The African Dance Band
of the Cold Storage Commissionof Southern Rhodesia
|B-side||"In the Mood"|
|Label||GALLO-Gallotone Records (JIVE GB.1152)|
"Skokiaan" is a popular tune originally written by Rhodesian 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)  refers to an illegal self-made alcoholic beverage typically brewed over one day that may contain a dangerous ingredient, such as methylated spirits.  The tune has also been recorded as "Sikokiyana," "Skokiana," and "Skokian."
Within a year of its 1954 release in South Africa, at least 18 cover versions of "Skokiaan" appeared. The Rhodesian version reached #17 in the United States, while a cover version by Ralph Marterie climbed to #3. All versions combined propelled the tune to #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, Hugh Masekela, and Kermit Ruffins. The music itself illustrates the mutual influences between Africa and the wider world.
"Skokiaan" was 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 Musarurwa (possibly in 1947 - anthropologist David Coplan seems to be the sole source for this date).  The band comprised two saxophones, two banjos, traps, and a bass. Several tunes played by the Cold Storage Band were recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey in June 1951. On Tracey's recording, Musarurwa also apparently played for the Chaminuka Band. 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".
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.
"Skokiaan" has been adapted to various musical stylings, from jazz to mento/reggae (Sugar Belly and the Canefields). The tune has been arranged for strings (South Africa's Soweto String Quartet) and steel drums (Trinidad and Tobago's Southern All Stars). 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. 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. In France in 1955 the orchestra of Alix Combelle recorded a cover of "Skokiaan" on the Phillips label.  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.
In 1954 Gallotone Records released a version of "Skokiaan" by Musarurwa and the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band. 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 U.S.A., and given it to Bill Randle of the radio station WERE 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. 
Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms' original version took off and reached #17 on the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart. 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, perhaps by the record company, or by the band itself.
In 1954 covers of "Skokiaan" appeared on United States charts alongside Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band's original. The hitmakers included Ralph Marterie, who reached #3 on the Cash Box chart. 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. (A claim that charted versions by Ray Anthony (who supposedly reached #18), by Cuban-Mexican Perez Prado (supposedly reached #26), and by Louis Armstrong (a Dixieland version said to have reached #29), could so far not be verified.)
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 August 4, 1954 the Four Lads recorded (with Columbia Records) the only vocal version of "Skokiaan" that reached the United States charts, peaking at #7 in the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart.
In line with the spirit of the times, Glazer's lyrics contain what Time arts columnist Richard Corliss describes as jovial "ethnographic condescension:" "Oh-far away in Africa / Happy, happy Africa / ...You sing a bingo bango bingo / In hokey pokey skokiaan." 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 American, Asia, and Hawaii.
Glazer's unwitting condescension seems to have been lost on Louis Armstrong, who in August 1954 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. (Despite authoritative claims  that Armstrong recorded a version entitled "Happy Africa", this could not so far be substantiated from his discography.) On his tour of Africa, Armstrong met Musarurwa in November 1960. Whether the two musicians jammed together, or whether Armstrong just gave Musarurwa a jacket, 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.
"Skokiaan" became the theme song at Africa U.S.A Park, a 300 acre 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. Other urban areas in the United States apparently influenced by the name of the song is Franklin, Ohio, which boasts a Skokiaan Drive, and Skokie, Illinois, which has a Skokiana Terrace.
Bill Haley & His Comets recorded an instrumental version in 1959 that reached #70 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1960. Except for reissues of "Rock Around the Clock", this would be the band's final chart hit in America. 
"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, written by band member Freddie Morgan, a banjo player and vocalist (RCA VICTOR 47-5920). 
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. The tune put "Alpert on the R&B chart for the first time in his career". One of the most recent brass recordings was by Kermit Ruffins' 2002 on his album, Big Easy.
Despite its Zimbabwean 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 Zimbabwean, 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.  Again, as stated earlier, the term actually refers to a type of illicitly brewed alcoholic beverage (i.e. "moonshine").
Why the tune was associated with "a Zulu drinking song",  as it was in a 1954 Downbeat article, is unclear. The Zulu is an ethnic grouping found in South Africa; composer August Musarurwa was a Shona from Zimbabwe. The term skokiaan does occur in both Zulu and Shona. Both 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. 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. There is in South Africa no popular association of "Skokiaan" with a Zulu song. Was Musarurwa's tune influenced by a putative Zulu song? It seems unlikely, although not impossible. Zimbabwean migrant labourers moved back and forth between their home country and the mines of South Africa, located mostly around Johannesburg. 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 Zimbabwean.
