Steve Fataar — the rekindling of a cool old Flame in Oz

Former Flames guitarist Steve Fataar is on a whirlwind tour of Australia starting in Sydney on Friday night. He plays Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth as well.


Steve Fataar, once leader of The Flames, South Africa’s top pop/soul group in the Sixties, has shown that he can still “hit the road” and undertake a gruelling tour at the age of 75.  He opens a lightning four-night-four-city tour of Australia, starting this Friday in Sydney.

Soft-spoken Steve, the guitarist who drove The Flames to the pinnacle in South Africa with such memorable hits as Tell It Like It Is, Place In The Sun and For Your Precious Love and then took them overseas, will follow up the Sydney date at the RSL In Paddington, with gigs in Melbourne (Nov 18), Brisbane (Nov 19) and Perth (Nov 20).

“It’s going to be a helluva challenge,” Steve said between rehearsals in Sydney today. “But I love a challenge; I’m looking forward to it.”

Steve has combined the tour with a visit to his mother who lives in Sydney and is in her ’90s.  Steve himself is 75 years old and is quite frank in admitting that these are precious moments in his life.

”I’m still enjoying my music.  If I don’t play my guitar for a few days, I kinda feel a bit off. It’s what drives me.”

He says his shows will feature some of the material he has been performing in recent years as a solo performer but he will include songs from The Flames era.

“I have to include some of the stuff from The Flames,” Steve said. “People want it; every show I do I get asked to do one or two big hits from The Flames. Well, since Blondie [Chaplain] ain’t around, I guess I’ll give them a ‘better understanding’ of what it was all about. It’s a nostalgia thing and people are totally into nostalgia these days.

Steve Fataar, left, with Brother Fataar performing at the Luxurama in Cape in 1970.

Steve will be performing as a support act to comedian South African Masood Boomgaard. He is also excited at the prospect of working with pianist Lance Saunders, the veteran South African pianist who now lives in Perth. Steve generally works as a solo performer these days but has done several gigs in recent years, most notably with the late Errol Dyers. Anyone who has been on Facebook will know when and where he is playing; he uses social media very well.

“It was a pleasant surprise when the promoter told me Lance would be joining me on stage. When I was last in Australia a few years ago, Lance played with me in Perth. It should work well, we’re both from Durban and it shouldn’t take much for Lance to get his head around what I’m doing, he is a seasoned performer who has backed hundreds of musicians over the years.”

Flames fans may have a little more to get excited about if plans to do a documentary on the group come to fruition. It has been spoken about for more than a year now and a promotional trailer is already in the can. It could be that it comes out next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the release of For Your Precious.  And maybe a rumoured For Your Precious Love 50th anniversary SA tour. Wouldn’t that be a blast?

In the meantime expat South Africans in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth  have an opportunity to honour a legend of South African music.


Gifted musicians — and the gifts that keep on giving

Hilton Schilder accompanying his daughter, Duende at the recent launch of his latest CD, Alter Native.

The festive period will soon be upon us and it’ll be the season for giving. So why not show your heart is in the right place and give someone something deep and meaningful.

Like the latest CD from a few of our local artists. Just off the top of my head there are three available right now: Alter Native by multi-instrumentalist Hilton Schilder, Evolution of an Undefined by young bassist Benjamin Jephta and Hits of Yesterday by one-time Hippies lead guitarist Gammie Lakay.

It’s tough being a local performer. It always has been. They don’t earn big bucks doing live gigs and, from a recording perspective, they don’t get as much exposure on local radio.

Throw in the Internet downloads, piracy and file-sharing and one can see what a mountain it is to climb to make a decent living as an entertainer.

This is why I am quite happy to publicise these three, two of whom – Schilder and Jeptha – I was fortunate enough to see perform live recently.

Hilton launched Alter Native a few weeks ago and the work is in keeping with his musical development to embrace his roots.

Alter Native is Hilton’s 40th that he can pin down, (“there may be others where I was a session musician for other artists”).

