The Drive – Can You Feel It
(We Are Busy Bodies WABB-076. LP Review by Adam Sieff)
In 1971, three members of The Heshoo Beshoo Group – alto saxophonist Henry Sithole, his brother, tenor & baritone saxophonist Stanley Sithole and drummer Nelson Magwaza – were approached by guitarist Adolphus ‘Bunny’ Luthuli to form a new band to compete at the Alco Best Band Competition taking place at Jabulani Stadium in Soweto. They named themselves The Drive and duly won first prize, and then won another competition the following September at the Pina-Culo Festival at the Umgababa Holiday Resort.
The Drive became the hottest touring band in South Africa and eventually made their recording debut in 1974 for Atlas City Records, then made another six albums for RCA before tragedy struck in 1977 when Henry Sithole and Bunny Luthuli were killed in a car accident.
Can You Feel It is The Drive’s second album and was recorded in 1975 at RCA owned Manley van Niekerk Studios in Johannesburg by saxophonist/producer David Thekwane. By this time two of the band’s founding members, vocalist Lucky Mbatha and saxophonist Mike Makhalemele had left and the rest of the lineup was Henry and Stanley’s brother Danny Sithole on trumpet, Fender bassist Tony Sauli and a twenty year-old Bheki Mseleku on synthesizer, electric piano and Hammond organ.
There may be only three tracks, but they’re as joyous and soulful as each other. The main focus is Way Back Fifties which takes up the first side of the record, a track still much revered today that had been a radio hit split over the A and B sides of a 7” single. It’s a gorgeous slice of South African jazz, with its relentless groove, wide open horn parts and fired up soloing from the Sithole brothers and Mseleku. When it fades out after 13 minutes one can only hope that it was because they were running out of tape, it would have been criminal to stop such an uplifting performance. The remaining two tracks make their comparative brevity a virtue, the tight ensemble playing of Together is just that, while the funky guitar and piano driven title track leaves more room for stretching out over its tight yet relaxed rhythm section of Sauli and Magwaza.
Why this music sounds so good 46 years on shows how special it was in the first place, and how sad it is that it was not made available to an international audience. If the car accident hadn’t happened, who knows? It certainly deserves to be better known, and hopefully this release will stimulate more interest in The Drive with more comprehensive releases to come.