THE CHIFF & FIPPLE GREETING
August 09, 2003:
As you all know, Chiff & Fipple has been a growing enterprise for the last seven years. The email list for this newsletter you are reading is holding at about 3400 email addresses. The message board is very active and has nearly as many registered users.
Running Chiff & Fipple has taught me a lot about the value of leadership and it has been my pleasure and privilege to be your leader. In thinking about leadership, and keeping up with the news, I have been increasingly concerned about California Governor Davis and have watched this recall election with interest. A great deal of interest.
At this time, I am announcing the candidacy of Chiff & Fipple for Governor of California.
We want to be a uniter not a divider. We're developing our positions on the complex issues in California as we speak. We've already worked out a few of them. More at the end of this issue.
I'm Dale Wisely and this is Chiff & Fipple's 6Hole Theory: PostStructural Tinwhistle Journalism for the New Millennium.
August 09, 2003
I. The Positively Testcard: Chiff & Fipple Interview with Dave Woodhead on the Kwela Revival Band.
It just can’t hurt for whistle enthusiasts to look beyond the Irish tradition and other Western European folk music to other applications of our belovedly simple instrument. There is, for example, kwela.
Kwela emerged as a popular phenomenon—one might say “fad” if it weren’t a bit pejorative, in the apartheid-dominated
in the 1950s. If you have had occasion to listen to African jazz, you’ll know that the signature sound is upbeat, lively, and danceable. As an adolescent, I remember listening to the first album by an African jazz band called Osibisa. (Their American releases featured very cool artwork by the great Roger Dean.) The band described their own music as “criss- cross rhythms which explode with happiness.” So it was with kwela. The style was centered on the pennywhistle and one can hear the influences of swing, jazz, blues, boogie woogie as well as indigenous African music. South Africa
The whistle craze slowly evolved into township jive. Players gravitated to saxophones and electric instruments. Some see this transition as a desire to move past the limitations of the whistle. The principal limitation was volume - with the arrival of electric bass and guitar, a penny whistle simply couldn’t cut through – and so kwela all but disappeared as its proponents moved on into sax-jive and mbaqanga.
We in the whistle world tend to hold with the legend that the kwela players were committed to the Hohner whistles. Hohner stopped making them, destroyed the hardware required to make them, and kwela players were forced to move on to other instruments. (The destruction of the Hohner molds is sort of the whistleworld equivalent of Brian Wilson destroying the Smile tapes. But, I’ve collected a few Hohners and, believe me, they weren’t worth the fuss.)
I recently became a fan of a kwela revival band from
called The Positively Testcard. I missed a good opportunity to become a fan years ago. Someone sent me an email with a kind of vague reference to the band and I thought it was a kind of musical spam message. You know, like those “Refinance your penis” spams, except hipper. I ignored it, to my regret. Anyway, I’m a fan now. How can you not be a fan of a band with a CD titled “GAS UP MY HOTROD STOKER, THE KWELA GROOVE FRENZY'S England ” and another titled, “THE INDESTRUCTIBLE BEAT OF SOUTH NORWOOD.” The latter gets my vote as the hippest CD title of all time. If you don’t know why it’s hip, I can’t help you. HIT TOWN
Founded in 1996 by former Billy Bragg trumpeter Dave Woodhead, who had the good sense to switch to whistle, and by guitarist Adam Keelan, the band works, records, and gigs. Check out their website at:
I had the opportunity to interview Dave Woodhead recently in
Dale Wisely: I would imagine this band started with one of you discovering kwela. How did you discover it and where did it take you?
Dave Woodhead: The band didn’t start off playing kwela. I’d wanted to do a band to keep my lip in shape (I’m a trumpet player as well) in between doing gigs for Billy Bragg and the like. We did cover covers – Only Ones, Earl Bostic, Basie, Jackson 5 – all the usual suspects.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Jackson 5
As I was doing all trumpet sets with the band, I needed something to give my lip a rest during the course of a gig, so I learnt a couple of Spokes Masheyane tunes on the whistle. Bit by bit the kwela tunes started to dominate the set list. Andy Kershaw (BBC Radio DJ) then asked us for an all kwela set for a session for BBC Radio One and that launched us off down the kwela road good and proper.
Found this Spokes Masheyane CD cover on the web. If someone has a better graphic, send it!
I’d known of the music and had one or two records. The music suited the band line-up so I ferreted around for more music to listen to. Friends made tapes but there was very little available in the shops – Spokes’ King Kwela and a CD on Earthworks by
I've had this great photo of West Nkosi, which appears in a couple of places on the web, for sometime. Still don't have a photo credit. Great, great photo.
· So, for you, kwela came first and then the whistle?
I learnt the whistle to play kwela. I wanted to make a noise like Lemmy and Spokes. I’m currently abusing the mandolin and harmonica under similar circumstances.
