30 Years of Democracy in South Africa
12 December 2024 - 13 December 2024
South Africa and Germany share inglorious, burdening experiences in their history. The apartheid system in South Africa was inspired in essential points by the race laws of the National Socialists in Germany. And, as a result, the experiences of exile that the cultural avant-garde of both countries went through. Structurally similar is also the ignoring of these very experiences up to the rejection and denial of the achievements of those who had to spend substantial parts of their lives in exile.
Institutionalized racism on the one hand, denial and defense of exile on the other – how are these experiences processed artistically? And how do they flow into the oeuvre and consciousness of artistic work?
The early 1960s was a dark period in our country as the Apartheid regime tightened its racist programme. With the ANC Rivonia trail and jail sentences, with the PAC Sharpeville massacre, with the forced removals, the Africans felt the sharp oppression. Musicians were frustrated by curfew laws, segregation in performances and police harassment.
Against the backdrop of forced removals (Shortly after Dyani left home Duncan Village was demolished and residents forcible removed to Mdantsane) the Blue Notes are preparing to move to France. Apartheid is threatening but the musicians of the era are “dangerously hip,” defiant to the last.
Culture is a wheel of understanding one another or telling a story that cannot otherwise be told as a collective.
The South African jazz exiles found a welcoming home in Europe, and most particularly Germany. Sympathy for the exile movement was particular to the German consciousness, as Germany had an exile movement during the Nazi era. Very many important intellectuals and artists and people immigrated and left Germany because of the political convictions.
It’s that people who go into exile, very often create marvellous works in exile in those conditions under exile. And they teach us to listen. And this is why they’re so very helpful and fruitful for our society as well, for the society in which exiles live. South Africa and Germany have a shared exile history. Like South Africa, very many important intellectuals and artists and people immigrated and left Germany because of the political conditions.
The role of Jazz Against Apartheid in the post-apartheid era took on a new and more musical influence. The musicians would gather every year or two for a series of performances and workshops. Trumpeter Harry Beckett, saxophonist John Tchicai, bassist Ernest Mothle and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, all performed with Johnny Dyani and carried his spirit forward during workshops and performances. Following Johnny Dyani’s untimely death, they were joined from the outset by a few youngsters at the time including Thomas Dyani on percussion and trumpeter Claude Deppa.
Music is a universal language. And the minute you speak the universal language, color barriers, class barriers, financial status, all goes out the window. These were musicians who never went to school, but the yearning, they had, the burning they had the need they felt to speak with, with the voice they had was important. That is professionalism.
The exhibition offers a historic presentation of the cultural legacy of Johnny Dyani and 60 years of South African culture and liberation in exiles. The bassist and composer Johnny Mbizo Dyani, along with the drummer Makaya Ntshoko, were some of the first to go into exile in Europe and, with a strong commitment, embodied the struggle for South Africa’s cultural memory. Both of them, as representatives of others, taught us that the sources of jazz are African. And both of them combined the freedom of jazz expression with decidedly political commitment.