“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!”

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 JONAS GWANGWA story

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005One night 23 years ago, the black musicians of Johannesburg had a big party. They all met at Dorkay House in Eloff Street to say good bye to the members of King Kong – the famous stage show about life in Sophiatown. King Kong was going to London.

The night was long and wild. Ntemi Piliso was the leader of the band. And the famous Sol Klaaste was also there – playing the piano like never before. Everyone sang, drank and danced until the sun came up.

In the morning the whole party drove to the airport. They all sang Nkosi Sikelela and waved good-bye to the members of King Kong. King Kong was off to London in an aeroplane full of babalas and sore heads.

Jonas on the day he left for England

Jonas on the day he left for England

Some of the men and women from King Kong never came home. When the show in London ended many of them stayed overseas. They wanted to study music or to make records.

One of these people was a young man called Jonas Gwangwa – the trombone player in the King Kong show. After the show he went to America. He studied at famous music schools in New York. He played jazz with big time American jazz men. He made many records and lots of money.

Jonas Gwangwa became famous – a homeboy who made good. He lived in America for 15 years. And those years were not wasted. He met a lot of people, he played a lot of music and he learned a lot. Jonas was doing well – but he was not really happy.

He began to feel alone – like a man floating at sea, cut off from his people.

Jonas in England

Jonas in England

But Jonas couldn’t come home. He couldn’t come home because of his politics. He spent a lot of time in America fighting apartheid. He knew the government in South Africa was not his best friend.

So he did the next best thing. He flew to Gaborone in Botswana to be close by. And that’s where he lives and works today – still making the music that people love so much.

Learn and Teach went to Gaborone to talk to Jonas Gwangwa. We wanted to ask him some questions – like why does a man leave an easy life in America for a not so easy life in Botswana?

He spoke in a quiet way. And his words were full of deep feeling for his country, his people, their history and their music.

“Life in the U.S.A, was good,” says Jonas. “I played trombone with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. I also made a lot of music with South Africans like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.

“One time I made a record with Miriam and Harry Belafonte – the great American blues singer. Most of the songs were in Zulu. So I had to teach Harry the words.

“It was great”, says Jonas. “Every time I went to Harry’s place he was sleeping. But I didn’t mind. He was paying me 15 dollars an hour. So I let him sleep. But soon he learnt some Zulu and we made the record. I learned a lot from that man.”

He learned a lot in America. But he never forgot his first lessons – the lessons he learned in the dusty streets of Sophiatown.

He remembered his days at Madibane High. He thought of his family and hard times. Jonas’ father was not so rich – like most black people in Sophiatown. The family could only pay for his sister to go to music lessons. So Jonas had to wait for a long time before he could play the music that was in his blood.

“I grabbed the first chance I got,” says Jonas. “From Madibane I went to St. Peters College in Rosettenville. Father Huddleston was the priest there. He got some old instruments and told us to play.

“I went to the first meeting. wanted to play the clarinet. But I didn’t know the name of the damn thing. So I asked for the first instrument I could think of – a trombone! I was shocked to see how big it was. But I was too shy to say anything. So that’s how I came to play the trombone.”

The boys at St. Peters started their own band and . called it the “Huddleston Jazz Band”. That’s where Jonas met people like Gwigwi Mrebi and Hugh Masekela – also great South African musicians.

Then Jonas joined the famous’ Union of South African Artists. This was a group of musicians who met on the top floor of Dorkay House in Eloff Street. Some of our best musicians played music there – people like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Sol Klaaste, Kippie Moeketsi and Dollar Brand.

And Jonas never forgot the band called the Jazz Epistles. He played in this band with men like Kippie Moeketsi and Dollar Brand. He also remembered playing in big bands like the Jazz Maniacs. And Jonas remembered the last night in Johannesburg when Ntemi Piliso played all night and everyone got sore heads.

“I knew then that I didn’t make it on my own,” says Jonas. “I needed the help of my friends at home ­ people like Kippie Moeketsi, Mackay Davashe, Ntemi Piliso and so many others.”

Jonas also believes that people can’t make music out of thin air. “Music comes from the history of people and from the places they live in,” says Jonas. He believes music comes from the way people suffer and from the way they fight to stay alive.

And in the U.S.A. Jonas was six thousand miles away from his people – the people that helped him make his music. So he had no choice. He had to be nearer home.

Today Jonas still makes music. He plays. with a young group of musicians in Gaborone. They call their band Shakawe — the name of a small village in the north of Botswana. He also works with a group called “Amandla” – musicians from South Africa who sing about their fight for freedom.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Jonas will never forget the old days and h is old friends. He is very sad that he did not meet his friend Kippie Moeketsi before he died.

His biggest wish is for Ntemi Piliso to come to Botswana. He dreams about drinking a cold beer and sharing memories with his old friend.

And one day Jonas Gwangwa hopes to come home to meet everyone else. Until then he waits with his best friend – the trombone. And until then, he will carry on making music about his people and for his people.

