‘Kef’ Links . . . Hey Mr Bass Man, you’ve got that certain something

The cast of Carnival a la District 6, one of the first musicals Howard Links was involved with. Links is just behind Madeegha Anders in the front row. The others in the picture are (front row): Cyril Valentine,”Baby” Vardien and Davy “The Whistler” Claasen. Second row: Terry Smith, Dave Bestman, Dotty Forbes, Claude Fry, Joyce Skefu, Salie Davids. Back row: Solly Junior, Connie Chiume, Ebrahim Petersen and Taliep Petersen. The show was presented in 1979 at the Royal Swazi Spa.


Mr. Bass Man, you’ve got that certain somethin’
Mr. Bass Man, you set that music thumpin’
To you it’s easy when you go 1-2-3, d-d-be -bop-a-bop
(Bass voice: You mean be -be -BOP-p-p-bop bop bop…)

28 October 2016

Howard “Kef” Links, the bass man with that deep voice and that “certain something” died last weekend at the age of 66 prompting an outpouring of grief on social media from hundreds of his peers in the local music industry.

Links was a larger than life figure on the Cape Town music scene going back to the late Sixties when he started out as a bassist in a pop band in Athlone.

Last Saturday, his “soul brother” and best friend for the last 30 years, guitarist Gammie Lakay, broke the news on Facebook that Links had passed away.

It was well known that Links had not been well for a long time and, apart from having a serious heart condition, he also suffered with other health issues.

Links was held in high esteem by his fellow musicians and performers. To audiences though, he was less well known. He was the bassist in the backing band.

Since every performer’s life is almost certain to be documented somewhere on the web, I thought I would Google Howard “Kef” Links to see what he has been up to since I last saw him more than 30 years ago.

Nothing. Zero. Zilch on the web. Yet, every big name entertainer in Cape Town was in awe of him.

Hey Mr Bass Man, you've got that certain somethin' . . .

Hey Mr Bass Man, you’ve got that certain somethin’ . . .

I first met Links back in the late Sixties and then already I got an insight into this humble man with the deep – very deep – voice, who always seemed to have something quirky to say under his breath and always at the expense of one of his fellow musicians.

He was born in Athlone and started playing with a group called the Alphens, which was led by Alfie Jansen, brother of the local beauty queen Pearl Jansen. [Jay Jay (Jayson King) says he was actually in a group called the Cavaliers first.]

By the early Seventies, according to singer Leslie Kleinsmith, he was in a group called the Playboys with Taliep Petersen, the Fry brothers Claude and Cecil, and Ebrahim Petersen, doing gigs in white night clubs in Cape Town.

The link with Taliep was to continue for years to come. Links was to become an integral part of whatever Taliep did.

Taliep’s first wife, Madheega (Velma) Anders, says she first met Links when she was a 17-year-old singer starting out on an entertainment career.

“He was involved in all the musicals – Carnival a la District 6, District 6 the Musical, Ghoema, Kat and The Kings — that we put together.” she said.

“I had so much respect for the man, for what he stood for. He was very humble but stood firm in what he believed in musically. If he felt something had to be done in a certain way, he made sure that the artist knew what he wanted.”

Anders made special reference to the connection between Taliep, Lakay and Links.

“Taliep, Kef and Gammie, they had this incredible bond both musically and as brothers. On stage, if something went wrong, all Taliep had to do was give them a look and they’d know what to do.

“Kef had a pacemaker fitted recently and did not play much of late, but musicians still flocked to his place for advice.”

For Gammie Lakay, his friend’s death was a devastating blow. The two had been inseparable since the mid-Eighties.

“We did so many things together, we shared so many brilliant moments. I just find it so hard to take in that he isn’t around any longer,” Lakay said.

“It would take me a lifetime to tell you about all those magic moments but two things stand out. The time we went to Malaysia with Taliep and our last trip to New York last year.

