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Women’s Day: a time to honour the ‘rocks’, our unsung heroes

[From left: Elspeth Davids, Ruschda Conradie and Deelah. Click on image to enlarge]

9 August 2022

Today, Women’s Day, is the day we honour and pay tribute to women and the enormous contribution they made – and still make – in our society, not only their role in the fight against apartheid but in all areas of normal, everyday life.

Nothing encapsulates more their stand against injustice under apartheid than the clarion call, “wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo” – you strike a woman, you strike a rock!

Women’s Day in South Africa has now morphed in Women’s Month and has its genesis in the march of about 20,000 women on this day in Pretoria in 1956 to protest outside the Union Buildings against the country’s evil laws

Now it is an all-encompassing acknowledgement to the status of women in our society.

This blog focuses on entertainment and the performers in the industry, particularly those of yesteryear, some of whom were household names yet have never had their story told or documented so that the Millennials know who went before them.

Sure, we know of the likes of the Taliep Petersens, Terry Fortunes, Zane Adamses, Leslie Kleinsmiths who have continued to make the news well after their debuts in the Sixties. But what about the female entertainers? Do the names Latiefa Barnes, Dolly Radebe, Vivian Kensley, Jane Londis, Daphne Malgas, Deelah, Ruschda Conradie or Elspeth Davids ring a bell. Probably not

Vicky Sampson . . . a struggle for gender equality.

Singer Vicky Sampson, noted for her anthemic Afrikan Dream hit song and president of the Trade Union for Musicians of South Africa (TUMSA), was honest enough to admit she had never heard of Deelah.  Yet, in the mid to late ’60s, Deelah was always one of the main acts for almost every stage show put on in Cape Town, as were Ruschda and Elspeth. Daphne, Vivian and Jane were stalwarts on the Dixies and African Follies shows.  And, even before them, Latiefa Barnes was hailed as the “Red Hot Mama” in Cape Town.

“No, I must admit, I have never heard of Deelah,” Vicky said. “I heard of Elspeth, I even met her briefly, but I never saw her perform.”

This year’s Women’s Month theme is Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience and ties in with a global campaign for gender equality.

For Vicky, the fight for gender equality is ongoing and is one of the prongs of a multi-faceted union campaign for a better deal for performers particularly women.

“It’s time for female entertainers to stand up and work together,” Vicky says. We have to support each other; we have to step into the light, step into leadership roles for the benefit of those coming after us.

“I’d like to see more women in our industry so that we can be in control of our own destiny.  Our industry, historically, is male dominated. We are working to correct the imbalance but it is always going to be a challenge.

“Female performers have to deal with more than just equal opportunities in finding work. There are issues like sexual predation and domestic violence.”

Vicky is optimistic that through TUMSA they can make inroads in the battle for gender equality.

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Singers with their roots in the Sixties . . .  Zelda Benjamin (nee Uren), Candy (Sharon Hartman), Neesha Abrahams, Margaret Singana, Linda Jacobs, Bea Benjamin.

“TUMSA is growing in recognition and, with the support of COSATU and engaging with all our stakeholders, we can make a difference in the lives of people working in our industry,” Vicky said. “One of the big fights we have at the moment is with the Equality Court to get Covid relief for performers. Our industry missed out on Covid relief payments.  Performers had no income for months.”

Vicky is encouraged by the fact that the union has representation in most of the provinces with females in leadership positions in most of them. “And they are powerful entities and performers in their own right,” she says.

Yesterday Vicky celebrated her birthday with a show.  Today she will be at a protest at Artscape to mark Women’s Day

“Part of it will be a silent protest and then we’ll have the Rosa Choir of the Cape Cultural Collective, some poetry reading and guest speakers.”

 

 

 

Taliep Petersen: First book to detail life of our ‘Mr Entertainment’

Taliep Petersen . . . first biography of entertainment giant completed and to be published in a few months .

15 April 2022

Today, April 15, is Taliep Petersen’s birthday. The singer-songwriter-playwright, probably best known for his involvement with District 6 – The Musical, would have turned 72 today had his life not been cut short in a brutal manner on that fateful Saturday in December 2006.

Yet, even in his short 56 years on this planet, he has left a big enough legacy to be remembered as one of the giants of our entertainment industry to grace our stages.

Taliep was honoured in his lifetime and has received numerous posthumous accolades, but no one has come close to doing a comprehensive work on the life and achievements of the Salt River/District 6-born entertainer.

Taliep Petersen performing at the Lux in 1968.

No one – until now. Researcher-writer Dr Paula Fourie has just completed a seminal work titled Mr Entertainment: The Story of Taliep Petersen. It proved to be a labour of love that has taken the best part of 10 years. The book will be published later this year.

Paula is a research fellow with the Africa Open Institute for Music, Research and Innovation attached to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University.

Paula said this week her interest in Taliep’s career and achievements had its genesis back in 2011 when she had to make a decision about what her dissertation would focus on for her PhD studies. Prior to her PhD studies, she had been a teacher and a junior conductor at the Drakensberg Boys Choir.

Her interest in choral traditions led her to the Cape Malay Choirs, and she started attending their competitions to learn more about them.

“It was at a competition in the Good Hope Centre that a colleague of mine from the university pointed to an empty chair and said, ‘that’s where Taliep Petersen used to sit’, Paula recalls. “That plastic chair stayed with me after I went home. Its emptiness spoke very loudly in the packed hall.”

The title of the book is a nod, presumably, to one of the first accolades to come Taliep’s way when he won the crown of Mr Entertainment in 1968 in the hugely popular talent show run by the newspaper, The Post.

Paula’s interest in writing something about Taliep’s life was further piqued when she read The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, A South African Sharecropper 1894-1985 by Charles van Onselen and its telling of the story of one man’s life.

