#JoziWalks: His and Hers Jams
In mid-May #JoziWalks (endorsed by #Johannesburg In You Pocket) organized their amazing annual event when they sponsor young tour operators and entrepreneurs who are developing walking tours to less well-known areas of Jozi. I was lucky enough to get a place on the His and Hers Jams walk which introduced us to some of Soweto’s musical history, focusing on Orlando. I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about the earlier part of the tour (in Orlando East) but there were some exciting insights into the musical heritage of this area which I kept for a separate blog. So here we cross over the railway line into Orlando West and our tour becomes more ‘musical’! But before we get to contemporary Orlando … a bit of context.
Some background to local music in Johannesburg and Soweto
In the 1920s and 30s, there were vast urban slumyards, centred in Central Johannesburg, Doornfontein and western Johannesburg (present day Newtown). Much of the entertainment and culture in these working class areas was centred around shebeen parties (a shebeen is an illegal drinking house) and a music style known as marabi. This music was essentially working class, community centred and was the forerunner of more ‘traditional’ jazz styles.
The removal of slumyards in the 1930s meant that entertainment and night-life began to shift to the areas where black people owned property under freehold, places like Alexandra Township and Sophiatown (a mixed race suburb). And in the ’40s and ’50s, with the introduction of gramophones (yes .. they were called gramapahones back then!); the emergence of radio broadcasts to black listeners in the ’40s; and the resulting new awareness of American jazz, a whole new musical style developed.
Sophiatown remained a vibrant centre of music and culture as well as a site of mixed race interaction. It became synonymous with Drum Magazine and the photography of people like Jurgen Schadeburg, Peter Magubane, Ernst Cole and Alf Khumalo. This was all until the tragic forced removals in 1955 and 1956 – one of Apartheid’s many crimes against humanity. With the destruction of Sophiatown, many musicians left the country – people like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Hotep Idris Galeta (then Cecil Barnard), Letta Mbulu & her husband Caiphus Semenya amongst others.
Those who stayed performed either in the night clubs in predominantly white Hillbrow, or at venues in the so-called black townships. One such venue was San Souci Bioscope in Kliptown which sadly, was destroyed by fire in 1994.
‘Pal I can’
And then came a certain Lucky Michaels who returned from Mozambique wanting to ‘lead a quiet life’. And according to his sister Rita Tandy this meant opening a club! When told that he would never make it, he said simply: ‘Pal, I can.” And this (to misquote Rudyard Kipling), is apparently how the Pelican Club got its name. Although built in the 1960s, it seems that the Club was only opened during the 1970s.
Now a derelict building just behind the Orlando Railway Station, it was, in its heyday, a meeting place for both local musos as well as political activists (sometimes they were one and the same). So it is not entirely surprising that 3 months after opening, the authorities conducted a raid and arrested all the patrons and performers. Many famous musicians and singers performed at the Pelican. These included Lebo-M, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Dolly Rathebe and Abigail Kubheka. Zoë Mahopo writes in The Sowetan (18/06/13):
In the old days if you had a pretty girl on your arm and wanted to impress her, all you had to do was take her to Club Pelican in Orlando East, Soweto. Wednesdays were ladies night and for R2.50 you could both have a good time and a few bottles of Coke. When the apartheid laws made it impossible for black clubs to have a liquor licence, crates of beer were hidden in the bushes outside the venue.
In 1973 a band Abacothozi was formed by bassist, Berthwel Maphumulo, formerly of the Elite Swingsters. Together with Mac Mathunjwa on organ, his brother Innocent [Negro] Mathunjwa on drums and Joe Zikhali on guitar, they recorded at least two albums, one of which was Night in Pelican (Soul Jazz Pop, BL 66, February 1976). In addition, in 1976 Dick Khoza recorded an album called Chapita with the Pelican Club house band. The 4 musicians from Abacothozi were part of Rethe group which made this recording.
Sadly the club was petrol bombed in the uprising of 1976 which led to Michaels closing down the club. Although Rita Tandy’s nephew Farai ran the club for a while – focusing mainly on hip-hop sessions – it seems since 2013 to have fallen into complete disuse.
Saxophone notes and acapella singing
Getting back to our walk in Orlando – it was outside the Pelican Club building that Jabu Dwai joined us to entertain us with the rich full notes of his saxophone and then accompanied us as we walked down Armitage Street.
At Pumla, a school for learners with special needs, we were treated to the most moving and beautiful acapella singing.
Half-walking, half-dancing we proceeded with the Pumla School singers to the home of His and Hers Jams at 10201 Phoka Street, Mzimhlophe. Here we received a warm welcome from the rest of the His and Hers Jam team. After a 6km walk it was great to be able to sit down and relax and attack a delicious boerewors roll! Hearing Lucky Bahetayne and Sizwe Bidli talk about their improvements to the open area next to the venue, was inspiring. They’ve converted it from an unkempt derelict area to a really attractive usable park which they have called Ubuhle Bezure Park (meaning Beauty of the World).
And it is here at this venue, that one Sunday a month His and Hers Jams arranges laid back mellow soulful jazz session.
Thank you all at His and Hers Jams. What an amazing group of people. Can’t wait to come and join you for a music session – next one I’ll be there!