Fighting back without hate

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

In 1975 everything was going well for a singer called Thandie Klaasen. She was climbing up the ladder quickly. She was making it.

Then suddenly her whole world fell apart. Some people threw petrol over her face – and lit a match.

Thandie Klaasen’s beautiful face was gone. She now had only terrible pain and a broken life. But she fought back. She started at the bottom of the ladder again.
Learn and Teach spoke to the brave Thandie Klaasen. She told us a bit about her life:

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005OUT OF TUNE
“When I first began to sing, I sang out of tune,” says Thandie. “I first sang in the school choir at St Cyprians in Sophiatown. I grew up in the old Sophiatown.

“A girl with a beautiful voice sang with us in the choir. She always stood next to me. When she sang, all eyes were on her.

“I wanted all the eyes to look at me. So I always sang louder – and more out of tune.”

The young Thandie thought about her problem. And then one day she began to ask herself some questions. Why must I try to sing like the girl with the beautiful voice? Why must I try to copy her voice? And Thandie soon had the answer. “I have my own voice,” she told herself. “Let me use my own voice!”

So Thandie Klaasen began to use her own voice. And the eyes began to look at her. She joined her first group when she was 18 years old. The group was called the ‘Gay Gay ties’.

“One day the group got a job in Durban,” says Thandie. “The leader of the group told me to go home and ask my parents if I could go to Durban. But I was scared to ask my parents. And I really wanted to go to Durban.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005“So I went to Durban – without asking my parents. We came back three weeks later. And my father wanted to kill me. I was in real trouble.

“Then I got an idea. I gave my father all the money I made in Durban,­ every penny. My father said something to himself. And he put the sjambok away.”

And on that day, Thandie Klaasen made up her mind. She was going to sing. And her father did not stop her.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005KING KONG
“Then King Kong happened,” says Thandie. “I got a small part in the show. We left for London on the 2nd February 1962. In London I shared a room with Abigail Kubheka. She was a good friend.

“The show was going well in London. Then the lead singer Peggy Pango got sick. I don’t think she was really sick. I think she was actinq. She thought the show was finished without her. But she was wrong. At the last minute they gave me Peggy’s part. That was my big chance and I was ready. King Kong was my big break.”

And so the show went on. Thandie was good and there were no problems. The show went to many places in Europe. “Before we came back we went to Rome,” says Thandie. “And we had a lovely holiday.”

In Rome I found a wishing fountain­ you throw coins into the fountain and make a wish. I wished for happiness for my family. And I wished for my singing to go far. I felt good at that wishing fountain in Rome.

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ROAST BEEF AND DUMPLINGS
“When I came back to South Africa, I heard about a Mr Paljas in Cape Town. He wanted actors for his new play. So I went to Cape Town and Mr Paljas gave me the job. I was the only woman in the play. It was fun.”

Then Thandie got another big break. She got a job to sing in Japan. “I really wanted to go to Japan,” says Thandie. “I was already married with two little children. My husband said I must go. I then told my best friend about the job. And she told me to come for supper that night. She promised to make my best meal ­ roast beef and dumplings.

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Thandie in hospital

“When I went to her place, I saw two boys at the gate. I greeted them and passed. I saw her sitting with her baby in the kitchen. Then I heard somebody behind me. And suddenly my face was on fire.

“She hired those two boys to throw petrol over me and set me alight. They were only 18 years old. She gave them R10 and a bottle of whisky for the job.

“I hurt when I think about that time. I don’t know why she did what she did. We had no arguments. Maybe she just didn’t want me to go to Japan.

“I stayed in hospital for over a year. Oh God, that was a terrible time. I don’t like to remember what happened to me. My husband left me. And most of my good friends forgot about me.

“But some people did not forget about me. My family helped me. The nurses and doctors were very nice. And a few old friends like Queeneth Ndaba stood by me. They gave a concert to pay for one of my skin operations.

“And of course, my fans were always there. They didn’t forget about me. They came to visit me. And they sent me letters. I got letters from far away places like Mozambique. And I always had flowers in my room.”

Thandie Klaasen had plenty of time to think in hospital. In the long nights,
she thought about her life. She thought about the girl with the beautiful voice in the school choir. She thought about her angry father with his sjambok. And she thought about the wishing fountain in Rome.

“I thought about those two boys for a long time,” says Thandie. “And after a while, I felt no hate. My face was burnt – but I still had my voice.

“And I also thought about my children. I knew they needed a mother – and I was their mother. I knew I had to fight back.”

