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Friday, 17 September 2010

Rashid Vally -- somebody up there digs me (Kohinoor Jazz Bar)

Rashid Vally grew up in downtown Johannesburg. The Champion Buildings, where he was born in 1939, still stand on Market Street today.
Vally attended the Central Indian High School, a private school set up by the Transvaal Indian Congress to combat the impact of racial zoning of the city under the Group Areas Act. After completing school, Vally joined his father's cafe and grocery business on Kort Street. Opened in 1956, the Azad Cafe was directly beneath the famous Kapitans Cafeteria where Nelson Mandela regularly ate while practising as a lawyer.

As a sideline Rashid Vally's father sold Indian film music. He often allowed Qawali singers like Suliman Patel to practise in the grocery store, the bags of sugar and flour acting as soundproofing. Valley senior started recording Patel, singers from the SS Karanja and others at the Trutone recording studio in Johannesburg. He released the results as five-packs of 78s and later as 45s.

It was around this time that the long-playing (LP) vinyl format was introduced and the young Rashid Vally fell in love with Louis Jordan's Somebody Up There Digs Me LP. When he wasn't delivering grocery orders by bicycle, he was working in the store and playing the latest jazz LPs. Anyone in the vicinity of the shop would hear the latest from Hank Mobley, Elvin Jones and others. It wasn't long before Rashid Vally opened a wholesale account with a US music dealer and started to sell imported jazz records.The Kort Street cafe was renamed Kohinoor,meaning Mountain of Light. In 1982, a second Kohinoor store opened on Market Street.
Not long after starting the music sideline in the early 1960s, Rashid Vally formed his first label ,Soultown, and started recording South African dance and soul bands, such as El Ricas and the High Notes. The idea of recording jazz only came to fruition in the late 60s after spending numerous Sunday afternoons at Dorkay House jazz sessions and getting to know musicians such as Gideon Nxumalo, Lionel Pillay and Early Mabuza. The first jazz LP on Soultown was a recording of Gideon Nxumalo, entitled Early Mart. In 1970 Dollar Brand (later Abdullah Ibrahim) visited Rashid Vally to discuss a business partnership. With the commercial side handled by Vally, Ibrahim set about recording a number of albums. Dollar Brand+2,(Peace) and Dollar Brand +3 (with Kippie Moeketsi)were recorded and issued on the Soultown label in 1971.Underground in Africa was recorded in 1974 with a new group of rock and soul musicians and was issued on the Mandla imprint.

Rashid Vally funded further sessions for Abdullah Ibrahim and his new band in Cape Town. These sessions yielded the anthemic Mannenberg.Ibrahim coined the name As-shams (the Sun) for the record label on which Mannenberg was released. The As-shams logo was designed by Rashid Vally's brother-in-law, Abdul Kader Ali. The LP sold at least 5 000 copies in the first month of release, purely by word of mouth. It was then licensed to Gallo and sold more than 40 000 copies in less than a year. Following the success of Mannenberg and further recordings by Ibrahim, Rashid Vally extended the As-shams catalogue by funding numerous recording sessions for jazz musicians keen to be given free rein in the studio. These records were heavily promoted through Kohinoor, which, by then, had become a legendary hangout for jazz lovers. It was also one of the few spaces in the city where people of different races could mix comfortably.

It is no exaggeration to state that Kohinoor and As-shams were beacons of light in a dark time. Today, the albums issued on the As-shams label are highly prized by collectors, archivists and lovers of South African jazz for the freedom of spirit they capture and embody. The impact on South African jazz of the As-shams label and Rashid Vally in making it all possible cannot be underestimated.

PS we dig you too Rashid

NB I am not the author, and will credit the writer as soon as I'm able

PS Finally, discovered the author! Thank you, Matt Temple (with apologies, editing omissions and  errors remaining mine)

holding kort...street; wise

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