Tribute: Peter Makurube, the gentle revolutionary

Peter Makurube was a visionary, a cultural warrior and a gentle revolutionary with a pan-African vision and an unceasing commitment to the arts.

Born in Soweto, he knew little of his biological father, MaAfrika; and spent his formative years growing up with his much-loved granny, until he eventually moved in with his mother and stepfather, Makurube; and his two younger brothers, Joe, and his beloved, Thabo.

His recently deceased mother Anna was a highly respected sangoma, and although Peter resisted this calling which he had clearly inherited, he was a powerful magician.

With innate perceptivity, he had an almost God-given gift for unearthing and nurturing talent, and was unceasingly dedicated to promoting South African culture.

With remarkable selflessness, and an almost defiant sense of integrity, he was an uncompromising idealist … and a humanist with a big heart.

He was a poetic dreamer and at the same time an “acerbic” realist. He was a teacher and mentor to many, and touched people far and wide, in big and small ways. And almost everyone who ever met Peter has a story to tell about him.

I feel blessed to have experienced the impact of this amazing spirit. As a friend, he imparted wisdom and guidance and as a mentor he was invaluable – he didn’t just change my life, he defined the course of it.

He believed in young people, laughter and birds … and of course great music.

Music was in fact, his lifelong inspiration and the musicians fed his soul and fuelled his vision for South Africa’s future. 

His foundation was with radio, which he considered “such an engaging medium”.

In 1987, he started as an on-air presenter at Radio Bop and went on to become a producer. With his special knack of spotting talent, he was instrumental in the careers of many radio greats, including Lawrence Dube [now Tlhabane], Bob Mabena, Ben Dikobe and numerous others.

As a broadcaster, he went on to work for a range of other radio and television broadcasters, including Metro, SAfm, the BBC, ITN, Channel 4 and NPR and was a key member of the team that launched Kaya FM.

He was also a researcher and writer, and as a print journalist he contributed to numerous publications, including The Mail & Guardian, The Sunday Independent, The Sunday Times, Tribute, Jive, City Press and Afropolitan.

As a television producer, Peter was associated with a number of award-winning documentaries, including Black Diamond which focussed on the exploitation of African footballers; Sophiatown: Surviving Apartheid; and Accused Number One: Nelson Mandela. He also worked on Township Soul, Fifties Writers in South Africa, Architecture of Fear and Blues for Tiro.

But he was probably best know for the ‘Monday Blues’, which he started in 1991, at The Cotton Pub in Hillbrow. These open-mic style sessions became a forum for developing talent and spreading social consciousness through music and the spoken word. 

“At that time little attention was given to African artists … people were just drinking … and I had all these friends who wanted to hang out with me, so I thought I should introduce them to artists of the continent, and also young artists of the time, like Moses Molelekwa and Jimmy Dludlu were playing there…

… and young kids like Ishmael … it took them off the streets, put them on stage – so people turned up there.”

He explained how people “wanted to know him” because of his involvement in radio, but since he didn’t have a big enough space at home, he decided to take it public.

And when he realised these events were attracting more people more than formal jazz venues, he thought “maybe we’ve lost something, maybe it’s my duty to be a bridge for artists … and it worked like a charm – people started approaching me, and new acts came year after year. It just went on…”

Many of South Africa’s finest stars in music and poetry, made their debuts on the Monday Blues stage. It launched the careers of artists like Simphiwe Dana, Sliq Angel’ MXO, Die Antwoord, Moses Molelekwa, Jimmy Dludlu, Ntsiki Mazwai and Blk Sonshine, amongst numerous others.

Watch the slideshow of his memorial service.

This pioneering initiative ran for 22 years (1991-2013) at different venues throughout Johannesburg, and in his later years Peter endeavoured to take the concept nationally but unfortunately could not muster the means or support necessary.

In essence, Peter was walking a encyclopedia of South African music and culture. He spent many years researching and developing an anthology and history of South African jazz – sadly, this remains an unfinished work-in-progress.

Some years back I interviewed him for an article I was writing, and asked for his definition of “Afropolitan”.

“It’s an attitude that goes with the love of self, and one’s environment. .. the beauty of the African continent. If you can’t immerse yourself in it, then you aren’t [Afropolitan] … for me I’m an African, so it’s almost like what being an African really is … it’s all about loving oneself, one’s African environment and about being totally immersed in it – you can’t be one half in and another not…and the only way to reflect that really is through the many arts that Africa has …”

“It must be there in the morning when people wake up, not just in their work, but in their lives … they should listen to the birds, to African music without even thinking, then its cool, its not political.”

“It’s also about what happens outside your house, about how you embrace other cultures…or even appropriate them… whether its art or whatever, we appreciate all the beauty we can find, and sometimes we appropriate it.

Peter Makurube made the world a better place.

Peter died in hospital on 8 April 2015 and is survived by his daughter Thato, his son Neo, his three grandchildren, his longtime companion Pascale Lamche and her son Sam McMullen.

Peter Makurube’s funeral will be hold on Saturday, April 18. The procession will leave his late mother’s house, 4250 Qadolo St, Zone 4, Pimville, at 9am to Lenasia Cemetary.

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