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005THE FIGHT BACK
And so after a long, painful time, Thandie Klaasen got out of her hospital bed. She went back into the world with a different face. And she went straight back to the stage.

She got a job in a play called the Black Mikado. “My daughter Lorraine was also in the play,” says Thandie. “I remember that play with sadness. Some of the other actors gave me a hard time. When they turned their backs to the people, they laughed at me. They mocked my face. They mocked me in front of my daughter.”

Thandie suffered very much. But she did not leave the stage. In 1981 she went to sing in Lesotho. She met Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela when they gave a concert in Lesotho.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Thandie now sings mostly at night­ clubs. And her voice is beautiful ­ when she sings, all eyes look at her.

Thandie Klaasen is slowly climbing up the ladder again. But it’s not easy. “I sometimes have no work for a while,” says Thandie quietly.

Thandie Klaasen gets stronger every day. “You know, I often see those two boys who burnt my face,” says Thandie. “I don’t hate them. Hate makes you weak. Now when people hurt me, they only make me stronger!”.

The story of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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t is ten o’clock in the morning. Clermont, just outside Durban, is quiet. Most people have gone to work. But some people are singing softly. They sing so beautifully they can make you cry. It is practice time for Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Everyday at ten, Black Mambazo get together, in the garage of their leader, Joseph Tshabalala. They sing and dance to keep their rhythm. The children know when it is practice time. They are there too, singing and dancing — and dreaming that one day they will sing and be famous like their heroes.

JOSEPH AND THE HIGHLANDERS

Joseph Tshabalala, leader of Black Mambazo, learnt to sing from his father. “I used to sit on my father’s lap, and listen to him sing.” says Joseph. “And when we went to bed, my father used to sing us to sleep. Singing was always part of my life.”

Joseph left his home, Ladysmith, 15 years ago. He went to work in Durban as a “spannerboy” at a building firm. “I joined a singing group called the Highlanders.” says Joseph/The Highlanders were not a bad group. But they had one problem — drink.

“They used to drink too much. When they were drunk, they came late for concerts. But when they weren’t drunk, they didn’t sing well. This made me lose a lot of sleep.

JOSEPH HAS A DREAM

“Then one night I had a dream. In my dream, an old lady, my father’s mother, spoke to me. She said, ‘I can see that you are having problems with this group of yours. Don’t worry, go and see your cousins, Albert and Milton Mazibuko. They will help you.”

The very next day Joseph went to the Mazibuko’s home. He told Albert and Milton’s father about his dream. He said, “Uncle, give me your two boys. I will teach them to sing with me. And the old man said, “Very good, my son. Your brothers are bored. They are drinking beer and doing naughty things. Talk to them.”

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Black Mambazo on the road

A SONG IN A STRANGE LANGUAGE

“We started there and then,” said Joseph. “We sang the first song I ever wrote. That song also came from a dream. In my dream I saw little children singing beautifully.

“I caught the tune but I could not catch the words. They were singing in a strange language. I used the tune and I made up words. I called it Nomathemba. It was the name of a girl I loved at the time. This song took us a long time to learn. But once we knew it, it was our favourite.

HOMEBOYS GET TOGETHER

On that first day Joseph sang with the Mazibuko’s. They were just three. The next day Headman, Joseph’s brother joined them.

Joseph left the Highlanders. And the two families — the Mazibuko’s and the Tshabalala’s, became the Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Today the group has 10 singers.

Joseph says, “We sing to make people happy. We sing about everything, about love, amabutho, imbongi, God and many other things.

SINGING HIGH AND WALKING TALL

“When we sing at concerts, we all wear the same clothes,” says Albert Mazibuko. “We all dance together when we sing. Our dance is called ‘Cothoza mfana’. It means ‘Walk proud, boy’.

“Joseph writes all our songs and I show everyone how to dance. Our music is called ‘Mbube’ or ‘scatamiya’ music. ‘Mbube’ music started long ago. ‘Mbube’ groups only use their voices. We never use guitars or pianos. So our voices must sound very beautiful.

BACK HOME IN LADYSMITH

Today everyone knows Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But Joseph says the first time they sang together, people laughed — until they heard them sing. “It was Christmas time.” Joseph remembers. “We went to Ladysmith. When we got there, people said, ‘Shame, Mr Tshabalala, you are singing with new people. Now you are singing with such small boys.’ But when my ‘small boys’ started to sing, people could not believe how well they sang.”

