TEN GROUPS that broke racial and cultural boundaries under the apartheid regime are to be honoured this year by the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Said the promoter of Joy of Jazz, Peter Tladi: “In many ways the objective of the regime was to divide, yet these artists were catalysts in forging unity and bringing people together. These bands also contributed uniquely to the cultural landscape in our country.”
The artists will be honoured at a ceremony taking place tomorrow at Montecasino in Fourways. The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz will take place from September 25 to 27 at the Sandton Convention Centre. Therese Owen spoke to past members of the 10 bands, all of whom have gone on to forge their own careers in music over the decades.
These musical mavericks, who were led by the late Jabu Khanyile and Themba Mkhize, fused South African traditional music with cool reggae and Afro-jazz-inspired grooves, resulting in them being way ahead of their time.
•How do you feel about being honoured by Joy of Jazz?
When creative people sit down and work, they really do not think about these things. They just do it to the best of their ability. When something like this comes your way you realise that your small contribution has not fallen on deaf ears. And for it to come so much later is really special. We are dedicating this award to our members who have died, particularly our guitarist, Johnny Chonco, who passed away last year.
•What is your fondest memory of Bayete?
It was when we played in Botswana. At the time there were a number of exiled South Africans in Botswana. We had recorded music, but it was not that well received in South Africa and we had problems with some of our songs being playlisted on the SABC for obvious reasons. When we went to Botswana they consumed our music. We came back with revived energy and a new belief in ourselves.
•How did Bayete contribute to South African culture?
We were able to draw from the cultural world. We brought out mbqanga and Isicathamiya and fused them into one pot and shared it with audiences from different walks of life. They were able to find themselves in the music we offered.
•What are you working on?
I have been working on a track for Muvhango called Woza. The vocalists are Brian Themba and Sindi Dlathu. I am also working with Mbuso Khoza on an important project of traditional Zulu music. I am doing the orchestration for an orchestra – we will be recording amahubo which is traditional Zulu war chants and hymns.
When Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse formed a band with fellow school pupil, Selby Ntuli, Alec Khaoli and Saitana, it was the beginning of much bigger things to come. The band was called The Beaters and their first album was released in 1969. Their name changed to Harari in 1976 when they played in what was then called Rhodesia.
Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse
There have been so many awards lately and I wish I understood the reason for some of them. However, Standard Bank has a great track record of honouring artists, particularly through performances.
I am elated and honoured that it is the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz that is doing this.
•What is your fondest memory of Harari?
Sharing the stage with all of those great musicians and being able to attract 150 000 paying people when we played The Concert in the Park. It was very special.
•How did Harari contribute to South African culture?
We laid the foundation for independence. We were one of the first groups to have crossover appeal, but we had to be released in America for South Africa to recognise us. There was always an urge that our white compatriots were missing out on a great black experience. Johnny Clegg played a real part in introducing township bands to white audiences.
Besides my university studies I am interacting with young musicians. They teach me things about youthful exuberance and the new energy that pervades our music industry now.
This group gave birth to the rise and rise of one fantastic vocalist and songwriter, PJ Powers.
Hotline was the biggest-selling rock band in the country at the time. We have never been recognised before. I am very chuffed and would like to thank all the people who organised these awards. To a large degree those bands in the ’80s like Hotline, Cinema and eVoid moulded the industry. There was a lot of creativity in those days.
•What is your fondest memory of Hotline?
On May 31, 1982 four white guys and a white chick in stonewashed jeans and big hair performed You’re So Good to Me in Soweto. The song was playlisted on Radio Zulu. That day changed our lives. The people at the concert embraced us and we spent the next seven years in the townships. Artistically, we realised that we didn’t have to sound American. We found our own voices through our own country.
•How did Hotline contribute to South African culture?
We were the first crossover band, without a doubt. Johnny Clegg was there, but he was with Sipho Mchunu. He went in with a completely different angle. We were a white band playing AC/DC. I had written You’re So Good to me and Radio Zulu DJ, Kansas City, heard it and decided to play it. He was the most powerful DJ at the time. Even though Radio Zulu only played music in vernacular, he decided to play the music regardless.
Our career started in 1982, thereafter (there was) the most prolonged period of violence this country has ever seen. We went into the townships to sing and spread happiness. We had no body- guards and witnessed lots of volatile situations, but we felt safe. We showed people in the townships that not all whites were out to get them.
Later on, in a letter to me from Nelson Mandela, he wrote that music can bridge gaps where politics can’t.
I am on the final leg of my tour for my autobiography, Here I Am. Then I open my one-woman show, Fire Fly, at the Joburg Theatre on September 17 for 10 shows. The show consists of a repertoire of my songs told with some quite funny and tragic stories in between.
In 1980 the country fell in love with the haunting, but hopeful Paradise Road and today it is considered an unofficial South African anthem. The lyrics resonated with the country at that time, the chorus being: There are better days before us and a burning bridge behind, fire smoking, the sky is blazing. There’s a woman waiting, weeping and a young man nearly beaten, all for love. Paradise was almost closing down.
It’s an honour. I feel honoured not just for myself, but for the others as well. It’s a wonderful feeling.
•What is your fondest memory of Joy?
There were so many. I think it was the first night we performed Paradise Road. I think it was in Sharpeville. It had never been heard before. As the first three chords were strummed the crowd went crazy. I was so surprised because the first time I heard the song I thought it was boring.