· Yours would be a rather narrow market I would think – kwela fans aren’t exactly numerous. How was the band received in the early days?
Narrow market?! ...Wrong continent, wrong decade, wrong colour – but the music was right.
No – there was no market. But when we played it in
pubs people liked it. A few South Africans knew what we were doing but I think kwela was new to most of the people we played to. We didn’t want to play it too straight, too authentic. A lot has come into popular music since the 1950’s, and we wanted to lean on some of that, in the same way that the original guys leant on American black music as well as Marabi and other township music. London
· Uh... are there other kwela revival bands? I mean, we know you’re the best, but are you also the only?
The only other guys I know of doing kwela at the moment are Tobogo Lerole’s outfit Kwela Tebza. Tobogo is Big Voice Jack Lerole’s nephew. Big Voice Jack has just put out a new CD but he’s very ill these days.
Found this also uncredited photo of Big Voice Jack on the web. How cool is this? What is that monster he's playing?
We can define kwela culturally, I suppose, and we can say it is centered on the whistle as a lead instrument. But are there characteristics of the music in terms of music theory that make it distinctive?
Here goes for a kwela-by-numbers guide.
(i) Simple cycle of the three major chords of the key e.g. I,I, IV,V or IV,I,V,I or I,IV,I,V or I,IV,V,I
(ii) This cycle is over 2 or 4 bars. So you put the most irritatingly catchy 2 or 4 bar tune over the top. Maybe coming up with a secondary tune too
(iii) Put it all together, sling in a whistle solo in the middle, a guitar solo (a mercifully whistle-free section) and back to the tune. The End.
Note – no middle 8, no drum solo – it’s chorus all the way through.
(iv) The rhythmic feel is swung quavers (triplet, as in the swing bands, R n’B, blues and R & R of American black culture that black South Africans were picking up on.
(v) The tune is 2 minutes 30 seconds long.
(vi) It’s in B flat
Originally this was street corner music – just whistle with guitar or lead whistle with backing whistles and a guitar. The bass (tea chest or string) and drums turn up once the music was being recorded and the kids on the street wanted to recreate the sound of those records.
· What is the current line-up of the band?
The only line-up change the band’s had is Marcel Stranis replacing Chris Morgan on bass. Adam Keelan still strums and Mario Guarnieri still hits things. I suppose the major change was allowing Mario a bass drum since Hot-Rod stoker was recorded.
· Apart from your CD’s, are their definite kwela recordings interested people should try to find?
CD’s to buy:
Big Voice Jack Lerole - Live CD and his new one
Spokes Masheyane – King Kwela
West Nkosi– his whistle CD on Earthworks
That should set you up. There are lots of South African compilations that include one or two kwela tracks. The big omission is that there’s no Lemmy Mabaso available.
· Dave, tell us about your whistles.
“‘Me and My Whistles’ – every week we ask a celebrity brass instrument repair man to discuss his pipes...”
I’ve settled on Shaws. They’re edgy enough and just nicely out of tune. They’re also tapered which gives you lots of false-fingering potential in the third octave. Also helps with trills/flutters.
G, A, Bb, C and D cover all our tunes. I use a cheapy plastic topped D because the Shaw is so out of tune.
I’ve tried Overtons but they sound too nice and flutey. Likewise Susatos.
I like music that sounds like it’s being beaten out of the speakers with an old frying pan – Shaws give me that sound. ...There, that should get me an enormous sponsorship deal...
Yes, Dave Shaw will be awfully proud. I’d put you on to Jerry Freeman’s tweaked Shaws except, obviously, they’d end up unacceptably, uh, good to you. Do you know anything about the Hohner thing? How that became the default whistle for kwela players in
There had been South African kids playing whistles since the 1930’s when they were emulating the Scottish pipe bands (Now that’s what I call Afro-Celt music...)
In the 1940’s the swing and R n’B 78’s started flowing in and the kids shifted their influences to American black culture (a sigh of relief from music lovers everywhere). Spotting the whistle-craze take-off in the mid 50’s, in 1958 Hohner started mass-producing a nickel plated brass whistle, based on a prototype supplied by a young South African penny-whistler. Hohner then imported these in to
and cornered the market. South Africa
· My understanding is that kwela players had a unique way of blowing the whistle, or holding it in their mouths. What can you tell us about that?
The blowing is very different. “..Assume the position..”
(i) Hold the whistle normally
(ii) Lift the right wrist and drop the left wrist. The holes have now shifted from the vertical off the left.
(iii) Crick your neck towards your right shoulder.
(iv) Stick the whistle in your mouth with lips above and below the sound hole thing.
