The Harmonica in South Africa

A Short Historical Review
by Art M. Daane


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Lesotho, a Kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa, is the only place, I believe, to have its own mouth-organ. A simple instrument with only a few holes to produce simple tunes. I am not aware if it contains blow and draw notes as little is known about this "Basotho" instrument.

Basotho Mouth Organ Player.

Hohner was the main manufacturer to export harmonicas to South Africa. They made them in all shapes and sizes and even produced special models to increase sales like the "Rugby Harp.""

and "The Jewel of Africa."

Many more were specially exported to South Africa, like the "Brass Band Harmonica." Mostly in demand in South Africa and the "Regulation Band." Weiss also exported to South Africa, like the "Bell Brand Organ."

The harmonica has always been an inexpensive instrument to make music, yet today it has regrettably become an expensive item for anyone's pocket.
Today the market has grown with other manufacturers such as:
"SUZUKI (Japan)" and SEYDELL (Germany)

South Africa had, and still has, some fine harmonicists; Ernst Kilian, Dimitrious Kyriacopoulos, John Denny, Don Richardson, Dan Conradie, Priska Trio, John Denny Trio and Eric Cronholm's "Philharmonicas" (Johannesburg), Werner Rudolph (King Williamstown), Bob Roberts ( Discovery, Transvaal), Len Proctor Harmonica Band (Pretoria), Zak van Niekerk (Springbok, Namaqualand), Ray Glass, John Walton, Jill and John Walton, The Playboys (Durban), Harry Knepscheld (Kroonstad), Nicola Brown (Port Elizabeth), Peter Hazel (Heidelberg, WP), Dave Barlow, Dudley Sangster, "Vincent van Rooyen", "The Relda Trio", The Hopcats Quartet [1950's] - Trio [1970's], The Harmoniacs, The 5 Adlers, Harmonica Hopcats [Quartet[, Harmonica Hopcats [Trio], Helderberg Harmonica Duo, Greg Smith and Dave Ferguson (Cape Town), Dellville Rothman's Harmonica Hoodlums and The Happy Wonderers (Uitenhague, Eastern Cape).


Relda Trio, SABC 1956

From left to Right:
Bryan Jones; Chord Harmonica
Vincent van Rooyen; Lead Harmonica
Art Daane; Bass Harmonica


Dave Barlow was the leading South African harmonica player. He was set on the road to fame after winning a harmonica contest at which Larry Adler was the adjudicator during his tour of South Africa in 1938. The cup he received was a pride in his home.
When I visited Dave in his apartment in Milnerton, a suburb of Cape Town, where I had the pleasure of holding this treasure.
Dave was a master in reproducing Larry's sound, his renditions of "Begin the Beguine," "Smoke gets in your eyes" and "Clare de Lune" were immaculate.
He performed in theaters, on radio and even played in a South African produced movie "Hier's Ons Weer-1950" backed by the Henrik Susan Orchestra.
Dave sadly passed away after a car accident in Milnerton in 2002.

Dave Barlow in "Hier's Ons Weer":

Hendrik Susan and his Orchestra:


Eric Cronholm won the Transvaal Harmonica Competition in 1951, one of the adjucator was Ronald Chesney who was touring South Africa at the time. Eric was also the leader of the "Philharmonicas." They also took part in the 1962 International Harmonica Competition on Tape with "Caliph of Baghdad.

The Philharmonicas;
From left to Right:
Dan Conradie; Harmony and Polyphonia Harmonicas
Effie Seagal; Bass Harmonica
Eric Cronholm; Lead Harmonica
Peter Pretorius; Chord Harmonica


The Relda Trio wanted to become more professional, so they seeked the help of Max Adler, a well-known Accordionist and teacher in Cape Town, and took lessons from a choreographer to improve their stage appearance.
Max suggested forming a larger group including the Relda Trio. Max wrote some arrangements for a quintet, which never got a real name because they only performed a couple of times. In remembrance of Max, I chose ``The 5 Adlers``
The 5 Adlers
The 5 Adlers - South Africa 1954: From left to Right:
Kenneth White- Lead
Donald White - Chord
Art Daane - Bass
Dave Barlow (obscured) Harmony
Vincent van Rooyen - Harmony


Len Proctor & his Harmonica Band appeared in a movie "Een Plan is een Boerderij" directed by Pierre de Wet in 1954.
The movie also included the "Nico Carstens Orchestra" - "Hendrik Susan Orchestra" - "The Petersen Brothers" - and singer/comedian "Jimmy Boonzaier."


