fb

Dorothy Masuku: Africa has lost a singer, composer and a hero of the struggle

By: Gwen Ansell, University of Pretoria

File 20190225 26152 1bbnpac.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Dorothy Masuku composed and recorded close to 30 singles, several of which achieved major hit status.
Madelene Cronje/ Mail & Guardian

 

Dorothy Masuku (Masuka was her stage name) has died at the age of 83. She was an African musician of note, but also much more.

I was once shown the script for a biopic purporting to tell the early story of the late singer. It was highly professional, but a shallow, deeply patriarchal thing in which Masuku’s pioneering work as a composer, her acute and precocious political consciousness and proud pan-Africanism were sidelined in favour of a narrative of affairs and flirtations.

The sidelining continued. Masuku was not simply the “jazz singer” many newscasts have labelled her, although she certainly was that too. And she certainly had a life worthy of a serious biopic.

Yes, Masuku was a singer. But she was so much more: a composer, a hero of the struggle, and an architect of the discourse of popular African liberation music.

Her early years

Masuku was born in Bulawayo in then Rhodesia in 1935. Her father was a chef, originally from Zambia, but her mother, Liza Mafuyani, was a Zulu-speaking South African whose family originated from the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and whose sister lived in Soweto.

Her maternal grandmother had been a sangoma. Masuku spoke later of the spiritual sources of inspiration for her songs. They often came to her in dreams, and she would immediately sing them to somebody else in the house, so that elusive memory was captured.

The young Dorothy moved to live with her aunt in South Africa in 1947, aged 12, when, on health grounds – she had asthma – she was enrolled at St Thomas Convent School in Johannesburg. There, she joined the school choir and her talent was immediately spotted.

She was signed to the Troubadour record label in her early teens after impressive performances at her school concerts. She worked with the greatest bands of the period.

Historical narratives of jazz in that era focus on the solidarity among male musicians. But when Masuku spoke of those days at a recent panel discussion, she revealed a different story. There were links and solidarities among women musicians, from her tuition in Yiddish lyrics with actress Sarah Sylvia to the protection from male predation that she, as one of the youngest performers, was given by the older women on those tours.

Major hit status

During her teens, Masuku composed and recorded close to 30 singles, several of which achieved major hit status. In the mid 1950s, Zonk music magazine opined that the only artist who was outselling Masuku in South Africa was American crooner Bing Crosby. She later wryly noted that the rewards were never commensurate. She’d be bought a dress, or given “spending money” for her work, never a contract, wage or royalties.

Masuku wrote and recorded in Zimbabwe, and also in multiple other African languages in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. Her work was also performed by other South African artists in exile, notably Miriam Makeba. Because of the fragmented, semi-formal nature of the African recording industry in the 20th Century, no complete discography of all her credits exists, but it is likely the total of her compositions in all African languages exceeds 100.

A Masuku liberation song – ‘Bazuka’.

It was the radical spirit of Masuku’s songwriting that led to her long years of exile. Under apartheid black South Africans were notoriously forced to carry a range of documents on their person. Masuku’s song from 1957, Zono Zam, was recorded during the anti-pass campaign:

It’s so hard in this world: Lord, help us to be free.

Two of her other songs, Dr Malan (“…has difficult laws”), named after Prime Minister, DF Malan, who lead the National Party with its policy of apartheid, to power in 1948, and Lumumba (speculating about who murdered the Congolese anti-colonial leader, Patrice Lumumba so infuriated the South African police’s notorious Special Branch that they seized and destroyed the master tapes. No copies can now be found.

Dr Malan was the first South African song by any artist – let alone a young woman not long out of school, and not yet 20 – to call out an apartheid minister by name.

Dorothy Masuku celebrating African leaders with her song ‘Ghana’.

Masuku clearly and explicitly identified herself with African nationalist liberation struggles. After travelling across Africa, she was moved by the ANC to London. She performed at the London Palladium, for BBC-TV, and in various shows with musicians Sir John Dankworth and Cleo Laine.

Later, she spent a brief period back in then Rhodesia, fleeing again to Zambia ahead of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith’s Special Branch. She spent 16 years in Zambia, performing and earning a living as an air hostess – pioneering that career as an elegant, intelligent independent woman with one of the earliest independent African airlines.

Persona non grata

During her 31 years of exile, she was repeatedly refused entry to South Africa by the apartheid authorities, having been declared persona non grata.

She returned only in 1992 and immediately began performing and composing new material, something she continued to do to the end of her life. She recorded four further original albums, as well as releasing a collection of much of her historic material, Hamba Nontsokolo.

