The Making of Mannenberg

By John Edwin Mason

On a winter’s day in 1974, a group of musicians led by Abdullah Ibrahim (or Dollar Brand, as most still knew him) entered a recording studio on Bloem Street, in the heart of Cape Town, and emerged, hours later, having changed South African music forever. Together, they had created “Mannenberg”, a song which quickly became a national and international hit. The album on which it appeared, Mannenberg is Where It’s Happening, sold more copies in 1974 and 1975 than any jazz LP recorded in South Africa and re-established Ibrahim as South Africa’s leading jazz musician. But the song was much more than a mere bestseller. In the years after its release, “Mannenberg” gained almost universal recognition as the most iconic of all South African jazz tunes. The release of “Mannenberg” was also the moment when it became clear that a new musical genre had emerged. Known internationally as South African jazz and locally as Cape jazz or the Cape Town sound, it was something towards which Ibrahim had been working for over a decade. “Mannenberg” was not the first and, perhaps, not even the best example of this new style, but the first to bring it to a wide public. Just as significant, however, was the song’s second act, which began several years after its release. During the climax of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, many South Africans embraced it as a popular metaphor for all the townships where trouble brewed. Giving voice to the dreams of the dispossessed, it was the sound of freedom or, as many called it, South Africa’s “unofficial national anthem”.

The idea that “Mannenberg” the bestseller would someday metamorphose into “Mannenberg” the struggle anthem would have surprised anyone who heard it in 1974. Its struggle credentials are by no means obvious. It is a song with few words, a lilting melody, and a gentle, hypnotic groove. There is, seemingly, nothing angry about it, nothing that would inspire people to stand up to the teargas, whips, and bullets of the apartheid state. This transfiguration was, in part, a function of the song’s inherent beauty and Ibrahim’s association with it. But more importantly, it was the work of Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, two of the musicians who recorded the tune with Ibrahim on that day in 1974. They made the hit an anthem by placing it at the musical centre of countless anti-apartheid rallies, demonstrations, and benefit concerts throughout the 1980s. The song’s popularity and the political context within which it was being played allowed the musicians to create moments of intense emotion and solidarity, making the song, in the words of an anti-apartheid newspaper, “a symbol of our hardship”. This, then, is a story about one song with two lives.

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We begin with Abdullah Ibrahim, the man credited with composing “Mannenberg” and leader of the recording sessions that put the song on vinyl.

A sense of personal and political crisis drove Abdullah Ibrahim back to Cape Town in 1968. Years of smoking and drinking had battered his body. In New York, doctors and a Native American medicine woman both told him to “straighten up.” And he did, entering a period of cleansing and embarking on a spiritual quest that began in New York City and culminated with his conversion to Islam, in Cape Town. He was also concerned about the health of his country. He saw himself as “the voice of the voiceless” and was determined to speak on their behalf. Dollar Brand, the hard-drinking, alienated hipster, had given up the bottle and returned home to adopt a new religion, change his name, and espouse an iconoclastic brand of cultural nationalism in music, poetry, and polemics. Capetonians, frankly, didn’t know what to do with him.

 

The Cape Herald, a local paper aimed at the coloured community, announced Ibrahim’s return when it began to publish “The World of Dollar [Brand]”, a series of articles by and about him. In the very first article, he declared that there was no reason for him to remain abroad; America could teach him nothing about music. “Everything,” he said, “is here!” The point was not historically accurate. As he would later admit, he had learned quite a bit in the United States, but he wanted the Herald’s readers to understand that everything needed to create and sustain a vital musical culture existed in South Africa. As things stood, he wrote in another article, South African music was both insipid and inauthentic. Ignoring the ways in which jazz musicians elsewhere in the country, such as Gideon Nxumalo and Philip Tabane, had for several years been exploring South African idioms in their compositions, Ibrahim accused South African musicians of being too interested in merely imitating Americans and Europeans. They should, instead, explore their own musical roots, the “sacred” and “beautiful” music that grew in the African soil. This was the only source that could produce a vital and authentic South African sound.

