Online Workshop for Story of South African Jazz V2
return to index

Sophiatown today is "A place where all people are welcomed without prejudice, where sharing and nurturing are part of everyday activities, enabling people to become self relient, fruitful community members and build their dreams in peaceful ways."

“The truest optimism in South Africa is in the crowded, disease-ridden and crime-infested urban locations.” Dr. DeKlewlet

In the short space of 11 years Sophiatown did more for South African popular culture than any other location or influence of all time. It was the site of the birth of African Jazz.

"I had seen jazz-crazy youths and girls at home in England, in a frenzy of dance-hall jive ... But the jazz in this room was not a frenzy. It was a fulfillment, a passion of jazz. Here they danced for joy." Nadine Gordimer

“In a dance hall a jazz combo is creating music; music taken from American Negro jazz and hammered out on the anvil of the South African experience: slum living, thuggery, police raids, job-hunting, shifting ghettos, and so on. The penny whistle takes the key melody, with bass and drums keeping the rhythm. On and off the sax weaves its way through the penny-whistle notes. The musicians grope their way through the notes, expressing by this improvisation the uncertainty and restlessness of urban life . . .” Es'kia Mphahlele:

“Besides from jazz there is performances of gumboot, tap dancing, kwela and traditional African music. "The intention is that all races live side by side in peace within a democratic structure.. We are going to plant the seeds of a new form of unique jazz, to emerge from this country, with intense complex rhythms that involve our invitation into dreamtime.” Olga Corner

Past present and future merge through the portal of the heart and the vision for humanity. Culture is many life times in the making.

The initial Sophiatown Renaissance was built on the sacrifice of the mothers, who, in the 1930's, brewed beer (umqombothi, skokiaan or barberton) to give their children a better life. And after World War two, this new generation of creativity came to fruition, as it set about to create a better world for one and all.

Sophiatown became the centre of a literary renaissance through Drum Magazine journalists, the writers and freedom films, the birth of the boisterous sound of African Jazz and the creation of a unique language - a "mish-mash" of English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Pedi, Shangaan, Tswana, Ndebele, and Afrikaans languages slanged into a twang. There was a resistance mind-set and subversion of the racial laws. People saw no division, only human beings.

However as in the great mythology of the mother archetype, Sophia, the 'togetherness' of Sophiatown was levelled, demolished, renamed and recreated as its antithesis 'apartheid.' Her people were abandoned, exiled and isolated under the group areas act.

The dark years did pass and through the unity of the heart a new mother archetype rose from the rubble of separation to heal and unite in the uniqueness of our shared humanity.

In 1994, the Mandela government was the first symbol of this splendid transformation. Through forgiveness, love was the real triumph, and the group area called Triomf was returned to its original name Sophiatown. And the AB Xuma home, one of only two original Sophiatown houses that was not demolished was purchased and renovated by the City of Johannesburg. It was transformed into a national heritage site, and a living museum, a home of music, poetry, art, photography, talks and tours. It became a lighthouse for the ideals of a Sophiatown renaissance to resonate from.

Sophiatown re-emerged as a centre for the unity in diversity for which it was once famous. And as it emerged so its vison began to manifest in reality. From the living memory of Father Trevor Huddleston and his principles of love and cultural knowledge, a beautiful building and creative space called "Sophiatown - the Mix," blossomed.

The space lent itself to the jazz people of Joburg, where jazz is not a music but a conscious state of being, jazz being, jusssst being who you are. Sophiatown - the Mix took on the purpose of this great ideal and in true Sophiatown style, it is a space for encountering heritage; giving, receiving, creating, connecting with your inner freedom, finding, knowing and enjoying yourself.

Researchers, novelists, actors, play-writers, film makers, script writers, musicians and magazines gather to restore and expand our cultural wisdom systems and knowledge base. Our beautiful African jazz is taking on a spiritual movement of self knowledge, healing and transformation, and a new style of self assuredness is bringing the young people towards their inherent humanity.

The year 2015 is 66 years since the midst of the initial Sophiatown renaissance. History is repeating itself and the three pillars of Johannesburg's culture of freedom, diversity, edginess and humanity is the cornerstones of this renaissance. Excitement is the potential of that culture of poets, researchers and heritage practitioners presents ...

As it was, so it is and so shall it be ... !

The great theatre for African Jazz was the Street.

"On the streets of Sophiatown, you would see barbers, people washing, many playing the pennywhistle, cooking, singing, dancing, talking, gambling, fighting and partying. In the shebeens; music, art, politics and beer-brewing developed. Great music was born in Sophiatown in its shebeens, dance halls and the Odin Cinema." Olga Corner “

You don't just find your place here, you make it and you find yourself. There is a tang about it. You might now and then have to give way to others making their ways of life by methods which aren't in the book, but you can't be bored. You have the right to listen to the latest jazz records at Ah Sing's over the road. You can walk a Coloured girl of an evening down to the Odin cinema, and no questions asked. You can try out Rhugubar's curry with your bare fingers without embarrassment. All this with no sense of heresy. Indeed, I've shown quite a few white people 'the little Paris of the Transvaal' -- but only a few were Afrikaners.” Can Themba

“The boys were expensively dressed in a stunning ensemble of colour: 'Jewished' in their phraseology; in dress items described as 'can't gets'” Nat Nakasa

“Sophiatown was a very beautiful place. There was music everywhere, flowing out of every house, from every corner and every shebeen. Rhythm was the unsaid word. There was mbaqanga, marabi, kwela jive, and on Sundays the gospel choirs marched down Toby street singing, and we always joined them. And then there was jazz at night. We used to go to `Sis Fatty's shebeen and watch the Jazz Maniacs and listen to recorded American jazzmen... Everybody used to meet there: musicians, artists, intellectuals, writers, politicians and boozers. And all of us, the young aspirants, were growing up in this cultural explosion...” Thandie Klaasens


Discussion with Victor Mokhine …

Whilst looking at the photographs of the heritage day celebrations of the former residents of Sophiatown and now current residents of Meadowlands, Victor said :

I know where they assemble every day for exercises … MAETISO A BATSOFE, “the elderlies haven,” in Meadowlands … It is female dominated I do not know of any elderly guys who go to that place.

All the male guys have all gone into oblivion. Most of them have passed away. It shows fortitude with the women. They are strong. They last longer than us guys. They are more active than the male guys. When the male guys come from work they go to recline on the sofa and read newspapers and watch TV, the women go on cooking, wash up the dishes, they are busy all the time. They are active. It helps with the exercising. During the day they are running around with the little ones.

Elderly guys formed something similar, “Fathers speak out”. It was a reaction to the women moaning!

Most of the former residents came from Sophiatown but some came from Fietas. They are mixed. A lot of them have come from the rural areas as well. They are well provided for facilities for recreation and the companies sponsoring them for meals. After the event here, the following Tuesday there was a heritage celebration for them and that happens regularly, given by the Meadowlands Tourism and Development Centre. I am a board member for the MTDC. I have developed heritage for Meadowlands. Meadowlands is over 65 years old now. The Department of Arts and Culture did sponsor us initially, and gave us some objectives of what they needed to produce. I developed a project plan. Funding is a real problem, even up till today they gave us an initial thing to start off. I am still very keen to continue as there is a lot of information to write about Meadowlands. It is the continuation of the history from here as it is the destination of the people who were evicted from Sophiatown. A lot of things happened there, sporting activities especially.

