Thursday, October 18, 2012

South African tin whistle


 It was a Thursday evening while cleaning up the dishes that I  recently heard a recording on  KBCS 91.3 here in New York City.  I was  listening to the tin whistle present itself like I have never heard before.  It was Spokes Mashiyane, tin whistle player from South Africa playing a tune called, Kwela Kong.  Have a listen for yourself here:

  It is  street music, called Kwela. This word, Kwela is taken from the Zulu language, meaning to "get up."  So, you would "get up" to dance in the local bars, or "shebeens," which were similar to the American speakeasies during the prohibition era.  The origins of this style comes from "township music," a genre of music created by musicians residing in government housing during the Apartheid in South Africa during the 1950's.
     Kwela music has an instrumental leader: the tin whistle.  This was of real interest to me.  I never came across whistle music, except in Ireland, Scotland, and the  Celtic regions of Spain and France.  Apparently, whistles of all kinds were traditionally played in the northern areas of South Africa. The whistles were also economical and easy to travel with, but more importantly, they served as a strong solo instrument (and gee, isn't that the truth).  These traditional melodies thus translated into this Kwela style, with it's footwork heavy in American jazz swing forms supported by a three chord progression: C-F-C-G7.

(This clip above shows Willard Cele from the 1951 movie, The Magic Garden.)   

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