“Guga mzimba sala ntliziyo”

(The body is old, but the heart is still young)

img12William “King Force” Silgee is 74 years old. He lives in a small house in Dube, Soweto. He lives a quiet life with his wife Irene. But life was not always quiet for “King Force”. In the 1940’s, the townships jumped and jived to his music. He was the leader of the Jazz Maniacs after “Zulu Boy” Cele died.

The Jazz Maniacs were a big band. Sixteen people played in the band. The people in the townships loved the Jazz Maniacs. The Jazz Maniacs played music that touched the hearts of the people.

Last month, “King Force” and his saxophone came alive again. He played in Gaborone, Botswana. He played with Dollar Brand, Hugh Masekela and lots of other musicians.

“I really enjoyed myself” says “King Force”. “Hugh Masekela, Dollar Brand and the other guys were young when the Jazz Maniacs played. But they have learnt a lot. Now they are better than we were. They are better because they live in America. Many bands play in America. So the competition is tough. Musicians need competition.”

“King Force” says people like Masekela, Gwangwa and Dollar Brand still play South African music. “They live overseas but they still play our kind of music. South African music is in their hearts. They keep it there”.

“King Force” has played music for most of his life. He was born in Vrededorp in 1918. When “King Force” was still a baby, his family moved to City and Suburban. They lived in a small house in Anderson Street. In those days black people still lived in Johannesburg.

His father was a preacher. His mother was a teacher. His mother and father loved music. They both sang in the church choir. They sent “King Force” to piano lessons when he was 10 years old.

“My parents told me to go to piano lessons,” says “King Force”. “I did not enjoy piano lessons. But today I’m glad I went to lessons. These lessons taught me a lot about music.”

“King Force” went to the Albert Street School. When he was twelve years old, his father died. His mother had no money for the rent. The family moved to Doorn­fontein. His mother did piece-work. She washed clothes for white people in Yeoville and Kensington.

The Silgee family had little money. But “King Force” did not leave school. He helped his mother with the washing. “King Force” and his friends made carts out of old boxes. They fetched and delivered washing in these carts. Sometimes young “King Force” and his friends raced their carts. They raced down Harrow Road.

“King Force” finished standard 6 at Albert Street School. Then he went to Adams Training College in Natal. He stayed there for 3 years.

“King Force” finished standard 9. Then he came back to Doornfontein. Johannes­burg was alive with music at that time. Piano players and jazz bands played allover the place. The saxophone was popular.

“King Force” got a job. He was a clerk in a warehouse. The work was boring. He began to learn the saxophone. He soon played the saxophone very well.

"King Force" (left) playing in Port Elizabeth in 1956

“King Force” (left) playing in Port Elizabeth in 1956

One day in 1935 the municipality came in trucks to Doornfontein. They moved the people to Orlando. “King Force” and his family went to live in Orlando.

There were many halls in Orlando. The people went to the halls for concerts and dances. “King Force” loved the music and dancing at the halls.

“My favourite band was the Jazz Maniacs,” says” King Force”. “They played hot music. “Zulu Boy” Cele was the leader then. When they rested at concerts, I some­ times jumped on the stage and played the saxophone. The band soon knew me well. In 1936 the band asked me to join them.”

In 1939 “King Force” married his first wife. The band got more popular. In the Second World War, the band played for soldiers. Young Wilson Silgee became “King of the Forces”. People began to call him “King Force”.

In 1944 “Zulu Boy” Cele died. The Jazz Maniacs asked “King Force” to be the new leader. “King Force” was still a clerk in the day. At night he played music until 4 o’clock in the morning.

"King Force" (left) with 2 other members of the Jazz Maniacs

“King Force” (left) with 2 other members of the Jazz Maniacs

“We didn’t sleep much in those days” says “King Force”. “Life was fast, man. Sometimes we played two concerts on one night. Then we went to work the next day. We rushed all the time. But we were young then. We enjoyed life.”

The band traveled allover the country. People from allover South Africa loved them. In 1945 they went to Port Elizabeth. In Port Elizabeth “King Force” met a woman called Irene. When the band went home, Irene followed him. She lived in Johannesburg with her sister. A few years later “King Force” left his first wife. He married Irene and they moved to Dube.

In the 1950s, the people in the band started fighting with each other. The Jazz Maniacs split up. But “King Force” did not stop playing music. He started a smaller band. He called the band “King Force and his Forces”. They played mbaqanga music. People liked them. They sold many records. “King Force” made records until the late 1960s.

img16“King Force” does not play his saxophone much these days. He is getting old. His lungs are weak. But he does not forget. “1 often think about the old days” says “King Force”. “Sometimes I cry when I look at the photographs. I say to myself “Guga mzimba, sala ntliziyo” (The body is old, but the heart is still young.)”

In Gaborone last month the great old “King Force” was young again. And the people still loved him. They will always love him. They will never forget the man who played music that touched their hearts