Beyond the Seam: Comrades, Compromises and Collisions in Todd Matshikiza’s ‘Jazz’ Worlds

  • Lindelwa Dalamba


Todd Matshikiza was born in Queenstown, South Africa, on 7 March 1921 and died in exile in Zambia on 3 March 1968. This paper marks the fiftieth anniversary of his death. The paper is not a biography of the musician and writer; rather, I limit my discussion to two of his South African works, King Kong: An African Jazz Opera (1959) and Mkhumbane (1960), as both have caused peculiarly South African kinds of controversy. This focus enables me to ask: how is Matshikiza remembered, what is he remembered for, and what new critical perspectives may enable us to know about him, his worlds, and South African jazz. Matshikiza’s two works have been understood as important musical statements, soundtracks to the broad politics of protest in Johannesburg (King Kong) and in Durban (Mkhumbane). But the two works have received uneven attention, with King Kong generally more favoured than Mkhumbane. I argue that this discrepancy is ideological, and has more to do with the stakes involved when claiming South African jazz for a politics of anti-apartheid nonracialism. Remembering, in this paper, is therefore less a call to venerate a past or some nebulous heritage, than it is a challenge to our musical present.


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eISSN: 0258-509X