“I was astonished at how history can be fashioned on paper (in minute detail!) from very little material traces, and what one can learn about South Africa itself by following one life through the years.”

“So I had started to think – perhaps there was a figure active in the Cape Malay Choirs whose life I could research for a biography. One day just as I awoke, still groggy from sleep, the name ‘Taliep Petersen’ was in my head, as if it had floated up from a bubble in my subconscious and lay there, fully formed, waiting for me to awake.

“I had never met Taliep, never even heard him perform. But I knew that day I wanted to try to write about him. The more I learned about him – the fascinating life he had led, the musical work he had done, his uncompromising work ethic, his important position in the community – the more committed I became to learning even more.”

The cast of Carnival a la District Six which probably was the  forerunner of District Six — The Musical. It included Salie Daniels, Terry Smith, Madeegha Anders and Dave Bestman.

Having fallen in love with biography as a literary genre, she knew that in the life of Taliep Petersen she had found a worthy subject.

“I made contact per letter with Taliep’s father, Mogamat Ladien, and subsequently met with the rest of his family, who gave me their time, their contacts and whatever archival material I needed for my PhD. The rest is history,” Paula says.

After she graduated in 2013, Paula kept on reading, writing and interviewing, casting ever wider, speaking to more and more people who were important to Taliep and his work.

“Of course there were months in the intervening years during which I, of necessity, had to turn my mind to other work, but I never really stopped working on Taliep’s life. His family has been hugely supportive of this project over the past decade, and it was an honour and such a pleasure to finally share the news with them earlier this year that I finished the book and found a publisher for it.

“One of the most challenging things about writing this book, and the reason it took over a decade to write, was that I felt such a great responsibility in telling this story that I kept on feeling I had simply not done enough research. Of course no biography can ever be ‘complete’ – it is impossible to capture the richness of a lived life, especially one that involved as many people as Taliep’s did, in the pages of a single book.

“I soon realised that, besides music of course, it was people – and a great many of them – that played such a vital role in his life. I had to make sure that I was doing my best to capture what was most important, and to include as many key voices as possible. Eventually, I did more than 50 interviews with more than 30 people. And still I know that there are many more people who could have been interviewed had I been able to keep working on this project for another 10 years!

“One may ask if I uncovered any gems that the world did not know about Taliep. I’m sure I have. Just as I am also sure that there are even more gems out there left to uncover, even more details that only the community that surrounded Taliep knows.”

Whilst Paula never had the pleasure of seeing Taliep perform live, thanks to DVD recordings she has managed to see most of his work including District Six – The Musical.

“I was born a year before Taliep and David [Kramer] first began working on it. Writing this book involved me learning a lot about Cape Town’s musical history, but also about South Africa, and in particular, about difficult years in our history that Taliep lived through. What I learned along the way was one of the highlights of this decade-long journey. I’m definitely not the same person I was before embarking on it.”

Taliep was honoured multiple times in the entertainment industry before and after his death. He even has a pedestrian bridge across Eastern Boulevard named after him.

Mr Entertainment – The Life of Taliep Petersen will no doubt be a resource that could lead to further examination of his career and contribution to the social fabric of Cape Town in particular.

This blog has long wanted to do a tribute article on the late singer but that would never cover the expanse of Taliep’s achievements.

Comic-compere Jerry Hector with Taliep Petersen at a signing back in the late Sixties.

Back in 1967 was when Taliep and I first crossed paths, him as a balladeer on the many, many variety shows that did the rounds in Cape Town and me as a budding cadet reporter on The Post. He did not have much to say then but one always got the sense that he was focussed, and looking and learning.

By 1968 he had honed his skills enough to win the Mr Entertainment title competing against singers a lot more experienced.

He became a much sought after performer for the local promoters but Taliep was already showing vision and foresight. He studied classical guitar, he was involved to some degree in productions like Hair, Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar and graduated to the more high-profile venues of the neighbouring states to ply his trade.

With his group Sapphyre he became the go-to person to provide the entertainment at the top hotels. It was while he was working up north that he put on, along with Davey Bestman, Carnivale a la District 6. It featured many of the performers he would take with him when he and David Kramer put the smash hit District Six – The Musical on the boards.

One could condense what followed but there still wouldn’t be enough space to list everything – like Kat And The Kings, his TV series, the sitcom Ali Barber and, of course, his passion for the Malay Choirs and specially the Oranjes

Instead we were left to lament a loss of life taken way too early.

Taliep and I had many, many interactions as entertainer and journalist but there are two memories that stand out. The first, very early on in his career, when seasoned local comic Jerry Hector brought him to the newspaper office to make the announcement that he was “signing up” the young Taliep. Taliep hardly said a word.

The second was the last occasion when we actually met. It was in 2005 on one of my visits to Cape Town. In his Athlone home, I asked him the secret of his successful career and his response was: “I have a lot of people working with me in an industry which can be notoriously unreliable. I follow one strict rule: ‘Jy’s reg, of djy’s weg!”

It spoke volumes of the single-mindedness that drove him.

Can’t wait for the book.

The cast of Carnival a la District Six which Taliep Petersen and Dave Bestman put together when they were playing top venues on South Africa’s borders in the Eighties. Taliep is in the back row on the far right.

 

Terry Fortune strikes gold with his line-up of ‘oldies’ for Baxter show

Some of the Golden Oldies who will perform at the Baxter on Saturday February 26 at an open air performance. In the picture are Sammy Hartman, Philip Swales, Lionel Beukes, Denver Furness, Daryl Andrews, Zelda Benjamin, Leslie Kleinsmith, DJ Stan, Terry Fortune, Sylvia Mdunyelwa and Madeegha Anders.

