A new collection by U.K. label Matsuli Music explores the jazz-funk sounds of Club Pelican, a renegade spot in South Africa during the height of Apartheid.
The liner notes for One Night in Pelican: Afro-Modern Dreams 1974-1977, a recent release from Matsuli Music, detail an astounding story of music in Soweto, South Africa during a period when the Black population was ruled with an iron fist by the white colonialist Apartheid regime desperate to remain in power.
Here’s writer Kwanele Sosibo outlining the space:
“A night-time haunt in the backstreets of Soweto run by a well-known bootlegger should have been a prime zone for nefarious underworld activities. Instead, it nurtured an underground of a different kind. Soon after its opening in 1973, Club Pelican became a spot where musicians steeped in the tradition of South African jazz began to cook up experimental sounds inspired by communion, competition and the movements in funk and soul blowing in from the West.”
The release compiles ten impossibly rare tracks from a club that, per Sosibo in the notes, “boasted a diverse pool of talent in its succession of house bands and an A-list of ghetto-fabulous singers as its cabaret stars.” Describing the Pelican’s VIP section as “a veritable who’s who of Soweto society and its stage,” Sosibo described how owner Lucky Michaels “filled a live music vacuum.”
The collection features the stars of the scene and the brilliant musicians who backed them, including Abacothozi, Almon Memela’s Soweto, the Black Pages, Dick Khoza and the Afro Pedlars, the Drive, Ensemble of Rhythm and Art, the Headquarters, Makhona Zonke Band, the Shyannes, and Spirits Rejoice.
Released late last year, it took curators-producers Matt Temple and Chris Albertyn at Matsuli Music more than a decade to bring One Night in Pelican to market – and it was well worth the wait.