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Interview The Manhattan Brothers

Cape Town 2000

During the Manhattan Brothers shining hour, popular American music was merging very tightly with the African music tradition. The Manhattan Brothers fashioned themselves on America, yet, as in the true South African manner, they reinvented what they were doing and added their own distinctive personality. The Manhattan brothers pioneered both a sound and an attitude to life. They purchased stylish and elegant clothing from the most exclusive shops and initiated trends in the city. When lead singer Nathan first wore a 'dambuza' (andy cap) a famous trend began that lives on to this day. A generation of predominantly male, young Africans modelled themselves on the group's dress, speech, attitude and lifestyle. Also, apartheid South Africa grew slightly envious of this view of the black person as hip and urbanised. When laws and regulations began to make the period impossible, Rufus Khoza mastered an American Negro alter-ego by the name of Nicadeamus J Brown, to get around the prohibition laws. To avoid illegal gathering the Manhattan Brothers used to rehearse on the top of hilltops where police could be easily spotted and they could disperse quickly without confrontation.

Lead singer Joe Mogotsi says: We created a kind of change in our alternative African cultural music in that we took the lyrics as based on Africa and our compositions were geared to the jazz side of things. We were based on Africa but strongly attached to America. We had gumboot dancing and wore those baggie trousers with gumboots. And we did that cabaret stuff. We used to tap dance. We did everything entertaining, and the people loved it because it was new to them and really attractive.

On choosing to join King Kong, Joe said: We had had offers to go overseas of which we were then refused by the government, who refused us passports point blank. So when King Kong came it was a great chance to show what we got, to show what South Africa has. You can't let such a chance pass you by. It was very strange to arrive in a country like that, it was the first time I was ever called Sir. I wondered how the policeman would treat us. When you are there, they say 'Hello sir, how are you, can I do something for you,' that kind of relationship. Opening at West End, the first night was just like something you see in the movies, like a dream.

On being in exile, Joe said: Hearing the South African music used to hit hard and bring tears. We thought about our fans a lot and our families. We left families there, but it was a situation of us missing them and them missing us. It's not to say when you are there you forget where you come from; you still suffer the same way as those people at home, because you think about it and you know what's happening. It sort of breaks your heart.


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