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Single by The African Dance Band

of the Cold Storage Commission

of Southern Rhodesia
B-side"In the Mood"
LabelGALLO-Gallotone Records (JIVE GB.1152)
Writer(s)August Musarurwa
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Single by The African Dance Band

of the Cold Storage Commission

of Southern Rhodesia
B-side"In the Mood"
LabelGALLO-Gallotone Records (JIVE GB.1152)
Writer(s)August Musarurwa

"Skokiaan" is a popular tune originally written by Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) musician August Musarurwa (d.1968, usually identified as August Msarurgwa on record labels) in the tsaba-tsaba big-band style that succeeded marabi. Skokiaan (Chikokiyana in Shona)[1] refers to an illegal self-made alcoholic beverage typically brewed over one day that may contain a dangerous ingredient, such as methylated spirits.[2][3] The tune has also been recorded as "Sikokiyana," "Skokiana," and "Skokian."

Within a year of its 1954 release in South Africa, at least 19 cover versions of "Skokiaan" appeared. The Rhodesian version reached No 17 in the United States, while a cover version by Ralph Marterie climbed to No 3. All versions combined propelled the tune to No 2 on the Cash Box charts that year. Its popularity extended outside of music, with several urban areas in the United States taking its name. Artists who produced their own interpretations include Louis Armstrong, Bill Haley, Herb Alpert, Brave Combo, Hugh Masekela and Kermit Ruffins. The Wiggles also covered this song on their Furry Tales album. The music itself illustrates the mutual influences between Africa and the wider world.


Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)[edit]

"Skokiaan" was originally composed and first recorded as a sax and trumpet instrumental by the African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) under leadership of August Musarurwa (possibly in 1947 – anthropologist David Coplan seems to be the sole source for this date).[4] [5] The band comprised two saxophones, two banjos, traps, and a bass.[6] Several tunes played by the Cold Storage Band were recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey in June 1951.[7] On Tracey's recording, Musarurwa also apparently played for the Chaminuka Band.[8] Musarurwa copyrighted "Skokiaan", probably in 1952.

Ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino describes "Skokiaan" as having "a four-bar I-IV-V progression in 4/4 meter...The main melodic strain (A) begins with a long held trill...played by the sax on the dominant pitch...followed by an undulating, descending melody. The A strain is contrasted with sections of riffing that follow the harmonic progression fairly closely...before the main melody returns." Towards the end of the original recording a short trumpet solo "is overlapped by Musarurwa's sax". The melody throughout "is carried by the sax".[9]

Skokiaan's significance is that it shows how Africa influenced American jazz in particular and popular music in general. Musarurwa's 1947 and 1954 recordings illustrate how unique the indigenous forms of jazz were that emerged in Africa in response to global music trends. While African jazz was influenced from abroad, it also contributed to global trends.[10]

"Skokiaan" has been adapted to various musical stylings, from jazz to mento/reggae (Sugar Belly and the Canefields), and Rock and Roll. The tune has been arranged for strings (South Africa's Soweto String Quartet) and steel drums (Trinidad and Tobago's Southern All Stars[11]). A merengue version was recorded in the Dominican Republic by Antonio Morel y su Orquesta in the 1950s, with saxophone alto arrangement by Felix del Rosario.[12] A number of reggae versions of the song also exist, and marimba covers are particularly popular.

"Skokiaan" has been recorded many times, initially as part of a wave of world music that swept across the globe in the 1950s, spurred on in Africa by Hugh Tracey and in the United States by Alan Lomax, to name two. "Skokiaan" gained popularity outside Africa at the same time as the indigenous South African export, "Mbube" ("Wimoweh"). The sheet music was eventually released in 17 European and African languages.[13] In France in 1955 the orchestra of Alix Combelle recorded a cover of "Skokiaan" on the Phillips label.[14][15] Jacques Hélian also recorded a version. Performers recorded "Skokiaan" in Finland (Kipparikvartetti), Germany (James Last and Bert Kaempfert), and Sweden (Lily Berglund), among others. In the United Kingdom, vocal versions were recorded by South African singer Eve Boswell and Alma Cogan.