Masuku featured in all South Africa’s major jazz festivals. Two years ago, she starred in the New York Town Hall concert commemorating the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya.

She was always a compelling performer, and never failed to draw standing ovations. I once stood behind her in a bank queue on a sweltering day. Joining the rest of us in loudly complaining about the intolerable temperatures, she ended her contribution to the chat with a short, mesmerising single chorus of It’s Too Darn Hot.

Music was her life

The last time I met her, last year, she was animatedly discussing buying a new home. She wanted trees and birdsong around her to create a peaceful space for yet more composition.

In conversation with Kaya 959’s Nicky Blumenfield.

Music, she told South Africa’s public broadcaster, was like breathing for her: it was her life. A stroke late last year took her out of public life, and she died on 23 February 2019.

Hamba Kahle: may her great spirit rest in peace.The Conversation

Gwen Ansell, Associate of the Gordon Institute for Business Science, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    Receive the latest news

    Subscribe To Our Newsletter

    THE KAYA 959 APP NOW AVAILABLE

    DOWNLOAD YOURS NOW

    Copyright Notice

    1. COPYRIGHT

    1.1 The contents of this Website, including but not limited to its compilation and arrangement, is the exclusive property of Kaya 959, alternatively the suppliers of content to Kaya 959, and accordingly remain protected by South African and International Copyright and Trademark laws.

    1.2 Any person accessing this Website, may not, save for downloading one copy for their personal computers and solely for their private and non-commercial use :

    1.2.1 Copy, disseminate, distribute, advertise, publish, adapt, modify or in any way reproduce the contents of this website for commercial purposes, unless this notice and any disclaimer attached thereto is published in its entirety, or unless the permission of Kaya 959 is obtained in writing.

    Privacy Policy

    THIS PRIVACY STATEMENT FORMS PART OF KAYA 959’S TERMS OF USE POLICY. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH ANY TERM OF THIS PRIVACY STATEMENT, YOU MUST CEASE YOUR ACCESS OF THIS WEBSITE IMMEDIATELY. 

    POPIA ActTo promote the protection of personal information processed by public and private bodies; to introduce certain conditions so as to establish minimum requirements for the processing of personal information; to provide for the establishment of an Information Regulator to exercise certain powers and to perform certain duties and functions in terms of this Act and the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000; to provide for the issuing of codes of conduct; to provide for the rights of persons regarding unsolicited electronic communications and automated decision making; to regulate the flow of personal information across the borders of the Republic; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

    RECOGNISING THAT—

    • section 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides that everyone has the right to privacy;
    • the right to privacy includes a right to protection against the unlawful collection, retention, dissemination and use of personal information;
    • the State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights;

    AND BEARING IN MIND THAT—

    • consonant with the constitutional values of democracy and openness, the need for economic and social progress, within the framework of the information society, requires the removal of unnecessary impediments to the free flow of information, including personal information;

    AND IN ORDER TO—

    • regulate, in harmony with international standards, the processing of personal information by public and private bodies in a manner that gives effect to the right to privacy subject to justifiable limitations that are aimed at protecting other rights and important interests,
    1. Definitions and Interpretation

    1.1.“Personal Information” means information relating to an identifiable, living, natural person and where it is applicable, identifiable, existing juristic person, including all information as defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. 

    1.2  Parliament assented to POPIA on 19 November 2013. The commencement date of section 1Part A of Chapter 5section 112 and section 113 was 11 April 2014. The commencement date of the other sections was 1 July 2020 (with the exception of section 110 and 114(4). The President of South Africa has proclaimed the POPI commencement date to be 1 July 2020.

     
    1.3. “Processing” means the creation, generation, communication, storage, destruction of personal information as more fully defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.  

    1.4. “You” or the “user” means any person who accesses and browses this website for any purpose. 

    1.4. “Website” means the website of the KAYA 959 at URL www.kaya959.co.za or such other URL as KAYA 959 may choose from time to time.   

    1. Status and Amendments

    2.1. KAYA 959 respects your privacy. This privacy policy statement sets out KAYA 959’s information gathering and dissemination practices in respect of the Website. 

    2.2. This Privacy Policy governs the processing of personal information provided to KAYA 959 through your use of the Website. 

    2.3. Please note that, due to legal and other developments, KAYA 959 may amend these terms and conditions from time to time.  

    1. Processing of Personal Information

    3.1. By providing your personal information to KAYA 959 you acknowledge that it has been collected directly from you and consent to its processing by KAYA 959. 