Hilton, son of legendary jazz pianist Tony Schilder, says this project was, in a manner of speaking, dedicated to his family.

“The album is dedicated to my grandson, Aiden, but there are individual tracks which I have named after other members of my family (Tesna and Marko’s Polo),” he said.

His daughter, Duenda, sings on the track Use Your Mind, while Mishka Reddy sings on Are You Prepared.

“The tone of the album is definitely roots music,” Hilton says. “There isn’t that steroid style of piano playing. I’m into landscapes. It’s more from the heart.

“As I’m getting older I find I’m more and more into the spirituality of music.”

A good example of his direction these days is in the essence of the title track.

“It is such a beautiful work. I used five musical bows and then added the percussion and stuff. I enjoyed making that, in the way it grew.”

Hilton also plays keyboards, percussion, melodica, guitar and bass on the album. He is joined by Mark Veldsman, (sax, flute), Brydon Bolton (upright bass) and Carlo Fabe (drums).

His next project is a solo piano and solo guitar album. (“I was around some of the best guitar players around . . . Russell Herman, Mac Mackenzie and Philly Schilder.”)

Benjamin Jephta’s The Evolution of An Undefined follows on from his Homecoming album, which was all about discovering his inner self.

Benjamin Jephta, second from left, with Kyle Shepherd, Sphelelo Mazibuko and Marcus Wyatt. [Photo sourced from the web]

This latest effort, as the title indicates, focuses on what he says “who I will be . . . modifying, reconstructing, progressing”.

It goes without saying that it is deeply personal stuff and understanding it would require having an insight into the mindset of the person creating it.

I gave it a listen and found an amalgam of intricate rhythms and arrangements. Benjamin was recently named the 2017 Standard Bank Young Jazz Artist. But this album goes a bit beyond the jazz genre. There’s a bit of fusion, some electronic and hip hop.

The tracks are Jump Interlude, Still I Rise (Revisited), Dear Mr Hodge, The Path, Evolution (Part 1 and 2), Mombelli (Part 1 and 2), Identity (featuring Jitsvinger and Eden Myrrh), Identity Interlude , Choice (featuring Thapelo Lekoane of SA Idol fame) and Song for Ellen Pakkies (featuring Jitsvinger).

It is the song for Ellen Pakkies that really resonated with me. Despite having a pretty catholic taste in music, I am not big fan of hip hop, particularly when it is peppered with a liberal spicing of “motherfuckers”, “hos” and “bitches”. Must be an age thing.

Ellen Pakkies is the Lavender Hill woman who killed her tik-addicted son in an act of tough love. Hip hop artist Jitsvinger, in the patois of the townships, addresses the social issues that surround the tik epidemic on the Cape Flats. I just wish my ear was more attuned to his rapid delivery. It would help to understand it better.

Benjamin has Kyle Shepherd on piano, Keenan Ahrends on guitar, Sphelelo Mazibuko and Reuben Crowie on drums, Marcus Wyatt on trumpet, Sisonke Konti on tenor sax and Nhlanhla Mahlangu on alto sax.

Benjamin also plays organ, keyboards and synthesizer on the album which he also produced.

Like Hilton Schilder’s album, Benjamin’s is cerebral stuff. You’re probably not going to find it on the playlist at your local jazz-funk club. It’s classy material and indicative of the growing maturity of our musicians in developing their own styles.

Our radio stations should sit up and take note!

Gammie Lakay’s new CD, Hits of Yesterday, includes songs like Last Date, When Somebody Loves You, You’ll Never Find, Affirmation and Storybook Children. You have to be of a particular vintage to be able to relate to those songs. It’s all late-Sixties early-Seventies stuff that is like a fix for the nostalgia junkies.

Gammie Lakay’s home-studio production, Hits of Yesterday, with re-arrangement of old pop standards, including Storybook Children.

