Todd Matshikiza

Last updated

Todd Tozama Matshikiza OMSS (7 March 1921 – 4 October 1968) was a South African jazz pianist, composer and journalist. As a journalist, he was a contributor to the innovatory South African magazine Drum , and known for his autobiographical short stories. As a musician, Matshikiza was celebrated for composing the score of the musical King Kong . He became a Google Doodle on 25th September 2023. [1]


Early life

Born on 7 March 1921, [2] into a musical family in Queenstown, Eastern Cape province, South Africa, Matshikiza was the son of Samuel Bokwe Matshikiza, and Grace Ngqoyi Matshikiza, the seventh of seven children. Grace was a well-known soprano, and his father played the organ in the Anglican Church. [3]

He graduated from St Peter's College in Rosettenville, Johannesburg and obtained a diploma in music at Adams College in Natal, and teacher's diploma at Lovedale Institute in Alice (1941/42). [3] He stayed on as a teacher at Lovedale, where he taught English and Mathematics at the high school, until 1947. During this period, Matshikiza composed songs and choral works, blending African traditional and European-classical styles; in particular Hamba Kahle, which has become a standard work for choral groups throughout South Africa. It was performed for the arrival of then Princess Elizabeth of the United Kingdom at Bulawayo in 1946, and for the Johannesburg Music Festival in 1950.

Career in Johannesburg

Matshikiza moved to Johannesburg in 1947, and married Esme Sheila Mpama on 26 December 1950. The couple had a daughter, Marian Linda, and son, John Anthony. He taught for a while and founded the Todd Matshikiza School of Music, a private music school, where he taught piano. [3] Jazz and composing remained his primary interests; however, in order to supplement the family income, he worked briefly for Vanguard Booksellers in Johannesburg. From 1949 to 1954, Matshikiza was a committee member of the Syndicate of African Artists, which aimed to promote music by visiting artists from the townships. [4]

In 1952, Matshikiza was invited to join Drum magazine which, under new editorial direction, aimed for a more critical readership. Matshikiza, together with investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Nat Nakasa, Bloke Modisane and others, became one of its early writers. His jazz column covered the township scene, particularly Sophiatown, where he commented on the likes of Kippie Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela, who both played for The Jazz Epistles. Matshikiza covered township life in his regular column "With the Lid Off". Amongst his close associates, his innovative writing style became known as “Matshikese”, and was characterised by a creative and playful use of syntax and musical style. [5] Drum editor Anthony Sampson, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship, observed later that "Todd transformed Drum. He wrote as he spoke, in a brisk tempo with a rhythm in every sentence. He attacked the typewriter like a piano". [6] Matshikiza also worked briefly for the Golden City Post,[ citation needed ] a sister publicaton of Drum with whom it shared offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. [7]

His love of classical music inspired him to compose the choral piece Makhaliphile in 1953, which he dedicated to Trevor Huddleston, who had worked with less-favoured communities in Johannesburg. This was a combination of classical, jazz and traditional themes. In 1956, he composed Uxolo! ("peace"), commissioned for the 70th anniversary of Johannesburg. [3] The 70th anniversary of this commission was commemorated with a Google Doodle on 25th September 2023. [1]

In 1958, Matshikiza composed the music and some of the lyrics of the jazz musical King Kong , which had an all-black cast. Portraying the life and times of heavyweight boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, popularly known as “King Kong”, the musical was a hit in 1959. It attracted multi-racial audiences, and was performed in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, before being staged at the Prince’s Theatre in London’s West End in 1961. Matshikiza’s interest in the boxer stemmed in part from his having been assigned to cover the trial of Dlamini. King Kong launched the international career of Miriam Makeba, who played the shebeen queen of the Back of the Moon, a shebeen (illicit bar) of the time in Sophiatown.

Matshikiza composed the music for Alan Paton’s play Mkhumbane, which opened in Durban on 29 March 1960. The musical, in a-capella form, recounts the trials of a grass-roots community whose daily lives are affected by forced removal and the actions of gangsters.