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Black Mambazo give their fans all they have

‘RECORDS STEAL YOUR VOICE’

“We used to sing in lots of competitions at that time. We won them all. People loved us. Everyone used to ask us to make records. But we thought we would make records when we were old. We thought that if we made a record, we would lose our voices.

“In the end my cousin arranged for us to go to Radio Bantu. We went but we were very afraid. We spoke to Mr Thusini and another woman, Doctor Haskisson. They made us sing many songs for them. But they were not happy. We were singing other peoples’ songs, not our own.

“Then we sang ‘Nomathemba’. They both liked it very much. So we sang more of our own songs. Soon afterwards we made our first album “Amabutho”. And the next year we went on our first tour around South Africa.”

BLACK MAMBAZO GOES FORWARD

Since that time Ladysmith Black Mambazo have made 23 albums — all of them great hits. And they have been all over the world. They have just come back from America now.

Black Mambazo sing most of their songs in Zulu. But because people love them all over the world, they now sing in other languages. They have made some songs in German, Sotho and English. And who can forget their famous English song “Hello my baby, Hello my shokolate”?

SIMPLE PEOPLE AT HEART

All this fame has not changed them at all. They are still simple people, like you and me. Joseph spends a lot of time with his children. “My son has his own group.” says Joseph. “They call themselves ‘White Mambazo’. They say we must look out for them. One day they will be more famous than Black Mambazo.”

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo have started a fan club. So, if you want to write and tell them that you love their music, you can write to…

“Kippie Moeketsi is not dead yet”

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In the old days everybody knew Kippie Moeketsi. He was the best saxophone player around. He played with big bands like the Jazz Maniacs and the Harlem Swingsters. He played with Hugh Masekela and Dollar Brand. He played in big shows like King Kong.

Now Kippie’s life is different. He cannot find work. He lost his house in Soweto last year. He had no money for rent.

Kippie now lives in Mabopane. This is a township near Pretoria. He lives with Dolly Rathebe and her family. Dolly was a famous singer in the Sophiatown days.

Learn and Teach went to visit Kippie Moeketsi in Mabopane. He told us about his life.

Kippie Moeketsi was born in the slums of Johannesburg in 1925. When he was a baby, his family moved to George Goch location. Kippie’s father was a clerk in the municipality.

Kippie’s father loved music. He played the organ for the church choir. He wanted his six children to play music. All the children became good musicians. Jacob, the oldest son, played the piano for the Jazz Maniacs.

Kippie was the youngest boy in the family. All his brothers went to school and studied hard. Jacob passed matric. Kippie’s brother Andrew became a teacher. But Kippie was not the same. He did not like school.

Kippie had three good friends. They played together all the time. They were very naughty. Sometimes they missed school and went to the golf course. They got jobs as caddies.

“We only got paid one shilling and sixpence a day,” says Kippie. “So we stole golf balls. Then we sold the balls back to the guys we stole them from. We sold the balls for two shillings and six pence.”

They had another trick. They put sticky tar on the end of long sticks. They went to the shop in George Goch location. When the shopkeeper was not looking, they reached over the counter with the sticks. The tickeys behind the counter stuck to the tar. They went back to the shop the next day. They bought sweets with the same tickeys.

Kippie left school after standard five. He was 18 years old. He got a job sweeping floors in a men’s hostel. But the wages were low and the work was boring. He left the job. He got a job at a chemist. He delivered medicine on a bicycle.

Then Kippie got a present. His brother Lapis gave him a clarinet. At this time, Kippie decided he wanted to be a good musician. He worked in the day. At night he played the clarinet.

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Kippie Moeketsi and Dolly Rathebe are back at work again!

“I played that thing until 2 0’clock in the morning,” says Kippie. “On weekends I played for 12 hours a day. The neighbours complained about the noise. But I did not stop playing. I loved music too much.”

Kippie learnt how to read music. After two years he played the clarinet very well. Then he learnt how to play the saxophone. Soon he was also a good saxophone player.

Other young musicians also lived in George Goch location. They played jazz together. They started a band. They called themselves the “Band in Blue”. Kippie played the saxophone for the band.

The Band in Blue played in an old house near George Goch. The band played marabi music – the music of the people. The people from the slums came to listen. They bought food and booze. They danced until 4 0’clock in the morning. Kippie’s problems started now. He started boozing a lot. He never stopped.

Kippie enjoyed playing for the Band in Blue. But he wanted to play in the townships. The small bands did not play in the townships. The gangs did not let them.

