The holidays are always intent on taking the elders away. While The Con was away on its December hiatus the lights of several of South Africa’s brightest were extinguished. Today, we pay tribute to two of them: the musician and stellar pianist Pat Matshikiza and the historian and writer Jeff Guy.
Patrick Vuyo Matshikiza (10 November 1938 – 29 December 2014)
Today I write about the passing of a dear friend and giant of South African jazz. This is not the first time I have written about a great musician that has influenced my career in music production and, as with the likes of Doc Mthalane, Sipho Gumede, Sandile Shange, Busi Mhlongo and Syd Kitchen, one is confronted with the sad reality of how poorly the lives of our musical legends are documented, with massive gaps in what is recorded and numerous conflicting facts.
So one is left to rely on personal experiences, with help from sources such as the sleeve notes from the artist’s albums – in this case Seasons, Masks and Keys, penned by Sandile Dikeni; and Gwen Ansell’s Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music & Politics in South Africa.
Patrick Vuyo Matshikiza was born on 10 November 1938 into a musical household. His father was the vaudevillian pianist and bandleader Meekley “Fingertips” Matshikiza from the township of New Brighton, now known as Mlungisi, Queenstown (Komani) in the Eastern Cape – a community that has contributed greatly to the identity of South African jazz. The same soil produced his uncle Todd Matshikiza, as well as Margaret Mcingana, Stompie Mavi, Don Tshobela and Zim Ngqawana.
By the time of Matshikiza’s birth, “Queenstown bore the soubriquet ‘Little Jazz City’ because of the number and sophistication of its vaudeville companies and ragtime bands”, writes Ansell. She goes on to quote Matshikiza attributing this vibrant scene to the legacy of choral singing: “We had more singers. And it seems as if we excelled because when that art is common, everybody wants to sing and they don’t want to give another person a chance from another town. And they are highly competitive to improve. You want a good tenor? There’s three. You want a soprano? There’s five. Almost every house had a piano. And somebody in a choir, almost every family.”
This was the case in the Matshikiza household. Dikeni writes: “The old man – a bread deliverer for the local bakery – could read music and spent endless hours after work on the piano either playing it or tuning it after a day of merciless banging by the Matshikiza kids, with Pat invariably being accused number one in the assaults on the ebonies and ivories.”
After completing high school, Matshikiza was sent to St Matthews College to study for a teaching diploma. When he arrived, there was no one playing the church organ after the organist, Mrs Humbleby, had to leave for England on some urgent family business. Ansell quotes: “So the chaps said: ‘You must play organ.’ I said no, I only know piano. They said: ‘Shut up, we know you read music – Hey! Here’s an organist!’ So on Sunday morning we were standing in line with the other pupils and the master came to me: ‘Can you please play?’ I was committed and I told myself I mustn’t make any mistakes. As organist, I was privileged, exempted from doing manual (workshop) so I could practice.”
When Humbleby returned, she handed the organ over to the 19-year-old Pat and took over as conductor of the school choir, whilst taking on the role of mentor, working through the classics, helping Pat master such pieces as Handel’s Messiah.
When St Matthews was converted to a girl’s school, Pat and others were transferred to Lovedale, where he completed his higher certificate in teaching. Armed with this, “an unforgettable experience with the classics on organ and a dollop of street cred with the piano, Matshikiza was unleashed on the population. All these qualifications did not help in securing a job as an educationist. He just could not get a post and settled for the job of steward and sometimes porter at the hotel in Queenstown,” writes Dikeni.
I first heard Matshikiza’s name during my musical education at Busi Mhlongo’s home in Grace Avenue, Westville in the early 1990s, where musicians such as Gumede, Bheki Mseleku, Mthalane, Shange, Mshaks Gasa and Madala Kunene would gather on an almost daily basis. The impression I got was that Matshikiza was a bit of a rascal; a rascal much revered for his extensive contribution to South African jazz.
From Queenstown he relocated to Johannesburg in the early 1960s. His first port of call was Dorkay House, where he was quickly welcomed into Mackay Davashe’s Jazz Dazzlers, with Davashe on tenor sax, Kippie Moeketsi on alto sax, Makhaya Ntshoko on drums, Saint Mokoangoe on bass, Denis Mpale on trumpet, Blyth Mbityana on trombone, Matshikiza on piano; and on vocals Letta Mbuli, Thandi Klaasen, Ben ‘Satch’ Masinga, the Woody Woodpeckers including Victor Ndlazilwana, and an array of backup singers featuring, among others, Abigail Khubeka.
