The Movers – Vol. 1 – 1970-1976
For those unfamiliar with the label, Analog Africa is the brainchild of the founder Samy Ben Redjeb. Cratedigger extraordinaire, Samy travels the world, not just the label’s eponymous continent, seeking out and unearthing musical gems, many of which have never seen the light of day outside of their home country, then making them available to a global audience. The Analog Africa release standard is never short of the highest quality and in many ways is the benchmark by which all others in the field should be measured.
Their latest compilation, The Movers – ‘Vol. 1 – 1970-1976’spotlighting one of the hottest bands on the South African soul scene with a legacy of over a dozen albums and numerous hit singles, only adds to the label’s reputation.
If the discovery of the group by Samy goes back to its first “record safari” in Bulawayo in 1996, when he came across some of their songs on a tape bought for the road trip to Johannesburg, the band‘s history begins in the late 1960s.
In 1967, two unknown entrepreneurial musicians, brothers Norman and Oupa Hlongwaneapproached a successful businessman from Alexandra Township, Kenneth Siphayi, offering him a slice of any future recording contract or live performance in exchange for his purchase of new musical instruments. Kenny, however, ended up playing a much bigger role. Recognized as the founder of the Movers, even at the origin of the group’s name, he became its manager, set up a rehearsal system and, very significantly, introduced an organist into the fold.
Towards the end of the decade, The Movers, with their instrumental music firmly rooted in the Marabi style, also known as ‘Township of Jive’, had begun to attract the attention of the whole country. In 1969, the founding members Sankie Chounyaneorgan, Oupa Hlongwane, guitar, Norman Hlongwane, bass and Sam Thabo, drums, had passed under the radar of a music producer named David Thekwanewho at the time was also a talent scout for the Teal Record Company, and a deal was signed.
Their first album, in 1969, on the Teal label, crying guitarsold over half a million copies in the first three months, provided them with two hits, crazy soul and mountain breezeand in their first year had catapulted them from local sensations in the townships to being the first group of black South Africans to have their music played on white radio stations under the apartheid regime.
Although this first release was entirely instrumental, the distinctive pedal wah-wah sound may have given the album its name and indeed became the band’s trademark sound, along with the distinctive Rhodes piano; The band began working with different singers immediately after that, incorporating American jazz, soul and funk and even elements of reggae into their later work, which was enhanced with horns, additional percussion and greater variety of keyboards. Elements of Marabi and Mbaqanga, however, ensured that the dominant ingredient would always be township sound. The band hit its peak in the mid-1970s, but in 1976 the band decided to cut ties with Kenny, and things were never the same again.
With the PR stating that all 14 tracks on this compilation are from Teal Records recordings released from the 1970-1976 period, further research as to their more detailed provenance has proven difficult, to say the least, even with the generally informative information. and reliable. Discogs site listing only one LP on Teal for The Movers, while one or two of the tracks do not appear in any search engine trawls. However, this small personal irritation does not detract from the pleasure provided by the quality of the titles selected.
Each of the nine instrumental cuts is a corker. The first bars of the opening piece, Give five or more, are a delicious sensual groove tinged with reggae before tasteful lead guitar lines come to the fore, to be replaced by beautiful organ tones. With the rich bass and drums fully aligned, this embodies the band’s distinctive sound from the start.
The smooth undulating guitar and simmering keys are a hallmark of Special Tauthe first single released from this compilation, while on crazy soulthe only cut here from the first album mentioned above crying guitar album, there’s more of a Booker T groove on the laid-back, laid-back guitar.
A drumbeat permeates Soul Party Concertwith Oops is back, by far the longest track on this album at a shade over four minutes, showing that a slightly rockier guitar sound was also within their reach. Both 2n/a street (the third single) and Pukeng Special are strongly driven by the organ before the trademark guitar steps in, all over throbbing rhythmic beats. The closest album, on which I cannot glean any information, Full-timeoffers more of the same, with the addition of horns, and leads me to suspect it might be mid to late in the time period covered by this release.
Another remarkable track is Hot coffee, pointing, like most tracks here, to about two and a half minutes; this ska-like track not only has an irresistible rhythmic groove but also a dazzling bass solo.
The vocal tracks are, for the most part, of similar quality, although the omission of hopeless love is surprising. On Baleléthe woozy keys produce almost a Stylophone sound and, as with Hot coffee, again features brass and a defined ska feel; while Soweto Innone of their biggest hits, sung by Sophie Thapedi, is a key song in the context of the student revolts against the apartheid government, is almost indispensable.
The same cannot be said of Ku-Ku-Chi, Nevertheless. Out of step, in many ways, with the rest of the album, no amount of research can shed light on its history. Kudala Sithandana, another great track, moves quite slowly and also proved elusive in terms of tracking its release as a Movers track. Apparently written by Thekwane, it seems to have been a hit for sound tests, who appear to be Sankie Chounyane in a different form, which is intriguing.
Track Six Mabones was originally a Mbaqanga air and a great success for Lulu Masilela. This Zulu word for dumpling was originally a term of derision and abuse used by conservative whites to describe music they considered basic and crude. It backfired spectacularly, and the term was adopted by those for whom it was intended as a term of endearment for their new style of music. David Thekwane was so impressed with the song that he even started a Teal label named “Six Mabone”. Although the version recorded by The Movers is a far cry from the original, to these ears the “township sound” is most evident on these vocal tracks.
There has hardly ever been a band better named than The Movers, and this compilation is a true testament to one of South Africa’s most legendary bands.
The Movers – ‘Vol. 1 – 1970-1976’
Released August 5, 2022 on Analog Africa
LP (AALP095)/ CD (AACD095)/ Digital Download and Streaming (AA095)