Dudley Sangster was, besides a harmonica player, a talented entertainer, he toured as a "One Man Show" and appeared in a movie "Dis Lekker Om Te Lewe" directed by Pierre de Wet in 1957.



John Walton 1940-2002:

John and his sister Jill 3 May 1947 - The Playboys 1963 [John Walton, Chord - George Galanos, Lead - ?Bass ] - The Harmonaires in the UK

John was born on the 21 May 1940 in Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa. His father was a Yorkshireman who had emigrated to South Africa before WWII. His mother was of Irish and Cornish descent.

John played the harmonica from the age of twelve. While still at High School he performed magic and harmonica acts professionally with his younger sister Jill. Within three years he was giving radio performances on national radio: "Harmonica Playtime" on Springbok radio and "Margate Variety" on LM radio. He also made many appearances at local charity events. read more....


The Hopcats - 1970's

Paul Hopper, Bass - Kenneth Hopper, Lead - Jonathan Hopper, Chords
(Picture taken at the Cape Town Harmonica Club 2001)


Vincent van Rooyen Trio 1980-2000

Paul Hopper, Bass - Vincent van Rooyen, Lead - Jonathan Hopper, Chords
read more....


Helderberg Harmonica Duo 2004-2008

Art Daane, Chords - Johann Kok, Lead


Dellville Rothman's Harmonica Hoodlums from Uitenhague comprising of George Preller, Goel Swanepoel, Allan Williams and Bobby ? [no surname]. They also used to play in a traveling band as the Happy Wonderers, for charity and red cross- that used to go around the Eastern Cape in an Ambulance.


Ronald Chesney toured South Africa very successfully in 1953. When he and his wife arrived in Johannesburg by train from Cape Town, they were greeted by the Hohner Company and musically by Eric Cronholm and his Philharmonicas.
Ronald was a master virtuoso, and always played some traditional compositions wherever he went. This time he recorded two 78 rpm records accompanied by the "Nico Carstens Orchestra." the titles are:
Nico se Vastrap, Bekfluitje Boogie, Vastrap Keurspel, Wals Keurspel. H.M.V. SA. HS15 and 16
Due to Chesney, "Boeremusiek" became very popular on the harmonica and many compositions were especially written for the harmonica by Vincent van Rooyen. Vincent's music is being enjoyed all over the country, and beyond.

Ronald Chesney.


Larry Adler again toured South Africa in 1955 after receiving a gold award for his recording "Le Grisbi." Larry told the audience that he had forgotten to bring the Grisbi score for his accompaning pianist and therefore played the piano and the harmonica at once, for which he got a standing ovation.
When visiting his dressing room during interval I had the nerve to point at one of his harmonicas, he immediately slapped my hand, I obviously felt very embarressed. When I had dinner with Larry in England in 2000, I asked him if he remembered the incident, he said; "no!" and very wittingly said; "but I have never said that I was a nice man!"


Greg Smith is one of Cape Town’s finest Blues harmonica players, an instrument – well without it, the Blues wouldn’t be the Blues. His sultry solos pervade most of the band’s repertoire. His career started at the tender age of thirteen and besides his passion for this genre, Greg has also done session work with Rock, Gospel and Country bands. As a volunteer, he even played the cornet in a military brass band, where he learned to read music. Although he is an accomplished percussionist, his musical ability also includes electric guitar which until 2004, he played together with harp and percussion, in a Southern Suburbs Blues/Rock band.