Ibrahim could overlook Nxumalo and Tabane because his primary audience was local. While his rhetoric encompassed all South African musicians and while his subject was music, he was, in fact, addressing the Cape Town jazz community, especially coloured musicians, and the coloured community as a whole. In some articles, Ibrahim did address the coloured community directly. He insisted that coloured people who were ashamed of their folk traditions – “the doekums and the Coons” – were, by extension, ashamed of themselves. He urged them to see their culture and themselves through his eyes. If they did, they would see that they were all beautiful. “Look around you and see yourself,” he wrote. “You are my music. My music is you.” The music that he had in mind consisted of the new compositions that he had begun to create in New York. He wrote of the ways in which they drew on virtually the entire musical universe of coloureds and Africans:  the jazz of Kippie Moeketsi, the ghoema beat and minstrel tunes of the Coon Carnival, “Shangaan and Venda and Pedi” folk songs, the Malay choirs of Cape Town’s coloured Muslims… It was meant to be a suggestive list, not an exhaustive one. He wanted to embrace the entire nation, perhaps including whites, likening its people and their cultures to the protea, the national flower, which flourished in South Africa, but could survive only in greenhouses in foreign climes. The protea also stood in for Ibrahim himself. In exile, he said, he found it “hard to play naturally.” In South Africa, on the other hand, “the music just flows….  You don’t have to force yourself.” Having reinvented himself and his music, Ibrahim was now inventing a radically innovative cultural identity, one that was coloured and inclusively South African at once.

Ibrahim’s articles seem to have had no impact at all. Coloured intellectuals and activists instinctively recoiled from appeals to racial and ethnic particularity. In the absence of any direct criticism of apartheid, his celebration of distinctive coloured and African cultures seemed to resonate with the apartheid state’s efforts to reinforce ethnic and racial divisions in order to keep blacks weak and divided. Politically engaged coloureds and the coloured middle class would have hesitated to embrace the Coon Carnival because they were, as Ibrahim suggested, ashamed of this and other aspects of working-class culture. But they had a political critique of the Carnival, as well. Many viewed it as nothing more than “a show which reflect[ed] and confirm[ed] the subordination of its performers”, an annual act of debasement. Few coloureds of any class would have responded to his call to identify with Africans and African cultures. As historian Mohamed Adhikari points out, “only a tiny minority” of coloureds were interested in anything resembling black unity. Most were determined to maintain their social and physical distance from Africans. Finally, it certainly did not help Ibrahim’s cause that he published the articles in the Herald, a newspaper which devoted much of its ink to vivid descriptions of murder and rape and to effusive praise of conservative coloured politicians who collaborated with apartheid.

Musically, Ibrahim fared no better. Neither audiences nor musicians were prepared for music which blurred distinctions between high art and popular entertainment and which seemed to look back to a provincial and slightly embarrassing past, rather than forward to a progressive and cosmopolitan future. His new music was perplexing and, in the words of one Cape Town musician, “rubbish.” Another called it “a lot of trash”. Ibrahim himself has said that he couldn’t get Cape Town musicians to play his new music because they were still too invested in emulating American jazz. Believing themselves to be, in Ibrahim’s words, “sophisticated jazz musicians”, they felt that anything related to folk and working-class music was “culturally and socially beyond their dignity”. Duke Ngcukana, a local musician who played, briefly, in one of Ibrahim’s bands, said much the same thing about himself. In the late 1960s, he once walked out on Ibrahim because he did not want to play “African music, so to speak, which, for us, at that time, was below [American jazz]…”

Audiences were equally bemused. The Cape Town jazz singer Zelda Benjamin remembers an occasion when Ibrahim sat in on one of her gigs at the Beverley, a nightclub catering largely to coloureds, and improvised on some moppies. An angry voice from the audience interrupted, saying, “Hey, man, play some music.” At another time, Ibrahim treated patrons at the Kensington Inn to “seemingly disconnected flights across the keyboard”. After 15 minutes of this “non-stop, never-heard-before” music, they began to stand up and leave. Soon afterwards, Ibrahim himself “abruptly left the platform and walked off the premises,” prompting Drum magazine to ask “Is Dollar’s Brittle Genius Cracking Up?”

With engagements few and far between, Ibrahim was unable to support his family and felt compelled to return to the United States. When he left South Africa, in 1969, the Herald mourned the departure of “The Genius We Rejected”. He told the paper that he was going back to New York, “where the only people who can understand my music live.” In an interview with Drum, he linked his rejection by coloured audiences to their failure to come to terms with their own identity. “[T]here have been very few concerts where I have been able to allow myself complete freedom in communicating with those who have come to hear me,” he said. “In order to understand and appreciate my message,” coloured people had to “look within themselves and understand their own consciousness and the reason for their being. Once over this hurdle, appreciation of what I play becomes the next natural step.” He contrasted the situation that he had found in Cape Town to that which he had experienced in New York. In the United States, the suffering of African-Americans “gave rise to some of the most beautiful blues music in the world…” In South Africa, however, “there has been no reaction musically to our oppression. The local compositions reflect the character of the people – they are shallow, empty, lacking in sincerity and completely commercialized.” Less than a year-and-a-half after declaring that “There’s nothing out there. Everything’s here,” Ibrahim was gone.

