The Sunday News
Sunday Life Correspondent
“WELL, for me, I think it’s just what I was born to be. I was put on this earth to be what I am, it’s not something that I wanted to be, it’s what God wanted me to be. You can’t stop me from making music because it’s my life, it’s what makes me tick. Without singing, I will die. I didn’t set out to become a musical star, music called me. I don’t know how to explain it; it’s in the blood,” the late Dorothy Masuka once said during an interview.
At 16 she set out on her path as a songstress, writer of music like no other, a writer of lyrics that rent and wrenched at her listeners’ souls like no other. Her hit ‘‘Hamba Nontsokolo’’ was the beginning of what became a 65-year journey of self-discovery and influence on just a particular people or generation but a culture: her own version of township or kasi culture!
She wrote “Hamba Nontsokolo’’ while on a train from her country of birth, Zimbabwe to Johannesburg. The song is about someone who is struggling: “Nontsokolo” means someone who suffers. It was about her own struggles and her own views on life around her, around her own kasi which, through her words and music, could have been anywhere: Sophiatown, Makokoba or Old Pumula.
The song’s easy kwela rhythm soon became a hit on not just Johannesburg’s music scene but every black township from the Copperbelt to Big Bhawa in Makokoba to the home of troubadours — Sophiatown. That it went to be used in a major international film like Cry the Beloved Country is clear testament to the influence Aunt Dotty had on cultural revolutions.
Back in the day, that day of lush kwela tunes and rich tenors echoing through black infested bars and illicit drinking holes in townships, Aunt Dotty stuck out like a sore thumb. She was seemingly hell bent on being a large part of the evolution of the black man and woman in their own home that is Africa than being a big time celebrity! Hers was mostly a dream to share her thoughts and feelings and aspirations and less about being a superstar!
Growing up in Bulawayo whose own identity was shaped by a relatively large number of different peoples from an even larger number of cultures and backgrounds, she found a way to show the world, the whole world her version of this melting pot of cultures and heritages. She became a rather large light to brighten the blackness created by settler regimes’ in ghettoes across Central and Southern Africa.
Born of a Zambian father and Zulu mother in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), Aunt Dotty’s life itself was a mixed bag of cultures and heritages. That she lived for the first 12 years of her life in a town like Bulawayo where she interacted with people from all over the immediate environs of Zimbabwe gave a larger than life perspective that became her grounding and a sort of muse for her song writing.
Acres of words have been written and printed all over the world since news of passing hit the public domain. And the message from all these voices has espoused her abilities as a songwriter and singer with more than just a bit of talent. Every voice that has shared their take on whatever influence Dorothy Masuka had on their lives proves beyond doubt that this lady of jazz, this Queen of kasi music, this quiet superstar created and influenced the evolution of her own kasi!
Legends of music such as the late Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela and Bulawayo’s own Cool Crooners, Paul Lunga were all touched by this giant of an icon. Dotty did not just influence music but also culture itself! She did not just influence the direction of favoured genre of music but history too!
Aunt Dotty’s death immortalised her as an influencer of life, of opinion and of the upward progression of black culture. And all of this without the trappings of a life revolving around the mostly mundane and artificial personage of superstardom!
All through her career, she espoused humility which was evident in her music, in her lyrics which over the last 65 years have been sung by multiple personalities across the world of jazz.
For all purposes and intents, Aunt Dotty created and shaped her kasi right until her passing and beyond! And her music will forever be proof of this, as it was yesterday, as it is today and as it will be tomorrow and for infinity! She was laid to rest in Johannesburg last Sunday. She lived most of her adult life in South Africa. Rest in peace dearest Aunt Dotty! You will forever be present in our lives!