Where has all the music gone?

International festivals aren’t the only music in Cape Town, finds music writer Gwen Ansell. In Gugulethu, a trade union is leading efforts to keep community sounds alive.

“We’re losing our songs,” sighs Bongani Magatyana, “and it has to stop.”

Magatyana is leader and composer for Gugulethu’s MaAfrica Jazz Band. He’s mopping his forehead after an incendiary set in the township’s Vuyisile Mini Centre: a vocal trio, sax and rhythm reprising the close-harmony magic of the Manhattan Brothers with songs that were old when these singers were children and most of the audience weren’t even born.

“We all grew up with singing,” he reflects, “and you miss it. These days, kwaito and hip-hop artists don’t sing on stage any more. They talk. It’s not the same.”

Vasi Nyakaza, choirmaster of the Gugulethu Intsika Choir agrees. “In the old days we had a culture where tradition was the basis. Now, the interest in choral music is fading and our music-writers cannot transcribe the old songs to Western notation.”

You’d never guess from the audience reaction that these were practitioners of fading arts. As part of the Intyolo Jazz Programme (organised by the CTIJF’s EspAfrika and FAWU, who run the Centre as part of their Gugulethu Development Project) MaAfrica’s song Sankomota and Intsika’s Izibongo ka Shaka have the audience jiving, ululating and bellowing for more.

But that’s the point of the project, explains Mandla Gxanyana, MD of the project and a former FAWU Secretary-General. There are plans for 52 weekends of musical training through the next year; regular Friday live jam sessions and more.

“Our artists have to earn a living here in the community, and our young people can’t arrive at UCT music school a year behind their Model C counterparts just because they don’t do music in black schools.”

Ma-Africa don’t sing only the old songs. Though Magatyana and co-singers Xolani ‘Nonkie’ Mom and Asanda Nongalaza aim to “pick up the legacy of Sankomota and the African Jazz Pioneers”, they concede that “we can now also celebrate achievments.” The Centre, with its shiny new Ray Alexander Simons Theatre, is one of those. But for Magatyana, some old struggles haven’t gone away. “We have songs about HIV and Aids. But for me personally, as a Capetonian, the biggest pain is how much racism still exists in this city.'”

For more from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, see our special report.

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Gwen Ansell
Gwen Ansell is a freelance writer, writing teacher, media consultant and creative industries researcher. She is the author of various books, including the cultural history ‘Soweto Blues: Jazz, Politics and Popular Music in South Africa’ and the writers’ guide, ‘Introduction to Journalism’.

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