But it was in the United States that "Skokiaan" peaked on the charts, where it was recorded by musicians as varied as The Four Lads and Johnny Hodges. Hodges's version is notable not only because he recorded the tune with Erroll Garner but because his band at the time included John Coltrane in a minor role.[16]

United States[edit]

In 1954 Gallotone Records released a version of "Skokiaan" by Musarurwa and the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band.[17] After 170,000 copies were sold in South Africa, the president of London Records, E R Lewis, forwarded "a couple of copies" to London's offices in New York. Meanwhile, a pilot had brought the original version from South Africa to the USA, and given it to Bill Randle of the radio station WERE (1300 AM) in Cleveland. Although the copy was cracked, Randle was so impressed by what he heard that he asked Walt McQuire of London's New York office to send him a new copy. After Randle played the record four times, interest soared. London Records shipped 6,000 copies to New York from Britain, followed in September 1954 by a further 20,000.[18][19]

Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms' original version took off and reached No 17 on the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart.[20] Whether London Records' was a new recording, or a re-release of the Cold Storage Band's old recording under a new name, is uncertain. The band's original name was changed, no doubt for easier Western consumption,[21] perhaps by the record company or by the band itself.

78 rpm record of Louis Armstrong's 1954 "Skokiaan" recording (part 1 of 2).

In 1954 covers of "Skokiaan" appeared on United States charts alongside Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band's original. The hitmakers included Ralph Marterie, who reached No 3 on the Cash Box chart.[22] Marterie's instrumental was featured on ABC Radio's The Martin Block Show as "the best new record of the week". It was the first time an instrumental had been selected for the show.[18] (A claim that charted versions by Ray Anthony (who supposedly reached No 18), by Cuban-Mexican Perez Prado (supposedly reached No 26), and by Louis Armstrong (a Dixieland version said to have reached No 29), can so far not be verified.)[18]

On the Cash Box best-selling record charts, where all hit versions were combined, "Skokiaan" reached No 2 on 16 October 1954.[23]

English lyrics were added in 1954 by American Tom Glazer for the Canadian group The Four Lads. Glazer is perhaps better known for his On Top of Spaghetti (1963). On 4 August 1954 the Four Lads recorded (with Columbia Records) the only vocal version of "Skokiaan" that reached the United States charts, peaking at No 7 in the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart.[24]

In line with the spirit of the times, Glazer's lyrics contain what Time arts columnist Richard Corliss describes as jovial "ethnographic condescension:"[25] "Oh-far away in Africa / Happy, happy Africa / ...You sing a bingo bango bingo / In hokey pokey skokiaan."[26] Ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino points out that Glazer's depiction of the jungle setting is far removed from the topography of Southern Africa. But its one-size fits all "tropical paradise" idea was typical of exotic treatments at the time for songs from Latin America, Asia, and Hawaii.[27]

In August 1954, Louis Armstrong recorded "Skokiaan" in two parts with Sy Oliver's Orchestra in New York (Decca 29256). Part 1 (the A side) is a purely instrumental version, while Part 2 (side B) has Armstrong singing the lyrics.[28] (Despite authoritative claims[6][29] that Armstrong recorded a version entitled "Happy Africa", this cannot so far be substantiated from his discography.)[30] On his tour of Africa, Armstrong met Musarurwa in November 1960. Whether the two musicians jammed together,[31] or whether Armstrong just gave Musarurwa a jacket,[32] is unclear. In any case, the difference between the date that Armstrong recorded "Skokiaan" and the date of his meeting with Musarurwa appears to invalidate claims that Armstrong recorded "Skokiaan" after he came face to face with the Zimbabwean.

The Four Lads' version of "Skokiaan" became the theme song at Africa U.S.A. Park, a 300-acre (1.2 km2) theme park founded in 1953 at Boca Raton, Florida by John P. Pedersen. The song was played all day long in the parking lot as guests arrived and was sold in the gift shop. The park boasted the largest collection of camels in the United States. After it closed, the site was converted to the Camino Gardens subdivision.[33][34] Other urban areas in the United States apparently influenced by the name of the song are Franklin, Ohio, which boasts a Skokiaan Drive,[35] and Skokie, Illinois, which has a Skokiana Terrace.[36]

Bill Haley & His Comets recorded an instrumental version in 1959 that reached No 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1960. With the exception of reissues of "Rock Around the Clock", this would be the band's final chart hit in America![22][37]

"Skokiaan"'s popularity tracked the transition to electronic music, with an instrumental version recorded by moog pioneers Hot Butter in 1973 on the album More Hot Butter (preserved as a novelty item replete with "jungle" sounds on the compilation album Incredibly Strange Music Vol. 2). It was not the first such treatment of "Skokiaan": Spike Jones and the City Slickers recorded a "Japanese Skokiaan" in 1954, sung with a Japanese accent with lyrics about going to Tokyo, written by band member Freddie Morgan, a banjo player and vocalist (RCA VICTOR 47-5920).[38][39]

But true to its origins, "Skokiaan" remained a favourite among brass instrumentalists. In 1978 Herb Alpert and Hugh Masekela recorded the song as a brass duet with a disco flavor.[40] The tune put "Alpert on the R&B chart for the first time in his career".[41] One of the most recent brass recordings was by Kermit Ruffins' 2002 on his album Big Easy.


