Stop burning libraries: what do we do when a musician dies?

There have been too many deaths in the past few weeks: Johnny Mekoa, Ray Phiri, Errol Dyers. Better if they had not happened – but they did, and stirred up reflections on our collective national response. Because “when an elder dies, a library burns” – and given apartheid’s deliberate erasure of culture and memory (forced removals, with families permitted to carry little with them; re-tribalisation under the shadow of a whitewashed parody of “tradition) those libraries are becoming impossible to restore.

Politicians respond – sometimes timeously, sometimes slightly too late – with boilerplate tributes that often sound like the same track on repeat. There may be references to how the departed “died in poverty” – as though this was surprising, despite it being the condition of a majority of South Africans, particularly those in freelance, precarious and poorly-paid occupations like music. They rarely draw a link between musicians dying in poverty and the absence of, say, universal basic income grants, or more favourable tax, zoning and subsidy arrangements for live music, or a host of other music-specific and general measures that are the policy responsibilities of those same politicians. Without political will, more libraries will burn.

The media respond with obituaries. Or they do sometimes, at least: we all still remember the shameful silence of almost every major platform on the passing of the world-famous Pinise Saul and Lucky Ranku last year. Often those obituaries are as boilerplate as the political eulogies, showing signs of, at best, a quick trawl through Google for an album title or two. If, as was the case with Dyers, Google carries little, the obituary is perforce a short one. In most newsrooms there are no specialist reporters, and increasingly no in-house archive of interviews and profiles to consult. Past stories have not been digitised; current stories are hardly being commissioned or published. The Business Day Life page no longer even carries the word ‘music’. Alongside ‘books’, ‘theatre’ and other genres is merely the word ‘entertainment’, signalling how music has been stripped of any discourse beyond commodification. In newsrooms, there is already no music library to burn.

The academy – our universities and colleges – responds hardly at all. Dead politicians get libraries and research institutes named after them; graduate students are encouraged to research the minutiae of their lives and publish prolifically. Dead musicians? Not so much. When the last playing partner or fan who remembers Errol Dyers also passes, his memorabilia will have been scattered and his life and legacy will be reduced to that handful of not entirely accurate Google entries. That library has already burned.

So of course, we have to do it ourselves. Here’s the start of a discography for Dyers, compiled from what little public information exists. With the Cape’s flowering of young bands in the 70s and 80s, I can’t believe he didn’t participate in any project between District Six in 1976 and Mantra Mode in 1991. Can any readers of this blog add knowledge – not for any commercial purpose, but just so this particular library doesn’t completely burn?


Errol Dyers: a short discography

UPDATED ON AUGUST 3,4. Thanks to Nigel Vermaas, Attiya Khan, Rafs Mayet and Jonathan Eato who provided additional information. And now to Terrence Scarr and Patrick Lee-Thorpe too. More, please!!!

(As leader)

  • Sonesta 1997 (Sheer Sound)
  • Koukouwa 1999 (Sheer Sound)
  • Best of Errol Dyers & Friends 2003 (Sheer Sound)
  • (with Hilton Schilder and Steve Newman) All In One 2009 ( Swett Shoppe)

(As contributing musician)

  • Remember – District Six 1976 (CBS)
  • Vastrap Island 1991 – Robbie Jansen (Sea Records/EWM, CDSEK 101)
  • (with Abdullah Ibrahim) Mantra Mode 1991
  • Cape Jazz 2 compilation 1997 [Mountain Records (MOU 75020)] duo Errol Dyers /Basil Coetzee : “Majietas
  • Molo Africa 1998 – Winston Mankunku (Nkomo Records / Sheer Sound, NK0010)

(with the Sheer All Stars):

  • Indibano 1999
  • Live at the Blues Room 2002
  • The World in A Guitar (DVD) 2002 with Tony Cox and Steve Newman at the Market Theatre (ANYBODY GOT FURTHER DISCOG. DETAILS ONTHIS?)
  • Dudula 2004 – Winston Mankunku (Nkomo Records / Sheer Sound, NK007)
  • Nomad / Jez 2005 – Robbie Jansen (Mountain Records, CD MOU 4484)
  • Cape Jazz 3 compilation 2007 [Mountain Records (MOU 4488)] on “Sonesta”, and with Robbie Jansen on “Alabama”
  • Musical Democracy 2013 – with the Cape Jazz Band Mountain Records MOU4747

And here’s some video too – starting with this, originally posted by Tony Cox (thanks & respect!) of him & Errol at the Officers’ Club, Claremont, in 1986. The first clue to the thing no biographies currently tell us: about his work and collaborations in the ’80s. ASTOUNDING guitar solo: (at the Green Dolphin) (at Kaliedoscope Café) (at the Market Theatre with Tony Cox & Steve Newman) (at the Crypt) (with Jonathan Rubain, for Bush Radio) (the All in One collaboration wih Hilton Schilder and Steve Newman at the Alliance Francaise)




6 thoughts on “Stop burning libraries: what do we do when a musician dies?


    Dudula – Winston Mankunku (Nkomo Records / Sheer Sound, NK007) 2004

    Molo Africa – Winston Mankunku (Nkomo Records / Sheer Sound, NK0010) 1998

    Nomad / Jez – Robbie Jansen (Mountain Records, CD MOU 4484) 2005

    Vastrap Island – Robbie Jansen (Sea Records/EWM, CDSEK 101) 1991


  2. The Cape Jazz Band, Robbie Jansen’s ‘Nomad Jez’….come to mind. He said he was gonna be recording with Hilton Schilder and Steve Newman as part of their guitar trio – not sure if that happened.


  3. Thanks for both your contribution and Jonathan Eato’s below. This is extremely valuable work: we cannot let these musicians’ careers be forgotten.


  4. Nice piece thanks. You forgot his most recent and perhaps his most poignant , 4 compositions and recordings on the CJB album, Musical Democracy .


  5. The DVD of “The World in a Guitar” sees Errol playing sublimely in a show put together by Tony Cox in the (early?) 2000s. Filmed at The Market Theatre by Plum productions. Kind regards, Terrence Scarr


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