Storybook Children deserves special mention. It was covered in Cape Town back in the day by Harold and the Hippies. That is the first group Gammie played with and they had quite a following on the Cape Flats. The song was a big hit (when vinyl seven singles sold by the thousands).

Gammie has revived it and found Rashaad Adams to do the vocals. He was the original Harold from Harold and the Hippies.

“He just happened to wander into my home studio while I was busy with the project and we took it from there,” Gammie said. He has re-arranged most of the songs on the album.

Three artists. Three albums. Support them. Local is Lekker!!!

With the way distribution goes these days, I suggest you contact each via Facebook to find out more.

Blogger’s note: I became aware of the latest initiative, (which offers consumers a secure platform to buy the recordings of local artists) shortly before this was to be published. It’s early days but let’s keep our fingers crossed that it can deliver on what it promises.  Check it out at

Four Sixties guitarists and their gun manager call back the past

Blasts from the past . . . guitarists who started their careers in the Sixties: from left, Issy Ariefdien (The Magnets and Respect), Ivor Wagner (The Big Beats), Bernie Lawrence (Excitement) and Basil October (The Raiders).

Four guitarists  who go back a long, long way – some more than 50 years in fact – caught up again this month for what one could only call a “gathering of the ages”.

Issy Ariefdien, Ivor Wagner, Basil October and Bernie Lawrence were brought together in a surprise “party” to reminisce about the good old days when pop was in its infancy and disco and rap unheard of.

Three of them – Issy, Ivor and Basil – are in their Seventies and Bernie is in his Sixties. Each had started their music career around the mid-Sixties  in different bands but their paths crossed numerous  times back in the day when bands shared gigs at venues.

Issy started his career in a group called The Magnets in Elsies and they were  known for their superb vocal harmonies. He later helped form Respect with Mel da Silva and then went to launch Pacific Express and was part of Love Supreme, Big Daddy before an extended period playing overseas.

Ivor Wagner started out with The Big Beats and for a few years it was one of the top groups in the country, playing a distinctly  Shadows style of guitar instrumentals which was so popular  back then.  He then joined Issy at Respect and finished his career in in Cape Town playing  with Tony Schilder.  He moved to London where he qualified as a solicitor.

Basil October was rhythm guitarist and lead  singer with a group called The Raiders. They had a huge following in the Maitland-Elsies River area and regularly packed out venues like popular Stardust spot in Woodstock and The Reo Hotel in Elsies River. Basil could sing raunchy, rock tunes all night without raising a sweat.

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The last guitarist in this “seniors” quartet, Bernie Lawrence, started in a group called The Excitement and they caused a fair few ripples where they played. Bernie moved on to have a spells with Respect, Little Wing, Big  Daddy, Mahogany (among others)  and now is part of a group called New Beginnings playing the best of the ’60s and ’70s for those who love the sounds of Hendrix, Chicago, the Beatles and Clapton.  I caught a gig of theirs three weeks ago and the dance floor was packed all night.

Issy and Ivor  are still working on taking their “private” jam sessions to a venue.  Watch this space.

Ivor was effusive in his praise for the get-together: “It was a brilliant idea to throw together a bunch of retired musicians of the 60s and to let them simply indulge themselves. The togetherness, the nostalgia, the reminiscing, with all the anecdotes, formed the ingredients of a most wonderful afternoon.”

Issy, Bernie and Basil pretty much echoed the same sentiments for an occasion where each one trotted  out hilarious moments those early days.   I should have recorded it. Bugger!

There was one other guest at the party – one Charles Jeremiah Dette. No, he wasn’t on stage, he was a backroom boy. He was the manager for  both The Raiders and Respect and, as such, had more than just a bit of a role in the careers of all  four.  Charles hadn’t seen Issy, Bernie and Ivor since the Sixties and only recently made contact with Basil.

His take on the party. “It was bloody marvelous, I could have gone on talking to them about the good old days into the early hours of the next day.”

