Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Monday, 06 February 2023 12:46

Sam Mathe's book documents the South African jazz heritage.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Author, journalist, biographer and music historian Sam Mathe with his book at his place in Riverlea. Photo Credit:Antonio Muchave.

Music, with its rich cultural roots, influences and historical importance, lies deep in the heart of South Africans. It is known and appreciated throughout Africa and the world. Inspired by this depth, Sam Mathe researched, compiled, and wrote From Kippie to Kippies and Beyond. Described as "an encyclopaedia of South African music", this colossal achievement is a tour de force that covers at least four generations of musicians from the 1920s to the contemporary era. The oldest, Peter Rezant, was born in the early 1900s while the youngest, Zoe Modiga, came into this world in 1994.

I was inspired by the rich musical heritage we have as a country. So, I was convinced that the diversity and richness of this heritage is worth capturing in a book for the sake of posterity. It's part of our history which unfortunately has been neglected by those who claim to be its custodians," explains Mathe.

Mathe has, with great dedication and respect as well as awe-inspiring and meticulous research, produced a study and a tribute to those not often remembered and honoured. The title is inspired by the saxophonist Kippie "Morolong" Moeketsi, who was born in the roaring twenties – the Jazz Age in the United States and a decade that witnessed the birth of marabi, the music of the black working class in the slum yards of Johannesburg. After his death, the Market Theatre in Johannesburg had a jazz venue, Kippies, named after him.

From yesteryears' kings of kwela, sultans of sax jive and illustrious sultry queens of torch songs, to the stars of contemporary jazz, the book features the lives and works of over three hundred musicians. South Africa music lovers will find the greats such Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Hugh Masekela, Dollar Brand [Abdullah Ibrahim], Dorothy Masuku, Letta Mbuli, Caiphus Semenya, Busi Mhlongo, Todd Matshikiza and Chris McGregor, in these pages to name just a few. The younger generation of artists who shaped the South African pop scene in the eighties and left their mark such as Sipho Mabuse, Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Lucky Dube, Chico Twala and Rebecca Malope are also included.

"After nearly a century since our music has been captured on vinyl, I believe there's no better time to have a book like this in the public domain. The current generation of musicians are interested in the history of this music and the individuals who helped to shape it. This book speaks directly to this generation in this regard," says Mathe.

First released in the spring of 2021, From Kippie to Kippies and Beyond, is now in its second print with the first 100 copies quickly selling out. The book was awarded the AfriCAN Honoree Authors' Award (2022) and journalists from as far as France and Japan have sought Mathe out. "Even former president Kgalema Motlanthe personally called me to order a copy," notes Mathe proudly.

"Everything about this journey was exciting particularly because it's uncharted terrain. The more I researched the more I realised that there are many fascinating stories behind the artists profiled in this book," concluded Mathe who hopes to release a third edition.

From Kippie To Kippies is a timely and affirming addition to the evolving contemporary archives of a people on the rise after a history of pain and discrimination – casting light on so much musical creativity that until now remained in the shadows of history.