The only thing about the apartheid government was to separate the blacks from the whites. Especially Meadowlands, the houses were not that horrible as the houses built by our own government. The apartheid government came with the plan of building the match box type houses. The first houses were horrible. They built some houses like hostel types with no yards for the people.

The very first black township was Kliptown and Kliptown had people who were moved from Newtown and they only started building Orlando East around 1936. Around this area here it was mostly white suburbs and thus Sophiatown was the only place, Newclaire next to Westbury and including Westbury. Westbury at the time was called Western Native Township but that was from 1918. They had blacks and that was the first township built for blacks in the Western area. It is now Westbury and is called Westbury after they removed the blacks out with forced removals in 1958 and sent them to Rockville and put in the coloured community under the Group Areas Act, a complete coloured area, Coronationville, Western Native township, Newclaire, Bosmond, Claremont, that was now a coloured area. Blacks were sent to what is now Soweto.

We were moved in 1956. Those match box houses, the rooms were quite big. The standard room was 10 foot by 9 foot. Ours were 12 foot by 10 foot. The toilet was inside. The walls weren't plastered. When we arrived there, it was terrible. The floorings were not plastered, there was no ceiling, just the roofing, that asbestos roofing. After many years we knew that asbestos was not good. You breathe that and get asbestotitis, cancer of the lungs. You had to put up your own ceiling, Initially the apartheid government allocated the houses for rental so they had to maintain the houses. And they did, they used to have service provided. They put up fencing and every two years they replaced the doors. There was a monthly rent and what was worse was the monthly rent was much more expensive than what the people used to pay in Sophiatown. Sophiatown people lived in one room shacks. This was two three four of five rooms. The new government after many years offered the houses freely to the people. This was not long ago. For all the years the people were paying rent. When the new government took over, first they boycotted paying rent; so the people were not paying rent. Those houses that were built that time the value of the bricks was one cent a brick. Imagine what the whole house cost. Over the years the people paid for the houses over and over again.

Coming to Meadowlands there was proper facilities for soccer, ballroom dancing, tennis, music. But especially soccer. There were grounds available in Meadowlands as opposed to Sophiatown. There were no soccer grounds, they had to go to Westbury. On the initial plans for Meadowlands they had made provisions for community grounds. Soccer grounds did exist. Once in Zone 3, we were scholars next to the soccer ground. We were the ones who dug it up to remove the grass to make the pitch. The community centre was built some years ago. The Bapedi Hall was established in 1969. That Bapedi Hall was a name derived from Westbury, there used to be a hall there called Bapedi Hall. Now there are two community centres in Meadowlands.

This is Sally Motlana. Sally was an activist during the years that Soweto was under the committee of ten. They had selected ten people to represent the residents. And the husband, Dr Motlana was one of the members of the committee. I think he was the chairman of the committee of ten. Sally was an activist as well and got involved in politics. And she was detained too for several months at the constitution hill. Almost all the members of the committee of ten were detained by the apartheid government.

She was a school teacher initially at Christ the King for many years. And the husband Dr Motlana came from the rural areas and he came from Johannesburg and came to live in Sophiatown. They got married and moved from Sophiatown to Dube. When Sally arrived here, she taught many prominent guys. They were prominent members of the Anglican church and then she divorced from her husband. They had a shop that they were running together and Sally is still running that shop in a place called White City in Mofolo Central next to a place called the Assembly of God. She is one of the board members of the centre. She is still active.

Most of the community were involved because they had consultations with the community for input to the new building. They gave a lot of input for what they would like and some of the activities that would be incorporated into the new building.

When Dr Xuma came in he introduced membership for women. There was to be segregation between men and women. He even changed the constitution of the ANC in the 1940's. When he took over the ANC was disorganized. They actually only had 17 shillings and six pence in their treasury. R1.75. He organized paid membership and before the end he had already collected 4000 pounds. It was for the ANC association.

The song Meadowlands was composed during the removals by Strike Vilikazi. He was one of the musicians of that era, late 50's and 60's. Strike played saxophone. I knew him in Meadowlands but never got to know his origins. He had relatives who stayed close to me. They were people from Limpopo. But they had been originally from Sophiatown. He didn't stay in Meadowlands but came to visit.

Meadowlands was a protest song, but if you listen to the lyrics they were two fold. And that was the situation because some people were glad to move to Meadowlands because they lived in the back rooms in crowded circumstances with a big family. Some were living in shacks here. And those who had the opportunity to see what the houses looked like. If you are moving from a shack to any structure with brick and mortar you will appreciate that. It was much more the stand owners who were vehement as they owned property and they hadn't been compensated. The government was offering them something but it was done in a hurry. The offering for the properties was not worth it, so most of them didn't accept it and of course they didn't want to move out of their properties. It was also their income as they had built back rooms and they were deriving rent from the tenants. And some of them had applied for bonds from the banks and were still repaying their loans.

The music that was composed generally at that time was protest music. Most of the artists, Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba especially and most of the groups that existed there, their music was more protest. Generally about the apartheid regime. We used to have a poster somewhere it is in the archives, a big one that was given to us by museum Africa, where they have got a write up about the music compositions of the artists of protest music from the middle 50's and early 60's.

During the forced removals, the people who were still around were Miriam, Hugh Masekela. Most of them like African Inkspots left with King Kong the musical. When they were in London and supposed to come back some of them decided to stay and go into exile and they were banished from coming back.

Jonas Gwangwa, they performed with the Jazz Epistles. They were all in Kong Kong. He battled for funds, so he moved to the United States. A person who became properly organized was Hugh whilst he was I the States because fortunately he had a hit and then one of the American Stars took him in, and together with Miriam gave them a lot of help. They were exiled and banned from South Africa at that time. They came back in 1990.

Kippie Moeketsi, we used to have a drink together at one of the hostels in the city centre, where the traffic department is now, there used to be single sex hostels. It was the Bantu Mens Social Centre in front and behind that was the Gwema hostel. And that is now where the traffic department is, where they have done the red parking. Kippie was almost down and out. Bantu Mens Social Centre was the only cultural centre there. There used to be ballroom dancing, they played volleyball in doors. The guys played draft, there was boxing, body building. It was a cultural centre. It was closed down but it continued for sometime. I was doing ballroom dancing up to the 80's. It was only when the JPD metropolitan took over in the late 80's that the centre was closed.

Traditional dance was the real buzz about Sophiatown music. It was more about the traditional dance. The jazz came in. There were different phases. There was marabi and after the marabi was tsaba tsaba and after the tsaba tsaba dance, then there was kwela, after kwela was African Jazz and then there was mbaqanga. During all that time, what used to happen in the different yards, you used to have people coming from different places, because we had the mines around here, a lot of industries and compounds. Traditional dance used to happen in the backyards you would have the Zulu people coming from Natal and you get the Pedi's from the North who come to visit their family and relatives around here. And the Tswana people from the Pretoria area and Krugersdorp. The first residents were Tswana people. And if you go to Melville koppies it is almost like Moroping . You have fossils and implements used by the old stone age people and the Tswana people were around as well. Because you have that on the plaque at Melville koppies. The traditional dance was more about the people from the North, the Venda people, the Shangaans and the Pedi. And from Natal, Zulu and the Xhosa's. Most of them were the Pondo. The Pondo had been employed in the urban areas mostly as municipal workers but they were mostly emptying the night buckets, the night soil, because some of the areas ta that time didn't have the proper ablution facilities so they were using the old bucket system. So they did the gumboot dancing. They used to come over weekends into the backyards. There were no bars or liquor outlets in Sophiatown and that is how they developed the shebeen, illegal taverns. Most of the ladies around here made extra money for their families by selling sorghum beer to the men folk. And when they get a little tipsy they would start singing the traditional songs. And that is why you find mostly in the backyards they have traditional music. The Shangaans would have their Shangaan dance, the Zulu's would have their Zulu dance, all the different tribes in the different yards. The communal location of the people around here, they used to club themselves. If they were from a particular area they would go to a particular yard. For instance you will find in a certain yard a lot of Tswana people and most of them coming from the same area. That is how they would encourage each other, with one coming from the rural area, so the one's who live here will find accommodation for them in the yard where they stay. So when the Shangaans are visiting from the rural area they will have the Shangaan dance in the particular area. It was very entertaining.


Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre :

"It is our responsibility to break down barriers of division and race and create a country where there will be neither whites nor blacks, just South Africans free and united in diversity." O R Thambo 1917 - 1993

Sophiatown was the depiction of the city of gold, where the gold was in the people's hearts. Where life was tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance, it was shared through the purpose of celebration. And thus an African Nationalism emerged in the spirit of the freedom charter where South Africa was for all who lived in her … English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Pedi, Shangaan, Tswana, Ndebele, and Afrikaans … and her soundtrack African Jazz ; 'Jazz at the Odin' jam sessions and places like the Back of the Moon, the Thirty-Nine Steps, the Cabin in the Sky or the Battleship …

Sophiatown was founded in 1897, when Herbert Tobiansky purchased the farm 8km west of the center of Johannesburg. He named it Sophiatown after his wife Sophia and the streets after his children: Edith, Gerty, Bertha. Toby and Sol.The name Sophia is deeply symbolic. Sophia is the divine mother in mythology. She is personified in different feminine archetypes. Sophia means wisdom and represents the Venus energy; our heart chakra.

"By a historical accident Sophiatown started life as a suburb, changed its colour at an early moment in its career, and then decided to go all out for variety. A £3000 building jostles a row of single rooms: an “American” barber’s shop stands next door to an African herbalist’s store with its dried roots and dust-laden animal hides hanging in the window. You can go into a store to buy a packet of cigarettes and be served by a Chinaman, an Indian, or a Pakistani. You can have your choice of doctors and clinics even, for they also are not municipally controlled. There are churches of every denomination and of almost every imaginable sect. There is one, for example, known as the“Donkey Church,” upon whose squat, square tower there stands, in place of the traditional weathercock, an ass..."

Anglican priest Trevor Huddleston lived in Sophiatown throughout the 1940's. He observed, documented and lived through the tremendous challenges Sophiatown faced. First the Town council placed the city's sewerage disposal in the area. And then they designated the area as an African labour location. Sophiatown was labelled a slum by everyone who didn't live there. But, despite the government labeling Sophiatown a slum, Huddleston gave it a romantic air.

"Sophiatown! It not your physical beauty which makes you so lovable; not that soft line of colour which sometimes seems to strike across the greyness of your streets; not the splendour of the evening sky which turns your drabness into gold---it is none of these things. It is your people."

"Sometimes, looking up at Sophiatown from the Western Native Township across the main road, I have felt I was looking at an Italian village somewhere in Umbria. For you do “look up” at Sophiatown, and in the evening light, across the blue-grey haze of smoke from braziers and chimneys, against a saffron sky, you see close-packed, red-roofed little houses. You see on the farthest sky line the tall and shapely blue-gum trees (which might be cypresses if it were really Italy). You see, moving up and down the hilly streets, people in groups: people with colourful clothes; people who, when you come up to them, are children playing, dancing, and standing round the braziers. And above it all you see the Church of Christ the King, it towers visible north, south, east, and west, riding like a great ship at anchor upon the grey and golden waves of the town beneath. In the evening towards the early South African sunset there is very little of the slum about Sophiatown. It is a human dwelling place. It is as if old Sophia Tobiansky herself were gathering her great family about her, watching over them before they slept. Essentially Sophiatown is a gay place and, for all the occasional moments of violence and excitement, a kindly one too. But like every other place with a character, you have to live in it, to get the feel of its life, before you can really know it. And in the whole of South Africa there are only a handful of white citizens who have had that privilege."

"The secret of Sophiatown is not only its variety, it is its hidden heroisms, or rather its unknown heroes and heroines, its saints uncanonised and unsung. I know very many. .. any young person who keeps straight when the dice are loaded so heavily against him needs virtue of a heroic quality....

A good example of the kind of humour I have known and loved is to be seen in Sophiatown any weekend, when the “Sophiatown Scottish” are on the march. In the distance, on a Sunday afternoon, you will hear the beating of a drum and the sound of a far trumpet. Soon, at the farthest end of Victoria Road, you will see a small crowd moving towards you and becoming a large crowd as it moves. Then, if you are wise, you will wait, and witness the unique and heartening sight of an all-African, all-female band dressed in tartan kilts, white gloves, bandman’s staff, and accoutrement, swinging down the road with marvelous gusto. Behind them will come the spectators, not marching in step but dancing with complete abandon and, surrounding them as always when there’s sight, a crowd of the children, dancing, too, and singing as they dance. Somehow the “Sophiatown Scottish” stand for so much more than a happy Sunday afternoon. They stand for the joy and gaiety which is there, deep in the heart of the African and ready to break out in one form or another whenever and wherever he is at home." Trevor Huddleston

From the Church of Christ the King and St Peter's school, 'Father' and his team administered much empowerment, inspiration and discipline to the youth. Huddleston's spirit and work for unity and dignity is as strong as ever with the opening of the new building for the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre situated in the heart of Sophiatown on cultural heritage day amongst previous local has been a long build up to this initiative.In 1998 the City of Johannesburg gazetted the renaming of Triomf back to its original name Sophiatown, which was finalised in 2006. They then purchased and renovated Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma's original home.One of only two buildings to escape the destruction of Sophiatown by the apartheid government was the AB Xuma house. Named Empilweni, it was built for Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma, a highly qualified medical practitioner, who served as president of the ANC in the 1940's. He lived here with his wife, Madie Beatrice Hall, an African American social worker.
Today the AB Xuma home is a national heritage site, and a living room for music, poetry, art, photography, talks and tours. It is a lighthouse for a cultural expansion into a future Sophiatown Cultural and Heritage precinct. The Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre, founded in 1999 by Thabo Magoba, now archbishop of Cape Town, was invited by the city to run the house. They then acquired the adjoining stand to the Xuma house and consulted widely before building a multi purpose 'green' centre. The project was largely funded by the National Lottery, private donations and contributions from the National Department of Arts & Culture. This architecturally exquisite centre with high ceilings, provocative slants, dynamic spaces and thrilling acoustics has taken on the name of "Sophiatown - the Mix,"

It is the first community space erected in Sophiatown since 1955. The building offers the historic Western area communities a point of reconnection - sixty years after the first community was removed and scattered into racially segregated areas.

Today there is a home for the Sophiatown that is beyond issues of politics, society, race and class but deeply human. For a Sophiatown that is abundantly "gay" because of the many different kinds of people who live and celebrate there.

Interview Monty Mahobe

Artist at Sophiatown Heritage Cultural Centre and original bass player in the Huddleston jazz band...

What made the Huddleston Jazz Band to be so legendary?

