What happens when a set of highly renowned, prized and experienced jazz musicians from Germany and exile meet up with the new generation of born free Eastern Cape jazzers?
After 35 years in operation, embodying the struggle for the cultural memory of South Africa, the most prominent South Africa and Germany cultural exchange event, Jazz Against Apartheid is returning home to its Eastern Cape Roots.
Jazz Against Apartheid (JAA) was founded in Frankfurt Germany by South African bass player Johnny Dyani and cultural activist Jürgen Leinhos in 1985. Although Dyani died shortly after the inaugural event in 1986, Leinhos has preserved this treasure for South Africans with roughly 100 concerts in Germany, Switzerland and the USA presenting the music of Johnny Mbizo Dyani.
Now that his life’s work has been recognised in South Africa with the prestigious OR Tambo presidential award, the timing is perfect for the Jazz Against Apartheid ensemble to return to South Africa to share, inspire and create a fresh collaborative musical experience.
Built around the timeless musical compositions of Johnny Dyani, JAA BEYOND EXILE is extending the 35 years of consistent musical performances of the star-studded international ensemble to a collaboration with a sestet of dynamic rising stars of Eastern Cape Jazz, packed with talent and curiosity.
The musical collaboration and confrontation between the highly experienced JAA apartheid veterans from Germany, London and Canada together with Eastern Cape stars, as young as 24 years old, offers tremendous surprise and excitement for what may come forth.
"During my many years of living in Germany,a German oganisation contributed to the antiapartheid movement by supporting South African musi cians in exile.These included promotion of jazz musicians such as Chris Mcgregor 's BLUE NOTE S with Dudu Pukwana. They organised tours and concerts for Makhaya Ntshoko, Johnny Dyani etc all over Germany and in Europe. These South African musicians sometimes played together with German counteparts. Despite the end of apartheid this project has continued. Juergen Leinhos, the main founder of Jazz against apartheid was granted a South African National award. He founded this project with Johnny Dyani from East London. Johnny died in Berlin and we organised for him to be returned and he lies in East London. This year in October Jazz against apartheid is coming to South Africa for the first time.They are planning concerts in Joburg, Cape Town, EBhayi, Pretoria and East London." Nomfundo Luswazi
Johnny Dyani: 30.11.45 – 24.10.86: A tribue
Johnny Dyani was born in East London. His brothers played music, one was a pianist, so Johnny started on the piano. He began singing and playing at an early age with Tete Mbambisa. He took up bass at the age of twelve and played in Dick Khoza’s group, Jazz Wizards, with Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwana, Pinise Saul, Pat Matshikiza and Aubrey Semane.
“One time in PE we were playing for schoolkids, backing this Indian singer and for some reason this guy had problems to communicate with us in Zulu or Xhosa? Dick said, ‘No, understand it in your own way. Now you try your best.’ And I thought wow, man. This guy was singing ‘Moon River.’ After the concert, Dick said, ‘You grown up now, play it your own way. Break the rule. You know the white man’s stuff. This ‘Moon River’, you know the chords right? You know D-flat, now play it your own way, you’re grown up.’”
The popular music of the time was Marabi music, which was a combination of traditional folk music and the modern society music of the speakeasy’s and shebeens.
Johnny’s father was stationed outside East London and he would take his son to meet the guys in the village, to fix his head. “If you want to seek knowledge you go to those guys, they sit in the kraal and then ask questions. They look at you and say, ‘Are you prepared for this knowledge?’ Because if you ask you might go crazy.’ And it’s true because with all that knowledge you gotta be prepared. Your mind, sight, hearing, heartbeat, energy. You have to be prepared to carry all that.” Johnny Dyani
Where he lived in the neighbourhood, there were all types, Pondo, Zulu… “It’s like a cultural house of some kind. Everything was just educational. What was good about this marabi thing was that you had to be quiet to be able to observe that,” he said.
Kwela music also came up in this era with the youngsters on the street corners, playing flutes and watching for the police. After kwela, mbaqanga was formed by the musicians who came to the cultural houses to jam.