“In Malaysia, the people were kinda shocked to see two black people in their midst. When the cast met the king, Kef whispered in his gruff voice ‘when the king faints from the shock of seeing two such black people, we rifle his pockets!’ That was typical of his peculiar humour.

“We played the famed Carnegie Hall last year in a group put together by David Kramer as part of a cultural event. For Kef, that was the highlight of his career. He just kept going on about wanting to see America before he died.

“I’ll miss those silly moments with him – like when he insisted on coming to my hotel room at the dead of night to make a cup of tea and to tell me that we were the last of the old models, they’ve thrown away the mold.”

Hey Mr Bass Man, you set that music thumpin' . . .

Hey Mr Bass Man, you set that music thumpin’ . . .

Lakay said Links was a self-taught musician who knew his instruments – the bass guitar, banjo and mandolin – inside out. His performances and influence stretched from pop and jazz bands to coon and Malay choir appearances.

Did Links sing? “No, if he had to it would simply be a Barry White number, his voice was that gruff.”

Dave Bestman, veteran entertainer who has been performing and living in Botswana since the Seventies said Links’ passing would leave a void that is going to be hard to fill. “Let me put it plainly . . . I come to Cape Town every year because it is where my family is. When I arrive, I go straight to Kef’s place and that is where my family has to fetch me. We could sit for hours and just enjoy each other’s company.

Richard Jon Smith also paid tribute to Links on his Facebook page: “Howie and I were great school friends, in fact my sisters were good friends with the entire Links family since I can remember. He was always a great inspiration to me through our school concert days at DRC Crawford. I will never forget you my dearest friend HOWARD. R.I.P and from me and my family, our sincerest condolences to your loving family. I can just see you entering the ‘GATES’ with your guitar over your shoulder as I remember you fondly, praising the Lord with your family all the way with Thornton Road on Sundays to church. I miss you already my friend. Shalom 2 U. Your friend Richard Jon Smith.”

Pianist Onyx Phillips summed up the legacy of Howard “Kef” Links: “From coon troupe to Carnegie.”

[Sotto voce, in a deep voice] “My broer, djy was die laaste vannie Mohicans.”

[Put cursor over pictures to see  captions]

Mr Bass Man by Johnny Cymbal


Mr. Bass Man, you’ve got that certain somethin’
Mr. Bass Man, you set that music thumpin’
To you it’s easy when you go 1-2-3, d-d-be -bop-a-bop
(Bass voice: You mean be -be -BOP-p-p-bop bop bop…)

Mr. Bass Man, you’re on all the songs
be -did-did-a-boom-boom, be -dit-dit-a-boom-boom-bom
Hey Mr. Bass Man, you’re the hidden King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, d-d-be -bop-a-bop
(Bass voice: No no, be -be -BOP-p-p-bop bop bop…)

It don’t mean a thing when the lead is singin’
Or when he goes “Hi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yah”
Hey Mr. Bass Man, I’m askin’ just one thing:
Will you teach me? Yeah, will you sing?
‘Cause Mr. Bass Man, I want to be a bass man too, d-d-be -bop-a-bop
(Bass voice: Try this, be -be -BOP-p-p-bop bop bop…)
Hey Mr. Bass Man, I think I’m really with it
be -did-did-a-boom-boom, a-boom-boom-be -dit-dit-dit-dit
c’mon, Mr. Bass Man, now I’m a bass man too, d-d-be -bop-a-bop
(Bass voice: That’s it, be -be -BOP-p-p-bop bop bop…)

Songwriters: Johnny H. Cymbal


Mr. Bass Man lyrics © Obo Apra/Amcos

Apart from the Carnival a la District 6 photo, all others sourced, with thanks,  from Facebook pages.

Links’ funeral will be held on Sunday 30 October at 9am  at Rosewood Primary school hall corner Bonteheuwel Ave and Redberry Street. 

Material in this blog is copyrighted. Any reproduction requires permission.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s