Media Statement on the death of a Great African Composer, Alan Silinga by the Minister of Arts & Culture, Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan.

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TODAY marks a sad day in African cultural history as we lay to rest one of the continent’s greatest composers, Alan Silinga, who wrote the world famous haunting classic, “Ntyilo Ntyilo.” It is with deep sadness that we learnt of his death on the 1st September 2007 at his home in Baziya in the Eastern Cape. He was 85 years old. But the entire African continent and the world have been blessed with his creative work which remains behind as part of our intellectual and musical heritage. We in South Africa are proud of this great son of the soil. For many outstanding artists, “Ntyilo Ntyilo” remains an inspirational standard song that is automatically included in their repertoire. It was first given international circulation when performed by Miriam Makeba for whom Silinga had initially written it. The son of a school teacher who was and outstanding choir conductor, Silinga grew up in a family that was steeped in musical appreciation. As a boy, he showed interest in the teachings of his father who saw to it that his son was well versed in Western musical theory and practice. Although the two exchanged ideas, in his teens the young Silinga was instinctively drawn to various indigenous musical style in his African community. By the time he completed his education at St. John’s College in Umthatha, Silinga had not only emerged as a well recognized tenor vocalist but was a creative composer whose music fused both the Western and African musical styles. In 1941 he travelled to Johannesburg where he worked as a clerk in the mines. But witnessing the city’s explosive African musical scene, he soon changed direction to launch a vocal group, the Gay Darkies. This marked a turning point in his life when his unmistakable gift as a composer was unleashed with the run-away success of his song called “Intliziyo Zibuhlungu.” In fact, the song was such a huge success that it was later incorporated into the sound-track of the seminal African film, “Jim Comes to Joburg.” After ten years at the heart of the musical scene as a trend-setting composer, in 1951 Silinga redirected his career to work as a marketing executive for the Rand Tobacco Company. However, his primary duties entailed writing a number of very successful jingles for President Giant cigarettes. But kept his eye fixed on the musical scene and was the talent scout that identified the potential of a young Miriam Makeba who was singing on a semi-professional basis with the Cuban Brothers. It was Silinga who facilitated her recording deal with EMI and went on to write her “Ntyilo Ntyilo” which catapulted her into big time. Of course, by now Silinga’s compositional talents had not only opened doors for Africans artists but had captured the imagination of the artistic fraternity and its followers. Unfortunately, he grew disillusioned with the exploitation of African genius by the record industry. This made him decide to return to the Transkei in 1971 to pursue business ambitions. He financed and built the first supermarket in Umthatha, “Mandla Ka Moya” as a gesture towards African economic self-determination. We are proud to have been touched by the brilliant, soothing and unmistakably indigenous music of one of the most gifted composers in African cultural history. Silinga is an example of a highly talented artist who was not deterred by the difficult circumstances he was confronted with. It is fitting that his music is part of our identity and heritage as it expresses the triumph of the spirit. We wish strength and power for his family, friends and fans. May the soul of Alan Silinga – a great African composer – rest in peace! END For further details, call Sandile Memela, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Arts & Culture at 082 800 3750 or Premi Appalraju, Media Liaison Officer at 082 903 6778.
Date Published: 
Friday, September 7, 2007 - 00:00
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