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Story of SA Jazz Volume Two

… page in development … suffice it to say for now :

In South African jazz, the barriers that separate performers from writers, promoters or technicians are very quickly eroding. A knowledge of all aspects of the music world is an advantage.

Volume one of the Story of SA Jazz explored the link between festivals, education, music business, political expression and virtuosity. Volume Two extends on these themes and adds copywriting, archiving, improvisation and jamming :: !


Boy with a horn

Trumpeter Eric Duma from KwaZulu Natal begin his artistic career as a dancer. When he converted to playing trumpet he stayed with Rob Amati. He cites Feya Faku and Elias Ngidi as teachers of his.

Eric is founder of the Newlands East Jazz Festival, performer in the South African army band and he plays with various bands from KZN. Pictured beneath he is with Madala Kunene, (BAFO).

In 2009 Eric was assigned the tough task of teaching me to play trumpet. We started at the Stable Theatre and are still working on it! 

This book is written so that history is not distorted

It is ten years since Graham Michael Lesch passed away and his history from the other side has become a crucial testimony for those who seek an honest and accurate account of the politics that shaped South Africa’s past and present.

Some of the quotes helping the great South African truth movement currently underway :

Lesch writes, “Ever since the abolition of slavery, all nations scarred by inexplicable deeds, have revolutionised the ideological errors of their forefathers, creating a civilisation, where human beings of whatever colour, race or creed, should be born with equal privileges, of the fundamental human rights, as established by the League of Nations. Surly this cannot be seen in P W Botha? And if the beast was discovered in Adolf Hitler and the Anti-Christ in Mussolini – evidently this can be seen in presidents Botha, Vorster and Malan. Hendrik Verwoed paved the way for these Tsetse flies to place British mentality in their Statute books. Those same men were the reincarnation of the Anti-Christs for which humans paid the price. Along came FW De Klerk covered their crimes by financing Inkhata and now these Tsetse flies hold the honours for all the inhumanities without any shame, and so the victims passed through the bowels of Christ.” From the book Shadows of Justice.

ousting the criminal … In the book Shadows of Justice by Graham Michael Lesch, there is a long list of crimes since 1985 and the perpetrators are known. In the chapter “False Profits” Shadows of Justice follows the theft of funds from the injured and disabled in 1997 by “comrades in the struggle.” Zuma said, “he would remember his friends.” Lesch said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” …

Lesch writes : “In 1620 two ships of the British East India Company called at the Cape…declared it the property of the British crown. Dutch followed and landed in Table Bay April 6th 1652 … there ensued a devils dance seldom paralleled in human history … ”

Lesch writes “The real fight today is against inhuman, relentless exercise of capitalistic power. The present struggle is for social and industrial justice. The same foreign powers that supported the Nationalist government are the same sources behind much of the skullduggery.”

As South Africans we stand united in an accurate telling of history so that we may have peace on the present and a prosperous future  …

Struan Douglas
April 2017

Griot Sora :

Cissoko is a big griot family nation that hails from West Africa, Senegal to Guinea. One of the younger members of this vast family is Tarang Cissoko. The griot is the musikmaker in society. His mother was a griot and his father was griot. With griots on both sides of his family line he is known as a griot shora. He is a born musician.

His siblings and half siblings are all musicians. They are based all over the world from Sweden to Norway, Paris and America. And we were recently blessed by having Tarang arriving on our beautiful South African shores and symbolically extending the reach of his ancient griot heritage.

The Ciisoko family is vast. His father had 22 children. Tarang is the second to last born. He lives with his mother. She bore of 10 of his fathers children. Tarang is the limelight of his career. He is burgeoning with brilliance. He plays both kora and djembe. It is on the djembe that he is already rated as one of the finest players, it is as a hopper that he shoots the breeze with his buddies, however it is on the kora that he is extending his international appeal.

He is self taught. The music has come to him and he plays in the traditional griot way. He is a singer too. He is very active as a musician in Dakar, keeping an extremely healthy lifestyle.
The harp like instrument, the Kora. With 22 strings, eleven on either side of tuning mast, it stays in the same key. Simply speaking, the kora, is music that greets the soul. The sound of the kora is like waterfalls of notes and textures, cascading, falling, rising, always evocative, like a prayer ancient and infinite. T he instrument itself is extraordinary in its handmade magnificence. The kora sings its own tune. The overtones arise in the interplay of melody and rhythm, as they pass together in cycles of harmony. With thumb the bassline sings and then the fingers of left and right hand play in call and response in their tight expanse of melody making. Sonic wonder, it is so content in itself. This is music. The music of meditation.
This music is fashioned over many life times, quite probably 5000 years of music making. It is amazing for its power, expanse, beauty and balance in the natural elements of life; earth, fire, wind, water, ether.

Together with his brothers and sisters in Dakar, the family play in a Cissoko heritage band called Ninkinanka. Ninkinanka is translated to mean dragon. The Cissoko brothers also play in a djembe ensemble, or troupe de djembe, called SILABA.

