It was in May of 2016 that then SABC Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, temerariously declared that all the national broadcaster’s radio stations playlists will be dominated by home-grown ditties. The infamous 90% local music quota.
Motsoeneng was like the uncle who in his inebriated state at a family gathering, announced that the whole family should come to his house the following weekend for another get-together where there would be an ubiquity of food and beverages, without discussing it with his frugal wife.
The redundant radio station managers who never seem to sheath their appetite for payola, being the stingy wife in the analogy.
Although the move evinced Motsoeneng’s strange benign for artists, he never thought through the execution of such a catalytic move. In an interview with Nicky B on Kaya FM’s World Show around the same time, Nakhane Touré said one of the problems with the ratio is that listeners won’t be introduced to new music by radio stations. “Instead of hearing one Mafikizolo song a day, we’ll now hear two or three,” said Touré. Of course the Fog singer was making a mere example (he did say he loves the dance duo) but his point was clearer than a pair of new specs.
Of the countless utterances we’ve had to endure from Motsoeneng, I’m pondering particularly on this very one during the Covid-19 lockdown, because I’ve been immersed in South African music of different kinds for the last few weeks and I imagine how South Africa would be sounding like, had Motsoeneng’s wish been carefully granted.
To be more specific, it’s the Siya Makuzeni Sextet album, Out Of This World that has had me imagining a world where South Africans are exposed to their finest talent.
Siya Mukuzeni is an insanely talented artist who delivers her craft with ingenuity, ubuntu, vigour and in what looks seamlessness. The trombonist who also belts out notes has been in the industry for over 15 years now, playing in some of the biggest bands with fine musicians on world stages. She was part of Carlo Mombelli’s Prisoners of Strange ensemble between 2002 and 2011. She was also in the Blue Notes Tribute Ochestra where she played with the likes of Marcus Wyatt, Johnny Dyani and Chris McGregor. Together with another unique ensemble of equally talented artists, collectively known as Spaza, she released an album of the same name a year ago.
With the Siya Makuzeni Sextet, she put together some of her favourite musicians who she enjoys to play with to create a body of work that I believe more South Africans need to hear. The sextet comprises of Thandi Ntuli on piano, Ayanda Sikade on the drums, the trumpet being blown by Sakhile Simani, Sisonke Xoti playing the saxophone and Benjamin Japhta on bass.
There’s often the juxtaposition to bassist Esperanza Spalding because they both are female, sing and play an instrument. They’ll always be comparisons of females, especially in an industry without women in the forefront. Although the groove in their music is undeniable, Siya’s got the juice. That unfiltered African juice form the wells of the Eastern Cape.
Like on the title track, Out Of This World which teems with traditional Xhosa music from the first second, this while embracing modern sounds. Her voice is undeniably infectious as Stevie Wonder’s or Thandiswa Mazwai’s. The song New Age is a reiteration of a sought-out truth, while landing somewhat as a lament. Say Sibusile Xaba’s Uyahlupha. The joint has swing and it serves its purpose.
The seven track album has a fair balance for the padentic jazz ear that prefers songs without vocals, only the sound of instruments dancing. Another one composed by Makuzeni on the album, a Brazen Dream is a good introduction to Jazz for someone new to the abyss that is the genre.
I’m a sucker for great vocals accompanied by some dope show-don’t-tell typa lyrics which take the role of a travel tour guide, when listening to the music. Imagine a congregation singing Moya Oyingcwele in unison, truly in the spirit. It slaps umoya.
I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence each time I listen to this song-I’m overwhelmed with questions of how this song was conceived. With churches being open now, I believe choir conductors/worship leaders should introduce Moya Oyingcwele emasontweni, if they haven’t.
Out Of This World is just one of many great projects by a South African artist. People need to hear more of this and many other albums. To enjoy them, while simultaneously putting some randelas in the artists’ pockets. True “proudly South African” shit.
Johnny Clegg just wanted to play music. But South Africa’s white people never understood why he wanted to spend time with black people writes Styles Lucas Ledwaba
He tells a good story just as well as he makes music. He’s an interviewer’s dream. You ask one question and he tells one great story after another.
It’s perhaps a wonderful thing that he’s writing a book on the band Juluka, which took him and his friend Sipho Mchunu from the obscurity of playing music in the migrant hostels of Johannesburg to international fame back in the late 70s and early 80s.
In September 2013 he’s hoping to take his life story, through a musical titled The Johnny Clegg Story, to the stage.
