You can’t stop the music

2011-12-05 00:00

DURING the apartheid years many talented musicians battled daily against the restrictions imposed by the National Party government. Now, once again, their music is under threat — this time from a lack of funding and interest to preserve it for future generations.

Much of the music from the hidden years was recorded by dedicated and passionate musicians such as David Marks, who today uses his home in Melville Beach, nestled between Hibberdene and Port Shepstone on the south coast, to preserve the recordings made in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as well as photographs and information from the period, as part of the Hidden Years Music Archive Project (HYMAP).

“We need support from existing structures and sponsors — those well-funded, top-heavy arts and heritage government departments, the SABC, sponsors, etc,” Marks says. “[But] musicians, archives, museums should [also] be sustainable, they don’t need to beg or steal from the taxpayer.

“That’s the problem with contemporary music and musicians in South Africa today. Because they have no knowledge of our indigenous history and only get the polished, imported end product from overseas, they are being misled into believing that in order to share, create and make music, they need to be funded.

“It’s a destructive myth. If musicians cannot survive on their talent and what has been created cannot generate — through archives and museums — interest, then they deserve to perish.

“The fact that most of the musicians in 3rd Ear Music­’s Hidden Years archive have survived, and are still performing, some for 40 years and more later, with no mainstream media, commercial record industry or government and sponsorship support, both pre- and post-1994, speaks volumes.”

Asked how HYMAP came about, Marks says it was born out of his own desire to record music as a teenager, while working on the mines in Johannesburg.

“Ben Segal [co-founder of 3rd Ear Music, with music publisher Audrey Smith] recorded songs from 1964 ... I sort of followed on from him. I would take a recorder on the train and head to the Troubadour club [in Doornfontein] because I wanted to share the kind of music that turned me on with the guys on the mines.

“The miners didn’t want to listen to the music I liked because they thought the singers were communists and radicals. [But] when I played them the music I recorded, they were impressed.

“The same thing happened when I worked in the townships in the seventies. I couldn’t believe the talent there was in the townships, so I recorded it and people listened ... it helped that by then I’d had a hit record — Master Jack [the huge Four Jacks and a Jill hit] — and was reasonably well known.

“The archive proper started in 1994. I decided to make the project formal because so many people kept telling me how important my collection was.”

Marks, who also enjoyed international hits with Mr Nico and Hey Mister, was one of the first people to record Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu — at the time the Juluka legends were just 16 or 17 years old.

Later, as director of 3rd Ear Music — which was formed in 1969 to protect, promote and produce South African live-music performances that could not be heard within the mainstream record and broadcast industries — he helped artists like Hugh Masekela, the Malombo Jazz Men, Lefifi Tladi, Dashiki, John Gcaba, maskandi legend Madala Kunene and many more to have a voice.

He also worked with controversial singer Roger Lucey­, whose album The Road is Much Longer, was banned by the government and was considered so subversive that anyone caught in possession of it could face a fine of R10 000 or five years in jail.

The two men also performed together in Tighthead Fourie and the Loose Forwards — a country band with an interesting choice in lyrics. One of their songs, No Easy Walk To Freedom, was inspired by Nelson Mandela. “We would wear UDF and ANC colours and sing songs with a message while dancers lang-armed around the floor,” Marks recalls with a grin.

The passionate musician and sound engineer was also, with photographer Tony Campbell, the driving force behind the Free Peoples Concerts — first on a deserted Durban beach in 1970 and later at Wits University from 1971 to the late eighties. The concerts were their way of trying to overcome the government’s draconian no mixing of cultures apartheid laws.

“We didn’t charge for the concerts but a hat would be sent round to help pay for the artists, most of whom came from the townships,” Marks recalls. “Like everything else, those concerts were recorded. Some of them came out quite well, but others were not so great, and some of the musicians we recorded back then aren’t keen for those early recordings to be released now.

“[But] the quality of the recordings is not the point, it’s about the context of when it was recorded ... the context of the music being played at folk clubs, jazz restaurants and free concerts. As we mature as a country I believe we need to appreciate that.”

He also worries that South African musicians are not proud of their heritage and the people who forged the path in those troubled times, saying: “The Rolling Stones will tell you proudly that they modelled themselves on [American blues singer and musician] Robert Johnson, but it’s not the same here ... in this country they deny them or avoid them ...”

What makes the attitude of musicians and government even more ironic is that Marks often receives calls from those living abroad who want to find out more about South Africa’s musical heritage or who have recordings that they want to give to the country.

He recently received CDs from an Australian who recorded five years of material at folk festivals in South Africa and offered to give them to HYMAP after hearing from friends that Durban musician Syd Kitchen had died.

“People are collecting and recording all over the world, but there is no national archive or museum for it to be housed in,” a deeply frustrated Marks says. “I’m trying to build a satellite music museum here in Port Shepstone. I’ve been given the land and I’m now trying to find ways of getting hold of the money we need to build it. The Department of Arts and Culture is seeing the value of building a national archive, but that’s as far as it’s got.”

It’s not the first time he’s tried to get the archive formalised. In 2008 newspapers reported his legal wrangle with the University of KwaZulu-Natal with whom he’d entered into an agreement to catalogue and set up a formal archive. That project ended acrimoniously and questions remain about what happened to the R4 million set aside for the archive. So, while he waits for the government to offer support, Marks continues with his task of preserving his unique recordings of urban folk, township jazz, country rock and maskandi, as well as photos, programmes and posters from coffee bars, concerts, shebeens, festivals and mine hostels from those hidden years. He has even turned one room of his home into a temporary storage facility to house it all.

“The HYMAP is not aiming to recreate the past,” Marks says. “This is not a retro CD catalogue­ collection. It is a reflection, a re-collection if you will ... a tribute to some remarkable and resilient hidden talent whose words and music and the context in which they were produced and presented, may still have a role to play today.”

• For more information about the Hidden Years Music Archive Project phone 083 359 5610 or 039 684 6148. Alternatively log on to or speak to him at the Rock Bottom Pub and Restaurant in Umzumbe where he plays live on Sundays at 2 pm.

IN a career which began in the sixties, one of the highlights for David Marks was being a roadie in the United States for Hanley Sound of Boston.

He worked with some of the world’s great bands including the Rolling Stones, Joan Baez, Donovan, Hoyt Axton, the Turtles, 3 Dog Night and Jimi Hendrix, at events like The Newport Folk Festival and the legendary Woodstock Festival, and did live mixing for John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band during Live Peace in Toronto.

Asked how he ended up in the U.S., Marks said: “When Master Jack became a hit in the United States, I borrowed money to go over and, by a series of remarkable coincidences, got to work for Bill Hanley, owner of Hanley Sound. Woodstock was one of the many festivals that we did. I walked around everywhere with a camera, as I’d always done, and I took pictures.”

Among those images is one of a naked man standing on scaffolding, which has since gone on to be used in books commemorating the festival.

When he returned home, Marks helped provide the sound for many international and local artists in the mid-seventies, including Mungo Jerry, Uri Geller, Spike Milligan, Margaret Singana, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu and Percy Sledge.

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