Tarang Cissoko; a humbling and growing experience to be in the presence of the power of this young man. When he is playing he is loosing himself in the music and making space for the muse to come through.

Herewith performance at Wits

Sophiatown – the unfinished business

heritagedayThe excellent thesis by Vusi Mchunu about The relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and the Sophiatown Renaissance was donated to the Sophiatown Cultural and Heritage Centre on Cultural Heritage Day September 25th . Vusi Mchunu pictured above enjoying the dancing good times of Sophiatown has presented an astonishing piece of work that has even enjoyed translation into German. Much valuable information about Sophiatown is readily gleamed and provides further illustration how in the short space of 11 years Sophiatown did more for South African popular culture than any other location or influence of all time.

The comparison between Sophiatown of the 50’s and Harlem of the 20’s was very strong so much so that in many instances Sophiatown was referred to as ‘Little Harlem.’ The thesis illustrates that this comparison is also celebrated from an American perspective as it is confirmed by the John F Kennedy Institute lectures in African American history, sociology and culture.

Vusi Mchunu writes, “Harlemites threw “rent parties.” Sophiatonians threw “stokvels.” It was here that marabi was born.

Marabi was a musical culture that defined Sophiatown. Life and death danced with a reckless abandon alongside the best of times and the worst of times as it was often quipped. Marabi was the sound of yin and yang and Sophiatown the host of these opposites. On one hand a cultural haven for self actualisation and on the other hand a violent, flea infested shanty town. Marabi music was the meeting of these opposites, an African identity with an American certainty. It moved with the migrants: from the marrabenta of Mozambique and then hit up alongside the ragtime of the Capone brothels and minstrelsy of the slavery blues.

Popular culture was preserved in the brilliant urban magazine of the time, Drum Magazine.

“Drum wasn’t so much of a magazine as it was a symbol of the New African cult, adrift from the tribal reserve – urbanised, eager, fast talking and brash.” wrote Lewis Nkosi in Tasks and Masks – themes and styles of African literature

Vusi Mchunu writes, “Most Sophiatonians in the 50’s lived in corrugated iron shacks with no electricity, no running water. Drum journalists were poor, yet took pride in their little rooms and gave them funny names like “House of Commons, House of Saints and Can Themba’s ‘House of Truth.’ Themba’s best friends were singers and performers. He reported on a-capella groups like the Manhattan Brothers, the Cuban Brothers, the Midnight Kids, the Harlem Swingsters, the Jazz Pioneers and variety shows like the African Jazz Parade, songbirds like Dolly Rathebe, Thandi Mpambani, Miriam Makeba, Thoko Thomo, Susan Gabashane and Dorothy Masuko.” And Drum magazine documented, recorded and preserved this era, exactly as it was. It was an era rampantly urbanising, rampantly awakening. The glamour of urban life was well depicted. Casey Motsisi’s column in Drum was called “If bugs were men,” where he documented the lives of Sophiatonians.

Sophiatown provided a togetherness of culture. When the pioneering film “Come back Africa” directed by the American Lionel Rogosin was set in Sophiatown … it brought some of the best creative minds together in the spirit of culture and the shared purpose of social upliftment.

Bloke Modisane recalls … “for the scene we assembled Can Themba, Lewis Nkosi, Morris Hugh Lestwalo and I; Lionel Rogosin provided the liquor, Matha Maduma played the shebeen queen and we also got Miriam Makeba.”

“The most stimulating scene was the alienation of the rural african, the confusion of being in the midst of black intellectuals – whom Nimrod Mkele describes as displaced intellectuals in search of a morality – listening without understanding, but being stimulated.”

Vusi Mchunu writes, “This excellent film went a long way to display the concern by some Sophiatown intellectuals to bridge the gap with the laboring classes. Mayibuye iAfrika meaning Come back Africa was an ANC song.”

Other initiatives added fuel to the fire of passion of this era …

“The African Jazz and Variety Show produced by Alfred Herbert was a large cast with a lot of stars and offered dance, song, music, clowning and dramatic sketches. They toured the whole country carrying the cultural message of Sophiatown, carrying the seeds of fermenting Sophiatown all the way to Central Africa.

