Beautiful and Historic South African Jazz Album Art
By Nomali Cele
Today, we are inviting you to judge the book by its cover. In this case, of course, we are speaking about the great South African jazz albums of decades gone by. The albums, songs and musicians that have helped shape our understanding and love of not only the music, but also jazz culture as a whole, presented as images and, at times, as stories from the liner notes.
Mkhumbane Soundtrack (1960)
On March 29, 1960, the Durban City hall played host to a new musical called Mkhumbane. Alan Paton wrote the play and the music composed by Todd Matshikiza (of King Kong – the musical – fame). It was a mere eight days after the Sharpville Massacre.
The cover art for Mkhumbane depicts what must have been an ordinary scene from Cato Manor: a green buss, men queued beside it and newspapers scattered about.
Yakhal’inkomo by Mankuku Quartet (1968)
One of the most important works of jazz to come out of Africa, without argument, Yakhal’ Inkomo offers an assuming, simple cover. Ray Nkwe, the president of the South African Jazz Appreciation Society at the time, writes in the linear notes “This is the LP that every jazz fan has been waiting for. Listen to it from side one to the last note on side two then you’ll agree with me that this is jazz, dished out by the son of the soil in a soul/jazz bowl.” And every African jazz lover worth their salt has heeded those words.
The cover depicts Winston Mankunku Ngozi, looking sombre with his tenor saxophone held close. It sets the tone for the music contained within.
Early-Mart by Gideon Nxumalo (1970)
Early-Mart is dedicated to Nxumalo’s jazz comrade, Early Mabuza. Mabuza was a respected drummer who passed away in January of 1970. In 1967, he was voted “Golden Castle Jazzman of the Year,” a title – renamed “Jazzking of the Year” – that went to Winston Mankunku Ngozi the following year.
The cover for Early-Mart features the legendary drummer, playing his instrument. “The sound is African, modern, avant garde.” says the liner notes written by journalist and photographer Leslie B. Sehume.
Did You Know? Mabuza played drums on Yakhal’Inkomo.
Cold Castle National Jazz Festival by various artists (1962)
“One warm Saturday afternoon in October 1962 South Africa’s leading jazz bands competed in a football stadium in Moroka-Jabavu, fifteen miles south-west of Johannesburg. It was the first large-scale Festival in South Africa, the first of its kind in Africa.” That’s what the opening of the album’s liner notes says.
More than anything, this cover – musicians on a raised platform playing to a well-dressed crowd, “Moroka Jabavu” – speaks to jazz culture and the South African jazz heritage. Jazz lovers dressed up and showed up to hear the music.
Jazz Epistles, Verse 1 (1970)
The Jazz Epistles were a bepop ensemble that came together in the mid-1950s in Sophiatown. The line-up featured the likes of pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, drummers Early Mabuza and Makhaya Ntshoko, alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, bass player Johnny Gertze and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa.
Recorded and released in 1960, Verse 1 made history by becoming the first jazz album recorded by a black South African band. This particular cover is for the reissue and is iconic for the caliber of musician it gathered and its status as one of the recordings that changed the course of jazz music in South Africa.
While the Epistles, Verse 1 cover is simple, what is iconic are the names on it, all future icons of South African jazz
All images and liner note information found through the flatlineinternational.org website.