Frustrated by the apartheid system, and enabled by plans afoot to stage the King Kong musical in London, Matshikiza moved with his wife and two children to England in August 1960. [8] Matshikiza remained in London when most of the cast returned to South Africa. He found it difficult to break into the English music scene, but collaborated with other musicians, playing piano in London jazz venues. He gave lectures on African music and freelanced for publications, including a seminal article which highlighted the radical contribution of Black South African music, in the fight against apartheid. He continued to write for Drum magazine, to which he contributed a monthly column entitled "Todd in London", and worked for the BBC as a presenter and researcher. [9]

His autobiographical book entitled “Chocolates for my Wife”, recounts his experiences of life in apartheid South Africa and in Britain. The book touches on the black experience, and describes how he was affected by it. In the early 1960s he participated in an international competition to write a national anthem for recently-independent Nigeria, and in a festival in Oran celebrating Algeria’s independence. [ citation needed ]


Missing Africa, in 1964, Matshikiza and his wife were invited to work in newly-independent Zambia, where he became a broadcaster and presenter with Radio Zambia. He felt stifled musically and took up a position in 1967 as the music archivist for the Zambian Information Service. In this capacity he travelled extensively throughout Zambia, building up the archival collection, and researching Zambian traditional music and instruments. Some of his later music drew inspiration from Zambian traditional songs. He was one of five South African Black artists to perform in the first Zambia Arts Festival, held at Luanshya in May 1965.

Matshikiza remained frustrated at being prevented from returning to South Africa, where his writing had been banned by the government. He died in Lusaka on 4 October 1968. [3] His funeral was attended by numerous dignitaries, including the ANC’s Oliver Tambo, and a Zambian ministerial delegation.


Todd's son John Matshikiza was an actor in television and film. John died on 15 September 2008 in Johannesburg, aged 54. Todd's granddaughter, Lindiwe Matshikiza, has followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, becoming a theatre actress and director. [10]


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hugh Masekela</span> South African musical artist (1939–2018)

Hugh Ramapolo Masekela was a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, singer and composer who was described as "the father of South African jazz". Masekela was known for his jazz compositions and for writing well-known anti-apartheid songs such as "Soweto Blues" and "Bring Him Back Home". He also had a number-one US pop hit in 1968 with his version of "Grazing in the Grass".

Mbaqanga is a style of South African music with rural Zulu roots that continues to influence musicians worldwide today. The style originated in the early 1960s, and blends traditional African vocal styles and melodies with instruments from European and American popular music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abdullah Ibrahim</span> South African pianist and composer (born 1934)

Abdullah Ibrahim is a South African pianist and composer. His music reflects many of the musical influences of his childhood in the multicultural port areas of Cape Town, ranging from traditional African songs to the gospel of the AME Church and Ragas, to more modern jazz and other Western styles. Ibrahim is considered the leading figure in the subgenre of Cape jazz. Within jazz, his music particularly reflects the influence of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. He is known especially for "Mannenberg", a jazz piece that became a notable anti-apartheid anthem.

Dolly Rathebe (OIS) was a South African musician and actress who performed with the Elite Swingsters jazz band, and in Alf Herbert's African Jazz and Variety Show.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sophiatown</span> Suburb of Johannesburg

Sophiatown, also known as Sof'town or Kofifi, is a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Sophiatown was a black cultural hub that was destroyed under apartheid, It produced some of South Africa's most famous writers, musicians, politicians and artists. Rebuilt under the name of Triomf, and in 2006 officially returned to its original name. Sophiatown was one of the oldest black areas in Johannesburg and its destruction represents some of the excesses of South Africa under apartheid.

The Jazz Epistles were South Africa's first important bebop band. Inspired by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, its members included Dollar Brand on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto saxophone, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Johnny Gertze on bass, and Early Mabuza or Makaya Ntshoko on drums. The group became famous after performing in the jam sessions called Jazz at the Odin in the Odin Theater in Sophiatown.

<i>Drum</i> (2004 film) 2004 film by Zola Maseko

Drum is a 2004 film based on the life of South African investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo, who worked for Drum magazine, called "the first black lifestyle magazine in Africa". It was director Zola Maseko's first film and deals with the issues of apartheid and the forced removal of residents from Sophiatown. The film was originally to be a six-part television series called Sophiatown Short Stories, but Maseko could not get the funding. The lead roles of Henry Nxumalo and Drum main photographer Jürgen Schadeberg were played by American actors Taye Diggs and Gabriel Mann, while most of the rest of the cast were South African actors.