The band started. We were at school in Rosettenville. We were all youngsters. Stompie was interested in a trumpet, but he influenced Hugh Masekela on the trumpet. There was a film showing at the Odin in Good Street and they went to Father Huddleston and asked permission, because it was a Saturday afternoon, to go and see this film. They went and came back and Hugh was impressed so he decided to ask father Huddleston if at all he can't buy him a trumpet. And that is where he started. He got the trumpet as a donation. Instruments came flowing in, drums, a bass and all that. He sat with Hugh and said who is going to play what? The guitar came first.

Wordsworth Kaloati was keen in playing guitar. Father Huddleston called me and said come and play bass and I had never touched it before. The other instruments came in and we started vamping not knowing what is what. During the holidays, Hugh asked Father Huddleston if he can borrow the trumpet, so he can go during the holidays to get some musicians to give him light. We were given permission. There were no schools of music during that time. I went to Stompie's brother who is a bassist and he showed me the C scale and that was my first scale. Stompie was no longer with us at school. He had no funds to pay for school fees, so he had to back out. Hugh left for Springs and he left some musicians and when he came back at least there was some sensible noise, which you could feel like there was some music in it. We went on like that, practicing and meanwhile I had art with me. I went to St Peters having had an exhibition at the age of 13.

Matthew Whitman worked with my father. My father said that his boss was doing the same thing as his son. So, he introduced me, encouraged me, giving me paper, watercolour brush and I painted. Collected some money, paintings which he felt were exhibitable. I got a few paintings from that exhibition. And how I went through to a boarding school.

Then came the music and I forgot about art. In fact we had a teacher, a Miss Weiner who was teaching at St Mary's Girls school. A good artist. The art department closed and I was interested in music. We raised some funds to go to Durban just to meet some other musicians. We played there and came back.

Unfortunately Father Huddleston had to leave South Africa because of politics. And we left school too. Others were staying far and the band sort of dismantled. We had to look for a job. There is no more schooling and with the pass laws, you can't just idol around they will pick you up. My mother was not interested in seeing me in jail. 'Come on Sonny, get a job!' I got a job and I was completely finished with Huddleston. I met some chaps in the location who were playing music. We played on and my mother said it is high time you get married you can't be roaming around aimlessly. We got married. I looked for a job. Got myself a place to stay and I worked for about twenty years in one place. They fired us because we wanted more money. There was some politics in it.

As I was lonesome in the location not knowing what to do, my sister said, by the way, you are an artist. Go back. I thought about it and said no, I can't be depressed by the location. When you are not used to the location it becomes a strange place, so I went back to school to brush myself up. There is a school in Mfolo village where they did art and I picked up a lot. With music, we had difficulties because there was this modern jazz and you must know your keys and all that and meanwhile you have a family to feed. There is no time to be going to school for that. My wife luckily was working but she couldn't make ends meet. I arrived with art.

What repertoire did you play with the Huddleston jazz band ?

There was a band leader Something Berman and he brought us some music sheets. He bought them actually. It was Glen Miller's stuff. Our repertoire wasn't much because the reading was poor. We had to mostly include our marabi music and compositions from the fellows. For instance there was a composition where they titled the number "Naught for your Comfort." We had to recall the number, but it was rejected. Others were "Stuyvesant," from the cigarette and I don't remember the others.

George Makhene on drums was the band leader but Hugh was already going on his trumpet. He would lead most of the time. We had Josiah Masimula from Middleburg. He went to school at Jaynfers. There was an area for missionaries. Gwangwa the trombonist was one of them. There was Wordsworth Kaloata. We called him Knox but his name was Wordsworth. We were a big band because we had two trumpeters, three alto's and two tenors, a guitar, piano, drums and bass.

When you studied art did you come across Jacob Moeketsi?

Jacob was the pianist. The brother Isiah was the artist. That was in Polly Street. Polly Street helped us out because that was once a week. It starts at 5 and by 8. We had Alfeus Khubeka. Good artist. He left he is now a preacher. Isaiah Moeketsi. The others I forget their names. Stompie was one of them. Ezra. He even studied under Scottness. When I left, Scottness wasn't there.

What was your inspiration for the art work?

I loved sculpturing like Leonardo Da Vinci. I would wonder, how does he get his figures. Does he look at somebody or what because he is so realistic. That influenced me. Modern art does not satisfy me. I feel that it must be realistic. I get to admire other artists on painting, they were also realistic. You feel that this scenery you can actually walk on it.

I loved scuplturing but you don't have good wood in South Africa. Somebody gave me some railway sleepers but I had no scope, they are narrow. For instance this one is the stump of a gum tree but I had to treat it with oil.

From what era are your paintings?

I have done them now recently. I imagined how the pass laws, the apartheid era treated us. It wasn't fair. The painting should tell the story.

What about today?

It always comes to me how we were mistreated because we were still young. My parents were trying to make a living although they didn't go for selling liquor and all this because they thought it wasn't good for children, but next door there was a shebeen.

Did you grow up here?

I was born in the Cape and came to Sophiatown at the age of 5. Toby Bertha, Gerty. Good Street. Gold. I was in the fourth street and in 1939 we moved to Western Native township and then I grew up there. We were in St Peters during the time of the removals. When we came back we saw the place was flat. The only building standing was the church, Christ the King. Our bioscope, Odin was flat. And the Roman Catholic church near the church was remaining, that was all.

What can we learn from this history?

I People must know where they came from and the police. Some people say they think the white man helped us a lot, which is true. They sort of civilised us. It wasn't a pleasant time that time.

Were there other artists that inspired you?

There was Dube. There was a framing shop in Joburg. I passed there everyday and looked at these portraits of Zulu kings and I felt that I must be one day in that standard. We didn't have many artists, because people didn't know about art, especially the black. It was something. You have to force your way. I wasn't someone defiant at home. I always respected the elders. You must go to school. You must work, get married. Others succeeded by doing what they want to do.

People who did art and sculptures especially were witchdoctors. If there was an occasion or a ritual, then you are known as a witch doctor and a sculptor. But painting, they don't care. Although now they are slowly appreciating art. We are still far.


Notes from "Sophiatown : A reader" compiled by Ntongela Masilela


In the interview with Dolly Rathebe by Can Themba

She said,

"The first and most exciting man in my life, dear Can, was my father. I can't imagine any man having a greater influence on me. I simply worshipped the man, but, like all other things considers sacred, he didn't last long. After his death, men didn't seem the same to me; they seem to have lost that manly tang, that rough, tough masculinity that makes men so adorable. Nowadays, men have become catty, peevish, gossipy and mean; women haven taken to wearing pants."

