The Heshoo Beshoo Group – Armitage Road
(We Are Busy Bodies CDWABB063. Album Review by Adam Sieff
This much lauded and rarely heard South African jazz album has featured on many a crate-digger’s want list for some time, and is finally receiving a limited edition vinyl and CD release by Canadian label We Are Busy Bodies. Armitage Road was first released in South Africa by EMI subsidiary Little Giant in 1970, and was released by EMI France on Columbia in 1971 and again with a colourised sleeve on HMV in 1974. As mint copies of any of these currently sell for £200 and upwards, how does the record sound fifty years on? Well, pretty, pretty good.
Heshoo Beshoo (literally meaning ‘going with force’) were founded in 1969 by alto saxophonist Henry Sithole, who had previously worked with Dalton Kanyile’s Keynotes, Gibsen Kente’s Sikalo, Almon’s Jazz 8 and Mackay Davashe’s Jazz Dazzlers. The rest of the musicians in the band were his brother Stanley Sithole, on tenor saxophone, guitarist Cyril Magubane, bassist Ernest Mothle and drummer Nelson Magwaza. Henry and Stanley (along with another brother Danny) would go on to play in The Drive, South Africa’s top soul jazz group.
The album was named after the township street where Cyril Magubane lived and was produced by former EMI South Africa staff producer John S. Norwell. The cover photo imitates the Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ zebra crossing artwork showing the gulf between life in the township street in Orlando, Soweto and London’s St John’s Wood during the depths of the Apartheid era.
This is a joyful record, the sound is live and upfront and the band is tight, funky and soulful. The five compositions (four by Magubane and one from Henry Sithole) strike a balance somewhere between Soweto and Memphis. Magubane’s arrangements are clean and effective, the rhythm section keeps things on the front foot and gives the two horn playing brothers space for their inventive soloing that carries echoes of Coltrane and Cannonball as well as African horn giants Winston Mankunku and Kippie Moeketsi.
All the five tracks are strong and I particularly enjoyed ‘Emakhaya’ (‘Back Home In The Bush’) with its infectious groove and one of many fine guitar solos. Another stand out is Henry Sithole’s driving ‘Wait and See’, with its heavy backbeat and strong unison horn lines. Also, the eleven minute ‘Lazy Bones’ with its traditional melody and more satisfying soloing from everyone. But it’s all good and very welcome fifty years on.