10 February 2022

A few years ago, entertainer Terry Fortune said he has retired and would only do the odd charity gig. Funny that.  He has never been busier.

In a fortnight, on February 26, Terry will stage his latest initiative, Terry Fortune Presents Golden Oldies at the Baxter.

And “golden oldies” it is indeed.  Everyone on stage has to be over 60.

“That was the one stipulation for the show that I will not back down on,” Terry said. “Everyone on the show has to be over 60; a genuine golden oldie.  I’ve had artists approach me to be on the show and, sadly, I’ve had to knock them back.

“I know it has been hard on all artists, but, short of faking their birth certificates, they won’t be on it unless they are over 60.”

Terry has already lined up all the performers which include songbird Zelda Benjamin, Leslie Kleinsmith, Dezi Ray and Madeegha Anders.

“Zelda, at 84, is our oldest performer. Madeegha is our youngest at 61 and just makes the cut.

Part of the performers of “Golden Oldies” seated by a tree in the Baxter garden. The tree will will form patrt of the backdrop for the open-air shop. From left, Daryl Andrews, Sammy Hartman, Philip Swales, Denver Furness, Leslie Kleinsmith, Terry Fortune, DJ Stan and Madeegha Anders.

“We also have some veterans backing the artists, including Sammy Hartman on piano, Lionel Beukes on bass, Daryl Andrews on guitar and Denver Furness on drums.  All are in their 70s.

Terry said the idea for the show came to him when he performed on the recent Camissa jazz cruise to Port Elizabeth.

“There was a lot of light-hearted banter among the artists when we took to the stage, much of it directed at me and reflecting on our longevity in the business. None of us was what you would call ‘new to the game’ and it hit me: I should put together something that acknowledges our experience.

“When the ship got back to Cape Town, I sat down and put together a proposal which I presented to the Baxter Theatre and another party.  Both were eager to be involved and I immediately started contacting my ‘golden oldies’.

“People have been under various forms of social restraint due to Covid for the last two years. Many have suffered great personal loss. They have also been starved of live entertainment.  This show is for them too.”

“The show will be presented in the garden and lawn area of the Baxter ground.  The area that has been cordoned off to accommodate an outdoor performance.

“We are limiting the crowd to 500 to cater for inclement weather.  If that happens, the show will be moved inside. We are pitching it has a picnic-on-the-lawn type of show.”

Terry admits that to all intents and purpose he has been “retired” these past few years except for the odd worthy charity. He also made a conscious decision never to wear his drag outfit on stage again.

But the work kept coming and he has so many projects floating in his head.

“One doesn’t simply put one’s feet up and go vacant upstairs,” he said.

His Faces of Fortune series on social media – which recounts incidents in his early career, some hilarious, other deadly serious – is a work in progress and there is every expectation that it will see the light of day as a hard-copy publication.

“And then there is the SuidOosterfees coming up,” he says.  “But more about that later.

“For the moment let’s focus on the Golden Oldies.  There is so much experience that will be on stage.  The collective age of all the performers is around 1000 years. That’s solid gold and they will rock your socks off.”

Some of the other oldies who will perform on the day are Sylvia Mdunyelwa, Neesha Abrahams, Vernon Castle, Philip Swales (a baritone who sang with the Eoan Group and Capab), Erica Lundi, and  DJ Stan.

For the record, Terry is a spritely 73 years young.

Ticketing has opened and it’s going like hot cakes. Get in early.

Golden Oldies performers — seated are Erica Lundi, DJ Stan, Sylvia Mdunyelwa, Zelda Benjamin and Sammy Hartman. At the back are Lionel Beukes, Denver Furness, Madeegha Anders, Terry Fortune, Daryl Andrews and Leslie Kleinsmith.

 

Photos: Natheer Waggie
Black Panda Media Productions

 

Mr Paljas, the ground-breaking Cape Town musical few can remember

 

12 January 2022

On this day, 60 years ago, the musical, Mr Paljas, opened at the Labia Theatre in the Gardens in Cape Town with a cast of 30 which included artists who were to become well-known names in local entertainment.

Whilst it was nowhere near as successful as King Kong, which was a Johannesburg production put on the boards a few years earlier by some of the people who created Mr Paljas, the play did generate a degree of interest in the “coloured” community.

Although the Eoan Group, established in District 6 in 1938, had been active in the community, its focus at that stage was largely opera and ballet. Nothing as ambitious and with such a large cast as Mr Paljas had been produced on the Cape Town scene.

The essence of the play involved a “bergie” [tramp], Mr Paljas, who wanders into a West Coast fishing village that has fallen on very hard times. The local fishing company packs up all their machinery and leaves the village – but they leave behind their boats.

Street-wise Mr Paljas inspires the villagers to make use of the boats. They smarten it up and the men head out to sea. Long story short, the boats come back fully laden and the village prospers. Of course, local politics come into play and there are side issues which eventually sees Mr Paljas driven out.

Not much is documented about the musical but the little that there is on web indicates that there are a few twists and turns in the story.

Singer Danny Joseph played the lead role of Mr Paljas and Maud Damons, a well-known name in entertainment circles featured as Tina, the local flirt.

A young Thandie Klaasen

Other members of the cast included Thandie Klaasen, Gerry Arendse and Colenso Mama.

The musical is significant also in that it generated an album of the play’s songs performed by celebrated jazz pianist Chris McGregor who was starting out in his career and was to go on to form the legendary group The Blue Notes and then Brotherhood of Breath.

