Waste of a maskandi talent

2011-09-24 19:44

Yet another South African music legend has died broke.

With three decades of maskandi music under his belt, the late Shiyani Ngcobo reached great heights as an inter-national performer.

His footprint reached across the United Kingdom, Europe and Cuba. His concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York in 2007 sold out way before the event. But here at home he was snubbed by the music industry and died a pauper.

The maskandi guru was a champion of the acoustic roots of the popular Zulu guitar style with his own distinctive and textured sound.

 He also taught maskandi guitar in the School of Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and in its affiliated outreach programme.

However, when he died after an illness in February this year, his only child Khanyisile (34) had to go on radio to solicit help just to give Ngcobo a decent burial.

“I won’t lie to you, when my husband died, we had nothing,” admitted Ngcobo’s wife Gertrude.

To say that Ngcobo lived in humble circumstances is no understatement.

One of their two family homes in KwaMakhutha started out as a “mjondolo”. This was extended into a plastered mud house. Their other home is in rural Umgababa.

While Gertrude says her husband was a long way from the street corners and train stations where his musical career kicked off, she does not recall him making more than R400 at time from local gigs.

Dave Marks of 3rd Ear Music, said: “Shiyani was a live performing maskandi musician in the tradition of a minstrel or troubadour. Musicians such as Shiyani in any other society would make a reasonable life and a living out of music without ever having made a commercial.”

Kathryn Olsen of the Music School at UKZN said there seemed to be little concern for “national living treasures”.

“Even though Shiyani Ngcobo performed at the Carnegie Hall, he could not get a gig at the Durban Playhouse, for example. In fact it is difficult even to get a response from the gate-keepers of the local music performance scene,” she said.

Neil Comfort of Bandwagon Afrika, who worked with Ngcobo in the mid-90s, said he would have liked to have given him more work.

“But Ngcobo was an intellectual maskandi who did not restrict himself to the formulaic production line that record labels such Gallo imposed on the genre for so many years,” said Comfort.

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