Sixties band manager Charles Dette, centre,  with the four guitarists who played in the groups he managed.

Related articles:

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Basil Coetzee, Taliep Petersen books for posterity in the pipeline

Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee, seated centre, with American jazzmen Harold Land, left, and Blue Mitchell, and Abdullah Ibrahim, standing. The photo is a studio shot when they were recording the album Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro in Johannesburg in 1979.

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.

Researcher Milton van Wyk who is working on a Basil Coetzee biography.

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.

Pacific Express drummer Jack Momple . . . a confidante of Basil Coetzee.

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.

Related articles:

Basil ‘Manenberg’ Coetzee . . . a prophet way before his time

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Jack Momple’s big birthday bash, then to Borneo with Cape Jazz Band

Jack Momple . . . doing the what comes naturally. After his big birthday next weekend he taking to Cape Jazz Band to Borneo.

23 April 2017

It’s drummer Jack Momple’s birthday later this week. It’s a significant one. It’s a BIG one. It’s a biblical one.

It’s one where you would expect him to be putting up his feet and, taking a diep skyf and looking back on a fulfilling career that started way back in the Sixties.

But no, shortly after the big birthday bash his family is planning, Jack, along with other members of the Cape Jazz Band, will be jetting off to Borneo for that country’s international ethno-jazz festival.

Jack will have Ramon Alexander on keyboards, Spencer Mbadu on bass, Marco Maritz or trumpet, Heinrich Frans on vocals and percussion, Mark Fransman on saxophone and guitar, and Shaun Duval on saxophone.

The Borneo Jazz Festival will feature jazz bands from Asia and Europe. It is a feather in our cap for a Cape Town jazz band to be invited to such a prestigious gig.

The Cape Jazz Band, although a loose arrangement of musicians, has a permanent leader in Jack and producer Paddy Lee-Thorp. It has been around for about 10 years and initially featured the late Robbie Jansen.

It was created as an informal jazz school for up-and-coming musos to learn about jazz as an art form and the nascent genre, Cape jazz that has ghoema as a central element.

Ten years ago the Cape Jazz Band performed at the Genting Jazz Festival in Malaysia. That group featured rising stars Jonathan Rubain, Kyle Shepherd and Cameron Ward. Now it has newbies in Marco and Heinrich.

The group’s last recording, Musical Democracy, has been a big hit in Cape Town.

According to Ramon, the patrons at Borneo will be treated to the likes of Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen compositions and other material from the Mountain Records catalogue – and Musical Democracy of course.

Saxophonist Sean Duvall . . . heading to Borneo with the Cape Jazz Band.

Although he has other interests now – like sculpting, building and farming on a small scale – Jack still does regular gigs around Cape Town with whoever is looking for a drummer with his experience.“I’ve done lots of corporate gigs lately,” he said. “One organisation saw a video on YouTube of our performance in Malaysia in 2007 and hired us.

“This Borneo gig, is just another trip. It doesn’t faze me. My band can play anywhere in the world as far as I’m concerned.”

Healthwise, Jack says he is as fit as a fiddle bar a glaucoma condition that is impairing his vision and hampers his driving ability a bit.

“I’m not ready to retire. It’s not about age. It’s what you can still do before you die, that’s what counts. I know a lot of guys who are sitting in front of the TV and the computer, seeing out their last days . . . they walk down a flight of stairs puffing.

“As far as I’m concerned, their lives are over, they’re just oxygen thieves.”

Jack was a founder member of Pacific Express back in the Seventies and has played with the various incarnations of the group over the years.

The last time Express played was at the Cape Town Jazz Festival in 2014. Does he think the Pacific Express is history?

“Maybe, maybe. But the music will live on. In fact, Heinrich will be doing a few of the Express songs at the Borneo gig.”

We are playing mostly from the Mountain records catalogue, some Basil Coetzee’s Umlazi, Sabenza’s CT Blues, Robbie’s Versions of Georgia and What’s Going on, Hoya-tjie-Bongo, and obviously some tunes that this CJB released in 2013.