So say 26 year old Dolly Rathebe, just about Africa's most famous and exciting woman torchsinger. And yet she is not Dolly Rathebe at all. She was born Josephine Malatsi. That's her real name. When Dolly was still at school she had a friend whose name was Dolly Rathbe. Our Dolly loved her so much that she just took over her name and called herself Dolly Rathebe. And that is how the world came to know her. This Dolly Rathebe—the real one—is none other than Eileen Dolly Rathebe, the daughter of Mr. J. R. Rathebe. She later went to Fort Hare, where she won the B.Sc. degree. She is now married to medical student Edward Makbene, who is studying at Witwatersand University. The film star Dolly Rathebe just took over her friend's name for the fun of it. But back of it all was the uncertainty Dolly felt about conditions at home. Things were beginning to bust up. And at school Dolly was a tomboy. (But she was fond of boys!) She looked at life from the male point of view and seemed to have a quarrel with her Maker for creating her female. At one time the reverend father of St. Cyprian's, Sophiatown, where Dolly schooled, wanted someone to go u the tower and release the hammer of the bell that had got caught. Without hesitation Dolly clambered up the tower and loosened the hammer. The boys still talk of the “bird's eye view” they got on that occasion. But she was smart. Always trim and neatly dressed, she looked as if she came from a very good and decent home. Suddenly, however, her parents died within a short time of each other, and Dolly had to face a hard, cruel world alone. She discovered that she had a fairly good voice, mellow and husky and she toyed with the idea of show business. First she started with that old theatre of African jazz, the Street. At that time Sophiatown was different from what it is now. It looked more or less like a country dorp. People were still planting peach and apricot trees in their backyards. In fact, one of Dolly's great pastimes was to pinch peaches from the backyards of other people. And when she and her young friends had made a good haul they would go to Makouviei-a waste dump just outside Sophiatown, near Waterval—make a feast of it, and start jitterbugging. Jitterbug held the place then that is held by jive now. They would hop around and kick their legs out to the rhythm of some catchy tune. It is about his time that Dolly discovered that she had a way of stitching a tune to the rhythm of their dancing. Of course, nobody at that time thought that Dolly had the voice to coo the blues through the hearts of a thousand stage goers. To her friends she was just a boyish little kid who talked gruffly and sang just as gruffly the hits that went by.

But all agree that she was a naughty child, “very, very impossible,” as one of her teachers describes her. She was fond of pulling chairs from under other children, putting nails or drawing pins on their sitting places, attaching “Kick Me” notices to their behinds and she got a great thrill from watching their pained reactions. Still, at this time she did not consider boys as lovers. She thought of them and treated them as pals. Oddly enough, she rather liked them. She liked their rough-riding, rollicking sense of fun. She gamboled with them, pushed them around, got pushed around, played the African version of hide and seek called Blikmampatte with them. Somehow in this wild young life she met Jeff. He was the direct opposite to Dolly. Quiet, dignified, halting of speech, shy, studious, well-shaved. But they fell in love. That was Dolly's earliest crush. She loved him with a wild, reckless abandon.

“Jeff had something, Can. He represented everything that in my secret moments I dreamed, hoped, yearned to become. I should have known that I wasn't made like that. For me life has always been too raw, too rough, too full of fun and trigger-quick happiness. And I have little time for gushing, sentimental spurts in human affairs. I have learned early enough to be tough and grabbling about the things I want from life. But Jeff. . . Jeff. . . dearest Jeff. . .

Unfortunately Jeff was just a flitting lightning flash. Sophiatown has never been a comfortable home for sweet easy love affairs. The strong man filibuster met Dolly as she was going home from ____ For a time it was thrilling to be a strong-man's moll. The other girls envied her, the other men laid off, and she could go to shows and movies when she liked, unmolested, uninterfered with. But too soon it began to pull. Dolly discovered that many people she would have liked to accept her began to look askance at her. It wasn't quite the thing to be known as a gangster's girl. Moreover, Hasie was beginning to become jealously possessive. She couldn't even talk to other men, and Dolly who loved life and the dynamics of vital men, started to feel stifled. But it wasn't easy to break away from a strongman, least of all a touchy guy like Hasie.

It had to take death—swift, brutal bloody death-to slit the unhappy love affair. Like all strong-men, Hasie had made many enemies. One afternoon he went with a handful of friends of Alexandra on a nicetime spree. They had more than a couple of drinks and Hasie started throwing his weight around. That gave his enemies just the break they wanted. They staged a quarrel and a fight broke out. Hasie got stabbed and died even before he got back home. That released Dolly from her affair with him.

Drum images of Dolly

JUL1955 - Jazz on Wheels! - The morning train from Johannesburg to Durban was turned into a hep train by the Jazz Parade troupe as it swung its way to the coast to jazz up the fans in Durban with singing, dancing, and extra hot cheese-cake by Dolly Rathebe! Came Saturday afternoon and the troupe's first performance at a matinee in the City Hall. The hall was now packed with paying ears who came to listen. and what a show it was! The whole troupe put their everything in it; so much so that the second performance that evening was packed out. Four hundred people were turned away. (Photograph by Drum photographer)

PERSONALITY:1956 - Union of South African Artists - Township Jazz on tour. Dorothy Masuka (Masuku) Louisa Emannuel and Dolly Rathebe and some onthers from the troupe. We do not have the original text, it looks like the national tour of the Union of SA Artist through South Africa, they travelled by train. (Photograph by Drum photographer)

Drum images of Dolly by Bob Gosani

JUL1955 - Jazz on Wheels! - The morning train from Johannesburg to Durban was turned into a hep train by the Jazz Parade troupe as it swung its way to the coast to jazz up the fans in Durban with singing, dancing, and extra hot cheese-cake by Dolly Rathebe! (Photograph by Bob Gosani)

JUL1955 - Jazz on Wheels! - The morning train from Johannesburg to Durban was turned into a hep train by the Jazz Parade troupe as it swung its way to the coast to jazz up the fans in Durban with singing, dancing, and extra hot cheese-cake by Dolly Rathebe! Not all songs sung by the troupe on the train were jazzy. Mavis Roach and the male star, Gene Williams, settled down to one of the nostalgic numbers sung on train journeys, like ' Sentimental Journey. (Photograph by Bob Gosani)


Kippie’s Memories by Kippie Moeketsi

In my family we were music inclined. My brother, Jacob, is a pianist—he was taught by a white woman. Father played the organ and mother would sing hymns. The whole family was like that. It is only my sister who was not into music. I took up music at twenty and taught myself to read it. My late brother, Andrew, used to sing bo‐ Itchi Mama, old harmony songs.

Every time I saw him I would ask: ‘Kana, tell me, man. How do I know the clarinet keyboard? Where must I place my fingers?’ He would shout at me, ‘Hai, no. Put your fingers there!’

Then I would ask again, ‘What is a crochet?’

He would say, ‘Aga man, you’re worrying me. It’s a beat.’ And from there I had to see to it myself. I had to find out on my own what a crochet was. He left me there! I also read music books. I would say it is the Ortolandi that taught me music. I learnt to play the clarinet with a saxophone book. ‘Strue, that’s how I taught myself music. I can still play the clarinet. I didn’t practice how to play the saxophone, I just play it. Yah, once you know a clarinet, a saxophone is a boy.

The first group I played with, ‘The Band in Blues’, broke up firstly because I didn’t want to play in Denver, esidigidigini. The other guys liked to play at the Jorissen Centre and other such places. In those days the tsotsis were rough. Musicians used to get a hiding from now and then. They would say to us that we were thinking that we are clever, and better than them. Sometimes we would play from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am non stop. It was like that. Sometimes the tsotsis would force us to play right through up to 9:00 am. By force! We played all the songs they wanted. I remember one incident in which I managed to escape with my dear life. It was in ’48 when we were still playing at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre. Tsotsis came, man. There were about seventeen, carrying tomahawks, and chopping everybody in the hall for no reason. After they had finished with the audience, they came onto the stage while we stood glued there, frightened. They then began chopping up our instruments and just then we ran for our lives with the thugs in hot pursuit. One of them chased me down Von Wielligh Street. It was about three o’clock in the morning. He shouted at me, ‘Kom hier, jong, Kippie!’ His name was Seven.

Fortunately for me, a police van appeared and the thug disappeared. The tsotsis were attacking us for the fun of it. They were from Alexandra township. I think it was not yet the Spoilers; it was before their time. Yah, musicians used to have a tough time during those days.

