Jazz, Gender and Ambivalence: Todd Matshikiza’s ‘Joyce’ and the Politics of Representation
The revival of the 1959 King Kong: An African Jazz Opera as King Kong: Legend of a Boxer in 2017 was greeted with more enthusiasm than analysis, including from scholars who had written on the earlier work. Legend of a Boxer was instead seen as a revival of the interracial optimism that the opera had embodied in 1959, and as an opportunity to revive memories of the Drum era’s musical icons as well as their music. What critiques there were, were focused on questions of appropriation, on Todd Matshikiza’s status as King Kong’s composer, and on the degree to which his musical voice was respected or disregarded. In this paper, I intervene in these discourses of commemoration by noting an important omission: gender. I observe that the most emphatic sociopolitical change from the 1950s, in 2017, involves the foregrounding of gender in our cultural landscape and how we think about gender in (South African) jazz studies. Drawing on scholarship that has taken on the challenge of South African women in jazz, I argue that the figure of ‘Joyce’ – the lover of the boxer King Kong who was portrayed in 1959 by Miriam Makeba – encourages new interpretations of the jazz opera.