For Ramon, the Borneo festival will be his first overseas trip where the primary purpose is to play music.

Saxophonist Shaun Duvall (son of Baby Duvall who was the guitarist and singer with The Flames before Blondie Chaplin) is back in the line-up, after previously joining Jack for Genting.

And if you’re around Jack anytime on Saturday, April 29, lay one on him for a happy 70th birthday!!

One of the iterations of the Cape Jazz Band. In the picture, at the back are Heinrich Frans, Spencer Mbadu, Allou April, Jack Momple and Mark Fransman. In front are Marco Maritz and Ramon Alexander. Shaun Duvall replaces Allou for the Borneo gig.


See also:

Who is Jack Momple . . . and why do they say such nice things about him?

Wine-maker Ramon Alexander . . . don’t give up your night job!

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Issy Ariefdien finds his mojo again — thanks to Ivor Wagner

Issy Ariefdien and Ivor Wagner, legends from the Sixties and Seventies with top group Respect, may be doing duets again soon.

1 April 2017

Top guitarists Issy Ariefdien and Ivor Wagner – legends of the ’60s and ’70s – are on the verge of teaming up again after playing their last gig together almost 50 years ago.

Yeah, you say, check the date. Nice try. April Fool!!

Anything but, folks. True dat. Both Issy and Ivor confirmed this week that they have been jamming for private enjoyment these last few weeks and there is a distinct possibility they’ll be looking to go public soon – very soon.

Both musicians are now in their early Seventies and, to all intents and purposes, had given away public performances.

Issy’s last major gig was a Pacific Express reunion performance at the Cape Town Jazz Festival in 2015. He says he had to deal with some serious health issues around that time and basically packed his guitars away.

Ivor in recent years had returned to Cape Town in retirement after decades in London where he had practised as a barrister and, as a sideline, performed as a solo guitarist.

Both Issy and Ivor were high-profile guitarists in the Sixties. Ivor started out with the Big Beats, then the top band in Peninsula, and Issy was with the Magnets, an Elsies River group noted for the exceptional vocals.

Ivor Wagner as he was in his days with the Big Beats in the mid-Sixties.

In 1968, when soul music and underground was popular, they found themselves playing for Respect with drummer Noel Kistimar, bassist Mel da Silva, guitarist Issy Mohamed and vocalist Tyrone McCranus. They were hot. Issy was on lead guitar and Ivor on organ and they were trendsetters at the time

The group folded in the early ’70s and contact between Ivor and Issy was minimal while they pursued separate careers.

Then came the social visits earlier this year.

Issy explains: “Ivor had popped around a few times and brought his guitar along probably to entertain me because I was in a bad place. I was blown away with what he was doing.

“Then one day he said he was coming around and he told me to have my guitar out. Well, the truth is, for the past couple of years, I haven’t even listened to music even though I was told it was therapeutic for me.

“I have so much good music on my iPod, jazz and what have you, but after so long in a dark place, I had lost my mojo.

“But Ivor inspires me. I have been in awe of him ever since those days when he was playing those Shadows numbers with Big Beats.

“We wouldn’t have a problem putting together a repertoire. When we were jamming he was playing these lovely old standards like Autumn Leaves and some pop stuff.

“I do a couple of jazz tunes and he was impressed with my version of Take Five on the six-string bass.

“It’ll work out because he plays solo guitar, I can play bass solo and I can accompany him with the bass. And I can sing jazz standards.

“Even now, without practising, I am quite confident we can put together a 45-minute to one-hour set.”

Ivor was equally ecstatic about the prospect of sharing a stage publicly with his one-time fellow band member.

“His experience and my experience are two totally different experiences but we can bring the two together and produce something reasonable.

“A photo of the two of us that appeared on social media sparked this interest for us to play publicly. Initially, all I wanted to do was hang out with Issy and play a few tunes.

