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A tantalising book that comes with own rhythm

Last updated on 18/09/2021

Very rarely does a book on music come with its own rhythm as it tantalisingly maps out the schemata of influences, icons and cultural movements of South African popular culture in so deft a fashion,” Professor Kgomotso Michael Masemola writes in the preface of this newly published volume of work by Sam Mathe.

“Aptly carrying the title From Kippie to Kippies and Beyond, Sam Mathe’s first volume on jazz, folk and pop artists is a tour de force that is packed with oft-ignored facts around which our music is shaped. Rich in details concerning the nascent beginnings and highlights of a vibrant form, the book is in itself a treasure trove in which archival material on jazz greats and pop stars comes alive” Masemola continues.

Mathe notes in his introduction: “This book covers at least four generations of musicians from the twenties to the contemporary era. The oldest, Peter Rezant was born in the early 1900s while the youngest, Zoe Modiga came into this world in 1994.”

This volume carries the biographies of 304 artists across generations that set the country’s music ablaze since the early 1900s. Below we carry profiles of two celebrated SA artists which we believe offer a glimpse into the captivating writing and detailed research that characterise this work.

LUCKY PHILIP DUBE – b. 3 August 1964 in Ermelo, Mpumalanga. d. 18 October 2007 after he was shot to death during an alleged botched hijacking – vocals, piano.

Somebody somewhere did not THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN. He then ended up being a SLAVE to liquor. At some stage he tried to be TOGETHER AS ONE with his family, but unfortunately he tried in vain, because right now he is a PRISONER. No one knows when this prisoner is going to be freed.” Lucky Dube – from sleeve notes of Prisoner album.

Lucky Dube was the greatest reggae exponent ever to have come out of South Africa, an international superstar and Africa’s undisputed king of the style made famous by Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh – his boyhood inspirations. With a career spanning over twenty years and twenty two albums under his belt, he took his dynamic mbaqanga-infected brand of reggae to new and dizzying heights on the local and international scene. His list of local childhood idols included Steve Kekana and The Soul Brothers, who defined his early choice of mbaqanga. A child star, he composed and sang his first song at eight.

At school he formed a pop-soul band with friends which they named The Skyways because he believed they were destined for greater heights. He then joined his cousin, Richard Siluma’s The Love Brothers, a mbaqanga group. Siluma produced their first album, Kudala Ngikuncenga (I have been pleading with you for too long) which they released in 1982 as Lucky Dube and the Supersoul.

After releasing five mbaqanga albums under the Gallo label, Lucky decided to focus on his favourite genre – reggae. His first album, Rastas Never Die (1985), received an indifferent response from fans that were already used to his mbaqanga music. It only sold a mere 4 000 copies but heralded bigger things for the rising reggae star.

“The public didn’t welcome it because it was something new. Reggae was still associated with Jamaica. Also people wanted me to stick to mbaqanga but I had made up my mind and wasn’t discouraged,” he explained.

His second album, Think About the Children (1986) was an unprecedented commercial success and marked his breakthrough in the market as a reggae recording artist. It sold a record 100 000 albums (double platinum). But the best was still to come. It was also in 1986 that Lucky and his producer, Richard Siluma created a musical sideshow. The concept was based on shebeen talk and led to the release of an Afrikaans album titled Help My Krap (Help Me Scratch) by Oom Hansie (Lucky Dube).

It spawned a monster pop hit titled Die Kaapse Dans and fooled many South Africans into believing that the artist was a coloured guy from the Cape. The album became a platinum success but the real identity of the Oom Hansie character was kept a secret to maintain the mystique. Lucky’s third reggae album, Slave (1987) recorded unprecedented sales of 350 000 in South Africa alone and over half a million worldwide. This happened at a time when sales of between 100 000 and 150 000 were considered a maximum for a hit record. Slave surpassed these figures within a month of its release, becoming the first local reggae hit and the biggest-selling album of that year. This phenomenal achievement made Lucky Dube the biggest-selling artist in Southern Africa and top headline act at major music events, a status that eventually paved the way to international superstardom.

But even with this fabulous success, it was just the beginning for such a remarkable artist. Although the title referred to an alcohol addict, it struck the right chord with the oppressed black majority who understood it as an allegory for political and economic subjugation. But the message in his next album, Together as One (1988), was forthright and confrontational. The title track was the first song to mention the word apartheid in its lyrics.

“Too many people hate apartheid/ why do you like it?”

It was immediately banned from SABC airwaves but the ban only managed to achieve the opposite as lack of radio play and curiosity fuelled consumer support. In 1989 Shanachie Records, a US-based reggae label which included on their catalogue reggae legends Bunny Wailer, Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Alpha Blondy, Africa’s leading reggae artist at the time – released the American edition of Slave.

