The divas have landed

Divas of Kofifi
Divas of Kofifi

The Afro rhythms of Marabi, Tsaba-Tsaba, Kwela and Mbaqanga will soon take us through memory lane to the dance floors of Thirty Nine Steps and Back of the Moon.

Beautiful songstresses gracing audiences with their sweet melodies and their classical glamour. Gangsters were the envy of the times with their immaculate attires and extravagant lifestyles. The oppressive laws of apartheid were intent on breaking down communities but instead, built a strong spirit of resistance among individuals. Intellectuals and ordinary citizens exchanged debates and home brews inside the walls of the buzzing shebeens. Poverty and unemployment was the daily bread which was coupled with the will to survive. It was life in Kofifi where the motto was “Live Fast, Die Young, and Make a Good-Looking Corpse in a Glamourous Coffin.”

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Phambili Siyaya Arts (in support by Market Theatre Foundation and National Lotteries Commission) will take audiences through these memories with the production, Divas of Kofifi which will be staged on 11-12 August 2016. The production pays tribute to Thandie Klaasen, Dorothy Masuka and Abigail Khubeka. It illustrates career highlights of the divas from the periods of the 1940s at the peak of Kofifi’s existence through to the 1960s at the destruction of the suburb. The divas represented fashion, beauty, strength and the realities of being a woman in South Africa in those challenging times. It was also an exciting era in the evolution of South African music and entertainment. Ms Khubeka is a protégé of this era.

Other divas from the era were Miriam Makeba, The Skylarks, Dolly Rathebe and Mary Rabotapi. Most divas of the legends era have either disappeared into obscurity or are no longer alive. Some of them have left behind a vacuum of musical memory.

Divas of Kofifi explores the lives of the three legends through the eyes of Zawazi Jacky Mbatha and Mlindelwa “BabStix” Nkosi. Zawazi is the owner of a Jazz restaurant called Jacky’s Oasis which was once owned by her deceased parents. She stumbles on an incomplete manuscript developed by her father, about the three divas who once graced the music halls of Kofifi. She takes it upon herself to complete the work started by her father. However, she finds it a challenge to compile a documentary on an era she has no experience of.

Mlindelwa “BabStix” Nkosi is an elderly gentleman who is a retired factory worker who mans a shoe repair booth next to Zawazi’s jazz lounge. He has been running the operation for 16 years. He was 7 years old when he witnessed the destruction of Kofifi. He becomes a significant player in taking Zawazi through the memories of Kofifi and highlighting the early lives of Thandie Klaasen, Abigail Kubeka, and Dorothy Masuku who are the subjects of Zawazi’s documentary.

The production explores notions of cultural heritage and memory. It aims to commemorate the contribution of these glorious women. Re-enactments of moments in their past are interweaved with footage from present interviews; all the while a live musical set-up underpins the production in sound, reminding us of their greatest contribution. It is produced by Shadrack Bokaba and directed by Princess Mhlongo who is Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Theatre 2012, Naledi and Mbokodo Awards Nominee. The production introduces scriptwriter, Bongi Lecoge-Zulu.

Comments Themba Sithole of Phambili Siyaya Arts, “We are proud to do a commemoration of these amazing legends for the different generations of the South African public. Our aim was to honour these role models, mothers and grandmothers when they are still alive. We wanted to present the women behind the image as well as their strength and resilience. The current generation knows little of musicians from past eras. This is Phambili’s way to document South African history for future generations.”

Thandie Klaasen was known for her fashionable style and rhythmic talk of the tsosi taal. Like many other Kofifi artists, Klaasen left South Africa as the authorities clamped down on any opportunities for Black musicians. While she lived abroad, she campaigned against apartheid. Dorothy Masuka used to run away from boarding school many times to perform in concerts. She blossomed into a prolific songwriter. Some of her compositions were banned by the apartheid authorities. She was in exile for 31 years and returned to South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela. Abigail Khubeka was the glamorous Drum pin-up girl who was mentored by Miriam Makeba. She remained in South Africa during the apartheid era. Ms Khubeka continues to be a timeless entertainer. All three divas were social activists at the height of their careers.

Concludes Sithole, “Music is a tool that educates and unites people. It has the ability to cross cultural boundaries and fuse together many generations. We are confident that we are presenting a South African story that focuses on strong-willed women who never gave up pursuing their dreams and ambitions. This is a journey many young women continue to walk on to this day. We are proud that we will be sharing information that shall contribute towards milestones of South African musical heritage”.

Market Theatre: 11 – 13 August 2016.

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