Echoes of Sophiatown

The exploration of South African swing music is a project that Cape Town Swing has been working on for a while. The swing dance community in Cape Town (and all over the world) dances primarily to the big band music of the 1930s and 40s.

That music had a powerful influence on South African musicians at the time and took root in the townships -- Sophiatown, Alexandra and District 6 in particular.

Originally playing cover songs, these artists soon began incorporating local rhythms and sounds, and writing original, and hard swinging, tunes in Sotho, Zulu and Xhosa. The music took on a unique flavour that was played all over the country in shebeens, back yards and street corners. And wherever it was played, people danced.

Photos by: Jurgen Schadeberg

The music eventually evolved into the Marabi, Mbaqanga and Kwela that we know today, but the early days were the training grounds for jazz legends like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Spokes Mashiyane and others.

Much of this early music is forgotten, and bands like the Manhattan Brothers, the Elite Swingsters, the Merry Black Birds and the Pitch Black Follies, the pioneers of jazz in South Africa, have faded into obscurity, in most cases having never received the royalties they were due for their music.

The aim for this project is to shine a light on the music from this era. To dig up the recordings, transcribe them and to play them for dancers once more. We want to pay tribute to these great artists, share their stories, and celebrate their contribution to our rich heritage.

So far we have raised enough money to cover the transcriptions of 7 songs. We would like to raise enough to continue this process and in parallel, to be able to research the stories behind the tracks, to find the other recordings, to be able to present this music in its context, with artwork and stories, and to do justice to the sound.

Our crowdfunding campaign is live through Indiegogo


Be My Guest  -  The Manhattan Brothers

Boogie Woogie Wam · Walter Theletsane