Within the space of a year, Lucky became Shanachie’s biggest recording artist, confirming his status as the king of reggae on the continent and in the West. In the same year he performed in Europe for the first time in an international concert billed the Franchement Zoulou. Sharing the stage with local acts Stimela, Chico, Zia and Ukhamba Lomvaleliso, the successful concert tours took them to French cities that included Paris, Amiens, Angouleme and Nimes.

The release of Slave in North America was followed by a 40city tour of Canada and the United States, which happened immediately after the shows in France. The North American tour was full of exciting highlights. In Chicago he opened for Bob Marley’s band, The Wailers. The line-up included original members like guitarist Al Anderson and the band’s mainstay bassist, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett.

In Hollywood he was the headline act and was supported by Joe Higgs, the artist who mentored Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. In New Orleans, he shared the stage with Burning Spear, Aswad, Steel Pulse and Marcia Griffiths, a member of Bob Marley’s female backing vocalists, the I-Threes. In New York he played with Judy Mowatt, another member of the I-Threes at the Reggae Strong for Peace concert. He also met Ziggy Marley, the son of the late reggae legend and his group, the Melody Makers.

Back home in the recording studio, Lucky made history again with the release of Prisoner (1989). The album broke all sales records that have been achieved before when it sold 100 000 copies within the first week of its release. By the end of the month the figure had doubled. Its sales were in recent year estimated at over half a million copies sold in South Africa alone.

The social messages in the album were as poignant and hardhitting as in his previous offerings. Society could immediately perceive the link between lack of schooling and criminal behaviour. But for the first time he had included a brass section in his music, notably in Don’t Cry, Jah Live and False Prophets. The musicians were Ndumiso Nyovane (trumpet), Vulindlela Yeni (tenor sax) and Jabu Mdluli (trombone).

They later toured with Lucky as members of his band, The Slaves. In July 1990, after performing at a historic festival at Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, in front of 85 000 people, he and his band flew to the United States via Hawaii for their second US tour. Highlights included sharing the stage with Jimmy Cliff and Fela Kuti at concerts in Kansas City and Seattle. He concluded the year with the release of a double album titled Captured Live (1990). It too made history when it became the best-selling live album ever.

Lucky’s third American tour in 1991 was followed by whirlwind shows in Australia, Japan and ultimately the festival that he has been dreaming of for years, Jamaica’s legendary Reggae Sunsplash. He won the hearts of hard-top lease Jamaican fans. His performance was greeted with wild cheers, thunderous applauses and spirited requests for encores, the only artist to have been asked to repeat his performance during the whole week of the festival.

Since then Lucky had won crowds on global stages. One of the highlights of his recording career was in 1995 when he signed a historic recording deal with Motown, a move that put him in the elite league of illustrious artists like Lionel Ritchie, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson. He remained a consistent act to his last days, keeping a punishing international schedule and releasing music of substance which was always rewarded with record-breaking sales and accolades.

His daughters Bongi Dube and Nkulee Dube are keeping his musical legacy flying high. Both have released R&B and reggae albums respectively. In 2012 Nkulee became the first artist to win six nominations at the International Reggae and World Music Awards since they began in Chicago 31 years ago. The awards were held in Washington Park, Chicago where she walked away with the Most Promising Entertainer award as well as a special honour for being the first artist from a non-Caribbean country to have received a record six nominations.

SIBONGILE KHUMALO – b. 24 September 1957 in Soweto, Johannesburg. d. 28 January 2021 after suffering from stroke-related complications. vocals

Sibongile Khumalo who was a university graduate in music studies was also the recipient of an honorary degree by the University of South Africa among many other honours Photo: UNISA

Sibongile Khumalo needs no introduction in the world of music. She has been hailed as South Africa’s first lady of song and has earned her stripes as an exceptional singer, composer, musical director, arts administrator, stage performer, broadcaster, virtuoso violinist, multi-award-winning recording artist and of course, opera diva. The versatile mezzo-soprano’s repertoire encompasses a diversity of musical traditions and styles that range from opera to jazz and popular music.

Born into a musical family, her mother Grace Mngoma (née Mondlane), a nurse by training, was also a singer, a soloist with the Ionian Music Society, a choir founded by her father in 1960. Khabi Mngoma was a choirmaster, conductor, music teacher and professor at the University of Zululand. Mngoma was also a frequent adjudicator at choral competitions. Among his family and the community of Soweto, he created a culture of appreciation for the arts and diverse musical traditions.       

So from a young age Sibongile was encouraged to participate in various performance arts as well as painting. At the age of eight she took singing lessons from Emily Motsieloa, a pioneering female pianist fondly known as Aunt Em and already a musical force on the black music scene in the twenties and thirties. Additional training in violin, piano, dance and drama while she was still in her early teens would prepare her for the rounded performer that she would become in adulthood. In 1980, she graduated from the University of Zululand with a bachelor of music degree.

