Friday, September 12, 2008

Sounds of the South African squeezebox

Y’all know I’m into South African music, right? Let me share something interesting with you.

There’s a fantastic singer named Themba “Shaluza Max” Mntambo. What caught me about his music – apart from Max’s muscular tenor and some thumping grooves – was the sound of a concertina.

In my mind, the accordion-like concertina is a dainty little European instrument. What’s it doing in a Zulu chant-song?

To hear what I mean, click here and listen to Shaluza Max’s “Amancamnce.”

Embedded below is a Shaluza Max video with an even funkier concertina hook. The song is called “Mangase.” (“Amancamnce” and “Mangase” are downloadable from iTunes.)

Here’s the deal: Englishmen developed the concertina during the mid-1800s. They are said to have introduced it to South Africa in the 1920s.

The instrument was then picked up by Afrikaners, who made it a cornerstone of their folk music.

But it was also picked up by Zulus, who likewise absorbed it into their traditional music.

Doesn’t that say something beautiful about the meaning of music... and how culture is transmitted? Like with the banjo in America. Or the tuba in Mexico.

Supposedly, there are now concertina festivals in South Africa where Boer and Zulu musicians come together and rock their “Anglo” concertinas!

(By the way, we might refer to a concertina as a squeezebox... but South Africans call it a squashbox.)


Sprout333 said...

Yes, great stuff. For old school examples, check out

and, if you can find it, "Squashbox: Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa Concertina, 1930-1965" on the Silex label.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks for that, Sprout333.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Following up, here's an old South African concertina record (sung in Sotho) ripped from a 78 by JW at Excavated Shellac... BAM!

editorbob said...

The concertina has been a fixture in both traditional Zulu music and in township jive for decades. For some cool examples, find "Homeland: A Collection of Black South African Music" (Rounder cd 11549).

The British link draws from the instrument's roots in Celtic (Irish & Scots) & maritime music. Check out Johnny Clegg's work with both Juluka and Savuka -- a marvelous, irresistible blend of Celtic, Zulu, and rock traditions.

And PS, I truly enjoy your site. I like your online persona, & you've introduced me to some fine music. Hope these recommendations return the favor.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks for that, editorbob.

Jassalasca Jape said...

... and the accordion in south Louisiana. Thanks for posting, this is interesting.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thank you, Jape. Welcome to my blog, by the way.

destruction said...

"Mama's got a squeezebox
She wears on her chest
And when Daddy comes home
He can't get no rest...."

Thx editorbob for reminding me about Juluka....I'll have to play that for my bluegrass loving 9-year old to get her opinion. Thx to WPFW, she's developing an ear for Cajun/Zydeco....due in no small part to the accordion.

Mike said...

Hi there, I am a concertina player from the UK have loved the various squashbox styles for many years, thanks for the Shaluza Max info, liked it so much I got the CD. For an amazing squashbox resource check out the ILAM site:

many thanks again,