Gangs like the “Russians” and the “Spoilers” ruled the townships. The gangs only let big bands like the Jazz Maniacs and the Harlem Swingsters play in the townships.

Then Kippie got lucky. In 1948 the Harlem Swingsters offered him a job. The Harlem Swingsters started three years before in a backyard in Western Native Township. But now they were famous. The great Todd Matshikiza played for the group.

The Harlem Swingsters mixed American music with marabi. And they mixed it well. Music fans followed them all over the country.

The Harlem Swingsters had six good years. Then people stopped liking them. Kippie left the group. He started a small jazz band called the Shantytown Sextet.

The Shantytown Sextet played with a group of singers. The singers were called the Manhattan Brothers. The Manhattan Brothers were the best singing group in Africa. They were famous allover the world. They sold thousands of records.

The Shantytown Sextet and the Manhattan Brothers played all over the country. “Those were the days’; says Kippie. “Our shows were always full. I always had money in my pocket. We ate well in those days.”

In 1954 the Manhattan Brothers and the Shantytown Sextet went to Cape Town. They needed a piano player. Kippie saw a young man playing the piano in a bioscope. Kippie asked him to play for the Shantytown Sextet. The man’s name was Dollar Brand.

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Kippie playing with Dollar Brand in the old days

“Dollar knew nothing about music at that time’; says Kippie. “He was just a skollie. He followed me around everywhere. I taught him a lot. Now he is a big man in music.”

Dollar went back to Johannesburg with Kippie. He lived with Kippie at George Goch. They played together at a place called Dorkay House.

At Dorkay House they met other young musicians. They met Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Johnny Getz and Nathaya Njoko. Dollar and Kippie started a new band with these men. They called themselves the Jazz Epistles.

“The Jazz Epistles was the best group I have played with” says Kippie. “We played at four or five nightclubs in a week. Sometimes we played at two nightclubs on the same night. Then the white musicians complained. They stopped us playing at white nightclubs.”

The Jazz Epistles broke up after four years. Kippie got a job with a show called King Kong. He went to London with the show. But Kippie was boozing a lot. He got very sick in London. He went to hospital for two months.

img19Kippie came back to South Africa. But most of his friends had left. Hugh Masekela and Dollar Brand were in America. Kippie had no work.

Then Dollar Brand came back to South Africa. Kippie played with him again. But again the booze was a problem. Dollar fought with Kippie about the booze.

“That was the end,” says Kippie. “I have not played with a band since then. In 1977 I made a record with Pat Matshikiza. But that is all.”

Kippie never got married. He lived with a woman for 13 years. Her name is Becky. He met her in Sophiatown in 1951. They have two children. Becky left Kippie in 1964. She lives with her two children in Soweto. Kippie often visits them.

“I’m not bitter,” says Kippie. “But I’m angry about one thing. The record companies didn’t give me a fair deal. They made a lot of money from me. The record companies are now very rich. And I have nothing.”

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“I am poor now, but I am not crying,” says Kippie. “I’m fighting the booze. I’m going to win. Dolly and me are making a come-back. We are working hard together. Kippie Moeketsi is not dead yet!”

Dancing for freedom

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The man’s body twists and jives like a snake. Sweat shines on his face. He holds his clenched fist high in the air. His shoes go c1ickety clack all through the dance. And he sings – in time to the tapping of his shoes.

Then the tap dancer stops. He sits down. The workers shout” Amandla”, Someone gets up to make a speech. And the workers’ meeting goes on.

The man’s name is Baazner Moloi. He is a song and dance man. And he sings and dances for the workers in his trade union.

Baazner also works in a big factory every day. So he knows about the lives and daily struggles of workers.

He knows they need more rights. He knows workers want more freedom. And he knows that after work each day workers need something else. They need a chance to keep their souls alive.

“We need to laugh and be happy,” says Baazner. “Song and dance helps us to forget our troubles for a while. But it also makes us brave. It brings us together and makes us strong.”

So at the meetings of his union Baazner dances. He dances so the workers can laugh and be happy together. And he dances so they will be strong when they stand up and fight for their rights.

Baazner’s union is called the Chemical and Industrial Workers Union. Today it is fighting for a better life for the workers of this country. Baazner is one of the worker leaders in this union.

So Baazner Moloi is many things. He is a factory worker. He is a fighter. He is a worker leader. And he is just an ordinary guy who loves to sing and dance. This is his story.