She subsequently lectured at her alma mater and then returned to Johannesburg and taught at Fuba Academy. She also served as arts coordinator at the Funda Arts Centre and as project director at the Madimba Institute of African Music. In 1983 she obtained a BA honours degree in the history of music from the University of the Witwatersrand.

In her early years as a classical performer and opera singer, Khumalo was involved in singing numerous classical solo parts – including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Mozart’s Requiem – with the National Symphony Orchestra.          In 1992, she presented the successful Classics to Cabaret show the National Chamber Orchestra of the then Bophuthatswana homeland.

Since then she has treated South African music lovers to several critically acclaimed performances – notably the Three Faces of Sibongile Khumalo (1992) at the Market Theatre, Sibongile Khumalo in Concert (1993) at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown Festival, the Rhythms of Africa (1994) with the National Symphony Orchestra in Sun City, Durban and Johannesburg as well as

Handel’s Messiah (1995) with Lord Yehudi Menuhin in Cape Town and Johannesburg. She also performed in a number of musicals, including Goree (1989), Baby Come Duze (1991) and The Lion And The Lamb (1993).

This impressive resumé earned her the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for music (1993). The accolade is an endorsement of genuine individual talent in the arts. It helped to launch her into the mainstream. In that year’s edition of the National Arts Festival, she performed to sold-out venues and rapturous standing ovations. It was also in 1993 that she was asked by the London Philharmonic Orchestra to perform with them during their Harmony Tour. It was a defining moment in her career, culminating in a recording path three years later. Her debut album, Ancient Evenings (1996) is a groundbreaking recording that explores the choral, jazz and popular music in a way no other artist has done before.

In her early years as a classical performer and opera singer, Khumalo was involved in singing numerous classical solo parts – including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Mozart’s Requiem – with the National Symphony Orchestra. 

It was a breath of new life on a musical landscape that was longing for artistic innovation. But recording an album that celebrated homegrown sounds in such a majestic fashion was also a logical starting point for an artist who grew up under the influence of artists with such diverse musical traditions like Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, Miriam Makeba, Maria Callas, Roberta Flack, Janis Joplin, Letta Mbulu and Sophie

Mgcina. Co-produced by Sipho Mabuse, Motsumi Makhene, Mthunzi Namba and Themba Mkhize, this amazing album includes music by Mzilikazi Khumalo, Joshua Mohapeloa, Moses Molelekwa and her own compositions.

Well received by the music loving public and critically acclaimed in the media, Ancient Evenings won two South African Music Awards in the best female vocal performance and best adult contemporary performance categories. Her string of honours also includes three FNB Vita Awards for her opera and concert work as. In 2008 she was honoured by President Kgalema Motlanthe with the Order of Ikhamanga in silver for her ‘excellent contribution to the development of South African art and culture in the musical fields of jazz and opera’.

Since Ancient Evenings she has released eight solo albums – including two live recordings and a compilation album.

She was a featured soloist in Mzilikazi Khumalo’s uShaka ka Senzangakhona (1997), an epic musical in music and poetry and sang the title role in Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu (2002), also conceived by the eminent composer, conductor and choral director under whose baton Sibongile has performed on several occasions. Both operas have toured extensively in South Africa, the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. They were later released on CD and DVD.

Introduced to Princess Magogo’s music at an early age, Khumalo had become the late Zulu classical singer and composer’s living cultural incarnation, a custodian of her songbook as recordings like Ngibambeni from one of her albums attests. In her three-decade career as a professional performer, Sibongile Khumalo has shared global platforms with several celebrated outfits and artists, notably Hugh Masekela with whom she had toured abroad with the musical, Songs of Migration (2012). 

She’s featured on the late flugelhorn player and trumpeter’s 1999 album, Sixty. In the late nineties the two have co-hosted a show on Kaya FM. Thanks to her soul-stirring performances, she has graced many an august occasion, notably Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration concert in 1994 and his 75th birthday celebration.

She also led the South African and New Zealand national anthems at the World Cup rugby final in 1995, performed with the Australian Symphony Orchestra, toured Europe with American drummer Jack DeJohnette, sang for Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other dignitaries in Barcelona, Spain. In 2009 Rhodes University recognised the singer’s sterling contribution to South African music with an honorary Doctorate in Music. She has been a regular feature and draw card on the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and in 2019, two years after celebrating her sixtieth birthday, she returned to the annual global showcase as a featured act of the Standard Bank Young Artist All Star Jazz Band and in her own capacity as a solo artist.

Publisher: Themba Books

To order the book: Recommended retail price R350 ($19.99) on Amazon.

An autographed copy from the author sells at R500

Contact details: Sam Mathe +2783 435 5921 e-mail –

Banking details: MS Mathe ABSA savings account 92 1973 9495 Hyde Park branch

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