Drummer, saxophonist, composer, activist – and anthropology student – Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse has turned 70. If you wanted a guidebook to the distinctive character of the South African jazz scene, Mabuse’s 50-year career offers one.
South African jazz occupies a landscape that is rarely elitist, never haughtily insulated from popular and traditional sounds. Professional survival demands a multiplicity of roles and identities from its artists. And the music has always had something to say about the politics of its day, then and now.
Mabuse’s remarkable life shows us all that and more.
Sipho Cecil Peter Mabuse was born in Orlando West, a township in the heart of Soweto, Johannesburg’s historically black urban settlement. His father ran a small corner shop selling household supplies including coal, though he was, the drummer recalled, never really committed to the entrepreneurial life.
But, like many of his neighbours, he was committed to resisting the oppressions of apartheid. During the 1960 anti-pass campaign, the young Sipho held his father’s hand marching alongside Nelson Mandela, Henry Makgothi, other leaders, in Orlando West. He remembers, “I was just a little impressionable kid, but I am carrying those memories with me…”
Part of Soweto’s hunger for change was an appreciation for music, and especially jazz and the more conscious American soul artists. “Nina Simone blew me away,” Mabuse recalled.
Playing drums in a…