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Thandie Klaasen


“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 Petty's shebeen and watch the Jazz Maniacs and listen to recorded American jazzmen. Inside it was packed, you wouldn't be able to move. But when the jazz came on, those bodies made space. Nobody would be standing still. Outside, `Sis Petty's kids would be watching for the police, but the jazz was so good they would keep on coming inside. `Sis Petty would have to chase them out, and the men would carry on drinking as much as they could as quickly as they could, just in case the police arrived. 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, even Felicia!” Thandi Klaasens

Thandi Klaasens was a famous model and singer in the golden era. Someone threw boiling water over her face through jealousy. Thandi was scarred for life. Thandi Klaasens grew up in Sophiatown. Her story is one of many from the racy, vibrant and seemingly indestructible Sophiatown of the early fifties. Along with Langa, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Sophiatown was a place where black urban culture was erupting. And where there was black urban culture, there was jazz.

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During the golden era our great cultural centres were inner city multi-cultural locations such as District Six (Cape Town), Sophiatown (Johannesburg), New Brighton (Port Elizabeth) and uMkhumbane (Durban). It was here that jazz developed and sustained itself. These were demolished out of spite. After demolishing Sophiatown the once cultural centre was developed into a police town called Brixton. The lands were the glorious houses of District Six once stood lie fallow to this day. In Durban the vibrant urban centre and melting pot of that day was uMkhumbane. Where uMkhumbane was there is now an informal settlement for migrant workers from all over the continent (kind of similar to what it was!) The musical uMkhumbane was writteb by Alan Paton and Alfred Nokwe. It was performed in the 1960's. Theo Bophela worked alongside Todd Matshikiza in the rehearsing and staging of this musical. Long time associate, saxophonist Moses Sefatsa also performed in the star studded cast.


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