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EYES OF A FIGHTER, EARS OF A DANCER

Nearly 40 years ago, Baazner Moloi was born in Moroka township. People called the place “Emasakeni”. It was a good name for the place. People lived in shacks made of tin and old sacks.

Baazner does not remember Emasakeni. But the young boy’s eyes saw the suffering of the people. And they did not forget.

Baazner’s father was poor. But he loved his son very much. He didn’t want Baazner to live in a place where babies died like flies. So he took the boy to his grandmother’s place. She lived in a place people still call Kofifi – the peoples’ name for Sophiatown.

People were poor in Sophiatown. But it wasn’t as bad as Emasakeni. And the place was always alive with music, song and dance. Some people say South African jazz was born in Kofifi.

Baazner was still too young to remember Sophiatown. But his ears heard the song and music of the people. And they did not forget. The sound of Kofifi stayed in his blood.

Then Baazner’s father got a job in Germiston. So he moved everyone ­ his wife, his kids and the old granny. They moved to a house in the old location near Germiston. That’s where Baazner began to sing and dance. And that’s where he began to fight for his rights.

JIVING ON THE OUTSIDE

Baazner’s mother was a very strict Christian. She sent the boy to Sunday school. The teachers noticed two things about Baazner. He was very naughty. And he loved to sing. He had the best voice’ in the singing class.

Baazner remembers his first big fight at primary school. The boy knew his parents were poor. And he didn’t know why his father had to pay for the teacher’s wages. So one day he marched into the headmaster’s office and said, “Give me back my school fees.”

Baazner didn’t get the money. And he didn’t stay long at that school. From then on he spent very little time in the classrooms. One day Baazner’s father even sent the blackjacks to find the boy and take him to school.

But Baazner did not listen. He only had ears for the music he loved. At night he went to the township dance halls with his many friends. Together they crept around in the dark outside the halls. They looked in through the windows.

Inside big and famous bands made music for the people – bands like the Inkspots and the Bogart Brothers, And inside the people jumped and jived to the great old sounds – the sounds that made them feel alive.

Outside the small boys sang and danced. They jived like the people in­ side. And nobody jived like Baazner – inside or outside.

Baazner and his friends had another great love – the movies. They loved the American movies about tap dancers best of all. So they put the caps of beer bottles under their shoes. When they danced they made their own c1ickety clack music. And nobody could clickety clack like Baazner Moloi.

THE ACE MONKEY JIVER

The people of old Germiston Location were poor. They called the place “Dukathole – a lost sheep”. But they liked their home. The white factories were nearby. Bus fares were not much. And the place was a little like Sophiatown – it had some life in it.

But the whites wanted their town to be white – pure white. So the government moved the people of Dukathole to a new township called Katlehong.

Soon after that Baazner’s father gave up trying to educate his son. He said: “OK, don’t go to school. Go and find a job.” That’s when Baazner decided to go back to school.

His father sent him to a boarding school in Standerton. Baazner hated it. But one thing kept him there ­ the school had a band. They played jazz and called themselves the “Soul Souvenirs” .

The band soon heard about the new boy. “They heard I was from the Reef,” says Baazner. “And they saw I was a top jiver. So they asked me to dance at their shows.

“We travelled to all the towns around Standerton. Before the show we put up posters. The posters told people to “Come and see the Soul Souvenirs and Baazner Moloi – the Ace Monkey Jiver from the Reef.”

The people crowded into the shows and Baazner became famous – in those small towns. They were good days for a song and dance man like Baazner Moloi.

So the young Baazner didn’t fight much. He only gave the teachers a headache every now and then. But after he finished standard eight things changed. It was time to go home, to find work – and to begin fighting again.

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Baazner and his friends – for them overtime was jive time

THE IMPIMPI GETS A KLAP

Baazner found many jobs after school. But he didn’t stay long in most of them. “I hated bosses. I hated the way they swore at us. I hated the low wages they paid us,” says Baazner. “And in life, I believe in one thing. If someone treats me badly, then I fight back.”

Baazners first job was In a fruit and vegetable shop. He wasn’t in the job for long before he asked for more money. “What?” screamed the owner. “All day you eat my bananas. You eat my tomatoes. Now.you want more money. Sukal”

So Baazner went looking for other jobs – mostly in the big metal and chemical factories on the East Rand.

His best friend was a guy with a nice name – Goodman. The two friends always looked for jobs together. Baazner and Goodman didn’t know about trade unions in those days. But if they didn’t like a factory then the two friends stood together. They fought for their rights.

