Music-lovers with a strong interest in the lives and careers of legends Taliep Petersen and Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee, and top band The Flames may soon have books and a film documentary to remind them of their idols.
In recent months this blog has become aware of an academic in Cape Town working on the life story of Taliep Petersen and another academic in Belgium doing something similar with regard to Basil Coetzee.
There is a film unit working out of Cape Town and Europe charting the success story of the popular Sixties group, The Flames.
This blog was set up primarily to document, in a little more detail than just your average newspaper piece, the stories of our leading entertainers who had their beginnings in the Sixties and Seventies.
Back then, record-keeping was not a priority and few artists had the foresight to track their careers. We do not know what kick-started things for the likes of Leslie Kleinsmith, Sophia Foster, Dizu Plaatjies, The Rockets.
No music schools. Not many role models or mentors. A day job to ensure a steady income. Times were hard. And still they succeeded.
The younger generation needs to know that.
So, to see works in progress detailing the lives of these people is praiseworthy.
Milton van Wyk, a Capetonian now living in Ghent in Belgium has taken it upon himself to write a biographical work on Basil Coetzee.
He studied music at UCT at the same time as Richard Ceasar. After obtaining his degree his did his honours via UNISA. He is a classically trained pianist and, whilst never performing in a group, he did accompany singers and the Langa Adult Choir.
His first foray into doing research work on entertainers came about by chance.
“When I was doing my honours degree, I intended doing something classical in vein,” he recalls. “But, as it happened, I had met Robbie Jansen shortly before my discussion with my lecturer and I mentioned it to her in passing. She suggested I do a biography on Robbie.
“I like biographies; it is one of my favourite literature formats, and I thought ‘why not?’ It was a bit of struggle because, firstly, Robbie had to play ball and secondly, he couldn’t remember most things. As he put it, his head was like cheese – full of holes.
“I kept having to go to someone else to get information. I got up to about 75 pages on Robbie as a research paper and it ended up being very informal and kind of chatty. He didn’t give me much material to work with.”
“I submitted it because that was the intention of the research paper but on reflection, I wasn’t happy with it. You can’t do justice to the life of a person like Robbie without sitting down with hundreds of people, interviewing them in detail, comparing notes, filling in the blanks.”
The decision to do a biographical work on Basil Coetzee was sparked by his move to obtain his Masters degree.
“I saw it as a natural progression from the Robbie Jansen work. My masters dissertation is titled Manenberg Is Where It’s Happening. I’ve always admired Basil’s sound. It is a crucial part of the South African soundscape and he certainly defined Cape music for a number of years.
Milton has already spoken to a number of people who were close to Basil, including drummer Jack Momple with whom he played in Pacific Express, Robbie Jansen before his death a few years ago, and music promoter Paddy Lee-Thorp.
“My early impressions, judging from the interviews, was that Basil was a talented but insecure musician. People in the industry who worked with him found him to be level-headed and a voice of reason within in the group.”
Milton has no information on Basil’s time with Sixties group Respect that came just before he joined Pacific Express. It was with Respect that Basil received his first significant exposure in packed nightclubs playing soul, funk and underground music.
“I have absolutely nothing about that period and would like to speak to people who were around him at that time.
“At this stage, the first time Basil features in the bio is when he is playing pennywhistle. Robbie says he was part of the Kwela Kids, but Errol Dyers says no. I’ve documented it but say there is a difference of opinion on that.”
Milton says he would love to speak to Abdullah Ibrahim with whom Basil featured on the Mannenberg LP and that really put him on the map in Cape Town.
“I’d also like to speak to contemporaries like Issy Ariefdien, and Lionel Beukes.”
He is trying to wrap up the project by September-October.
This blog will have more detail about the Taliep Petersen project and The Flames documentary next mmonth.
If you have any anecdotal stories about Basil Coetzee – be it about his personal life or his music – that will add value to Milton van Wyk’s research, please feel free to contact the blog or Milton. It is important that the legacy Basil Coetzee left behind be recorded in as much detail as possible.
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