Despite its Southern Rhodesian origins, record companies frequently added "South African Song" in brackets to the song's title, as was the case with recordings by Louis Armstrong, the Four Lads, Bill Haley, and Bert Kaempfert. This may have been due to misunderstandings about the difference between what was then Southern Rhodesia and South Africa, two countries in the Southern Africa region. As described in the introduction, "Skokiaan" was composed by a Southern Rhodesian, who was recorded by a South African record company. The lyrics were later added by an American, Tom Glazer. Misled by Glazer's lyrics, some take "Skokiaan" to mean "Happy happy", leading to "Happy Africa" as an alternative title for the music.[6][10] Again, as stated earlier, the term actually refers to a type of illicitly brewed alcoholic beverage (i.e. "moonshine").

The composer. August Musarurwa, was an ex-policeman, and said that the tune was one played in an illegal shebeen when a police raid was imminent. At the time it was illegal for Africans in Zimbabwe to drink anything but the traditional, low-alcohol beer, and certainly not skokiaan, which was usually laced with methelated spirits - illicit distillation was almost unknown in central Africa at the time.

Why the tune was associated with "a Zulu drinking song",[42][43] as it was in a 1954 Down Beat article,[18] is unclear. The Zulu is an ethnic grouping found in South Africa; composer August Musarurwa was a Shona from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The term skokiaan does occur in both Zulu and Shona and in the Zulu-based lingua franca, Chilolo. These are part of the Bantu language grouping and so share similar roots. An early identification of skokiaan as a Zulu word which circulated in Johannesburg's slums is found in a scholarly article by Ellen Hellman, dated 1934.[44] Musarurwa himself did not call his tune "a Zulu drinking song". The scanty fragments of his life history does not reveal that he spent time in South Africa, either.[45] In South Africa there is no popular association of "Skokiaan" with a Zulu song. However Southern Rhodesian migrant labourers moved back and forth between their home country and the mines of South Africa, located mostly around Johannesburg, making it unlikely, but not impossible, that Musarurwa's tune influenced by a putative Zulu song. Such journeys, often by train, led to the emergence of the song Shosholoza. While Shosholoza has become very popular among South Africans, who often sing it to encourage their sports teams, its origins, like that of "Skokiaan", are Southern Rhodesian.

Other usages of the name[edit]

Outside the music world, the name "Skokiaan" has been applied to various artifacts other than songs; the relation between these appellations and Musarurwa's music is unclear:

Chart positions[edit]

Cash Box Best Selling Singles (1954)[23]Peak
Ralph Marterie & Orchestra–Mercury 704322
Four Lads–Columbia 40306
Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band–London 1491
U.S. Billboard Best Sellers in Stores (1954)[24]Peak
Ralph Marterie & Orchestra–Mercury 704323
Four Lads–Columbia 403067
Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band–London 149117
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (1954)[51]Peak
Ralph Marterie & Orchestra–Mercury 7043222
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (1960)[37]Peak
Bill Haley & His Comets70

Chronological list of all versions[edit]

"Skokiaan" has been recorded by these artists, and others:

YearArtistLabelArtist's country of origin
1947The African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern RhodesiaGALLO-Gallotone JIVE GB.1152Zimbabwe
1953Jacques Hélian and his orchestraFrance
1954The ShytansBruce Records[52]USA
Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms BandLondon Records 1491/ Decca F10350Zimbabwe
Alma CoganHMV 7M 269UK
Bud IsaacsRCA 47-5844[53]USA
Enoch Light Brigade OrchestraWaldorf Music Hall 3304[54]UK
The Four Lads with Neal Hefti OrchestraColumbia Records 40306Canada
Jimmy Carroll and OrchestraBell Records 1060 306USA
Preston Sandiford's OrchestraBig 4 Hits Records #103-8504USA
Johnny Hodges and His OrchestraNorgran 124[55]USA
Lily BerglundKarusell K 99.S.1954Sweden
Louis ArmstrongDecca 29256[56]USA
Olavi VirtaHelmi 450162[57]Finland
Jerry Mengo et son orchestreDucretet-Thomson 460V041, 500V057France
Perez PradoRCA Victor 47-5839Cuba/ Mexico
Ralph MarterieMercury Records 70432Italy/ USA
Ray AnthonyCapitol F-2896USA
Reino Helismaa[58]Finland
Ted HeathDecca F10368, Dutton Laboratories/ Vocalion CDLK 4251[59]UK
1955Alix Combelle and his orchestraPhilips 432025NE; N 76.046 R[60][61]France
Chris Barber's Jazz BandPolyGram[62]UK
KipparikvartettiTriola trlp 101[63]Finland
1956Johnny Gomez & OrchestraCook Records/Smithsonian COOK01180[64]Trinidad
1957Southern All StarsCook Records/ Smitsonian Folkways Recordings[11]
1958Alix Combelle et son orchestrePhilips 432.232 BEFrance
Ivo RobićJugoton, Zagreb SY 1025[65]Yugoslavia
1959Bill Haley & His CometsDecca 9-31030 and ED 2671[66][67]USA
Nico Carstens and his Orchestra and ChorusColumbia 33JSX 11015[68][69]South Africa
1961The FayrosRCA E 3.50; RCA Victor 47-7914[70]USA
1962Bert KaempfertPolydor 825 494-2[71]Germany
Oliver NelsonRCA 62VK701[72]USA
1963Bill Black's ComboHi-3[73]USA
Paul AnkaRCA2614-STEREO[74]Canada
1964H. B. BarnumImperial Records 66046[75]USA
Johnny BaldiniCombo Record 404Italia
1965Bob MooreHickory Records # 1357USA
Carl StevensMercury Records PPS 6030[76]
James LastPolydor 249 043[77]Germany
The ShangaansEMI Records TWO 109; Columbia Mono 33JSX 76; Columbia Stereo Studio Two 109J[78][79]South Africa
1967Desmond Dekker (as "Pretty Africa")Pyramid PYR6020Jamaica
Zlatni DečaciJugoton EPY 3745[80]Yugoslavia
1968Blind HogVulcan V-106[81][82]
1969Sound Dimension (as "African Chant")Studio OneJamaica
1970Nico CarstensColumbia SCXJ 11188[83]South Africa
1972Sugar Belly and the CanefieldsPort-O-Jam Records[84]Jamaica
1973Hot ButterMusicor MS-3254[85]USA
James, Jill and JacksonImperial 5C 006-24845[86]Netherlands and Belgium
The Pasadena Roof OrchestraUK
1974Josh GravesEpic KE-33168[87][88]USA
Matti KuuslaRondo rolp 10 LP[89]Finland
1978Herb Alpert and Hugh MasekelaA&M/Horizon Records 0819[40]
Kai HyttinenGold disc gdl 2001 LP[90]Finland
SnowmenGold disc gds 202 45[91]Finland
1984Brave ComboFour Dots FD1010[92]USA
1986Vesa-Matti LoiriFlamingo fgl 4004[93]Finland
1992Boka MarimbaDandemutande 9[94]USA
1994Chaia MarimbaDandemutande 87-C[95]USA
1995LiberaciónDisa 2016[96]Mexico
1996African Jazz PioneersIntuition CD INT 3099-2[97]South Africa
Sauli LehtonenMtv mtvcd 101[98]Finland
Boka MarimbaDandemutande 143-C[99]USA
1997Kushinga Marimba EnsembleDandemutande 249-T[100]Zimbabwe
1998ZimbiraDandemutande CD[101]Australia[102]
1999Joe GoldmarkHMG3009[103]USA
Zambezi Marimba BandDandemutande 254-C[104]USA
2000BoereqangaNebula Bos Records[105]South Africa
Proteus 7Dorian xCD-90266USA[106]
2002The African Jazz PioneersGallo[107]South Africa
Fessor's Big City BandStoryville STC1014247[108]Denmark
Kermit Ruffins[109]Basin Street RecordsUSA
Kutsinhira Cultural Arts CenterDandemutande 389-C[110]USA
2003Boka MarimbaDandemutande 483-C[111]USA
Soweto String QuartetBMG Africa CDCLL 7052[112]South Africa
2005Jimmy SmithEmpire Musicwerks/Hot JWP Music[113]USA
Kuzanga MarimbaDandemutande 609-C[114]USA
Masanga Marimba EnsembleDandemutande 600-C[115]USA
St.-Petersburg Ska-Jazz ReviewШнурОК[116]Russian Federation
2006Binnsmead Marimba[117]USA
Zinindika MirimbaDandemutande 638-C[118]USA[119]
2013The WigglesFurry Tales (ABC Music)Australia

Versions whose release dates are not known

ArtistLabelArtist's country of origin
Roland AlphonsoJah Life[120]Jamaica
Barsextett Ralph DokinCBS[121]
Chikoro Marimba[122]Canada
Gayle Larson and the ToppersTops-EP-242[123]
Lonnie DoneganXtra 26533[124]
The Mertens BrothersBelgium
The Pasadena Roof OrchestraTransatlantic Records[125]USA
Ray ColignonPhilips P 10404[126]Belgium
The Revelairs[127]USA
The Titans[128]
The VikingsRCA Victor 71.300[129]
Antonio Morel Y Su Orquesta[9]

See also[edit]


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