And after work each day they tried to forget their troubles. So they filled their souls with booze. And they jived – late into the night.

“Many shebeens had dancing competitions,” says Baazner. “The winner always got free beers. So I became a boozer. I couldn’t help it.”

One day a boss told Goodman and Baazner to work overtime. The friends didn’t like this. For them overtime was jive time. So they got the other workers together and said “if we all stand together and say no together, then the bosses cannot make us work overtime.”

The workers agreed. They said,” We are brothers in this together.” But one worker was not a brother. His name was Sam. He told the bosses about the plans of Goodman and Baazner.

The next day Baazner told his brothers to watch him. He walked up to Sam’s desk. He jumped over it. And he gave Sam a loud klap. “Sam screamed so loud,” says Baazner. “A supervisor came running to help him. So I klapped the supervisor too.”

Baazner and Goodman didn’t stay long in that job. Baazner found that his style of fighting didn’t help so much. He didn’t win many fights. And most times he just got fired. He had no power behind him when he fought the bosses.

Then something happened that changed Baazner’s life. He got a job at a big glass factory. And at this factory he found two things – a trade union and a friend called Ronald Mofokeng.

THE FIGHTER FINDS HIS GLOVES

Ronald Mofokeng was a fighter of a different kind. He was a worker leader in the trade union at Plate Glass. And he knew a few tricks about making workers strong in their struggle.

Ronald saw that Baazner was a fighter too. But he knew that all fighters need some training. So he spoke to Baazner for many long hours.

Ronald explained the meaning of the word “organize”. He told Baazner that fighters must work hard. He said worker leaders must call many meetings of workers. They must explain how workers can use trade unions to fight their problems.

And above all he told Baazner to listen to the voice of the workers. He told Baazner to fight the way the workers told him to fight. If worker leaders do this, said Ronald, then they will have power behind them – the power of the workers.

Baazner heard these words. And he understood them well. “The union fitted me like a glove,” says Baazner. “It showed me the way to fight for the rights of workers – and win.”

After three months the workers elected Baazner to be a shopsteward – a worker leader in the factory. This time the fighter didn’t get fired. He had the workers behind him. He still works in the same factory today.

“Every day workers crowd into my office to talk about their problems,” says Baazner. “And the bosses can’t do much about it. So they just call my office ‘Soweto’.”

UNION TIME IS DANCE TIME

“The union took up a lot of time,” says Baazner. “After work we had many meetings with workers. Many times we worked until 3 o’clock in the morning.”

“I didn’t do much dancing for a while. But then I saw that workers were beginning to make plays. And some workers came together in choirs ­ to sing worker songs.

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Baazner knew that workers were doing these things to keep their souls alive. So he said “Now – its time to dance”. He went out and bought a pair of tap dancing shoes. He began to dance again. And his shoes began to make the old clickety clack music again. Sometimes in the shebeens but mostly at his union meetings.

And when Baazner dances in the meetings he also sings. But he doesn’t use funny songs that mean nothing to workers. He sings about the problems of workers. He sings words that make the workers brave. And he sings about something else, something special – a little bit of freedom.

The hottest stix in town

Untitled0-13About twenty years ago, Orlando West High School needed money. The principal told the students to give a concert. But the school had no money to pay for a band. So some students said that they would play at the concert.

Two guys from another school Madibane High School, came to play. Their names were Selby Ntuli and Alec Khaoli They both played guitars. But the drummer was from Orlando West. His name — Sipho Mabuse.

JUST ANOTHER BAND

“People really liked us,” says Sipho. “So we decided to start our own band. Then Selby’s brother asked us to join his group, the Beatersjnstead. We used to play at Mofolo Hall.

“We wrote all our own music and in 1969 we made a record, ‘Solo Golo’. But people liked Mbaqanga in those days and ‘Solo Golo’ did not sell well then. But a few years later, people went mad for ‘Solo Golo’ and the Beaters became famous.

HURRAH FOR HARARI

“We went on tour. We went to Zimbabwe and we played at a place called Harari. We really liked the name. It means ‘he who does not sleep, he who is busy’. We liked it so much that we decided to change our name and call ouselves “Harari.”

But in 1978, something bad happened. The leader of Harari, Selby Ntuli died in his sleep. It was a big loss for Harari. But Harari made Sipho their leader.

Selby’s death did not stop Harari’s fans. Harari went on to make it big. They made 10 records before the band broke up 2 years ago.