Dave Woodhead demonstrates the painful kwela blowing style. Photo thanks to Tot
I hope this makes sense. Not recommended by the country’s top osteopaths. It really is a pain in the neck. But it does get the sound. It’s much richer and you can use this technique to bend notes too. ‘It flattens as it fattens...’
· That’s completely weird. My neck hurts. I’m gagging here. This is making me sick. I feel like crying. I do admit, though, that I’ve always believed that there ought to be some way to exploit that pitch-bending thing you get by partially obstructing the air coming out of the window. What I hadn’t thought was that it would involve tickling my tonsils with the mouthpiece. What variety of keys was used in the original kwela repertoire?
Almost exclusively B flat, some C and G, some A (though this might be a flattened Bb. See above) Either B flat dominates because
(a) it’s suitably fruity, not too shrill and pipey like a D, and with comfortable hole-spacing
(b) the kid’s whistle that Hohner copied was a Bb
(c) it matches trumpet, clarinet, tenor sax, trombone – all being Bb instruments. (Even though whistles rarely played with these instruments until much later.)
(d) None/all of the above. Not a clue.
· Thanks for doing this interview. And good luck. Some day there’s going to be a world-wide second-wave kwela craze and you guys are going to be at the epicenter, or epicentre, and you’ll get filthy rich. Trust me, it’s going to happen.
This interview was not conducted in Berlin, as Dale claimed, but by email. Dale likes to pretend.
II. RALPH SWEET ON FINGERING THE C-NATURAL
When trying those C natural fingerings, (that is, 0xx000 and half-holing) what about these: 0x0xxx and 0x0xx0?
They work very nicely on both flutes and whistles, the 2nd one mostoften for the 2nd register, and it's handy to have an alternate fingering for certain passages in certain tunes.
Ralph Sweet, the great whistle & flute maker, was interviewed by Chiff & Fipple.
So does Gary Coleman.
III. THIS WEEK'S LETTER TO "DAVE"
In each issue of chiff & fipple, we try to publish the best of the letters we get, mistakenly sent to "Dave."
I just returned from a two week musical tour of Sweden (Stockholm), Finland (Helsinki), Estonia (Tallinn), and Russia (St. Petersburg). Even though I was touring as the accompanist for a College Choir from Northern CA, I couldn't bear the thought of going two entire weeks without at least a few of my whistles (I took a low D, two soprano Ds, a soprano C and a teeny-tiny G). Somehow I made it through airport security in America, Germany and Russia with a whole bunch of metal pipes in my carry-on (which if you remove the mouthpiece and block the holes could be used as blowpipes -- plus, the low D is basically a 2-foot long metal pipe, weighted at one end...).
At any rate, I was having difficulty in finding a place to practice without disturbing my roommate or the other patrons of the hotels. In addition, it is illegal to play music on the streets in several of these Nordic/Baltic countries without a permit (so that the local street musician can have an edge in gathering funds from passers-by). In Tallinn, the idea struck me. Guerilla Whistling!
Early one morning, I went to the Town square in old Tallinn to climb the tower. It was not open to the public for several hours, but the nice Estonian maintenance man who yelled at me in Estonian and probably Finnish, too, just to make his point forgot to lock the tower door. As soon as his back was turned I slipped in and climbed 115 steps (77 meters vertically) to the parapets. After catching my breath, I blew a few songs -- the Estonia national anthem, Planxty Fanny Poer, The Ash Grove, Ar Hyd Y Nos, and rounded it off with a medley of The Ship in Full Sail and The Blarney Pilgrim.
There was confusion in the square, but I managed to slip out of the tower unnoticed and joined a few friends at an outdoor café for a strong(!) coffee. Apparently, the Generation Soprano C carried quite well from so high up.... They heard me from several blocks away!
I proceeded over the next few days to continue my Guerilla Whistling, playing from several towers of Tallinn's main city wall, in the courtyard of the Dominican Monastery, and from a tree near the St. Nicholas church (now a concert hall). I almost got into St. Olav's Church, where I had planned to climb out onto the construction scaffolding and play from the top of the tower (the highest point in Old Tallinn), but the workers never gave me a chance. Just before I left the Russian Orthodox Cathedral grounds, there was a mass exodus of Politsei cars and vans, lights and sirens on, from the Governmental Palace across the Cathedral Square. I decided it was time to give it a rest....
Next we went to Russia, where I snuck the whistle into the Shevrdhov (sp?) Palace and played for almost 20 minutes on a closed staircase before I had to beat a hasty retreat into a w.c. and then act like "Stupid Amerikan Tourist." They also almost caught me at the Peterhof museum. I didn't even try at the Hermitage....I was too busy checking out the incredible collection of paintings and sculpture. The gold leaf on that place could be stripped off and sold to feed most of the third world nations in the world for about a decade and a half.
