Address by Minister Pallo Jordan at the occasion of the Night of the 60’s Awards Ceremony
Ladies and gentlemen and
All protocol observed!
We have come together once more to recognise and affirm the contribution made to South Africa’s recording industry and musical heritage by a number of artists. Among our invited audience are musicians; vocalists, instrumentalists, composers and arrangers as well as other role players in our music industry whose talents came to flower during the 1960s.
I feel honoured to be greeting you tonight, not merely on my own behalf, but I trust, also on behalf of a nation that feels grateful that you devoted your lives to music that enriched our lives.
This is the second in a series of annual events at which we feature our musical heritage. To recount the cultural contribution of any individual or group of artists requires that we unearth the stories, recollections and the anecdotes about these musicians of the past. The promotion and preservation of South Africa’s musical heritage is a responsibility we owe not only to its progenitors, pioneers and contemporary practitioners, but also to future generations who will find in it a firm foundation on which to build.
In honouring the artists we have here with us tonight I trust, we are expressing the appreciation of a grateful people. This evening’s event is one way of saying thank you. Thank you for persevering even during very difficult times. Thank you for keeping alive the hope of a better day with your music; your humour, your celebration of life; with determination to never give up!
Those of us who are old enough, but during the 1960s were young enough, remember that as a decade of ever-rising hopes and expectations, but also charactirised by the extremes of mechanised brutality and political repression. It was a decade that witnessed some of the most inspiring act of human courage as well as the most abject acts of betrayal. A decade that commenced with the possibility of human space travel ended on a high note of human triumph when Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon in 1969, was also the decade during which households, wherever television was accessible, could witness the same human ingenuity applied with terrifying effect in South-East Asia. During the 1960’s the world came to the brink of nuclear confrontation but it was also the decade, during which the notion of a global village was born, recognising the insoluble relatedness of the human family given effect by precisely the technologies that gave us the capacity to destroy our home, the planet earth.
South Africa was no exception to this roller coaster ride of hope and despair. The not of hope sounded by the “Winds of Change” speech was answered with the Sharpeville Massacre, two later. While Africa steadily advanced its agenda of self-determination, independence and freedom in South Africa we had the Rivonia Trial, massive repression, the institutionalisation of torture, deaths in detention and long prison sentences for leaders and activists. At a time when technology, lower air fares, and greater mutual understanding were facilitating degree of inter-human contact unknown before, in our country the high-priests of apartheid were fanatically trying to drive the people of our country apart with forced removals, homeland schemes and the devices of apartheid social engineering.
The human suffering resulting from inhumane behaviour of humans towards other humans is deeply imbedded in the collective memory of South Africa.
Robben Island that became notorious internationally during the 1960s as a symbol of repression, during those years was also the site of political struggles, learning and creativity. The barbed wire fences designed to keep exiled leaders and freedom fighters outside the country could be breached with sound – voices, song, music, and the spoken word could be forged into instruments of liberation.
The numerous currents of the sixties carved the landscape of our country in a myriad of ways. And, among these currents we should never forget the importance of music.
Darius Brubeck puts it succinctly in his foreword to the book MARABI NIGHT: “How would we understand the music if we were somehow ignorant of the historical circumstances and cultural milieu of its early development?”
South Africa’s musical heritage was enriched, internationalized and developed by the events of the 1960s. The country lost many of tits greatest talents as a number of artists tried to pursue their careers outside the country.
South African music was not unknown in the wider world. Indeed South African Choirs had toured the USA and Britain during the first decade of the 20th century, often shedding members of their casts who preferred the relative freedom of the US and Britain, to the conditions at home. Solomon Linda’s song, “Mbube”, reinterpreted and misconstrued as “Wimoweh”, became a hit during the 1950s as did Mackay Devashe’s tune “Lakhu Tshon’ilanga”. Thus when Todd Matshikiza’s musical “King Kong” hit London’s West End all hoped that our music had finally arrived.
Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu, the Blue Notes, a band that included Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Nick Moyake, John Dyani and Louis Mohol, and the other South African musicians who left the shores of their country had an extremely difficult row to how in the chilly environment of the world music marketplace.
But it was the musicians who were unable to leave South Africa who faced the greatest challenges. The apartheid government, as part of its separate development programme, launched “Radio Bantu”. But in order to foster separate development and encourage division and inter-tribal tensions among the African people, enthnicised these. Presenters and disc jockeys fought a continuing battle with censors and other external controllers when it was thought they had overstepped the bounds acceptable to the apartheid state. The lyrics of songs were monitored; entire record albums were mutilated so that certain tunes and composition would receive no airtime.
This was climate in which musicians had to be inventive, using elliptical language, allegories and innuendo to express the sentiments of protest, resistance and a direct challenge to the oppressive system.
The wide acceptance of King Kong had established the musical as a genre that South Africans had mastered. The 1960s saw a number of musicians, Gibson Kente, Gideon Nxumalo and others exploring this idiom and experimenting with fusions of old and new forms. Though Kente’s musicals were considered politically neutered, his companies and the work they did were breeding ground for a number of the rising talents who were to blossom in the decades after.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The President has often said: “We need to pay particular attention to culture, music and the arts as the manifestation of our self-image”.
Tonight we are recognising Women Performers. This is a continuation of our commemoration of the 1956 March to Union Buildings. In 2004, we honoured one of the icons of South African culture, Miriam Makeba, in recognition of her contribution to South African music, and through her art to the liberation struggle. But it is equally true to say that Sis Zenzi was the representative of a generation. In the same manner, all the musicians we are honouring here tonight are being honoured as representatives of their generation.
Events such as tonight’s, remind us that we have living in our midst, living archives whose memories could help us write an important chapter in the cultural history of this country. I must confess to a selfish motive.
We are encouraging performers and musicians to deposit their audio, visual, pictorial, photographic and other collections with the National Archives. We have, as a nation, inherited an archive with huge gap in the collection under its custody. While we have our living archives with us, we still have the opportunity to correct that.
Casting our eyes back to the decade we are celebrating, we can note what was done to repress, suppress and discourage authentic forms of cultural expression. But beneath the surface calm produced by repression, one can hear, albeit faintly, the throbbing heart of people determined to be free. When the thaw came during the 1970s, it flowered into a manifold tapestry of many hues. Its brightest colours were in the music it brought forth. Those who had quietly built that foundation were the musicians of the 1960s.
I am sure you will all rise, and give a well deserved round of applaud to the stars of the 60’s!
Please enjoy what promises to be a great evening.