1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Tom Hark – Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

Tom Hark – Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

Tom Hark - Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

Tom Hark – Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes (image from 78RPM Collectors’ Community)

Perhaps the most famous kwela song to emanate from South Africa, ‘Tom Hark’ is a bouncy, joyous, pennywhistle driven tune that peaked at Number 2 in the UK charts on 24 May 1958 and stayed there for 4 weeks, being kept off the top spot by Connie Francis’ ‘Who’s Sorry Now’.

The leader of the band was Elias Shamber Lerole a leading kwela artists of the time. He had also been the leader of Black Mambazo in the 50s (I don’t think this was the group as Ladysmith Black Mambazo). Elias and his brother Jack started playing pennywhistle when Elias was 10 and Jack 7 when their uncle gave them each one as a Christmas present. Elias went on to compose over 300 songs. ‘Tom Hark’ is erroneously attributed to R Bopape on the record label, but he was apparently only the producer of the record, it was Elias who wrote the song.

The word ‘kwela’ comes from the Zulu and means get up. ‘Kwela-kwela’ was township slang for a police van and when you listen to ‘Tom Hark’ before the music starts, you hear someone saying, ‘hier kom die kwela-kwela’ and some think that this was how kwela music got its name.

Such was the appeal of this simple ditty that it has been covered by various artists including Ted Heath, Georgie Fame and The Piranhas in the UK and even gained popularity in the West Indies where Millie Small (of My Boy Lollipop fame) recorded a version with lyrics and a group called the Dynamites had a version that went under the titles of ‘John Public’. In South Africa it’s been covered by Mango Groove (in 2000) and The Zig Zags (in 2010, as Footie Footie). It is also a popular tune for football chants in England.

‘Tom Hark’ does seem to live in the shadow of Solomon Linda’s ‘Mbube’ which was used in the myriad of versions of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, but it is an instantly recognisable tune which has been as accepted by the world as ‘Mbube’ was.

Tom Hark - Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

Elias Lerole (Thanks to Thembi Lerole for the picture)

Where to find it:

Cafe Africa – Various Artists,  (2010) Not Now Records, NOT2CD376


Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes:

The Piranhas:

Millie Small:

Georgie Fame:

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5 thoughts on “Tom Hark – Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

  1. Jacquelyn Hyde on said:

    At first I wondered what all the chat was about, then the music began and I was knocked out; I’d never heard anything like it. And it still works, nearly sixty years later!

  2. This South African tune deserves a learned article somewhere or other – I’m working on it. No-one really seems to know why it’s called “Tom Hark”. One of the tracks that I want played at my funeral.

  3. Rod Janes on said:

    I couldn’t agree more,I liked the melody when I first heard it in the TV Series,
    ’The Killing Stones’.
    I only downloaded it this year to my ‘ITunes’. Rod Janes

  4. mike seckerson on said:

    Of all the versions on this site, though each is more sophisticated, Elias’s is still the most exciting.

  5. Frere Jaque on said:

    This is first record I ever bought played it an old wind up gramaphone dont know happened to it

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