*

Sometime in the early 1970s, Ibrahim, who was temporarily back in South Africa, walked into Kohinoor, Rashid Vally’s small but bustling record shop on Kort Street in downtown Johannesburg, and introduced himself. Although he had never met Vally, he knew him by reputation. Vally’s passion for jazz and friendship with many musicians had made Kohinoor a legendary hangout for jazz lovers. It was also one of the few public spaces in the city where people of different races could mix comfortably. Ibrahim also knew that Vally had a successful sideline producing langarm dance band music for the coloured market. He wanted Vally to record him.

It was in some ways a likely match, since the lives of both men revolved around music. Both were also Muslim, the one from birth and the other a recent convert, and their temperaments were complementary – the moody, imperious Ibrahim balanced by the easy-going, genial Vally.

The first fruits of the partnership were two albums recorded in 1971, one of which reunited Ibrahim with Kippie Moeketsi, the ex-Jazz Epistle. Neither sold more than 2 000 copies – enough for Vally to recover his costs, but far too few to constitute a hit or make much of a cultural impact. The third album, Underground in Africa, recorded in early 1974, was different. Ibrahim moved decisively away from the demanding synthesis of free jazz and local idioms that had so bewildered Cape Town audiences. He wanted, he said, to make music “which the people understand”. Working with a group of Cape Town musicians whose experience was playing rock and soul, not jazz, he produced a very accessible fusion of jazz, rock, and a variety of South African popular musical forms. The album sold well, and The World, Johannesburg’s largest black newspaper, called it “Dollar Brand’s best LP to date”. Noting that he had shifted from “serious jazz” into “the jazz-rock scene”, the paper praised him for no longer being “a musician…who plays [only] for himself”. He had finally become “really funky”.

Ibrahim’s embrace of jazz-rock fusion, as it was called, may have surprised those who knew him, but it was not without precedent. Miles Davis, whose stature in the American jazz community was beyond dispute, was, in the late 1960s, one of the first jazz musicians to blend jazz with rock, soul, and funk. Jazz-rock fusion quickly became a major commercial genre. By 1973, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, a fusion album, had become the biggest-selling jazz recording of all time. Ibrahim, who was still based in New York, would have been intimately aware of these developments. While the sound of Underground in Africa had a distinctly South African twist, it also owed much to prominent American fusion bands of the day, such as Return to Forever and Weather Report.

Ibrahim could not have created this South African jazz-rock fusion by himself. He required the help of musicians who were as steeped in the traditions of the popular music of the day – rock, soul, disco and funk – as he was in jazz. He found ideal collaborators in Oswietie, a Cape Town band that was having great success in local clubs, playing covers of American and British pop hits and its own highly danceable blend of jazz, rock, and soul. When it came to producing Underground in Africa’s funky sound, it was Oswietie that made it happen. These musicians also shared with Ibrahim a fluency in the musical vocabulary of the local idioms that he was bringing into his compositions. Robbie Jansen, a member of Oswietie, said that learning to play local music was as important a part of his musical education as learning to play rock and soul. “Marabi, kwela, mbaqanga… I knew all that stuff.” It did not matter that he and the other members of Oswietie were coloured. Band leaders expected working musicians to be competent in a variety of popular styles, including those that came out of African communities.

The recording sessions that produced Underground in Africa also marked the beginning of Ibrahim’s enduring relationship with Jansen and Basil Coetzee, another of Oswietie’s saxophone players. He has described the way that he and Coetzee took on the “massive task” of inventing a new musical genre. Having no models to fall back on, they had “to create the letter, the word, the sentence, the whole story…” In fact, it was not so much a new genre as an extension of the musical experimentation that Ibrahim had begun in New York and a refinement of the sound on Underground in Africa. It became the Cape Town sound.

