Celebrating perfect copycats
They couldn’t go and see the rock ’n rollers of the Sixties, so their answer was simply to mimic those overseas legends tgwsaturday
ALMOST half a century ago, District Six was alive with rock ’n roll. The independent bioscopes would burst with savvy cinema-goers, all there for the music, for the great “copycat phenomenon” of the late ’60s. Local vocalists who could perfectly summon the voices and rhythms of that era’s greatest perfor mers: Elvis Presley, Shirley Bassey, Connie Francis.
Several decades later, chief promoter and singer Jayson Jay King has slightly greyer lamb-chop sideburns, but a voice no less vital.
He’s shared stages and worked with District Six’s most well-loved musicians, and his ambition is to get them all together on stage for his upcoming District Six Legends in Concert. The importance of the show is that it is, King tells us, “a historical tribute to Cape Townbor n artists who have endured more than 50 years of music; who have sustained the music for themselves and the public”.
The concert comes at the perfect time; many of these artists are getting along in years, slowly thinning out and leaving us with only memories. “A lot of them have parted company from us,” he says. “We’ve recently lost Robbie Jansen and so many others. All these people were phenomenal entertainers in their own fields. They all started out their careers in District Six, and then moved to the Cape Flats.”
King’s life in the music industry has lent his anecdotes a remarkable texture. Together with his contemporaries, he’s survived all sorts of oppressive state laws to keep playing music.
“To keep the music alive was to sustain myself in a violent environment,” he says. That included being pulled off stage for playing alongside white artists and coloured performers being obscured behind curtains so as not to give away the secret of their skin colour.
The artists of this era have preserved themselves through such troubles, and it is with a nostalgic air that King says: “These performers are no longer icons of the time. Now they are legends. Capetonian entertainers are like good wine. We mature with age.”
The desire to emulate overseas artists also emerges from a very particular historical and political background. When the famous names of the music business visited South Africa, many music enthusiasts were often denied attendance at the concerts which were held at whites-only venues.
“People of colour, like ourselves, who loved their music wanted to go and see them, but we were not allowed to. This is the reason why we decided to become copycat singers. If the public cannot go see them, let’s copy those voices and take those voices and personalities to the public.”
King also “discovered” the late Winston Mankunku, navigating several political troubles to get the now legendary saxophonist on concert stages around the Cape.
What King intends to capture with the upcoming show is “the spirit of the District Six musical experience”. He wants to send listeners on a time-travel back into the seats of the Luxorama, the Star Bioscope, the Kismet Cinema.
“We are here to sustain the sound, the vibe, the environment, the feeling of District Six,” he says. The show will be an exercise in nostalgia for many concert-goers, although it will certainly lack some of the more idiosyncratic charms of the old days.
King tells us how they used to be “exposed to smoke-filled cinemas, where you’d have to lean away from the mic to have a good cough” between verses. “They smoked all sorts, back then. It wasn’t only cigarettes!”
The tribute to these long-suffering “icons of yesteryear” will be staged at the His People’s Centre. Established jazz musician Darryl Andrews enthuses about the 17piece band, including four trumpeters and five saxophonists.
King unashamedly describes himself as a “cover artist” and is renowned for his expert vocal impersonations of Elvis Presley. Performing alongside him will be illustrious entertainers like Nisa Abrahams (the Shirley Bassey emulator), Gobi Martins, “The Man with the Golden Voice”, and Zayn Adams, “The Heartthrob of District Six”.
King and his contemporaries had the skill to mimic overseas talent “identically”. He says: “If at any one point they close their eyes for just one second, when Gobi Martins sings Engelbert Humperdinck, they will hear Engelbert Humperdinck. If Darryl Andrews’s Big Band Orchestra gets involved in Glen Miller’s In the Mood, they would swear they were living in World War II listening to Glen Miller live!”
District Six Legends in Concert plays at the His People’s Centre, N1 City, on Wednesday, December 29. Tickets at R80 to R150 are available through Computicket.
JOYFUL: Jayson King brings together performers and icons of yesteryear in the show