Tuesday, April 10, 2007

78s fRom HeLL: The Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band - 'In The Mood' b/w 'Skokiaan' (1954)

In 1947, when the nation of Zimbabwe was still known as Southern Rhodesia, musician August Msarurgwa first recorded his instrumental composition Skokiaan.
(the title refers to a kind of local moonshine)

By 1954, Msarurgwa and The Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band had released a version of it on the London label.

It then became a huge worldwide hit (perhaps the first international hit record to come out of Africa), and spawned many cover versions recorded in a variety of styles by many artists over the years.

(ADDENDUM, 9/01/08: Happily, the wikipedia entry on 'Skokiaan' and its history has grown substantially since this was first posted. Please follow the link for more information!)


I absolutely love this.
Glenn Miller's slick and classic big band number is turned on its head and given new life by a small African dance combo.
I'll assume the vocals are in Shona, the language of the area.

(ADDENDUM: I assumed incorrectly! Please see the comments on this post for translation info!)

Is it Msarurgwa singing?
Who knows... Enjoy!!

Listen to:
Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band - In The Mood (click for audio)

Listen to: Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band - Skokiaan (click for audio)

⬇ ADDENDUM, 10/31/07: The small story below delves just a bit into the 'Skokiaan phenomenon', as the record first became popular and begat its numerous cover versions.

I recently found this article in an old copy of Downbeat magazine, dated September 8th, 1954.


Tim McMullen said...

I can't thank you enough for your learning to share. My father and I have been looking for the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band ever since we found that his original London 45 had been broken.

When we gave my parents their first computer ten years ago, one of the first things that we searched for on the net was this 45. At that time there was nothing. Through the years I have found occasional mention of the song, usually by someone else.

Today my parents were visiting, and I was showing them how to use the iPod we had given them. At 82, they are remarkably techno-savvy, but it still takes some instructions to explain such radical paradigm shifts as digital recordings. Today's revelation was "Make playlist from selection..." However, when I mentioned browsing for something in the iTunes store, he instantly thought of "Skokiaan," and I knew what he was going to say even before he said it. Lo and behold, this time Apple has about thirty versions of the song. Unfortunately, they did not have the original, which clearly outshines all other versions (including marimba, steel drum, steel guitar versions, etc.). So, I tried one more time on the internet and there you were. We now have beautiful versions of both songs from the original 45.

We simply can't thank you enough for your quriky collection and your willigness to share. Keep up the good work.

Tim McMullen

The In Crowd said...


THANK YOU. I'm hoping you'll see this response to your kind comment. You've made my day! I see a comment like this, and I think 'mission accomplished'.

That it is for this particular record makes it all the more sweet.

Your story of your father and the ongoing search for it rings a bell. I have my own saga of seeking this record out for *years*, after having heard it once long ago.
Finally stumbling on to my 78 copy completely by chance (back in pre-internet, pre-eBay days, when tales of 'the hunt' could be fraught with drama for record geeks like me).
Spending more years searching in vain for a better copy, a re-release, an easy way to clean up the sound quality of the version I had...

Thanks again for sharing your story. I'm printing out your comment, to post on my bulletin board next to my computer.

Stop by any time, and give my best wishes to your parents!

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to send out a huge THANK YOU for putting this recording online. I actually own the original 45 of the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band version, but I wanted a digital version so I could listen on my computer and iPod. Like the previous commenter, I searched and searched in vain for it online for quite some time. The search produced no fewer than 20 other versions of Skokiaan, some quite interesting -- but nothing compares to the original, which remains far and away the best version. Imagine my glee when I tried one more search and -- bingo bango bingo! -- you had it. Yes, I know I could have learned how to make an mp3 off of my antiquated turntable, but that's beyond my technical capabilities, frankly. You've done a great service to humanity. Rare recordings like this need to be preserved digitally forever. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for these recordings ever since my 45 "disappeared" decades ago. It's the BEST version!! Screw the covers!!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joe Mac said...

The lyrics to "In the mood" are sung in Isindebele, a derivative of the Zulu language. (as it says under the title on the 45)

Thy translate as something like:

"You, (older) brother, you sleep here"
also (older) sister,mother and everyone, in place of brother.

And "kulungile", translates to "it is good"(or right)

What a pair of awesome songs.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting Skokiaan. I had given up searching for it. That recording came out just after I hit puberty; and it and a host of covers were playing on juke boxes that year. It changed my narrow view of music and got me interested in jazz, pop, and world music forms. Last night I watched a Santa Cruz street marimba band playing (Kuzanga) and was inspired to search the Internet again. This time Wikipedia's article was greatly expanded and more informative. Their link led me to you and I am most grateful to be able to hear the original again!

Thank you,
Ken Parker

Brian Nation said...

Wow. What a great find. Thank you. I looked for Skokiian for years, found an mp3 almost ten years ago but I hadn't found the flip side till now.

