CANADIAN label We Are Busy Bodies has unearthed a proper dose of jazz-funk sunshine, South African outfit The Drive’s 1975 set Can You Feel It?; and the label has dropped the title track from that set to tempt you out into the rays for the full album repress.
It’s a loose groove, big on the organ, sax and guitar riff, and would be perfect for a windows-down slow drive through the city at sundown, with a little Ramsey Lewis in the mix there, for me.
The Drive formed from the ashes of SA jazz maestros The Heshoo Beshoo Group, with that former band’s horn section, Henry and Stanley Sithole, and drummer Nelson Magwaza at The Drive’s core. The trio had been crucial to the sound of the Heshoo Beshoo Group’s sole long player, Armitage Road, which came out in 1970.
The brothers were approached by guitarist Adolphus “Bunny” Luthuli to form a band to compete in the Alco Best Band Competition at Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, in April 1971. They won, stayed together and went on tour across South Africa.
At the peak of their career, and just when plans were being made to take the group overseas, the group suffered a tragedy from which it would not recover: Bunny Luthuli and Henry Sithole were killed outright in a car accident in Northern Transvaal in May 1977. Can You Feel It? shows how things might have turned out very differently indeed.
The album represented an articulate black urban vision of a future at odds with the apartheid establishment. Musical styles such as jazz, soul and rock were viewed as subversive, and there were more and more restrictions on radio, and licensing requirements that meant playing to urban audiences was inherently problematic.
Despite these setbacks, The Drive were indisputably the most talented group on the national scene during this period; the album’s lead track, “Way Back Fifties”, was a radio hit which is still played with a nostalgic grin, shining through with its funky verve, to this day.
The Drive’s Can You Feel It? will be reissued on a limited vinyl pressing by We Are Busy Bodies on March 5th; you can order your copy over at Bandcamp right now.