•How did Joy contribute to South African culture?
Along with some other groups, we paved the way. In those days not everything was open to us, but we pushed through all of that for the love of music. All the oppression was set aside. Our music brought the comfort. We were also the only female group at the time. Paradise Road was a song of hope and a lot of people received it as a prophetic word.
•As the last living member of Joy, what are you working on?
I am busy recording my next gospel CD. I am also working on my autobiography which will, hopefully, come out towards the end of next year. I still have a lot to do on it.
When Sipho Mchunu and Johnny Clegg became friends in 1969, they had no clue that their friendship and subsequent band would have a profound effect on South Africa and the course of their own lives.
I feel that it is a tremendous validation of a musical experiment which Sipho and I embarked on in a time of cultural segregation. We had endured many hardships and tribulations to bring our vision of an alternative music culture to the people of South Africa.
•What is your fondest memory of Juluka?
The early days, when Sipho and myself played street music in hostels and then formulated a unique blend and then took it to a national and then international level.
•How did Juluka contribute to South African culture?
It presented a set of political, personal and cultural possibilities through music and dance. By doing this, it allowed thousands of South Africans to experience an alternative reality to the one they were living.
A huge amount of touring, an autobiography, a new unplugged show with Sipho and moving into a new residence.
This year the world-famous Mahotella Queens celebrate 50 years. They are still in demand abroad and are currently touring Europe.
•How do you feel about being honoured at Joy of Jazz?
It is finally our time and it is really nice that someone in South Africa is recognising the Queens after 50 years in the industry.
•What is your fondest memory of the Mahotella Queens?
Performing at the Free Nelson Mandela concert in Wembley in 1988.
•How did the Mahotella Queens contribute to South African culture?
We have always stuck to our mbqanga roots even though we have done collaborations with artists from other genres. We have presented our culture around the world and will continue to do so. As we retire we nurture youngsters to perform mbqanga.
We are on a tour of Europe and then we are at home for two weeks to do some shows. Then we are off to New York City where we will be per- forming at Central Park with David Byrne (Talking Heads) and his project Atomic Bomb.
Sakhile were the wonderful trio of the late Sipho Gumede, Mabi Tabejane and Khaya Mahlangu. Sakhile were banned on radio but after re-uniting in 1987 they performed at international anti-apartheid concerts arranged by Caiphus Semenya.
It feels great when your peers recognise your contribution. When I became a musician, like a rose I bloomed, not to please anyone, but for the sake of music.
•What is your fondest memory of Sakhile?
It was a time to grow, I grew in leaps and bounds as a composer and a player. We played challenging music and we worked hard at being a tight band. Gig or no gig, we would rehearse from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
•What did Sakhile contribute to South African culture?
We pushed the envelope in that what we were doing was not easy to the ear to a whole lot of people, but we did have a loyal following.
I wear many hats. I freelance and have my own little ensemble. I am a director of the Gauteng Jazz Orchestra. My other passion is arranging, apart from composing.
Hailing from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, Sankomota were popular in South Africa for decades.
In their biography they say: “The history of Sankomota is a dense tale punctuated by varying degrees of bad timing, terrible decisions and bad luck.”
On November 27, 2003, Frank Mooki Leepa, the lead guitarist and dynamic frontman for Sankomota, died.
•How does it feel to be honoured by Joy of Jazz?
It feels great. It’s a good gesture.
•What is your fondest memory of Sankomota?
Touring Germany by train. We would have to throw our luggage through the window because we were always late.
•What did Sankomota contribute to South African culture?
They contributed good quality music that will never die.
I am working on a new album with Joe Nina.
They recorded 30 albums in 30 years. They have consistently been the most successful mbqanga group over three decades. The combination of David Masondo’s soprano voice and Moses Ngwenya’s percussive organ mixed with American soul is what makes them instantly recognisable.
We are very happy to be among those bands who are being honoured. It is the first time that something like this is happening from the jazz side. We have received lifetime achievement awards from the Satmas and the Samas.
•What is your fondest memory of Soul Brothers?
When we toured overseas in 1995/96, it was a very good time for us. We toured the whole of Europe, Australia and Canada.
•What did Soul Brothers contribute to South African culture?
We started nearly 40 years ago and when times were tough in South Africa, when there were difficult times in the townships. We kept our fans happy with our shows.
Soul Brothers is releasing a new CD shortly. We are arranging year- end tours around the country and the SADC region.
Need we say more? This group is part and parcel of our national psyche. They were international superstars at the height of apartheid and by being so made most of our nation proud.
It is befitting because the Joy of Jazz has been part and parcel of our growth as a band. We worked with Peter Tladi before Stimela when we were younger and we had to buck the system.
•What is your fondest memory of Stimela?
The Stimela story is interesting. I remember Gallo chief executive officer Ivor Harberger saying,‘what is the use of signing a band that doesn’t sell anything?’ We were The Cannibals and were session musicians at the time while we were working on a sound of our own.
•How did Stimela contribute to South African culture?
It provided a platform. It was a voice that could speak to the audience and be honest about issues. We created a platform for all brave young musicians.
I have a project which is in incubation. It is based on collaborations with young musicians. The songs will be chosen by the young musicians.