GOLD DIGGER: SON OF THE SOIL
By Mark O'Shaughnessy
Back in the early-90s, I'll level with ya, it was becoming harder and harder to dig up the black gold. We professional dealers / diggers / excavators had to be ever-inventive in our quest for the good gear cos the competition was fierce. Lots of other fellow diggers had by now worked out that there were living vinyl goldmines dotted all over the place - you just had to sniff them out. The vinyl vein had previously been long and wide AND deep but now that the competition was catching on rapidly, I had to start thinking more "laterally" people. Outside of the box as they say..... Diggers Note: there's always loads and loads of cheap / low-end gash lying about - fool's good, pan-handler dribs and drabs, we already had plenty of that...we needed those 22ct ingots, solid black gold briquettes, the real bullion - we just had to dig ever deeper to find it... I had found an obscure Afro-Jazz album for a quid (they were ALL a quid back then, eh?) while digging in a little-known house clearance dive waaaaay off the beaten track in some 'burb or other. It was called Son Of The Soil and it was by a black Jazz cat called Julian Bahula. I looked into him a little and it turns out that this guy was a massively well-respected South African percussionist and drummer / band leader who had had played side by side with other SA luminaries like saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and UK Jazz legends like Dick Heckstall-Smith and Ian Carr, plus a whole host of other 'proper' UK / African Jazz players - a serious head at his peak! My research also told me that he had played at Nelson Mandela's 65th birthday celebrations in London - massive respect was due...OMG..... I quickly sold Son Of The Soil for £50-ish - and as mine was the first copy to come up for sale in a while, £50 was a snip...the big track was called 'Woza Cindi' which is an amazingly complex and ever-changing / ever-evolving Afro-Jazz cut out of the top drawer - perfect compilation material...! Just superb, people.... Just as I was packing the LP up to ship, I spotted a contact phone number on a promo sheet inside the record itself - the label, TSAfrika records, was Julian's own label and I believe there have only ever been a coupla other releases on it. It was one of those old-style London phone numbers that began with the now long-gone 01 prefix, lol - well - the LP itself was released in the very early 1980s before telephony became the monstrous business that it is today...! Something deep in my brain compelled me to call that number folks (remember I talked at the beginning about the need to 'dig deeper'...) and this wasn't the way I normally went about my business, but hey-ho, here goes - nothing ventured. I wasn't even sure if the number still existed - only one way to find out...8 rings became 10 rings became 15 rings, ring-ring, ring bloody ring, 20+ rings but I hung on in there - old style beep-beep, beep-beep - eventually a female voice answered and my bubble felt burst, I was fully sure I would hear a male on the other end of the line. "01 838 4269" she said - as elderly people often did back then, not even a hello, just a repeat of the number backatya...damn! Different number? Damn...I was just about to apologise for wasting her time and hang up when my addled brain kicked into gear and I instantly digested 'how' she had actually pronounced that number and I inwardly shouted "SHE'S GOT A SOUT' EFRICAN ECCENT!” I perked up instantly, made the mental connection and pressed on. I enquired: 'May I speak to Julian Bahula please?' - long pause..."Yes, but you will have to give him a few minutes to get to the telephone because he is very ill at the moment - may I ask who is calling?" I was momentarily stumped so I simply said "Mark, I'm a fan". "Hold the line please Mark" - yessss. I waited. Eventually, Julian came to the phone and we had a brief but very warm chat. I don't think anybody had called this man in a loooonnng time and he was so happy that his music was remembered and that people were still aware of who he was - he seemed very keen to meet me! I asked him if he had any more copies of Son Of The Soil and if so, was he willing to sell them? "Oh yes" he said, and we arranged a time for me to go and visit him in his high rise flat a coupla days later. His address was kinda close to me so I cycled over there one blustery Monday morning in November. His wife let me in and I walked into the living room to see Julian sat silently in his day chair - looking out of the window. I think his wife told me that he had contracted MS a few years ago (I hope I've remembered that right - apologies if not) and was now more or less immobile. We talked for hours - when I got there it was bright sunlight outside, when I left it was almost completely dark. He was surrounded by his African percussion instruments - an almighty array of incredibly varied and exotic vessels hung in every corner and from every available wall space - I literally had to shut my eyes and open them again just to take it all in, just mesmerising. Here are a very few that I can remember seeing: Shekere / Vibraslap / Djembe / Kalimba / Doum Doum - he even had a Berimbau!! This man truly was a master technician....
We talked and talked - my Jazz knowledge was pretty good even way back then and we discussed the merits of different jazzers from all over the world. Julian's body may have been close to giving up but his mind was as sharp as a blade - despite already being in his mid-60s by then. I remember he was a particular fan of Roy Ayers and even had his own mini-Vibraphone right in front of the washing machine in the kitchen no less....! Poor Mrs Bahula... We eventually got round to talking about his own records while his lovely wife (whose name escapes me, apologies) kept us supplied with endless cups of tea, her face beaming from ear to ear as she regularly interjected with corrections about Julian's career and some memories of her own from his playing days. They were a very devoted couple - absolutely lovely people. We spoke at length about the great Dollar Brand too (Abdullah Ibrahim) and it was from here that we delved into JB's personal LP collection - hold tight! Not only did he have 15+ copies of Son Of The Soil, he also had multiple copies of some collaborative releases with Dudu Pukwana (REAL gold, people...) and a few of each of his own group, Jabula's, releases on Richard Branson's fledgling Caroline label from 1974 / 1975 - truly lovely records - all in immaculate shape; many Fela Kuti Nigerian pressings, Ian Carr and Dick Heckstall-Smith originals on UK Columbia - over 40 Roy Ayers LPs...! A whole wedge of Dollar Brand LPs (both South African and UK pressings) - it went on... even a coupla Tubby Hayes too - oh lawd.... We sat and went through every record there (well over 300) and finalised a price - WELL into four figures - but - soooo well worth it. I was just about to call a friend to come and collect me when my record dealer instincts kicked in and I remembered to ask 'have you got any 7"s?' - thank God I did because I then needed to rip up cheque number #1 and write out cheque #2 for several hundred £ more - two whole box fulls of original African 7"s were produced from some already over-flowing cupboard in the hallway by JB's wife. I looked at the first few and just stopped - no need to look any further - these 45s were not just actual 'gold' - they were more like gilt-edged gold bullion ingots - JB and his wife were only too happy to see them go to a new home (room for more instruments, eh?) The next "beep-beep" I heard was my friend Chris tooting his car horn downstairs for me to make our way back down the stairs with my haul. No more room in the car once the 350+ records were loaded in, so my old bike had to be strapped to the top of Chris's ancient Beamer - oh well, needs must... Julian Bahula and the lovely Mrs Julian Bahula who are both truly "People Of The Soil"...thank you!