McGregor was listed as musical director for Mr Paljas. On the soundtrack of the play, McGregor had Dudu Pukwana (alto sax) Nick Peterson (alto) Cornelius Khumalo (baritone and clarinet), Denis Mpali (trumpet), Blyth Mbityana (trombone) Joe Mal (bass) and Cornelius Joya (drums) in the orchestra.

The 16 songs of the musical included tunes like To The Boats, More Fish In The Sea, One Bright Day, Ghoema Song, Lighthouse In The Sky, and Goodbye Paljas.

The driving force behind Mr Paljas was Stanley “Spike” Glasser.  He wrote the music based on a book by Harry Bloom. The lyrics were written by Beryl Bloom. Glasser was also musical director and wrote the arrangements for lyricist Todd Matshikiza’s King Kong. Harry Bloom wrote the King Kong book,

Considering the strong connection between the main people behind King Kong and Mr Paljas, there was a view that Mr Paljas would be as big a hit as King Kong which opened in 1959. King Kong, billed as an “all-African jazz opera”, was a smash hit that went on a two-year run around SA and then on to London.

In apartheid South Africa, King Kong was seen as the entertainment world thumbing their noses at the ruling party. Here was black and white South Africa working comfortably together to produce an international hit.

Yet, that success never translated in the same way to Mr Paljas.  It opened in the Labia to some acclaim (the Labia being the “in” white theatre which welcomed black patronage).

After the Labia run Mr Paljas did little community halls on the Cape Flats and then . . . nothing.

Maud Damons and Stanley Glasser. Picture: Social media

It made Danny Joseph and Maud Damons household names in the community and was another stepping stone for Thandie Klaasen to bigger things.

But the play itself . . . nothing.  In doing my research for this piece, I asked some people involved in theatre whether they had any knowledge of Mr Paljas.  None had. I wasn’t able to establish whether anyone of the original cast is still alive. Brussels-based Cape Town man, Milton van Wyk, who is researching the Golden City Dixies, unearthed two clippings from the Rand Daily Mail referencing the musical. One, from 13 January 1962 announced the opening of the show and that live theatre allowed them to allow “mixed audiences”.  The second, on 2 March 1962, said the show was not the financial success  it was anticipated to be and would not to taken to Jo’burg, and tour SA and Rhodesia.

Maud Damons did end up in London where she plied her trade as a jazz singer and a few years ago did a few gigs at Kaleidoscope in Claremont when visiting her hometown. She died last year.  Glasser died a few years ago, also in London, a celebrated music academic. Glasser and Damons fled South Africa after being charged under the hated Immorality that barred relationships between white and black.

Click on images to enlarge

[Blogger’s note:  If anyone is aware of any member of the cast who is still around, drop me a message. I’d like to have a chat to them.

All photographs sourced from social media.]

 

 

Molly Baron . . . when you smiled, the whole world smiled with you

22 November 2020

Veteran Cape Town musician John Arthur Baron, died suddenly on Thursday. Many music lovers won’t know that name. They’ll remember him as Molly Baron, long-time drummer of one of South Africa’s best-known groups.

They’ll remember a dedicated musician, a humble person, a great entertainer – and someone who had one of the most welcoming smiles a human could ever possess.

Fellow performer Sophia Foster put into words what his fans and music peers will remember most: “His personality, was . . . you know . . . you could see him coming a mile off. It was that smile. The smile never ever left him. It was always the smile.”

Not unexpectedly, Molly’s death saw an avalanche of condolence messages and tributes on social media, such was his popularity.

This blog, in acknowledging his status as one of the legends of South Africa’s music industry, profiled his long career in a lengthy piece here. But that wasn’t even near enough to accommodate the life story of a Bellville South boy that began back in 1967. From a poor background, with minimal education, he nurtured his love for music that saw him strut his stuff from the townships to society’s highest stratas.

I knew Molly from the time he joined the Rockets as a kid barely able to see over the drumkit and I have many good memories of the years I wrote about him. But I will leave it to his fellow entertainers and industry people – the likes of Jonathan Butler, Sophia Foster, Colin “Bones” Delight, Jerry Watt, Richard Jon Smith, and DJ Tubby Welby Solomon – to acknowledge the life and times of John “Molly” Baron.

Colin Bones Delight – lead singer with The Rockets for many years

Colin “Bone” Delight

“I first met Molly in 1971. I had been playing with The Fantastics but the band broke up and I was at a loose end. One day I was lying at the swimming pool at Athlone Stadium sunning myself when I looked up and saw Molly standing over me along with the legendary club manager “Laughings”. They wanted me to join the band because Robbie and Georgie had left.

“He invited me to rehearsals and, from there, history just took over. I was lucky to have Molly take me in, so to speak, and show me the ropes. I hope people reading this can understand what type of person Molly was. People want to talk about struggle, we struggled. We did it tough, we slept in Laughings’s van after the shows. He wouldn’t go home to Bellville after a gig. So I slept in the van with him.

“Molly was a good person. He had an expression on his face when he worked that reminded me of my grandpa. That is why I was so fond of him.”

Jonathan Butler – started with The Rockets as a teenybopper in 1972

Jonathan Butler

“I will always remember Molly as a fearless drummer, a great singer and a fabulous musician. He was the glue that kept the Rockets together when I was with them.

“It was when I became a Christian and saw Molly became a Christian too that we got close and shared our faith.

“My time with Rockets, as their youngest member, was very exciting but very tough also. The guys in The Rockets were like big brothers to me. It was hard at times but I felt very close to them.

“Bones was and will always be my big brother. I don’t think this generation knows that I was the youngest Rocket.”

Jerry Watt – lead guitarist of The Rockets and still leading them today

Jerry Watt

“I was with The Fantastics but we split after our singer Mikey Davids died. I joined The Rockets and Bones joined with me.

