2003   MAY 20   #140

Assagai - Hey Jude

Found this album in the same London flea market that gave us Fred Astaire"s "Attitude Dancing'. This album contained original compositions and a cover of The Beatles "Hey Jude' but since I"m a searcher of the strange and unusual I decided to pick up this Afro-Rock LP. This song is sung in an unknown African language and all that I can find on this band is that they released one more album called "Zimbawe'. But this song makes you want to dance around the house barefooted! Enjoy and play real loud!

- Jen, Former co-host (1999-2002),  "Oldies and Oddities' (http://www.geocities.com/oldiesandoddities)

TT-3:50 / 5.3MB / 192kbps 44.1khz

Ethan Zuckerman writes:
I took a few minutes to dig a bit into the background of Assagai's cover of "Hey Jude", featured in entry #140. Assagai was a band of South African expatriates, living in Britian, led by Dudu Pukwana, a legendary alto player who passed away in 1990. He and Assagai trumpeter Mongezi Feza played together, along with Assagai drummer Louis Moholo, in the revolutionary interracial sextet Blue Notes. Increasing harassment in apartheid South Africa forced the ensemble to emigrate to Europe, first to France and then to Switzerland, Denmark and other locations where the musicians were able to make a living. While not as well known as musicians like Hugh Masakela (who they both played with), Pukwana and Feza were prolific and well-respected within the expatriate South African music scene in 1970s Europe. Indeed, you can find Pukwana in truly unexpected places, including in sessions with the Incredible String Band. Assagai had another interesting cover on the album in question - "Telephone Girl" by Jade Warrior, a relatively obscure English prog-rock band who Brian Eno name-checks as an influence on his ambient work. As for what language Assagai are singing in, I'm forced to guess. It's pretty clearly within the Bantu language family. Pukwana was born in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, where the indigenous language is Xhosa, which is probably what we're hearing. I'll try to get a friend who's got a few Bantu languages to give it a listen and see if she can give a definitive answer. A page on Assagai albums: http://www.radagast.org/assagai/

James Silberbauer writes:
I was very interested to see you had an Assagai track on your site curated by Jen. They were formed in England in 1971 by South African exiles and a couple of Nigerians (one is the singer on this track). The group is also interesting for having as members Dudu Pukwana (alto sax), Mongezi Feza (trumpet) and Louis Moholo (drums) who were in the South African jazz band The Blue Notes with Chris McGregor (piano) and Johnny Dyani (bass) formed in 1963. The Blue Notes went into exile in 1965 - they had great difficulty performing as a mixed-race group in Apartheid South Africa. Chris McGregor formed his big band Brotherhood of Breath with these players as a nucleus. Sadly only Louis Moholo lived to see South Africa end Apartheid when the first democratic elections were held in 1994.