At the end of 1962, Johnny moved away from East London, PE, Grahamstown to Cape Town, where he got involved with the Blue Notes. Dudu Pukwana (composer) and Chris McGregor (arranger) were the Blue Notes. And they were joined by many musicians of the era, Nick Moyake, Dennis Mpale, Mongezi Feza, Sammy Maritz, Elijah Nkwanyana, Barney Rachabane, Louis Moholo and Martin ‘Lily’ Gijima, another bass player with a good up-tempo.
Cape Town was a school of its own where all the musicians would jam the American standards like ‘Stardust’ and ‘Summertime’ through the night checking to see if kwela and mbaqanga could fit in, and where the “sauce and the salt” is located. But the senior musicians were the teachers. Johnny recalled Mackay Davashe, playing the song, riff and rhythm and then finishing half a bar before the rest of the band, paralysing the song on purpose. “So, there were all these games of teaching you how to handle things, which is education,” he said. Johnny recalled the performance of tenor player Eric Nomvete at the Castle Lager Jazz Festival.
“Everybody was playing so-called jazz and this old man was hip enough that he had original stuff. He played Pondo blues, and that was it. And then everybody started being aware of their own thing, tradition, culture, whatever you call it … SKANGA, which is a word for the Family of Black Music.”
He also recalls the influence of Christopher Mra Ngcukana and his avantgarde or free jazz. “He’d call free jazz ‘fowl run,’ where everybody starts screaming,” he said.
These pioneer musicians were very aware of the world and the black family in the world of music. They were very influential on the next generation of composers like Philip Tabane and Gideon Nxumalo.
“So while the other guys were into Duke Ellington or Monk, these guys didn’t see no reason to say I am influenced by Ellington or Monk, they just saw it as one family, but they saw themselves as the originators. They accepted the other black family by accepting themselves.” Johnny Dyani
At Mra’s house, Johnny started playing bass. Johnny recalled “Mra said, ‘Stop that. Do you know what you playing? Do you know what you doing? I said, ‘What did I do?!’ He said, ‘You see! You don’t even fucken know what you doing!’ That’s an African way of looking at things.”
In South Africa Johnny suffered enough from the police. Johnny recalled at two o’clock night a police car coming to his house and a black detective says to his mum, “We have came to collect your son. We want to talk to him in Fifth Street.” His mother insisted on going with. At the police station she said to the detective, ‘What is this? What is it my son?” The guy just shouts, “I’m not your son! Don’t ever say that!” My mother shook her head and said, “You know I’ve never seen such a thing. You grown up now, I know your father. He was well-behaved, and you are not behaved.” The officer said, “It’s all right. Good luck.”
Johnny equated this attitude to Winnie Mandela. “She was not scared of the Boers,” he said.
When the Blue Notes started preparing to move to France, everything became impossible. “The police were watching us like hell, ’cos we were touring at that time,” he said. And whilst they were touring around the country they gave people lifts because they thought no-one would stop the famous Blue Notes.
Even Dorkay House was bugged, remembered Johnny. At the farewell party for the Blue Notes the police burst in and Bob Tizzard the trombone player placated them with the Dennis Mpale. He told them these were famous people and couldn’t be arrested. Kippie Moeketsi started slanging in an American accent. And Bob says, “If you touch these people you’ll be in trouble officer, you better not touch this matter because this is too complicated.” The officer left.
Johnny described the musicians of that era as “dangerously hip.” Dennis Mpale was an influence in dealing with the Afrikaner policeman. He called them ‘Sir Baas Mister.’ At a jam session at Dorkay House, Johnny received what he called “his diploma.” He said, “We finished playing. And Kippie comes to me and says the best compliment I’ve ever had. He just looked at me. I’m standing there, I want to hear. He looks at me and he ignores me. Then he comes back again and stands and he looks at me and says ‘I love you.’” Johnny got respect and admiration from the great players, Kippie, Nick, and Bra’ Mackay Davashe. He didn’t need to prove anything.
