The Beaters ‘Harari’ / Harari ‘Rufaro’ 180g Vinyl (Matsuli Music) 4/5

These two albums are the latest in the estimable reissue series from Matsuli Music documenting jazz, soul and funk from South Africa. The titles are slightly confusing because both albums are by the same band. The Beaters toured Zimbabwe and were so taken by the reaction they names their hit 1975 album Harari and then before they recorded their next album in 1976 changed their name to be Harari.

While these albums are not jazz and were never intended to be, they do have links to the SA jazz of the time. The band through Rashid Vally, the producer, to Pat Matshikiza, Kippie Moeketsi and other jazz greats of the time and the sleeve notes by Gwen Ansell are a masterclass in pulling together connections and the history and are well worth reading on their own and go into much more detail than you can in a review including references to the political and musical awakening in the band.

“In Harari we rediscovered our African-ness, the infectious rhythms and music of the continent. We came back home inspired! We were overhauling ourselves into dashiki-clad musicians who were Black Power saluting and so on.” Sipho Hotstix Mabuse

Drummer Sipho Mabuse played on one of my favourite tracks from back then Tshona by Pat Matshikiza which has elements of crossover between SA jazz and soul. The other permanent members, guitarist and singer Selby Ntuli, bassist Alec Khaoli and lead guitarist Monty Ndimande.

The opening track Harari on the album of the same name is a paean to Harari a township in Salisbury the capital of Rhodesia – after independence the capital was re-named Harare and the country Zimbabwe. It’s deceptively simple with a repeating underlying rhythm of bass, drums and organ and simple vocal refrain. At the beginning flute (by the drummer) leads us in and comes back after the repeating vocal “Harari” fades.

Love, Love, Love brings in the session horns and the track is reminiscent of Lover’s Rock Again a simple vocal in English with a horn counter-point with the voice out front and the horns back in the mix.

Inhlupheko Iphelile (Goodbye Poverty is what I think it translates as) returns to a simpler arrangement with a gentle flute melody leading to the Xhosa vocal in a high register all over a loping accompaniment.

On Push it On it’s the organ that dominates along with the vocal in more of a funk style with the addition of backing vocals.

Thiba Kamoo has a more complex and jazz-rock feel rhythm led by the drums, with a synth sound and unison vocals.

Some of the jazz session musicians play on the recording -, including on the last track What’s Happening and their influence makes that sound so much like the much-loved jazz from that period. It’s an absolute banger. But this is an outlier as the band were part of the development of distinctively South African soul music. Much as the jazz players listened to US jazz and then melded that with African rhythms the Beaters took US soul but transformed it into something else.

The recording was a big hit at the time and a year of so later they were back in the studio having changed their name with a new recording called Rufaro which roughly translates as ‘to travel happily’ or ‘Bon Voyage’ in Zimbabwean ‘Shona’ or as the album title has it simply Happiness.

At the start of the opening track Oya Kai there is almost a field recording feel with mbira and vocal chant which leads in to music that is more electronic in feel, funky with multiple vocal voices and strong contributions from lead guitar, piano and organ.

On the title track Rufaro there is a swinging soul feel with a denser arrangement with horns. Apparently, the links with jazzmen had solidified and Kippie Moeketsi on sax and guitarist Themba Mokoena among others involved.

Afro Gas is a life-affirming celebration with vocal, more electronics, a funky horn line and solo, percussive piano all rolling along and very danceable.

Musikana is very funky with another stonking horn line, wailing sax, very solid bass, a trumpet solo, organ and insistent guitar interventions and another unison vocal set.

The final cut Uzulu features an opening bassline and piano riff which then sits under the vocal. About 9 minutes in it fades before there is a final section with only penny whistles, percussion and vocals which harks back to the roots.

If there is a weakness in the package is it that the full line-ups on the tracks are not made explicit probably because the band was augmented by session musicians. But that is a minor quibble because these are two more intriguing additions to the history of South African music which fill out some of the connections between genres and hints at what happened next.

You could probably make a very effective and informative book from the extensive and well-researched sleeve notes alone. I’m already looking forward to the next Matsuli output.

Brian Homer