Africa is littered with stories of the 'previously disadvantaged'
– so much so that the term has become more of human resources and
empowerment catch phrase than anything else. Every now and again,
however, stories emerge that highlight starkly, once again, just how
savage the old South Africa was, and how easy it has been for
people to get caught in the crossfire of democratic transition.
Nkwanyana has such a story. A self taught musician, born in 1952 into
the Eshowe world of farm labour, Joe was one of the first black South
Africans to record live, has appeared alongside Whitney Houston,
written music for radio shows and penned many songs that have been used
in stage productions across the country. Amongst many other
achievements, over the years Joe has worked with the likes of Tu Nokwe,
Lilian Dube and Menzi Ngubane, and also worked as a teacher on the now
very famous Umoja stage production during the 1990s. To get to this
level of influence, Joe spent a long period of time living an indigent
life on the streets and facing up to the demons of unemployment.
Eventually, however, he got into a position where he was able to earn a
subsistence living through his music. Tragically, despite his
widespread musical influence, Joe stayed cemented to the life of
subsistence, albeit of a musical sort.
Joe is flat broke and suffering from a terrible growth on his throat.
He has never received any significant (in the loosest sense of the
word) remuneration for his work over the years. Having recorded with
Gallo in 1984 and watched his Maskandi album go unreleased, Joe swore
never to record again, despite being one of South Africa's foremost
composers, performers and teachers of Maskandi music.
fact, today Joe has stopped music altogether. The growth on his throat
has gone untreated and, combined with a lifetime of a hand to mouth
musical existence, the 55 year old has put down his guitar for good.
Nkwanyana is certainly not the only South African musician to
contribute massively to the industry as a whole, whilst still being
crushed under the weight of his own effort. One thinks immediately of
the Solomon Linda and The Lion Sleeps Tonight debacle, but there are
many others, especially composers and musicians working in traditional
forms and idioms, whose styles and abilities have been recycled
(without recognition or payment) into the Afro pop music and theatre
productions people around the world know and love.
Records, BKO Magazine and Unity Design believe that Joe should not be
lost to music lovers and would love to see him pick up his guitar
again. Before that can happen, however, Joe needs medical treatment
(which costs money). He also urgently needs some form of recognition
– a South African voice that will tell him that the country
recognises, and is grateful for, his decades long contribution to South
this end, the Liber8 / Unity / BKO collective have put together an
album of Joe Nkwanyana's work, which can be downloaded via
www.liber8music.co.za. This 11 track demo album costs R25. All money
from sales go directly into Joe's bank account. With enough downloads
of this incredible music Joe will be able to secure some of the funding
needed to begin the medical process to deal with the growth on his
throat Possibly he will eventually pick up his guitar and begin
composing music, and ultimately performing, again. That's the hope,
story of national neglect aside, the album, entitled ISILILO, stands on
its own as a work of art, and is well worth the purchase price.