Aziz Hartley and Lerato Mbangeni
JAZZ artist Sathima Bea Benjamin’s contribution to jazz was immense and her death was a sudden and sad day for music, say her family and friends.
Benjamin, 76, died in her Claremont flat on Monday.
The songstress was the former wife of jazz legend Abdullah Ibrahim and the mother of musician Tsakwe Ibrahim and internationally renowned rapper Jean Grae.
Benjamin’s sister Edith Benjamin said her death was unexpected and she was alone at home when she died.
“When we went to visit her at her flat in Claremont we found she had passed away. We’re all devastated,” she said.
“Sathima was a very warm, loving and giving person. She was one of nine children. She would give her last to help someone else,” Benjamin said.
She said that while Benjamin was living in New York her flat was “like an embassy”.
“Many South Africans who came there during the Struggle would congregate there and have meetings in her apartment.”
Benjamin recently relaunched her album African Songbird, which was originally launched in New York in 1977. She had three shows in Cape Town last month as part of the relaunch.
“She was all emotion and feeling. A beautiful soul who touched so many,” said Matt Temple, director of Matsuli Music, which worked on the relaunch.
Benjamin’s work was
when she received a lifetime achievement award at this month’s Standard Bank Jazz Honours.
They had given Benjamin the award “as a way of honouring her contribution to the heritage of music in this country”, said the festival’s founder, Peter Tladi.
“Her legacy will never be forgotten.”
“She made an enormous impact on the development of music in South Africa and internationally,” Tladi said.
Abigail Kubeka, who was also honoured this year, expressed her grief at the passing of Benjamin.
“I’m devastated. We were so happy together after not having seen each other for more than 25 years,” she said.
“She was just saying to me, ‘To think that somebody still remembers me is an honour’. She really appreciated the award.”
Kubeka said she remembered Benjamin performing the song Somebody to Watch Over Me at the award ceremony.
“It was so touching. It was like a hello and a goodbye.”
Benjamin was born in Joburg and spent her childhood in Cape Town. She and Ibrahim emigrated to Switzerland in 1962. The couple had two children.
In 2004 Benjamin was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga Silver for her contribution to jazz and the Struggle.
Cape Town International Jazz Festival director Rashid Lombard said: “It is very sad another icon passed away.”
He said Benjamin had a huge influence on Cape Town’s jazz scene in the 1960s.
After she left South Africa her talent was spotted by jazz great Duke Ellington in the US in the 1970s.
“She became internationally known. Sathima lived in New York for about 40 years and while there she took up the fight for the liberation of people in her home country,” Lombard said.
“Her music was very settled in the more serious genre of jazz. When I was in New York she performed with world-known jazz greats such as Billy Higgins, Kenny Barron and Buster Williams,” he said.
Benjamin performed at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in 2001.
Funeral arrangements are still to be finalised.