“Issy is a much more modern player than I am. I am very old fashioned.   He likes what I do and of course Issy is an all-round brilliant musician and singer. He is so talented, it’s unbelievable.

“We have now jammed to or three times with other people around us. I think we have to get together on our own without any distractions and actually get to work things out between us.

“There is that is the keenness on the part of both of us. We want to play publicly and the lovely thing is, Issy seems to have woken up. And if I’ve been a catalyst in that respect, I’m very pleased to have been able to do that.

“He and I will start rehearsing after Easter.”

So, no April Fool’s Day joke. It’s a happening thing. Watch this space.

You can read more about Ivor Wagner and his career here.

Issy Ariefdien, on right, with Respect in 1968. Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Ismail Mohamed is in front, bassist Mel Da Silva behind him and Noel Kistamar is on drums.

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Thandi Klaasen . . . honouring her memory on International Women’s Day

Thandi Klaasen, who died recently, deserves to be remembered as we celebrate International Women’s Day today.

8 March 2017

Today is International Women’s Day with the theme #BeBoldForChange. It is a day in which we highlight the struggle for women’s rights and acknowledge the important role of women in our society.

This blog could think of no better way to honour this day than to pay tribute to the memory of Thandi Klaasen who died in January this year. She died an icon of South African entertainment, revered as one of our leading jazz singers and honoured by government at the highest level.

But it wasn’t an easy road. In truth, it was a struggle of epic proportions. She fought for her place in the sun in a male dominated industry. She overcame adversity. She proved the gentler sex was as tough as nails and the equal of any man.

At her burial she received the send-off befitting an entertainer of her stature. In a funereal sort of way, it was all glitz and glamour. Sombre, stylish, elegant and upbeat in places.

Yet, life most times was far from stylish and elegant for the 86-year-old jazz diva who died after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer.

Thandi came from very humble roots in Johannesburg’s Sophiatown, a place that held the same place in people’s hearts as Cape Town’s District 6.

In the social and cultural milieu that was a politically switched on Sophiatown, Thandi learnt the art of survival and succeeding, the latter if only in the context of apartheid South Africa.

In her youth she sang in church choirs before linking in the Fifties with a couple of vocal groups like the Quad Sisters, Gaieties and the Haarlem Swingsters who were all into the very popular swing jazz sound of that time.

It was the start of a singing career that would span six decades and see her perform with SA women of note like Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Sophie Mgcina.

She went on to perform in the internationally acclaimed black South African play, King Kong and worked in London for her while. She also lived temporarily in Canada with her singer daughter Lorraine where she used to address gatherings about her life in apartheid South Africa.

But her comfort zone was the stage in Southern Africa – from the clubs in Cape Town in the Sixties and Seventies to the cabaret circuit in the neighbouring states.

Thandi Klaasen enthralling another member of the audience at one of her performances in the Beverley Lounge in the early Seventies.

It was here she thrilled audiences with her excitement-plus performances. She did not let a badly disfigured face – the result of burns inflicted in a brutal attack in her young days – hold her back.

Journalist Sylvia Vollenhoven and author of the top selling novel Keeper of The Kumm that also dealt a women’s struggle in a male-dominated environment was one who knew Thandi well. So too did two of Cape Town’s best known entertainers, Terry Fortune and Dave Bestman. All had decades-long friendships with Thandi. She left an indelible mark on all three.

Sylvia says she first met Thandi Klaasen at the iconic 70s jazz joint in Athlone called The Beverley Lounge. Terry, just starting on his own career, and Thandi were on the bill.

“Terry was making a spectacular phonetic mess of the Click Song (one of Thandi’s signature tunes at the time). I was so tense when I saw that Thandi was on the bill because I had helped Terry cobble together the lyrics by listening to a Makeba album, over and over,” Sylvia recalled.

“But Thandi laughed long and loud at the fake Xhosa. We all joined in as if she had given us permission to laugh at our neuroses about not speaking black languages.