Hopefully this story will portray incidents like the one that happened while he was walking down Rissik street in central Johannesburg back in the early 1970s, strumming his guitar, singing maskanda music, an almost unthinkable sight in a South Africa in which the apartheid laws forbade any sort of inter-racial or cultural flirtation.
“Vuilgoed!” a white firefighter, seemingly disgusted by the sight of a young white man flirting with black culture and language screamed from the top of a building.
“Voetsek!” came Clegg’s defiant response.
Before he knew it, the fireman and an accomplice were chasing him down the street. But when he reached Walmer hostel, where he was well known among the Zulu migrant community, his pursuers backed off and resorted instead to insults.
It was incidents like these, which happened often, that saw him earn the isiZulu praise names, bamzonda eKillarney\bamzonda eHillbrow\ abafuni umlungu odla uphuthu nabantu!
Loosely translated, it means “they hate him in Killarney, they hate him in Hillbrow, they despise a white man who eats uphuthu with black people.”
But he was popularly known in Zulu street music circles as Madlebe, big ears, for reasons best understood by looking at his ears.
“That was my life. I grew up in the hostels,” says Clegg just hours before he is set to receive the Order of Ikhamanga from president Jacob Zuma on Freedom Day.
Clegg was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga for his excellent contribution to and achievement in the field of bridging African traditional music with other music forms, promoting racial understanding among racially divided groups in South Africa under difficult apartheid conditions, working for a non-racial society and being an outstanding spokesperson for the release of political prisoners.
“Hee, mfowethu! People don’t know what we went through,” he says of his constant conflict with the apartheid laws.
His forays into the hostels and befriending Zulu migrant who also doubled up as street musicians, often led to his arrest and police harassment.
As a white man, he had to apply for permission from the authorities to be allowed into in a hostel. But such an application would most probably be turned down or take many months before it was granted. And even then permission would be granted for just a few hours.
“I just wanted to play music. That’s all I wanted to do. But the white people could never understand why I wanted to spend time with black people. To them it was always something criminal, they thought it was about dagga, they never thought these were just normal people. But I went anyway, I wanted to play,” says Clegg.
And he paid a heavy price.
He was often arrested for trespassing, for being in a black area without a permit; at school he was ostracized by some of his peers and on the family front, some relatives accused him of bringing disgrace to the family name, all because he dared to defy apartheid’s racial segregation laws and reached out to the other side.
“I always asked them why they were criminalising my behaviour because I was doing nothing illegal? Even then I was aware that there’s something as an unjust law. I never even thought of giving up,” he says.
And from the hostels he learnt more than strumming the guitar and dancing. Instead he learnt important aspects of Zulu life and culture, isiZulu, stick fighting, traditional dance, ukuphalaza, the use of intelezi and the sacred ways of healing. But what intrigued him the most were the stories of the men, proud warriors in their villages and regions, but reduced to sweeping the streets for a pittance in the city, yet remaining upbeat and continuing to embrace life with a wicked sense of humour.
It was these stories, he says, which influenced his strong lyric writing which produced such hits as Woza Friday, ScattIerlings of Africa, African Sky Blue, The Mainstay Cup Final Song, Zodwa and many others.
His proficiency in isiZulu and his adept dance moves earned him the monicker The White Zulu. But Clegg thinks otherwise.
“I’m more than a Zulu. I’m a South African. The Zulu experience helped me develop an African identity,” he says.
Clegg points to his childhood in Zimbabwe and Zambia as the strong foundation to his non-racial outlook on life.
He went to five different primary schools in five years in three different countries, in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa. But it was in Zambia where he went to a multi racial school, that the idea of multi-racialism was entrenched.
When he began touring overseas with Juluka, Clegg used the opportunity to campaign for change in South Africa. Many of his songs were banned by the SA Broadcasting Corporation but this never stopped him from scaling great heights in the international charts. He’s been honoured widely overseas and here at home, but fame, it seems, has not gone to his head.
He still visits the hostels and his friend Mchunu in Kranskop, KwaZulu Natal and has his feet firmly on the ground.
And while many artists from his generation struggle to grapple with our fast changing society, Clegg believes the ground is fertile for a new revolution, which is transformation.
“During apartheid we were always against something. But when apartheid ended we had to be for something, which is what I think many people have struggled to deal with. But these are exciting times, transformation is the new agenda,” he says.
Thanks for the music, Madlebe! – This article first appeared in the City Press in 2012