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Afrikaans music feels loss of famed talent

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christa-steyn

I have been making Afrikaans music since the early 1970s and in the 1980s wrote musicals for a group of students at Tuks. In about 1980, I heard about a young pianist and composer from Potch and met her once.

When Michiel Grobbelaar from the Johannesburg Civic Theatre contacted us to present a programme for the city’s centenary, I didn’t know what an impact she would have on my life.

That programme, Blik en Snaar, led to our first European tour in 1988 and I knew from the start that this new level of music making was as a result of her masterful pianistic gifts and wonderful accompaniment sensibilities.

She was trained as a youngster by piano masters including Adolph Hallis and Pieter de Villiers, but she didn’t like being a soloist and had a passion for accompaniment.

That meant that we decided within a few years to become a permanent stage duo and I grabbed hold of this opportunity to have such an accomplished permanent accompanist and stage partner. Because of the Afrikaans diaspora, we travelled for the next 25 years visiting 25 countries and performing in 17: music created those opportunities for us.

Christa was acknowledged over the years, locally and internationally, for her musical flair. She became the backbone of any production we tackled with a host of other artists.

Her arrangements set new standards for Afrikaans popular music and she inspired many young pianists and songwiters of the genre, among others as principal of the ATKV’s songwriting school in the 1980s and 1990s.

I could pick any song in the world – Christa’s ears, fingers and approach would hone the existing arrangement into something that worked perfectly, sometimes better than the original.

She also shared my passion for the Dutch pianist and composer Jules de Corte, and many of his songs became part of our repertoire. Her ability to accompany his complicated songs by ear apparently impressed the composer and since his death in 1996, the two of us were invited to Holland twice to perform as principal artists in tribute concerts.

Ilse van Hemert, who directed De Kleine Man, spotted a further talent. I knew how funny she could be, but Ilse embraced this talent and created a character that would become the much-loved “Die Tannie” in a later show, Jannie en Die Tannie – the celebration of our 20 years of working together.

Christa’s heritage is not only her compositions and arrangements, but also what she encouraged and nurtured in others – especially young artists. She gave – usually without pay – gladly. Christa’s contribution will benefit Afrikaans music for a long time.

I will forever be grateful to her and God who put her in my life.


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