Samuel Tshiyembe and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa dance at a function in 2015. The picture has since become a popular meme. Picture: Phando Jikelo
Cape Town - His picture, leading Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa went viral on social networks but last week jazz band leader Samuel Tshiyembe died an unsung hero.

Those who knew the spritely 86-year-old said that he had kept his band the Slo Foot King Brothers - a jazz band from Zwelitsha in King William’s Town - going for over 60 years.

As a 15-year-old boy he would put together an old paraffin drum and three strings to make his own guitar.

At the age of 19 his talent was spotted by a high school teacher and his love for jazz was cemented.

He would go on to share the stage with the likes of the Manhattan Brothers and Dolly Rathebe.

While he always had his guitar by his side, he was also a gifted vocalist.

He died on Friday after a short illness, having lead the Slo Foot King Brothers since their formation in 1953 until his retirement in September.

Tshiyembe, together with Adonijah Magalela, Alton Mpisi, David Mahlulo and Philemon Jaceni, formed Slo Foot with the purpose of entertaining township folks with music they could relate with.

He was the only surviving member of the band.

Tshiyembe was given special recognition by the Eastern Cape government for his contribution to culture, and for his longevity. Picture: Michael Pinyana

They would perform at weddings, church ceremonies, graduations and traditional ceremonies. On some performances, said the current band manager Zolile Tshiyembe, they would be thanked simply, with a cup of coffee.

“They formed the band not looking for any monetary gains.

"What satisfied them was when people smiled and danced along with them whenever they performed,” said Zolile, Samuel’s younger brother.

“Their initial purpose was to entertain the people of Zwelitsha, but the band gained popularity and it spread across the Eastern Cape and to the entire country,” said Zolile.

Zolile said his brother died with his music boots still on.

“He lived music. Music was like a calling to him. He never believed in the fame.

"He died an ordinary person,” Zolile said.

Some of the songs the band will always be remembered for include Ebukhweni, eBhayi Kumnandi and Ulel’ ulova.

The band went on tour to perform in Cape Town after being invited by former foreign minister Pik Botha.

This after Botha liked the performance of the band when it performed in Khambashe, outside King William’s Town, at the ceremony to install former Ciskei leader Lennox Sebe as a traditional leader.

The band was also invited to Mthatha, Eastern Cape, to perform a ceremony to welcome former president Nelson Mandela home after he had served many years on Robben Island.

Slo Foot also entered the Shell Road to Fame competition in 1998 and they finished runners up.

Currently the band has 14 members and is now called Slo Foot Jazz Band; it now has some female members.

Ramaphosa visited the Eastern Cape for a Bhisho Massacre memorial ceremony in 2015 and he asked to get on stage to dance with Tshiyembe and the band after hearing that the band was to perform at the ceremony.

A picture of Tshiyembe and Ramaphosa on stage remains a regular meme on social media.

In all these years, Slo Foot only released three albums. “The purpose of the band was not to record albums, but about the live performances for our people,” Zolile said.

“We will continue keeping up the legacy of Slo Foot. I am happy about the youth involvement in the band,” he said.

Eastern Cape MEC for Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture Pemmy Majodina has sent condolences to Tshiyembe’s family and promised that his funeral in Zwelitsha on May 27 will be turned into a music festival.

Tshiyembe leaves behind four children.

His wife died last year.

Cape Times