Mar 5, 2010

Assagai - Assagai

The Band

Assagai was an Afro-rock band from South Africa, active in the early 1970s in London. It consisted of five members: Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza, Bizo Muggikana, Fred Coker, and Dudu Pukwana. They recorded for the British label Vertigo Records.

Assagai's self-titled debut album was released in 1971. It was reissued on CD by Repertoire Records in 1994.

Their second and final album, Zimbabwe, was released later in 1971. The album was re-released as LP by Music for Pleasure label, but under a different title, AfroRock.

Both their albums featured songs written by members of Jade Warrior and also included guest appearances from them as well.

In the 1960s, Pukwana, Feza and Moholo were also members of the jazz band The Blue Notes.

Other information

Assagai was anchored by respected African musicians Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza, Fred Coker, and Dudu Pukwana. They were signed by British label Vertigo in the label's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Afro-rock bands such as Osibisa. They were, I'm told, the only African or "Black" band ever signed by Vertigo. Their career was relatively short - two albums plus a couple of additional songs, released over a period of about two years in the early 1970s.


Assagai was an Afro-Beat group consisting of South Africans and Nigerians that recorded in England. What I like best about their sound is that they had concise, well structured songs unlike some Afro-Beat groups that composed epic tracks that devolved into extended jam sessions. Telephone Girl makes an excellent beginning with two full measures of open drums before short horn stabs come in on the one. Eventually the vocals and the rest of the band join in. That’s followed by a nice instrumental entitled Akasa that also features an Afro-Beat drum break. The equally funky Cocoa follows. The rest of the album is more Afro-Beat oriented with the laid back Irin Ajolawa and Ayieo comparing well with the more upbeat Beka.


Ethan Zuckerman writes:
I took a few minutes to dig a bit into the background of Assagai's cover of "Hey Jude", featured in entry #140. Assagai was a band of South African expatriates, living in Britian, led by Dudu Pukwana, a legendary alto player who passed away in 1990. He and Assagai trumpeter Mongezi Feza played together, along with Assagai drummer Louis Moholo, in the revolutionary interracial sextet Blue Notes. Increasing harassment in apartheid South Africa forced the ensemble to emigrate to Europe, first to France and then to Switzerland, Denmark and other locations where the musicians were able to make a living. While not as well known as musicians like Hugh Masakela (who they both played with), Pukwana and Feza were prolific and well-respected within the expatriate South African music scene in 1970s Europe. Indeed, you can find Pukwana in truly unexpected places, including in sessions with the Incredible String Band. Assagai had another interesting cover on the album in question - "Telephone Girl" by Jade Warrior, a relatively obscure English prog-rock band who Brian Eno name-checks as an influence on his ambient work. As for what language Assagai are singing in, I'm forced to guess. It's pretty clearly within the Bantu language family. Pukwana was born in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, where the indigenous language is Xhosa, which is probably what we're hearing. I'll try to get a friend who's got a few Bantu languages to give it a listen and see if she can give a definitive answer.

ames Silberbauer writes:
I was very interested to see you had an Assagai track on your site curated by Jen. They were formed in England in 1971 by South African exiles and a couple of Nigerians (one is the singer on this track). The group is also interesting for having as members Dudu Pukwana (alto sax), Mongezi Feza (trumpet) and Louis Moholo (drums) who were in the South African jazz band The Blue Notes with Chris McGregor (piano) and Johnny Dyani (bass) formed in 1963. The Blue Notes went into exile in 1965 - they had great difficulty performing as a mixed-race group in Apartheid South Africa. Chris McGregor formed his big band Brotherhood of Breath with these players as a nucleus. Sadly only Louis Moholo lived to see South Africa end Apartheid when the first democratic elections were held in 1994.



01. Telephone Girl
02. Akasa
03. Hey Jude
04. Cocoa
05. Irin Ajolawa
06. Ayieo
07. Beka
08. I'll Wait For You

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