Yakal’inkomo: The legacy of Winston ‘Mankuku’ Ngozi

Rekindling the ‘Sax Summit’ concerts of yesteryear, veteran musicians Barney Rachabane and Khaya Mahlangu will join local talents Mark Fransman and Victor Kula for ‘Yakal’inkomo: The Legacy’, a celebration of the music of Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 01/22

Yakal'inkomo: The legacy of Winston 'Mankuku' Ngozi

Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi’s “Yakal’inkomo” ranks as one of apartheid-era South Africa’s most important songs, standing proud alongside 1974’s “Mannenberg (Is Where It’s Happening)”, the Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) track which became an anthem of the struggle and, earlier, the deeply ironic positivity of Strike Vilikazi’s “Meadowlands” (1956). Due to the segregation laws, when he played with a white band or to a white audience, the mast saxophonist had to play from behind a curtain. One such gig was at the Greenpoint Arts Centre in 1964, where he was billed as “Winston Mann”, with a white musician miming the music in front of the curtain. The ignominy of countless experiences like this saw Mankunku penning the achingly haunting  “Yakal’inkomo” in 1968.
“One of the reasons that we have called this Sax Summit ‘Yakal’inkomo’ is my own personal need to remember the legacy that Winston Mankunku Ngozi has left us, and to spread that word,” says music promoter Kader Khan. “The title means ‘the bellow of the bull’, the sound that happens when you slaughter a cow in a kraal, and the other cows see it. For him, and for everyone who was listening, the song was his personal protest against the crimes against humanity that were taking place here. People knew what he meant – the bull bellows when it sees bad things happening to its kin.”
“That was when musicians sat up and started saying, ‘We can’t take this anymore’ and that was also when Mankunku truly found his voice. It’s my personal opinion but, before that, he played jazz – he used to blow Coltrane and all of the greats – but from the moment of that song, his music became the music of Winston Mankunku Ngozi, and it gave birth to Winston as a true South African musician. Many other people followed in those footsteps, and his influence was widespread and deeply important. That is why we wanted to hold this summit.”
“Yakal’inkomo” was released in 1968 on the album of the same name, and grabbed the consciousness of listeners so powerfully that it sold over 50 000 copies in two years. Needless to say, this was with no support from the state regulated radio stations. It remains one of the biggest jazz albums ever to be released in South Africa. Khan’s “Summit” concerts also have a respectable heritage.
“A few years back, we had a Sax Summit with Mankunku himself, before he passed away, and with Ratau Mike Makhalemele, Robbie Jansen and Harold Japhta,” explains Khan. “It was at the West End, the old Galaxy nightclub. Another highlight was one with Buddy Wells, Mark Fransman and Ivan Mazuze, all on the same bill at Swinger’s. There have also been Guitar Summits and Bass Summits and Diva Summits…”
Khan also ran a series called “Cape Town Salutes Local Music”, widely covered in the Good Weekend’s daily sibling, The Argus. These featured the talents of national jazz stars that could fill big rooms – legends like Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu, “After those, it was difficult to find acts that had that sort of pulling power,” explains Khan, “So we started the Summits: taking top players from across the country, with each one doing their own songs, and then a rehearsed collaboration together. People still talk about those gigs; shows with two thousand people at each event and, even though they were on a Sunday, people ending up at 4am still there for the music.”
Given the tradition of these concerts, and the seminal role of Mankunku’s contribution to the South African jazz legacy, choosing players for Khan’s latest show might appear to have been a daunting task. In reality, it was simpler than that.
“Paying tribute to this legacy, I thought about artists like Duke Makasi and Mike Makhalemele and Henry Sithole and, of course, Robbie Jansen – people that were in some way influenced by Mankunku as a player, and as a person. The others who naturally popped into my head where the other South African sax players who have struggled here – people who are veterans but are, essentially, still struggling artists. Barney Rachabane has been wanting to play in Cape Town for months – even at Winston’s funeral, we spoke about it. This celebration is a tribute – a noble thing that we wanted to do the right way, and Barney has that same humility that Mankunku always showed. A great player, but he’s not going to force anything down your throat. He will share it, play and, fair enough, there it is for you to take it and learn from it if you want to.”
“I heard Victor Kula play at the funeral, the first time I had heard him in 10 or 15 years and I didn’t even recognise him. I was so impressed that I had to ask George (Werner) who he was. For me, Victor is one of those traditional struggling musicians – battling on with life and with this incredible skill and music, but he’s got no CD. He was booked for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this year, and he didn’t even have a photograph for the programme. Someone like that, who really needs to be heard, belongs on this bill.”
“Mark Fransman is there because I am an absolute and unashamed fan,” laughs Khan. “I see him as a young lion who is continuing the tradition of Mankunku and the legacy, but for a new audience and with new ideas. Khaya Mhalangu is another of the saxophone gods that I worship. All of these guys, with their musical and performance ability, make one thing. But it’s more. Over all the years of listening and playing with musicians, and booking and promoting them, I don’t seem to know any that I totally respect whose character and personality is not totally in line with the importance and the spirit and the soul of the music that they are making. That’s what ‘Yakal’inkomo” The Legacy’ is about.”
The KWV Sax Summit, “Yakal’inkomo: The Legacy” features Barney Rachabane, Khaya Mahlangu, Mark Fransman and Victor Kula as featured saxophonists, backed by George Werner, Errol Dyers, Spencer Mbadu and Ivan Bell (Sunday 29 January, West End, College Road, Rylands, 021-6379132, doors 5pm; shows stars 6.30pm).First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 01/22