Ibrahim spent the next few months working on new compositions and preparing for his next recording session. He asked Coetzee to put the backup band together and asked Vally to foot the bill. Coetzee assembled a band that included Jansen and several other members of Cape Town’s jazz-rock community, although only Coetzee and Jansen had played on Underground in Africa. Renting the studio, hiring the engineers, and paying the musicians put Vally deeply into debt. He was hoping for a hit, but never knew what to expect with Ibrahim. Ibrahim arrived at the studio with an armful of scores. Knowing that most of the musicians couldn’t read music, he invited jazz saxophonist Morris Goldberg, who happened to be in Cape Town visiting his family, to join the sessions and help him teach the compositions to the others.

Several days of recording produced enough material to fill four or five albums, although most of it has never been released. Three or four days into the sessions, Ibrahim sat down at an old upright piano and, setting his scores aside, began to improvise. The piano had been prepared with thumbtacks in the hammers, giving the instrument a metallic timbre that was associated with marabi. Ibrahim has said that the sound transported him back to the music that he had heard at rent parties in his youth. As he played, he signalled first Coetzee and then the others to join in, suggesting lines and rhythms for them to play, but also allowing them the freedom to find their way in the collective improvisation. Within a few minutes, Ibrahim was ready to record. As they played, the musicians began to realize that the music they were creating was, in Jansen’s words, “very special”. “We felt a magic… We just couldn’t stop, and it felt good… We were recording [for] days, but none of those days ever felt like this.” After only one or two takes, they were done.

The immediate question was what to call this new work of art. Ibrahim told the group that as they were playing, he had a vision of an elderly woman walking down a street in one of the townships. When Goldberg mentioned that he was going to visit his family’s former housekeeper, Gladys Williams, in Manenberg, Ibrahim said, “Yeah, man, that’s a great title: ‘Mrs Williams from Mannenberg.’” Vally released the LP under the more marketable title Mannenberg is Where It’s Happening and called the title song simply “Mannenberg”. But a photograph of Gladys Williams, taken by Ibrahim himself, adorned the cover of the LP and of the subsequent CD re-release.

Back in Johannesburg, Vally began to play the “Mannenberg” acetates on loudspeakers outside Kohinoor even before the LP was released. When people rushed in and demanded to know who was playing and when they lingered outside the shop listening to the music and dancing, he knew he had a hit on his hands. Once the LPs had been pressed, he sold 5 000 copies in a week, an enormous number for a jazz album in South Africa. While a second song, “The Pilgrim”, filled out the LP, “Mannenberg” was the song people wanted to hear. Vally knew that he did not have the financial muscle to distribute the record nationwide, so he made a deal with Peter Gallo of Gallo Records, South Africa’s largest record company. With Gallo’s help, 43 000 copies of the LP were sold, in South Africa alone, within seven months of its release. In Cape Town, the Herald took great pride in this native son and said that the record’s sales were “something to crow about”. At a time when the sale of 20 000 copies was enough to make even a rock song a hit, Mannenberg is Where It’s Happening was a spectacular success.

Mannenberg’s popular success was due to a variety of factors. It certainly helped that, as the jazz pianist Moses Molelekoa once said, it was “a dance song, a party song [like] most of the jazz that was coming out at that period”. It had an irresistible hook – its beautiful melody. It was driven by an infectious, danceable beat. And it was an intriguingly unfamiliar combination of familiar ingredients – the groove was marabi, the beat resembled tickey-draai (or, perhaps, a lazy ghoema, depending on who was listening), the sound of the saxophones was langarm, and the underlying aesthetic was jazz. Most South African listeners had something familiar to cling to and something exotic to be excited about. If some had the fleeting impression of having heard the song before, it might have been for a good reason. Mannenberg’s melody bears a strong resemblance to “Jackpot”, a mbaqanga tune that the Johannesburg saxophonist Zacks Nkosi recorded in about 1960. In 2006, South Africa’s Sunday Times reported that Nkosi and his son, who was also a musician, “went to their graves believing that Mannenberg was a rip-off of Jackpot.” A number of other Johannesburg musicians have, over the years, supported Nkosi’s claim of authorship. “Mannenberg” was, however, much more than a mbaqanga melody, and the sum of its parts makes it anything but a rip-off. Its unique combination of musical vocabularies and idioms, rooted in South Africa, yet aware of international trends, helped to make it “the most iconic” composition in South African jazz history.