From Dikeni’s notes: “The silent insistence in Mackay Davashe’s band was simply skill and talent. And while there, although he did not play his own compositions, Matshikiza learnt the art of listening to the urban landscape with its many sounds and found a strange canvas in his own soul and mind where he could musically paint his own muse. While playing with these greats and hearing their innovation he miraculously also heard his own voice from many nights in Queenstown where he used to be woken up by harrowing tunes. He recollects how he, after nights like those, would speak to his late mom about these haunting tunes. And then his mother used to say ‘those tunes are your songs my son. Those are gifts from God to you.’” Sadly, I have been unable to find a reference to his mother’s name.
Dikeni goes on to note that “armed with ‘tunes from God’ he started attending jam sessions at Dorkay House where he jammed with the likes of Chris McGregor and others who later left for exile. It was in fact McGregor who, during these jam sessions, came to Matshikiza and pointed out to him the singularity of his style on piano… long after the Jazz Dazzlers had disbanded and Chris McGregor and others had left for exile, Matshikiza stayed on, playing all over the country for almost every and anybody. He entered jazz competitions and won prizes that sometimes lured him overseas, but he miraculously refused to leave and preferred to play in South Africa. Like Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi, he formed a bridge between time and space by keeping the home fires burning, but sadly he never had the fortune to exhibit in a very significant way the majesty of the sound that he so obviously possessed. He ended up playing in hotels and such places and gigs that hardly denote the maestro in him. At best he became an evasive legend whose musical voice spoke louder than his persona in the annals of the South African jazz discography.”
In 1975 the four track album, Tshona!, with compositions by Matshikiza and Moeketsi, was released by Rashid Vally’s As-Sham/The Sun label. Contributors to the title track composed by Matshikiza, which remains one of the most identifiable tracks in our collective consciousness, included Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee on tenor sax, Alex Khaoli on bass, Sipho Mabuse on drums and Dennis Phillips on alto sax, alongside Moeketsi. This track became an anthem of the Anti-Apartheid movement. A defiant shout out against the injustices of the system.
By the late 1990s, Matshikiza was coming to the end of a two-decade stint playing cocktail music in hotels. For more on this period of his life I refer you to Ansell’s book, but the closing line of his remarks on this soul-destroying period is quite telling: “Twenty years playing in hotels, and all that time I was either a prisoner or pet.”
After his final residency playing in the foyer of the Hilton in Durban, he relocated to Johannesburg for a few years, where Mzi Khumalo’s Metallon Group on the Catwalk Records label commissioned pianist Themba Mkhize to produce the album Seasons, Masks and Keys. By this stage, Matshikiza was already showing signs of the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. After its release in 2005, Matshikiza returned to settle in Durban with his second wife Philile.
It was then that Rainbow Restaurant founder Ben Pretorius asked that I assist in looking after Pat, the man in a hat. We did manage to get a few gigs together for him but the progressive degeneration of Parkinson’s made it harder and harder for him to perform. For a couple of years he would sleep over at Summerhill Guest Lodge, Cowies Hill, where all the suites are named after famous South African musicians that stayed there when in Durban to perform at the Rainbow – including the Pat Matshikiza room. Eventually, even those once-a-week sessions on the baby grand became too much for him.
Personally, I would have to say my saddest moment with Pat came in June 2010 when I was working on the music programme for the Fan Parks for the Soccer World Cup. I put him on the beachfront programme. With the assistance of Philile he reported for duty with a rinky-dink synthesizer that only a child should play on. I could not allow him to perform on that toy in public but thankfully had the room to reschedule and ensure that a proper piano was on site when he came back. I will, however, forever remember that sad look in his eyes when I said he could not perform on that specific day, his right hand holding his left to ease the shaking.
In 2011, when he could no longer support the studies of his son Lungisani, whom he had out of wedlock with Thabisile Mchunu, he asked for assistance and so Lungisani came to work at the Rainbow, enabling me to remain close to the story. Towards the end of 2011, Matshikiza was hospitalised for a couple of months after a stroke.
It was not many months ago that Philile and Pat moved into a house in CC section in Umlazi, compliments of Ethekwini Municipality after his dire circumstances received much needed media attention. An advertising company in Johannesburg even donated an electric wheelchair, but he was already too frail to benefit much from it.