Johnny comes to Europe
“Johnny was an African jazz missionary out in Europe on a civilising mission. His origins and expansion took him from East London to Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Johannesburg, London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, New York and Buenos Aires. The collaborations and various band formations reflect a heightened quest for extending his home brewed music through improvisation. Whether with the famed Blue Notes with Chris McGregor experimentation sessions with Don Cherry, Johnny simply kept growing the African music.” Vusi Macingwane Mchunu
Johnny didn’t want to be a star. He had already learned the danger of being a star. He wanted to be a contributor for “my people, for my country,” as he put it.
When the Blue Notes came to Europe they met everybody. The Blue Notes influenced London. Ornette [Coleman] came into the club, to see them play. Hugh Masekela came to London, same week. He tried to impose kwela and mbaqanga on them. But they were into free jazz. Roland Kirk was one musicians that wanted it as raw as it is. Roland Kirk would tell Dudu, ‘Do what you have to do in behaviour, and don’t let nobody live your life.’
Wes Montgomery came to their gig at Ronnie Scott’s. He liked Johnny’s “natural approach.” And said, “keep it that way because in jazz everybody plays what already somebody else is playing. He’s just playing, not contributing at all. You know there are very few originals.”
Archie Shepp came in, Jimmy Garrison and all these guys, Roswell Rudd. Jimmy Garrison was pure and sincere. The musicians in the sixties played the blues, the Mississippi, Coltrane, Booker Ervin who played with Mingus, the heavies. And then Don Cherry came into the picture. At that time, Dudu was teasing Mongezi, saying, ‘Don is here, you in shit now!’ Mongezi said ‘Find him for me.’ and made him put the trumpet down. He said, ‘Teach me. You don’t play trumpet, you talk through the trumpet.’
He recalls meeting Ben Webster in Copenhagen. Ben loved Mongezi and adopted him as his son. “If Mongezi walked in he’d say sit here (slaps his leg), Mongezi would always sit on his lap.” He used to call Mongezi Little Bead.
The Wire spoke about the Blue Notes in respect. The Blue Notes influenced a lot of musicians, the Fairport Convention, the rock and jazz players. And then they travelled from England to Scandinavia and Denmark.
At Dollar’s party in Zurich he invited the Miles Davis group rhythm section: Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter. Dollar introduced Nick Moyake. Nick holds Wayne Shorter’s hand, grips it, and says, ‘You ain’t shit. What you play I played it before.’ “We were full of shit man!” recalled Johnny.
Nick Moyake left exile and returned to South Africa where he died. Before he went to South Africa, he told Johnny, “You, you going to carry this. You the one. You got the right message.’ And he was crying, you know, because he’s leaving, going back home. And he told me, he said, ‘You’re the one. You’re the one who has this music from home.” But where South Africa was a challenge, Europe was a challenge all of its own.
“Johnny always listened to people talking on the metro, the bus, the taxi and used that while chanting on stage. Singing it out against South Africa, playing it on the bass against Western governments supporting oppression. He transformed every talk into direct statements, depending on the atmosphere of the concert. He felt that Europe does not understand African jazz as yet. Europe suffers from a superiority complex. And hence Johnny referred to the discipline of SA blacks. Like we saw Winnie Mandela on the TV just a day after they had bombed her house in Brandfort, SA. By the time the reporters came, she was dressed up for the interview and talking heavy things. His discipline was being able to handle difficulties. Even when times are bad, be descent in dress, in manners and eating habits. Stay awake and clean. may not be totally ideal, but our people’s discipline is one of the reasons why we have survived oppression.” Johnny’s Swedish girlfriend, Magdalena.
