The weekend jazz appreciation circles of Pretoria’s townships have metamorphosed into well-attended monthly sessions over the years.
Township jazz collectors, dressed to kill in fine suits rounded off with age-old two-tone shoes, converge on, say, Atteridgeville’s Mbolekwa Hall, to sip expensive whisky.
Their ladies are dazzling in the haute couture unique to these get-togethers and enjoy the costliest wine this side of Stellenbosch.
Many of these impeccable ladies and gentlemen are factory-floor workers on any given weekday.
At the monthly sessions, a jazz band would be enlisted to provide avant-garde variations and, towards the end, the slow and sad blues, often led by a howling brass instrument.
By and large the jazz band – call it a cabaret act, if you like – also comprises working-class members, who dedicate their time to their instruments for the sheer love of it. “‘Cos ain’t no dime to make here,” as their New Orleans counterparts would lament.
The one with the saxophone – tenor or alto – blows up a storm, leading the tune, the drummer goes crazy with his sticks, the firm but gentle fingers of the man playing the upright bassist tone things down and the jazz session starts in earnest.
Enter Tuis “Mathousand” Maepa, a dazzling dancer dressed to the nines from head to toe, tapping his feet this way and that way, gyrating in tandem with the beat.
“Die man! Die man! [My man! My man!”] the audience goes crazy; “Mathousand” does what he knows best: twisting those two-tone shoes to the beat like a man possessed.
Those with a deep understanding of Pretoria’s often crime-ridden townships would tell you that “Mathousand” can walk the streets alone, day or night, and nothing bad would happen to him.
“Mathousand” embodies the real township kleva (wise guy) and many envy his status.
Some other weekends we, the jazz fanatics, join our communities for weddings and funerals, like the one I attended during the holidays in Stinkwater village, north of Pretoria.
I arrived late at the cemetery, where several hundred mourners were in attendance, making it difficult to follow proceedings by the graveside.
From a distance I observed the presiding priest was in the company of young men and women in purple and black, singing and dancing against the thump and jingle of tambourines.
The priest, in a black cassock laced with purple trimmings, triggered much excitement by the way he joined in the singing and dancing, tapping his feet hard on the ground and holding his Bible aloft.
At the end of the burial rites I got a closer glimpse of the priest who drew so much attention.
“Mathousand” was the man of the cloth: praise the Lord, hallelujah.
Johnny Masilela is a journalist and author