Jeremiah "Kippie" Morolong Moeketsi was a South African jazz musician, notable as an alto saxophonist. He is sometimes referred to as "the father of South African jazz" and as "South Africa's Charlie Parker". He played with and influenced some of South Africa's great musicians, including Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela.

<i>Drum</i> (South African magazine) South African magazine

DRUM is a South African online family magazine mainly aimed at black readers, containing market news, entertainment and feature articles. It has two sister magazines: Huisgenoot and YOU.

Daniel Canodoise "Can" Themba was a South African short-story writer.

<i>King Kong</i> (1959 musical) 1959 South African jazz musical

King Kong (1959) was a landmark South African jazz-influenced musical, billed at the time as an "all-African jazz opera".

William Modisane, better known as Bloke Modisane, was a South African writer, actor and journalist.

<i>Come Back, Africa</i> 1959 film

Come Back, Africa is a 1959 film, the second feature-length film written, produced, and directed by American independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The film had a profound effect on African cinema, and remains of great historical and cultural importance as a document preserving the heritage of the townships in South Africa in the 1950s. It may be classified as reportage, documentary, historical movie or political cinema, since it portrays real events and people. On the other hand, it reveals an interpretation of meaningful social facts and a strong ethical assumption towards human behaviours like racism.

Karabo Moses Motsisi (1932–1977), better known as Casey Motsisi or Casey "Kid" Motsisi, was a South African short story writer and journalist.

John Arthur Mogale Maimane, better known as Arthur Maimane, was a South African journalist and novelist.

John Matshikiza was a South African actor, theatre director, poet and journalist.

Gideon "Mgibe" Nxumalo [] was a South African jazz pianist and marimba player, acclaimed also as a composer and arranger. Nxumalo has been hailed as "perhaps one of South Africa's greatest unsung musical and cultural heroes."

"The Suit" is a short story by the South African writer Can Themba. It was first published in 1963 in the inaugural issue of The Classic, a South African literary journal founded by Nat Nakasa and Nadine Gordimer. On publication, the story was banned by the apartheid regime. "The Suit" was adapted for the stage by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon in 1994, and has been adapted into a short film of the same name, written and directed by Jarryd Coetsee and premiered in 2016.

"Meadowlands" was an anti-apartheid song composed in 1956 by Strike Vilakazi. It was written in reaction to the forced relocation of black South Africans from Sophiatown, to the new township of Meadowlands. The song was popularised by a number of musicians, including Dorothy Masuka and Miriam Makeba, and became an anthem of the movement against apartheid.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Mosoeu Moerane</span> Musical artist

Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1904–1980) was a choral music composer and the first black South African to write a symphonic poem, in 1941.


  1. 1 2 Matshikiz, Marian (25 September 2023). "Celebrating Todd Matshikiza". Google. Retrieved 25 September 2023.
  2. Bulbul, Nuray (25 September 2023). "Who was Todd Matshikiza? Google Doodle celebrates South African jazz musician". Evening Standard . London.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Matshikiza, John (1999). "Matshika, Todd Tazoma" . In Sonderling, Nelly E. (ed.). New Dictionary of South African Biography. Vol. 2. Pretoria: Vista University. pp. 102–104. ISBN   1868281337 via Internet Archive.
  4. Alexander Johnson & Chris Walton. "MATSHIKIZA, Todd Thozamile". Dictionary of African Composers. Archived from the original on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  5. Cowling, Lesley (2016). "Echoes of an African Drum: The Lost Literary Journalism of 1950s South Africa" (PDF). Literary Journalism Studies. 8 (1): 7–32.
  6. Sampson, Anthony (1983). Drum: An African Adventure – and Afterwards. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 26. ISBN   0340333839.
  7. Pucherova, Dobrota (2011). "A Romance That Failed: Bessie Head and Black Nationalism in 1960s South Africa" . Research in African Literatures . Indiana University Press. 42 (2): 105–124 via JSTOR.
  8. Thorpe (2021), p. 93.
  9. Thorpe (2021), pp. 97, 111.
  10. "Lindi Matshikiza – 2010". Archived from the original on 23 February 2019. Retrieved 23 February 2019.