    3.2. Where you submit Personal Information (such as name, address, telephone number and email address) via the website (e.g. through completing any online form) the following principles are observed in the processing of that information: 

    3.2.1. KAYA 959 will only collect personal information for a purpose consistent with the purpose for which it is required. The specific purpose for which information is 
    collected will be apparent from the context in which it is requested. 

    3.2.2. KAYA 959 will only process personal information in a manner that is adequate, relevant and not excessive in the context of the purpose for which it is processed. 

    3.2.3. Personal information will only be processed for a purpose compatible with that for which it was collected, unless you have agreed to an alternative purpose in writing or KAYA 959 is permitted in terms of national legislation of general application dealing primarily with the protection of personal information. 

    3.2.4. KAYA 959 will keep records of all personal Information collected and the specific purpose for which it was collected for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.5. KAYA 959 will not disclose any personal information relating to you to any third party unless your prior written agreement is obtained or KAYA 959 is required to do so by law. 

    3.2.6. If personal information is released with your consent KAYA 959 will retain a record of the information released, the third party to which it was released, the reason for the release and the date of release, for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.7. KAYA 959 will destroy or delete any personal information that is no longer needed by KAYA 959 for the purpose it was initially collected, or subsequently processed. 

    3.3. Note that, as permitted by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002, KAYA 959 may use personal information collected to compile profiles for statistical purposes. No information contained in the profiles or statistics will be able to be linked to any specific user.    

    1. Collection of anonymous data

    4.1. KAYA 959 may use standard technology to collect information about the use of this website. This technology is not able to identify individual users but simply allows KAYA 959 to collect statistics. 

    4.2. KAYA 959 may utilise temporary or session cookies to keep track of users’ browsing habits. A cookie is a small file that is placed on your hard drive in order to keep a record of your interaction with this website and facilitate user convenience. 

    4.2.1. Cookies by themselves will not be used to identify users personally but may be used to compile identified statistics relating to use of services offered or to provide KAYA 959 with feedback on the performance of this website. 

    4.2.2. The following classes of information may be collected in respect of users who have enabled cookies: 

    4.2.2.1. The browser software used; 

    4.2.2.2. IP address; 

    4.2.2.3. Date and time of activities while visiting the website; 

    4.2.2.4. URLs of internal pages visited; and 

    4.2.2.5. referrers. 

    4.3. If you do not wish cookies to be employed to customize your interaction with this website it is possible to alter the manner in which your browser handles cookies. Please note that, if this is done, certain services on this website may not be available. 

    1. Security

    5.1. KAYA 959 takes reasonable measures to ensure the security and integrity of information submitted to or collected by this website, but cannot under any circumstances be held liable for any loss or other damage sustained by you as a result of unlawful access to or dissemination of any personal information by a third party. 

    1. Links to other websites

    6.1. KAYA 959 has no control over and accepts no responsibility for the privacy practices of any third party websites to which hyperlinks may have been provided and KAYA 959 strongly recommends that you review the privacy policy of any website you visit before using it further. 

    1. Queries

    7.1. If you have any queries about this privacy policy please contact us by emailing [email protected] 

    Competition Terms and Conditions

    • The competitions are open to all persons over the age of 18 years; except directors, partners, employees, agents, service providers, and consultants of Kaya 959, the sponsor and all its subsidiaries and its holding company, if any, as well as all spouses, life partners, parents, children, siblings, business partners and associates of such persons.

    • The outcome of the competition is subject to the decision of the judge/presenter, whose decision is final and no negotiation will be entered into thereafter. Neither Kaya 959, sponsors nor their agents will be held responsible or answerable to any dispute arising from the competition or prize awards.

    • Participants/listeners enter or take part in competitions at their own risk and Kaya 959 bears no responsibility for any loss, damage or harm suffered as a result of participation in any of Kaya 959 competition.

    • One listener is entitled to winning one prize in a period of 3 months. Kaya 959 reserves the right not to award a prize if the listener has won a prize prior during the 3 month window period. This also applies to listeners who provide family or friend’s contact details.

    • Kaya 959 reserves the right to redistribute all unclaimed prizes if not claimed after 3 months after being given away On Air or on the website.

    • Prizes are not transferable and may not be exchanged for cash.

    • Finalists will forfeit their participation in the competition if they fail to attend the draws.

    • The competition will run during the period advertised on Kaya 959; entries received outside of the competition period will not be considered for the competition draw.

    • Kaya 959 and their sponsors reserve the right to cancel, modify or amend the competition at any time if deemed necessary in their opinion, or if circumstances arise outside of their control.

    • By entering the competition, entrants agree to accept these rules and to be bound by them.