In late November, Philile was hospitalised and informed that she needed to have a heart transplant – urgently. Sadly, she passed away on 14 December. On Boxing Day, Pat’s daughter Ncabakazi (a nurse) and son Thabo Matshikiza, from his first marriage to the late Nosipho Kuse, took him home to Komani. Patrick Vuyo Matshikiza passed away on Monday, 29 December 2014. Good bye Mr Matshikiza, they may have called you a rascal, but to me you were a gentleman of the highest order.
Whilst I know that the circumstances of Matshikiza’s stay in Durban in the past decade were nowhere near what such a legendary creative person should endure in their twilight years, I must add the following. There were people that did make an effort: Nise Malange from the BAT Centre; Weziwe Thusi when she was MEC for Arts and Culture; and Eastern Cape trumpeter Feya Faku, whenever he came to perform in Durban, would send his performance fee to Pat and even send money on a regular basis, because a pension of just over R1000 a month does not go very far. I salute.
Patrick Vuyo Matshikiza (10 November 1938 – 29 December 2014) was laid to rest at the Queenstown Cemetery on 10 January 2015.
Words: Neil Comfort. Comfort is the owner of the Rainbow Restaurant and Jazz Club in Pinetown, Durban.
Main Photograph: Pat Matshikiza by Rafs Mayet
Jeff Guy (1940-2014)
For Prof Jeff Guy
I received the news of Professor Jeff Guy’s passing while I was at another fountain of knowledge, the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown, doing work-related research about writers and poets of the Black Consciousness era, focusing specifically on those that left us this year, namely Mbulelo Mzamane, Mafika Gwala and Chris Van Wyk.
While reading at NELM I received two text messages in close succession, bringing news of the departure from this life of yet another outstanding South African: the text messages came from Yvonne Winters, my former boss, retired Head of Campbell Collections, UKZN. I immediately called Prof Catherine Burns. For some reason I had not checked my emails on December 16. Had I done so, I would have seen e-mails from Cath and Meghan and other friends, sending beautiful tributes to Prof.
I had the pleasure and honour of working with Professor Jeff Guy at Campbell Collections, UKZN and I was privileged to see him many times in action during the famous UKZN History Seminars. Sometime in 2007 I went to Professor Jeff Guy’s office at Campbell Collections, to discuss a seminar we were organising, and he asked me about my family history. I mentioned my grandfather, Chief Jerome Cele of Inchanga (Fredville), the elder brother to my grandfather Leonard Cele (LR) on my paternal side, and I also mentioned some family members on my father’s maternal side, the Gumedes of Inanda, specifically my great grandfather, the Rev Posselt Gumede, and his son, my grandfather Dr IB Gumede. A few days later, at the UKZN History Seminar, Percy Ngonyama was giving a presentation about Adams College. During the discussion Prof Guy pulled out a copy of The new African: a study of the life and work of H.I.E. Dhlomo by Professor Tim Couzens, and he mentioned the Rev Posselt Gumede and Dr Innes Gumede, as some of the people linked to Adams College, and mentioned within the aforementioned book. After the seminar he lent me his copy of The New African, and in this way, superb mentor that he was, he indicated to me that I could carry out research into my family. By giving me The New African after I had briefly mentioned my family to him a few days before, he encouraged me to explore new sources: and now he had gone and found information about my family, thus helping me find an angle as a librarian, archivist, heritage professional and student of history.
Before meeting Professor Guy I had been an avid reader of history books, novels, poetry, biographies etc; however I didn’t have a paradigm or an angle. By pointing me towards my family history, while linking it to early African intellectuals, and giving me the bible of early African intellectuals (The New African), he gave me direction.
From early 2005 to late 2006, as curator and researcher at Luthuli Museum, I did a great deal of research about Chief Albert Luthuli; then, in December 2006, I started to work with Prof Guy, and in 2007 I began attending the History Seminars, and I discovered that I had been researching Chief Luthuli as an isolated figure, not within the context of the other African intellectuals of his era. When Prof Guy helped me find an angle I became a better researcher and librarian and this in turn helped me assist my library-users and researchers more effectively. Prof Guy and the History Seminar taught me to connect events and people in history. Inspired by Prof Guy’s points made during the Adams College discussion during the History Seminar, and by The New African, I began researching my family history, looking for material at Campbell Collections, where I indeed found valuable information. After one of the TAP meetings, Meghan Healy Clancy invited me to contribute an essay about the Gumedes of Inanda for publication in the book Ekhaya.
