RESPECT: Hamba Kahle Aretha Franklin


I was away last week, and so didn’t post immediately on the much-mourned death of musician and social activist Aretha Franklin. Here, you can find a full and detailed biography.

Here is something rather more pointed and personal: novelist Candace Allen’s memory of the impact of Aretha on her life.

Allen, incidentally , is the author of one of the best fictional portraits of a female jazz artist: Valaida. ( )

And here the Washington Post interrogates Trump’s claim in his “tribute” that the artist “worked for me”.

Even without the fact-checks, it’s clear that without any reflection at all, Trump reverted to a classic racist trope without a moment’s pause. Unsurprising. But Aretha did not need his words anyway. She had – and has – our hearts.


Virtuosi, revolutionaries and pirates: a playlist for Women’s Day

Two Women’s Day greetings popped on What’sApp this morning. One was an extremely pink bowl of roses. The other, fringed by itty-bitty SA flags, showed a woman in traditional attire carrying an extremely heavy pot on her head. We’re flowers – or we do all the household work. Here’s a playlist for Women’s Day and the week that follows: music by and in one case for women that gives the finger to the stereotypes.


1) As homage to the roots, here are Lungiswa Plaatjies and Madosini with Solal’emaweni: referencing some of the most complex and inventive of South African traditional music – music from the women’s domain:

2) Building from those roots, nobody should need an introduction to Thandiswa Mazwai’s Nizalwa Ngobeni. The song will remain a classic for as long as we continue to forget our heroes (male and female) and their ethics and vision.

3) Throughout the centuries, women have fought for their own rights and those of their communities. In the early years of the Twentieth Century, this American song for the rights of women workers, Bread and Roses, drew on the ideas of German Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg. It’s sung here by Joan Baez.

Striking women textile workers: USA, 1912

4) Dolores Ibarruri -– ‘La Pasionaria’  – was a hero of the Spanish Civil War. This Spanish workers’ song was written for her. It’s played here by bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Antonio Forcione.

5) South Africa, too, had – and still has – its struggles against racism and fascism. Nants’Indoda was written by trade unionist Vuyisile Mini and sung as he was led to the gallows. For Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba, singing it was one of the ways she alerted the world to the struggles and suffering of the South African majority.

6) A very young Dorothy Masuku was chased out of South Africa for questioning the laws of Dr Malan and asking in song who killed Patrice Lumumba. Then the Rhodesian Secret Service pursued her too, for writing songs like this, Bazuka

7) Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit was one of the earliest Black Lives Matter song. Scholar Dr Angela Davis says it “put the elements of protest and resistance back at the center of contemporary black musical culture.”

Clare Loveday

8) Then there are the struggles within music. Virtuoso playing and composition are so often stereotyped as the realm of men that we are not permitted to see the large numbers of women already achieving in these fields. Clare Loveday is a South African composer who has won multiple international commissions and collaborated with artists including Nandipha Mntambo. Here’s her work Shadow Lines, performed at the 2016 SAMRO Awards finals by winner Dylan Thabisher 

9) Here’s a concert of original, virtuoso solo flute from Nicole Mitchell in New York: astounding playing in terms of both vision and instrumental mastery

10) Finally, for anybody who’s ever worked in the service industries (I have occasionally been a waitress), Nina Simone sings Pirate Jenny. The song is from the Threepenny Opera by Berthold Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann, with music by Kurt Weill. Based on John Gay’s 18th century play, it became a satire on the fundamental immorality of capitalism in a 1930s Germany careering towards Hitlerism. Jenny appears to be a servant, but she has a far more satisfying career as a pirate. And Simone takes the song deep into the racist American South, giving it extra, chilling, resonance.







RIP Sir Stanley Glasser and Thomasz Stanko

Two sad deaths in the past week have particular resonance for South Africans. On Sunday composer Professor Stanley Glasser (above) passed away at the age of 92. This tribute from the London Bach Society details his distinguished career overseas. But for South Africans, it’s as ‘Spike’ Glasser, partner in crime with Todd Matshikiza, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and others as the musical King Kong was first put together that he is probably most affectionately remembered. Black cast members I talked to certainly had no rose-coloured spectacles about the tensions inherent in that production – but Glasser was universally recalled as a decent, humane musical collaborator with an impish sense of fun. May his spirit rest in peace.
When trumpeter Tomasz Stanko visited South Africa for the 2014 Joy of Jazz festival, he spent much of our interview gazing wistfully out of the window of his fortress hotel in Sandton, expressing the wish that his timetable allowed time for him to see the real city and meet its people. “I must come back and do that,” he said. Sadly, Stanko was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year and died aged 76. This Guardian obituary
sums up his career. Those of us fortunate enough to hear his incandescent notes four years ago remain in his debt for the gift of that music. Hamba Kahle.