I don't know if it's related to my activities in Tallinn, but our bus crossing from Estonia to Russia at the Narva river was delayed for seven and a half hours, during which time our 50 tourists waited on a bridge while truck after truck rolled past, apparently getting waved through. Thank God the Russians accepted our $60 bribe and waived the luggage and body-cavity search! ($60US is about 1,920 Rubles, a small fortune for anyone not living in the tourist traps in Russia).
Now that I'm home, I'm putting out the call to other whistlers around the world: engage in Guerilla Whistling wherever and whenever possible!
Why, you ask? Hey, why not? Have a nice day.
p.s. I've sent this from a secure server with triple redundant encryption.....
Well, that's the end of this issue, for those of you interested, see below for the Chiff & Fipple For Governor position statements. For the rest of you...see you next time.
& Fipple for Governor of California 2003.
Developing positions on the issues:
The Californian economy, indeed, the US economy, is a complex thing that requires understanding and the courage of positive leadership to move California, and indeed the USA, into stronger economic times.
California, and indeed, the world, needs a healthy and safe environment, balancing the need for "clean" with the need for "jobs" and "money." See "The economy."
Taxes are necessary to support our necessary government functions, including environmental safeguards and the economy. We want to tax Californians, and indeed all Americans, in a way that permits necessary functions in government but without having a government that is "too big" or "too small" and without requiring any citizen to pay more than his or her "fair share."
There are plenty of gay people in California. More per capita, in fact, than in the rest of the US, except maybe parts of New York. By "plenty" I don't mean to say "too many" just "lots." Every gay person deserves to be treated as well as every straight person, while taking into account their basic "gayness," but without overemphasizing the gayness of them. As for gay marriage--were you going to ask me about gay marriage?
Like the the Californian economy, indeed, the US economy, gay marriage, indeed, all marriage, is a complex thing that requires understanding and the courage of positive leadership to move California, and indeed the USA, into stronger gay rights times, balancing those, of course, with straight rights.
War and the military:
We support our troops. War is hell. It is also complex. We, do, however, support our troops.
Crime, especially the more serious crime, is a serious problem in California and America (and in some of Europe). Chiff & Fipple is opposed to crime--and the more serious the crime, the more serious Chiff & Fipple is in being opposed to it and the more strong leadership Chiff & Fipple will bring to bear on the problem of crime, which is pretty darn serious.
Campaign Finance Reform:
Man, is it ever expensive to run for Governor. Especially when you live in Alabama. WHooo! Indeed, it probably would be that much more expensive to run for President. Here's the math:
Let x = the cost of running for Governor of California.
There are 50 states so:
The cost of running for President would be at least 50 x x, where that first x is "times" and the second x is "x".
One of the worst thing that can happen to a person is to get sick, and the more serious the sickness, the more worse it is. It can sure be expensive, too, if you don't have good health insurance. Or, worse, if you don't have ANY health insurance. Which I do. But, anyway. For example, my youngest daughter has to have braces. We're talking about $4400! And nevermind that this is my 3rd daughter to get braces and one of them had to get them TWICE because she didn't wear her retainer. And, never mind that my WIFE got them a few years ago, too, even though I thought her teeth were PLENTY straight. So, we need to do something about the cost of orthodontics and other health care.
Frankly, Chiff & Fipple is going to take a rather bold stand on this issue and tell you that we think education is overrated. Take, for example, the education that leads to a person becoming an orthodontist. All of those years of schooling are expensive and that's why they can get away with charging $4400 for braces. We need to reduce the cost of orthodontics training, make it more affordable to more people. That way there will be more orthodontists. More supply with the same demand means: Less expensive braces! (See The Economy, above).
Door bell sound effects on TV:
Chiff & Fipple is opposed to the use of "door bell sound effects" on TV. Like when you've got the TV on and you're not paying that much attention to it and a door bell rings ON THE SHOW and you get out of your chair to go the door thinking someone is at YOUR door. Man! Chiff & Fipple HATES that. We don't mind telephone sounds on TV so much because we pretty much can tell the difference between TV telephones and the one in our den.
Chiff & Fipple is an independent with leanings toward the Democratic Party, except the bozos in the Democratic Party can't pull it together so, you know, maybe we're leaning that way and maybe not. Know what I'm saying? Anyway, we would kind of like to support this Dean guy, but, yikes-a-hooty, something about him gives us the creeps. The stiff smile, the thick neck. We're not sure.
My brother is a Teamster. I've hung out with him and some of his Teamster friends. Let me take this opportunity to express my genuine affection for these guys in the Teamsters. Great guys. Great.
---for more Chiff & Fipple Gubernatorial Positions, email us.
1. Send blank email to email@example.com.
2. If that doesn't work, reply to this email and let me know you want to unsubscribe and I should be able to handle it for you.
Lord, help us see how near is your kingdom.