Music Industries Limited) in April 1931.
Columbia Graphophone issued recordings on their flagship Columbia label but also put out mid-priced material on the Regal label. When EMI was formed, recordings that were made by each of the original parent companies continued to be issued on their respective labels, that is Columbia and HMV. While their budget labels merged to form the Regal Zonophone label.
I was able to date these recordings, by the Zululand War Dancers, based on a small note that the seminal ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey mentions in his 1972 publication: The Sound of Africa Series, Volume One. Here Tracey recalls with some explicit detail:
“My second published recordings were also made by Columbia, in January 1933, of which eleven only out of a total of about thirty pressings are in the archive under their Columbia label, serial numbers AE 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 111, 112, 113, 115 and YE 404 and 409. Luckily, several of the single sided test pressings from which the published discs were selected have survived and are on the shelves of the archive under their recording numbers with the prefix WEA; sixty three in all. On this occasion I selected sixteen country musicians in Rhodesia whose music I already knew and traveled with them by train from Fort Victoria to Cape Town where the visiting Columbia recording apparatus was again temporarily set up. As on the previous occasion [July 1929], no efficient recording equipment was as yet installed anywhere in South Africa and all master recordings had to be made by a professional team of engineers sent out for the purpose from England. By modern standards, the equipment was complicated and cumbersome. For example, electrically driven motors were not considered sufficiently reliable for precision recordings and the turntables were driven by gravity weights which had to be wound up by hand before each item.” (Tracey, 1972, p. 8)
Columbia, according to Tracey, had sent their first unit to South Africa in July 1929, but it is not clear whether any more units came to record between that first time and January 1933. By Tracey's account, it would seems that only two units came over the four year period.
The recordings by the “Rhodesian” men that were facilitated by Tracey (AE 48-55, 110-115, YE 403-409) were issued with the matrix numbers WEA 1905 - 1963. (There could have been additional recordings on either side of these numbers.) The recordings by the Zululand War Dancers have matrix numbers WEA 1733 - 1746 suggesting that they were recorded roughly 150 takes before those of the "Rhodesian" men. Nevertheless, if Tracy’s recollections are correct, I would say that the Zululand War Dancers were also recorded in January 1933 or earlier.
To make things a little more complicated early South African Regal and Columbia issues have an additional five-digit matrix in the lead-out of the shellac. It is my guess that these were ‘global’ matrix numbers for Columbia’s head office back in the UK and the WEA matrix numbers were applied specifically for the South African issues. While the order of the five-digit numbers does not necessarily match those of the WEA numbers the general chronology does make sense, more-or-less. These five-digit numbers do not appear to be on the 1933 recordings facilitated by Tracey nor those of the Zululand War Dancers. I would therefore speculate that the five-digit numbers were only used on recordings made by the first unit visiting South Africa before the company merged to become EMI.
Furthermore Tracey recollects that recordings were made in Johannesburg in 1929 and Cape Town in 1933. But it is not clear whether the units traveled to other cities on each occasion. It is my guess that the Zululand War Dancers were recorded either in Johannesburg or Durban, but given that the Rhodesian men made it tall the way to Cape Town, anything is possible.
A chronological discography of the recordings by the Zululand War Dancers based on their WEA matrix numbers. Click on the links below to listen to the tracks at the SAMAP archive:
Zululand War Dancers, recorded cJanuary 1933
WEA 1733 Inkom’ Emnyama Pezulu (AE 72; YE 107)
WEA 1734 Usogaya (AE 72; YE 107)
WEA 1735 Oziqoma Amavezandhlebe (AE 73; YE 108)
WEA 1736 Ha! Uyamqala Okandaba (AE 70; YE 105)
WEA 1737 Tina’ Singeze Saboshwa (AE 73; YE 108)
WEA 1738 Abantu Abamnyama (AE 70; YE 105)
WEA 1739 Intombi Etengwa Ngemali (AE 71; YE 106)
WEA 1740 Qagela Lapa (AE 71; YE 106)
WEA 1743 Unomatusi Uyeyisa (AE 105)
WEA 1744 Alubuy’ Ukamba (AE 105)
WEA 1745 Bayeza! Bayasigwaza (AE 106)
WEA 1746 Emhlabeni Baningi Abangapantsi (AE 106)
ZULULAND WAR DANCERS
Columbia had sent a mobile unit to South Africa in 1929 and then again in 1933. These recordings by the "Zululand War Dancers", were made around January 1933 and were all issued on Columbia's orange brown label with the AE prefix. Some of these were later reissued in the 1950s with the label prefix YE.
In the first issue of the African Music Society Newsletter (June 1948) Hugh Tracey refers to Mameyigudi (on HMV) as being one of the best-known ndhlamu dance leaders in Durban. Similarly these Columbia tracks by the Zululand War Dancers are also excellent examples of ndhlamu dance — often featuring the ngoma drum or sometimes clapping. Tracey refers to these specific tracks in the same newsletter and points out that they are incorrectly referred to as "war dancers" and that the drum is mislabelled as a "tom-tom".
The recordings are particularly good and there is a slight echo which gives them an almost haunting quality. For more information on these records visit my post Maskanda Roots (1927-1964) at Electric Jive.