Manhattan Brothers - Mantindane 68 years on
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Joe Mogotsi & Pearl Connor write: As we were building up our repertoire, we realised that marabi, ndunduma and famu, popular African rhythms, were exciting the people. They danced to this new music at weekends and at parties. Our parents thought it was the Devil's music, common and degrading to young people, especially girls. Some youngsters even acquired a taste for liquor at marabi dances, which added to the scandal. Parents concerned with the preservation of family life vigorously condemned marabi, but the dances were very much part of community life and gave working class people a sense of togetherness. It was clear to us that these African rhythms had to become an important part of our repertoire.
One of the ways we earned a bit more money was by busking on the street corners in the centre of Johannesburg. It was a good opportunity to try out new routines. We would sing popular songs like Pennies from Heaven and Top of the Town, and people would throw money on the pavement. We always had friends with us to help gather up the cash but the police constantly harassed us, telling us to 'Move on, you're blocking the traffic'. We had to be constantly on the move to dodge them and avoid being arrested. Time and again they would confiscate our takings and warn us to keep off the streets. But still we earned enough to buy ourselves proper tap shoes from a shop in town where they offered us a big reduction if we would dance for them.
Our recording career began to spiral soon after we signed for Gallo and we were thrilled by the recognition from a major recording company. We quickly agreed to start recording our African material, reassured by Mr Delmont that it was in the best interest of our careers. But we had walked straight into the lion's mouth. We were young schoolboys, naive and inexperienced in the recording business. We knew nothing of copyright, or of our entitlement to royalties. And we had no legal advice. We believed that payment for recording sessions was all we were entitled to. And so we were tricked into handing over all rights to our compositions and recordings. We enthusiastically entered into these deals, exulting in the publicity that the recordings gave to the group.
Years later, when we found out about our rights, and wanted our dues from the songs we had written and recorded, we were told that, under South African law, blacks were not entitled to *royalties. We found out that black musicians could not join white unions, or bargain for their rights. We were at a serious disadvantage in dealing with the white entertainment industry. But that was South Africa in the bad old days.
Under Gallo's direction, we wrote African lyrics for hit songs from The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots, and for English popular songs. All over Africa blacks were buying our records. But there was never any mention of royalties.
We soon became aware of the political situation in our country. But so did Gallo. Whenever we wrote lyrics criticising the government's racist policies, Gallo would turn the song down. The company employed two brothers, by the name of Nhlapo, to check our compositions to make sure nothing that might offend the government slipped through.
Gallo, like the other record companies, played a big part in developing black music. Groups of musicians often got together on the spur of the moment in the street, outside the recording studio, with their instruments. Then someone from the company would come out and listen to the tune they were playing and, if they thought the music worth recording, they would then call the musicians into the studio, record the music and give them some cash to share out.
In the hard times, after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Brothers were too young to join up, so Gallo employed us part-time, to pack records, guitars and gramophone needles. We were also given facilities to write our music and record. However, the pay was so bad that we decided to supplement it by helping ourselves to records and needles to sell in the townships. In the end we were caught and reprimanded.
Sol Klaaste, who became the Brothers resident pianist after King Kong closed, was the first black South African to attend the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg). Like us, he suffered all the trials and heartache of exile and sadly died in London. When 1 began negotiations with Gallo on behalf of the Brothers, 1 went to see his brother, Aggrey Klaaste, editor of the Sowetan newspaper, and brought him a copy of the recording on which Sol was playing for us. (1993)
We then met Lawrence Reyburn and his colleague, Richard Plaistowe, in their offices at 60 Main Street, Johannesburg, and were warmly welcomed. No time was wasted in briefing us for the confrontation with Gallo. Richard was asked to explain the main difficulty in dealing with our claim, which was the law of 'Prescription'. This disallowed any action against a defendant after a period of seven years had elapsed with no claim having been made. We pointed out that ours was a special situation because apartheid had blocked all efforts to contact Gallo until the ANC was unbanned and Mandela released from prison.
It was the first time any member of The Manhattan Brothers had made contact with Gallo in 32 years, except for October 1972 when 1 had made an effort to visit their offices only to find that Peter Gallo, the son of the owner, was unable to give me any information or answer any of my questions. He did, however, give me copies of agreements with Gallo, signed by the leader of our group, Nathan Mdledle, confirming us as composers and lyricists whom Gallo had recorded over a period of 20 years. Having made our position clear, the next step was to meet with the representatives of Gallo, Geoff Paynter, Rob Allingham, Guy Henderson, Fred Withers and Mike Chabeli, the Gallo group's legal adviser.
This opened up a can of worms, exposing the exploitation of four young African singers and composers by a multinational company. Gallo explained this away by saying that those were the times in which we lived, and that they were never challenged.