Within the Cape Town coloured community, the elements that came together in Mannenberg added layers of meaning to its iconic status. It became an icon of the community as a whole. The record featured a local-boy-made-good, Abdullah Ibrahim, who was fêted in the jazz capitals of the world. Coetzee, Jansen, and the other musicians had become local nightclub favourites. The name of the song referred to a township that had already become a symbol of both the dispossession and the endurance of the coloured community. The sweet, reedy timbre of the saxophones – played by Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, both of whom were coloured, and the initially uncredited Morris Goldberg, a white Capetonian – unmistakably linked the song to the sound of the langarm dance bands. There was something in the drumming that reminded people of ghoema and the Coons. Jansen felt that the musical factors were the most important. Coloured people, he said, were “aware that it’s their music… They feel it’s part of them.” For Ibrahim, the title, the sound, and the musicians combined to signal to coloureds that “…it’s our music, and it’s our culture…” The song’s success was an “affirmation… that our inherent culture is valid.”

It needs to be emphasized that Mannenberg reflected rather precisely the musical attributes that Ibrahim extolled in his Herald articles of 1968 and 1969. It incorporated the folk elements that, five or six years earlier, had evoked a sense of shame, especially among the musically and politically progressive. Why were people now prepared to embrace langarm, tickey-draai, and even marabi, which came out of African communities, not the coloured community? Part of the answer is, of course, that Ibrahim himself had changed. He had said that he wanted to make music “which the people understand”, and he did, backing away from the demanding inaccessibility that had been his hallmark. But the coloured community had changed as well. It was now more willing to see the value of folk and popular traditions, their own and those of Africans. To a degree, this was due to the spread of Black Consciousness ideas.

First emerging in the late 1960s, Black Consciousness had changed the political climate within portions of the coloured community, especially the better-educated youth. Drawing in part on African-American Black Power slogans and ideology, activists within the Black Consciousness movement believed that their primary task, says Cape Town photographer and jazz promoter Rashid Lombard, “was to conscientize black people, which meant giving them a sense of pride or belief in their own strength and worthiness.” Among other things, this involved asserting the value, dignity, and beauty of indigenous and working-class black cultures. Because Black Consciousness redefined “black” to include coloureds and South Africans of Indian descent, as well as Africans, an identification with blackness encouraged coloureds to reappraise those aspects of their culture which had formerly seemed to be retrograde and shameful. But it is easy to over-estimate the impact of Black Consciousness. Robbie Jansen, for instance, knew hardly any advocates of Black Consciousness. The few he met were university students, part of a tiny minority of coloured youth who went beyond secondary school. But Jansen did accept that to be coloured was to be black, part of an oppressed community engaged in a struggle for freedom. And he believed that black was beautiful. It was, he said, “the American influence”, the influence of African-American popular culture.

The music, clothing, and hair styles of black America taught Jansen and young coloured people of his generation that “it was the in thing to be black, and people started to be proud of being black.” This was hardly the first time that coloured people had looked to the United States for models of blackness. After all, this is precisely what Ibrahim and the hipster breakaway had done. Many coloured people knew that similar histories of slavery, oppression, cultural assimilation, and permanent minority status within white supremacist nations linked them to the African-American experience. While coloureds were drawn to black Americans, there were forces within South African culture which pushed them away from Africans. Rashid Lombard saw how the “divide and rule” strategy of the apartheid state had been “so effective” that a chasm of distrust and suspicion separated the coloured and African communities. The road to blackness, for him and his friends, was smoother through Harlem than through Gugulethu, the African township just on the other side of the tracks from Manenberg.

Consider the “Afro”. By the late 1960s, this hairstyle, also called the “natural”, had become the emblem of black pride, the new black American assertiveness associated with Black Power. African-Americans, young and old, male and female, grew their hair long, emphasizing its tight, African curls. By the mid-1970s, so many coloured people were wearing Afros that even the Herald, that most politically timid of newspapers, felt free to sponsor an “Afros for Africa” contest. It offered advice on how to grow and care for a good-looking Afro and published the photos of the entrants. The scores of coloured teenagers and young adults who entered were radicals, in their way. They had turned the politics of hair upside down. Most coloured people, up to this point, had gloried in their straight hair, if they had it, and desired it, if they didn’t. Now, for the first time, hair that was associated with blackness was desirable. For many, the Afro was the “sign and symbol” of a new identification as “black”.