“From a young age, Molly – all of us – we were all driven. We wanted the band to be a household name. We wanted the people to remember us for as long as possible. There were hundreds of bands that did the same things we did but we did it differently. We would go to Strandfontein bungalows and rehearse for weeks at a time. That’s how we got to be more creative, working on things like choreography.

“In life, nothing is forever, people get married, people get divorced, people make choices. Molly pursued a solo career, which he did well. He was a great drummer, very solid, one of the best in the country. When he went solo, he started playing guitar, which he did well. He recorded a couple of albums and started doing gigs as a duo.

“Molly was very dedicated. When we did gigs, I drove the truck with the equipment. He would go ahead two-three hours before me to set up the sound at the venue and other issues. By the time we get to the gig, we would have a quick sound check and, boom, we’re on!

“We were all focussed on making the Rockets brand a success. We worked hard; nothing was given to us on a platter. We had our share of hardships. Today The Rockets is a household name. It was a shock when the news came.

“We will always have those memories of what we built together.”

Richard Jon Smith — 70s superstar in SA, backed by The Rockets on big tours

Richard Jon Smith

“I miss a very dear brother to my family and me today, as he suddenly is not with us anymore. I feel that void of his laughter and little sayings and more laughter.

“Molly, you were such an inspiration to so many all over Africa. Just your smile opened anyone’s heart and all was well.

“You were the Rockets always, because you were the mascot.”

Trevor “Tubby” Welby Solomon – DJ and sound and lights consultant for The Rockets on big gigs

“Tubby” Welby Solomon

“It is with a heavy heart that I reminisce on the passing of Molly Baron, a leading light on the Cape Town music scene for many years and a consummate professional in fulfilling his business commitments with whomever he had a deal. In an industry rife with a lackadaisical attitude towards punctuality and commitment, Molly was an exception.

“Whatever shenanigans the group got into in their free time, when it was rehearsal time or time to set up for a gig, Molly took control, the tomfoolery stopped and the group would do their thing with exceptional talent and dynamic delivery. Molly was not only progressive in his music, he was always forward looking in his performances and would always call before shows to organise what sound and lighting would work in the venue.

“I’ll never forget the first time we did the sound mixing from within the auditorium at the Panorama in Elsies River. We had to sit in the seats between the patrons with our mixing desk, what we did not realise was that from time to time the stop was passed down the row and we had to take a skyf before passing it on. That was before Covid of course.

“Another example of Molly’s progressive thinking was when he called me from Mossel Bay on the last leg of their South African tour on their way back to Cape Town. We discussed sound and lighting requirements and he asked for ideas to make a big splash on their return. I suggested chartering an aircraft to fly them from Mossel Bay to Cape Town and Molly eagerly agreed, if other international groups could do it why couldn’t they? Goodbye Molly Baron, thanks for the ride, you shall remain in our hearts and minds forever. See you on the other side brother.” Tubby.

Sophia Foster – veteran diva and support act on The Rockets tours.

Sophia Foster

“I worked with The Rockets in the mid ’70s on the big tour with RJS, Jonathan Butler, Ronnie Joyce, Bones Delight and Lionel Petersen. And then I toured with the Rockets on their own with Sydney Vellan’s tour.

“You know, I have never come across such an even-tempered person.  He became quite spiritual. The smile never ever left him.   It was always the smile. Like always, just such an amazing spirited person.

“He was such a good leader, even with all the politics going on, and whether everyone was gerook. He was also gerook but he was level headed.

“When I was on stage and he was leading the band behind me, he was brilliant.   He knew his stuff. He was the first and youngest drummer I worked with that was like the older guys like Monty Weber and Gilbert Matthews. For his age, he played brilliantly.

“He was a class act when it came to managing the group’s business. He was very together when it came to rehearsals and he was quite strict with those guys. You must remember we were on the road, everybody got it together and we were so tight. It took a strong captain to run that ship. There were lots of side things happening but when it came to the gig, everybody pulled together.

“The sad thing is, I worked and spent so much time on the road with Molly and the rest of those, yet I do not have one picture of myself with them.”

Blogger’s Note: As a journalist I have lots of fond memories of dealing with Molly as the spokesman for the group, but one stands out: He always dropped in to see me whenever the group came back to Cape Town after a long time away on tour to see if he could get some publicity for upcoming gigs. On this one occasion, coming back from Natal, he walks in, smiling that smile of his, and dropped a packet on my desk.  With an impish “this is for you”, he beckoned to open it.  Inside was a tightly wrapped “parcel” of the finest “Durban poison” you could lay your hands on. Up to today, I can’t think why he gave it me to.  I never inhaled a day in my llife.

Such was the humour of John Arthur Baron. Loved you for it Molly.

The early Rockets, from left, “Bones” Delight. Claude Brown, Frank Brown, Molly Baron, and Jerry Watt.

 

Related material

Molly Baron: A ‘Rocket Man’ . . . and yes, it’s been a long, long time

Jerry Watt: The Rockets’ clean-living and stable Mr Fantastic

Bones is still a sheer delight 

Sweet, gentle Walter Brown — gone but not forgotten

All material on this blog is copyrighted and permission should be obtained  to publish any part of it

Heritage Day, D6 vocal groups, and the museum that must not die

Chico Levy, Salie Daniels with The Playboys and, on right The Falcons, from left, Biba Petersen, Mana Petersen, Tommy Peters, Ama Petersen and Taliep Petersen. Click on the picture to enlarge.

24 September 2020

Do the names The Ambrosias, The Playboys, The Falcons, The Splendours or The Emotions mean anything to you? They absolutely would, if you had any connection with District 6.

They were all singing groups who had their roots in District 6 in the late ’50s and ’60s before the apartheid regime uprooted the community and turned the area into a wasteland.