We then raised the question of some kind of compensation or ex-gratia payment to the Brothers for bringing so much income into the Gallo coffers over the years of our success. This was all mulled over and finally Mr Withers, who was in the chair, proposed that we name a figure which would compensate the Brothers for their past contribution.
Their assessment was R4 million, which they regarded as a fair reflection of the value of the band's recorded material over the years. The PRS arrived at this amount based on estimated figures given by the Brothers as follows:
Number of copyrights sold 30,000,000
The conclusion of the PRS was that there should be a small reduction for cover versions of other writers' material which would bring the total to R4 million.
We were then advised by Lawrence Reyburn that he could no longer continue negotiating on our behalf because of his workload, and he gave us a 20-page assessment of our position vis-à-vis Gallo. We were grateful for the interest he had shown and for the time he had taken and the advice he had given, without charge, pro amico.
It is worth mentioning that, during this visit, 1 spent many hours with Rob Allingham, the archive manager of Gallo, who came to South Africa (from California) after we had left. Together we cleared up dark areas and anomalies about compositions, recordings and the names of musicians who were active during the Brothers' years of performing in South Africa.
One of the positive outcomes of my visit to South Africa was the confirmation of certain infringements which had been perpetrated by Miriam Makeba in America where she had been performing and recording some of our most popular compositions and claiming our copyright as her own.
Back in London, later in June, we decided to tackle her and asked her to relinquish her claim to our compositions. On July 3, 1993, she did just that and acknowledged The Manhattan Brothers as composers and lyricists of the following songs: Qongqotwane (The Click Song), Jikela Emaiveni, Mamoriri, Magwalandini and Ndixolele.
No payment of the royalties she had collected over the years has ever been made to the Brothers.
Even now, Miriam is claiming our composition, Amampondo, which she is singing on the Polygram video film based on the life of Muhammad Ali, When We Were Kings, made in 1997. All our efforts to get her to relinquish her claim have failed, although Gallo holds the original recording by the Brothers from 1958, even before Miriam went to the United States and recorded this song for RCA.
By 1994, we were chafing at the bit, frustrated at the lack of progress with Gallo. I decided to go to Johannesburg to vote for the first time and stayed on for the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president. I had been invited to participate in a concert in Pretoria, organised by all of the prominent musicians and singers, to mark the occasion. We met and rehearsed for several days and among the performers were Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphus Semenya, Miriam Makeba and many others.
However, there were two stages and, by some strange twist of fate, all the lights and sound were switched off on ours just when we were about to perform. I argued with the people in charge, trying to get the show on line, but, by the time everything had been restored, it was too late. Consequently, although we performed for the vast crowds who attended the inauguration ceremony, we were not seen on the international television coverage of the event.
I had been able to speak to Nelson Mandela during our 1993 visit, when our mutual friends, Clive and Irene Menell of Anglo American mining group, contacted him on the telephone and told him I was dining with them. We chatted for a short while and he asked me to make an appointment with his secretary to come and see him. But that was not to be, as his secretary did not know me and I was put off on several occasions. I took this opportunity to see Rob Allingham again at Gallo, still trying to sort out the lists of our copyrights.
On my return to London, I found Nathan unwell and there were no good reports from Gallo to cheer him up. No back payment of long overdue royalties, no chances now of a possible longed-for return home. On May 17, 1995, Nathan Mdledle died and South Africa lost one of its musical legends.
Nathan's funeral was attended by many representatives of the company which had brought King Kong to London. The president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, sent a message of condolence to mark the passing of this great musical talent. The Brothers assisted in arranging the funeral with Nathan's London family, Louisa Emmanuel and their two daughters, Nicola and Angie May. Others who supported the family were Zach and Mona De Beer, Clive and Irene Menell, Arthur Goldreich, Jessica Strang Oliver Pam Gluckman, Nigel Hawthorne (who played with the Brothers in Leon Gluckman's Nymphs and Satires), Pat Williams (lyricist of King Kong) and Spike Glasser, who had been King Kong musical director.
It was a huge funeral. Nathan had a transparent coffin transported by a hearse drawn by black horses. And hundreds of people turned out to pay tribute to Dambuza, King Kong. It was a sad occasion. Dambuza and I had been friends since we were small boys. Together, as two Pimville schoolboys, we formed The Manhattan Brothers. We became one of South Africa's top groups, our records had sold all over Africa and together we had received a standing ovation on the West End stage.
President Mandela himself sent his condolences. He wrote: 'I wish to extend my sympathy to the family and friends of the late Nathan Mdledle. Nathan has been an inspiration to young musicians and will be remembered fondly for his significant contribution to the music of South Africa.
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