“It was probably the only time in the decades I knew her that she made me relax.

“Encounters with Thandi were always robust affairs . . . sometimes great, sometimes bruising but never ever boring.

“One time she stood up on stage at the Artscape Theatre with her left arm in a cast. She told the audience that her close friend had fought with her and broke her arm. And then out of the blue she mentioned me by name and gave a version of a drunken fall in my kitchen that was pure fantasy.

“But it was an entertaining fantasy that had the audience eating out of her plastered hand.

“There were times that I wished I had never met her. Then there were times when the gentle, vulnerable and extremely humble side of Thandi would creep up on me and catch me unawares.

Then of course she would get up on that stage and love coupled with adoration was my only option. She gave big chunks of herself when she performed and when the curtain came down she made huge demands on everyone close to her.

Journalist and author Sylvia Vollenhoven

“Paying tribute to Thandiwe Klaasen (she always liked it when I used her full name because that’s what her mother called her) is not easy. Thandi was not easy. She was the quintessential artist . . . tempestuous, selfish, delightful and plagued by a destructive streak that constantly threatened to get the better of her.

“Few people realise that in the background there was always one person who constantly came to pick up the pieces, who made sure she had a gig when she was particularly down, who was with her until the end . . . Lorraine Klaasen who looks remarkably like her mother and is an international artist in her own right, was way more than just a dutiful daughter.

“Over the years she played the role of agent, financial manager and tough-love counsellor when the drinking threatened to get out of hand. I doubt that Thandi, who was always hovering on the edge, would have held it all together over the years if it were not for her daughter.

“So a tribute to Thandi almost has to be a tribute to Lorraine at the same time.”

Terry admits he was in awe of Thandi when she performed at The Beverley Lounge in Athlone.

“I wasn’t even an entertainer then but I made sure she knew who I was,” Terry recalled.

“We became really good friends when our paths crossed on the cabaret circuit and became even closer when she shared digs with me in London. It was a one-room bedsitter and we had to share the bed!

“We also shared lots of bottles of Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels. Thandi loved a good time and she would cast inhibition to the wind when she got going.

“On her 50th birthday in London, we went out and partied hard. On our way home in the train, well-oiled, Thandi felt the need to go. There was no way she could hold her pee in, so she simply said, ‘Terry, hou dop vi’ my’, and let it all hang out in the aisle. That was Thandi, living life on the edge.”

Terry’s tribute on his Facebook page read: “Thandi was special, she was a great performer and lived life to the full, her rendition of My Funny Valentine will stay with me always love you Sister. RIP”

Dave Bestman was another who also saw all sides of Thandi Klaasen. “She was one helluva person and a helluva singer,” he said. “I worked with her back in the day and she could certainly work a crowd.

“One of the things I admired most about her was she wasn’t shy to give you her opinion, whether you wanted to hear it or not.

“I don’t know how many times I heard her tell anyone who cared to listen that South African singers were as good, if not better, than the overseas acts. She would say, quite strongly: ‘why would you want to get Tina Turner here, when you’ve got me’.

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“That is the type of person she was – she believed in herself and her ability and that of other South African performers.”

I too was on the receiving end of Thandi’s sharp tongue. As a young journalist with the Cape Post I had to interview her when she appeared in Cape Town on the Adam Wade show.

I made my way to the Retreat Hotel where she was staying and stood at the open door not sure when whether to go in.

Wat staan djy by die fokken deur, come in! If you have questions, ask them.”

It was also on the Adam Wade show that she had her memorable heart attack on stage. Some say she had made a remarkable recovery by the next day.

That was Thandi. She performed in London, was honoured with a Woman of Distinction Award in Canada but was firmly rooted in South Africa.

On International Women’s Day we should remember a personality like Thandi Klaasen who lived life to the fullest but when the chips were down, fought hard for equal standing in a very unequal society. She was bold and she fought for change.

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