BOOK REVIEW | Guitar journey through history of SA music styles

Already a hit in the US, book explores origins of genre and influences in today's music

Billy Monama's book a treasure for literature collectors and musicians.
Billy Monama's book a treasure for literature collectors and musicians.
Image: Supplied

Reviewer:  Patience Bambalele

Book Title: Introduction to South African Guitar Styles Volume 1

Publisher: Real African publishers

Billy Monama's Introduction to South African Guitar Styles Volume 1 is one book that has been missing from bookshelves in music schools and libraries.

The book is packed with information that will assist you if you want to pursue a career in music, or those who are curious enough, like Monama, to understand the history of music in SA.

It was the same curiosity that drove the musician from Mahwelereng , to go around the country, collecting information and interviewing music legends, just to understand the guitar styles that shape SA music.

Locally, the book might not be getting the attention it deserves. However, universities in the US are buying it like it's going out of fashion.

There’s plenty of fascinating information to glean from Monama’s book.

It looks at music styles such as maskandi, marabi, kwela, mbaqanga, Tsonga, and Afro-jazz as well as the connection between these.

The book is properly packaged and written in simple English with explanations and definitions of musical terms.

It offers demonstrations and illustrations of guitar notes, a sheet of lyrics written in words and staff notation style.

In each style mentioned, there is an explanation of how it came into existence and who were the big stars at the time.

According to Monama, guitar plays a major role in SA music, whether it is acoustic or electric, it almost defines our sound.

It starts by looking at the role played by the acoustic guitar during the 19th century.

Focusing on virtuoso bandleader and ground-breaking guitar players post-1950s and the emergence of American jazz, Monama points out that the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane influenced our local music stars.

Momana traces the guitar style history up to post-1960s where people like Themba Mokoena, Baba Mokoena and Moss Mogale are lauded as among the greats.

The book states that marabi is the sound that gave birth to many local sounds.

Apparently, this beautiful sound was existing by the 1930s but it was not recorded.

In the 1940s, men who played guitar in the streets who were known as musikant, gave birth to maskandi or maskanda sound.

In Monama’s explanation, maskanda or maskandi was developed to fill the vacuum left by the abandonment of indigenous traditional instruments in the urban areas.

In the 1950s, people like John Bhengu, AKA Phuzushukela, began recording the music.

The book further reveals that mbaqanga sound emerged from kwela music, when it (kwela) was fading out in 1959.

Mbaqanga is a mixture of styles such as marabi, African jazz, mbube and phatha phatha and a little mix of American music.

Kwela guitarist stars of the day were Peter Khumalo and Frans Pilane.

A very important piece of information in the book is that African jazz guitar style emerged from maskandi sound, which came from marabi, a sound regarded as the motherboard of black South Africa jazz.

African jazz was characterised mostly by black musicians who were forcibly moved from Doornfontein to Sophiatown during apartheid in the 1940s.

African jazz pioneer instrumentalists of that time included Harlem Swingers, Kippie Moeketsi and Zakes Nkosi.

There were also female composers and singers who contributed to its growth, like Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuku and Thandi Klaasen. 

Monama goes as far as tracing the greatest guitar players in Tsonga music.

He praises Tsongas for their rich musical heritage. It was around the 1940s and 1950s that Tsonga guitarists began using an acoustic guitar.

When they arrived in Johannesburg, they explored the electric guitar, which gives the famous sound that can be heard in the type of music by people such as Thomas Chauke, Royal Chauke, and Daniel Shirinda, who is regarded as the king of acoustic guitar.

If you are lucky enough to come across this book, please collect it, it's worth it.

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