District Six Heritage Concert: Legends’ tribute to yesteryear

Billed as a chance for old friends and neighbours to meet and re-kindle memories of the past, as well as a showcase of new talent, the District Six Heritage Day concert pays tribute to entertainers of yesteryear – and the young stars they have inspired.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 09/10.

District Six Heritage Concert: Legends' tribute to yesteryear

Stage impresario Jayson King has been organising stage shows and creating opportunities for entertainers for over five decades, starting with shows that he promoted while running the family grocery business in the erstwhile District Six. The “District Six Heritage Concert” draws on the rich heritage of the area and will showcase some of the surviving entertainers who played local bioscopes and stages in and around District Six before the apartheid government bulldozed the area and scattered its inhabitants.
Heralded as “keeping the memory of the area vivid in people’s minds and celebrating the endurance of formerly disenfranchised musicians” the one-night-only show also celebrates the uniquely eclectic mix of communities who lived side by side in the old suburb. King – whose plaudits include organising early performances for music stars like Jonathan Butler and Richard John Smith, and creating opportunities for local artistes to play on cruise liners –
“A lot of entertainers came out of District Six, and I was fortunate enough to give a lot of them their professional stage births,” says King, “People like the late Tony Schilder and Winston Mankunku; and also opera singers and dance stars. Some of them have gained international status – like Jonathan Butler and Richard John Smith; some of them have passed onto the dusky hills of Cape Town and the dusty roads of the Cape Flats, and some of them have passed on from this world. Especially during the era of the late ’60s, there were so many singers and musicians – some of whom are still existent today, and I try to book these veterans whenever I can. When such stars pass on, you find that people come and put roses on their graves, and hold a tribute – but a real tribute to a performer is to give them the accolades they deserve by an audience of listeners and viewers.”
“The area was full of Russian Jews and Polish Jews,  of Italians and Irish, of Indians and coloureds and blacks,” he continues. “In the past, we used to see all these people at the shows, making District Six a very difficult area in which to satisfy the musical likes of the population at large. The coloured and black populations were not allowed to see the international shows that were being held at the Alhambra Theatre, or the Colosseum or the City Hall, but we were listening to Springbok Radio and LM Radio. We were fans of Nat King Cole, Jim Reeves and Russ Conway and our performers emulated that. Outside our old grocery store, near the famous Seven Steps, it was a very safe and intimate area and you could stroll down cobbled streets. It looked like Havana does today. Crooners were under the popular street-lamps, singing in four- and five-part harmony acapella. I used to borrow these performers and put them on stages at the Avalon, the National Bioscope and the British Bioscope.”
King’s Heritage Day concert sees the featured artists – Richard Ceasar, Blackcurrant Band, Déjà Vu, Zelda Benjamin, Carol-Leigh, Young Ideas Malay Choir and The Old Boys Choir – being backed by professional gig musicians, something he notes was not always the case, “due to financial constraints and the political structures of the old history”. He mentions the names of young performers who trod his boards as a gateway to fame and fortune, such as the late Taliep Petersen. “He grew up on my stage in short pants as a youth, before doing great things like his ‘District Six – The Musical’ and ‘Kat and The Kings’.” There was also Johaar Mosavet (“He joined the Covent Gardens Ballet Company”), Joseph Gabriels (“A wonderful tenor who left South Africa to sing all over Europe), Abeeda Parker (“A soprano in the style of Maria Callas, who left to sing in Milan, and now lives in Canada”), the late pianist Tony Schilder and also The Four Sounds with Cliffie Moses and the late Basil Moses (“They played at the Three Cellars on Fish Street, and I put them on their first professional stage in 1965”).
“Part of the ‘District Six Heritage Concert’ is a walk down memory lane,” says King. “In District Six in the ’60s, the Star Bioscope on Adderley Street was like our Carnegie Hall, and there were also the smoke-filled dingy halls where very little of the smoke was coming from legal cigarettes. On many an occasion there was a Jayson King show that was a tribute to Elvis, to Frankie Lane or Matt Monro. We still have some of these veterans, like Zelda Benjamin, who was our own Ella Fitzgerald and, at the age of 73, she will be performing at the Good Hope Centre show. This tribute show is a listen to the jukebox of yesteryear – we have The Old Bots as our opening act. They are a three member group – it was four, but one passed away – led by Zamo Mohamed and singing in the style of the Platters or the Inkspots, with songs like “I Didn’t Care”, which was so, so popular from the mid-’50s into the ’60s.”
Another component to the show is to introduce talent from outside of the District Sex legacy to listeners who might not usually see these performers. “If you take a survey across the board of the South African population, you will find many people who don’t go to smoky nightclubs and bars and casino halls. Such people might know of the brilliant talents of Richard Ceasar or Blackcurrant Band,” says King. The guitarist will “play tribute” to George Benson, Stevie Wonder and Santana, and is backed by guitarist Mickey Rorich, drummer Ivan Bell – King himself playing percussion.
“I call myself ‘the last of the Mohicans’,” says King. “I am the last licensed promoter that comes out of the area and that age, and we need to make concerts like this Heritage Day one a regular event. Some of the old talents have given up on music, some of them think they don’t have the talent any more, and some of them have just given up. My idea is to pay tribute and homage to that talent today, while it is still here – not to wait until it is gone, and it is too late. The people who survived the difficult endurance race of being a performer and an artist in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s – let us honour them now, here and today.”
The “District Six Heritage Concert” features Richard Ceasar, Blackcurrant, Déjà vu, Zelda Benjamin, Carol-Leigh, Young Ideas Malay Choir and The OId Boys on 24 September at the Good Hope Centre (7.30pm, tickets R120 (floor) and R100 (stands) from Computicket.com and Shoprite/Checkers. The Parkwood Estate “Foundation For Positive Change” has been selected as the beneficiary for the event.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 09/10.