The Green Arrows

ALU32001.jpgTitle: 4-Track Recording Session
Artist: The Green Arrows
Label: Alula Records
Series: Analog Africa No. 1
Catalog No.: AACD061
Date: 2006

Analog Africa is a new series put out by Alula Records dedicated to reissues of recordings by musically significant African groups. The first release in the series, 4-Track Recording Session, features The Green Arrows, a widely influential band in Zimbabwe that emerged in the 1970s. The Arrows became famous for their ability to smoothly integrate Zimbabwe’s (then Southern Rhodesia’s) folk and popular musical genres into a new form of musical expression, forcing record companies in the region to exhibit interest in the work of local artists. The group was founded by Manatsa brothers Zexie and Stanley, who began playing rabi (an urban style founded on traditional songs) and South African Kwela together as The Mambo Jazz Band along with several other musicians. They became The Green Arrows in 1968 when they replaced Fanyana Dube on rhythm guitar with Keddias, the youngest Manatsa brother. The lineup on Session includes Zexie Manatsa (bass and lead vocals), Stanley Manatsa (lead guitar), Givas Bernard (rhythm guitar and bass), Fulton Chikwati (rhythm guitar), Raphael Mboweni (drums), and Wilfred Nyoni (guest singer).

Session is actually a set of twenty tracks divided into two parts, the first of which is culled from the Chipo Chiroorwa LP (1974) and features material from 1974 and 1975, and the second of which, called “Waka Waka Selection,” combines singles recorded between 1976 and 1979. Listening to Session, it is not difficult to imagine how the Arrows could start jamming on a Friday afternoon and continue into the early hours of Sunday morning in their live shows—the life and exuberant energy of their music, and of the Arrows’ live sound in particular—has been beautifully captured in this collection, and the warm, brilliant guitars, grooving/popping bass, laid-back vocals, and snapping drums of 1970s African pop have been exquisitely restored in Session. The Arrows are at their finest here, tight and yet free to venture forth and explore the outer dimensions of high-energy, exuberant, and celebratory pop. This sound pervades Session, making it an excellent listen for any occasion, but the endlessly inventive weaving of shimmering chord-inversion arpeggios, sliding and dancing into and away from his melodies, in the lead guitar playing of Stanley Manatsa blends with the seamless rhythm guitar accents of Chikwati and Mboweni to keep Session sounding both fresh and familiar throughout. Add Zexie Manatsa and Bernard’s jubilant bass underpinnings along with the driving and tasteful accenting of Mboweni’s seamless drumming means that Session will let you dance and relax from “Mwana Waenda” to “Wasara Wasara” without needing a break from the sound. The Arrows’ vocals (almost always Zexie Manatsa singing solo or with minimal harmony) are probably the weakest part of their sound on Session (and yet still provide a nice, laid-back musical counterpart to the rest of the instruments) and often seem overshadowed. Nevertheless, In 4-Track Session, the band is always tight, always grooving, and always exploding with colorful improvisation.

Samy Ben Redjeb is the Executive Producer and Editor for the Analog Africa series who wrote the liner notes for Session, which consist of a twenty-two page history of the Arrows, detailed discography, and colorful reprints of photographs from archival material (with full picture credits). The liner notes also direct the reader to the website for song lyrics, but the only thing there at the time of writing this review is a placeholder page. Nevertheless, this new series is an exciting resource for both music enthusiasts and researchers alike, and Alula’s painstaking remastering and sound restoration, along with their extensive liner notes, brings together great music and the means for understanding a bit more about the historical, social, and political context of its creation in one place.

For further information:

Afropop Worldwide (Banning Eyre’s site dedicated to the bewildering and expansive world of (primarily) African popular music).Zindi, Fred. 1990. Roots Rocking in Zimbabwe. Gweru: Mango Press (An updated version of one of the first publications to focus specifically on the music of Zimbabwe).

Posted by Anthony Guest-Scott