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Keorapetse Kgositsile on Johnny Dyani

Jazz was crucial to South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile‘s most influential idea: his sense of a worldwide African diaspora united by an ear for a certain quintessentially black sound. He wrote of the black aesthetic he pursued and celebrated: “There is nothing like art—in the oppressors sense of art. There is only movement. Force. Creative power. The walk of Sophiatown tsotsi or my Harlem brother on Lenox Avenue. Field Hollers. The Blues. A Trane riff. Marvin Gaye or mbaqanga. Anguished happiness. Creative power, in whatever form it is released, moves like the dancers muscles.”

Musician, composer and painter Johnny Mbizo Dyani, was both a friend and a key influence on Kgositsile and he paid tribute to this in his poem “For Johnny Dyani.”

When I swim in my music
a harmattan of colours
becomes an area of feeling
where a rainbow of feathers
peoples all space
dancing in my heart

Here I do not even know
what flowers pop out of my eye
I move
without even touching air

Johnny you take us out there
where we gasp silently
amidst a bombardment of sound
in the spell of the witchdoctor’s son
where I cannot even ponder
how a witch and a doctor paradox
could be one entity

Your bass
Johnny pins nothing down. Your bass
rides on wave or height or rock
or depth or crevice of sound
to bathe us in music

And we are moved
where we cannot even
hear ourselves gasp

Mbizo Day

On Wednesday 30 November 2016, the Pan African Space Station (PASS) hosted a 24hr live broadcast of music written and/or performed by healer, musician, composer and painter Johnny Mbizo Dyani (30 November 1945 – 24 October 1986), as well as rare interviews with the artist and comments by people who knew and worked with him.

Here, Keorapetse Kgositsile remembers the witchdoctor’s son.


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