How The Mighty Have Fallen

Two of South Africa’s most talented musicians of the last 30 years, Robbie Jansen (1949-2010), sax and flute player who was in a band with Abdullah Ibrahim, and Nana Coyote (1955-2010), who made his name as a vocalist with the soul music outfit Stimela (led by Ray Phiri), passed this week.

Of these two, Jansen, was probably the more influential.

Jansen, known as the “Cape Doctor,” helped define what became “Cape Jazz.”

He passed away on Tuesday night in Kuils River, Cape Town. Music journalist Gwen Ansell:

… His family say his passing was ‘peaceful’ and he had just returned from what was by all accounts a beautiful performance at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Coyote (real name Tsietsi Daniel Matijoane), who started his career with another great band, Sankomota, passed away in a hospital in Johannesburg.

Both men were known for their strong political commitment. As my friend Ebrahim Fakir summed up the impact of their passing:

… Two more soldiers of soul, conscience and beauty have fallen. A generation is passing, and soon we may have few icons of this nature and stature to look up to anymore. Few to move us emotionally and cerebrally to our past, present and future. I feel really sad! Mostly, [because] both gave millions joy, received a lot of adulation but died relatively poor, struggling all their lives. I feel really sad.


The video, above, is of a live performance of Jansen (made by a fan), whose music evoked the spirit of working class Cape Town. Jansen was also the subject of the documentary, “Casa de la Música,” by Jonathan de Vries and Jack Lewis, in which Jansen travels to Cuba to explore the connections between the music of Havana and Cape Town.

* Remember my post about pianist Hilton Schilder who is very ill in hospital. A benefit is being held for him in Cape Town tomorrow, Friday at Casa LittleBrazil in the Sea Point Civic Centre. If you’re in Cape Town, go support it.

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