Today is Heritage Day, a day to remember and acknowledge our past . . . the things that mattered then and matters now. Heritage is about past tangible things like buildings and intangibles like customs, music dance sports etc.

For many, those singing groups are part of the heritage of people who lived there and who have passed it on to their children.

There wasn’t a stage show in the ’60s that didn’t feature any one of those aforementioned groups and others like The Telstars, The Rockets (not the pop band) and Hi-Lites. They would feature on the bill on that small stage at The Star Bioscope with the likes of Ebrahim Rodrigues, Ismail Parker, Vernon Saunders and budding stars Zane Adams and Taliep Petersen.

The Rockets vocal group, one of the most popular groups that came out of District 6 in the Sixties. [Elspeth Davids and Neesha Abrahams are the women, any help with naming the others would be appreciated.]

Those were great days for the D6 people. Life might have been a struggle for many but when it came to entertainment it was alive and vibrant. After a week-long slog on the factory floor, light relief on a Saturday afternoon was a stage show at the Avalon or one organised by “Sakkie vannie Star”.

It would feature their neighbours, their brothers or sons (daughters in some cases) but almost always someone from District 6.

Today, all those groups and entertainers and their venues have to be remembered because it is part of someone’s heritage.

There is no better institution that ensures people remember the District 6 heritage than the District 6 Museum housed in the old Methodist Church on the corner of Buitenkant and Albertus Streets. They have been doing sterling work for decades in keeping alive the memory of District 6 alive.

The museum, since its establishment in 1989, has been a cynosure for those who want to imprint indelibly in people’s memories the apartheid’s forced removals, be it District 6, Newlands, Wynberg, Claremont, Mowbray, is never forgotten.

Within its walls are mementoes and street signs bearing names of families who lived on it . . . Eckhardt Street, Pontac Street, Aspeling, Stuckeris, De Villiers . . . a link to the past but never forgotten.

A clipping from The Post in 1968. The Ambrosias in the group are Rashaad Craayenstein, Solly Junior, Gouwa Abrahams, Achmat Abrahams and Isgak Felix.

Sadly, this beacon of a community’s heritage is in danger of closing its doors, another victim of the flow-on effects of Covid-19.

The museum has relied, in the main, on donors and a steady stream of international visitors, who came to hear, first-hand from former residents of life in the area.

When the Government closed the international borders, the principal revenue stream dried up. It doesn’t get funding from the authorities, and in an effort to continue operating, it has launched a local and global appeal for people to donate any amount to help them keep their doors open. They would like donations to start at R50, the normal price of an entry fee.

Donations can be made by EFT to their Standard Bank account 0707 293686, branch code 020 909. The Swift code for foreign donations is SBZ AZA JJ.

Local artists, along with many other organisations, have joined the campaign to save the museum. Tomorrow (September 25) the Save D6 Benefit Concert will be live streamed on social media from the 44 Long Street venue. It will feature, among others, Madeegha Anders and her children Jawaahier and Ashur Petersen, Loukmaan Adams, Nur Abrahams, Jarrod Ricketts, Mujahied George and Claire Phillips. The concert starts at noon and goes to midnight.

Some of the performers have a strong link to D6. The father of the Petersen siblings is Taliep Petersen.

Nur Abrahams, one the top entertainers in Cape Town, is, of course, the son of Gouwa and Achmat who were part of The Ambrosias. He’ll be celebrating his heritage big time no doubt.

Tickets for the concert – R80 – is available until October 1 and can be bought here:

https://www.quicket.co.za/events/115443-save-d6-museum-benefit-concert/#/

I’ll be celebrating Heritage Day by tuning in and doing my bit to save the museum. As a proud Trafalgarian, I trudged to school from the station up Hanover Street and hung a right at Tennant Street, then left at Constitution and right into Birchington Road to get there.

Years later, I was to spend my formative years as a journalist working at The Post in Hanover Street, which is where I met The Ambrosias, Chico Levy and The Playboys, Mac Emeran and Colin Martin of The Splendours and a host of other performers who were local heroes.

You don’t know where you’re going in life unless you know where you come from. It’s all heritage.

To the international readers of this blog (and there are many of you, my site tells me that) please support this worthy cause. In Australia that R80 converts to $6.65, NZ is $7.19, Canadian dollar is $6.35, US dollar is $4.77, in the UK that R80 coverts to £3.75 and the Euro to 4.05.

All material on this blog is copyrighted and permission has to be obtained to reproduce any part of it. Pictures from Warren Ludski archives.

The Emotions . . . from left, Abduraghiem Leggett, Fatie Jardien, Abdullah Barodien, Mustapha Barodien.

The Splendours . . . men from top, Colin Martin, Bobby Jamal and Mac Emeran. Women, from top, are Denise Roman, Merle Hendricks and Joy Hendricks.

Sophia Foster’s Aretha tribute is pushing for a world audience

 

Sophia Foster, the head of the Foster Foundation, with the all-female cast of Sista’s Tribute To Aretha which will be live streamed next Sunday

Singer Sophia Foster is reprising her Sista’s Tribute To Aretha Show that hit the boards in December last year – with one huge difference. This time she’s going global.

The veteran diva and her Fostering Foundation kids will present the same show next Sunday, September 13, going live in an online streaming event.

Unlike the first outing of the show that was put on at the Nassau school in Newlands where only 220 people could attend, Sophia is banking on a much bigger audience, courtesy of modern technology and the reach of the internet.

“My broer,” she says in her trademark opening line, “I’m hoping that the response is huge. We’re counting on thousands and thousands buying tickets. It’s for a very good cause.”