Alec ‘Oom’ Khaoli left Harari and started his own group, ‘Umoja’. And Sipho Mabuse decided to go it alone.

Sipho said, “A lot of musicians left Harari. They thought I was too strict. When musicians become famous, they forget their fans. They become careless. They come to concerts late — or drunk.”

WRITING SONGS

Sipho told us about his hit, ‘Burnout’. “One day I was sitting around when I heard some nice sounds in my head. In less than 5 minutes, the whole song was playing in my head. Then I wrote it own. It was the easiest song I have ever written.

“I like my songs to have a message in them. My best song is ‘Let’s get it on’. Many people think that it is a love song. But the message in that song is that people must love each other and work together for their rights.”

Untitled0-14THE MUSIC WORLD

“To be a musician in South Africa is no joke,” says Sipho. “Sometimes the record companies treat us badly. Take our record ‘Solo Golo’ for example. We did not get one cent for it. I think we need a union, just like other workers. But most musicians are scared. They think if we start a union, the record companies will not record their songs.

“Another problem is our newspapers and magazines. They only write about overseas musicians. And white radio stations only play overseas music. Yet our musicians are very good. Look at people like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie.

MUSICIANS JOIN THE FIGHT

“At the begining of this year, people said they were organising concerts and parties for Jo’burg’s 100th birthday. They wanted musicians to come and play.

“hen I heard this, I asked myself “What does this mean to black people?” It was at the time of the ’emergency’. It was no time for parties. I talked to Jonny Clegg of Juluka. He agreed with me. We spoke to other musicians like Stimela, Alec Khaoli
and Bre/ida Fassie. We all got together and made a list of demands.

“We said that the government must lift the state of emergency, they must free all the leaders in jail, and they must let all South Africans outside South Africa come home.”

CONCERTS IN THE PARK

Sometimes Sipho helps poor people. Last year there was a big concert at Ellis Park — the ‘Concert in the Park’. The musicians played for nothing, and all the money went to Operation Hunger — to buy food for all the hungry people.

This year, there was another concert at Ellis Park. This time the money from the concert went to the people who organised it. Sipho did not like this. So he told the organisers that they must pay him 12 thousand rands. He thought they would say no. But they agreed to pay him so he played.

SIPHO’S FAVOURITES

When Sipho is not making music, he likes to go to night clubs. He also likes to watch his favourite soccer team, Kaizer Chiefs.

“I like ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe of Chiefs. But I also like ‘Jomo’ Sono of Cosmos and Ernest Chirwali of Bloemfontein Celtics.

“I also spend a lot of time listening to music. Sometimes I listen to my own records. Otherwise I like Stevie Wonder and Dollar Brand. I also like a guy called Sting.

We asked Sipho what makes people like his music. Sipho said, “My music speaks for itself. What I do, I do as an African. And so my music is African,” he answered. “The songs I write are about everyday life in South Africa. But the message can be understood by anyone, anywhere.”

The jazz man from third avenue

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Everybody in Alexandra township knows Edmund ‘Ntemi’ Piliso. He is the tall, quiet jazz man from Third Avenue.

Ntemi has been around for a long time. He has made music with the best of them. He has played with big music groups like Zonk and the Harlem Swingsters. And for many years the township jived to Ntemi’s own band, the Alex All Stars.

Today Ntemi plays with the Jazz Pioneers – a group of the old greats who have got together. They are still blowing the old township tunes.

Ntemi Piliso does not talk much. He saves his breath for his saxophone. But Learn and Teach went anyway. And we were in luck. Nterni did not have his saxophone with him.

We asked Ntemi about his life and his music. He sat down. “Okay!” he said. He began to talk in a quiet and gentle voice.

NTEMEKWANA’S DREAM

“I was born in Alexandra on the 16th December 1925. My full name is Mthuthuzeli Edmund Piliso. My mother called me Ntemekwana or “Ntemi” for short. People still call me Ntemi today. Not that I mind – I like the name.

“Alex has always been my home. The place has also been my school. I learned music there. Like most kids, I began playing the pennywhistle in the streets.

“After school we loved to watch the movies from America. One day I saw a film that changed my life. The big Glen Miller band from the U.S.A. was in that film. That film made me dream the same dream for weeks. In the dream I saw myself playing a big trombone.

“I forgot about school. I forgot about those little pennywhistles. I longed to playa long, gold trombone. I can say that is how my music began – in my dreams.