“Johnny introduced me into honest music. Music should come from your heart and not your head. It is not purely a matter of ability. Johnny did not touch his instrument for some time until he found his true self. He did not play what everybody else played. That is what is killing the music scene today. Always trying to play certain scales, popular American jazz beats, the conventional stuff. Johnny always fought against these limits and always to play with personality and background. Not to forget your African roots. Stop playing lies and music hardly connected to your own identity. He was trying hard to get away from conventional jazz. He regarded himself as a folk musician, playing the talking bass.” Thomas Dyani
African music was Johnny’s main inspiration. “He loved African folksongs religious music and church choirs. He sang in Xhosa, chanted and danced on stage. He was aiming to develop a creative interest beyond tribal stereotypes,” said Magdalena.
Vusi Macingwane Mchunu is a cultural activist, liberation poet and jazz afficionado. He came to know Johnny in exile. He confirmed, “His music evokes the Xhosa country side, ezilaleni, Nguni folklore, Methodist church harmony’s, foot-stamping dance beat, township and urban urgency and the improvisation of African jazz and the jazz avant-garde. Johnny belonged to that exceptional group of world musicians that were daring, bohemian, seeking to create new styles new accents and new musical connections. Grand Kalle of Congo, the wailing voice of Kippie Moeketsi, Miles Davis the jazz great, the big bass shoes of Charles Mingus and the daring figures of Ludwig von Beethoven.”
In the US, there was a temptation of getting into mbaqanga because it was commercial. When Hugh Masekela, came out with ‘Grazing in the Grass’, the South African’s in Europe were disappointed. Americans from Motown were talking to Hugh and Caiphus telling them to make it funky. They were looking for the hit all the time.
Dudu went to play with Gwangwa in the States, African Explosion. When he came back, he said “NO, Stop politics! We want money to pay our rent!”
The rock groups were into mbaqanga, and approached Johnny to play bass. They wanted a Fela kind of simple, crazy thing. But, according to Johnny, “It was kind of a natural thing really to be in the Black Family Music, without compromise.” Mongezi said, “Ugh but I don’t want to change the style,’ ’cos the style will change you.”
Jazz Against Apartheid
“Music making provides an effective way of focusing attention and commenting on issues of social concern and importance. African song lyrics are concerned with moral and ethical questions, and attack unsociable quality as in songs of allusion and songs of derision.” John Chernoff
“Remembering Johnny’s boyish face grimace during an interview at the 1982 Gabarone Culture and Resistance Festival, one cannot but confirm his frontline commitment to social change through culture,” Vusi Macingwane Mchunu.
In Mchunu’s tribute to Johnny Dyani he pointed out how “Johnny’s quest in the anti-apartheid phase was to seek for a larger, fuller and more lyrical music that could stand its ground in the international arena.”
He traced this lyrical attitude to the Festac Festival in Nigeria 1977, which had followed on the heals of the Soweto uprising 1976. Festac was the largest gathering of African and diasporic black artists in the world at the time.
“Energetic Johnny was right here as part of the SA contingent. It was an enriching cross-pollinating experience particularly with the colourful West African traditional music and dance. From thence on his instrument was to baptised the talking bass calling and responding to the talking drums. For Johnny the jazz idiom begins with the traditional African song, the zest, the celebration, the fusion of styles – Johnny put in many interpretations of folk songs and went along way to popularise these unknown gems introducing them to a wider international audience.” Vusi Mchunu
Johnny’s catalogue of recorded music is a thorough reminder of his resistance spirit built on traditional roots. Albums Song for Biko, Witchdoctor’s Son and compositions Open Ballad To Mandela, Lady Lilian Ngoyi, U.D.F., Namibia, I Speak Of The Nation, Dear Africa, and Grand Mother´s Teaching shows his commitment to jazz for the struggle.
His Some Jive Ass Boer collaboration with Mal Waldron, his Echoes of Africa collaboration with Abdullah Ibrahim and his solo live recordings such as the unreleased Live in Melkweg show his collaborative influences.
Macingwane talks of the influences of amaqaba traditional religionist beats, the township mbaqanga saxophone and the Xhosa chants from ukuxhentsa (shoulder dance) and the headiness of African sorghum beer. He called Johnny a “natural herbal healing artist” and wrote. “He ridiculed notions of primitiveness, backwardness and witchcraft that typified western understanding of African culture. It is generally accepted today that traditional medicine practice and culture remain at times the only repository of traditional song, costume dress and role playing. Johnny was at peace with this source and inspiration. His African village is a revered sacred space – a launching pad for his world healing mission.”
