Newtown – Musicians Tsepo Tshola, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Condry Ziqubu and many more will pay tribute to music legend Caiphus Semenya at the Market Theatre on August 24.
The event, called the Caiphus Semenya at 80 Music Extravaganza: Celebrating a Milestone and the Birth of a Legacy; will also include music from BUWA, the theatrical production he penned in 1986 about the injustices of apartheid through the eyes of a photojournalist.
The night will be preceded by an intimate dinner before heading out to the John Kani Theatre of the Market theatre. Semenya’s actual birthday is August 19.
Sello Maake Ka Ncube and Tshepo Mngoma have been roped in as the show director and music director respectively. A selected line-up of performers will present their interpretations of music by Semenya and some songs that he wrote.
The proceeds from the concert will go to Semenya’s National Academy of Africa’s Performing Arts (NAAPA) in Jabulani, Soweto. The first phase of the school construction has been completed and the second phase of furnishing is set to get underway.
The school is aimed at grooming and nurturing the next generation of musicians, actors and dancers in the tutelage of legends like Semenya, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu, Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi, Zakes Mokae, John Kani, Nomsa Manaka and others.
Semenya, who was born in Alexandra, found his voice as a teenager in the vocal quartet, the Katzenjammer Kids. In 1958, he and his group were recruited by the Union of Southern African Artists which had its headquarters in Dorkay House.
The purpose was to be a cast member of the musical, King Kong, which ran in South Africa from February to December 1959, and in the UK from February to December 1961. In 1964 he was again recruited by the Union to travel to New York as a cast member of the musical drama, Sponono. He subsequently ended up residing and working in Los Angeles.
He has worked with American heavyweights like Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, The Jazz Crusaders, Herb Alpert and others. He and his wife, Letta, arranged the Swahili chant on Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl. In 1986 Semenya and nine other composers were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Color Purple. He received an Emmy Award for his role in contributing the African music component of the soundtrack for the hit TV miniseries, Roots.
As part of the South African cohort of exiled musicians such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and his wife Letta Mbulu they provided a soft-landing pad in the US for artists who fled the apartheid system.
“Turning 80 is a blessing not to be taken for granted. As much as there is some fun we will have, I never want us to lose focus on this project that is close to my heart, NAAPA. I ask that we be generous in giving towards the academy to ensure that the next Caiphus Semenya is given a chance through one of the many programmes that will run at the academy,” Semenya said.