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I never got hold of a South African agit disco selection. This great CD (with booklet), just given to me by my brother, is an opportunity to make a start in this direction.

NEXT STOP SOWETO – VOL 1: Township sounds from the golden age of Mbaqanga. Strut records, 2009

Compiled by Duncan Brooker and Francis Gooding. With a concise and essential illustrated history essay, in a little booklet insert, by David B. Coplan.

I’m thinking about this with the idea of exodus as applied to urbanisation in mind. (Howard Slater 2012). This compilation shows how rural people adapt to a process of urbanisation that has only just, a year or two ago, claimed the majority of the worlds population (This first occurred in England in 1850). Its  about how rural people adapt to city life and insulate themselves from the cold winds of alienation in the shape of dominant cultural forms. The cities of South Africa were formed in the C19th but keep growing with successive generations of displacement. Each new wave producing their own cultural response to the inexorable ‘progress’ of modernity.

The compilation here covers a short period leading up the the great Soweto Uprising of 1976/77. The music from c1967 to 1976 was dominated by a style known as Mbaqanga which the essay traces back to the 1920’s and 30s and in particular through the emergence of the Pennywhistle Kwela music of the 1950s. Kwela was suffocated by the intensifying regimes of apartheid by 1960. Mbaqanga arose from within the interstices of the state broadcasting system known as Bantu Radio. The music was controlled to a large extent by the radio studio producers who seemed to hit a very popular formula that hybridised traditional musical forms with modern technologies and new arrangements. They seemed to know how to wear a shirt, and tie, and so disguised, still produce a musical response that was vital to the human needs of their audiences under the surveillance of their white paymasters.

The tracks are are all upbeat and make you want to dance and whistle along, even now all these years later in the English suburbs. I doubt if any of the lyrics are political, or could have been in the circumstances. The politics is all in the allusions to ‘home’, a reassuring ground of deep collective values and an upbeat approach to the possibilities that technological development and urban proximities open up for wider social solidarity, resilience and cohesion. All necessary to keep the human spirit alive in the face of an unbearably oppressive system.

What are not included here are the Maskanda sounds led by the electrified Zulu guitar (exemplified by John Bengu, according to Coplan. Bengu played under the name Phuzhushukela), the emergence of a more westernised rock scene and the oral culture of ‘freedom songs’ that accompanied the struggles against apartheid although they were almost never recorded in South Africa at the time.

The study of ‘freedom songs’ has taken a back seat in academic circles. Ethnomusicologists such as the Tracys have collected hundreds of songs but amongst their collections one can’t find ‘freedom songs’. Social historians have studied a wide variety of topics but hardly ever political songs. The History Workshop has, to my knowledge, only presented two papers which touch on the topic” (Staffrider, 1989, p.83).

There seems to have been much released since 1989 although  much of it is pricey.
Rare Folkways selection of recordings dating from 1965 is relatively cheap: ‘This Land is Mine: South African Freedom Songs’
A review from

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