“Now is the time to speak your mind, Faces, Berlin Faces, Last ballot, First bullet.”
Jazz Against Apartheid was the title of an event idea by South African Bass player Johnny Dyani and first implemented in 1986 together with producer Jürgen Leinhos for a concert series in Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg and other locations of Germany.
Johnny was the bandleader of the Jazz Against Apartheid band. His original vision was to create a platform where ‘home’ musicians interact with ‘exile’ musicians.
Jazz Against Apartheid in Germany enabled him to grow his oeuvre and take to different audiences. Johnny was outspoken in his condemnation of apartheid. He was a member of the ANC. Magdalena recalled, “He wanted to bring together jazz musicians still living in South Africa with those in exile. He liked to work with people who understood his music, his fight. He remained open and incorporated American and European musicians. This tour was the beginning of something he always postponed.”
“It was the time of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union which dominated the standing of the Anti-Apartheid struggle. The Southern African liberation movements, including the ANC, were anchored in Russia and the east European countries. The Anti-Apartheid movement was quiet diversified in its focus, activities and philosophies. The exiles in West Berlin and West Germany developed and worked with committees from the Christian church, student groups, political formations, the trade unions, the social movements, progressive arts platforms and media platforms to highlight the issues happening in Apartheid South Africa. Germany played an important part in isolating, boycotting and contributing to bring the apartheid regime down.
“Undoubtedly, the arts in general were the mainstay and visible aspects of the political work that involved cultural and economic boycotts, pickets and demonstrations, conferences and meetings. As a cultural activist, this was my main arena to help bring down the Apartheid python,” explained Macingwane.
At the first Jazz Against Apartheid concert in October 1986 at Quartier Latin Concert Hall Johnny Mbizo Dyani chanted "Think think think, it is good for you!" and collapsed on stage. He was rushed to hospital. He remained in a coma for a week and eventually died from heart failure and internal bleeding.
Jazz Against Apartheid had begun to play a significant role in the dismantling of Apartheid as together with other South African cultural contributions including music, paintings, photography, drama and dance performance, writing; the South African culture as a whole united and profiled the liberation movement whilst connecting to the progressive cultural activism of the Germans during this period. “Johnny’s passing away was apocalyptic similar to a volcanic eruption to the music and his followers at the world and at home. It was as though the dreaded impundulu bird of darkness hovered and lingered above a crimson sky. His healing music aimed to stimulate reflection, meditation and creative healing approaches to the complex of human existence. Diminutive as he had been in physical stature he remains a giant in music and interpretation. Significant players that were his contemporaries like Dollar Brand produced songs in his memory. Dedications by younger musicians inside SA, includes Sipho Gumede “A Song for Johnny Dyani.” Pianist Andile Yenana “Wish you Sunshine.” Also, the painter Mothlebane Moshiangwako “the efforts of those that came before us” and the amazing rap poet Lesego Rampolokeng produced amazing works to celebrate their prophet that had come like a comet and had vanished again leaving a star path of sprouting seeds and gems,” wrote Macingwane in the tribute.
After his death, The Jazz Against Apartheid series in Frankfurt and platform was to remain central in spreading his message. Thanks to Jürgen Leinhos and his team of activists.
In 2007 The Blue Notes received the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, for excellent achievement in the genre of jazz music, contributing to the development of music in the South African townships and defying apartheid laws by forming a multiracial group.
In 2021 Jürgen Leinhos received the "Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in Silver" Award for his work in Jazz Against Apartheid
• Johnny Dyani Interview: 22-23 December 1985 by Aryan Kaganof.
• Johnny Mbizi Dyani by Lars Rasmussen
• Magdalena and Tomas Dyani quotes from AWA-FINNABA anti-apartheid journal.