I told Prof Guy that my grandfather Leonard Cele had, three months before he was killed by lighting at the age of 41 in 1954, written two articles in Ilanga Lase Natal about the History of the Cele people. In one of the articles my grandfather said he was planning to write a book for his grandchildren – meaning me and us long before I was born. After telling him about the articles, Prof Guy urged me to find time to write about the Cele people.
Prof Guy loved and lived history day in and day out. I remember he once came to Campbell Collections with his eyes looking tired and strained. When I asked him about this, he said he had been writing all night. In August 2008 I visited kwa Ceza and, while driving along that gravel road, I remembered that in the preface of Prof Guy’s famous and classic Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom, he thanks the staff of kwa Ceza hospital for having given him accommodation while he was doing research. When I was back in Durban I asked him about the trips to kwa Ceza back in the late 60s and early 70s, and he shared with me that he had made these trips driving a VW Beetle accompanied by the then Prince Zwelithini, currently King Zwelithini ka Nyangayezizwe ka Solomo ka Dinuzulu ka Cetshwayo. And he told me that while doing research he was introduced to Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu.
When Prof was talking “History”, you could sense the passion coming from within him. Prof Guy was not only a writer, preserver and defender of History, but he also loved the Archives, the Libraries, Museums, Old Government Publications, Old Maps, historical knowledge generally: as long as information illuminated the past, specifically south-eastern Africa in the 19th century, Prof would love it. My consolation is that Prof Guy left this world after doing what he loved most – discussing History. When Yvonne and Cath told me that he had left us after attending a conference on Colenso, I was consoled, and thought what perfect timing that was.
In the Campbell Collections Reading Room in 2008, when I told him I was reading his book, The heretic: a study of the life of John William Colenso, 1814 – 1883, he said to me: “Mwelela, of all my books that is my favourite.” Being a master at drawing in all the threads of an argument to present a virtuoso conclusion, he left us in the brilliance of yet another great conclusion, in the conference paper he had lately delivered. Like a true Zulu warrior he left us in the action after the action. I once said to him: “Prof, I love the way you conclude your papers and books.” My favourite was the way he concluded a paper about Harriet Colenso, with a letter from her to the Rev John Langalibalele Dube. And who can forget the conclusion of the Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom, where he writes: “The Zulu nationalist movement today, whose leaders are in many cases the direct descendants of the men who fought the civil war, and who draw consciously on the Zulu past, is a force which will still affect the course of southern African History.”
For me it is symbolic that I received the news of Prof’s passing while doing research (he would approve!): I was in a fount of knowledge, the National English Literary Museum. I felt like Noel Mostert who wrote in his book Frontiers: The Epic of South Africa’s Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People, that he had been working in the State Archives in Cape Town when, emerging from there one afternoon, he was confronted by the headlines of Steve Biko’s death. While at NELM I told fellow-researchers about Prof Guy’s passing and we were all taken by a sense of loss.
The “Zulu National Poet” of the 1930s and 40s, Dr BW Vilakazi, wrote the following lines of poetry after the passing of his father: “I SHALL BELIEVE…/ I shall believe that you have died/ When bird-calls brightening the air,/ When night-dark skies festooned with stars,/ When haze of dawn and mist of dusk/ Whose fading glow is pale as moonbeams -/ Have vanished forever from the earth./ I shall believe that you have died/ When rooted mountains and rushing streams,/ The winds that blow from north and south,/ The winter’s frost and glittering dew-drops/ Scattering pearls upon the grass -/ Have vanished forever from the earth./ To me your fall was like a star’s…/”
A reviewer once described the Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom as “a monument to scholarship of the highest order”. How true – Prof Guy himself was a living monument to scholarship of the highest order, and the abundant fruits of his life’s work should inspire those whom he taught and influenced to produce high-order scholarship worthy of his memory.
Words: Mwelela Cele.
Mwelela Cele is a historian and Librarian at the Steve Biko Centre Library and Archive (Ginsberg, King William’s Town, Eastern Cape). He previously worked as Senior Reading Room Librarian at the Campbell Collections (Killie Campbell Africana Library), University of KwaZulu-Natal and Curator/Researcher/Education Officer at the Luthuli Museum (Stanger/KwaDukuza). He is the author of several articles on KwaZulu-Natal’s intellectual, social and political history, with a particular interest in the career of H.I.E. Dhlomo, Dr B.W. Vilakazi and Inanda local history.