Greg Smith
Photo & text: Boulevard Blues.


Dave Ferguson on harmonica brings out the ultimate blues.
Apart from the regular Blues shows he does with two of the top Blues bands here in Cape Town, he also guest with many other high profile Artists here in South Africa, and have appeared on a number of commercial album releases.

He returned to South Africa in May 2006 after living and working in the UK for the last decade or so. Whilst in London he was fairly active as a blues and country player for both live and studio session work. Here is a short but not exhaustive list of some of the artists he has played or recorded with: Sophia, The Arlenes, Emily Barker, Mickey Harte (Irelands entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, the album went double platinum in Ireland, Dave appeares on one track), Hucklebuck, John Townes Van Sandt, The Ian Siegel Band (standing in for Lee Sankey), King Deluxe, Alva Skully, the London Street Blues Band, Dave Clarke's Blues of Cain and others.

His solo show which is getting a lot of good press lately and which is probably the best example of a showcase to promote the advancement of the harmonica, is developing very strongly and looks set to become my main performance focus.

Here are some press clippings about the solo show:
"THE SOLO SHOWS ARE GEMS, WITH A LIVE, LOOPED, BEAT-BOX COMPONENT THAT IS USED AS THE BASIS OF BUILDING UP A LAYERED TUNE FROM JUST VOICE AND THE BLUES HARP. PLUS NOTES FERGUSON, 'EVERYTHING IS PLAYED THROUGH AN OLD BEAT UP AMP WHICH GIVES IT THAT OLD '78 SOUND, KINDA LIKE A HURRICANE GOING THROUGH A LETTERBOX". EXPECT BLUES AND BLUEGRASS WITH SOME CAJUN AND DELTA INFLUENCES FROM THIS CONSUMMATE PERFORMER" -- The Argus June 20th 2007.

"APART FROM THE UNIQUENESS/NOVELTY OF IT ALL, THE MUSIC ITSELF IS ALSO A DEEPLY ENRICHING EXPERIENCE" -- translated from Die Burger 21st June 2007.

Here is the link to his web space: Lonesome Dave Ferguson
There are two very roughly recorded tunes on there at the moment, they were recorded out of a small practice amplifier directly into his MP3 player. The sound quality is not perfect but they are both a representation of what he does on a live show, in other words no editing/splicing/cutting or mixing just one guy on a harmonica...
For another example of a session he did for Alt. Country singer Emily Barker you can go to her My space and listen to the tune "This is how it's meant to be" here's the link: Emily Barker

Dave is now a full time musician. He was trained to be a graphic designer. The wall-painting in front of the parliament in Hatfield Street is one of his works.
His music is an enriching experience.

Dave ferguson


Zak van Niekerk: Out of humble beginnings in a little town called Springbok came Zak van Niekerk. Specializing in harmonica Zak had a big hit with the Ben Beukes' written song "Lekkerkry". Zak has got a great sense of humor on stage and is always ready to turn the night into a great party. Zak recorded his first DVD "Zak maak Twak (Live) by Maders" in 2006. For an unforgettable South African style party there is only one person to get.... Zak Van Niekerk.

Zak van Niekerk
Photo: Vat 5 Musiek


Joseph Clark, an excellent harmonica player from Pretoria, originally from Amarillo, Texas. Learn more about him as an entertainer by activating his website;
Joseph Clark

Joseph Clark
Joseph's brother is a phenomenal blues musician & harmonica player (Floyd Mezzro) and he is the one who taught Joseph to play.
Floyd still lives in Texas.


The Accordion and Harmonica News was a very popular magazine. A welcome publication by all accordionists and harmonicists. It is, however, sadly missed today as it is not published anymore.
Issue No. 36 - March 1963.Accordion & Harmonica News Accordion & Harmonica News
If anyone wants to share/donate some of these magazines for my collection, It would make me very happy!
Especially issues from 1954 - '60.
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