“A royalty award ceremony in 1953 for Solomon Linda proved the occasion for the creation of the Union of Southern African Artists. Their original aim was to protect African amateur dramatics and music from exploitation. They offered free legal advice, art lectures and workshops or skills to their members. They even promoted a series of jazz concerts in the townships,”

Vusi Mchunu writes … But there was one initiative that was very symbolic. And that was the All African jazz opera, King Kong – a musical from the Sophiatonian experience. King Kong is the story of a well known Johannesburg boxer Ezekiel Dhlamini. Through rivalry with a gansger for a women he looses his career, he looses the woman and eventually takes his own life in jail. Vusi Mchunu writes, “The script for King Kong was evolved by Clive Menell of Anglo American; music student from Cambridge, Stanley Glasser, classic ballet choreographer Arnold Dower, journalist Pat Wiliams, lawyer Harry Bloom. Todd Matshikiza wrote the music and Mankwenkwe Davashe conducted the orchestra. King Kong absorbed the black artistic talent in Johannesburg; the Manhattan Brothers, Miriam Makeba’s Skylarks; Mackay Davashe’s Jazz Dazzlers; Victor Ndlazilwana’s the Woody Woodpeckers, the Katzenjammer Kids, the Crazy Folks, the Chord Sisters, the Saints, the Swankey Spots, the Queens pageboys. It was episodic, unified in an associative manner and carried forward by song, dance, the use of mime, little dialogue.”

But somehow in the midst of a cultural renaissance that held the principles of eternity. Sophiatown was demolished and destroyed and in its stead rising from the ashes were broken dreams and broken hearts. And this leads Vusi Mchunu to call his conclusion Sophiatown – the unfinished business …

It is on the back of such passionate research that we assemble the broken dreams, the forgotten legends and the overlooked information and we begin to repair, resolve, revolve and re-create the foundations for which the renaissace was real and rewarding !

The myth of Sophia

Sally Motlana Tricia Sibbons #sophiatownheritage

Sally Motlana Tricia Sibbons #sophiatownheritage

Sophia is the divine feminine, the great Mother archetype, the feminine archetype. Sophia is all the goddesses of our mythology, African and cultural. She is an energy, that is divine feminine but united with the masculine. She is one-ness.

“Sophia energy is a totality of wisdom, we accept her as both the black goddess and the transcendent spirit of the world soul.” Laura Eisenhower

The scriptures tell us, Sophia was present at the beginning of creation . . . participating at the side of the Lord in the work of creation.’

Sophia has an extraordinary chapter in the cultural heritage of this country. Exactly 66 years ago, Sophia was at her peak in the imagination of the freedom seekers; musicians, artists, fashionisto’s, politicians and professionals. Her energy was highly activated in a place  called Sophiatown, West of Johannesburg, which become a heartland for the expression of unity and togetherness.

It was the divine mother who created the golden era of Sophiatown Renaissance. On her sacrifice to give her children a better life, the new generation set about to create a better world for one and all.

“Mother turned our home into a shebeen, worked 14 hours a day brewing and pressing homebrews called skokiaan and barberton and from the proceeds, she educated me to high school and the two girls to primary school.” Bloke Modisane

“The new mother archetype was required to bring out in her children their artistry, intellectual abilities and an integrated persona.” Olga Corner

In the 1930’s, it was the mama’s who sacrificed themselves to the brewing of beer (umqombothi, skokiaan or barberton) to give their children a better life. And by the 1950’s, this new generation of creativity came to fruition, as it set about to create a better world for one and all.

Yet in true archetypal legend, as the goodness flowed from the collective hearts, the evil rose up to meet the good. The principles and actions of uBuntu, Botho, togetherness was met with division, separation, apartheid. And thus by 1963, the energy of Sophia was chased from Sophiatown. The golden era that had formed around her was abruptly ended and the people and places of Sophiatown were destroyed.

In 1994, the Mandela government was the first symbol of a splendid transformation and the return of the divine feminine, Sophia.

“Nelson Mandela held the new mother archetype within his intelligence in the form of ‘tata.’ “He was a perfect example of a being who had attained apotheosis. The higher truths of a new kind of mother archetype that saves and redeems; a novel mother archetype that provides the necessary space and healing for us to reach the stars.” Olga Corner

Today it is 2015 and the spirit of Sophia is still moving. In the heart of Sophiatown Sally Motlana continues with her cultural activism and Tricia Sibbons has custom built a centre for Sophiatown Heritage. From these heart centred actions a new light is projected onto all the forgotten dreams and broken hearts, to forgive let, go, repair and renew.  

Where we had Father Trevor Huddleston, the Drum offices and the informal houses of yesteryear, we have the Sophiatown Culture Heritage Centre today. And where we have the great works of wisdom and imagination of the Matshikiza’s, Themba’s and Modisane’s of yesteryear we have Olga Corner’s novel “Love Coins of Sophiatown,” Vusi Mchunu’s research into the “Sophiatown Renaissance.” Where we had the boogie music of marabi catching a big swing with African Jazz yesteryear, today we have a spiritual movement of self knowledge and healing through jazz …

You see, it is all the same story. It is always us : the human family in the great dance of life, living life courageously, joyously, abundantly, where the now is all there is.

And this is the welcome of Sophiatown. You have to be it to believe it. You have to live it to know it, you have to experience it to internalise it.

Sophiatown is alive. The divine feminie, the energy of omeness, togetherness, unity uBuntu, Botho is alive. We are alive. Let’s enjoy it together.