Ntemi blowing in the old days

Ntemi blowing in the old days

A GUY CALLED CASABLANCA

“Years later I was sitting at home. I was all alone and bored. I heard someone knocking loudly on the door. I opened the door and a guy called Casablanca walked in. He was very excited. He said I must come over to his place. He said now was the time to start our own band.

“And he wasn’t just talking. He had three saxophones, two trumpets and a trombone. Said he bought them in Cape Town. I couldn’t believe my ears.

“I wasted no time. But when I got to his place another guy had the trombone already. So I picked up a saxophone. I’ve never let it go since then.

“Casablanca knew a music teacher at the Catholic School. This guy taught us to read and write music. Soon we were ready to start a band. We called ourselves the Casablanca Ochestra.

“I loved playing in a real band. We had great tunes. But some of the guys were not so serious. So my friend David Sello and I left the band. We wanted to move into the world of real jazz.

THE BIG TIME

“We met a guy called Sam Maile. He was a great writer of jazz music. People called him South Africa’s Duke Ellington. He wrote the music for the famous film ‘Jim Comes to Jo’burg’.

“During the great war, some of our people fought in the army against Hitler. After the war Sam asked some of the soldiers to join a big band. He called the band Zonk.

“Sam Maile was a great guy. He taught me a lot about jazz. I played with Zonk for a short while. But I wanted to move on. The Harlem Swingsters and the Jazz Maniacs were the hottest bands in town. I wanted to join one of them.

“The Harlem Swingsters needed a sax man. They asked me to come and show my skills. I’ll never forget that day man! The great Kippie Moeketsi was there. He just said ‘Play’. And he listened very carefully. I was very scared.

“They asked me to play with them at a concert. The concert was at the Inchcape Hall in Sophiatown. I knew this was my chance. And I played for my life. The great piano player Todd Matshikiza and Kippie said I was okay. And that’s not all. I didn’t have my own sax then. So they went out and bought me one. I knew then that I was in the band – full time.

“I had great times with the Harlem Swingsters. The band was good. We mixed American swing and our own township tunes. We made African Jazz.

Ntemi (left) with two members of the Jazz Pioneers at Kippie's funeral

Ntemi (left) with two members of the Jazz Pioneers at Kippie’s funeral

“We played allover the country. Once we even went to Lourenco Marques in Mozambique. The best shows happened when we played with the Jazz Maniacs. We played from 8 o’clock at night to four in the morning. We took turns to play. We wanted to show who was best. We never beat the Maniacs. But they knew we were not a small group.

“The gangsters were always at our shows. Sometimes they loved us and sometimes they hated us. They arrived at some of the shows at four in the morning – just when we were ready for some sleep. And they said: ‘Play until the sun comes up.’

“No one could do anything. They took our women and danced with them. And we played on sadly. I remember a concert at Moroka. This gang started fighting. Then they took their knives out. I grabbed my sax and ran for my life. I hid in the toilet. When I came back I found a body lying on my saxophone case – full of blood. Our shows were like this all the time. Today’s shows are like Sunday picnics.

The young Ntemi Piliso

The young Ntemi Piliso

ALEX AND THE ALL STARS

“In the early fifties all the big bands began to split up. I left the Swingsters and started my own band – the Alexandra All Stars. We were champions in the township. Even the gangs in Alex didn’t touch us.

“I made many records with the All Stars. My wife Constance had a beautiful voice. She made a record with me. The song was called “Baby come Duze”. That record made thousands of bucks. The record company gave me a paper and told me to sign. And they gave me five pounds. They bought my song for five pounds. That is how it was in those days.

“In 1962 King Kong started. This show went from South Africa to London. I very much wanted to go overseas and study music. But I wasn’t chosen to go with the show.

“I was broken. I felt so down that I didn’t play for a long time. But the Alex All Stars stayed alive. We made a record now and then. But the wish to play with the great jazzmen was gone.

TWENTY YEARS LATER

“Now us old timers have got together again. We want to bring back the big sounds from those days. We call ourselves the Jazz Pioneers.

“But we’ve got lots of problems, big and small. For example: we need a trombone player. We know a good trombone player who lives in Springs. And he wants to play with us. But he can’t blow until he gets his false teeth.

“And when Kippie died, we all lost a good friend. He was a giant in jazz. I fought hard to keep him in the Pioneers. I felt proud to play with a man like him – even though many people did not understand him. And now he’s gone and we’ll never get another one like him. But we know that we must go on. Us old timers have a job to do. We can’t let the old music die.”.