It was called Tom Hark and was by the wonderfully named Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes.
The theme tune to a TV show called The Killing Stones it proved to be amazingly popular and was, undoubtedly, the first UK chart topper from Africa.
Tom Hark was kwela, a potent mix of jazz, highlife and rhythm and blues.
The pennywhistle was a very cheap instrument produced in Germany and similar to flutes played across Africa. The flute had traditionally been one of the first instruments aspiring musicians learnt to play. It was also associated with young boys in rural areas who would play the flute when herding cattle.
As South Africa became more urbanized kids did less cattle herding and needed another way to make money. Some of them, enterprisingly, started to busk using the cheapest instrument that came to hand. They copied the popular music of the day - often big band jazz by people such as Benny Goodman. The little pennywhistle proved to be very good at copying the sounds of the clarinet or sax and the music became popular.
Pop music in Britain and the US in the fifties was becoming very aware of the music produced by the rest of the world. In fact in many ways audiences were more receptive to music from non-European countries in the fifties then they would be until the advent of the so-called World Music movement in the eighties. Exotica was very popular in America, musicians from Cuba, Argentina and Mexico were carving out successful careers across Europe and America. People were listening to the music of Hawaii and South East Asia. Soon bossa nova would break out of Brazil and take off amongst jazz aficionados. Calypso was already a successful genre.
Of course, like most seemingly happy music, there is a great deal of unhappiness going on underneath; its very name referring to police brutality and it is undeniably the music of slums and townships. Most South African jazz musicians were rather disdainful of this 'pop music'. It was too simple and too derivative - after all it was music from street corner buskers. But economic factors forced musicians to make compromises and even the erasable Kippie Moeketsi recorded a kwela track.
Eventually kwela proved to be too simple a musical form to exist for very long. Rather like punk, it was simply impossible to keep making music that adhered to its original form. And like punk its influence was felt long after its heyday.
Initially many pennywhistlers upgraded to saxophones. Spokes became more sophisticated and he and his songwriting partner Alan Kwela began to really push the boundaries of the form. However, the partnerships was not to last and Kwela became one of South Africa's leading jazz guitarists.
I really believe that, had it not been for the insane apharteid policies of South Africa, kwela, and much other South African jazz could have 'crossed over' in the same way that bossa nova did. However, in a racist South Africa music made by black musicians could only be sold to black people. It was not a possibility for black South Africans to have an international career - unless they left the country.
Try and get your hands on some of this great music. And if you can find some Township Jazz and Jive I recommend that too.
It will be easier to find kwela in the UK because it was sent overseas. Surprisingly, since I have become interested in it, I have see prices for kwela sore to some pretty insane levels. Maybe I'm not the only one who has started to appreciate the sound of a cheap flute.