Don Laka's legacy

By Faeza
15 September 2016

JAZZ musician Don Laka cannot recall a time when music was not a part of his life. But it’s not just for his melodies that the music maestro would like to be remembered, it is also for having managed to make the public broadcaster play more local content on its platforms.


Don says having managed to get the SABC on board about the idea of playing more local content will have to go down in history as one of his biggest accomplishments. “I had to cancel my UK tour to devote time to fight for our history,” he passionately says. The jazz legend says he did that because a lot of artists happen to be poor when they die and it’s quite embarrassing so he had to do something to change that. “I’m not going to die a pauper because of the lack of airplay. Millions leave our shores each year because our music is not played,” he says.


Don says even though he’s excited about the commitment to play more local content on SABC platforms, he’ll still fight for more local content on commercial stations. “I want my grandchildren to be foreign to foreign music,” he says.


The 58-year-old knows all too well about putting a fight to get what he wants. According to, a website that archives information about Southern African artists, Don sat on a panel together with

musicians Hugh Masekela and Mzwakhe Mbuli that submitted a draft on South African (Local Music Content) Quota to the Independent Broadcasting Authority in 1994.

Having grown up in a music community of Mamelodi, east of Pretoria, the pianist was rejected at a musical school because of his race. Recalling the dark South African past, he says one knew apartheid was the order of the day, but it was when one experienced an offensive act that it really hit home. “I told myself that this setback will not deter me,” he reveals. When other children were busy kicking a soccer ball, Don was busy with music.

He says he wanted to play a guitar because it was portable and it was easy to start a band. But his mother had other ideas. She wanted him to play the piano. “I think my mother wanted the piano so that she can have a piece of furniture,” he laughs. So one day his mother took him to a musical store to go get an instrument. Don says they walked out of the store with a R15 guitar. It’s quite an ironic anecdote considering the man ended up being a world renowned pianist.  “Sometimes listen to your parents because they know better,” he says. His mother sang in a church choir and his father was a priest.


It is quite interesting to discover that he comes from a religious family considering his recent remarks about Christianity. To an uproar of responses, he posted this on social media, “So what’s the point of having a God that cares less of other people and yet he claims to be the creator? I change my life and other people by helping out anyway I can and I don’t need a God to tell me that.

Anyway there is none who speaks to God, only in your head do you speak to yourself and answer yourself.” He says religious people are always on the defence without understanding. “I have never advocated for people to change their religion,” he clarifies. Despite rubbing some people on the wrong way, Don says intentions are always for the greater good and the 90 percent local content on public platforms is his greatest achievement to date. He says some people are even calling him Mr 90 percent.