The original Sista’s Tribute To Aretha Show was Sophia’s acknowledgment of the role the Queen of Soul played in her formative years.

Sophia used the first performance to showcase the talents of the young artists she mentors as part of Fostering Foundation that she set up to nurture raw talent.

“We put on a wonderful first performance last December and followed it up with a couple of corporate gigs but Covid 19 kinda brought things to a halt,” she said. “There were so many people who were dying to see the show but we went into lockdown.

“However, we can’t stagnate indefinitely. Now technology gives us this great opportunity to not only put on this show again for a few hundred people but to take it out of a suburb in Cape Town and present it to the rest of the city, the rest of South Africa, and to the world.

“We’re all pretty excited about that. We know how much people overseas hanker after something from home. Now ex-pats in Australia and New Zealand can watch it next Sunday night, South Africans in Canada and America can watch it early on the Sunday morning and in the UK they can watch it with us on a Sunday afternoon.

“And if they can’t watch it live, it will be available for delayed streaming for about 10 days after that. Everybody’s a winner!”

Tickets for the show can be obtained at www.quicket.co.za and costs R75. [That’s about $5 in Oz and NZ, about $4 in North America and cheap-cheap in the UK.]

The show will be aired from Aki Khan’s Penny Lane Studios in Wynberg.

It will once again feature an all-female cast made up of the young performers but this time there will be one big change – Sophia herself will be joining them on stage.

“Performing at Penny Lane Studios will be like coming home,” Sophia said. “The studio is close to where I grew up as a child.”

The recent easing of the lockdown restrictions has meant the students and Sophia can get in a number of days of rehearsals to fine-tune the presentation.

“I can tell you … it’s dynamic. It’s alive. It’s vibrant.”

As can be expected, Sophia will make full use of the extravagant wardrobe she wore on stage when she was much in demand on the hotel circuit in Southern Africa.

Sophia also has the expertise of experienced dancer Tilly Daniels Barber to polish the choreography of the young cast.

Unlike previous shows taped at Penny Lane Studios where performers played to a room filled with camera and lighting crew, Sophia has used the tricks she has learnt over the years to turn the studio in a mini-theatre accommodating about 20 people.

“It will help the young ones who could find performing to an empty room a bit daunting.”

Sista’s Tribute For Aretha cast going through their paces for next Sunday’s show which will be live-streamed.

Tickets: www.quicket.co.za

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Richard Ceasar and Camillo Lombard online . . . that’s tops, dog!

Blog Editor’s Note:  This article was written and posted  before the developments that have enveloped one of the people featured prominently in it.  The show has since been cancelled. This blog is a firm believer in the rule of  law  and allowing courts to decide the matter rather than taking any action that prejudges the issue. The article will remain on the blog until further notice but no comments  will be allowed.]

Camillo Lombard’s group, Top Dog SA, has lined up another musical top dog, singer/guitarist Richard Ceasar, to headline the band’s next online streaming gig.

It goes out next Saturday, August 1, and Top Dog is hoping that with Richard as the main act, the event will have huge appeal to expat South Africans living in Australia and New Zealand.

“Richard enjoys a huge following in both countries because he has performed there over the years and maybe this will be something nice for his fans in distant parts,” Camillo said.

Top Dog had its first online gig in May as musicians moved to the online platform to make up for the money they would have earned with live gigs.

“Our gigs have been few and far between and we have had very little support from the national government in this regard,” Camillo said.

“We have to do what we can. Like everyone else, we have to put food on the table. This is our way of doing it.”

Camillo said the group knew they had to come up with something different as a follow up to their first gig.

“We thought long and hard about which artists to feature. Richard is well loved by many audiences in Cape Town and around the world. He was a perfect fit.”

“We’ll use the occasion to celebrate a Cape Town legend.”

Camillo said viewers of the show would be treated to a “repertoire of contemporary jazz, toe-tapping music seasoned with great improvisation”. It will include some of Richard’s originals and “an amazing song penned by our own Ebrahim Khalil Shihab (Chris Schilder)”.

For Richard, life today is a quite different scenario to what he was doing in July last year. Then he was performing on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean stopping off at ports in Greece, Italy, Spain, France . . . living the dream.

Richard Ceasar . . . from cruising in the Mediterranean to online gig.

The online gig comes at a time when he has to find ways to promote his newest album, The Cape Town Old School Jam, that he released a few weeks ago. It is available now on online platforms like Spotify, Deezer and iTunes. Richard says it is a mixed bag of old favourites that people like to request when he plays.

“It is probably the last time I will be doing something like that. I have reached the stage in my life when I want to do my own stuff to explore my own creativity,” he said.

The online gig will also feature local singer Candice Thornton who is a graduate of the Cape Music Institute and is fast making a name for herself on the local scene. She has released two singles, Superhero and Four Leaf Clover. Top Dog engages her when they need a lead singer.

Tickets for the event can be obtained via Quicket and, here’s the rub . . . it will cost only R50. Camillo says price that is appropriate for a cash-trapped local audience but for the expats, it is a drop in the ocean. R50 equates to less than $5 in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and little more than two British pounds.

“We appeal to our international audiences to purchase as many tickets as they can afford to support our initiatives during Covid 19,” Camillo said.

They are hoping that overseas viewers will buy multiple tickets per household as a gesture.

Singer Candice Thornton . . . a guest spot on the Top Dog-Richard Ceasar online gig next Saturday.

Don’t hold back you expat music lovers in Oz, Kiwiland and in the Northern Hemisphere. Dig deep and buy up big. It’s the least you can do.

