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

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOOD LEGENDS - KAV­ISH CHETTY

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.

District Six Leg­ends in Con­cert.

JOY­FUL: Jayson King brings to­gether per­form­ers and icons of yes­ter­year in the show

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