After the band broke I joined the Harlem Swingsters in 1949. We had chaps like Gwigwi Mrwebi, Skip Phahlane, Ntemi Piliso, Randolph Tai Shomang, Norman Martin (if I’m not wrong) and Todd Matshikiza. Sadly, the majority of the guys are all dead.

Those olden days, you wouldn’t play in a band if you could not read music. Unlike today, where you just play. That’s why I don’t like today’s music. I don’t say I’m condemning it. I don’t say it is ackward. In fat, some of today’s musicians are good. The trouble ith them is that they are too commercial The talent scout tells them, 'Don’t play jazz because the audience don’t like it.’ You understand what I’m trying to say?

A year after I had joined the Harlem Swingsters, the band broke up. Really, there were no reasons, except for financial difficulties. In those days, big bands didn’t make sufficient money. Those were the days of the best big bands in the country—Jazz Maniacs, Swingsters, Merry Blackbirds, Rhythm Clouds and African Hellenics. General Duze, Boykie Gwele and Mzala Lepere—I don’t know who was the drummer at that time—they made a quarter accompanying the Manhattan Brothers. Duze said I should come and join them soon after the Swingsters disbanded.

I really enjoyed my long stay with The Manhattans (who were THE group at the time), as a member of the backing band called the Shantytown Sextet. Oh well, we did fine some way or the other with our accompaniment.

I think the money was coming in okay—for me personally, and I got better money as we used to perform regularly, all over. Springs, Pretoria, Klerksdorp, Potchefstroom, Nigel and places like that. We went on playing and then the late saxophonist Mackay Davashe joined us. I think, in 1951. Then Davashe later became our leader. I don’t remember how. Dambuza Mdledle was also our leader at one time.

But when we went to Cape Town, we found ourselves stranded, though the Manhattans were a big name. We left for Langa location in Cape Town, playing to nearly empty halls. At one juncture, people started throwing stones on the roof of the hall while we were playing inside. Hey, it was terrible! The people of Langa said we were playing ‘nonsense’. Manhattan Brothers and all. They said we were playing the same kind of music the Manhattans always played. They wanted something new.

During that confusion, Todd Matshikiza disappeared from the cast! And that is how we got a replacement on piano, a chap called Dollar Brand, from District Six. I don’t know how they got Dollar Brand, only Dambuza. . .he came with Dollar while we were at a hostel staying in Langa, stranded. Dambuza came to me and asked me, ‘Do you know this guy?’ meaning Dollar. I replied, ‘Yah, this guy I know. . .I saw him once at Rio bioscope in Johannesburg, playing at a concert with me and Gene Williams who was leaving for Germany.

Dollar was scared of us. He was kneeling down, virtually begging us, man, I’m telling you. This Dollar Brand—things do happen, ‘strue’s God. He wore big boots, looking like a skollie‐nyana so‐oo Kane the chap is a good musician.

Hai, we took a train, the whole cast, to Port Elizabeth. At that time nobody was aware that I had a lot of money with me then, because I used to sneak out every night to play at a certain nightclub. The chap who got me this private job is one of the finest guitarists we’ve ever had—Kenny Just.

I got ten pounds a night—which was quite a lot at that time—and used to make it a point that the other guys shouldn’t know about this. When I ended my stint after a week, Kenny gave me a bottle of whisky and hotel remnants—chicken, sandwiches and things of that nature.

That’s also when I started to be a buddy with Dollar. It was in P.E. that we made a departure in our music. We said ‘Now we are not going to play English music any more. We are going to play indigenous music—Xhosa, Sesotho and all that.’ Who came up with this idea? It was Davashe and Dambuza.

You know what was the cause of all this? It is because of the reaction of the audiences in Cape Town where we didn’t have a following. So, we got a stoke somehow or the other, that no, man, this (English) music, people are bored with it and we’ll have to change it.

Change we did, yah. We could read and write music but were doing it all by ear—quickly. You know, African music is easy, and we didn’t bother writing it down. All we did was to write down the keys; the melody line and tune, that’s all. Afterwards we would arrange it our own way.

By the way, this show of ours was named ‘King’s Holiday’—by Dambuza—because we were then living like kings, enjoying life and eating the money. In East London, we played to packed houses for one and a half months.

We stayed in that area for two months, having parties every night after the show! We had made about a thousand pounds which made us feel really good for the cost of living was still low at that time. Each member got sixty pounds as pocket money, but hey, when we went to Queenstown, none of us had a penny on himself. All we had were our train tickets.

We had lived up to the name of the show—King’s Holiday. Dabuza came with all this idea, I’m tell you. Dollar was still with us. He was a small boy then, a ‘yes, sir’ boy. We stayed for about a week in Queenstown and spent all the money we had earned, and went back home broke. I’m telling: no penny, no
provision. Dollar also returned to District Six.

A week after we arrived from the Cape, we went to play in Springs, and the pay I got there was the first that I was able to give to my mother. Mzala Lepere played bass, Norman Martin returned to play drums and General Duze featured on guitar. Dambuza Mdledle, leader of the Manhattans, one day said: ‘Hey, gents, there is a girl who is singing with the Cuban Brothers. I don’t know how I can remove her from them. . . ‘

That time, the only female singer with the Cuban Brothers was not known. She was nothing, man. She was just another girl who was trying to sing. ‘How can we get her? She is a good singer. . . ‘ Tapyt said, ‘I heard her singing at DOCC in Orlando East the other day!’ We coolly said, ‘Naw, man, just bribe her with some money. Call her to a corner and talk to her ma‐private. . .It does not matter even if you give her a pound. . .’

I don’t know how Dambuza solved that, but after a few days, we saw him come with this girl who was singing with the Cuban Brothers. Just like that. She had joined the Manhattan Brothers. Her name was Miriam Makeba. And it was with the Manhattans that she began to be noticed. To tell the truth, the Manhattans made Miriam famous. In those days, the Manhattans and Inkspots were the best groups. When I say Miriam was made famous by the Manhattans, I don’t mean they taught her to sing. . . As an individual. Miriam was shy and really scared of us. Oh, she was. . .

Well, the three of us—me, Mackay Davashe and herself, we used to sit down and practice‐sometimes we would tell her how to use her voice; how to improve her vocal chords and all that jazz. And Miriam would listen attentively. Before she became the famous Miriam Makeba she is today. You know, I must admit, I never thought Miriam would become what she is now. What I mean is this; at Orlando township while she was with the Cuban Brothers, I though ‘Ag, she’ll never make it big.’

I thought she would never make our standards—you know we regarded ourselves then as the big‐shots. We thought we were The Guys, if you understand what I’m trying to say. I regarded the Cuban Brothers and Miriam as small‐fry, let me put it that way. They were not bad, on the other hand, because they in fact started close harmonies in this country, based on the American group, the Modernnaires.

To me, Miriam was just an ordinary girl—a novice. Ons was die ouens then—the real guys—thing of that nature. You’ll forgive me for my English.

Miriam was not that attractive—I mean, curves and all that jazz. I think our first concert with Miriam was somewhere in the East Rand—singing negro spirituals, you know. But still, I was not yet impressed, maybe because I was so influenced by this Negro guy— Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

Awright, we toured the Free State, Cape and Natal with Miriam. Before the show, Davashe and I would test her vocal chords, advising her here and there, and she would listen. Because during my schooldays I used to be a singer—yah. . . with Duze, we would tapdance.

