Jun 20, 2013

South African Jazz: The Heshoo Beshoo Group - Armitage Road (get it)

What a melting pot this country really is – past and present; people and places; seemingly fleeting, but unknowingly permanent, at least until the wheel turns again.

South African Jazz Classic Armitage Road makes all these connections, and endures. The only surviving member of this special band is bass player Ernest Shololo Mothle who played with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath throughout the 1980s. Ernest is back in South Africa. ElectricJive is thrilled to hear how happy Ernest was to get a copy of the musical Phiri that Tony McGregor downloaded from this site. Ernest had apparently not heard Phiri since he went into exile shortly after recording it in 1972. Thank you Ernest for all your great music!

Tony tells a great story about Armitage Road and Ernest Mothle here.

Gwen Ansell describes another set of connections that Armitage Road makes: being “informed by both American and South African styles and influences. In short it straddles early hard bop and danceable South African jazz.”

In comments to the previous short-lasting posting of this recording on Matsuli, Siemon Allen pointed out the clear visual reference to the Beatles’ album Abbey Road. “What I like 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 was struck with polio) crossing the road in his wheelchair amplifies the difference between the world of Armitage Road and that of Abbey Road."

This is what else the Matsuli post had to say: The group was put together by saxophonist Henry Sithole who started out playing jazz with Dalton Khanyile's Keynotes in 1964 before playing in Gibson Kente's musical Sikalo; thereafter with Almon's Jazz 8 and Mackay Davashe's Jazz Dazzlers. In 1969 Henry recruited Ernest Mothle on bass, Nelson Magwaza on drums, Cyril Magubane on guitar and his brother Stanley on tenor for the Heshoo Beshoo Group.

Heshoo Beshoo means moving forward with force. On so many levels this recording is a strong statement of self determination, creativity and freedom in the midst of the brutual subjugation of black South Africans by the Apartheid government. The LP had a limited release in South Africa as well as a subsequent release in France.

In 1971 Henry and Stanley were approached by guitarist Adolphus "Bunny" Luthuli to get a band together to compete in the Alco Best Band Competition at Jabulani Stadium in April 1971. Bunny had played with Henry in Almon's Jazz 8. This approach was the genesis of South Africa's greatest soul jazz band The Drive comprising the Sithole brothers Henry, Danny and Stanley, Bunny Luthuli, Mike Makhalemele, Lucky Mbatha, Nelson Magwaza and Anthony Saoli.

The Drive won the Alco competition and stayed together touring throughout Southern Africa. In 1972 they won best band at the PINA CULO festival in Umgababa in September 1972. The band unfortunately suffered a tragedy in May 1977 when Bunny Luthuli and Henry Sithole were killed outright in a car accident in the Tzaneen area of Nothern Transvaal.

Today Nelson Magwaza and Ernest Mothle are both musicians who command serious respect for their contribution to the rich tapestry of South African Jazz and popular music. The old slogan the struggle for jazz - jazz for the struggle rings true once more; only today this struggle is as much about memory as it is about change.


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.



1. Armitage Road
2. Wait and See
3. Amakhaya
4. Amabutho
5. Lazy Bones 

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