Four musos leave us to rock on at a big gig in the sky

Drummer Gilbert Matthews who made a name for himself in South Africa in the Seventies before settling in Sweden. He died last weekend. Photo: Rashid Lombard

3 July 2020

We lost Big Beats guitarist Ivor Wagner on Monday. We lost Spirits Rejoice drummer Gilbert Matthews last weekend, and Invaders and Chayn Gang keyboardist “Spewy” Pillay the week before. And Respect bassist Melly da Silva passed away a few weeks before.

All four made their mark in the Swinging Sixties in bands that had huge followings in Cape Town and, in the case of the Invaders, around the country.

Ivor Wagner started out with the Big Beats in the very early Sixties as the lead guitarist. Apart from tapping successfully into the sound of the very popular UK group The Shadows, the Big Beats were noted for the fact that Ivor and bass guitarist were both blind.

Ivor Wagner . . . passed on.

When the Big Beats faded he linked up – as an organist – with top Cape Town group Respect (which had Melly da Silva on bass). Respect was one of the first groups to embrace the psychedelic and underground music styles of the late ’60s. Ivor took to it like a duck to water.

When Respect disbanded, Ivor joined jazz pianist Tony Schilder in a “white” City nightclub, he switched to playing the bass guitar, and by all accounts, excelled at it.

He left for London with his young family in ’72 where he studied law and became a successful solicitor specialising in property law . . . a remarkable achievement for a vision-impaired man who had gone as far as Std 6 (Grade 8) when he entered the workforce as a switchboard operator. When he retired, Ivor came back to Cape Town to settle. He died on Monday in Oudtshoorn where he lived with his partner Lynette Deyce. He was 78.

Melly da Silva started with a group called The Shannons in the mid ’60s and had a strong neighbourhood following in the northern suburbs. He moved on to the Lunar 5 that had vocalist Bernie Brown as its charismatic frontman.

The Lunar 5 had a bigger following and recorded songs like Hi Hi Hazel and She’s Yum Yum that enjoyed pretty good sales for the time. Melly moved on to The Raiders for a while and then formed Respect with guitarist Issy Ariefdien and drummer Noel Kistima. They were innovators.

He settled in Australia in 1970 where he worked in the IT industry. He died in May, aged 75.

The late Mel da Silva, left, and Noel Kistima with whom he formed Respect.

Rajin “Spewy” Pillay started his career in Durban where he was from. He played with Naked Truth and then Chayn Gang with Jack Momple on drums and Henri Donjeany on guitar.

The group was one of the first Durban groups (with The Exotics) to head to Cape Town to make it their base.

The Chayn Gang broke up because some wanted to go back home. Spewy did odd gigs for years but concentrated on making leather goods (it was a ’60s peace and love thing and Spewy, with his ever present headband, and shoulder-length hair, lived it to the full).

The Invaders found him playing in a white club in Durban and were looking to broaden their repertoire and their appeal to accommodate the changing music styles of the late Sixties. Spewy hit the road with them.

Invaders lead guitarist Joe Moses, who kept in touch with him over the years, remembers it well: “We met him in this white club and he sounded great on keyboards. He had a nice style.

“We asked him to come and play for us. At first he was reluctant and long, hard think about it, but he eventually he came around.

“Spewy had a cool manner and what I remember most about him was his quality leather products and his habit of having his Alsatian dog, Tessa, on stage with him all the time.

“Just recently we made contact and he asked me if we could team up again because, as he put it, he had never played with such nice guys. I didn’t know what to say. Now he’s gone.”

Gilbert Mathews was a fixture on the jazz-fusion scene in the ’60s, moving around to different groups wherever there was an opening for a skins man who was comfortable in the genre. He ended up with Spirits Rejoice, one of the top groups in the country and recorded the eponymous LP with them. He moved to Sweden in the ’70s and plied his trade there.

Photographer and jazz promoter Rashid Lombard was deeply saddened by the passing of the four musicians, all of whom had a part in shaping his life as a young man growing up in Athlone.

“I knew all four of them,” Rashid said. “At some stage or other I caught their act hanging out in the clubs in Athlone.

“I was 17 years old living in Lawrence Road, in Athlone, when I heard of the group, the Chayn Gang from Durban that moved into a house in Church Street, the next road up from where I lived. They performed at the Columbia ’68 Club and the Soul Workshop, the two hot clubs in Athlone at the time.

The late Spewy Pillay who played with The Invaders and The Chayn Gang.

“During that same period at Columbia, Melly da Silva and Ivor Wagner were with Respect. They were the regular house band there, well-rehearsed and always adding new songs to their repertoire.

“They played the stuff that got me into appreciating music that went beyond the pop and bubblegum stuff that you heard on the radio.

“Through them I got hooked on the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Blood Sweat and Tears and the like. Those were good times.

“The biggest loss to me is Gilly. He was originally from the Eastern Cape. We grew up together and became family in many ways. Before he left for Sweden, he was a regular at the Beverly Lounge and the Landdrost Hotel, both popular spots for cool jazz music.

“Gilly later joined the super fusion group Spirits Rejoice with Mervyn Africa, Paul Petersen, Duke Makasi and Robbie Jansen. They were dynamite. They recorded the album, Spirits Rejoice, and had a long residency at the Club Montreal in Manenberg.

“It is so sad that we lose all these great musicians in quick succession and now we have lost a great photographer in George Hallett too.”

“They should not be forgotten. They laid the foundation and shaped my appreciation of the different music genres and of photography.”

As an entertainment journalist, I also knew all four of them. If I replayed the soundtrack of my life, Melly and Ivor would feature prominently. And I’d press the repeat button for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Related material:

The life and times of Ivor Wagner

Rajin “Spewy” Pillay (middle) adorned with bangles and beads, with Invaders, from left, Johnny Burke, Dave Burke, Joe Moses and Lionel Petersen.