My teacher, Mr. Ramokgopa, liked singing and he formed the group Lo‐Six. I came with a composition from the Chesa Ramblers band in Gemiston—boSipho, bo mang‐mang. Gange ya Germiston. Their song was Saduva. That later became our closing song in our concerts.

Yah, at 4 am before playing the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’I Afrika, we would play Saduva when we’d know its chaile—closing time. It is this song Saduva which really gave Miriam a boost because at that time, Dolly Rathebe was the number one girl singer.

When Miriam got onto the stage with the Manhattans, singing this song, she got the crowds raving. In those days we dressed smart—the guys with suits and bowties and Miriam wearing long evening dresses.

We played with her for a long time, until she left us and joined Alf Herbert’s African Jazz. She was by now involved romantically with Sonny Pillay, who himself was a good singer.

Then came this guy Spike Glasser, a lecturer in music at the University of Cape Town. Kante all the time Todd Matshikiza was writing the score for a musical work he was performing with us. We were playing songs from the musical unawares—and I can remember well how we used to play the very overture from the musical—King Kong—at the Selbourne Hall. We were three then— Todd, General and me, at variety concerts. Spike Glasser, came to us with his wife at Dorkay House, where we were all introduced. We were told he was from overseas and all that jazz.

We didn’t know he was a local guy—you know we suffer from this complex that whenever a man is from overseas he’s the end in life. ‘There’s nothing better than a man from overseas! Ha! Ha! You know, daai gedagte—that kind of impression. Monna ga bare o tswa overseas ra mo sheba, man. Ra mo tshaba—when a man is from overseas we admire him. We go around in England, that guy.

Musically‐speaking , the guy was there, if you know what I mean. He came with some musical scores—aga man, I was just a scrappikkie of a laatie then. Wearning my ysterbaadjiie and my Hong Kong suite which was rather too tight on me.

Awright, present were the usual Dorkay crowd—bo‐Mackay Davashe; Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, whom again? I think others like Todd Matshikiza and the late clarinetist Gwigwi Mrwebi. Then Glasser went away, returned some weeks later and chose me, Davashe and Sol to assist him to arrange the music of the King Kong show.

We sat with Glasser for a coupla months—I think two months if I’m not wrong—arranging the score, at Dorkay. At times we would go to Glasser’s home in Orange Grove or Yeoville, spend some nights there. Or, go back home in the early hours of the morning at about three o’clock—with a bottle of whisky! This was to keep stimulating us, let me put it that way.

First stage rehearsal! Miriam Makeba was one of the leading characters together with Dambuza Mdedle playing the part of King Kong himself.

Really, I didn’t concentrate on the play which was by Harry Bloom. Glasser, a jolly guy, not pompous, was the musical director and Leon Gluckman was the director of the whole show.

TRANSCRIPTIONS FROM RADIO SHOW : Playing marabi on the typewrite with Todd Matshikiza ... musician, composer, writer

We can smell the intensity of the music of the golden era through Todd Matshikiza's heartwrenching style of writing ...

In the Beat of Drum he writes "I loved the dinghy lights of the clubhouse. The smell of roast meat from the kitchen behind the stage, the people muttering through tobacco smoke and rhythm pounding through my head. I loved the beautiful piano tones of Samuel Tutu and I stook leaning against the piano. His technique dazzled em and I stood in a haze. Snowy's soprano. Tutu's piano. Singer Ezekiel Mogale carried me out of the hall and poured cold water over my face. Voices were saying, 'the little boy is overpowered by the music...
"Zuluboy Cele said his big bold sound was ideal for transporting the musical ideas he had in mind. He had been for many years a house pianist in the marabi joints and he had always wanted to paint marabi tones in a broader canvas and with bigger scales. He bought a saxophone and learnt to play it. Zuluboy Cele was the kind of musician who wanted to bring music to those who danced to the new swing sound, loud, forceful and big, the same element that was present in marabi."

Todd Matshikiza tells the stories of him, ZuluBoy Cele and Peter Rezant in this transcription of the racy radio drama produced by SABC

The interviewer asks : "You are extremely confident about being a South African … "

The only way to handle the apartheid laws is with a mixture of very strong criticism and of amusement and I am sure it does hurt but I write about it to cope with it.

I never thought you would when you got married… first you were teaching then you had the job at the bookshop but there was always the music …

I want to compos something that is really big, something that will knock the socks off everyone. Something truly African.

… My style is the matshikeeze …

“Playing jazz on the typewriter?”

…more like marabi, playing key board style on pedal organs because they are relatively cheap to get. Of course they have a lot in common with American ragtime and blues to be honest most of Drum is Americanised. Africa is drunk with American culture. The music, it is now wonder! The missionaries taught them that the music of Africa is barbarous.

…the marabi is modelled on the American string band. And this has produced the first generation of professional black musicians in South Africa. But on a more basic level the marabi does have a lot to do with the African drink culture. The sound of the marabi is intended to draw people into the shebeens, and then to get them dancing. We call them night time girls, the dames that make and break the man. These women are real and they love the musicians.

Like you?

There is only one women in my life the beautiful Ezme Matshikiza. But I go to the shebeens. I relax there. I listen to the loping melodies and loping rhythms that can go on all night. I have a few drinks but most importantly I observe.

And then you beat out the rhythm of what you observe on the typewriter, what is that all about?

It is about the marabi, the mabokwe, also the itswari, and famu, but whatever it is called it is vital, like the dames that like it. This one is about the old days when the men didn't kill each other for the dames, there was a gentleman's code about double crossing women. I recall an episode at Nuclear, espikidikili, the place of hell, dancing on dagga, and the most famous singers for whom the girls vie with each other.

What happened?

Two guys were in love with the same girl. They came to the show and at the interval, they called her outside. Jimson had a whip, he said to the dame, you dirty dealing damsel, I will teach you not to do it again and then he hit her long and bitter and when he was through he handed the whip to Zim who repeated the painful process on the girl who was now almost faint and then the two man shook hands and went inside to sing again.

That seems a bit harsh?

Let me tell you what happened at the Pashar place. There was a great pianist called Bob Gwaza. The girls showered him with presents every night. One night a women gave him a scarf, he put it around his neck and Bob forgot to take it off when he went home. He was so tired, he fell asleep with the scarf around his neck. He had a very jealous mistress. She looked at him with venom in his heart and then she poured paraffin on his body and set him on fire. Bob died a painful death but he forgave her in his kind heart. She was never punished for that…

And you say all this is true?

I would never write it if it wasn't. Bob Gwaza was one in a long line of pianists who were great men, playing tirelessly from 8 till 4 non stop. Then there was Solomon Ashedy in his black overcoat. He played all day at the Bantu Men's social centre. He never played requests unless you gave him a cup of tea. And Douglas Koko pounding the piano, his favourite stunt was to play with his elbow and Samuel Tutu who always practiced accordion on the train. He always told me, ‘boy I was the lion of the keyboard until one helova boy came and dragged the crown right out of my hands, he was Mickley ‘fingertips' Matshikiza.

Your brother?

Yes, I was playing at a dance he said, and when Mickley played after me, the next morning I took the first train and quit East London for Johannesburg.

So you are from a musical family?

My mother was a renowned soprano. And my father played the organ in the Anglican church. I am the youngest of seven and we were all taught music from a young age. Mickley passed on his infectious passion for jazz to me. My earliest professional experience was playing in one of his bands.

