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A Happy House in Exile: A Tribute to Makaya Ntshoko

Makaya Ntshoko was born in 1939. He grew up in Cape Town, his father was a church musician, who played organ. Music was always there. In the boy scouts as a cub, he played the bugle. Lilly was a close friend. They took lessons from a Jewish bass player called Castle. They jammed during the breaks of the bigger bands.

Makaya got started with Dannis Boy on Alto. Cups and Saucers Nkanuka gave them a chance to jam and play. They listened to American jazz such as Ellington and Parker and they played with vocal groups and concerts at UCT with George Kussel , Cups and Saucers Nkanuka, Abdullah Ibrahim (then Dollar Brand), Dudu Pukwana and others.

Makaya moved a lot between Cape Town and Joburg. They played American jazz and Kwela. He played gigs in Johannesburg with Kippie Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela and formed the Jazz Epistles with Abdullah Ibrahim (then Dollar Brand) and Johnny Gertze.

Makaya said, “I was really young, there was no time to waste. So much was happening. We did not look for problems but looked to solve the problem.”

They played at clubs and hotels of white friends.

When Abdullah Ibrahim and Johnny Gertze returned to Cape Town, Makaya stayed in Jo'burg and was asked to join King Kong. He was on the second trip of the King Kong musical and returned to South Africa with half of the troupe in 1961. King Kong had become such a routine. You could not leave or be creative. But they also went to see other shows and were impressed by the professionalism.

In South Africa Makaya formed his own band The Jazz Giants with Dudu Pukwana (sax) , Nikele Moyake (sax) , Tete Mbambisa (piano) , Mankunku Ngozi (trumpet) , Martin Mgijima (bass) and Conzile (singer). They played progressive jazz and tunes like Killer Joe, Miles' tunes, nice swinging. But they would also play Kwela because the audience demanded it and wanted to dance.

They were hanging out at Dorkay house (union), which was a meeting place. They made good money in general, “and the union could assist when you were broke,” he said. They did not record because Makaya did not want to record popular music or Kwela. Jazz at that time was very progressive, such as the compositions of Gideon Nxumalo (for example Wits Concert of “Jazz Fantasia” Sept. 1962.)

Makaya Moves to Switzerland

At the end of 1962 Makaya left South Africa again. There were problems, Mandela was out on bail at the time. “You had to decide. Musicians want to solve problems then as now. You do not feel good as long as these problems are there. Too many people are suffering. I was brought up in church and trust in God – I did not doubt,” he said.

He went to Basel and Zürich where he joined the Dollar Brand trio. They played at the Africana and in the Atlantis at Basel.

Bruno Spoerri writes, “On 05/10/1962 there is a photo taken with the trio in Zurich. Radio 5 Zurich has more titles. After a long search I found the tapes at Radio Zurich and another photo from that time. In Africana the trio performed 5-7 and then 9-11 pm. 7-9 was the time of the Zurich musicians. There very often developed joint sessions with musicians such as Hans Kennel, Franco Ambrosetti and I often played with the trio. In the winter of 1962/64 Walter Gloor recorded the trio in Africana. The tapes have surfaced again a few years ago and give a pretty clear picture of how the trio played at the time.”

At the Africana a friend of Duke Ellington spotted them and pointed them out to Duke. Next thing they were in Paris with Duke recording “Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio” and also one with Beattie Benjamin. Coltrane also came to see them in Zürich at the Africana after Makaya had gone to attend one of his concerts and had invited him to come.

Makaya said, “There were so many stations: Germany, Denmark, England, France, the US (California and the US) – you have to be a wanderer,” he said.

He was house drummer at the Montmartre in Copenhagen in the late 1960s, the Domizil in Munich (mid-1970s) and in Berlin he was the house drummer for a while at the Jazz Jamboree. He constantly had a problem with permits and therefore made Basel his base.


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Recordings with the Tsotsi's and New Tsotsi's Switzerland

He recorded live at the Antibes Jazz Festival, July 20th, 1977 with trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe . He recorded for Enja records with ‘The Tsotsis,' which including Swiss musicians, Heinz Sauer (sax), Bob Degen (piano) and Isla Eckinger (bass) in 1978 and ‘The New Tostsi's which included Andy Scherer: (sax); Vera Kappeler (piano) and Stephan Kurmann (bass). The songs they recorded included Humpty Dumpty; Open Or Close; Morning Song; One World; I'm Your Pal; Bebbi; Happy House.

The Jazz Workshops

Prof. Döll of the Musikakademie Basel gave Makaya the chance to do workshops. Prof. Döll was somebody who saw what was missing and what was needed.

In 2007 he joined Feya Faku's Swiss South African Jazz Quintet and toured South Africa including a residency at the District Six Museum in Cape Town.

In 2009 Eastern Cape drummer Ayanda Sikade won a scholarship from SAMRO and took master classes with Makaya Ntshoko in Basel.

The Tribute concert

On 29 October 2014 he turned 75. O n 16 th December 2014 Birds Eye are doing a special night "Honoring Makaya Ntshoko" at the bird's eye.

Founder of the bird's eye jazz club, Stephen Kuruman writes: “ F or all of us, Makaya has played a smaller or rather bigger role in our career in music and it is  undisputed that his influence on the local, regional and international jazz scene has been of great importance.  He has turned 75 in September, and it has become more and more seldom recently for him to be heard on the bird's eye's stage or other stages. Therefore, we would like to offer him the opportunity to meet and play together with as many friends and colleagues as possible and to have fun together. There will be a jam session without planning, just come along and bring your instrument, if you would like to.” 

For a Live stream: tune into www.birdseye.ch  

All information and direct quotes sourced from an interview with Makaya Ntshoko by Veit Arlt, via telephone 25 th April 2006. Further information from an interview with Veit Arlt via Skype by Struan Douglas November 2014.


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