The afro had come to Cape Town by way of African-American popular culture, especially soul music. Newspapers, magazines, and album covers all depicted black American soul musicians wearing their hair “natural”. Responding to reader interest, the Herald had, since the late 1960s, profiled soul performers and promoted their music. It even acknowledged the politics of soul, explaining that its roots lay in the “suffering” of the African-American people and declaring that “The Sound is Black and Very Beautiful.”  Cultural aspects of African-American blackness, such as music and hair styles, provided a safe passage to blackness for coloured South Africans, instilling within them a sense of pride and allowing them to see themselves as beautiful, without having, necessarily, to move physically or psychologically closer to African South Africans.

Changing political and cultural trends prepared the coloured community for “Mannenberg”. It presented coloured listeners with a sound that resonated deeply with their history and experience and yet was utterly contemporary. Much about the song, especially its sensibility and the very sound of the saxophones, was uniquely and recognizably coloured. What had begun as an improvisation in a recording studio became a community icon. Instead of Ibrahim’s portrait of a lady, the community had made it a portrait of themselves.

*

An icon is not necessarily an anthem. The symbol of a people is not necessarily the emblem of their struggle for freedom. The song’s transformation into an anthem had little to do with Ibrahim, who left South Africa again in 1975. It is true that Ibrahim raised his political profile in the 1980s, playing benefit concerts for the ANC and in other ways closely identifying with the freedom struggle, and that local reporting of these activities allowed fans of “Mannenberg” to feel that they were somehow linked to the ANC in exile. But Ibrahim remained distant and elusive. Much closer to home, musicians were taking “Mannenberg” to the people. These musicians politicized the song by playing it at the innumerable rallies and concerts, linking it directly to the anti-apartheid politics of the UDF and other progressive organizations. Without the work of these musicians – Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, first and foremost – “Mannenberg” might well have remained an icon of South African jazz, the Cape Town sound, and the coloured community, but not an anthem.

By the early 1980s, it was common to refer to Coetzee as Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee.  According to Errol Dyers, one of Coetzee’s closest musical collaborators, Ibrahim gave him the nickname by which he was to be known to fans for the rest of his life. This would certainly make sense. Coetzee was living in Manenberg when he and Ibrahim began to work together; he was the first soloist on the album; and, as many Capetonians will point out, he was a mountain [berg] of a man. He was also an astute man with a highly developed political consciousness. When political activists asked him to contribute his musical skills to the struggle, he was ready to accept. In 1982, for instance, Grassroots, an anti-apartheid newspaper, reported on a concert where artists “sang our songs… [and] told the story of our suffering.” Among them was Coetzee:  “Mannenberg is Where It’s Happening! This was the message of Basil Coetzee and his saxophone when he played… this song which has become a symbol of our hardship.” Coetzee also performed “Mannenberg” during the youth festival that accompanied the national launch of the UDF, in August 1983. And at a 1985 benefit concert for “Famine Relief and Victims of Unrest”, “madness reigned supreme among the responsive crowd” when Robbie Jansen joined Coetzee for a performance of “Mannenberg”.

Jansen’s role in making “Mannenberg” an anthem of the struggle seems to have been as important as Coetzee’s. Hilton Schilder and Errol Dyers, both of whom played at many rallies and benefit concerts with Coetzee and Jansen, remember the way that Jansen would speak in a deep, soulful voice when Mannenberg was played. According to Schilder, he would tell the crowd “what’s happening” and talk to them about rising up and “being… proud of our own stuff”. Jansen himself said that he could “preach from the stage… politicize and create an awareness of change…” However, Jansen and Coetzee did not transform the icon into the anthem by themselves. While giving them the lion’s share of the credit, Errol Dyers, for instance, has described the way that politically active musicians, collectively, “…put it in their faces that this would be the anthem for… fighting this apartheid thing.”

Politically sophisticated musicians understood that “Mannenberg” could be a vehicle of political mobilization and the symbol of a collective fight against apartheid. Over and over again, during the 1980s, the music that they made and the message that they attached to it was the soundtrack to rallies and concerts at which thousands of people reaffirmed their commitment to the struggle for freedom. Cape Town musician Gus Ntlokwana was no doubt correct when he said that it is “too heavy a statement” to claim, as some have done, that “Mannenberg” was the “unofficial national anthem” of all South Africa. But it was very much the anti-apartheid anthem of Cape Town.
The Making of Mannenburg is available in print as part of Chimurenga Vol.12/13 and as a Chimurenganyana.

 

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