I remember my mum used to say to me, yes my son, your elder brother was born during the great flu in 1919. Peter Rezant was on stage then and still is today. He remembers the days when the band wouldn't play if they didn't have a four gallon tin of beer standing by to keep them from falling. It is great fun today. We have lots of class fun without the 4 gallon tin of beer. Thanks to Peter Rezant who has got coronation balls, nurses balls. Amen to that. Whose who is worn off for another evening with Peter Rezant. All the classy people turn out in white ties and tails, waltzing the nights away but tonight he is playing in Sophiatown.

I just heard him play with the Merry Blackbirds, I remember him in 1936 at the great Empire exhibition in Johannesburg, huge wonderful exhibition, gold pieces from Joburg, uncut diamonds from Kimberley, washing machines and Wales people from Durban, pygmies from the Sahara, swings, ruby rings meet with the finest things on earth and put them there for us to see. I saw nothing there, I was too small, but I saw the huge large showboat on a big lake. Peter Rezant and his famous Merry Blackbirds orchestra, here daily and nightly. People would come to the showboat every day, judges, lawyers, policemen and pimps, ladies, gentlemen and thieves. They didn't come in ones, they didn't come in two's, they came in tens to hear Peter Rezant and his Merry Blackbirds. It is funny/. I am just thinking now that I saw people there. I saw them gape at the strange blackbird Peter Rezant. They said, of course he is different. I said, so his my right foot from my left. You can say what you like man, Peter Rezant is a ruby of a ruddy blackbird. He has done this country good.

… I worry about the future. Sometimes. What's going to end fast in me. All that. Acts, mixed marriages, immoralities, population registration, group areas, separate registration of voters and the worst one, Bantu education. What is going to happen to my children?

… It makes me both excited and sad. Last night listening to Peter Rezant play, I couldn't contain myself but now finishing my story, thinking of all the many tragic cases, I have little hope. That boy Zulu, he was the kind of musician who wanted to bring music to those who danced to it, the new swing sound, the marabi. He was in demand with the Jazz Maniacs, so they made a huge mistake. They accepted double engagements because they didn't want to disappoint their patrons. They were hired to play in Pretoria, they said yes. And then took a train that same night on a tour to Cape Town. Legal suits, selling of instruments. The band was no more. The Jazz Maniacs of Zulu boy Cele gone. But worst of all is he was found dead on the railway line of Johannesburg. No one knows who killed him. Something happened at a party and his body was carried to the railway line. Others say he was forcibly thrown in front of a fast moving train. No musician these days wants to talk about the murder of the Z boy. And his great maniacs are as dead as he is. Even if they were not murdered.

Todd plays with Peter Rezant …

Peter says, “You know why I like Duke Ellington so much? His music has an African sound. That sound of a fella coming across the veld, playing his concertina beneath his blanket, repeating the theme for a long long time. And also humming a Count Basie tune. Once on eth mines there was a cold night and I remember playing the general jump at dawn and the people were dancing and when we finished playing I turned to the boys and said you know? If Duke Ellington had walked in here he would have complimented you tonight. There was this other time. We were playing at Zonderwater hospital. And this man introduces us. He says, ‘The Americans have got their Duke Ellingtons and their Count Basie, but we have got Our Merry Blackbirds and the curtain goes up… those people thought they were dreaming.

Peter says to Todd …

“You put life into your music and that is what the audience wants. Should we start with the tango to get the young ones onto the dance floor.”

Here is an extract from a record reviewby a well-known writer and composer, Todd Matshikiza:

Brothers. . . I’ve got smashing news for you. Real hot-poker stuff. The kind of dope that you get once in a blue moon. D’you know King Force? Hey? The big, broad-shouldered, hawk-eyed veteran sax maniac. Hey? The chap that’s the life blood of the great Jazz Maniacs Orchestra of Johburg. You should know who I’m talking about, man. The fellow that lots of recording firms have begged and begged with big bags and bundles of dough to make discs for them. And he always said, “Nix.” The great guy that gulps giggle water by the gallon and makes greater and greater sounds with every additional drop. What a man. Everybody that’s ever heard this sax giant has been raving mad about him.

FROM : The Stars of Jazz by Todd Matshikiza

The location slept peacefully all night till just after midnight. AT something like twenty past midnight the residents began to shift uneasily in their beds because the sound of the church bell at the Moravian Mission in Scanlan Street was clanging loud. Loud. As loud as any sound is heard at that time of night when everything else is quiet. The sound of the Moravian Church bell might not have been disturbing but for two reasons. First, it was ringing at that time of night, which might have meant, as the custom is still understood today in most churches, that someone had passed away at that hour. A well‐known church‐attending resident had died. In that case the residents wake up, sit up and think up all those things that the dead one meant or didn’t mean during life A wretch, a coon or a regular fool. A king, a kong or “God what a loss.”

Second, the sound of that bell was disturbing anytime. It was a large bell with a huge crack in its side. The crack made the bell sound like so much water taking a gurgle. Grong. Grong. Grong. And d’you know who was ringing the bell? GASHE. Gashe, the jazz organist with a crazy shriek across his brain. He’d just returned from a jazz session in the location. Gashe. We called him “Boet Gashe” in 1928 because he was older than we were, but more so because he used to delight in wearing hideous masks and frightening us from our parents’ laps at the concerts if he wasn’t ringing his mischievous midnight bells. But if he had an all‐night session playing jazz organ at the beer‐brewing and pleasure‐soaked west end of Queenstown location, then the church concerts fared well. He was the only jazz organist. No pianos in those days. His organ was carted on a donkey truck from house, and wherever it moved, the people went. Queenstown was happily situated for Gashe because every train bearing miners (“mine boys” in South African
English) between the Eastern Cape and Johannesburg stopped there overnight. And the miners’ veins were full with jazz, as they were with women, and they got both at Gashe’s jazz sessions. We looked upon the women Handjievol, Nomadabi, Annatjie, Nodoli and others with awe. Us kids knew those women’s names weren’t clean, though we never knew why. But we knew they were the women that danced where Gashe played.

Gashe’s dances were called “I‐Tswari” where you paid 3d. at the door and entered into a dingy, stuffy room where the dust from the dancers’ feet smothered the solitary paraffin lamp which flickered in the shadows of dancing partners who could hardly see or didn’t know each other. The hostess hunched next to a four‐gallon tin of beer in the corner. She sold jam tins full at 6d. a gulp and held her hand open for another 1s. if the client wanted to go into the room behind the curtain. But actually one saw nothing in that dust. Not even Gashe, who was bent over his organ in one corner, thumping the rhythm from the pedals with is feet, which were also feeding the
organ with air; choking the organ with persistent chords in the right hand, and improvising for an effective melody with his left hand. He would call in the aid of a cuestick to hold down a harmonic note, usually the tonic (doh) or the dominant (soh), both of which persist in African music, and you saw the delirious effect of perpetual motion. Perpetual motion. Perpetual motion in a musty hold where man makes friends without restraint. Where Gashe plays “I‐Tswari”—a music consisting of three chords fighting themselves infinitely over four, five or six hours each night, punctuated only by murmurs and groans of deep satisfaction. Finished only when Gashe stops for a draught of beer, which is part of his pay. In the morning, the men have pawned their papers, passes and purses. They’ve had their fun, and the women too. And Gashe trucks his organ to the next “Tswari.” is a free resource and portal dedicated to LOVE, truth, uBuntu, peace on earth and many friends #storyofsajazz © 2018