A unique recording of songs by South African composer Reuben T. Caluza (pictured left) has been released to coincide with Heritage month. The album, titled Reuben T. Caluza – The B-Side features dynamic new interpretations and arrangements of songs by Caluza (1895–1969), who was once a household name in South Africa and also hugely popular in the US and the UK during the 1920s and ’30s.
His music, and the messages of his songs still have strong relevance today, in the ways he innovated musical styles, and in his commentaries on everything from popular culture and topical issues of the day to workers’ and civil rights. Yet, for decades his legacy has largely become buried and forgotten in the sound archives of South Africa’s musical history.
However, over the past eighteen months, an ensemble of twelve local singers – Ayanda Eleki, Ann Masina, Bulelani Madondile, Nokuthula Magubane, Lydia Manyama, Rueben Mbonambi, Lulama Mgceleza, Zebulon Mmusi, Tshegofatso Moeng, Mapule Moloi, Lindokuhle Thabede and Lubabalo Velebayi – have collaborated with award-winning composer Philip Miller, and accomplished jazz instrumentalists, including brass players Adam Howard and Dan Selsick and double bassist Thembinkosi Mavimbela, to create new recordings of Caluza’s hit songs, based on his own album, The Double Quartet, recorded in London in 1930.
The project began during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, when Philip Miller came across the song ‘Influenza (1918)’, that Reuben T. Caluza had written during the devastation of the Spanish flu pandemic. It resonated powerfully.
At a time when artists were struggling to make ends meet due to performance restrictions, Philip created a new arrangement of Caluza’s song, and invited singers and musicians with whom he has collaborated over the years to record their singing parts on their cell phones. With video designer Marcos Martins, Philip then made these into a music video of the song, and started an online campaign and artist relief fund, #MusoReliefSA.
The hugely positive reception the song received, and the fact that the singers loved making the arrangement of “Influenza (1918)” so much, resulted in the ensemble continuing to learn, arrange and record more of Caluza’s incredible repertoire.
Recording and sheet music available
Through generous support from the SAMRO Foundation, Nando’s, the Goethe-Institut, Butler School of Music, University of Texas at Austin, and the many individuals who contributed to the project’s crowdfunding campaigns, this long-awaited album has finally been recorded at Flame Studios at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, with the final mix by sound engineer Gavan Eckhart.
The album was launched to coincide with Heritage Day on 24 September 2021, on SAMRO’s Indigenous African Music (IAM) platform, https://iamtranscriptions.org/ where it will be streamed free of charge.
Sheet music of the album’s new arrangements will also be available on the website for other musicians and singers to access and use.
What: Reuben T. Caluza – The B-Side
Where: On SAMRO’s Indigenous African Music (IAM) platform, https://iamtranscriptions.org/ where it will be streamed free of charge