It’s a special, but also a strange sensation to be releasing an album of one of your early musical heroes. I first discovered The Movers on my very first “record safari” in 1996. My destination was Bulawayo, in southern Zimbabwe, and to get there I had to travel via Jo’burg. While in town I stopped at a store called Kohinoor, in search of Mbaqanga – also known as Township Jive – and found a few tapes which I listened to non-stop on the bus that carried me to the land of Chimurenga Music. One of these cassettes included the songs “Hot Coffee” and “Phukeng Special” which instantly became part of my daily life. Twenty-five years later I’m still grooving to them.
What I didn’t know at that time was that The Movers were hugely successful during the 1970s; so when it came time to release some of their music, I though it was going to be “a walk in the park” to track down information about them and write their biography. I was in for a rude awakening. Despite their legendary status, there was almost no information available on band or any of its members.
Fortunately Nicky Blumenfeld from Kaya Radio came to the rescue. A few days after I reached out to her, she had managed to get the phone number of Kenneth Siphayi, who is considered to be the founder of the band, as well as vocalist Blondie Makhene and saxophonist Lulu Masilela. Although we left no stone unturned, we were unable to find any of the four original members who seem to have passed away in total anonymity.
The story of The Movers began in 1967 when two unknown musicians – the brothers Norman and Oupa Hlongwane – approached Kenneth Siphayi a stylish and wealthy businessman from the Alexandra township to ask if he could buy them musical instruments. In return he would receive a cut from future life shows and record deals. Kenneth, ended up doing much more, becoming their manager, setting them up in a rehearsal space, and introducing them to an organist who would prove to be the missing link in the band’s skeletal sound. He also gave them their name: The Movers … because, as he said, their music was going to move you, whether you liked it or not.
The band exploded onto the country’s racially-segregated music scene at the dawn of the 1970s with a sound that applied the rolling organ grooves and elastic rhythms of American soul to songs that came straight from the heart of the townships. Rumours of the band started to spread throughout the country and soon the record labels were sending their talent scouts to the Alexandra township to hear it for themselves.
The Movers finally signed to Teal Records in 1969, and their first album, Crying Guitar, went on to sell 500,000 copies within the first three months, launching them into the front rank of South African bands. In their first year they went from local sensations to being the first band of black South Africans to have their music cross over to the country’s white radio stations.
Although the first record was entirely instrumental, The Movers started working with different singers soon after – scoring an early hit with 14 year old vocal prodigy Blondie Makhene – and enriched their sonic palette with horns, extra percussion and various keyboards. Their stylistic range also expanded, incorporating elements of Marabi, Mbaqanga, jazz, funk, and reggae into their soul-steeped sound. But the essence of their music came from the almost telepathic connection of its founding members: the simmering organ of Sankie Chounyane, the laid-back guitar lines of Oupa Hlongwane, the energetic bass grooves of Norman Hlongwane and the simmering rhythms of drummer of Sam Thabo.
The band reached their apex in the mid-1970s, and their hit ‘Soweto Inn’, sung by Sophie Thapedi, became inseparable from the student revolts that signalled a new resistance to the apartheid government. In 1976, however, their manager was forced out, and their producer started to play a more active role in the band’s direction. By the end of the decade there were no original members left. But at their height The Movers were titans of South African soul who left a legacy of over a dozen albums and countless singles of pure groove. On The Movers 1970–76, Analog Africa presents 14 of the finest tracks from the band’s undisputed peak.
Vol.1 – 1970-1976 – The Movers has been added to your bag.