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:
|Cash Box Best Selling Singles (1954)||Peak
|Ralph Marterie & Orchestra–Mercury 70432||2|
|Four Lads–Columbia 40306|
|Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band–London 1491|
|U.S. Billboard Best Sellers in Stores (1954)||Peak
|Ralph Marterie & Orchestra–Mercury 70432||3|
|Four Lads–Columbia 40306||7|
|Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band–London 1491||17|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (1954)||Peak
|Ralph Marterie & Orchestra–Mercury 70432||22|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (1960)||Peak
|Bill Haley & His Comets||70|
"Skokiaan" has been covered by these artists, and others:
|Year||Artist||Label||Artist's country of origin|
|1947||The African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia||GALLO-Gallotone JIVE GB.1152||Zimbabwe|
|1953||Jacques Hélian and his orchestra||France|
|1954||The Shytans||Bruce Records||USA|
|Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band||London Records 1491/ Decca F10350||Zimbabwe|
|Alma Cogan||HMV 7M 269||UK|
|Bud Isaacs||RCA 47-5844||USA|
|Enoch Light Brigade Orchestra||Waldorf Music Hall 3304||UK|
|The Four Lads with Neal Hefti Orchestra||Columbia Records 40306||Canada|
|Jimmy Carroll and Orchestra||Bell Records 1060 306||USA|
|Preston Sandiford's Orchestra||Big 4 Hits Records #103-8504||USA|
|Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra||Norgran 124||USA|
|Lily Berglund||Karusell K 99.S.1954||Sweden|
|Louis Armstrong||Brunswick 10 011EPB||USA|
|Olavi Virta||Helmi 450162||Finland|
|Jerry Mengo et son orchestre||Ducretet-Thomson 460V041, 500V057||France|
|Perez Prado||RCA Victor 47-5839||Cuba/ Mexico|
|Ralph Marterie||Mercury Records 70432||Italy/ USA|
|Ray Anthony||Capitol F-2896||USA|
|Ted Heath||Decca F10368, Dutton Laboratories/ Vocalion CDLK 4251||UK|
|1955||Alix Combelle and his orchestra||Philips 432025NE; N 76.046 R ||France|
|Chris Barber's Jazz Band||Polygram||UK|
|Kipparikvartetti||Triola trlp 101||Finland|
|1956||Johnny Gomez & Orchestra||Cook Records/Smithsonian COOK01180||Trinidad|
|1957||Southern All Stars||Cook Records/ Smitsonian Folkways Recordings
|1958||Alix Combelle et son orchestre||Philips 432.232 BE||France|
|Ivo Robic||Jugoton, Zagreb SY 1025||Croatia|
|1959||Bill Haley & His Comets||Decca 9-31030 and ED 2671 ||USA|
|Nico Carstens and his Orchestra and Chorus||Columbia 33JSX 11015 ||South Africa|
|1961||The Fayros||RCA E 3.50; RCA Victor 47-7914||USA|
|1962||Bert Kaempfert||Polydor 825 494-2||Germany|
|Oliver Nelson||RCA 62VK701||USA|
|1963||Bill Black's Combo||Hi-3||USA|
|1964||H.B. Barnum||Imperial Records 66046||USA|
|1965||Bob Moore||Hickory Records # 1357||USA|
|Carl Stevens||Mercury Records PPS 6030|
|James Last||Polydor 249 043||Germany|
|The Shangaans||EMI Records TWO 109; Columbia Mono 33JSX 76; Columbia Stereo Studio Two 109J ||South Africa|
|1968||Blind Hog||Vulcan V-106 |
|1970||Nico Carstens||Columbia SCXJ 11188||South Africa|
|1972||Sugar Belly and the Canefields||Port-O-Jam Records||Jamaica|
|1973||Hot Butter||Musicor MS-3254||USA|
|James, Jill and Jackson||Imperial 5C 006-24845||Netherlands and Belgium|
|The Pasadena Roof Orchestra||UK|
|1974||Josh Graves||Epic KE-33168 ||USA|
|Matti Kuusla||Rondo rolp 10 lp||Finland|
|1978||Herb Alpert and Hugh Masekela||A&M/Horizon Records 0819|
|Kai Hyttinen||Gold disc gdl 2001 lp||Finland|
|Snowmen||Gold disc gds 202 45||Finland|
|1984||Brave Combo||Four Dots FD1010||USA|
|1986||Vesa-Matti Loiri||Flamingo fgl 4004||Finland|
|1992||Boka Marimba||Dandemutande 9||USA|
|1994||Chaia Marimba||Dandemutande 87-C||USA|
|1996||African Jazz Pioneers||Intuition CD INT 3099-2||South Africa|
|Sauli Lehtonen||Mtv mtvcd 101||Finland|
|Boka Marimba||Dandemutande 143-C||USA|
|1997||Kushinga Marimba Ensemble||Dandemutande 249-T||Zimbabwe|
|Zambezi Marimba Band||Dandemutande 254-C ||USA|
|2000||Boereqanga||Nebula Bos Records||South Africa|
|Proteus 7||Dorian xCD-90266||USA|
|2002||The African Jazz Pioneers||Gallo||South Africa|
|Fessor's Big City Band||Storyville STC1014247||Denmark|
|Kermit Ruffins||Basin Street Records||USA|
|Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center||Dandemutande 389-C||USA|
|2003||Boka Marimba||Dandemutande 483-C||USA|
|Soweto String Quartet||BMG Africa CDCLL 7052||South Africa|
|2005||Jimmy Smith||Empire Musicwerks/Hot JWP Music||USA|
|Kuzanga Marimba||Dandemutande 609-C||USA|
|Masanga Marimba Ensemble||Dandemutande 600-C||USA|
|St.-Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review||ШнурОК||Russian Federation|
|Zinindika Mirimba||Dandemutande 638-C||USA|
Covers whose release dates are not known
|Artist||Label||Artist's country of origin|
|Roland Alphonso||Jah Life||Jamaica|
|Barsextett Ralph Dokin||CBS|
|Gayle Larson and the Toppers||Tops-EP-242|
|Lonnie Donegan||Xtra 26533|
|The Mertens Brothers||Belgium|
|The Pasadena Roof Orchestra||Transatlantic Records||USA|
|Ray Colignon||Philips P 10404||Belgium|
|The Vikings||RCA Victor 71.300|
|Antonio Morel Y Su Orquesta|