Sophi­a­town singer ‘taught us how to be free; and that was fab­u­lous’

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - NATHI MTHETHWA

AN AFRICAN proverb tells us that it takes a vil­lage to raise a child. Thandi Klaasen was such a vil­lage, and we are all her chil­dren.

The pass­ing of the jazz leg­end has led to an out­pour­ing of sen­ti­ments and state­ments about the im­por­tance and the role she played.

Speaking at the Klaasen family home as leg­ends gath­ered to­gether to pay re­spects, Mam Letta Mbulu, a great mu­si­cian in her own right, said “she taught us how to be free; and that was fab­u­lous.”

In­deed, we will re­mem­ber her for her in­domitable spirit. It was an as­ser­tion of free­dom. It was a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. She spoke her mind. She sang from the heart. She sang truth to the pow­ers that be, touch­ing our spir­its and mak­ing us com­plete be­ings in a world where apartheid was hell-bent on di­vide and rule and things were falling apart.

Dur­ing her time over­seas, she sang with other global leg­endary mu­si­cians.

Her strength of spirit was cou­pled with her en­dur­ing will. How much she must have suf­fer­ing in the petrol at­tack at such a ten­der age, yet she re­cov­ered and suc­ceeded.

The great trum­peter Stom­pie Manana said he and other artists vis­ited her while she re­cov­ered in hos­pi­tal, and after her re­cov­ery, they went on to per­form in 32 shows around the world.

The fact that Klaasen never al­lowed the petrol at­tack to stunt the growth of her ca­reer, or to per­ma­nently damp her spirit, will re­main an in­spi­ra­tion for gen­er­a­tions to come.

She em­bod­ied the para­ble of a rose that grew from con­crete – as the pro­tag­o­nist ar­tic­u­lates and celebrates in Maya An­gelou’s poem Still I Rise.

Her life is liv­ing proof of hope even in times of dark­ness.

There­fore, it does not come as a sur­prise that she was one of uTata Nel­son Mandela’s all­time favourite artists.

Renowned poet Dr Don Mat­tera, in a poetic trib­ute he com­posed on Klaasen’s death, said: “She lived and died in the arms of a great, lov­ing rep­u­ta­tion of hu­man ser­vice and car­ing love for her peo­ple and her beloved coun­try. In­deed, she was a bea­con of love and un­stop­pable en­ergy that brought mean­ing to the lives of mil­lions of mu­sic lovers.”

He fur­ther rem­i­nisces: “Tsotsi taal was part of her artis­tic soul – just like the late Dolly Rathebe and other citys­licker ‘susters and breekates van Kofifi’. She spoke and lived the art of ‘Wi­etie’ – as we called it. It was part of our sur­vival.”

It was this em­brace of Sophi­a­town and its won­ders that de­fined and fed the mu­si­cal ge­nius of Klaasen.

Her loss marks the end of an era. Born and bred in Sophi­a­town, she en­riched its sounds and melodies. She em­braced its lan­guage and inim­itable cul­tural tra­di­tion.

Her song Sophi­a­town re­calls the vi­brancy of the place and of the times.

Be­sides the per­sonal ob­sta­cles that Klaasen faced head-on, there was also the sys­temic oppression un­der apartheid, which also sup­pressed free­dom of speech and artis­tic free­dom.

To flour­ish dur­ing that time was dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous. The lev­els of te­nac­ity, per­se­ver­ance, phys­i­cal hard­ship and for­ti­tude of this gen­er­a­tion of artists still needs to be fully told.

A few years ago, when she ac­cepted a Woman of Des­tiny Award, she said: “I am happy to be with peo­ple with such lov­ing hearts. They can burn my face, but not my voice. My face is not Thandi Klaasen; I am Thandi Klaasen.”

In a move aimed at pre­serv­ing this in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to our cul­tural her­itage, the Depart­ment of Arts and Cul­ture sup­ported the Di­vas of Kofifi pro­duc­tion, which opened on Au­gust 11, 2016 at the Mar­ket Theatre. It paid trib­ute to Klaasen, Dorothy Ma­suku and Abi­gail Kubeka.

The coura­geous spirit of Klaasen was still ev­i­dent at 85 years old, as she joined the cast at the end of the play to per­form with all her heart and soul.

So our world is poorer with the pass­ing of Mama Thandi Klaasen. In the same breath, we are also so much richer, hav­ing heard her sing and hav­ing known her.

While we mourn her loss, we take so­lace in the fact that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions can learn from her en­thralling jour­ney. For that we will al­ways be grate­ful.

We are as­sist­ing in doc­u­ment­ing life sto­ries through our Liv­ing Leg­ends Legacy Project so that these nar­ra­tives and life ex­pe­ri­ences be­come part of the great South African story.

The ra­di­ant splen­dour of her mu­sic will con­tinue to at­tract new au­di­ences in the time to come.

Our mes­sage to her family, her fel­low trav­ellers and fans world­wide is that as we take her legacy for­ward to­gether, we too have been taught in her vil­lage and we too are the chil­dren of Thandi Klaasen.

Rest in peace, Mama Thandi Klaasen. Lala ngox­olo Mbokodo.

MEM­O­RIES: Poet and singer Mzwakhe Mbuli, Gaut­eng Pre­mier David Makhura, Gaut­eng In­fra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment MEC Nandi May­athu­laKhoza and MMC and PR coun­cil­lor in City of Tsh­wane, Nozipho Ty­obeka, at the Eden Park home of jazz leg­end Thandi Klaasen to of­fer con­do­lences on be­half of the Gaut­eng govern­ment.

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