Wednesday, August 07, 2002

The Swish Guide to South African Music - Part 3
"Hellfire" by The African Jazz Pioneers - date unknown [download the mp3]

As old as apartheid, the Alexandra All Star Band was formed by Ntemi Piliso in Sophiatown in the early fifties. Creating an early form of crossover music, they blended American big band jazz with traditional African marabi rhythms to produce a unique African jazz sound.

Sophiatown - a Johannesburg township - was an exciting place, a melting pot of cultures with a vibrant music scene. This came to an end when the authorities demolished Sophiatown to make way for white housing, forcing many musicians into exile. In the early eighties, the Jazz Pioneers reformed at Johannesburg's seminal Dorkay House.

After the easing of the cultural boycott in the 1990s, The Jazz Pioneers released their debut album and travelled abroad, sharing the stage with international stars such as Youssou N'Dour, Quincy Jones, Manhattan Transfer, Neville Brothers, Chick Corea, Gilbert Gill, Salif Keita, Nina Simone, Rita and Ziggy Marley, as well as South Africa’s homegrown virtuosos like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Winston Mankunku, Darius Brubeck, Mbongeni Ngema, Dolly Rathebe, Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu

They released several albums in the 90s, influencing major South African bands such as Mango Groove. Sadly, founding member Piliso died in 2000 at the age of 75.

Read more about The African Jazz Pioneers here.

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