See: http://boppin.com/2005/05/skokiaan.html

Anonymous said...

Many thanks. Here is the history
August Musarugwa trained in the BSAP police band, with the bandmaster hitting him on the knuckles if he made a false note. Attached is a photograph of police bandsmen at BSAP Depot 1936. (Photo S.A. Bowbrick)
He was employed as a clerk by another ex-policeman, Syd Bowbrick (1907-1978) who was personnel manager for the Cold Storage Commission, the government meat marketing board from the end of 1949. Bowbrick organized works sports, cinema, etc. and the works band – the African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission under August Musarugwa.
Syd Bowbrick was strongly into preserving African music and dance, organizing village dance groups from the Zambezi valley to travel to Bulawayo for festivals or the Eisteddfod. He stopped abruptly when a police friend told him that the Special Branch (security) had opened a file on him. However he continued to support the works band.
There was an attempt to launch the band commercially. They got a well paid job in the Congo, but all their instruments were stolen. Neither the players nor their sponsor could afford to replace them. So it was back to the day job, clerking, plus playing local gigs with the firm’s instruments.
Bowbrick had met Hugh Tracy recording in the bush in the 1930s and arranged for him to record Musarugwa.
He also arranged for Gallo Africa to record Skokiaan somewhere between August and December 1953, in Bulawayo. The musical arrangement of this recording was influenced partly by the fact that they had to employ a session musician who played both the piano and the trumpet (He was paid 5 shillings (70c). He later became a full time member of the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band.) Bowbrick prevailed on the band not to all play at once as they wished, but to let solos stand out, in deference to his unsophisticated western ear.
Bowbrick sent copies of the record to major record companies. Decca replied with a letter saying that Ted Heath, the top bandleader in Britain, did not think that it had any potential. Eventually it was picked up. Bowbrick always regretted that nobody picked up Musarugwa’s Tinochimero, which he thought would have been a bigger hit. The Chishona vocals probably put western bands off.
Spokes Mashiane recorded Skokiaan in 1955, some years before his hit, Kwela Claude, made the penny whistle acceptable.
After he got enough money to buy instruments, Musarugwa launched the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band.
At the time African contestants in dance competitions wore white tie and tails. A 30 inch watch chain was de rigueur, going from the fly buttons to the right trouser pocket.
The tune came from the one played in shebeens to warn staff and customers that there was a police raid and staff and customers should dispose of the evidence. The sheebeen might indeed have been supplying skokiaan, but was more likely to have been selling lager or spirits – it was illegal to sell Natives (Black Africans) anything but the traditional beer – looking like a dilute maize or sorghum flour porridge with 2.5% alcohol. Skokiaan was sometimes traditional beer fortified with methylated spirits, which could blind or kill. Musarugwa was well acquainted with sheebeens as a policeman and as a customer.
When Louis Armstrong visited Bulawayo, some years after his hit, he arranged to play with August at his concert. Louis was shocked to hear that August had spent all his earnings. August was startled to hear how much he should have earned in royalties. On investigation, it turned out that this was because he had been asked to sign the standard contract, under which an African artist only got royalties on sales in Southern Africa. However, Bowbrick had vetted the contract and crossed out the relevant sentences before Musarugwa signed it, so he was entitled to full royalties. His lawyers, Coghlan and Welsh, took it up.
The name was definitely pronounced Musarugwa, but they were switching to a new orthography in the 1930s which could explain spelling differences.
I have a strong recollection of it being Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm, not Rhythms, Band – we had all the records at home.
It is my impression, but only that, that August joined the Cold Storage at about the same time as my father: they were certainly not allowed to leave the police during the war.
As a police bandsman he would have played several instruments. I never heard of him playing an mbira.
I have never heard of a 1947 recording.
Sources: I knew August from age 5 to age 11, when he left the Cold Storage in 1954. My father Syd Bowbrick kept up with him until 1966 when Syd left the country after UDI. My brother, who was also at the recording session, worked for his solicitors. Peter Bowbrick peter@bowbrick.eu

orodin@sbcglobal.net said...

Nice to find out a little info on this group. I have a 78 collection with the PROMO copy of In The Mood and Skokiaan.

Matt Le Tutla said...

Amazing stuff, thanks for sharing....there is so much about Bulawayo related history that I come across bit by bit and just marvel

bulawayo said...

Thank you for keeping the memories of these guys alive, Siyabonga

Unknown said...

does anyone by any chance have a music sheet for this version? not the one published in the states. or is it the same?

Unknown said...

What a find! Thanks, who-ever the blogger is. I know its passion that keeps a project like this going.

Does anyone know how to get hold of the grandson Prince Musarugwa?

My email address is innercity@polka.co.za (please don't use the capetownyoco address, I have no idea where it comes from)

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